NFL free agency winners and losers so far

Courtesy+of+Paisano+Media

Courtesy of Paisano Media

Eddie Sanchez, Staff Writer

It is that time of the year again for the NFL, when post-Super Bowl events take place and many players test free agency. For most players, there are three considerations before signing the dotted line. Should they take a hometown discount, look for that mega splash deal, or go ring chasing and join dynasty teams like the Kansas City Chiefs? There are many factors that go into the decisions of these athletes, and so far, we have seen a flurry of activity early during free agency. Here are some of the NFL teams who have made great acquisitions so far, and also some teams that have fallen flat.

WINNERS:

#1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 

The team led by Tom Brady, who eliminated Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes in last year’s postseason run, will return almost their entire core group, most likely. There is still no confirmation with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Leonard Fournette, who many have said will return. Regardless, Tampa Bay has already made the crucial signings they need to make another Super Bowl run. They re-signed the best pass rusher on the market, Shaquil Barrett (four years, $72M), and placed their franchise tag on the best wide receiver on the market, Chris Godwin (one year, $15-16M). The Buccaneers re-signed All-Pro veteran linebacker Lavonte David (two years, $25M) and Brady’s best friend, tight end Rob Gronkowski (one year, $10M), who scored two touchdowns in the Super Bowl last month. There were some concerns that Tampa Bay would not be able to bring back all of these contributors, but this team is absolutely ready to go back-to-back with these necessary signings. Another benefit is the retirement of Drew Brees, arguably one of the best quarterbacks ever, leaving the Buccaneers to reign over the division. With the New Orleans Saints likely heading for a rebuild, the Carolina Panthers showing little threat of immediate contention after finishing 5-11 and the Atlanta Falcons’ window seeming to have closed with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones reaching the end of their careers; Brady and the Bucs are in pole position to claim the NFC South next year.

#2 New England Patriots: 

Head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft were busy right out of the gate. The Patriots signed or re-signed 14 players in the first week of free agency. Notable players like linebacker Matt Judon, tight end Jonnu Smith, tight end Hunter Henry and wide receiver Kendrick Bourne should provide boosts to both sides of the field. While they did lose two-time Super Bowl guard Joe Thuney, the Patriots made a big splash signing multiple players to improve around just one fantastic offensive lineman. Cam Newton coming back for another year is also a plus as he seemed to flash some of his MVP status during some games early in the season. Catching COVID-19 last year did not help his momentum, and Newton never looked comfortable once he returned. With another season under his belt and the Patriots staying engaged in free agency, along with the potential for a flawless draft from Bill Belichick, will all of this be enough to regain their AFC East dominance and knock the Buffalo Bills out of the top spot?

#3 Indianapolis Colts:

While not strictly a move during free agency, but very important to their off-season success, the Colts grabbing quarterback Carson Wentz from the Eagles in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick and a conditional 2022 second round-round pick was a bold move.  Many people see the addition of Wentz as very promising and the missing piece for a talented Colts team. Wentz has been on the hot seat every year since his ACL injury in 2017. Nick Foles winning a Superbowl in his absence did not help either. While some may doubt Wentz’s current abilities, let us not forget Wentz led a dismantled Eagle’s team to the playoffs just two seasons ago. Also, the Philadelphia Eagles have not been the same since their Super Bowl year. That, along with other team frustrations, spelled out that it was time to go for Wentz. A fresh start is what he needs with a very talented Colts team who almost knocked the Buffalo Bills out of the playoffs last year. They also re-signed cornerback Xavier Rhodes (one year, $6.5M), who had a solid year. Re-signing running back Marlon Mack (one year, $2M) is also huge, as he is part of a three-headed monster rushing attack with Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. Crucially, the team also did not shell out big money contracts elsewhere, setting themselves up to extend some of their brightest stars in the future, such as linebacker Darius Leonard. If Carson Wentz returns to form along with this 11-5 team, they can make a push in the AFC South. 

OTHER NOTABLE WINNERS: Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs.

LOSERS: 

#1 Chicago Bears:

Not Deshaun Watson, not Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton. While there were heavy conversations and negotiations surrounding Chicago acquiring their franchise quarterback, they ended up with Andy Dalton (one year, $13M). The Bears reportedly offered up a crazy deal to Seattle for Wilson, offering three first-round picks, a third-round pick, with two additional starters. However, this was eventually denied as no agreement was reached, and the Bears had to settle for Dalton. It has to be extremely disappointing for the fanbase, going from almost acquiring one of the best quarterbacks in the league to landing a below-average veteran. While the Bears did franchise tag their best wide receiver Allen Robinson, that is the only positive out of a myriad of problems in the Windy City. In addition, the Bears also had to release star cornerback Kyle Fuller to make room for the Dalton signing. This team still has one of the best defenses in the league, but their offense continues to be an issue. They could not put drives together and, most importantly, when it mattered most, get into the end zone. The question of whether or not Andy Dalton is even an upgrade over Mitchell Trubisky or Nick Foles is likely to dominate the rest of the offseason conversation in Chicago. 

#2 Dallas Cowboys:

The Cowboys finally signed their quarterback after back-and-forth chatter which seemed never-ending until now. Dallas reached a deal with Dak Prescott on a whopping four years, $160M extension. This is yet another huge contract under their belt. With Ezekiel Elliot, Amari Cooper and Demarcus Lawrence also possessing big contracts, the salary cap crunch on Dallas is certain to hamstring them going forward. That being said, their defense was the major issue last year. The Cowboys finished 6-10 and gave up the second-most yards in franchise history. The Cowboys finished almost dead last in every defensive category, including 28th in opponents’ points per game and 30th in opponent’s touchdowns per game. They also lost their best cornerback in free agency, Chidobe Awuzie. The only major outside defensive signing they have made so far this free agency is safety Keanu Neal, a very promising player who has failed to return to form after some serious injuries early in his career. Coming off an Achilles tear and an ACL tear, it is tough to expect much from him. The defense is expected to stay the same or worse with no more cap room, and who knows what condition Prescott returns in after a gruesome injury. Many would say last season was the result of his absence, but do not forget the team still had a negative record with him. 

#3 Baltimore Ravens: 

The Ravens have a solid defense every year, but the main problem is getting a number one wide receiver for Lamar Jackson. Once again, the Ravens stayed quiet and watched all the major receivers in this free agency class find new homes without landing one themselves. Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson and Kenny Golladay were the top receivers to sign this off-season. Golladay recently went off the board to the New York Giants and Godwin and Robinson decided to take their franchise tags. While they did sign offensive guard Kevin Zeitler (three years, $22M) to help the interior, what use is time to throw if he cannot rely on any pass-catcher other than his security blanket tight end, Mark Andrews? They also let their Pro Bowl pass rusher, Matt Judon, land in New England. With so much speculation on wondering if Jackson can truly be a franchise quarterback that can take a team to the Super Bowl with his arm, that answer will be hard to find if he has no wideouts who are wide receiver #1 material to throw to. We know Jackson is flashy when he scrambles and is nearly unstoppable in the open field. However, to win the games that matter most, Jackson has to start throwing the ball more efficiently, and a top tier wide receiver could help him greatly in doing so.

OTHER NOTABLE LOSERS: Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks

While it may be very early in free agency, many of the high-tier players have already made their decisions. However, there are still some key players who could fill a roster spot and help that team get over the edge. The NFL Draft is also around the corner, and some players like to wait and see the structure of teams afterward to make their final decision.