The Schein Nine  

 

Free agency flurry: Moves I love, loathe in NFL's new league year

Print

The last thing you ever want to do is overreact to the first wave of free agency in the NFL ...

... but that's never stopped us before!

Here's our annual Schein Nine on what I love and loathe from the opening flurry of action in the new league year.

DEVELOPMENTS I LOVE

1) Patriots definitely NOT resting on their laurels

It's not too early for Patriots fans to plan their outfits for next February's parade after New England wins Super Bowl LII in Minnesota.

Hyperbole? Not even remotely.

Fact is, the current Pats roster is vastly superior to the one that beat the Falcons in the single greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

The Brandin Cooks trade was perfect, dreamy and an absolute steal. New England sent the last pick of the first round and a late third-rounder (No. 103, the compensatory selection New England acquired from Cleveland in the Jamie Collins deal) to the Saints for the stud receiver and a fourth-rounder (No. 118). It's like the rest of the NFL (Philly? Tennessee?) was asleep! Cooks is only 23 years old with three pro seasons and 215 catches under his belt. He's eclipsed 1,100 yards in each of the past two seasons, scoring 17 touchdowns in the process. Cooks will take the top off the defense for Tom Brady and be a game-changing weapon for the best quarterback of all time.

It's ideal. It's incredible. And it wasn't the only banner move New England made in the first week of the new league year.

New England pilfered cornerback Stephon Gilmore from AFC East rival Buffalo. It's a lot of money -- I never imagined Gilmore would get a whopping $40 million guaranteed -- but it goes noted Bill Belichick wanted to pay it. Don't be surprised when Gilmore becomes an upper-echelon corner under Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

I like the Kony Ealy flier, with Belichick banking on the fact that he can maximize the 25-year-old pass rusher after a slump season. That's a smart bet.

Lastly, I truly loved the Dwayne Allen deal. Allen is a sturdy blocking tight end who hasn't been fully developed as a pass catcher at the position. He will fill the void left by Martellus Bennett (great move by the Packers).

It's Bill Belichick's world, and we are just living in it.

2) Jacksonville rising (for real this time)

I know, I know ... Jags fans have been here before, contending for the mythical title of Offseason Champs. But allow me to explain why I think this year is different.

Calais Campbell is a great player and a big-time team leader -- something Jacksonville needed. I'm not worried at all about Campbell's age (he'll turn 31 just before the 2017 season kicks off): This cat has a versatile game that's more reliant on his hulking size (6-foot-8, 300 pounds) and work ethic than things that don't age well (like quick-twitch athleticism). $60 million over four years is money well spent by a franchise that's trying to break through.

The signing of A.J. Bouye filled a major need at corner -- and depleted the roster of a division rival in Houston. The former undrafted free-agent signee really came into his own in Year 4 with the Texans. And now Bouye, who turns 26 in August, will spend his prime years with the Jags.

But the biggest reason why this offseason feels different? Unlike in prior years, Jacksonville has a coach. And a plan. Gus Bradley was a nice guy, but a terrible head coach. Doug Marrone and Tom Coughlin have this team moving in the right direction. Marrone is a hard-nosed coach who will maximize the talent, assuming Blake Bortles throws it to the right team.

3) Lions address a huge area of need

On Sunday afternoon, "Bob Quinn" was trending nationwide on Twitter. And rightly so.

Quinn snatched offensive guard T.J. Lang away from the rival Packers. That's a major upgrade for Detroit on the right side of its offensive line -- and it's not the only one. At the outset of free agency, Quinn signed the top right tackle on the market, Ricky Wagner. The Lions are on track to have their best line in years -- big for Matthew Stafford, and for a rushing attack that ranked 30th last season.

This is what happens when the Lions have a real general manager. And wait until Quinn adds an impact running back in the draft.

4) Fly, Eagles, fly!

I included Alshon Jeffery in my list of the riskiest free agents a couple of weeks back, citing the injuries and the foolishness of signing him to a mega-bucks, long-term deal after he was suspended four games in a contract year for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances.

But on a one-year, "prove-it" deal for $14 million? That's perfect.

Make no mistake: When healthy, Alshon is a legit No. 1 receiver. As I've said before, there are different levels of WR1s, and while Jeffery's not in the Antonio Brown/Julio Jones/Odell Beckham Jr. class, he's certainly better than anything the Eagles have had in recent years. Finding a top dog in the passing game was a necessity for Philadelphia. This will allow the franchise to fully develop and maximize Carson Wentz.

Philly also added another former 1,000-yard receiver in Torrey Smith on a very reasonable deal. Smith's ability to stretch the field will open things up for Jeffery and slot man Jordan Matthews.

Here's a prediction: Wentz and Jeffery click, and the receiver earns a long-term contract to team with Wentz for a long time in Philly.

5) The Marshall plan

Speaking of WR1s, I firmly believe Brandon Marshall still has that kind of ability, as I wrote in this space last week. But in signing with the Giants on a team-friendly contract (two years, $12 million), the soon-to-be 33-year-old doesn't need to shoulder that burden.

In a wide-ranging interview on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," Marshall told me that he took less money to play with Eli Manning and be the No. 2 receiver opposite Odell Beckham Jr. It's a perfect fit for the player and the team. Big Blue now boasts the best 1-2 punch at receiver in the NFL. And then you factor in Sterling Shepard.

The Giants' passing attack will be prolific. The defense is strong. This team looks dangerous.

6) Buccaneers unearth field-stretching treasure

DeSean Jackson to Tampa on a three-year deal for $33.5 million (with $20 million in guarantees) is a playoff-caliber move. Jackson's ability to stretch the defense will significantly help receiver Mike Evans and quarterback Jameis Winston, making that already-sizzling combo even more dangerous.

Last season, Tampa Bay was the only team in the NFL without a single passing play over 50 yards. Jackson had four of his own in 2016. Bucs GM Jason Licht should take a bow.

DEVELOPMENTS I LOATHE

7) Bengals hemorrhaging talent (again)

Last year, it was Marvin Jones and pro's pro Mohamed Sanu. This year, it's offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. Cincy keeps losing really impactful players and good character guys. It's unacceptable.

Whitworth has been one of the best (and most underappreciated) offensive linemen in football in recent years. In the 2015 draft, the Bengals spent their first two picks on offensive tackles (Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher) -- a not-so-subtle indication that they were worried about Whitworth, who turned 35 in December, getting up in years. Whitworth responded by notching first-team All-Pro honors in 2015 and earning Pro Bowl invites in each of the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Zeitler has established himself as one of the better guards in football -- as evidenced by the Browns making the 27-year-old the highest-paid player at the position ($60 million over five years). That's a whole lotta high-grade beef leaving Cincy's O-line.

The Bengals just missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Unfortunately, I see them doing so again in 2017.

8) Chargers did WHAT?

Russell Okung can't stay healthy. The Seahawks, despite having pressing O-line needs, let him go last offseason. The Broncos, also light up front, had enough of Okung after one season.

So what did the O-line-deprived Chargers do? They paid an underachiever who can't stay healthy $53 million over four years.

I understand that L.A.'s newest team feels a need to make a splash in Year 1 -- and also has to protect Philip Rivers -- but Okung is not the answer on either front.

9) Another suspect offseason in Charlotte

While we're on the subject of overpaid tackles ... Matt Kalil signing a five-year, $55 million deal with the Panthers?!?! This is a guy who played two games last year due to a hip injury. This is a former No. 4 overall pick who was relatively good -- but definitely not a rock -- at left tackle for the Vikings. And Carolina just handed him a whopping $25 million guaranteed?!?! That's beyond comprehension. And sanity.

And how about Carolina's signing of Julius Peppers? What year is this? And another reunion on defense, with Captain Munnerlyn? Wasn't this the guy who trashed the team after leaving it the first time?

After Carolina fouled up the Josh Norman situation last year, it's another bizarre offseason for GM Dave Gettleman.

Ron Rivera has been the coach in Carolina for six years, finishing above .500 just twice. Are the great Panthers fans heading for another rough campaign in 2017? The way this offseason has started is less than inspiring.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop