NFL teams didn’t wait for March 14 to start reshaping their rosters. Now, all those moves are going to have domino effect on free agency and the draft.
The NFL offseason has been a busy one so far, even before free agency has started.
We’ve seen Marcus Peters traded to the Rams and Alec Ogletree shipped to the Giants. Michael Bennett was sent to the Eagles, and we’re expecting the beginning of the end for the Legion of Boom, with Richard Sherman’s release.
Each of those moves are like dominoes, great big, hard-hitting dominoes, that will have ripple effects on how the free agent market and the draft unfold this year.
So which of these pre-free agency moves are changing the landscape for the new league year on Mar. 14, and how will they happen?
Washington traded for Alex Smith
Washington had three choices with Kirk Cousins this year: tag him for a third season, let him walk, or lock him up with a long-term deal. As predicted, they let him walk. But instead of bungling their QB situation any further, they opted to make a trade for Smith.
Now Cousins is the hottest name on the free agency market. Teams like the Jets, Browns, Cardinals, and Vikings should be willing to throw a record deal at Cousins. If Washington hadn’t traded for Smith, Cousins might be facing yet another season of playing under the tag. Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, and AJ McCarron would be the top targets in free agency, and Jimmy Garoppolo might be holding onto that highest-paid NFL player designation a little longer.
And now that Cousins and the Vikings reportedly have a deal, that leaves Bradford, Bridgewater and McCarron as the most attractive options left among the available quarterbacks. Who will the Jets settle for? What about the Cardinals? Their decisions will then have a further impact in the draft.
The Rams loaded up at cornerback
Trumaine Johnson received the franchise tag in each of the last two years, making it unlikely the Rams would be able to hammer out a deal in the 2018 offseason. That was bad news with Kayvon Webster going down with an Achilles injury late in 2017, leaving the Rams with little cornerback depth.
That’s good news for the entire cornerback market. By addressing their cornerback question marks via trades, the Rams did every team interested in upgrading at the position a favor. It: A) Took one of the teams most desperate for cornerbacks out of the free agency market, and B) Guaranteed that Johnson would become available. That’s more talent to pick from and less competition to parse through it.
The Seahawks are rebooting on defense
All good things must come to an end, and that’s currently happening to the Seattle Seahawks. They traded defensive end Michael Bennett to the Eagles in exchange for draft picks in an effort to get younger. Friday, they released Richard Sherman, a staple on Seattle’s defense and Legion of Boom secondary. There are rumors that Earl Thomas’ time in the Pacific Northwest could be coming to an end soon, too, if any potential suitors make them a lucrative offer.
It’s a reset button that was going to have to be hit eventually, and now the Seahawks are officially Russell Wilson’s team.
The Seahawks are just getting started. While the offseason has been busy so far, free agency still doesn’t start until Mar. 14. Between there and the NFL Draft, Seattle is going to be quite busy trying to make sure they don’t miss a beat on defense, meaning they’ll be players in free agency and on the hunt during the draft. Ndamukong Suh was already sighted in Seattle the day news broke that the Dolphins would cut him.
The Browns got trade happy
Cleveland didn’t wait until March 14 to reshape the roster. The Browns spent the days just before the legal tampering period opened making several big trades. The team acquired quarterback Tyrod Taylor, wide receiver Jarvis Landry, and cornerback Damarious Randall, and jettisoned quarterback DeShone Kizer and Danny Shelton. Altogether, it cost the team several mid-round selections, but the Browns added a few 2019 picks along the way.
The quarterback market was affected by the Browns’ moves. Cleveland still has more than $ 80 million in cap space and plenty of roster reshaping left to do, so it didn’t change free agency too much aside from leaving the Bills without a quarterback and the Packers hungry for more cornerback help.
The biggest domino, though, was that it presumably takes the Browns out of the market for McCarron, the Bengals’ backup quarterback who the Browns infamously tried and failed to trade for last season. One less likely suitor for McCarron, who now might have to wait until Cousins, Bradford, and Bridgewater find new teams.
AJ McCarron became an unrestricted free agent
McCarron technically should have been a restricted free agent with the Bengals this offseason because of his number of accrued seasons. He filed a grievance against the Bengals, claiming that they shouldn’t have placed him on IR in his rookie season. He won.
That gave teams another starting quarterback option in free agency. And McCarron, who showed promise in 2015 filling in for an injured Andy Dalton but hasn’t played consistently since, should come much cheaper than Cousins. That’s good news for teams like the Broncos and Cardinals, who need a quarterback but have limited cap room to work with this offseason. Still, there’s a long list of players better than McCarron who might find jobs first.
The Bills moved up in the first round
Buffalo is shipping off all kinds of assets before the league year opens. On Monday, they dealt left tackle Cordy Glenn to the Bengals and swapped first-round picks with Cincy as part of the deal.
The Bills have the picks to get their quarterback in the draft. With the first and fourth overall picks, the Browns still control the board, but Buffalo now has the 12th pick and the 22nd, the only other team with two picks in the opening frame, more than enough trade capital to move up higher into the first round for a quarterback.
Dealing Glenn also means there’s one less team looking for a left tackle on the free agent market. That’s either good news for the handful of squads still looking for veteran blind side help, and potentially bad news for players like Nate Solder or Chris Hubbard.
The Eagles need cap space
Last year, the Eagles flourished in free agency. They didn’t overspend, they targeted needs, and the talent they added got them a Super Bowl win. That won’t be the case this year.
This year, they’re paying for it, and it will make more players available. The Eagles are nearly $ 10 million over the cap, and they have until the start of the league year to get under it. They’ll have a hard time re-signing free agents like Nigel Bradham and Trey Burton, and they may have to trade Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles to clear up some cap space.
The Giants added a linebacker … and his cap hit
While the Rams made deals to revamp their cornerbacks, they also dealt Alec Ogletree to the Giants. He’s a more valuable cog for a Giants defense that needed coverage linebackers. Ogletree also happens to be one of the league’s highest paid linebackers. His $ 10 million cap hit is a big one for a team with a lot of needs and less than $ 20 million in available space.
Does this point to Eli Manning getting dealt by the Giants? That still feels like a stretch, but all eyes will be watching to see what Big Blue decides to do about the 37-year-old QB. It was assumed earlier in the year that his time there was over, but former coach Ben McAdoo’s poor handling of the situation, benching the two-time Super Bowl winner, caused more problems than it solved. Even if the Giants do hang onto Manning, they may need to restructure his contract and the $ 22 million cap hit it carries. Remember too that Odell Beckham Jr. wants a new contract soon.
The 49ers are building a contender
Not content just to have their franchise quarterback signed to the NFL’s richest contract, the 49ers struck early in free agency to fill one of the biggest holes on their roster, cornerback. The Seahawks released Sherman, and he wasted no time signing with the Niners relishing the chance for “vengeance.” It’s clear the 49ers have no intention of hiding behind the rebuilding label; they want to contend and they want to do it now.
The 49ers are going to be aggressive on the free agent market. Only four teams have more cap space the 49ers with $ 64 million to spend, and three of those teams — the Jets, Browns, and Colts — are in the process of a roster makeover. They still need pass rushing help, receivers, linebackers, and interior linemen, positions which also happen to have some of the best available free agents this year. San Francisco can set the market.
The Broncos signed Case Keenum
Denver was expected to be in on the Kirk Cousins action, but they shook up the quarterback market when they came to terms with Keenum.
Now it’s a three-way race for Cousins’ services. The Browns were also expected to be in the mix because of their glaring need at the position and their ample cap space, but they’re out after trading for Tyrod Taylor. That leaves the Vikings, Jets, and the Cardinals as the last teams standing. Now it’s just a matter of waiting and seeing where Cousins actually lands.