It’s March! NFL free agency is here! Yay?
Sure! Well, maybe. It depends on who you’re rooting for. Let’s capture the current zeitgeist of the early results of NFL free agency in this first week of the 2016 NFL year. We’ll do it alphabetically by conference because, well, sense and structure are hard to come by this time of the offseason. We must cling to that which gives us order. Here is how the AFC is faring.
Salary cap woes dictated that the Ravens stayed out of the early buying frenzy. It also meant they said goodbye to offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, who signed a rich, paid-like-a-starting-left-tackle contract with the cap-space rich Oakland Raiders. There is good news: kicker Justin Tucker signed his restricted free agent tender and unappreciated backup quarterback Matt Schaub signed with the Atlanta Falcons. Journeyman tight end Ben Watson signed a surprisingly expensive two-year contract with the Ravens. Watson’s $7 million deal is easily a record among 35-year-old tight ends (an exceedingly small group). Maybe next they’ll buy another unicorn to play with Watson.
Super Mario (Williams) is super happy to have taken his complaining and dissension talents to South Beach. With the $17 million the Miami Dolphins plunked down to lure the former defensive terror, who’s on/off toggle switch too-often got stuck in the off position while in Buffalo, it’s a boom/bust move. The Bills will get to find out twice in 2016. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin also traveled slightly south to Philadelphia. If you can get excited about re-signing former problem child, now wizened veteran guard Richie Incognito to a three-year deal, then you’re a Bills believer.
Marvin Jones took the Lions’ money and ran, where he immediately clarified: “I’m not coming here trying to replace Calvin Johnson.” What do the Lions want him to do, then? Sell popcorn? Don’t we all wish we could get paid $40 million with the clear understanding that we’re not going to be as good as the person we’re replacing? The Bengals may be better off without the under-motivated Jones. Apart from Jones, the Bengals did as they stated they would do: spend to re-sign core players, including: Adam Jones, George Iloka, Eric Winston and Vinny Rey. Mohamed Sanu also departed for Atlanta.
The swinging door of players exiting the Browns organization has hardly had time to close. The only surprising thing about that is that Johnny Manziel was one of the last to leave. Alex Mack, Travis Benjamin, Mitchell Schwartz and Tashaun Gipson all beat Manziel past the exit sign. More changes are coming in the already-stumbling Hue Jackson era.
The Brock Osweiler era, we hardly knew ye. Pundits kept saying that some quarterback-needy NFL team would make a compelling offer for Osweiler. With no Peyton Manning and no Osweiler, who is a more quarterback-needy team than the Broncos? If only there had been a Brock Osweiler type available in free agency…. The worst news: Losing Osweiler doesn’t even qualify as the Super Bowl champs’ worst free agency loss. Proven defensive starters Malik Jackson (Jaguars) and Danny Trevathan (Bears) leveraged their Super Bowl credentials for big money elsewhere.
The Broncos are now the clubhouse leader as the answer to this question: Who is the least likely Super Bowl champion to repeat? Ever. The Broncos are, no doubt, putting on a brave face. But this is a tough time to be a Broncos believer, Super Bowl glow now waning. Last year’s seventh-round draft pick, Guy Youneverheardof, is it for Broncos QBs*. Options will necessarily include importing a veteran (Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick [who the 49ers say they aren’t trading] are the risky propositions most often mentioned). To add to the uncertainty, the 2016 draft crop is not considered a strong one for quarterbacks. Certainly not for the team picking last in every round.
* But wait! The Broncos swung a trade with Philadelphia for Mark Sanchez. Problem solved.
The Texans needed a better quarterback. Osweiler needed to be needed. The Texans couldn’t find a way to need an aging Arian Foster. But they did manage to replace him with a player that may be confused about the sport he’s being paid to play. Former Dolphin Lamar Miller stated “The Texans are getting a home-run hitter.” That may not pay dividends for the Texans, but I’ll bet the Houston Astros are very excited. The Astros are still a thing, right?
What will the Colts do in the post-Hasselbeck era? … said probably no one. Yet that’s where the Colts’ fortunes now lie. I guess it’s all on the repaired shoulders of Andrew Luck, who took most of last year off. After splurging last offseason in free agency and seeing few positive results, this year’s version of the Colts’ is a far more careful approach.
All is now supposedly well among the brain trust of owner Jim Irsay, general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano. And to prove it, they’re not getting anyone new to help out the team. Tight end Dwayne Allen was retained, but Coby Fleener will next play in New Orleans.
The Jaguars are in a spending mood. Malik Jackson, formerly of the Super Bowl Champion Broncos, is now a very rich defensive end living in northern Florida. Not content to just add one piece, the Jaguars also signed cornerback Prince Amukamara to a one-year deal. Amukamara was the 32nd-ranked cornerback in the NFL last year and the New York Giants (his former team) was the worst-ranked pass defense overall. I’ll understand if you are withholding your applause. Also, Chris Ivory now achieves “journeyman” status by leaving his last team, the Jets, for the Jags.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs made two big moves by re-signing their own: long-time defensive ends Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson. Both signed three-year deals. Another perhaps equally impressive signing was the five-year deal for former Brown Mitchell Schwartz, who will play right tackle. Cornerback Sean Smith took big bucks to become the latest former-Chief-now-Raider. Also gone: Jeff Allen, Tyvon Branch and Chase Daniel.
C.J. Anderson, formerly of the Broncos, signed a restricted free agent offer sheet. Broncos fans are waiting to see if they’ll lose another starter. Dolphins fans are wondering if Anderson will finally be the bashing workhorse running back the franchise hasn’t seen since Ricky Williams / Ronnie Brown. Olivier Vernon left to take better-than-J.J. Watt money to sign with the New York Giants. Watt the heck is going on in New York? Fans may not have noticed that Rishard Matthews defected to the Tennessee Titans. They probably noticed that Lamar Miller left for Houston.
New England Patriots
It’s the dawn of the 7–11 era in New England. Chris Hogan has been offered some pretty impressive dollars to now catch passes from Tom Brady. Akiem Hicks is shopping his wares around the league, but the Patriots may work to get him re-signed. As usual in the early stages of free agency, the Pats aren’t giving their fans much to throw ‘der Steel Rail Extra Pale Ales or Porter Square Porters at. But they probably will anyway.
New York Jets
To re-sign or not to re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick. Hasn’t just about every NFL team had to ask themselves that question at some point? While they’re making up their mind about the quarterback position, they curiously added aging running back Matt Forte for big bucks, while letting former starter Chris Ivory take the money the Jaguars were offering.
It’s spending spree time. Welcome, Bruce Irvin, Kelechi Osemele and Sean Smith. And if the ghost of Al Davis had anything to say about it, underperforming, speedy free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace would already be a Raider.
Emerging tight end Ladarius Green left San Diego, signing a four-year, $20 million deal with the Steelers to replace Heath Miller. Expect a parade announcement soon to celebrate the re-signing of guard Ramon Foster to a three-year deal.
San Diego Chargers
Travis Benjamin beat it out of Cleveland and signed with the Chargers for four years. Benjamin is not only smart to get out of Cleveland, but will be able to put his top-level speed to good use opposite Keenan Allen, while catching passes from a top-caliber quarterback in Philip Rivers. With Green gone to Pittsburgh, and left with the aged Antonio Gates, the Chargers are looking pretty thin at the tight end spot. They did manage to get a little beefier on the defensive line, where they signed Brandon Mebane from the Seattle Seahawks.
Crazy or shrewd? The Titans took running back enigma DeMarco Murray off the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles for a mere swapping of draft position in the fourth round of next months’ draft. I say “shrewd.” It’s a low-risk gambit for a back that only two seasons ago was unstoppable. This is good news for Murray, which highlights how much of a dumpster fire the 2015 Eagles were. The Titans also paid several millions of dollars to three gentlemen named Rishard Matthews, Ben Jones and Al Woods (re-signed), who I believe are football players.
Also on The Hit Job:
How to react to NFL free agency — NFC edition
It’s March! That means it’s the NFL’s shopping season before the real shopping season (NFL Draft)
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