The Most Surprising Early Developments of 2016 NFL Free Agency

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IMarch 11, 2016

The Most Surprising Early Developments of 2016 NFL Free Agency

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Unsurprisingly, the first two days of NFL free agency have produced a number of surprising moves and developments.

    The massive amount of spending money available has allowed teams to be flexible and aggressive, while the top players on the market have been the beneficiaries of huge deals. But we expected this reality, especially with teams such as the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders possessing unprecedented cap space.

    In the following slides, we will look at some of the more surprising developments of the first two days of free agency.

Eagles Trade DeMarco Murray, Byron Maxwell

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman wiped the slate clean on the first day of free agency, ridding the Eagles of running back DeMarco Murray, cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso—all major additions of former head coach Chip Kelly last offseason.

    The stunning part here is that Roseman found such willing trade partners for the trio.

    He sent Maxwell (one of the biggest free-agent busts of 2015) and Alonso (who Kelly acquired in return for running back LeSean McCoy) to the Miami Dolphins to move up five spots—from No. 13 to No. 8—in the first round of the 2016 draft.

    Later, the Tennessee Titans agreed to nothing more than swapping fourth-round picks in exchange for Murray, the 2014 NFL rushing champion.

    Roseman essentially shipped off three of Kelly's biggest acquisitions for nothing more than a few draft slots. The message was clear: Getting something back for Murray, Maxwell and Alonso was far less important than getting rid of the three and freeing the Eagles of a few bad contracts.

    According to Reuben Frank of CSN Philadelphia, the two trades cleared almost $10 million on the Eagles' cap for the 2016 season.

    The Eagles are beginning to reshape their image and culture in the post-Kelly era. Credit Roseman for pulling off two surprising deals to help jump-start the process.

Brock Osweiler Picks Texans over Broncos

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Denver Broncos general manager John Elway was prepared to give Brock Osweiler the keys to the defending Super Bowl champions, but the team's former second-round pick decided to ditch town and head for Texas.

    According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Osweiler signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Houston Texans—giving the AFC South champions a legitimate starter and creating a huge hole at the game's most important position for the Super Bowl 50 winners.

    Some will blame Osweiler for chasing the paycheck, despite him being the top quarterback available in a market flush with cash. Others will credit the Broncos for setting a spending limit and sticking to it, even against the possibility of losing a homegrown quarterback in the process.

    As it stands now, seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian is only the quarterback on the Broncos roster. But Osweiler is just the first of the quarterback dominoes to fall. The Broncos figure to be aggressive in replacing him, potentially with Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Fitzpatrick or Robert Griffin III.

    A Super Bowl winner with this much uncertainty at quarterback is rare. Stay tuned.

Browns Roster Takes a Big Hit

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    A Cleveland Browns roster already hurting for talent lost four starting players and missed on one of its big targets during the first day of free agency.

    Center Alex Mack signed with the Atlanta Falcons, receiver Travis Benjamin bolted for the San Diego Chargers, tackle Mitchell Schwartz landed a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs and safety Tashaun Gipson agreed to become the next member of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Former Bengals receiver Marvin Jones—who worked with Browns head coach Hue Jackson in Cincinnati—decided to join the Detroit Lions.

    The rebuilding effort in Cleveland just got more difficult. And this is still a team that doesn't have a future at the quarterback position, despite Johnny Manziel surviving the first and second days of the new league year without being released.

    [Update: The Browns released Manziel.]

    According to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, Jackson and executive vice president Sashi Brown won't panic despite the losses, as the Browns are determined to reconstruct the roster via the draft. But a team that finished 3-13 in 2015 still took a big hit in the talent department during free agency's first few days.

Running Backs Get Paid

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    Rob Foldy/Getty Images

    Who says the running back position has been devalued? 

    Lamar Miller, Chris Ivory and Doug Martin all signed multiyear deals worth over $6 million per year, while Matt Forte found a new home on the very first day of free agency. 

    According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Miller signed a four-year, $26 million deal (including $14 million guaranteed) with the Houston Texans. He'll join Brock Osweiler in a completely remade backfield for the AFC South champions. 

    Ivory surprised most by signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who gave the bruising back a five-year deal worth $32 million and $10 million guaranteed, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. In Jacksonville, Ivory will team with T.J. Yeldon to give the Jaguars a potentially potent one-two punch. 

    Martin, the NFL's second-leading rusher in 2015, decided to stay in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers signed him to a five-year, $36 million deal with $15 million guaranteed, according to Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune

    Forte, who turned 30 last December, didn't have to wait long in free agency, signing with the Jets on Wednesday. A dual-threat back for offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, Forte will help replace Ivory in New York. 

    The available money in the market helped the top running backs cash in on big deals, but count free agency as a minor comeback from the position. 

Giants Break the Bank

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    Robert Duyos-USA TODAY Sports

    With the third-most cap space entering free agency, the New York Giants were widely expected to be active on the open market. But could any one have predicted just how much New York would spend?

    According to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post, general manager Jerry Reese gave out over $200 million in contracts—including $114 million in guarantees—on the first day of free agency. The Giants re-signed defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, while also acquiring cornerback Janoris Jenkins, nose tackle Damon Harrison and defensive end Olivier Vernon—three of the top free agents available. 

    Those four players will be tasked with reviving a defense that gave up the most yards and third-most points in the NFL last season. 

    Pierre-Paul and Vernon could become a dynamic pass-rushing duo, Jenkins is an aggressive, playmaking cornerback and Harrison is one of the league's better run-stuffing interior linemen. 

    The Giants were the big spenders of the first day of free agency, a title that hasn't always resulted in wins. The pressure is on to translate the cash spent into a better product on the field in 2016. 

Eagles Give Chase Daniel $21 Million

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    George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    After re-signing Sam Bradford to a two-year, $36 million deal, head coach Doug Pederson and the Eagles doubled down at the quarterback position and brought Chase Daniel to Philadelphia on another big contract. 

    According to Tom Pelissero of USA Today, Daniel agreed to a three-year deal worth $21 million, with the potential to earn $36 million overall through incentives. 

    Daniel played under Pederson in Kansas City, where he backed up starter Alex Smith. The Eagles paid a pretty penny to reunite him with his former offensive coordinator. 

    Why? The Eagles know Bradford's injury history, and Daniel's knowledge in the system will be an asset while Pederson attempts to install a new offense. It's also next to impossible to get a quarterback without spending some serious money in today's market. Maybe $21 million is the new going price for a quality backup in the NFL. 

Broncos to Lose RB C.J. Anderson?

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    It was easy to envision the Super Bowl champion Broncos losing defenders such as Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan, two top free agents who earned massive paydays. But running back C.J. Anderson departing probably wasn't in John Elway's offseason plans. 

    According to Mike Klis of NBC 9 News in Denver, Anderson—a restricted free agent—signed a four-year, $18 million offer sheet with the Miami Dolphins. The Broncos have five days to match, but it seems unlikely Elway will have the funds to get him back in Denver. 

    Anderson was given the lowest restricted tender, meaning the Broncos would receive nothing in return if they decide not to match.

    Amazingly, the Broncos could go into next season without their top two quarterbacks and running backs from last season. Peyton Manning retired, Brock Osweiler signed in Houston and Ronnie Hillman is also a free agent. 

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