NFL Free Agency 2018: Winners, Losers and Ripple Effects of Wild Tuesday Moves
NFL free agency doesn't truly arrive until Wednesday, but Tuesday was bonkers anyway.
On the first complete day of the legal-tampering period, the top five quarterbacks slated to hit the market reportedly agreed to deals, the most intriguing impending free-agent offensive lineman unofficially became the highest-paid guard in league history and a pair of top-notch 24-year-old receivers got paid.
Who won, who lost and what does it all mean for the market moving forward? Here's an all-encompassing look at what will probably go down as the wildest day of the 2018 offseason.
Kirk Cousins, of course
Not only did the 29-year-old quarterback become the highest-paid player in NFL history by agreeing to a three-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings worth $28 million per season, but all $84 million are guaranteed, per ESPN.com's Adam Schefter. That means Cousins will make at least $128 million over a five-year period between 2016 and 2020.
Not bad for a fourth-round pick who started just nine games during his first three seasons and has seen most of his rate-based numbers decline ever since a strong first full campaign as Washington's starter in 2015.
Cousins is good, but he hasn't experienced a playoff victory, he's been to just one Pro Bowl and it's possible he benefited from the system he played in and the weapons that surrounded him during his first two seasons as a starter.
Sean McVay was Cousins' offensive coordinator when he broke out in 2015 and made the Pro Bowl in 2016, and he was lucky to have a top-notch receiving corps and one of the best offensive lines in the league. With McVay and wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon gone and the line ravaged by injuries in 2017, Cousins had his worst season as a regular starter.
But that didn't stop the Vikes from giving him more money per year than any player in the history of professional football.
And basically every other quarterback
That Cousins deal set the market going forward, but it's not as though the rest of the quarterbacks scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on Wednesday fared poorly during the legal-tampering period.
Case Keenum, who was a middle-of-the-pack backup until 2017 and has one good season under his belt, is signing a two-year deal with the Denver Broncos that is worth at least $36 million, per Mike Klis of 9 News.
Sam Bradford, who has made a habit of failing to deliver on big contracts and has missed the vast majority of three of his last five seasons, managed to convince the Arizona Cardinals to give him a one-year, $20 million deal with the option of a further year at the same salary, according to Albert Breer of The MMQB.
And non-free-agent quarterbacks are also undoubtedly thrilled with these numbers. Because now Aaron Rodgers is criminally underpaid at $22 million a year, as are Matt Ryan at $20.8 million, Tom Brady at $20.5 million and of course Jared Goff and Carson Wentz (both of whom make just shy of $7 million per season on entry-level contracts).
It's only a matter of time before several of those guys surpass the $30 million plateau.
Keenum is coming off a better season than Cousins, they're basically the same age and Keenum probably has more tread on his tires, and yet he'll cost Denver far less than Cousins will cost Minnesota. That'll give general manager John Elway more room to breathe on the market.
Put another way, you're better off with Keenum plus a $10-million-a-year player than Cousins on his own.
Watkins is a 24-year-old top-five draft pick with the ability to become a top-end No. 1 receiver, but it's pretty amazing he and his agent were able to land a top-end No. 1 receiver contract from the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs already have Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt on offense, and they aren't cap rich. Yet, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, they're giving Watkins $16 million per season over the next three years, even though the Clemson product is joining his third team in as many seasons.
Watkins might finally emerge as an elite weapon, but his NFL resume doesn't explain why he's about to become the fourth-highest-paid receiver in the NFL. He's caught just 55 percent of the passes thrown his way the last two years, he hasn't played a full season since he was a rookie in 2014 and he's coming off the least productive season of his career in terms of catches and yards per game.
Teams don't just pay players for what they've done, but this is a little ridiculous.
Mitchell Trubisky and the Chicago Bears
Meanwhile, the Bears came to an agreement with the other big-name wide receiver on the market, adding Allen Robinson for a more reasonable $42 million over three years, per ESPN's Josina Anderson (h/t ESPN's Matt Bowen).
Robinson is Watkins' age and coming off a lost season due to a knee injury, but the 2014 second-round pick is just two years removed from a Pro Bowl campaign in which he put up 1,400 yards and a league-high 14 touchdowns.
Chicago had more money to spend than Kansas City and still managed to give up less in order to add a receiver with a better track record. That's good news for the team as a whole but quarterback Trubisky in particular.
Not only will the 2017 No. 2 overall pick have promising young wideout Cameron Meredith back from injury in 2018, he'll now have Robinson as well as high-upside former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Trey Burton (who also jumped on board with a four-year, $32 million deal on Tuesday, per Schefter) and speedy former Atlanta Falcons wideout Taylor Gabriel, according to former teammate Andrew Hawkins.
Trubisky's supporting cast will be a lot better in 2018 than it was during his rookie season.
Five years and $40 million with $20 million guaranteed from the Washington Redskins, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. That's quite a haul for a dude with eight touchdowns in four NFL seasons. The 2014 second-round pick has a lot of potential, but he's never caught 50 passes or hit the 750-yard mark and he caught a career-low 55 percent of the passes thrown his way during his first relatively full season as a starter in 2017.
Richardson owes his agent a nice bottle of wine, in addition to his commission.
The blockbuster deal guard Andrew Norwell agreed to with the Jacksonville Jaguars makes a lot of sense. Interior offensive linemen have been striking gold in recent years, and Norwell is a 26-year-old who has gotten better in each of his four NFL seasons.
Coming off an All-Pro campaign, he was bound to become the highest-paid guard in league history, and that will be the case when he signs the five-year, $66.5 million deal he has in place with the Jacksonville Jaguars, per Schefter.
That undoubtedly makes him a winner.
In many cases, a perceived free-agent winner signs with a perceived free-agent loser because it appears he's been overpaid, or a perceived free-agent loser signs with a perceived free-agent winner because it appears he's been underpaid.
But Norwell is being paid just right, and the already comically talented Jaguars got even better by sweeping in and stealing him from desperate counterparts. The Giants, Colts and 49ers were all in the mix, according to Art Stapleton of NorthJersey.com.
That's got to feel good.
And, yes, they lost Robinson, but he wasn't a factor last year anyway, and they at least brought back Marqise Lee, per Rapoport.
They were linked to Cousins throughout the early part of the offseason, but the only quarterback the Jets signed on Tuesday is Josh McCown. They can certainly afford McCown, who'll make $10 million on a one-year deal, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, while still competing to sign elite free agents, but it has to be disappointing to have missed out on all of the big-name quarterbacks.
According to Rapoport, New York might still sign Teddy Bridgewater, but there are major questions about his future after a long recovery from a severe knee injury.
The Jets entered the legal-tampering period with more salary-cap space than anyone else in football by a wide margin, but they've got nothing thus far to show for that except overrated corner Trumaine Johnson.
The New York Giants
Not only did the Giants lose interior offensive lineman Weston Richburg to the San Francisco 49ers, according to Schefter, they also missed out on Norwell. I know it's early, but they aren't doing a lot to help quarterback Eli Manning.
The Giants have to add a running back with more upside than Jonathan freakin' Stewart as well as at least one offensive lineman, especially if Orleans Darkwa and Justin Pugh get away.
The Carolina Panthers
Gone are Norwell, Star Lotulelei, per Schefter, and Kurt Coleman. According to Rapoport, they're signing cornerback Bashaud Breeland, but he might not provide much of an upgrade over the recently traded Daryl Worley.
The Seattle Seahawks
Richardson is about to become a Redskin, Graham is about to become a Packer, Richard Sherman is a 49er and Michael Bennett is about to become an Eagle, according to Schefter.
Cousins is a goner, they're even shallower at corner with Breeland gone and Kendall Fuller officially joining the Chiefs on Wednesday, per ESPN.com's Adam Teicher and John Keim, and they overpaid for Richardson. They've still got money to spend, but this isn't a good start.
The Indianapolis Colts
Nothing to report yet, despite the fact they have cap space to burn. Meanwhile, the division rival Jaguars have improved with Norwell, the division rival Tennessee Titans have improved with Malcolm Butler, per Rapoport, and the division rival Houston Texans have improved with Aaron Colvin, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.
One of the best young backup quarterbacks in the league was expected to have a chance to start somewhere in 2018, but it's not looking good.
With Brees staying in New Orleans, Cousins in Minnesota, Keenum taking over for the Broncos, Bridgewater reportedly in talks with the Jets, McCown already on that roster and Bradford on his way to Arizona, McCarron looks as though he might lose this game of musical chairs.
Now that Keenum will be locked in as Denver's starter, we might have clearance to call the 2016 first-round pick a bust.
DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills
Both Miami Dolphins receivers were probably excited about the opportunities they might have to replace the departed Jarvis Landry. It'll be tougher now that the Dolphins have spent a bunch of cash on Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson, according to Chris Perkins of the Sun Sentinel.
AJ McCarron to the Bills?
Prior to Tuesday, seven teams lacked clear-cut starting quarterbacks for the 2018 season. It looks like the Broncos (Keenum), Vikings (Cousins), Saints (Brees), Cardinals (Bradford) and Jets (McCown and possibly Bridgewater) settled their quarterback situations during the legal-tampering period, leaving just the Browns and Bills with starting quarterback voids.
But Cleveland agreed to trade for Tyrod Taylor from the Bills just a few days ago, per Schefter, which probably makes Buffalo the most obvious fit for McCarron. The former Alabama star might come a little cheaper now that the market has settled, which could enable the Bills to justify signing him before also drafting a quarterback in the first round.
Other quarterbacks still slated to hit the open market include Jay Cutler, Brock Osweiler, Geno Smith, Matt Moore, Chad Henne and Drew Stanton.
Bridgewater vs. McCown?
If Bridgewater joins the Jets, Gang Green could have an interesting quarterback battle on its hands this spring and summer. Newsday's Calvin Watkins reported that McCown has already been informed he'll start, but that's a little odd considering the lack of upside with him.
A lot of folks are cheering for Bridgewater, who looked as though he was becoming a star before tearing up his knee prior to the 2016 season. Wouldn't it be cool if he completed his comeback and became something special with a quarterback-starved team like the Jets?
Where do the Giants go from here?
Giants general manager Dave Gettleman wanted Norwell, who he signed as an undrafted rookie while running the Panthers front office in 2014. That didn't happen and Richburg is gone, and now the Giants offensive line is an even bigger mess than ever.
Breer reported they're in on longtime New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, which could cost them even more than the Jags paid for Norwell. But Solder is nearly 30 and probably on the back nine of his career, and he wouldn't do much to fix things inside. If they sign Solder or bring back Justin Pugh, there'll still be work to do.
So regardless of what happens now, I'd expect Big Blue to consider using that No. 2 overall pick (or a top-five pick after a trade) on phenomenal former Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson.
Running back market is quiet
Aside from the Giants signing Jonathan Stewart, the Jets bringing in Isaiah Crowell, per Pro Football Talk's Charean Williams), and Dion Lewis joining the Titans, per Rapoport, running backs remain on the shelves.
Could teams instead be thinking about hot running back prospects such as Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice, Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, Ronald Jones II and Kerryon Johnson?
Best free agents still available
A large portion of the top cream of the crop is gone, but several top-of-the-line impending unrestricted free agents have yet to agree to terms, including Solder, Bridgewater, McCarron, Pugh, defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson and Dontari Poe, linebackers Zach Brown, Nigel Bradham and Avery Williamson, pass-rusher Adrian Clayborn, cornerbacks Rashaan Melvin, Patrick Robinson and E.J. Gaines, safety Morgan Burnett and all of those aforementioned running backs.
So don't expect Wednesday to be much less wild.