Free-agency Debrief: Winners, losers from Tuesday's moves


As the clock struck midnight Tuesday, there were six NFL teams in need of a starting quarterback and plenty of big names available. Seventeen hours later, only the Buffalo Bills were left still searching for a starter.

Free agency didn't wait for free agency this year. No matter what happens from here on out, Tuesday will prove to be the most pivotal day in a league year that technically hasn't started yet. The Broncos kicked off the frenzy by agreeing to terms with Case Keenum -- and then Drew Brees, Sam Bradford and Josh McCown made their decisions in relatively short order. Kirk Cousins still wants to visit the Vikings before officially agreeing to anything, but the rest of the league has already moved on.

Patience is not viewed as a virtue at this time of year on the NFL calendar, so let's not wait any longer before breaking down the winners, losers and everything in between from a wild Tuesday:


Drew Brees' New Orleans legacy: Just start building that statue now. Brees told a local radio station that he turned down "a lot more money" to sign elsewhere, which is hard to doubt. If Kirk Cousins is getting $84 million guaranteed, Brees could have maxed out his earning potential more by hitting the open market.

It is truly rare for a player to take less money to try to help a team win a championship, but that's what happened here. Brees shouldn't necessarily be lionized for this any more than he should be questioned for extracting every last cent from the Saints during his last negotiation. Priorities change, Brees wants a championship and the team's two-year, $50 million offer is fair enough. As much as this contract cements Brees' legacy in New Orleans, another Super Bowl trip would do even more.

Now I just want to find out which organization offered Brees "a lot more" to change teams because it makes for a fascinating sliding-doors moment if it was the Vikings.

Kirk Cousins: Three years of endless contract talk and maneuvering surrounding Cousins reached its natural ending Tuesday with a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million offer for Cousins. Because Cousins has been expected to become the highest-paid player in the league for so long, the news doesn't hit with the same force that it should. Cousins was a fourth-round pick that the Redskins' coaching staff had to defend constantly, having taken him in the same draft as Robert Griffin III.

The various management setups in Washington never quite bought in to Cousins as The Guy and there were whispers that some teammates felt the same. Even this website (ahem) doesn't see Cousins as a top-10 quarterback, yet he helped game a system designed for teams to hold all the leverage over players. Cousins had compelling options to choose from in free agency and wound up with a Vikings team that sets him up for success. Minnesota's offensive line, skill-position talent and dome setting all should help him maintain his numbers.

There is a lot of pressure on new Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo to make it all work, and anything less than a Super Bowl appearance over the next three seasons will be viewed as a disappointment. But those kinds of expectations surround nearly every true franchise quarterback -- and Cousins has the contract to prove he is one now, despite a lot of doubters along the way.

Sam Bradford's infinite earning power: Bradford's one-year, $20 million contract in Arizona -- with $15 million guaranteed and a $20 million team option for 2019 -- shows just how valuable starting quarterbacks are in an open market. Bradford has a degenerative knee injury that allowed him to complete just one game last season, yet he arguably got a better deal than the two-year, $36 million contract Philadelphia signed him to in 2016 that dropped so many jaws. Quarterbacks cost an incredible amount in contracts and trades, even ones like Bradford and Tyrod Taylor.

I don't blame the Cardinals for doing the deal, either. Bradford has potential to produce some Carson Palmer-like seasons late in his career if he gets enough support, although that support isn't currently present in the desert on the offensive line.

Jimmy Graham: Going from Drew Brees to Russell Wilson to Aaron Rodgers is living right as a tight end. Graham can no longer stretch the field like he once did, but landing in Green Bay is his best chance to keep piling up numbers in a career that could one day be considered for Canton.

Packers fans getting their everlasting wish: There will no longer be eight competing Packers blogs complaining about former general manager Ted Thompson's inactivity in free agency. The agreements with Graham and defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson prove that it's a new era at Lambeau Field. (Even if everyone in Green Bay doesn't seem totally on board.)

Mitchell Trubisky: The Bears are going to be so much more fun to watch this season under coach Matt Nagy. After burning a year under John Fox, Trubisky suddenly has a surplus of offensive weapons to throw to. The additions Tuesday of No. 1 receiver Allen Robinson, speed demon Taylor Gabriel and versatile tight end Trey Burton gives Nagy a Chiefs-like arsenal to design plays for. (Especially when the strong backfield of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen are added to the mix.)

The concepts behind the Eagles, Rams and Chiefs offenses are starting to spread throughout the league. There are more teams willing to embrace a high-octane, pass-first offensive philosophy with spread concepts that rely on a deep group of skill-position talent and a point guard-style quarterback. This is basically the opposite of what Fox believed in as Bears coach. General manager Ryan Pace tried to make a big splash in free agency last season with little success, but these moves make a lot of sense to support the team's young quarterback.

Blake Bortles: A day that logically could have included the Jaguars replacing Bortles with a better option (like Cousins) instead included Bortles' job getting easier. Guard Andrew Norwell, who was paid $30 million guaranteed, will only improve a punishing ground game. Former Colts receiver Donte Moncrief is hardly a replacement for Allen Robinson, but Moncrief has an awfully high ceiling as a 24-year-old pass-catcher. Bortles' favorite option in 2017, Marqise Lee, was also surprisingly re-signed to a lucrative four-year deal. There simply aren't many starting-quarterback jobs better than the one in Jacksonville.

The 2018 free-agent wide receiver crop: Moncrief and Lee were only two of the receivers with red flags to get generous deals in this market. Paul Richardson earned $20 million guaranteed from Washington despite totaling only 1,302 receiving yards in his four-year career. Sammy Watkins was paid full price in Kansas City despite his down year in Los Angeles. Allen Robinson earned No. 1 receiver money despite a torn ACL. The Ravens reportedly will pay former Cardinals receiver John Brown $5 million and former Redskins receiver Ryan Grant $14.5 million guaranteed -- these two guys combined for 872 yards last year. Danny Amendola finally got a nice raise from the Dolphins after years of pay cuts in New England. Add it all up and wideouts are finally starting to catch up in compensation to some of the league's higher-paid positions.


Joe Flacco's chances for a rebound season: Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome's final offseason in Baltimore has a familiar feel to it. He hasn't been able to solve the wide receiver position during his extensive tenure, and the signings of John Brown and Ryan Grant don't inspire confidence in a Ravens offensive revival.

Clarity about the Dolphins' plan: The team can't afford to keep Ndamukong Suh or Jarvis Landry ... but it can manage to take on a three-year, $24 million deal for Albert Wilson and $8.25 million in guaranteed money for Danny Amendola, along with more than $11 million for Robert Quinn? I can't blame coach Adam Gase for wanting his guys, but this type of turnover is the problem when an organization makes so many regime changes. By the time one coach and general manager get rid of all the players they don't want, there is often a new coach or general manager in place.

Teddy Bridgewater: The Jets were active after striking out in the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, bringing back Josh McCown for $10 million and agreeing to a one-year deal with Bridgewater. Both moves make sense in a vacuum for a team that should be taking as many swings as possible at the position, but the Jets could be asking a lot of new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates if they draft a quarterback in the first round, too. That quarterback-to-be-named-later will immediately become the team's priority, so how will there be enough practice snaps to go around?

It has to sting Bridgewater that the Vikings lost faith in him. Minnesota made him inactive for the NFC Championship Game and didn't make it a priority to bring him back. (NFL Network's Tom Pelissero said that Case Keenum was the Vikings' backup plan if a Cousins deal fell through, and it's quite possible Bradford was next in line.)

Now, Bridgewater heads to the Jets, likely as a backup. According to Newsday, McCown was told he would be the team's starter. Perhaps the Jets won't draft a high-profile rookie and Bridgewater will have the chance to work his way into the mix, but it won't be easy for him to rehabilitate his value in New York.

Broncos fans hoping for a quick turnaround: Case Keenum is not the savior Broncos fans -- or likely even John Elway -- were hoping for. With Kirk Cousins and Tyrod Taylor (NFL Network's Mike Garafolo believed Taylor was the Broncos' initial Plan B to Cousins) already finding new homes, Denver settled for Keenum. It will be telling to see if the Broncos still draft a quarterback in the first round (currently picking fifth overall) following this move or if Elway is truly confident in Keenum and 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch.

Teams hoping for top-shelf rookie quarterbacks to slip in the draft: The Bills have the 12th (via their deal with the Bengals) and 22nd overall picks in the draft and look highly motivated to move up. The Browns are almost certain to take a quarterback at the top of the draft. The Broncos (No. 5) and Jets (No. 6) are very much in the mix for a rookie quarterback, and it's too early to rule out the Giants at No. 2, as well. Teams like the Dolphins (No. 11), Cardinals (No. 15) and even the Jets, all of whom might've been hoping for a top quarterback to slip to them, could be disappointed. And a team like the Colts, at No. 3 overall, could be sitting on a trade windfall.

Jordy Nelson and Adrian Peterson: All of the signings on Tuesday come with a cost. Nelson's incredible Packers career is over, and teams interested in his services have to be worried that he won't produce without Aaron Rodgers' help. Peterson was cut by the Cardinals on Tuesday, a transaction mostly notable for how little news it made. Peterson remains a no-doubt first-ballot Hall of Famer and he might still find a job elsewhere, but the market is unkind to aging running back greats. Quarterbacks with question marks like Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon, on the other hand, remain very much in demand.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.



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