Although it’s only March, the power dynamic has certainly shifted in the NFL since Tom Brady and Bill Belichick hoisted their sixth Lombardi trophy early last month. Super Bowl champions are not crowned in March, but the right moves in free agency can certainly help a team get there. The wrong moves, however, can sink a team’s season before it even begins.
These are the teams and players that have benefited the most so far this NFL offseason.
Arguably the biggest winners of the offseason so far, the Browns shook up the league when they traded for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in one of the biggest blockbuster trades in a decade. Reuniting Beckham Jr. with best friend and former LSU teammate Jarvis Landry gives the Browns arguably the best duo of wide receivers in the league. Teamed with the dynamic running back duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, an athletic tight end in David Njoku and emerging second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Browns have established a talented young nucleus that should put them in position to at the very least contend for a division crown for several years.
After leading the Eagles to their first Super Bowl in franchise history and resurrecting their season last year, Nick Foles has earned the right to be a starter in this league and be paid as such. After years of inconsistent play from former #3 overall pick Blake Bortles, the Jaguars went all in on Foles, handing him a four-year $88 million contract with $50 million guaranteed. Both the team and Foles hope he can bring his magic from Philly down south to Jacksonville and help rejuvenate a team that went to the AFC Championship game only two years ago.
Patriots Free Agents:
The Patriot Way remains supreme. A large part of the Patriots unprecedented success has been Belichick’s ability to find undervalued talent at the right price and refusing to overpay players. Two large beneficiaries of the Patriots success last season were DT Trey Flowers and OT Trent Brown. Flowers signed the largest contract of free agency with a five-year deal totaling $90 million with $56 million guaranteed to play for the Detroit Lions and former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Brown signed a four-year deal with the Raiders totaling $66 million with over $36 million in guaranteed money. While both men will most likely not enjoy the same amount of success that they did with the Patriots, they each leave New England with a championship and tens of millions of dollars.
These are the teams that have taken the biggest losses thus far in the offseason, especially in free agency.
New York Giants:
Not even two full offseasons into Dave Gettleman's job, questions are already start- ing to mount for the Giants' general manager. After signing Odell Beckham Jr. to a five-year $90 million contract with a $20 million signing bonus last season, he traded him to the Browns one year later, costing the team $16 million in dead cap space this season, combined with what many league observers deemed not commensurate trade value for Beckham Jr. Additionally, Gettleman refused to even franchise tag Landon Collins and instead lost the ability to trade him, letting him walk for nothing and sign a massive $84 million contract with the division rival Washington Redskins. These questionable decisions surrounding two of the franchise’s former best players and an ever-aging Eli Manning have many wondering what direction the New York Giants are heading in.
One of the more dramatic seasons in recent Steelers history ended with the departure of superstar playmakers Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, arguably the two best players at their respective positions. To make matters worse, the Steelers will receive a mere compensatory draft pick in 2020 for Bell, and they only received a third and fifth round pick after Antonio Brown torpedoed his trade value before finally being shipped to the Oakland Raiders.
To make matters worse, more drama surfaced around quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, questioning his leadership style and relationship with teammates. The Steelers will most likely be fine next season. Roethlisberger has never had a losing season in his 15 years with Pittsburgh, and young stars like wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will be able to showcase their skillsets as a focal point of the team's offense next year. However, the events of this past season and offseason could potentially spell trouble for next season.
This year, Baltimore's offseason has been nothing short of volatile so far. After losing key players on defense, namely Eric Weddle, Za'Darius Smith, C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs, the Ravens looked to try to fill some of their new roster gaps through free agency. Baltimore recently signed running back Mark Ingram and former All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, both of whom would generally provide a team with valuable production on both sides of the ball. However, these moves do not seem to make much sense for the Ravens. Second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson is best known for his mobility and elusiveness, evident in his league-best 695 rushing yards in 2018. Jackson's rushing ability is supposed to eliminate the need for an expensive free agent running back. There- fore, though Ingram is a very talented player, it seems as though Baltimore could have spent money more effectively elsewhere.
As for the defense, losing four productive starters will definitely hurt the unit in the coming season. However, signing soon-to-be 30-year-old Thomas, who suffered a season-ending leg injury just a season ago, does not provide defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale with the youth and athleticism that he needs to compete in the AFC North.
The team has not made enough of an effort to surround Jackson with enough high-level playmakers. A lesser Ravens defense will place more pressure on Jackson and the offense next season to produce, especially in the passing game, where Jackson struggled this past season.
Contact Zachary Schiller at email@example.com.