NFL Draft 2019: Seven Ways Free Agency Has Reshaped the Draft

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2019

NFL Draft 2019: Seven Ways Free Agency Has Reshaped the Draft

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Free agency has dramatically changed the outlook of the 2019 NFL draft.

    It started Monday with the opening of the so-called legal tampering window as numerous reported deals altered predictions for the upcoming draft.

    This happens every year. When the New York Giants coughed up a big contract for left tackle Nate Solder last year, it was clear offensive tackle was off the board at No. 2, which paved the way for them to draft Saquon Barkley. However, when the Arizona Cardinals rolled the dice on quarterback Sam Bradford, it didn't fool anyone—they grabbed Josh Rosen at 10th overall.

    While the free-agency market is technically in its infancy, the tampering window has allowed many major dominoes to fall. Some of the most important moves have the biggest draft implications.

         

Trent Brown Impacts 3 Different Picks

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    It took all of nine minutes into the legal tampering window for a big pairing to agree on terms and change the complexion of the draft.

    ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the Oakland Raiders swiped left tackle Trent Brown from the New England Patriots thanks to a four-year pact worth $66 million.

    Few were going to throw such a number at Brown.

    While Brown was easily the best tackle on the board, the Raiders had more free cap than most. As well, teams that could afford to fight for Brown were either fine at the position or worried that Brown only spent one year in New England while replacing the aforementioned Nate Solder.

    After drafting Kolton Miller 15th overall a year ago, the Raiders are set on the edges of the offensive line. It removes the position as a likely possibility at picks Nos. 4, 24 and 27. That's a relief for teams in the top 15 that hope a top lineman falls or that were worried the Raiders might package picks to move up to address the problem.

Safety Off the Table for Redskins at No. 15

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The Washington Redskins have had the strangest safety situation for the greater part of a year.

    D.J. Swearinger was the guy there entering last season, and he put on some superb performances. The season went south, though, and he found himself shipped out of town in December for repeated public comments about the team.

    In the middle of all this, the Redskins made a trade for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who is also a free agent.

    Fast-forward to now, and the Redskins have coughed up a six-year deal for Landon Collins checking in at $84 million, first reported Monday by Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

    Clearly, Redskins brass are tired of the drama at the position and wanted to make sure they secured the 25-year-old safety and former rival with the New York Giants.

    While fans can argue all day about whether Collins deserves such a high number, the reality is the Redskins don't have to worry about the position at No. 15 in the draft. With a hurting secondary, underwhelming group of receivers and question mark under center even after adding Case Keenum, Washington is a wild card and perhaps a trade-up candidate now that one of its biggest concerns has been smoothed over.

Trey Flowers Shelves Top-10 Pass-Rusher for Lions

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions looked sure to pick a pass-rusher in the top 10 of the draft.

    The Lions didn't want to fork over a big contract to one of their own, Ezekiel Ansah, in large part because of his inability to consistently stay on the field.

    Detroit took that money and threw it at former New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers, according to Adam Schefter. NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported it was a five-year deal worth $90 million for the former understudy of Lions head coach Matt Patricia.

    In other words, money earmarked for a pass-rusher went there anyway, as Flowers' 6.5 or more sacks in each of his last three seasons will look good on a defense that only tallied 43 a season ago.

    With this move solidified, a pick in the top 10 won't go to a pass-rusher, creating some interesting possibilities before and after the Lions walk to the podium at No. 8.

Nick Foles Solves QB for Jaguars

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    The deal everyone seemed to smell from a mile away came together quickly. Nick Foles and the Jacksonville Jaguars linked up on a contract worth a max value of $102 million, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.

    That's a lot of money for a quarterback with a career 61.6 completion percentage and just 54 games under his belt since 2012. But the Jaguars know they play in an erratic AFC South and seem to think the running game and defense are good enough to lift them to the playoffs. Once there, everyone knows what Foles can do.

    From a draft perspective, it frees up the seventh slot. With four or five quarterback prospects who are possible first-rounders, a team interested in adding one—such as the Cincinnati Bengals (11th), the Washington Redskins (15th) or even the Miami Dolphins (13th)—might ask the Jaguars about a trade up.

    Granted, the Jaguars could stay in the spot and get Foles a weapon to work with, but their flexibility will make the top 10 even more interesting with a run on quarterbacks always possible.

Bengals Secure OT, Alter Top-11 Possibilities

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    Bryan Woolston/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals entered the offseason in year two of an offensive line rebuild after the duo of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler departed in 2017.

    As free agency loomed, the Bengals were in danger of losing Bobby Hart, Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi at the position.

    To remedy this, the Bengals brought back Hart on a three-year deal worth $21 million, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. The 2015 seventh-round pick struggled last year with penalties and pass protection, but the new Bengals coaching staff clearly didn't want to go into free agency with one tackle on the roster.

    Comments from new offensive line coach Jim Turner at the NFL Scouting Combine indicate this is a starter-level move: "I thought he did a great job. I thought [he] was phenomenal. I know he gave up some sacks and pressures and all this other business, but if you really watch him play, he played with passion, and I thought he played well."

    With two starting tackles on the roster, the Bengals won't hit the position at No. 11 and could draft anything from quarterback to cornerback and beyond. A trade up or down isn't out of the picture either, as Hart's return made what might have been a boring pick one of the most unpredictable.

Packers Beef Up Pass Rush to Spice Up Top 12

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    The new Green Bay Packers have shot a jolt through the possibilities in the draft's top 12.

    The aggressive ways of general manager Brian Gutekunst clash with the Packers' typical old-school approach.

    Green Bay produced 44 sacks a season ago, and big names Clay Matthews and Nick Perry combined for only five. Gutekunst didn't sign just one pass-rusher in free agency to address the spot.

    He grabbed two.

    The Packers agreed to terms with Preston Smith, according to ESPN's Rob Demovsky. That followed the team's addition of Za'Darius Smith, per Ian Rapoport.

    With two high-upside pass-rushers to play off each other, the Packers are more difficult to project on draft day. For teams that hope stellar pass-rushers will fall down the board, the Packers' aggressiveness in getting proven players may pave the way for intriguing prospects to tumble.

Titans Hammer Multiple Needs

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans had one of the best early performances in free agency.

    They secured offensive lineman Rodger Saffold to boost the line in front of quarterback Marcus Mariota, according to Adam Schefter.

    Perhaps more impressively, the Titans solved a consistency problem with Mariota's weapons, agreeing to a contract with wideout Adam Humphries, according to Mike Garafolo. He's only 26 and dangerous, tallying 816 yards and five scores last year on a putrid Tampa Bay offense.

    In short, the team that picks 19th now has an open-ended approach to the first round and beyond. Model franchises usually address needs in free agency at proper values and take the best player available in the draft.

    The Titans are now in position to do this. They could also be aggressive with draft trades to add weapons that will help Mariota recover from his tailspin.