NFL Free Agency 2017: Winners and Losers of Day 1

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMarch 10, 2017

NFL Free Agency 2017: Winners and Losers of Day 1

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    The madness is well and truly underway.

    At 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, free agency officially opened across the National Football League. Not that there hadn't been plenty of wildness already.

    The "legal tampering" period earlier in the week led to any number of deals being agreed to, although they couldn't officially be signed until Thursday afternoon—deals that led to some happy NFL teams and even happier agents.

    Pierre Garcon's rep is looking for a new boat as we speak.

    I've already offered up grades for Wednesday's moves, and my esteemed colleague Brad Gagnon will be doing the same for Thursday's signings.

    However, there's more than one way to skin the proverbial cat (one of the more disturbing turns of phrase you'll hear), so we're going to look at that latter group a little differently.

    Which teams made the best use of their available cap space? Who got caught flat-footed and missed out on the first wave of free agency? And who is joining Garcon's agent at the marina?

    In other words, who are Thursday's biggest winners and losers in free agency?

Winner: Stephon Gilmore

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    Well, it didn't take long for us to hit the boat-shopping part of Thursday's program.

    The agent looking for a new 45-footer is Jason Chayut of Sportstars, who is the representative of New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

    You heard that right.

    In one of the biggest surprises of the first official day of free agency, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (who, given his activity level the past 48 hours, is obviously a robot from the future) reports that Gilmore will bolt the Buffalo Bills for their AFC East rivals in Beantown.

    Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the deal is five years and $65 million, including the most guaranteed money ($40 million) the Patriots have ever given a defensive player.

    Jack-pot.

    You may question the wisdom of spending huge money on an up-and-down young cornerback who ranked 60th at the position last year at Pro Football Focus.

    But it cannot be argued that Gilmore is having a very good day. In addition to landing a truck full of money, the 26-year-old goes from a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since Bill Clinton was president to the team that's won two of the last three Super Bowls.

    Gilmore ain't looking for some oversized dinghy.

    He's in the market for a yacht.

Loser: Arizona Cardinals

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    Free agency in 2017 was something of a scheduled trip for a root canal for the Arizona Cardinals.

    They knew it was coming, and they knew it was going to be unpleasant.

    It hasn't been all bad. As Jason La Canfora wrote for CBS Sports, the Cardinals agreed to terms on a five-year, $83 million megadeal with top pass-rusher Chandler Jones that will give the team more cap flexibility than they had with Jones playing under the franchise tag.

    However, in some respects it was too little, too late.

    Rapoport tweeted that defensive end Calais Campbell is leaving the desert after agreeing to terms on a whopper of his own with the Jacksonville Jaguars—a contract that will net the 30-year-old an average annual salary of $15 million.

    The defections didn't stop there. Per Schefter, the Redbirds are also losing starting strong safety Tony Jefferson to the Baltimore Ravens.

    It isn't that these moves were unexpected. From the day the Cardinals tagged Jones, it's been believed that Arizona couldn't afford to retain Jefferson and Campbell.

    Certainly not at $24 million in combined annual salary.

    The Cardinals moved quickly to replace Jefferson with veteran Antoine Bethea, as the team announced, but Campbell's loss can't be overstated. Campbell was the No. 1 3-4 defensive end in the NFL last year, per Pro Football Focus, and by a wide margin. The hole he leaves behind in Phoenix is as big as his 300-pound frame.

    The Cardinals knew this day was coming, but that doesn't mean it didn't hurt.

Winner: Andrew Whitworth

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    It's a harsh fact of life in the NFL—as birthday No. 30 gets smaller in the rearview mirror of life, so do contracts in free agency.

    Unless you're offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, in which case forget that nonsense.

    As Kevin Patra of NFL.com reported, the Los Angeles Rams agreed to terms on a three-year contract with the 35-year-old left tackle, who spent his first 11 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.

    Per Rapoport, the pact is worth $36 million total, with $15 million guaranteed.

    Now, odds are good that Whitworth won't get the whole $36 million. That $15 million in guarantees is the only number that really matters, and the deal is sure to be front-loaded.

    However, even if Whitworth only sees $25 million or so over the next couple of seasons, it's a nice payday for a player who's closer to 40 than 30.

    He earned it, too. In 2016, Whitworth was the third-ranked tackle in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus, and his ability to keep quarterbacks upright can only help Jared Goff's development in the quarterback's second year. 

Loser: Chicago Bears

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    This isn't as bad as it could have been.

    When news broke early in the legal tampering period that the Bears were the front-runner to land free-agent quarterback Mike Glennon and that Chicago was set to pay him $15 million a year to join the team, visions of the monstrosity that was Brock Oseweiler's deal in Houston began filling the heads of Bears fans.

    As ESPN's Adam Schefter reported, the three-year, $45 million contract (with $19 million in guarantees) that brought the 27-year-old to the Windy City isn't that bad.

    However, it's still bad.

    First of all, as Albert Breer of NFL.com reported, the Bears may have paid the four-year veteran more than they needed to. The New York Jets and Buffalo Bills had kicked the tires on acquiring Glennon, but they quickly bailed when the Bears offered over $5 million more per season than they were willing to pay.

    It may be that the Jets and Bills were given pause by Glennon's 11 pass attempts over the past two seasons.

    Or it might be that his 5-13 record as a starting quarterback unnerved them.

    Perhaps it's that Glennon played so well over those 18 starts that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers first benched him for journeyman veteran Josh McCown and then used the No. 1 overall pick in 2015 to draft Jameis Winston.

    Quite the vote of confidence.

    Whatever the reason, the Bears quickly became the only team involved in the Glennon sweepstakes.

    Hooray for them.

    Can't wait to see how this makes them so much better than they were than with Jay Cutler.

    Or Brian Hoyer.

    Or Matt Barkley.

Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Given the success of the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, it went a bit unnoticed, but at 9-7 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a big step forward in Dirk Koetter's first year as head coach.

    The Buccaneers entered 2017 flush with cap space and a clear need at wide receiver opposite top dog Mike Evans.

    That hole has been filled.

    Former Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins speedster DeSean Jackson is taking his talents to Florida's gulf coast.

    OK, that doesn't really have the same ring to it.

    Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the 30-year-old Jackson will receive $35 million over three seasons, with $20 million in guarantees.

    That's a big pile of cheese, but it's hard to find fault with the signing. Jackson has eclipsed 1,000 yards in five of nine NFL seasons (including 2016), and while he may not be getting any younger, his 17.8 yards per catch last year belies his status as one of the NFL's most dangerous vertical threats.

    Tampa quarterback Jameis Winston has more than enough arm to take full advantage of Jackson's speed, and pairing him with Evans causes quite the potential dilemma for opposing defenses.

    The Buccaneers wasted no time in filling a need with a proven NFL commodity.

    Jackson's old team, on the other hand...

Loser: Washington Redskins

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    It hasn't been a good week for the Washington football team.

    In fact, the next good thing that happens this week will be the first good thing.

    The week dawned with the curious absence of general manager Scot McCloughan from team headquarters. According to Mike Jones and Liz Clarke of the Washington Post, friction between McCloughan and team president Bruce Allen had reached the point where the GM's departure was "inevitable."

    Sure enough, ESPN.com's John Keim reported Thursday evening that McCloughan had been fired.

    The Redskins have looked like a team with no one steering the ship this week.

    Top wide receiver DeSean Jackson? Gone to Tampa Bay as I just mentioned.

    No. 2 receiver Pierre Garcon? Also gone after signing a fat pact with the San Francisco 49ers, per Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network.

    It's the first time in NFL history a team has lost two 1,000-yard receivers from the prior year in the same season.

    Of course, the Redskins may not need wide receivers, since they might not have a quarterback.

    According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, negotiations between Washington and franchise-tagee Kirk Cousins have degenerated to the point that Cousins personally appealed to owner Dan Snyder for a trade out of town.

    Cousins may not get his wish in 2017, but come next year all indications are he's a goner as fast as he can pack his bags.

    Oh, and per Rapoport, defensive end Chris Baker is leaving too.

    Capitol Hill isn't the only circus in the nation's capital right now.

Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars Fans

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    I considered making the Jaguars themselves "winners" after their huge defensive splurge on the first official day of free agency.

    But we've seen this movie before. In the past, more often than not big-ticket acquisitions for the Jaguars haven't lived up to the price tag.

    And man oh man is Calais Campbell's price tag big.

    For the second straight year, the Jaguars doled out huge cash to a five-technique 3-4 end they will apparently attempt to incorporate into their four-man front.

    Don't get me wrong. As well-regarded as Campbell is in league circles, I still believe he's arguably the most underrated defensive end in the NFL. He's a monster against the run with impossible quickness for a man his size (6'8", 300 lbs).

    But he's also a 30-year-old player being tasked with learning a new position and scheme. A player who will now be expected to live up to a—per Schefter—$15 million a year salary.

    The Jaguars were only getting started. In addition to Campbell, the Jags also doled out huge money to one of this year's top free-agent cornerbacks. According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, the team poached from AFC South rival Houston, bringing in A.J. Bouye on a five-year, $67.5 million deal.

    The additions of Campbell, Bouye and safety Barry Church (who landed a four-year deal, per Rapoport) make the Jaguars look formidable defensively on paper.

    Campbell, 2016 signee Malik Jackson and former No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler up front.

    Veteran middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and youngsters Myles Jack and Telvin Smith.

    And a secondary that now includes Church, Bouye, Tashaun Gipson and 2016 No. 5 pick Jalen Ramsey.

    Games aren't played on paper, though, and the deals also total over $150 million combined. Last year, a similar spending spree on Jackson and Gipson didn't translate to on-field success.

    If it did, Gus Bradley would still be head coach.

    Still, for a fanbase starved for things to be excited about, Thursday was a good day.

    We'll see how long the smiles last.

Loser: Andy Dalton

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    Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has long had a reputation of being a very good quarterback when his pocket is clean...

    And a not-so-good quarterback with guys in his grill.

    As Carl Yedor of Football Outsiders pointed out last year, the numbers bear that perception out. In 2015 Dalton had the eighth-biggest drop in DVOA in the NFL when facing pressure.

    Given that statistic, Thursday's free-agent happenings do not bode especially well for the Bengals' chances of making it back to the playoffs in 2017.

    In addition to losing his blindside protector when Andrew Whitworth signed with the Los Angeles Rams, Dalton watched guard Kevin Zeitler sign a five-year $60 million contract—according to Mike Garafolo of NFL.com—to head up I-71 and join the Cleveland Browns.

    Whitworth and Zeitler were Cincinnati's two best offensive linemen. Both ranked inside the top 10 at their respective positions at Pro Football Focus in 2016.

    The Bengals drafted Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher in 2015 in the hopes one could step in on the left side as Whitworth's replacement. But Ogbuehi struggled in a major way last year on the right side of the line.

    Ogbuehi and Fisher are going to have to grow up in a hurry, and the Bengals will have to try to figure out how to replace Zeitler.

    Bad news for Dalton and a Bengals line that already took a step back in 2016. 

Winner: Alshon Jeffery and the Philadelphia Eagles

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    You have to love it when a plan comes together.

    The Philadelphia Eagles came into free agency with a glaring need at wide receiver. They wasted no time addressing it, agreeing to terms early with speedster Torrey Smith on what is essentially a one-year, $5 million deal, per USA Today's Tom Pelissero.

    The Eagles weren't done with the one-year contracts. Later in the day, they landed arguably this year's top receiver in free agency on a similar (albeit larger) contract.

    As Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune wrote, the NFL Network reported that Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is also headed to the City of Brotherly Love on a one-year, $14 million deal.

    It's essentially a best-case scenario for everyone except the Bears.

    For Jeffery, who had 52 catches for 821 yards and two scores in 2016, it's a chance to rehab his stock after a pair of injury- and suspension-marred campaigns. If he's able to return to form, Jeffery can hit free agency again in a year and get the megadeal he hoped was coming in 2017.

    The Eagles, on the other hand, get a 27-year-old No. 1 receiver who topped 1,000 yards in both 2013 and 2014 without making a long-term commitment. If Jeffery doesn't return to form, the Eagles are out just this year's salary.

    It's a win for all involved.

    Well, except for Chicago.

Loser: Rick Smith

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    Rick Smith needs a hug.

    As John McClain of the Houston Chronicle wrote, a year ago at this time the Houston Texans general manager was talking up the acquisition of quarterback Brock Osweiler on a four-year, $72 million contract.

    "We came out of the film room agreeing that Brock Osweiler was the quarterback to lead us where we want to go," Smith said.

    However, as the team's website reported, after one disastrous season with the Texans, Smith sang a much different tune Thursday.

    "The decision to trade Brock was made because it was in the best interest of the team," Smith said. "It frees up both cash and salary-cap room to continue to improve our football team. We appreciate Brock’s effort and leadership while he was with us, and we wish him and his family well."

    That's right. One year after being hailed as the signal-caller who would lead Houston to the Super Bowl, Osweiler was traded to the Cleveland Browns—along with a second-round pick in 2018.

    The Texans didn't get the pick from Cleveland. They gave it to them to get out from under Osweiler's onerous deal.

    A deal that doesn't reflect well on the general manager who created it.

    Throw in that the Texans watched their top cornerback (Bouye) bolt for an AFC South rival, and Smith probably wishes he had a time machine.

    Guessing he'd go back about a year.

Winner: Cleveland Browns

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    Yes, you read that right.

    The Cleveland Browns entered free agency with more cap space than any team in the NFL, holes all over the roster and a reputation for bungling just about every personnel move they've made since, well, 1999.

    For one day at least, the Browns turned that perception on its head.

    The Browns aggressively looked to improve an offensive line that struggled in a big way in 2016. In addition to making Zeitler the highest-paid guard in NFL history, the Browns also brought in former Green Bay Packers center JC Tretter, per La Canfora.

    This should make any Cleveland fan who saw Cameron Erving play center last year very happy.

    As Rapoport reported, the Browns also re-upped guard Joel Bitonio, who missed most of the 2016 season with a foot injury, on a six-year, $51 million extension.

    If Bitonio is healthy, whoever is quarterback for the Browns in 2017 should have a bit more time than the beleaguered and motley crew of starters they rolled out at the position during last year's 1-15 debacle.

    Apparently it won't be the recently acquired Brock Osweiler. Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, teams have already contacted the Browns about trading for the 26-year-old.

    If that doesn't work, Rapoport tweeted the Browns could cut him loose and eat his $16 million salary.

    That begs a question: If the Browns are willing to set that much money on fire, why didn't they just franchise-tag Terrelle Pryor instead of (or in addition to) the $32.5 million over four years (per ESPN's Adam Caplan) the team gave wideout Kenny Britt?

    Oh well. It is the Browns, after all.

    Can't expect them to do everything right.

Loser: Los Angeles Chargers

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    Offensive tackles are worth their weight in gold in the NFL. And given how much they weigh, that can translate to a lot of gold.

    It also means that on the rare occasions when tackles hit the open market (especially left tackles), they have a tendency to be overpaid.

    Enter the Los Angeles Chargers.

    As ESPN's Josina Anderson tweeted Thursday afternoon, the Chargers agreed to terms with Russell Okung on a four-year, $53 million contract. The deal includes $25 million in guarantees.

    This isn't to say that the Chargers didn't need tackle help. King Dunlap was inconsistent on the left side in 2016, ranking 47th at the position, according to Pro Football Focus. He was also arrested on Feb. 16 on suspicion of violating a protective order, per Natalie Neysa Alund of USA Today

    However, the Chargers didn't really get any better. Okung was every bit as inconsistent as Dunlap last year, ranking only a few spots higher on PFF in his one season in Denver. The 29-year-old's stint as a dominant tackle in Seattle was quite a while ago.

    It it wasn't, he'd still be in Seattle.

    But that didn't stop the Bolts (in terms of average annual salary) from making Okung the highest-paid tackle in the NFL.

    Was this the worst signing of the first official day of free agency? No.

    But it was nowhere near the best either.

Winner: Ozzie Newsome

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    The Wizard of Oz is at it again.

    Granted, it hasn't been a flawless start to free agency for the Baltimore Ravens. The team lost fullback Kyle Juszczyk to the San Francisco 49ers and watched right tackle Ricky Wagner sign a fat contract with the Detroit Lions, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press

    However, it was considered essentially a foregone conclusion that Wagner would leave for big money, and the Ravens just don't have the cap space to pay their fullback over $5 million a season.

    Besides, the moves Newsome has pulled off have more than made up for those losses.

    In addition to bringing in Tony Jefferson to pair with Eric Weddle at safety, Newsome also picked up Mike Wallace's 2017 option after his career 2016, according to Pro Football Talk.

    As Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun wrote, the Ravens finalized a three-year deal with veteran pass-catching back Danny Woodhead on Thursday—a deal that looks all the wiser given news that tailback Kenneth Dixon will open the season on suspension.

    Newsome's coup de grace on the first official day of free agency came late Thursday, however, as ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted that the Ravens and talented young nose tackle Brandon Williams agreed to a deal that will keep the 28-year-old in Charm City.

    It's an important signing, but it isn't a cheap one. In his 9,721,143rd tweet of the day, Rapoport passed along word that the five-year, $54 million contract Williams signed makes him the league's highest-paid nose tackle.

    The Ravens had two "priority" in-house free agents in 2017—Wagner and Williams. The belief the former would leave was based on the opinion that Williams' ability to clog running lanes and collapse the pocket would be harder to replace.

    Watching both guys leave could have kicked the Ravens into "loser" territory Thursday. Instead, Newsome not only kept his beefeater in the fold but also made a few other quality acquisitions while doing it.

    He's a multitasker.