With the first week of league year coming to the end, lets take a quick look at my winners from the first phase of free agency.
*Note: Teams still and will make moves after this article goes live and will more than likely be different by the seasons start. Moves made now may seem good, but a lot of good signings on paper do not work out, and vice versa.
After the Bears finished the 2017 season, all Bears fans and general manager Ryan Pace knew changes needed to be made. At seasons end, Pace made the decision to start over with the coaching staff and start fresh with a new group of coaches he hoped will take the Bears to the next level(you can see more information about this here). Now with a new coaching staff and new head coach Matt Nagy, Pace turned his focus towards his roster and the start of free agency.
The Bears entered this past season with hopes of Cameron Meredith, Kevin White, and Kendall Wright as their starting three for the year. That did not happen, with Cameron Meredith tearing his ACL in a preseason game against the Titans, Kevin White going down week one, this time fracturing his shoulder blade after two receptions for six total yards and being placed on IR for the third season in a row. This left Kendall Wright as their number one option at the wide receiver position and finished the season as the Bears leading receiver with only 59 receptions for 614 yards. The offense was one dimensional, with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen having to carry the team literally every game, especially after the injury to Zach Miller. Ryan Pace made sure this issue would not carry over into next season in a big way
News broke early Tuesday morning(March 13) that former Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson was expected to sign a three year, 42 million dollar contract. The deal was reported by NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport. Robinson was one of the most productive recievers and red zone threats in the NFL before missing all of last season with a torn ACL. His 14 million dollar salary equals the likes of fellow wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant, and one more million higher than former Bear Alshon Jeffery. Robinson has a career stat line of 202 catches,2,848 yards and 22 touchdowns in 43 career games. Robinson is a true number one who can play on opposite sides of the field and has the speed to gain seperation from defensive backs. At 6’3, Robinson will be a major redzone target for Mitchell Trubisky and will now allow the Bears into having to draft a wide receiver in the first round and focus on other team needs.
Ryan Pace was not done there as he also signed former Eagle’s tight end Trey Burton(four years, 32 million dollars), speedster Taylor Gabriel(four years, 26 million), kicker Cody Parkey(4 years, 15 million), defensive end Aaron Lynch(1 year deal) back up quarterback Chase Daniel(2 years, 10 million) and Tyler Bray(1 year deal) to be the third string quarterback. Trey Burton adds to a tight end corp of Adam Shaheen, Dion Sims(who’s base salary will be guarenteed on March 16th), Daniel Brown and Ben Braunecker.
After doing nothing his first few seasons, Burton was a nice player as Zach Ertz’s backup compiling 63 catches, 629 yards and 6 touchdowns. Burton is known for his touchdown throw to Nick Foles in this past Super Bowl and has the potential to play at a high level now as the number one tight end on the depth chart in Chicago. Burton has the ability to run vertical routes and play as a wide receiver at the tight end positions, just like former teammate Zach Ertz. In his introductory press conference, Burton said he plans on learning 95 percent of the Bears playbook, showing his positive and hard working mindset. In a funny note, Burton joins a team of players not listed as quarterbacks who have had touchdown passes in their career, joining Pat O’Donnell, Cameron Meredith, and Tarik Cohen .
Known for his time in Atlanta, receiver Taylor Gabriel brings his flashy speed to the windy city and will most likely be the slot reciever for the Bears in 2018. The former Brown has made quite a name for himself the past several years and has proven that he could play not only in the slot, but also on the outside. With that being said, expect the Bears to use Gabriel all over the field to gain better match ups and he will help the Bears stretch the field. Trubisky will now have a proven deep threat and another weapon to look for on Sundays.
Since the Bears released long time kicker Robbie Gould, the Bears have struggled to find a kicker that could at least be average at the position. After going through kickers Connor Barth, Roberto Aguayo, Ciaro Santos, and Mike Nugent, the Bears believe they have finally found their guy to have stability at the position in former Dolphin Cody Parkey. Parky was 21 for 23 last season and has a big leg and is accurate, something the Bears desperately needed. Parkey also has experiance kicking in cold weather from his time with the Browns and the Eagles, which is huge for any kicker that comes to an NFC North team.This may be the most overlooked move they have made thus far. Aaron Lynch has not lived up to expectations in the NFL thus far, but he does provide depth on the defensive line and played the best football of his career under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. There are reports saying Fangio himself personally pushed for this signing. Chase Daniel has been a backup for most of his career and has sat and gained knowledge behind Alex Smith, Carson Wentz and Drew Brees. He has played under Matt Nagy and will help Trubisky develop into the franchise stater he is believed to be by many.
The Bears also have also placed the transition tag on former 2014 first round pick Kyle Fuller. On March 16th, the Green Bay Packers submitted an offer sheet on Kyle Fuller, giving the team five days to match. A few hours later the Bears signed Fuller to a 4 year deal worth 54 million and 18 million guaranteed. Chicago also resigned cornerback Prince Amukamara, linebackers Jonathan Anderson and Sam Acho, punter Pat O’Donnell, and tenured one year tenures on wide receivers Cameron Meredith and Joshua Bellamy, and corner Bryce Callahan. Amukamara, Fuller and Callahan form a solid cornerback tandem and having them back in the secondary with Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos will help the Bears defense grow even more with another year of them all playing together. Acho and Anderson provide good depth behind Danny Trevathan , Leonard Floyd and Nick Kwiatkoski. Pat O’Donnell is one of the better punters in the league and as we saw last year, can throw the football when asked when running trick packages. Josh Bellamy is not the best receiver but he is superb on special teams and that is why he is being brought back.
All these moves and the potential of adding more depth signings and the upcoming draft show that the Bears are ready to take the next step and try and contend for a playoff spot for not only this upcoming season, but for the years to come. The Bears will be an interesting team to watch come September.
San Francisco 49ers
Over the course of one calander year, the 49ers went from a team with an uncertain future with Colin Kaepernick at the tail end of his run with the team that drafted him, to a team who hired former broadcaster and Super Bowl champion saftey John Lynch, to be the general manager, former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to become the new head coach, acquired and signed their franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, have a decent amount of draft currency leading up to this years draft and plenty of salary cap to work with. With all that being said, the Niners knew that these next couple of months would be vital for the organization in regards speeding up their rebuild. The 49ers made the most of this opportunity by making big moves quickly.
The 49ers made the first big addition before free agency even began by signing all pro corner and longtime Seahawks corner Richard Sherman to a 3 year, 39 million dollar deal. You can see the entire contract detail here. Sherman suffered a season ending injury when he ruptured his Achilles tendon in a week 10 match up against the Arizona Cardinals. On March 8th, reports had surfaced that Sherman was expected to be released by the Seahawks and was officially cut by the team on March 9th. One day later, John Lynch reached out to Sherman and was able to meet with him and come to an agreement. Sherman has had a few memerable moments against the 49ers, most notably ending the 49ers season in the NFC Championship game back in 2014 deflecting a pass in the back of the endzone that was intercepted with less than a minute to go. Obviously, the major injury Sherman has suffered leaves a question mark to rather or not Sherman would play close to the level he has played in his career, but this is a low risk, high reward signing for the team. Sherman adds a huge presence in the locker room and on the field and with the amount of cap room the team has, even with Garoppolo’s extension, they could afford to make a move like this. Richard Sherman plays his best football when he has a chip on his shoulder and now following his release and signing with a team who will play the Seahawks twice, it is safe to say Richard has a major chip on his shoulder and will be motivated to help turn around a 49ers team and play at a high level.
Richard Sherman was not the only player the 49ers had come to terms with. They also pick up RB Jerick Mckinnon for 4 years, 30 million and Center Weston Richburge to a 5 year, 47.5 million dollar contract.
Jerick McKinnon is not a running back that pops out at you as a 30 million dollar player, especially at the running back position. With this contract, he will become on of the highest paid running backs in the league. McKinnon is known for his pass catching ability and his above average speed. His role with the Vikings was a change of pace guy. He was never expected to be the number one back in a back field. After the injury to Dalvin Cook, McKinnon stepped his game up and had the best season of his young career. Though he does not have mind boggling stats, it is what you see when you watch him play. McKinnon not only lines up as a running back, but he can also be used on the line of scrimmage as a wide receiver and with his catch ability and speed, is a good option to use in the slot as a dink and dunk runner. Jerick is surprisingly(because of his size) a decent blocker and adds much value to special teams, being able to field punts and kicks, though it is unknown to if he will take on the role. This signing marked the end of the Carlos Hyde era in San Fran as Hyde moves on to Cleveland and never played up to expectations as the bell cow back.
Richburg has been the best offsensive lineman the Giants have had over the past several years. Pro Football Focus rates Richburg as a high quality run and pass blocker and was also ranked as the best center in the NFL following the 2016 season. Only 26, he could play multiple positions on the offensive line and is in the middle of his prime and could still grow as a player and a leader in the locker room.
This team still has room to improve on both sides of the football, but with this only being the first week of free agency, there are still quality players out there and players that may be released or traded. With Michael Crabtree being released by the Raiders, he is a guy I would expect the team to be interested to bring back, however with his history with Richard Sherman, it would be interesting to watch.Look for the Niners to target either linebacker or corner in the draft in the first round to pair with Richard Sherman and a power running back in the second or third round to compliment McKinnon. This team has a much improved future and the potential to make a leap this upcoming season.
I would smile like that too for being paid 15 million dollars for not doing anything in my career. Lets face it, Sam Bradford is a guy that has made boat loads of money in his professional career and has yet to do anything in this league and not playing in a playoff game. When healthy, Bradford is a decent starter in this league. He had his best year in 2016 with the Vikings but it was nothing great. Yes, he had the best completion percentage but that really means nothing. He is not a guy who will win a Super Bowl or even a playoff game for you and it would be hard to have him mentor a young quarterback because he always ends up injured. If you look at his track record, he gets hurt every other year. He was hurt last season, and maybe the Cardinals realized this and are praying that he keeps the trend going by having a healthy 2018 but I digress. If this works out for Arizona or not, Sam Bradford is getting paid starter money either way. Donald Trump should look into hiring Bradford’s agents because of how great of negotiators are..
The Titans have turned their organization around from being one of the worst teams in the league, to just missing the playoffs in 2016, to clinching a playoff birth and winning a playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs this past season. Yes, this last Titans team won a playoff game, but it ultimately means nothing at all, especially when you get blown out by the New England Patriots in the divisional round. With this season behind their back and the suprise departure of former head coach Mike Mularkey, general manager Jon Robinson now needed the next guy to lead Tennessee back to the playoffs. He decided to bring in former Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel to lead this talented team in the right direction. Vrable brought in Matt LaFleur in as offensive coordinator and Dean Pees as the defensive coordinator. With the coaching staff all put together, it was now time to look to add to this team starting with free agency.
The Titans where able to lock up one of the top corners available in former Super Bowl champion Malcolm Butler to a 5 year, 61.25 million. He will now reunite with former teammate Logan Ryan, forming one of the better one-two cornerback tandems in the NFL. Add the potential of now second year player Adoree Jackson, Pro Bowl saftey Kevin Byard and veteran Jonathan Cyprien, this secondary group looks solid if everything works out.
Butler has been a very productive player throughout his young career. Going undrafted in 2014, Butler made one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history, picking off Russell Wilson to clinch a Super Bowl win against the Seahawks in the closing seconds of the game. Butler has mentioned numerous times that he had practiced and prepared to face that package all throughout practice that week, showing his commitment to his team. Butler earned Pro Bowl honors the following year after having 72 tackles, 15 pass deflections and two interceptions in his first full year as a starter. In 2016 he was named second team all pro at the corner position after playing a full season once again. This past year, Butler played 98 percent of all defensive snaps and 47 of 48 games for the Patriots over the past three seasons, showing that he can stay on the field both during key moments and durability wise.
Not only does Butler bring a high level of play on the field, but having two championships under his belt and major playoff experience, it is safe to assume that he will bring knowledge and leadership to a playoff hungry franchise. The addition not only adds to the Titans, but weakens the New England Patriots, a team that usually recovers from the loss of key players, but there is still a chance they cannot replace Butler as fast.
Butler was notably benched in this past Super Bowl by former head coach Bill Belichick after conflicting reports came out saying that Butler was late to team meetings and broke curfew during the week of the Super Bowl. However, Butler himself refuted the reports, stating that he did not break curfew and spent time that entire week with his family. At his introductory press conference, Butler said he has still not been given a true reason to why he was a healthy scratch. I myself am not at all concerned about this issue and Titans fan should not either.
Dion Lewis also comes over from New England, singning a four year, 30 million dollar contract. Lewis has had issues with injuries throughout his career, but when healthy, Lewis is a good option to have in any backfield. Many believe that Lewis only brings value as a pass catcher, but Lewis is a complete back. His size and ability to catch passes and block as a halfback brings a dimension to the Titans that they really need. He will be listed as Derrick Henry’s back up on the depth chart, but he can run the ball well when asked with his ability to cut and run between the line when needed. He may impact Henry’s workload, but that would not be that bad of the thing counting on that only happening really if Lewis plays well. He is another veteran player with playoff history coming to Tennessee.
Lewis played a full 16 games for the first time in his career, starting 8 games and rushing for 896 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground to go with 214 receiving yards on 32 catches and 3 touchdowns.
The Titans have announced that they had resigned defensive ends DaQuan Jones(3 years, 21 million) and David King(1 year deal), and guard Josh Kline( 4 years, 26 million). DaQuan Jones has been in decent addition to the defensive line since being drafted in the fourth round in 2014 in the fourth round. He started 12 games in 2017 and posted 36 tackles, 5 sacks(career-high), and a stop for loss before suffering a season-ending biceps injury and ending up on IR. He has a career stat line of 145 tackles, 6 sacks, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He has shown a turn around after a decent season and in a perfect world, the Titans draft a defensive end and Jones is relegated to not having to play every snap.
Josh Kline is ranked as the number twenty two guard in football by Pro Football Focus. He was claimed off waivers from the Patriots in 2016 and started 30 regular season games in Tennessee and the two playoff games this past season. With Kline’s return and the Titans making Quinton Spain a restricted free agent, the Titans will have their entire starting offensive line returning from last year and will allow the Titans to add to the positions in the draft or later in free agency.
The Titans have positioned themselves well looking towards the NFL draft and look poised to make the next step in their Super Bowl hopes. Though they made the playoffs last season, the Titans are overlooked by many and have the potential to take the league by storm and possibly knock off the Steelers or Patriots in the playoffs. Look for the Titans to look towards upgrading their defensive line with Ndamukong Suh planning to visit the Titans facility in the coming days and the recent release of now former Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry.
The Eagles are coming off the greatest season in franchise history having finally won a Super Bowl title and have the roster make up of the next great dynasty in the NFL. The core of this team is coming back once again, gaining a healthy franchise and top 10(if not top 5) quarterback in Carson Wentz and so far adding a few more players who will only add to their chances of trying to win back to back titles
On March 7th, the Seahawks agreed to trade Michael Bennett and a 2018 seventh round pick to the Eagles in exchange for a fifth round pick in 2018 and wide receiver Marcus Johnson. The deal became official March 14th at the start of the league year. Bennett is a decorated defensive lineman who has played in two Super Bowls and has a ring with the 2014 Seattle Seahawks team. He is also a three-time Pro Bowler, and was the defensive Prow Bowl MVP in 2015. Bennett has pilled up 293 tackles, 54 sacks, 8 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries in his NFL career since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2009.
Bennett formed one of the top defensive line duos along side Cliff Avril since uniting in Seattle in 2013, adding to the re-imagining Seattle’s defense into one of the best defenses in recent memory.
The Eagles have also added former Raven and Lion Haloti Ngata to their defensive line on a one year deal. Ngata brings yet more experience to a stacked defense with his five Pro Bowl appearances and Super Bowl ring with the Ravens in 2012. Ngata is a solid edge rusher and even at the back end of his career, is a solid role player, bringing his career 314 tackles and 29.5 sacks to the city of brotherly love.
Bennett and Ngata add to a defensive line that already has Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Derek Barnett and Chris Long.
The Eagles have lost some players, with Trey Burton going to Chicago, Beau Allen signing with Tampa and Patrick Robinson returning to the Saints. Torrey Smith was traded to the Panthers in exchange for Daryl Worley. LeGarrette Blount is currently a free agent and is planning to meet with the Lions and the release of Vinny Curry, the Eagles will not go through this offseason untouched. However, the players they have lost and will potentially lose are not huge. Trey Burton was Zach Ertz’s backup and though he played well and backups are important, the Eagles can easily find one later in free agency or in the draft. The lose of Baeu Allen was quickly matched by the signing of Ngata and though Patrick Robinson had a career year this past season, he is 30 years old and the Eagles have high hopes for Worley and will most likely look into taking a corner in the early rounds of the draft. If Blount ends up leaving, the Eagles have a solid running back core without him with former Dolphin Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Donnell Pumphrey and Wendell Smallwood. There is still the possibility of Darren Sproles signing a one year deal coming off an injury last season.
The Eagles may entertain the regular season without Carson Wentz as their starter, but Nick Foles has proven he could get the job done if he needs to be the starter(he led the Eagles to a championship of course). This organization is deep at every position with really no major need at any particular position, allowing the Eagles to add depth and focus on doing so in the draft. The Eagles are set to not only win now, but in the future as well and may be the favorites to win the Super Bowl once again.
Los Angeles Rams
Following a break through season for the Rams, they wasted no time in filling their needs and adding to their already great defense, potentially making their unit one of the best in the league
Before free agency started, the Rams put together two big trades that many experts are calling great. Because of these two moves, former corner Trumaine Johnson is no long a part of the team, signing a multi-year deal with the Jets.
On February 23rd, the Rams agreed to trade a 4th round pick in this years draft and a 2019 2nd rounder to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a 2018 6th round pick and pro bowl corner Marcus Peters. Peters, a former first round draft pick, was the number one corner during his time in Kansas City. Over his brief three year career, Peter’s is already one of the top corners in the league. He has a career stat line of 151 tackles, 55 pass deflections, 19 interceptions, 6 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries, and 3 defensive touchdowns. In 2015, Peters was named the defensive rookie of the year, named to the all-pro rookie team, second team all pro and was the co-interception leader along side Reggie Nelson with 8 picks. In 2016, he was named first team all pro and named to the Pro Bowl in 2015 and 2016.
There is no doubt Peters has the ability to change the Rams defense, but on the field problems have been an issue for him since his college days, and was the biggest reason to why he was moved out of Kansas City. In 2014, the former Huskie was suspended for a game for throwing a tantrum on the sideline and went on to be dismissed by the team in November for disciplinary issues. This past season, he was fined for an illegal hit to Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and during a week 13 matchup against the Jets, Peters threw a penalty flag into the crowd after the Jets attempted a 2-point conversion. He ended up being ejected because of this and was fined 24 thousand dollars by the NFL for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Chiefs then suspended Peters because of this and a few days after that, news came out he was also suspended for arguing with a coach.
In Marcus’s press confrence he said that the on the field issues would not be a problem and now on a young team with a star studded coaching staff and the national attention being on the Rams, Peters will need to get his act together and realize that if he keeps his head on straight and preforms on the field, the Rams have a solid chance of reaching the Super Bowl.
Peters was not the only new face to end up in L.A. On March 8th, the Broncos agreed to send Aqib Talib to the Rams for a 5th round pick in the 2018 draft. Talib has been a key part to Denvers “No-Fly Zone” defense in recent years and is another solid and productive corner. He has been named to five straight Pro Bowls since 2013, named first team all-pro in 2016 and has a Super Bowl ring from when the Broncos knocked off the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Entering the league in 2008, Aquib has 424 tackles, 119 pass deflections, 34 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and 10 defensive touchdowns.
Just like Peters, Talib has question marks because of his issue on the field. He got into a first fight in 2008 at the NFL rookie symposium with then rookie teammate Cory Boyd. He also missed a flight to a mandatory rookie function at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and missed multiple team meetings during training camp his rookie year. In 2012 he was suspended for violating the NFL’s policy for taking Adderall without a prescription. He was fined 24 thousand dollars by the NFL for admitting to an intentional face mask during Super Bowl 50 to prevent Corey Brown from scoring a touchdown. He has also had issues with then Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree, ripping Crabtrees chain from his neck. This resulted in a two game suspension that was reduced to one.
However, unlike Marcus Peters, Aquib Talib has had legal issues off the field. In August 2009, Aqib was arrested for simple assault and resisting arrest without force during an altercation with a taxi driver in Florida. In March of 2011, Talib was issued a felony warrant for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after he was accused of firing a gun at his sisters boyfriend. He was indicted in May, but in June of 2012, all charges where dropped due to lack of evidence and character issues of the accuser. In June of 2016, Talib was shot in the leg outside a Dallas strip club and was released from the hospital the same day.
If Talib could put the past behind him and focus on being a mentor and a leader in the locker room, this trade easily makes a ton of sense. Basing off of his press conference, it does seem that Aquib Talib realizes the situation he is in and will move forward with these problems behind him.
The Rams did lose out on Sammy Watkins and need to add to that position in both free agency and the draft. They also traded both Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn. However, both of those players were not fits in Wade Phillips’s defense. The Rams have a stacked defense, but it is not perfect. They could add a few linebackers and a piece on the defensive line to play along side Aaron Donald. Looking at taking players on both the defensive and offensive line in the draft would be smart and needed.
With a rising Jared Goff, a top three running back/pass catcher and 2017 Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley, a promising wide receiver in Cooper Cupp, an elite secondary and the best pass rusher possibly in the world in Aaron Donald, would it be a stretch to say the Rams could represent the NFC in the Super Bowl?
For now, I will let the picture do the talking. You can see my opinion on this signing here.