The Debrief  

Intel Trueview  

Trade tsunami hits NFL! Plus, more trends impacting free agency

Print

The NFL's trade tsunami is a force of nature threatening to swallow the league whole. It's certainly destroyed this column a few times, with each subsequent deal requiring a rewrite as new trades emerged throughout Friday.

The epicenter of the storm quickly moved from Los Angeles to Cleveland, where the Browns have transformed their roster with three trades on Friday afternoon alone. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry offers the Browns one of the most dependable, passionate slot receivers in the league. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor heads to Cleveland as the dreaded bridge quarterback and is presumably now the favorite to start in Week 1 for a team trying to win sooner than later. The Browns also picked up cornerback Damarious Randall from the Packers in exchange for second-year passer DeShone Kizer, with NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport confirming the details of all three trades.

The Landry and Taylor trades will cost the Browns a total of three draft picks, with new general manager John Dorsey spending some of the incredible bounty that former GM Sashi Brown lovingly stockpiled. Giving up the No. 65 overall pick in this year's draft for Taylor is surprising considering he's on the last year of his deal, but the Browns now have their veteran in place to help mentor a presumptive incoming draft pick. (Sorry AJ McCarron.)

The Rams' acquisition of Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib on Thursday evening already feels like old news. It was the third trade to crash ashore in Los Angeles after transactions that sent defensive end Robert Quinn to Miami and linebacker Alec Ogletree to New York. Those trades, plus the earlier agreement to acquire cornerback Marcus Peters from Kansas City and the expected departures of mainstay corner Trumaine Johnson and receiver Tavon Austin, represent Rams GM Les Snead's clearest break yet with the roster that controversially traveled west two years ago. The last St. Louis Rams team is fading away, as is the old way of doing business in the NFL.

Snead's four trades before free agency sets a new standard for early offseason aggressiveness, but he's not on an island. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman acquired DL Michael Bennett from Seattle and dealt WR Torrey Smith to Carolina for CB Daryl Worley. And Philly might have more moves to make, with pass rusher Vinny Curry up for grabs. Meanwhile, the Dolphins traded the franchise-tagged Jarvis Landry to Cleveland for a pair of picks, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport says the Patriots were involved in talks for both Bennett and Talib, and Seahawks superstar Earl Thomas could be dealt for the right price. The Alex Smith trade to Washington already feels like it happened last offseason.

The most striking aspect of all these trades is that they happened before the traditional heart of the NFL's player-movement season. There are many maneuvers left to be made, salaries to be dumped, offers to be floated. The conditions that helped create these deals -- especially the rising salary cap, which allows teams to absorb veteran salaries -- will not be going away. The Rams are proof positive of how quickly a team can change fortunes with the right coach and the right changes and now are following the Eagles' blueprint that one offseason of aggressive overhaul is not enough. In a fast-moving league increasingly built on short commitments, the teams that stay the same risk going underwater.

Before the free agency frenzy kicks into another gear, here's a look at some other trends to watch in the coming days:

The cuts are coming, too

Thursday's release of DeMarco Murray and Friday's Richard Sherman ouster were just a hint of what's to come. So many expected cuts -- like Cardinals running back Adrian Peterson, Ravens receiver Jeremy Maclin and Giants receiver Brandon Marshall -- still haven't happened yet. There will also be the inevitable surprise releases that no one sees coming as teams attempt to carve out salary-cap space.

Some players might be less willing to take a pay cut when they see all this cap space available and veterans with big salaries like Quinn and Talib keeping their contracts on new teams. I spoke Thursday with Tyrann Mathieu, who revealed the Cardinals asked him to take a pay cut. He didn't sound interested in that option, and I suggested that he could wind up making more than his scheduled salary on the open market.

"My agent thinks that, too," he said, smiling.

The tea leaves point to Mathieu getting traded or released over the next week. If he is indeed set free, he'll rocket into the top-10 available players. Our Top 101 Free Agents list transforms daily, with many big names still likely to join the party. Speaking of which ...

The Dolphins' dilemma

Miami's trade of Jarvis Landry to Cleveland should be a relief to the organization, allowing the Dolphins to unload a $15.9 million cap figure that they didn't appear prepared to carry into the 2018 season. (Although trading one of the team's best players shouldn't be that big a relief for a team that has struggled to develop young stars.)

Even after the trade, it remains uncertain if the Dolphins' future plans include Ndamukong Suh. Always good for a few surprises in March, the Dolphins will need to do more than just releasing previous free agency misfires Julius Thomas and Lawrence Timmons if they want to spend more in free agency. Acquiring Robert Quinn coming off three down seasons only to release Suh for cap reasons would be a very Dolphins example of hustling backward. Suh has a chance to be a rare premium lineman available in a free-agent crop that is deeper at other positions.

Plenty of cornerbacks and wideouts available

It's become a cliché: This free-agent class is weak and uninspiring. It's a cliché because this is said every single March, accompanied by some fallacious memory of the good old days when caravans of Hall of Famers reached the open market. Free agency has never been truly free in the NFL, but the Jaguars, Rams and Eagles are prime examples from last offseason that it can significantly bolster a team if you look in the right places.

This time around, teams needing help at cornerback and wide receiver should be satisfied at the selection. There is top-end talent at both positions and plenty of depth for teams that want to take a few fliers. Cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler and Kyle Fuller (who received the transition tag from Chicago) deserve quality-starter money. There are roughly a dozen other starter-caliber cornerbacks out there like Sherman, Bashaud Breeland, Morris Claiborne, Brent Grimes, E.J. Gaines, Aaron Colvin and Patrick Robinson.

At wide receiver, boom-or-bust No. 1 options like Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins avoided the franchise tag and appear headed for free agency. This is not as rare as a young franchise quarterback like Kirk Cousins hitting the open market -- much less three starting quarterbacks from the same team being available -- but it's still unique. Like cornerback, there are intriguing wideouts available of nearly every shape and size -- from Terrelle Pryor, Jordan Matthews and Donte Moncrief to Paul Richardson, Marqise Lee and Taylor Gabriel.

If Suh is indeed cut, he'll join other high-risk, highly skilled defensive tackles on the market like Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson. Like almost any free agent of the last decade, they would be free agents for a reason. But the overall health of the free-agent class doesn't look that different than usual, even if a few positions are thin.

Few edge rushers and fewer pass protectors on the market

The lack of healthy, starting offensive linemen available is remarkable, especially at tackle. They simply don't exist beyond Nate Solder and possibly Pittsburgh's Chris Hubbard (if you squint). The same dearth of talent is true in the edge-rusher realm, where trusty veterans like Julius Peppers and Adrian Clayborn are among the top names. There are virtually no potential young building blocks who can get to the quarterback, which is one reason why the Dolphins might have felt so motivated to grab Quinn.

The lack of offensive linemen and pass rushers could lead to players like Solder and Clayborn getting paid out-sized dollars, but the smart teams will wait. The draft beckons, or perhaps there will be more opportunities to get creative with a trade. All the cool teams are doing it.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop