After years of the NFL largely eschewing trades, the league has decided to go great guns on the eve of free agency, with deals coming in at record pace.
For most of its history, the NFL has been averse to trades. Suddenly, teams are bucking that trend in epic fashion.
Nobody has been busier than general manager John Dorsey and the Cleveland Browns, who are remaking their roster at the speed of light. On Friday afternoon, Cleveland first acquired Jarvis Landry from the Miami Dolphins for 2018 fourth-round and 2019 seventh-round picks. Then, an hour later, Dorsey went for broke, trading the 65th-overall selection to the Buffalo Bills for quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Lastly, Dorsey brought corner Damarious Randall to Cleveland, sending DeShone Kizer to the Green Bay Packers.
While none of the deals can be officially completed until the new league year on March 14, the Browns are making the undeniable statement of returning to relevance.
Meanwhile, we have seen a litany of other trades throughout the last month. The Kansas City Chiefs have been aggressive, dealing away Alex Smith and Marcus Peters to the Washington Redskins and Los Angeles Rams, respectively. Speaking of Los Angeles, general manager Les Snead has been remodeling his division champ, trading both Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree for picks, the latter netting a pair of selections from the New York Giants. Then, on Thursday night, Snead added Aqib Talib to the mix, trading a fifth-round choice to the Denver Broncos in return.
Staying in the NFC West, the Seahawks began the demolition of their defense by moving Michael Bennett and his lengthy deal to the Philadelphia Eagles on Wednesday, getting a fifth-round pick in return. Bennett now joins the best defensive front in the game, while Seattle looks to get younger (and cheaper) across the board.
So what is behind the sudden surge in trades? For starters, many of the deals have been executed by younger general managers. Snead is 47 years old, while Howie Roseman of the Eagles is only 42. Brett Veach of the Chiefs is 39 years of age. The Dolphins’ Chris Grier is also a young gun, hired for his first general manager job in 2016.
New faces have spawned a new way of doing business, with all of them brought up in the day of constant player movement via free agency. Trades were the next logical step, and a step that has finally been taken.
With free agency opening up, expect trades to die down until the draft, when a flurry of activity should be expected. Last year, we saw the Houston Texans and Chiefs move up more than a dozen slots to land Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, respectively. With the Bills in need of a quarterback, and holding the 21st and 22nd-overall picks, they stand to be serious players.
For years, the NFL has always hit a media lull between the Super Bowl and the start of free agency, save for a bit of intrigue at the combine.
If these past few weeks have been any indication, that’s no longer the case.
Top 10 unrestricted free agents
1. Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins
2. Trumaine Johnson, CB, Los Angeles Rams
3. Andrew Norwell, G, Carolina Panthers
4. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Seattle Seahawks
5. Nate Solder, OT, New England Patriots
6. Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
7. Sammy Watkins, WR, Los Angeles Rams
8. Malcolm Butler, CB, New England Patriots
9. Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers
10. Jimmy Graham, TE, Seattle Seahawks
“Obviously, we’ll be very active on the first day in terms of the higher profile guys. I think the one thing I’ve noticed in the NFL this year or in the past years I should say is free agency moves very quickly. If you have guys targeted and you have your range how you value them, we’ll be very active. We may sign a big-ticket guy. We may sign a small-ticket guy. It will be very interesting to see how it plays out. I think we’re going to be very active in free agency.”
– New York Jets general manager Mike Maccgnan on his plans for free agency
The Jets are armed with $89.87 million in cap space — most in the NFL — and considering their plight, Maccagnan is wise to be aggressive. The front office and head coach Todd Bowles need to provide improvement in 2018 or are likely looking for new jobs.
Luckily for the Jets, they can sign almost anybody and get an upgrade considering the roster’s current state.
This week, Matt Verderame and Josh Hill will talk all things free agency! You can catch a new Stacking The Box episode every Monday on iTunes, and you can watch the show live on FanSided’s Facebook page every Monday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET.
Emmitt Smith is the NFL’s all-time rushing leader with 18,355 yards, but Barry Sanders was the better back. Sanders finished with 15,269 yards, retiring after 10 seasons at only 30 years old. By comparison, Smith played 15 years, predominantly with the Dallas Cowboys.
For his career, Sanders averaged a whopping 5.0 yards per carry, playing with lousy quarterbacks and a middling offensive line. Meanwhile, Smith notched 4.2 YPC despite a historic line, Daryl Johnston, Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman around him.
Info learned this week
1. Free agency tampering period begins Monday
Come 4 p.m. ET, free agency will be in full swing. While no signing or trade can be made official until 48 hours later at the start of the new league year, expect much of the heavy lifting to be completed well before then.
While we already know the bigger names available, there are some less-erknown talents that might be the best values. Avery Williamson will be a steal for someone, arguably the best inside linebacker on the market. At 26 years old, it’s surprising the Tennessee Titans allowed him to potentially get away.
There are also some good guards on the block, including Andrew Norwell, Justin Pugh, Jack Mewhort and Matt Slauson. Mewhort and Slauson could be particularly good signings for teams needing inside help.
Finally, who is the team that goes all in? The Dolphins and Redskins have been that club in the past, but this time around, keep an eye on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. General manager Jason Licht is on the hot seat, and with $71 million in cap space, he’s not going to be idle. Tampa Bay will be involved in the secondary and defensive line markets, along with exploring help at running back.
2. 49ers snag Richard Sherman
San Francisco didn’t wait until free agency got underway to upgrade its team. On Saturday night, the 49ers inked Richard Sherman to a three-year, $39 million deal, only oneway after the Seahawks released the four-time All-Pro. Sherman tore his Achilles in November against the Arizona Cardinals, but is expected to be ready for training camp.
The 49ers are making it clear that they intend to be a factor come the 2018 season. General manager John Lynch has showed a continued aggressiveness, and its paying off. After being lost in the proverbial wilderness under Trent Baalke, San Francisco is not to be trifled with.
3. Le’Veon Bell says he won’t miss regular season games
After talking tough about potentially retiring, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell has relented and then some. After being tagged by Pittsburgh on Monday for the second consecutive year, the All-Pro says he won’t miss Week 1 come September.
Bell skipped OTAs, minicamp, training camp and the preseason last year before returning to play in the season opener at Cleveland. In that game, Bell got only had 10 carries, totaling 32 yards. Look for Pittsburgh to ease him in again this year, considering he won’t have had any real football action for eight months.
4. Quarterback carousel beginning to heat up
Kirk Cousins has been a storyline for the better part of two years, and we’re finally on the precipice of finding out his next designation. Smart money has him ending up with the Minnesota Vikings, considering they have the roster and cap space to entice the 29-year-old.
If Cousins ends up in the Twin Cities, where does that leave the rest of the quarterback-needy teams? With the Browns acquiring Tyrod Taylor, they appear out of the A.J. McCarron sweepstakes, The Denver Broncos could emerge as a player in that market, although they have been linked to Case Keenum.
The Jets hope to land a younger player, putting them in the mix for both McCarron and Teddy Bridgewater. Neither would preclude the Jets from drafting a signal-caller at No. 6, either. The Arizona Cardinals will also be in those markets, with Sam Bradford being an option as well. With the Cardinals in the back half of the first round, they’ll be more inclined to aggressively pursue an answer in free agency.
Also, the New Orleans Saints couldn’t possibly lose Drew Brees, right?
5. Raiders interested in Doug Martin?
So, why include this in the things learned section? It’s only Doug Martin, an aging running back with one 1,000-yard campaign over the last five years.
Well, because we’re learning about what the Oakland Raiders might be like in the Jon Gruden era. Gruden famously talked about wanting to play like it’s 1998 at the combine, and this signing might prove he’s serious. Martin is a bit piece at this juncture and an odd fit next to Marshawn Lynch, another slower, power back. Oakland needs to add speed and pass-catching out of the backfield, giving Derek Carr a safety valve. Martin doesn’t fit the bill.
Additionally, Gruden is an offensive coach. He should be able to coax a solid unit out of Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Carr and a solid line. The defense is where Oakland needs a ton of help, and where almost all of its cap space should be devoted.
NFL free agency began in its current form in 1993, and it had an immediate impact. After playing eight seasons with the Eagles, defensive end Reggie White shocked the league by signing with the Green Bay Packers.
At the time, Green Bay had won a single playoff game since Super Bowl II and was considered the NFL’s version of Siberia. White proclaimed his faith led him to Titletown, and four seasons later, White was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
In the decades since, free agency has mostly been a boon for players and a trap for teams. The biggest deals have often gone wrong, with recent examples including …
- Ndamukong Suh (and Mike Wallace, and Dannell Ellerby) going to the Dolphins
- Brock Osweiler for four years and $72 million to the Houston Texans
- Mike Glennon for three years and $48 million to the Chicago Bears
Those are just a few of many examples where the money hasn’t matched the eventual production. The best signings are typically smaller pacts with second-tier players, albeit with less initial fanfare.
Just remember that if your team isn’t spending wildly, it’s not a bad thing.
The Giants have to figure out their next move with Odell Beckham Jr.
On Friday evening, a video surfaced on Twitter that appears to show Beckham in a hotel bed with a woman. In said video, Beckham appears to be holding a blunt, while the woman has white powder in lines on a card beside her.
To be perfectly clear, there’s no way to determine when this video was made, if Beckham was definitely holding a blunt and if the powder was a controlled substance. However, the Giants did not release. statement other than to say they were aware of the video.
Beckham, 25, is one of the league’s great players, but he has also been a considerable headache. The former LSU star has never been in legal trouble, but the immaturity has shown up time and again, whether it was partying on a boat the week of a playoff game, punching up a locker room or getting into a WWE match with Josh Norman on the field.
From a football standpoint, the time is coming for New York to make a decision. New general manager Dave Gettleman has no ties to Beckham, and with the two-time All-Pro entering the final year of his rookie deal, the Giants could be tempted to deal him prior to the draft.
Beckham is due $8.45 million this season and then is slated for unrestricted free agency. He’s already talked about wanting to be the highest-paid player in football. In reality, that’s not happening in New York or anywhere else.
Maybe the Giants decide to hold onto Beckham and ride this out. Or, perhaps Gettleman drafts a rookie quarterback with the second-overall pick and doesn’t want Beckham anywhere near that kid.
It’s a fluid situation, and one that New York must figure out soon.