Waiting for free agency to officially start is a vestige of another era. With the football world still digesting the Saturday night heist of Antonio Brown by the Raiders, the opening of the NFL's negotiating period Monday saw four of the 10 highest-ranked players on NFL.com's top 101 free agents list agree to contracts, including Nick Foles. Pay no attention to the fact that free agency technically starts Wednesday afternoon.
We are off and running and will be recapping each day this week in The Debrief, starting with our biggest takeaways from a wild Monday:
I was surprised at the initial surprise regarding Foles' four-year, $88 million contract with the Jaguars. In a world where tackle Trent Brown parlays his Super Bowl success to more than $36 million guaranteed from the Raiders, is it really surprising that Foles would reportedly get more than $50 million guaranteed?
It doesn't matter what teams the Jaguars were bidding against. This is what starting quarterbacks cost, and I suspect the details of the deal will put Foles in the middle of the pack among starters. He's 30 years old and dramatically upgrades the Jaguars' weakest position. It's also worth considering that Foles' untested nature (14 starts over the last three seasons, including playoffs) could be viewed through a different prism. Based on his recent play and comments by Foles and the Eagles around him, he's a different player than he was early in his career. His high ceiling is obvious: He authored perhaps the greatest performance by a quarterback in Super Bowl history and backed it up with other excellent playoff performances. He could continue to improve and prove to be a bargain, but even average starting quarterback play would make this deal worth it.
The Jaguars don't need to close the book on finding a quarterback to develop for the future, but Foles' presence gives the veterans on this team a chance now. High off the AFC Championship Game appearance two seasons ago, there wasn't a lot of local pushback to the completely unnecessary extension for Blake Bortles that put the team into this mess. Bortles will cost $16.5 million in dead money on the cap this season after he's cut later this week, but that's on executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell. Foles gives the team a chance for a quick rebound, if the pieces around him in Jacksonville come together.
The Antonio Brown trade was a no-brainer for the Raiders. But the four-year, $66 million contract for tackle Trent Brown raises questions about whether there's really a plan here. Brown was available for virtually nothing in a trade just a year ago, when he had the reputation as an oft-injured, sometimes overweight, sometimes under-motivated right tackle on the 49ers. One solid -- not great -- year in New England has turned him into the highest-paid tackle in the league on average. After trading away guard Kelechi Osemele, it's clear that the team only wants Gruden Guys.
Taking a risk on Trent Brown would be bad enough even if the Raiders hadn't used two top-65 picks on tackles just last year. It's still possible Brown could play on the right side and leave last year's top-10 pick, Kolton Miller, on the left side, but the Raiders are giving valuable resources to a risky league-average starter either way. Buying mid-level players at huge premiums is how teams usually strike out in free agency, and Brown isn't the same caliber of player as former Patriots left tackle Nate Solder. Ask Giants fans how they feel about paying Solder quarterback money a year ago, like the Raiders did with Brown this year. Speaking of which ...
Bill Belichick lost two of the top-paid free agents on Monday in Trent Brown and Trey Flowers, but it didn't come as a surprise. They were never going to pay superstar money to Brown, and they have last year's first-round pick, Isaiah Wynn, coming off an injury and projected to start at left tackle. Flowers, who is signing with the Lions, is a much bigger loss. He's been the most valuable Patriots defender during their run of three straight Super Bowls, but the team's decision not to place the franchise tag indicated it set a price on Flowers it wouldn't go over. It's safe to say the Lions went over that price.
The pending trade with the Eagles for Michael Bennett telegraphed this move. Bennett and Flowers are similar players because of their flexibility to play inside and outside. While Flowers is clearly better at this stage of his career than Bennett and is far younger, Bennett showed in Philadelphia he can still provide quality snaps at an inexpensive price. Bennett's cap number is only $7.2 million, and the money saved will presumably be used to shore up other parts of the team. The Patriots are not done fixing their defensive line, but they've shown over the years they are in no hurry to make deals before the market settles.
The future of Rob Gronkowski also looms over the team. He has a big cap figure ($11.8 million) and his potential retirement would change the calculus of New England's offseason. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, spoke on ESPN on Monday, saying Gronk had not yet made up his mind about retirement. Expect that decision to come sooner than later because the Patriots need to make plans if he's gone; though, Belichick has shown he can be nimble in stretching his salary cap with creative roster moves. Much like ...
This is the daily part of the column where I write about salary-cap space being overrated. Perhaps a better way to say it: Creative teams can find ways to make big acquisitions, regardless of their salary-cap situation. The Eagles were in as much cap "hell" as any team in the league entering the offseason, yet they've still found a way to agree to terms with former Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson(three years for $30 million) and acquire DeSean Jackson in a trade before giving him a new contract. The Eagles also re-worked tackle Jason Peters' contract to secure their future Hall of Fame left tackle.
General manager Howie Roseman still has to make some tough decisions, such as potentially cutting Nelson Agholor later this week, and will probably let valuable linebacker Jordan Hicks leave in free agency. But the Eagles aren't sitting on their hands. They needed interior players, so they essentially traded Michael Bennett for Malik Jackson. They needed speed and saw DeSean Jackson's contract as an asset. In this year-to-year league, teams like the Patriots, Eagles and Rams have found that short-term deals for veterans on the wrong side of 30 can be the best bargains available. (Just look at Chris Long's contract in Philadelphia.) For teams that plan to contend every year, the idea of putting all your chips into a championship "window" is silly ...
The Rams made a number of aggressive moves last offseason, but the idea that it was "2018 or bust" never made any sense. The Rams didn't hurt their future cap situation and their core players (Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, Jared Goff, Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, etc.) aren't going anywhere. Their early moves in free agency are a reminder that they can continue to be aggressive.
Eric Weddle will essentially replace Lamarcus Joyner for one-third the price. The one-year, $14 million contract for pass rusher Dante Fowler was a coup for the team even if he comes with risk. Los Angeles leveraged Fowler's great experience with the team after it traded for him into Fowler accepting a "prove-it" deal in the mold of Ndamukong Suh's contract with the Rams last offseason. Fowler could have surely seen more guaranteed money on the open market, but his experience in Los Angeles was enough for him to believe that he can cash in even bigger in 2020 after a full season with the team. They are likely to allow guard Rodger Saffold (and Suh) to walk, partly because they believe they have Saffold's in-house replacement in 2018 draft pick Joseph Noteboom. The team has other roster holes, but GM Les Snead's track record proves he can be creative in filling them.
Redskins cornerback Josh Norman became a very rich man after former Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman surprisingly rescinded the franchise tag on him back in 2016. A similar thing happened this year when, as Giants GM, Gettleman set Landon Collins free resulting in the safety joining Norman as a teammate.
Collins' six-year, $84 million agreement with the Redskins was an eye-opener. He's a difference-making player, but his new average annual value reset the market at a safety position where pay had been strangely stagnant. NFL Network's Mike Garafolo has the details, which include Collins receiving $32 million fully guaranteed over the first two years of the contract. After that, Collins will have to play at a high level to stay on the roster, like virtually every NFL player not in the first two years of his contract. (Norman, for instance, probably won't see the last year of his contract in 2020.)
The contract total brings back the free agency ghosts of Redskins past, although Collins is just hitting the prime of his career at age 25. I'm more worried about Washington's front office filling in the rest of a top-heavy roster than whether Collins will be worth the coin.
The huge contract kickstarted an avalanche of lucrative contracts at the position. Tyrann Mathieu received $42 million over three years from the Chiefs, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. The Honey Badger was the Chiefs' top target in free agency, making it fair to wonder if Eric Berry could be released in the coming days. The contract completes a remarkable comeback by Mathieu from his second torn ACL. It also wasn't the last deal given to a safety patiently waiting for long-term love.
Lamarcus Joyner went up the California coast after agreeing to join the Raiders, giving new general manager Mike Mayock an intriguing (if short) safety combination with Karl Joseph. Kenny Vaccaro parlayed a one-year deal with the Titans last offseason into a four-year, $26 million contract that includes $11.5 million guaranteed this time around. Kareem Jackson, who can play cornerback and safety, used a sneaky great season in Houston as a springboard into a three-year deal worth $33 million, according to Rapoport, including $23 million guaranteed. The Broncos traded Aqib Talib to save money a year ago and now will pay Jackson more.
NFL teams say a lot with who they pay early in free agency. They said Monday that the 2018 dip in the safety market was random and foolish. Versatile defensive backs who can cover and hit are more valuable than ever. If the Texans wanted Mathieu as badly as they said -- and they reportedly were narrowly outbid for Mathieu -- they could have just paid him a year ago when the price was much lower.
7) Mike Maccagnan is not going to waste his last chance.
Given a reprieve by ownership after another rough year in New York, Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan is spending like a man who knows he may have to join his mentor Charley Casserly on NFL Network if this Free Agency Frenzy doesn't go well for the Jets. (Good luck making as much news as Charley!)
After trading for Raiders guard Kelechi Osemele over the weekend, the Jets added dynamite slot receiver Jamison Crowder on Monday before agreeing to a deal with former Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley in the wee hours of the morning. It's possible they aren't done yet, rumored to be in the mix for Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell and Broncos center Matt Paradis. I don't believe agents are using the Jets' interest as leverage to raise their clients' prices; I believe the Jets want to sign every quality starter possible.
Crowder, who will make under $10 million per season, is the safer pickup of the moves. Slot receivers are still relatively affordable in this market despite how valuable they are to a young quarterback like Sam Darnold. (Tennesse's addition of Adam Humphries on Monday was also a nice move.) Crowder is an expert at getting open early in the down and was a favorite for former Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Mosley shores up a longtime trouble spot for the Jets and spells the end of Darron Lee, a failed 2016 first-round draft pick by ... Mike Maccagnan. The team is paying a huge premium at a position that is cheap around the league, giving Mosley, an inside linebacker, $51 million guaranteed. The ex-Raven has a higher annual average than both Bobby Wagner and Luke Kuechly despite not being nearly as good as either, but that's not the point for Jets fans. It's not their money. Mosley is well known as a leader and is, at worst, an above-average starter. The Jets are better Tuesday than they were Monday, and it's on the coaching staff to make these moves work.
8) A terribly incomplete list of other notable transactions ...
-- The Colts signed former Panthers wideout Devin Funchess to a one-year deal that is worth up to $13 million, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. The move provides the team's receiving corps with some much-needed size. Funchess has been an up-and-down player during his four seasons, but he can be a force when used correctly, and coach Frank Reich has a way of using his offensive weapons correctly. General manager Chris Ballard figures to be active this week, but hasn't been willing to pay top-market money yet.
-- The Bills were quietly very active, agreeing to terms with Frank Gore, former Chiefs starting center Mitch Morse, former Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson and former Bengals tight end Tyler Kroft. The Kroft contract was especially generous, but it was interesting to see Buffalo aggressively go after players on Day 1, who I expected to be part of Phase 2 of free agency. Morse is now one of the highest-paid centers in football, according to Pelissero.
-- Terrell Suggs leaving Baltimore is a surprise. The Cardinals signing him is one of those free-agent contracts that seem more about setting a tone for a new staff's plans than it does on-field production. However, T-Sizzle was still playing at a high level last year, after 16 seasons in Baltimore.