Ranking the Top 10 Moves of 2020 NFL Free Agency so Far

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2020

Ranking the Top 10 Moves of 2020 NFL Free Agency so Far

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    The official start to 2020 NFL free agency isn't until 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday. However, anyone who has followed the NFL over the past few years knows that no one waits for the official start. The "legal tampering" window opened on Monday, and several significant—in some cases, shocking—deals were quickly agreed upon.

    Here, we'll run down the 10 best moves of early free agency, with trades, signings and franchise tags all on the table.

    We'll be looking at several criteria. The value of deals—based on what teams gave up, either financially or via trade—will be key, but factors like team needs, scheme fits and potential short- and long-term impact will be considered.

    What are the best moves made so far? Let's take a look.


10. Raiders Sign Cory Littleton

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders made a bold move Tuesday, scooping up former Los Angeles Rams linebacker Cory Littleton. The coverage specialist will join the Raiders on a three-year deal worth up to $36 million, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

    While $12 million per year is a lot for a non-pass-rushing linebacker, he should bring a ton of value to the Raiders defense. Littleton, who had 22 passes defended and five interceptions over the past two seasons, is one of the best coverage linebackers in the game.

    The Raiders happen to play one of the league's most prolific passing teams, the Kansas City Chiefs, twice each season. While this isn't exactly a bargain signing, it's a tremendous one for a Las Vegas team looking to rise in the AFC West.

9. Packers Sign Christian Kirksey

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    While the Raiders may not have gotten a major discount with Littleton, the Green Bay Packers are getting one with former Cleveland Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey. Injuries will be a concern for the 27-year-old, as he missed 23 games over the past two seasons. However, his two-year, $13 million deal is a bargain.

    Kirksey is a quick, physical and instinctual linebacker who ranks among the most productive in the game when healthy. In 2017, when he last played all 16 games, the Iowa product racked up 138 tackles, 3.5 sacks, five passes defended and two forced fumbles.

    Perhaps more importantly, Kirksey is very familiar with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's system—the pair spent two seasons together in Cleveland.

    Kirksey also fills a major need, as former starting inside linebacker Blake Martinez agreed to join the New York Giants on Monday.

8. Browns Sign Jack Conklin

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    If the primary goal of free agency is to fill needs—and it is—then the Browns have to be applauded for filling a huge one by signing former Tennessee Titans right tackle Jack Conklin.

    Conklin, a first-team All-Pro as a rookie in 2016, is one of the best young linemen in the game, and the 25-year-old is an immediate upgrade on the right side for Cleveland. 2019 starter Chris Hubbard was responsible for eight penalties and six sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. He and left tackle Greg Robinson were two of the weakest links on the Browns offense this past season.

    Presumably, Cleveland will search for Robinson's replacement with the 10th overall pick in the draft.

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Browns are signing Conklin to a three-year, $42 million deal.

    While $14 million per season is a lot for a right tackle, it's $2.5 million per year less than what Trent Brown is getting from the Las Vegas Raiders. It's a fair market price for one of the biggest need-filling moves of free agency.

7. Colts Sign Philip Rivers

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts have their quarterback for 2020. According to Rapoport, former Los Angeles Chargers star Philip Rivers is heading to Indianapolis on a one-year, $25 million deal.

    Adding Rivers should give the Colts a fighting chance in the AFC South as the eight-time Pro Bowler is still a capable starter. However, this being a one-year deal leaves it relatively low in the rankings.

    Rivers has stated he only wants to play two more years at most, which means he was always going to be a stepping stone to a different signal-caller. A one-year deal bumps up the transition timetable, though, and it limits Indianapolis' options next offseason should the team decide to tag or re-sign Rivers.

    The Colts did the right thing by replacing Jacoby Brissett, a quarterback on whom the team was no longer sold. However, the length of the deal essentially guarantees that Indianapolis must find its new quarterback of the future this offseason or next.

6. Ravens Get a Second-Round Pick for Hayden Hurst

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    If one was grading deals on pure value, the Baltimore Ravens' trade of tight end Hayden Hurst might be at the top of this list. According to Schefter, the Ravens received a second- and a fifth-round pick from the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for Hurst and a fourth-round selection.

    Why was this such a great deal for the Ravens? Because there simply wasn't a significant role for Hurst on their offense.

    Hurst, a first-round pick in 2018, was quickly overshadowed by fellow tight end Mark Andrews. in a complementary role, the South Carolina product flashed some potential, but he never came close to having production that matched his draft status.

    In 2019, Hurst caught 30 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns.

    To get a second-round pick out of a backup tight end is tantamount to stealing—though the Falcons did need a replacement for Austin Hooper, who departed in free agency.

5. Ravens Acquire Calais Campbell

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    Perry Knotts/Associated Press

    The Ravens did well with their handling of Hurst. They did even better with their acquisition of defensive end Calais Campbell. The Ravens only gave up a fifth-round selection to acquire the five-time Pro Bowler from the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to Field Yates of ESPN.

    Interestingly, it was the fifth-round pick Baltimore received for backup kicker Kaare Vedvik in August.

    While Campbell is 33 years old, he's still a highly productive defensive lineman—he had 56 tackles, 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2019. He should also be around for the foreseeable future. Baltimore is working on a new two-year deal with him, according to Rapoport. Campbell also fills a need for the Ravens, who had prioritized the pass rush this offseason.

    "The Ravens are expected to go after pass-rushers who can attack the opposing offense once Lamar Jackson and Co. build a lead," Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller wrote in January. "That's the plan here."

    Campbell is exactly that sort of pass-rusher. Getting him at the bargain-basement price of a fifth-round pick is a coup.

4. Buccaneers Sign Tom Brady

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Tom Brady announced on Tuesday that he wouldn't rejoin the New England Patriots. According to Rapoport, he has an agreement in place worth roughly $30 million per season, courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    This is an absolutely massive get for the Buccaneers and a move that should put them in playoff contention immediately.

    In Tampa, Brady will have the sort of weapons he lacked in New England last year—namely Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard. He'll also have a budding defense playing opposite him, one that features the reigning league sack leader.

    Though they will still have to deal with the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South and the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC as a whole, it would be a major surprise if the Buccaneers are unable to make the postseason in the new 14-team format.

    The only thing keeping this from being one of the very best deals of the offseason is Brady's age. The Michigan product will turn 43 in August and likely has two good seasons left in him, at best. Tampa only gets a narrow window with this deal and will likely drop back into obscurity when it's over.

3. Panthers Sign Teddy Bridgewater

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    Mark Black/Associated Press

    While the Brady deal is only a short-term solution for the Buccaneers, the Carolina Panthers may have found a long-term solution with the signing of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The former Louisville standout and the Carolina Panthers are working on a three-year contract in the $60 million range, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen.

    Presumably, Bridgewater will replace Cam Newton as Carolina's starter. Newton was given permission to seek a trade, though he stated on social media that he never asked for one (h/t Dov Kleiman).

    Bridgewater makes a lot of sense for the Panthers, as offensive coordinator Joe Brady was with the New Orleans Saints when the quarterback arrived in 2018. He should fit into the system, and at 27 years old, he can potentially lock down the starting job for the foreseeable future.

    Any questions that might have remained about Bridgewater's devastating 2016 knee injury were seemingly answered when he went 5-0 as the Saints starter in 2019. The value and fit are both right for Carolina.

2. Saints Re-Sign Drew Brees

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    According to Rapoport, the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees agreed to a new two-year deal on Tuesday worth roughly $50 million. While it's not a surprising move, it is a tremendous one for two reasons.

    For one, re-signing Brees ensures that New Orleans will have its starting quarterback in 2020—something that teams like the Patriots and Los Angeles Chargers cannot say. Getting Brees at something in the $25 million-per-year range is big because that's far below market value.

    Ryan Tannehill just signed a four-year, $118 million extension with the Tennessee Titans.

    Getting Brees at a below-market price gives the Saints some financial flexibility. He was set to carry a cap hit of $15.9 million even had he not played in 2020. 

1. Cardinals Trade for DeAndre Hopkins

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Arizona Cardinals traded for star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on Monday, which could be this year's steal of all steals.

    According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, Arizona gave up running back David Johnson, a second-round pick and a 2021 fourth-round pick for the four-time Pro Bowler and a fourth-round selection. According to Schefter, Houston will take on Johnson's entire contract, which has $16.2 million in dead money remaining.

    It's this last bit that makes the move such a great one for the Cardinals. Not only did Arizona add a legitimate No. 1 receiver for Kyler Murray, it dumped a bloated running-back contract that would have been difficult to get out of otherwise.

    With running back Kenyan Drake getting the transition tag, there wasn't much of a place for Johnson in the offense this season. 

    Essentially, the Cardinals added an All-Pro receiver and improved their salary situation for a second-round pick. Yeah, that's a winning move.