B/R NFL Staff Roundtable 1st-Week Takes and 2020 Season Predictions
Well, that was a week.
Free agency is usually a hectic time in the NFL, and the 2020 edition hasn't been any different. The week began with franchise tags for a number of prominent players, including Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and 2019 sack king Shaquil Barrett.
Then the legal tampering period began Monday at noon ET—and it got real.
The Miami Dolphins made Byron Jones the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, but a few days later, Darius Slay claimed the title (in terms of average annual salary) when he was dealt to and signed an extension with the Philadelphia Eagles. Prominent wideouts Stefon Diggs and DeAndre Hopkins were traded—the latter in a deal so ludicrously lopsided that it will live in infamy.
Oh, and the most successful quarterback in the history of the National Football League changed teams. Tom Brady bolted New England for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
As the dust settles on a wild week of player movement, the NFL writers here at Bleacher Report have gathered around a virtual roundtable to offer their takes on the best (and worst) moves of free agency in 2020.
Most Overrated Signing
Fanbases have no shortage of enthusiasm during free agency. Every signing is lauded as a home run. Every player who is added is the missing piece who will lead his team to the postseason—or even the Super Bowl.
Just ask fans of the Buccaneers, who are presently preordering No. 12 jerseys, scratching the name "Godwin" off the ones they already have and making travel plans to Tampa next February.
However, what looks like a great deal in March could turn out to be a boondoggle in September. Some splash signings just wind up splashing egg on the faces of general managers. And teams invariably wind up with buyer's remorse.
Here are the panel's picks for the most overrated signing of free agency to date.
Gary Davenport, NFL Analyst
You can't fault the fans in Tampa for being stoked about the addition of Tom Brady. And the Bucs will probably be better in 2020. But adding a soon-to-be 43-year-old quarterback to a team with a shaky offensive line, a porous secondary and an iffy running game doesn't instantly make Tampa a Super Bowl contender. In fact, the Bucs won't even win the NFC South in 2020.
Tyler Dunne, NFL Features Lead Writer
He may go down as one of the most underrated players in NFL history, but does Philip Rivers have anything left? His line will be better in Indy than L.A., but his weaponry sure isn't. And Rivers looked like a shell of himself for much of 2019. The Colts took two huge gambles this week—the DeForest Buckner trade being the other—setting up Super Bowl-or-bust-like expectations.
Mike Freeman, NFL National Lead Writer
Easily Philip Rivers. Last season, he looked like Rex Grossman. It's possible with a more solid offensive line he'll play better, but Rivers looked broken last year.
Brad Gagnon, NFL Analyst
In the final seven weeks of his age-42 season, Brady completed just 55.4 percent of his passes, averaged 5.9 yards per attempt and posted a passer rating of 80.9. Why would anyone expect him to be better at the age of 43? He will have better pass-catchers in Tampa Bay, but the precedents and the trajectory indicate he's toast.
Brent Sobleski, NFL Analyst
Tom Brady, of course. The reason is simple: The expectations placed upon the six-time Super Bowl champion in a new situation will be nearly impossible to reach. The Buccaneers are a good squad, but they don't necessarily look like Super Bowl contenders, even with Brady leading the way.
Mike Tanier, NFL National Lead Writer
Todd Gurley: I think signing him to a one-year, $6 million contract was a shrewd move by the Falcons. But Gurley may turn out to be a running back who's worth a one-year, $6 million contract. He'll produce some fantasy numbers but probably won't make a dent in terms of wins and losses.
Most Underrated Signing
There's a flip side to those ill-advised signings we just mentioned. For every boondoggle, there's a bargain.
Sometimes it's a big name who signs for less money than expected. But more often than not, it's a deal that doesn't generate a ton of buzz in the spring but provides a great return in the fall and winter. That's how free agency is won.
Last year, the Baltimore Ravens landed tailback Mark Ingram II with a three-year, $15 million contract that included just $6.5 million in guarantees. Ingram went on to top 1,000 yards on the ground, averaging five yards per carry and playing a major role for a Ravens offense that set an NFL record for rushing yards by a team in a season.
In the opinion of our writers, the following players could return similar value in 2020.
Inside linebacker Cory Littleton didn't come cheaply. The Las Vegas Raiders will pay the 26-year-old $12 million a season over the next three years. But compared to some of the gonzo contracts handed to off-ball linebackers in 2019, it was a bargain. Littleton is arguably the most underrated player at his position in the NFL—and a defensive linchpin for the Raiders moving forward.
Pass-rusher Dante Fowler Jr. has quietly molded into everything expected out of the No. 3 overall pick. The Falcons might've just found their missing piece to leap back into playoff contention. His explosiveness, his torque around the edge changes games.
Teddy Bridgewater. He remains one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the sport. He was good when substituting for the injured Drew Brees last year, and pairing Bridgewater with Christian McCaffrey can instantly transform the Panthers into a playoff team.
Shaq Lawson to Miami for $30 million over three years. Lawson recorded 4.5 of his 6.5 sacks last year in the final six weeks of the season, which could indicate he's about to break out. Considering the 25-year-old was highly touted coming into this league in 2016 and has room to grow, it's wild that he's making less annually than dudes like Mario Addison (three years, $30.5 million) and Vic Beasley Jr. (one year, max of $12 million).
The Los Angeles Chargers got an absolute steal in Bryan Bulaga (three years, $30 million). One of the game's best right tackles signed a deal comparable to those of Halapoulivaati Vaitai and George Fant, neither of whom has been a full-time starter. On top of that, the Chargers previously suffered from some of the league's worst right tackle play.
Devon Kennard isn't an elite edge-rusher, but he creates some pressure, sets the edge as a run defender and sets the tone with his play style. The Cardinals quietly picked him up while we were still gawking at the DeAndre Hopkins trade and while Matt Patricia was holding his fire sale on anyone who did not play for the 2016 Patriots. It's not a splashy pickup, but it makes the Cardinals defense better.
Which Teams Have the Most Work to Do in the NFL Draft?
The hope of every team is that it will come out of free agency in better shape.
Of course, the hope of everyone who buys a Powerball ticket is that they will soon be a gazillionaire.
The reality is that not all teams can win free agency. For some, the players who depart far outnumber the ones who joined the team. They entered free agency with three holes and left it with six.
For others, the chips just didn't fall as they had hoped. That offensive tackle they were targeting signed a bigger deal with another squad. That quarterback they wanted decided he had a better chance to win elsewhere. That wideout they made an offer to signed with a team that plays in a state with no sales tax.
Then there are the franchises who blew it by making ridiculous moves—like, say, trading your best skill-position player for 12 cents on the dollar.
After free agency, some teams will to need to crush the draft to dig themselves out of a hole.
The New England Patriots are an easy call here after losing Tom Brady, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins. The Los Angeles Rams lost Dante Fowler Jr. and released Clay Matthews and Todd Gurley II. And they watched the NFC West rival Arizona Cardinals improve markedly in free agency. It's too bad they don't have a first-round pick. Neither do the Houston Texans, who are coming off the most bizarre free-agent period in recent memory.
Vikings: They had no choice but to gut the roster with so many bloated contracts, but somebody has to play corner...and rush the passer opposite Danielle Hunter...and catch passes opposite Adam Thielen. This is the most important draft general manager Rick Spielman's had in a long time.
Dolphins: I don't know if it's "ground" they need to make up after spending like crazy (and wisely!) in free agency, but they still need their franchise quarterback. With all that ammo, Miami has to find a way to land Tua Tagovailoa or Joe Burrow.
Bengals: Easy choice here considering the striking lack of talent everywhere. Sure would make sense for Cincinnati to trade down with Miami and gobble up as many picks as it can to rebuild the roster.
Jaguars: They are shedding talented players at a staggering pace.
Bears: They still don't have a quarterback. Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles don't count.
Raiders: They still don't have a quarterback either. Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota don't count.
Patriots: They were semi-gutted, putting a lot of pressure on head coach Bill Belichick with all of those compensatory picks.
Texans: They have to find DeAndre Hopkins' replacement immediately, or they'll never live this week down.
Rams: The defense has become watered down. The problem is they lack a first-round pick. Again.
The Patriots, Texans and Vikings have plenty to work to do. New England's losses didn't end with Tom Brady. The team lost multiple key pieces on defense. The Texans need to find a replacement for DeAndre Hopkins, which won't be easy. The Vikings, meanwhile, had to shed a ton of salary-cap space and haven't brought much back in return.
Jets: The Patriots ended an era. The Bills went full steam ahead to replace them. The Dolphins have accelerated their rebuild. The Jets are like, "Woah, let's not be hasty now."
Texans: Not only did they trade Nuk Hopkins for knockoff Todd Gurley, but they also lost D.J. Reader—the kind of rising young player most teams prioritize keeping—to the Bengals of all teams. Also, they don't have a first-round pick, so good luck gaining ground, guys.
Patriots: We don't know who their quarterback is, who he will throw to, and there are now more holes on defense than can be filled just by having Bill Belichick promote secret weapons off the back of the bench.
Which Team Will Regret This Free-Agency Window the Most?
If you polled all 32 NFL general managers right now and asked them to grade their performances on a scale of one to 10, it's unlikely any of them would go lower than seven.
Bill O'Brien of the Texans would give himself a 23.
Yes, we're piling on.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, the reality of those numbers will change—drastically. Some teams will dearly miss the players who walked out their doors this week. Others will view that massive contract they handed out as an anchor around their neck in 2022. And some are going to need several weeks (and possibly a few cocktails) to figure out what the heck happened over the past several days.
Our panel thinks the following teams will be regretting their moves in the weeks and months to come.
The Patriots and Texans stand out as playoff teams from last year who took significant steps backward, but I'm going with the Dolphins here. It's understandable that fans are excited after Miami went berserk with a bevy of veteran signings, but huge free-agent spending sprees more often than not don't pay off.
The Packers. Yeah, they benefit from other teams in the NFC North making questionable moves, but it's never about winning the division in Green Bay. It's about Super Bowls. While they can still add a wideout in a receiver-rich draft, there were a few stars available. They had the opportunity to spend on offense, after spending on defense a year ago, to help out a declining Aaron Rodgers and make a run at the Super Bowl. Instead, they were Ted Thompson-like cautious.
Teams that had the opportunity to get Cam Newton and didn't.
Houston, simply because that was the worst trade I've seen in my 13-year career as an NFL writer.
The Dallas Cowboys screwed up. They didn't screw up by re-signing Amari Cooper and placing the franchise tag on Dak Prescott. They screwed up by waiting too long to get those deals done, thus overpaying significantly when something could have been completed much earlier.
Bears: They overpaid for Jimmy Graham, Robert Quinn and Nick Foles, and that's AFTER shedding some in-house veterans to clear space. The Bears didn't self-scout their own needs very well and seem to be signing veterans based on 2016 scouting reports.
What Will the Patriots Do at QB This Season?
So, as you may have heard, Tom Brady is no longer the quarterback for the Patriots.
It's an unprecedented development. We've never seen a quarterback of Brady's stature leave the team he won multiple Super Bowls with of his own accord. Brett Favre was sent packing by a Packers team that had Aaron Rodgers waiting in the wings. Joe Montana was let go by a San Francisco 49ers franchise ready to turn things over to Steve Young. In Indianapolis, Peyton Manning gave way to Andrew Luck.
We admittedly don't know how interested Bill Belichick was in bringing Brady back, but it was the Golden Boy who announced he was moving on.
Brady's move to Tampa sent shockwaves across the NFL (and made three AFC East teams very, very happy), and it leaves one burning question over the most successful franchise of the 21st century.
What the heck do the Patriots do now at quarterback?
I have a really hard time imagining Darth Hoodie rolling into Week 1 with Jarrett Stidham under center—that would mean punting on 2020 (at least). Andy Dalton continues to loom as a veteran stopgap who would make a lot of sense. He's a good fit in that offense, his salary is reasonable ($17.7 million) and his contract is up after this season. And at this point, the Bengals would probably essentially give him away just to get his salary off the books.
Cam Newton. It'd sure be fascinating to see Newton in this offense. The guess here is that Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels see if there's any magic left in the 2015 MVP while still valuing Jarrett Stidham as the future.
They're gonna cry after Brady reaches the Super Bowl.
Tank for Trevor Lawrence unless Cam Newton truly can't find a starting job. If that happens, they'll take him at a discounted price and select several quarterbacks in the next couple of drafts.
The Patriots should trade for Cam Newton. End of story.
The Patriots will scoop up Andy Dalton because they know he can be ready with minimal offseason work (he did it as a rookie in 2011), but they want Jarrett Stidham to claim the job. I think Bill Belichick has a quiet one-year rebuild planned.
Where Will Cam Newton and Jameis Winston Land?
One quarterback who apparently won't be replacing Tom Brady in Beantown is the player Brady replaced in Tampa Bay. According to Mike Giardi of NFL Network, the Patriots aren't likely to pursue Jameis Winston.
Winston isn't the only former No. 1 overall pick who is looking for a new home in 2020. After the Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater, it became clear that Cam Newton is no longer in the team's long-term plans. However, Carolina hasn't released Newton yet, so as things stand, the 2015 NFL MVP has one year and $18.6 million in base salary left on his contract.
The problem for both quarterbacks is that the merry-go-round has been spinning for a while. The Colts signed Philip Rivers. The Bears traded for Nick Foles. And Brady landed in Tampa.
The music has stopped, and there aren't many chairs left. But the pair will eventually land somewhere.
Here's our panel's best guesses for where that is.
The Chargers have the most glaring need for a quarterback, but they are ready to roll with Tyrod Taylor as the starter for now, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Given Ron Rivera's prior relationship with Newton and Daniel Snyder's affinity for splash moves, I'll slot Newton to the Washington Redskins. Winston, on the other hand, may be backing up an aging veteran in 2020. If that's the case, a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers makes sense.
Newton to the Patriots. Winston to the Steelers. Head coach Mike Tomlin saw what life was like without Ben Roethlisberger, and it was not pretty. With anything close to competent quarterback play, Pittsburgh could've made a legit run at the Super Bowl. Signing Winston is smart in the short term and the long term.
I think Newton goes to New Orleans and Winston to the Patriots.
Newton to the Chargers still makes perfect sense on and off the field. I want Winston in Las Vegas for ultimate chaos. I think Winston should go to Pittsburgh and wait to succeed Roethlisberger. But I predict Winston lands in Jacksonville and competes with Gardner Minshew II.
Newton will land in New England to give Belichick a dual-threat quarterback to terrorize the league, while Winston will sign a short-term prove-it deal with the Steelers and have the opportunity to take over for Roethlisberger in the event of another injury.
Newton's health uncertainty and the fact that teams won't be able to rehab and practice like they normally do will drive the quarterback's market down and may make teams wait until they know they can get good medical information. I think the Chargers will eventually make the best offer. Jameis Winston will be lowballed and may end up looking for the place where he is most likely to get a shot to see the field. I'm going with Washington as a possible landing spot: They need Dwayne Haskins insurance and can kick tires on veteran talent in a rebuilding year.
Biggest Trade Prediction Still Remaining
There's been no shortage of Let's Make a Deal over the past several days.
The Jacksonville Jaguars sent a pair of high-profile players packing, dealing defensive linemen Calais Campbell to the Ravens in a salary dump and shipping quarterback Nick Foles to the Bears.
The Buffalo Bills strengthened their receiving corps, acquiring Stefon Diggs from the Vikings. The Eagles did the same for their secondary by trading for Lions cornerback Darius Slay. The Colts swung a trade with the 49ers for defensive end DeForest Buckner.
And of course, there's the Great DeAndre Hopkins Robbery of 2020.
With quarterbacks like Andy Dalton and Cam Newton still there for the taking and the 2020 draft drawing closer by the day, we haven't seen the last of the wheeling and dealing this spring.
Here are our writers' predictions for the biggest deals yet to be struck.
If the Chargers are serious about not adding a veteran quarterback, that seems to indicate they plan to take one early in the 2020 draft. However, taking the guy they want could mean getting ahead of the Dolphins at No. 5. The Bolts will make an offer to Washington it can't refuse, move up to No. 2 and snag Alabama signal-caller Tua Tagovailoa.
Miami moves up for Joe Burrow, and the Bengals move down to draft as many players they can possibly can. How can you not like what the Dolphins are doing? Did they overpay for a few players? Sure. But they've morphed from utter laughingstock to a team with real hope and real direction faster than anyone could've ever predicted.
The Patriots will make some kind of play for a quarterback. I think the Saints want Newton, but Carolina may not want to trade him within the division.
Yannick Ngakoue to the Dolphins. They have the money and the draft capital, they're all-in right now and they need another pass-rusher.
The Lions will trade out of the third overall pick so the Dolphins or Chargers can acquire Tua Tagovailoa as their next franchise quarterback.
Teams that think they can win in 2020 will continue moving midround picks for veterans (as the Eagles did for Darius Slay, for instance) because midround rookies are unlikely to help top teams much without traditional OTAs. That said, smart rebuilding teams could use the opportunity to stockpile some midround picks to grab guys with high upside.
Way-Too-Early Super Bowl Prediction
There's a long way to go between now and Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium. There's the 2020 draft in April. If they are reinstated, OTAs. Later, minicamps. Training camps over the summer. The preseason and then 256 regular-season games. And the first 14-team playoff bracket in NFL history.
To say that a lot of things can (and will) change between now and Feb. 7, 2021, is one whopper of an understatement.
However, it's never too early to look ahead, so we'll close this roundtable with way-too-early predictions for the 55th iteration of the biggest game in sports.
Frankly, many of the teams with the best shot didn't have many holes to fill—so they weren't especially active in free agency. The Saints made a nice addition in safety Malcolm Jenkins, but Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and the offense will be what gets New Orleans to Tampa. Unfortunately, the Saints will lose Super Bowl LV to the Kansas City Chiefs, who will win back-to-back titles and establish themselves as the NFL's next dynasty.
Ravens-Eagles. Baltimore's D-line is now terrifying. Lamar Jackson will keep improving. And Carson Wentz will prove his 2017 form wasn't a fluke. Darius Slay was the steal of the month too.
Buccaneers-Chiefs. As weird as this may sound, Brady is vastly underrated. He's going to transform the Buccaneers the way Peyton Manning did the Colts and Broncos.
Chiefs-Saints: I try not to let free agency cloud things.
The Ravens will continue to improve (as Lamar did from his first to second seasons) and face the Packers as Aaron Rodgers gets what could be his last chance at another championship.
Baltimore Ravens over Green Bay Packers. I love the way the Ravens reshaped their defense. The Packers haven't lost too much in free agency and don't have as many question marks as the other NFC powerhouses.
Reported moves via the NFL's free-agency tracker unless otherwise noted.