Ranking the Biggest Draft Implications from 2019 NFL Free Agency
We're just about a week into NFL free agency, and as is the case every year, player movement has created seismic changes from coast to coast.
The New York Jets spent approximately all the money ever on big contracts for the likes of tailback Le'Veon Bell and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. The Oakland Raiders made Trent Brown the highest-paid offensive lineman. The Jacksonville Jaguars signed Nick Foles to be their new franchise quarterback.
And two of the NFL's biggest names at wide receiver (Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr.) were traded in jaw-dropping deals.
This mayhem has done a lot more than just shake up rosters. It has also had a major impact on the draft needs (and plans) of many of the teams picking at the top of Round 1, from the San Francisco 49ers and Jets to the Jaguars and New York Giants.
Here's a look at the biggest impacts free agency has had in that regard—beginning with how the Jags are going to keep Foles from getting killed. In some cases it's all about the pick that was affected. In others it's a matter of the importance of the position. In at least one case, it's a bit of both.
And all could send shockwaves across the NFL on April 25.
10. The Draft's 1st Offensive Tackle Is Coming off the Board at No. 7
The Jaguars have their quarterback after signing Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles to a four-year, $88 million contract.
Their next step in getting back in the postseason is making sure that Foles remains upright. According to Football Outsiders, the Jaguars ranked 27th in pass protection in 2018. The team allowed 53 sacks—tied for third-most in the league. Presumptive starting left tackle Cam Robinson is rehabbing an ACL tear.
Given that, it's not surprising so many mock drafts have the Jaguars as the first team to take an offensive tackle in April at No. 7 overall. For Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, that tackle is Florida's Jawaan Taylor.
"After landing Nick Foles at quarterback, they now need to fix the offense around him," Prisco wrote. "Taylor would be a Day 1 starter on the right side with the release of Jermey Parnell."
Kalyn Kahler of The MMQB agreed:
"With Nick Foles headed to Jacksonville, the quarterback issue is put to rest (or at least put on hold) for the Jaguars. What they need is offensive line help to lead the way for Leonard Fournette. Taylor is a giant right tackle who, at 312 pounds, is about 70 pounds lighter than he was when he arrived in Gainesville. He dominates in the run game and could step in right away and contribute."
There are other candidates in this spot—Alabama's Jonah Williams and predraft riser Andre Dillard of Washington State chief among them. While the particular player isn't a certainty, the odds have skyrocketed for the draft's first offensive tackle to go seventh.
9. The Bengals Need to Go Defense at No. 11
In news that should surprise no one, the Cincinnati Bengals have not been big players in free agency. It's par for the course with general manager Mike Brown, who has long had a reputation for being—let's go with "frugal."
The Bengals have over $30 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap, so it's possible that Brown will make an addition or two in free agency's second (or even third) wave. But if the Bengals are going to make an impact addition in 2019, it's likely going to be with the 11th overall pick April 25.
That addition has to be on defense after the Bengals finished 2018 dead last in the NFL—allowing a jaw-dropping 413.6 yards per game.
Injuries and poor play at the linebacker position were the biggest causes of that face plant. A return to health from veteran Preston Brown will help, but the dream scenario would be if Devin White falls to No. 11...especially after the Bengals released Vontaze Burfict.
However, that isn't likely. In other words, there's next to no chance it will happen.
Michigan's Devin Bush is another possibility for an off-ball linebacker, although some may see the 11th pick as too early for him. The Bengals also need help at corner after likely losing Darqueze Dennard in free agency, and NFL teams can never have too many pass-rushers.
Whatever the position, the Bengals have to do something about that terrible defense.
8. Devin White Could Be a Top-5 Pick
The 2019 edition of free agency brought with it something you don't often see in today's NFL—mondo contracts for off-ball linebackers.
The New York Jets gave C.J. Mosley a whopping $17 million a season. Even though Kwon Alexander tore his ACL last year, the San Francisco 49ers handed him $13.5 million per campaign. Oft-injured "Mike" linebacker Jordan Hicks received a four-year, $34 million deal from the Arizona Cardinals.
Those contracts demonstrated the premium that teams place on rangy linebackers capable of holding their own in coverage on backs and tight ends.
As Kyle Crabbs suggested for the Draft Network, there's zero question that LSU's Devin White is the best off-ball prospect in 2019:
"Devin White has the ceiling of a star in the NFL. White's explosive range, hitting power and explosiveness complement a sturdy frame and some awesome reps of reads at the LOS. The contact balance issues with White may scare some teams, but provided he's able to square up his challenges with more consistency it's difficult to project anything less than Pro Bowls in his future. White plays through contact and trash well, he's a viable starter in any system."
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold the fifth overall pick in this year's draft, and while the team added Deone Bucannon as a potential replacement for Alexander, the inside linebacker spot next to Lavonte David in coordinator Todd Bowles' new defense remains a question mark.
White's talented enough to merit a look there, and given how important those ILB spots are in Bowles' scheme, it's a genuine possibility that White won't last past the Bucs.
7. The Patriots Will Be in Full 'Monty Hall' Mode
There are two constants for the New England Patriots in the first round of the draft.
The first is the Pats pick toward the bottom. This year, they have the No. 32 selection—such is the price of winning that Super Bowl thing.
The second is that the Patriots aren't even a little bit shy about making moves. Some years, it means a trade back. Others, it's a trade up to get a player they covet.
That's what happens when a team is perpetually in win-now mode.
And this year, it's not hard to imagine that the Pats will make a move.
They watched edge-rusher Trey Flowers and tackle Trent Brown sign massive free-agent deals with the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders, respectively, meaning they lost their top pass-rusher and starting blindside protector.
The team (in theory) has in-house replacements in veteran Michael Bennett and second-year pro Isaiah Wynn, but the lines remain areas of need.
Every year, there are players who slide further than draftniks expect in the first round. Should a tackle like Oklahoma's Cody Ford or Washington State's Andre Dillard or an EDGE such as Clemson's Clelin Ferrell experience an awkward moment in the green room, it might be a blessing in disguise—for both the Patriots and that player, assuming he likes winning and stuff.
6. Dwayne Haskins May Be in for a Draft-Day Dive
Not that long ago, it looked like Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins would not only be the first quarterback selected in the 2019 draft but also go off the board early.
Now? There's a plausible scenario in which Haskins drops from the top 10 altogether—because New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman has taken leave of his senses.
According to ESPN's Dianna Russini (via Jordan Raanan's Breaking Big Blue podcast), all those mock drafts that have slotted Haskins to the Giants at No. 6 are way off. Russini noted the Giants are "not doing a lot of work" on the 6'3", 231-pounder because he "doesn't fit" with the team.
That's ostensibly because he's not exceptionally mobile. You know, because Eli Manning won two Super Bowls in New York by scrambling all over the place.
The brain-bending inanity of that decision aside, if this is more than just predraft smoke, then Haskins could have a rough go in the draft's green room (assuming he's invited).
The Jaguars, who pick at No. 7, just handed Nick Foles a four-year, $88 million contract. Spending a top-10 pick on another quarterback wouldn't be a rousing vote of confidence in the 30-year-old.
The Detroit Lions aren't in the market for a quarterback at No. 8. The Buffalo Bills (at No. 9) most assuredly aren't after taking Josh Allen seventh overall last year.
That leaves the Denver Broncos at No. 10, and they just traded for Joe Flacco. That wouldn't preclude general manager John Elway from taking Haskins—but it's no sure thing.
The Ohio State product's best bet at being drafted early might be if a team like the Bengals or Miami Dolphins makes a move up to grab him.
5. The Giants Are Open for Business at No. 6
This is an extension of the previous entry and an admittedly speculative one.
Hey…it's that time of year.
In letting safety Landon Collins walk and trading high-priced stars like Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon, the Giants sent a clear message that it's rebuilding time. And if Gettleman has made up his mind that Haskins isn't the guy at No. 6, then there are three ways he can go.
The first is to reach for another quarterback, such as Missouri's Drew Lock or Duke's Daniel Jones. With Big Blue also in possession of the No. 17 pick, that makes little sense even by Gettleman's standards.
The second is to take a defensive player—like Mississippi State edge-rusher Montez Sweat or LSU linebacker Devin White—or an offensive lineman with the sixth selection. That would mess up the aforementioned Jaguars' plans at No. 7, and the Giants need help in both regards.
But it's not the ideal use of New York's draft capital. The best-case scenario would be trading out of the sixth spot altogether.
Outside of the tailback position, the Giants don't have an area in which they don't need help. Wide receiver. The offensive and defensive lines. Linebacker. The secondary. You name it, the team needs it.
Quarterback-needy teams will no doubt have interest in moving up to acquire Haskins. If the Giants aren't going to take the former Buckeyes signal-caller, the smart play is to parlay the sixth selection into more picks.
The G-Men need quantity as much as quality right now.
4. Josh Rosen Is Going to Be Traded to an NFC East Team
This entry makes one fairly significant assumption—that the Cardinals' reported interest in Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray at No. 1 overall, per SNY's Ralph Vacchiano, is more than just smoke.
If that's the case, then Josh Rosen (whom the Cards drafted in Round 1 a year ago) is most assuredly going to be dealt—the only question is where.
Enter a pair of NFC East teams, including the Giants.
This isn't to say that New York would use the sixth overall pick to obtain Rosen—although that would do it. The Giants have another first-rounder (No. 17, courtesy of the Beckham trade) that they could use. Or they could trade back from No. 6, stockpile more picks and use one (or more) of those in a package to land the 6'4", 218-pound UCLA product.
The team picked up Eli Manning's $5 million roster bonus over the weekend, which would appear to make this deal less likely but not impossible. And New York's been much more seller than buyer to this point in the offseason. But if the chips falling around the Giants offer them an opportunity to obtain a young quarterback with that extra pick they obtained in the Beckham deal, it's an opportunity worth exploring.
If the Giants don't want Rosen, their division rivals in Washington, D.C., could snag him. The Redskins have a short-term fix for their quarterback dilemma after trading for Case Keenum, but the 31-year-old is just that—a short-term fix.
As Kareem Copeland reported for the Washington Post, the Redskins remain in the market for a quarterback despite the addition of Keenum. A strong argument can be made that dealing the 15th pick for Rosen makes as much sense as taking Drew Lock or Daniel Jones in that spot.
And while adding Keenum might lessen the immediate need for a quarterback, the gigantic deal for safety Landon Collins was a reminder that the Redskins remain one of the most annually aggressive teams.
Aggressive enough to shake up Round 1 by swinging a deal for Rosen...even if they might not bother to tell the head coach ahead of time.
3. Oakland HAS to Take a D-Lineman at No. 4
The Raiders have been one of the most aggressive teams in free agency. They made one of the biggest personnel splashes of the offseason by trading with the Pittsburgh Steelers for star wideout Antonio Brown. They paired Brown with free agent Tyrell Williams and added more pieces on both sides of the ball—including a new left tackle in Trent Brown.
Despite all those additions, there's at least one area the Raiders have to rebuild on draft day: a pass rush that was far and away the worst in 2018.
Last year, the team had just 13 sacks. There were six players in the NFL with more. And while Oakland was linked to a couple of this year's top free-agent edge-rushers (including Trey Flowers), it hasn't landed one.
That makes the edict at No. 4 clearer than ever. In a draft class deep along the defensive front, the Raiders' pick has to be a defensive lineman—and preferably an edge-rusher.
Before free agency got underway last Wednesday, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller recommended the team do that by selecting Kentucky's Josh Allen.
"Allen is athletic, productive and a great person off the field, according to team officials who spoke to him at the combine," Miller wrote. "That's the trifecta every evaluator looks for, which is why Allen figures to be a top-five pick. The Raiders have numerous needs but none like the hole they created at pass-rusher by trading Khalil Mack."
It makes more sense now than ever, and one can't discount the notion that Oakland will spend two of its three first-rounders on the defensive front.
2. The New York Jets Are in the Same Boat at No. 3
Just like the Raiders, the New York Jets have been aggressive in free agency. They made a splash addition on offense with the signing of tailback Le'Veon Bell (four years, $52.5 million). They gave out an even bigger deal on defense (at least in terms of contract size) with the signing of inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (five years, $85 million). The team has added help in the secondary and at wide receiver.
But the big green elephant in Gang Green's locker room is blaring away.
The Jets' need isn't as big as Oakland's, at least based on the 39 sacks the team managed a season ago. But to say that the Jets lack pass-rushing pop is an understatement.
Charles Davis of NFL Media expects the Jets to add some beef up front with 6'3", 303-pound combine star Quinnen Williams of Alabama.
"The Jets have earned their share of back pages in the NYC tabloids during free agency," Davis wrote, "and now they add a tag-team partner for stud DE Leonard Williams."
The Athletic's Dane Brugler, who ranks Williams as the No. 2 overall selection in this year's draft, believes that would be a fine choice:
"With his snap quickness and handwork, Williams has a natural feel for defeating blocks and his teammate Jonah Williams hit the nail on the head when he described facing Williams as trying to block a '300-pound bar of soap.' He is also a power-packed player from head to toe, competing with the violence, hustle and awareness to be an elite run defender. Williams was not only blessed with a complete skill set with his explosiveness, strength and intelligence, but he also has the rare ability to use all his gifts in unison, projecting as an immediate NFL starter with All-Pro potential."
Williams would be a great add in an area of need—but the Jets might be able to go one better.
1. Nick Bosa to 49ers No Longer a Lock
Ohio State edge-rusher Nick Bosa has been regarded as the consensus top prospect in the 2019 draft for the most of the past several months. Mock draft after mock draft had the 6'4", 266-pounder headed to Arizona.
Then came the NFL Scouting Combine and a flurry of speculation that new Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury was enamored with Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. According to Tony Pauline of Draft Analyst, Kingsbury said it was a "done deal" that Murray would be the first overall pick.
Done deal, right? The Niners will pounce on Bosa. It's a gift.
Don't be so sure.
The 49ers swung a a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs for edge-rusher Dee Ford and then handed the 27-year-old a five-year, $87.5 million extension, so they have already made (another) a massive investment in the defensive end position.
Now, that doesn't preclude the 49ers from taking Bosa. Given the high premium placed on pass-rushers in today's NFL, it's possible general manager John Lynch will go whole hog and that Bosa will be San Francisco's fourth first-round defensive lineman drafted since 2015.
But it's also possible the 49ers will go in a different direction and put the Bosa pick on the market. The two teams picking directly behind them (the Jets and Raiders) are desperate for edge-rushers, and the Raiders have three first-rounders to engineer a deal with.