The first few days of the 2018 NFL free agency period have been crazy with many big name players switching teams, getting traded, or released. The quarterback market has been very active, while wide receivers are cashing in with big deals. Offensive lineman are getting record breaking deals and defensive players are sneaking in with some under-the-radar moves. Below I’ll break down the top 12 signings so far and give my take on how it affects both the player’s old and new team.
All reported contracts are according to Spotrac.com
Kirk Cousins signs with the Vikings for three years/$84 million
This was almost a forgone conclusion. For the last couple of weeks, all the rumors and reports had Kirk Cousins heading to Minnesota on a three year deal. The only questions that remained how much he was going to make and if he would get the first fully guaranteed in NFL history. Last week it was reported that Cousins would get a three year/$91 million deal from the Vikings. It is unclear if the Vikings didn’t offer more than $84 million, or if he offered to take a little less so the team can have some more cap space to work out extensions with many of their defensive players. However, Cousins can earn another $6 million dollars based on playoff success and does become the first player in NFL history with a fully guaranteed deal.
Cousins’ former team, the Redskins, expected this to happen and honestly forced it to happen. To better prepare themselves for life without Cousins, they traded for former Chiefs’ starter Alex Smith back in January. After two straight seasons on the franchise tag, the Redskins just wanted to move on and find a stable option for the team. Smith signed a four year/$94 million extension after he was officially traded to Washington.
Alex Smith will average $23.5 million per year in new money on the four-year extension with approximately $70 million in guaranteed money on the agreement between the two sides, per @mortreport. There is no official contract or paperwork so agreement in principle right now.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 31, 2018
Case Keenum signs with the Broncos for two years/$36 million
Many expected Case Keenum to wait for Cousins to make a decision before signing with anyone. However, Keenum was actually the first quarterback to agree to terms with a team. The Broncos were 5-11 last season, in large part because of horrible quarterback play from their trio of poor quarterbacks. Keenum had a career year last season, but prior to that he was a career back up. With the deal only for two year, the Broncos aren’t expecting Keenum to be their long-term franchise quarterback. This deal allows the Broncos to take a quarterback with their first round pick if they like one that’s available. However, with Keenum locked in as the starter next year, they could take Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson instead and not have to worry about bad quarterback play again next season.
The fact that Keenum agreed to sign with the Broncos before Cousins agreed to sign with the Vikings just confirms the fact that the Vikings weren’t committed to him and didn’t view him as a franchise quarterback. However, many — including myself — believe the Viking seriously upgraded at the position. The Vikings are in a great position and Keenum is happy as the starter in Denver.
Allen Robinson signs with the Bears for three years/$42 million
Coming off a torn ACL, Allen Robinson cashed in big time. Once the Jaguars declined to place the franchise tag on him, it was a foregone conclusion that Robinson would sign elsewhere in free agency. The Bears are clearly committed to giving second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky better weapons in the passing game. Robinson had 153 catches for 2,283 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016. Assuming the Bears get the pre-ACL tear Robinson, this is a steal for them.
For the Jaguars this is really a head scratcher. Why did they let their best wide receiver walk in free agency? The move is even more puzzling given the fact that the Jaguars have reportedly agreed to an one year deal worth $7 million with Donte Moncrief. The Jaguars still have Allen Hurns on the roster, but can release him and save $7 million against the cap. Combining Hurns’ cap savings and the money they foolishly wasted on Moncrief, the Jaguars could have easily resigned Robinson to the same deal the Bears did.
Drew Brees resigns with the Saints for two years/$50 million
While there was some doubt that Drew Brees would re-sign with the Saints on Monday, they got a deal done on Tuesday. Brees took somewhat of a hometown discount, signing for an average of “just” $25 million dollars per year. Ever since the Saints season ended against the Vikings in January, Brees and the team both have said that they expected their relationship to go on for the rest of Brees’ career, and with this deal that seems very likely. No surprise here.
Nate Solder signs with the Giants for four years/$62 million
Finally the Giants got tired of watching pass rushers walk right by Ereck Flowers at left tackle. Now with Nate Solder in the fold, Eli Manning will no longer have nightmares of losing his head. While Solder’s new deal makes him the highest paid offensive lineman in the league based on AAV ($15.5 million), this signing may fix two spots on the offensive line. Flowers can move back over to his natural position at right tackle and hopefully rebound mentally to become a solid starter. Given that Eli Manning has taken 79 sacks over the last three seasons, adding Solder might be the most important non-quarterback free agent move.
If any other team had just lost their starting left tackle, the fan base would be panicking. Meanwhile, the Patriots fan base is sticking to their “in Bill we trust” mindset. However, the Patriots do need to find a replacement at left tackle, especially since Tom Brady will be 41 years old when the 2018 season starts. The Patriots could potential move up in the first round to grab either Connor Williams or Mike McGlinchey. Good news is the Patriots do have one of the best offensive line coaches in the league in Dante Scarnecchia, who will have his hands full reshaping their offensive line now that Solder is gone.
Malcolm Butler signs with the Titans for five years/$61 million
New England south continues. Malcolm Butler follows former teammates Logan Ryan and Dion Lewis to Tennessee. With his benching in Superbowl 52, many expected Butler’s market to cool down to around $9-10 million AAV. Instead Butler ended up with $12.2 million AAV. The Titans are quietly building an impressive secondary knowing they will have to face Deshaun Watson and Andrew Luck four times a year for the next decade. Butler joins Ryan and Adore Jackson at cornerback with 2017 All Pro Kevin Byard at safety.
There was zero chance Butler was returning to the Patriots after his Super Bowl benching. While the Patriots do have other cornerbacks on the roster they like, as we saw in the Superbowl, none of them are very good other than Stephon Gilmore. Even with the trade for Jason McCourty, I expect the Patriots to draft a cornerback within the first three rounds of the draft.
Andrew Norwell signs with the Jaguars for five years/$66.5 million
Prior to the Giants deal with Solder, Andrew Norwell had the highest AAV among offensive lineman at $13.3 million. Instead he will have to settle for second highest. Norwell is a great addition for the Jaguars that struggled to run the ball in between the tackles last season. Cam Robinson played well at left tackle last season but adding Norwell next to him should only help. He will replace Patrick Omameh, who recently signed with the Giants, at left guard.
Meanwhile, the Panthers weren’t expected to re-sign Norwell. The Panthers didn’t have a lot of cap space available and already have $41.3 million dollars this season committed to the Kalil Brothers and guard Trai Turner. The Panthers might move last year’s second round pick Taylor Moton inside to guard or select one at some point during the draft as the offensive guard class is very good.
Sam Bradford signs with the Cardinals for one year/$20 million
Ouch! This move was very surprising. I’m not sure who the Cardinals were competing with for Sam Bradford’s services that would pay him close to $20 million. Clearly they way over paid for Bradford. However, the move aside from money isn’t a bad one. Bradford has played well when healthy, which I know is very rare, but this move gives the Cardinals a starting-caliber quarterback in place for next season while they look for their long-term answer.
Bradford was never expected to return to Minnesota. The Vikings were all in on Cousins and if they couldn’t land him they would turn to re-sign Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater. The Cardinals also signed Mike Glennon to a two year/$8 million deal. My guess is the Cardinals view Bradford as their 2018 starter, with Glennon as the back up, and they will look to draft the long-term answer in either the first or second round of the draft in April.
Sam Bradford y'all pic.twitter.com/2pqTWZRrti
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 14, 2018
Sammy Watkins signs with the Chiefs for three years/$48 million
Not many people expected Sammy Watkins to be the highest paid free agent wide receiver. Even fewer people expected it to come from the Chiefs. Watkins now joins Tyreek Hill to form the fastest set of wide receivers in the league. Watkins will give second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes another weapon to throw deep to. However, with Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt already in the fold, Watkins isn’t likely to make the statistical impact his contract would suggest.
The Rams made the choice to use the franchise tag on safety Lamarcus Joyner instead of Watkins, and I believe they made the right choice. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp played very well last season, and the team’s offense runs through Todd Gurley. Keeping Watkins at $16 million dollars wouldn’t make sense given what he did for the team last season. The Rams have high expectations for Josh Reynolds, a fourth round pick from last year, this coming season. Between Reynolds and a mid-round rookie, the Rams will do just fine replacing Watkins.
The Jets sign Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater to one year deals.
After striking out on Cousins, the Jets quickly turned to their plan B; re-signing Josh McCown and signing Teddy Bridgewater. McCown got $10 million while Bridgewater can earn up to $15 million. This is a good move for the Jets, as it protects them going into the draft. Bridgewater should win the starting job if is knee is healthy. If not, McCown will give the Jets a proven veteran who played well last season and won’t lose the team games.
With both players only signed to one year deals, this shouldn’t have any impact on what the Jets do with their first round draft pick. Obviously the Vikings weren’t going to bring Bridgewater back after signing Cousins, and McCown didn’t have much of a market besides the Jets. I expect the Jets to still draft a quarterback with the sixth pick and let him sit for a year while the two veteran quarterbacks compete for the starting job.
Jimmy Graham signs with the Packers for three years/$30 million
After years of being quiet in free agency, the Packers signed Martellus Bennett to a three year deal last off-season and that ended horribly. Hopefully this time the tight end they signed will be fully committed to the Packers. Jimmy Graham is 31 years old, but the Packers are hopeful that he will give Aaron Rodgers a new mismatch weapon. Unfortunately, in order create the cap space to sign Graham, the Packers had to release Jordy Nelson. The Packers gave Davante Adams a four year/$58 million deal earlier in the off-season and expect him to take over as Rodger’s go-to receiver.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks were expected to move on from Graham this off-season. With their cap situation the way it is, the Seahawks have been outbid for all of their free agents. Besides Graham joining the Packers, Paul Richardson signed with the Redskins, and Richard Sherman is now a 49er. While the Seahawks do have high expectations for last year’s third round pick, wide receiver Amara Darboh, the team will have to place even more on Russell Wilson’ shoulders this upcoming season.
Jerick McKinnon signs with the 49ers for four years/$30 million dollars.
Jerick McKinnon wasn’t shy about saying how he wanted to be the lead back for a team, but with Dalvin Cook returning from an ACL injury, that wasn’t going to happen in Minnesota. Instead McKinnon is set up to play a critical role in Kyle Shanahan’s offense in San Francisco. The market for McKinnon was hotter than many expected. While several teams were interested, reportedly it came down to a three-team race between the 49ers, Buccaneers and Jets.
While seeing McKinnon leave is tough for the Vikings, there was no way they were going to give him a $7.5 million dollars AAV. Between Cook and Latavius Murray returning after restructuring his deal, the Vikings are pretty well set at running back. However, the team could look to add a running back with a similar skill set to McKinnon on the third day of the draft. Assuming Cook returns 100% healthy next season, the Vikings run game should be just fine.