2020 NFL Free Agency: Who Lost the Most Talent?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMarch 29, 2020

2020 NFL Free Agency: Who Lost the Most Talent?

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    The abruptness of NFL free agency can be jarring. It arrives in a flash on a weekday afternoon, and the first wave is essentially complete before any of us have had a chance to digest the hundreds of quick-paced, expensive transactions. 

    Now, though, with somewhat of a lull in the open-market action, we can step back and assess the damage. 

    With that in mind, here are the eight teams that were hit hardest by the process. 

             

Minnesota Vikings

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    Brett Duke/Associated Press

    Key losses: WR Stefon Diggs (traded), EDGE Everson Griffen, CB Trae Waynes, CB Mackensie Alexander, DE Stephen Weatherly, CB Xavier Rhodes (released), DT Linval Joseph (released)

    Key gains: DT Michael Pierce

    The cap-strapped Minnesota Vikings were gutted. There's no other way to put it. 

    Even after gaining some wiggle room by extending quarterback Kirk Cousins' contract, they were forced to part ways with Rhodes and Joseph and were unable to compete to keep Griffen, Waynes and Alexander.

    Those sacrifices at least allowed them to retain starting safety Anthony Harris with the franchise tag, but it'll be almost impossible to replace a starting receiver, their No. 2 pass-rusher, an experienced starting defensive tackle and their three most heavily used cornerbacks from 2019. 

    Of the 11 guys who played at least 500 defensive snaps for Minnesota last season, five are gone. 

    While they at least brought in a strong run defender in Pierce and got a first-round pick in the Diggs trade, there's little doubt that the Vikes sustained a huge blow this month. 

New England Patriots

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Key losses: QB Tom Brady, LB Jamie Collins Sr., LB Kyle Van Noy, DT Danny Shelton, S Duron Harmon (traded), K Stephen Gostkowski (released)

    Key gains: DT Beau Allen, S Adrian Phillips, QB Brian Hoyer

    If he finally runs out of gas at age 43, losing Brady might not be as crushing as many think. But for now, we have to account for the possibility that the six-time Super Bowl winner is immortal and will take the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the promised land. 

    With no obvious replacement on the New England Patriots roster, that loss remains massive. But then you throw in the departures of Collins and Van Noy, who were their most active front-seven defenders in 2019, as well as role players Shelton and Harmon, and you wonder if the New England defense will be good enough to compensate for anticipated offensive shortcomings. 

    The New England D appeared to lose a step as the season went on, with the team surrendering a pedestrian 21.6 points per game in December, and that unit lost a lot of talent and experience this month. Allen and Phillips help a bit, but they started a combined five games last season with the Bucs and Chargers, respectively. 

    It's become difficult to look at the New England depth chart and imagine that team remaining in contention in 2020. 

Los Angeles Rams

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    John McCoy/Getty Images

    Key losses: LB Cory Littleton, EDGE Dante Fowler Jr., RB Todd Gurley (released), CB Nickell Robey-Coleman (released), EDGE Clay Matthews (released), S Eric Weddle (retired)

    Key gains: LB Leonard Floyd, DT A'Shawn Robinson

    Five of the eight Los Angeles Rams defenders who played at least 600 snaps last season are no longer on the roster. Floyd and Robinson alone can't come close to making up for those departures, which could leave Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey to do far too much of the heavy lifting going forward. 

    For a defense that regressed significantly in 2019, that could be hugely problematic. 

    They obviously don't consider Gurley to be much of a loss since they didn't save much money by parting ways with him, but he still scored 14 touchdowns last season, and he's yet to be replaced on the market. The offense is plagued with question marks, and the defense has become shallow and top-heavy. 

    That's what happens when you mortgage your future and go all-in without regard for payroll sustainability. 

    They still have enough top-end talent to make a surprise run in 2020. But right now, it feels like a stretch to call the Rams a good team on paper. 

Dallas Cowboys

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Key losses: CB Byron Jones, EDGE Robert Quinn, WR Randall Cobb, DT Maliek Collins, S Jeff Heath, C Travis Frederick (retired)

    Key gains: DL Gerald McCoy, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

    Truthfully, the Dallas Cowboys might not have made this list if not for Frederick's sudden retirement.

    Don't get us wrong; they were definitely running a free-agent deficit before that happened. Jones is one of the best cover men in the league and Cobb is an experienced slot receiver, and neither was replaced. But even if they arguably upgraded over Collins and Heath, the Frederick loss is devastating. 

    Frederick has been a 16-start Pro Bowler in every season since 2014, excluding the 2018 campaign he missed due to Guillain-Barre syndrome. 

    Without him that year, the Dallas offense ranked 24th in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders, compared to 10th in 2017 and second in 2019. They might not struggle as much with a healthy Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin in 2020, but they've still lost considerable talent on both sides of the ball. 

Atlanta Falcons

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Key losses: TE Austin Hooper, EDGE Vic Beasley Jr., LB De'Vondre Campbell, RB Devonta Freeman (released), CB Desmond Trufant (released)

    Key gains: EDGE Dante Fowler Jr., RB Todd Gurley, TE Hayden Hurst (via trade)

    The Atlanta Falcons weren't decimated, and they weren't hit as hard as the first four teams listed. But with cap constraints weighing them down, they were forced to move on from a Pro Bowl tight end and a highly accomplished veteran cornerback. 

    Hurst absolutely has the ability to successfully replace Hooper, and Gurley and Fowler could even be upgrades over Freeman and Beasley. But there's more uncertainty surrounding Hurst, and nobody can replace Trufant's experience. The 29-year-old might not have a lot left and is coming off an injury-derailed season, but he still intercepted four passes in only nine games last year. 

    The secondary looks more vulnerable now, and the offense is more in flux than it was in 2019. There's still hope for these Falcons, but this month was a rocky ride. 

San Francisco 49ers

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Key losses: WR Emmanuel Sanders, DT DeForest Buckner (traded)

    Key gains: None

    Maybe the first-round pick the San Francisco 49ers received as compensation for Buckner will turn into a tremendous asset. But right now, there's only so much we can do to account for that No. 13 overall selection. The draft is a crapshoot, incoming players usually need time to develop, and Buckner is an established high-quality starter with a Pro Bowl nod and second-team All-Pro honors on his resume. 

    Maybe the 49ers felt they needed to make that trade in order to keep top 2019 sack man Arik Armstead, which is understandable. But again, that doesn't change the fact they've lost Buckner in exchange for whatever is behind Door No. 2. 

    For now, he and Sanders have yet to be replaced. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Key losses: DL Calais Campbell (traded), CB A.J. Bouye (traded), QB Nick Foles (traded)

    Key gains: LB Joe Schobert, TE Tyler Eifert

    This looked and felt like the start of a rebuild as the Jacksonville Jaguars dealt away three of their most expensive veterans in exchange for draft picks in three separate trades.

    Schobert isn't a difference-maker like Campbell, and Eifert could never stay healthy before essentially becoming a role player with the Bengals in 2019.

    Plus, they gave up on Foles after just one injury-tainted season in which he started a mere four games. For now, that leaves second-year sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew II as the only option at quarterback, which is suboptimal considering that he completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes and posted a sub-90 passer rating in December. 

    It's going to get worse before it gets better in Jacksonville. 

Green Bay Packers

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Key losses: OT Bryan Bulaga, LB Blake Martinez, TE Jimmy Graham (released)

    Key gains: LB Christian Kirksey, OT Rick Wagner, WR Devin Funchess

    Of the eight deficits on this list, the Green Bay Packers' is admittedly the smallest. 

    One could even argue that Funchess has the ability to make a larger impact than the nearly-washed-up Graham.

    But swapping out Bulaga (who has been Aaron Rodgers' right tackle for the vast majority of his career) for Wagner (who is basically the same age and earned a significantly worse PFF grade than Bulaga in 2019) is highly questionable. That could cost the Packers critical offensive line continuity, and on defense, Kirksey is a much bigger question mark than Martinez. 

    Injuries have sidelined Kirksey for all but nine games over the past two seasons, while the younger Martinez hasn't missed a game since his 2016 rookie campaign. Since then, he's compiled more tackles than anybody else in the NFL. 

    But now, he's a member of the New York Giants, and the Packers will have to hope they can get consistent production from Kirksey. 

         

    Salary-cap, contract, free-agent and transactional information courtesy of Spotrac.

    Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter. Or don't. It's entirely your choice.