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NFL free agency: The biggest moves (and non-moves) so far

We got what we asked for.

Not everyone applauded the NFL's decision to barrel into free agency while a pandemic seized the nation. It's understandably jarring to read about a beefy run-blocking bro signing a multimillion-dollar pact while you're self-quarantined away from the rest of our toilet-paper-strapped society. Still, many football fans begged for -- and received -- a break from the rigors of real life to soak in the week's stunning downpour of NFL transactions.

Isn't that why we turn to sports in the first place? Even in better times, the NFL can take one's mind off the fact that your checking account is running on fumes and everybody seems to be swiping left on that new profile pic of you and a small dog that you uploaded, hoping it would make you seem more approachable (yet sturdy and maybe a tad mysterious).

Anyway, the NFL did its part, filling the void with one above-the-fold headline after the next. We were distracted, delighted -- horrified, if your rooting interest tended toward a certain dynasty -- and ultimately entertained. Exactly what we've come to expect from a league that never slows, no matter what unfolds around us.

Let's take a look at who stole the show -- and who didn't:


Luring Tom Brady away from New England, the oft-forgotten Bucs morph from low-wattage gridiron fare (in eye-stinging getups) to a focal point of the NFC. Brady's exodus from Foxborough requires time to sink in. Patriots fans, for the first moment all century, stare into an unknowing future minus the player who made all things golden, autumn after autumn. New England haters wake to an equally alien morning, as the AFC East shifts from an unforgiving dictatorship into new worlds of possibility. Anything can happen, starting now.

Still, our eyes won't easily adjust to the sight of Brady in anything other than red, white and blue. Watching the by-then-43-year-old prance about in red, bay orange and pewter will TAKE A MINUTE. Especially in that blinding, midday Tampa sun. Or under a Florida moon, with the Bucs a shoo-in for five or six prime-time games for the first time in Earth's history.

Long seen as one of the least-marketable outfits around, the Bucs now become the NFC's must-watch operation. Brady is scheduled for a pair of tilts with Drew Brees, along with showdowns against Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes. Wave goodbye to Bucs games nestled into forgotten corners on Sunday's early slate. Tampa suddenly sits at the epicenter.

Cardinals steal DeAndre Hopkins from BOB's Texans in a fleece job forbidden by the programmers of Madden. Let's start right here: When fellow Football Head Will Brinson of CBS Sports pumped the Hopkins trade through the Madden motherboard, the computerized version of the Texans organization said NEGATORY, GOOD BUDDY:

The swap is impossible to sell to anyone in the city of Houston. The Cardinals get a 2020 fourth-rounder and a future Hall of Fame pass-catcher in Hopkins. Bill O'Brien's Texans land a second, a 2021 fourth and David Johnson, a once-great running back laced with question marks and carrying an unwieldy $11.2 million cap hit.

The move hurts Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and immediately narrows Houston's Super Bowl window. It also (again) raises questions about the ability of O'Brien the Coach to coexist with O'Brien the General Manager. Outside of Jack Easterby -- the team's VP of football operations and the former "Character Coach" for the Patriots -- O'Brien apparently struggles to get along with others.

His relationship with former GM Rick Smith was labeled as "toxic" in one Houston Chronicle report before they parted ways. Smith's successor, Brian Gaine, was catapulted out of the building less than two years into the gig. Now running solo, BOB the GM has authored a slew of mysterious deals, while BOB the coach has battled through additional flare-ups and showdowns, including a reported rift with then-QB Brock Osweiler, a heated encounter with a fan and, notably, Hopkins' exit.

Power struggles are common in the NFL. O'Brien isn't always the villain in these tiffs, but the Texans are a decidedly worse team today because Houston's coach apparently couldn't build a bridge with one of the game's top players.

We'll save the Cardinals side of this for a rainy day, but Arizona's front office -- armed with an experienced GM in Steve Keim -- deserves requisite credit for pouncing on the opportunity. Arrow up for a Cardinals offense destined to generate excitement in 2020. Arrow down for an O'Brien-run Texans outfit that just stripped its young quarterback of his finest on-field weapon.

What sort of message ripples through Houston's locker room -- currently a virtual locker room, I suppose -- as this chaos unfolds?

Colts make their Super Bowl push in a Brady-less AFC.Colts GM Chris Ballard offers everything the Texans seem to be missing in their embattled front office: a clear team-building vision low on drama and flush with on-field bullies who help make Indy one of the AFC's more rough-and-tumble rosters. While Brady must harbor concerns over Tampa's less-than-elite offensive line, newly signed passerPhilip Rivers finds himself sitting pretty with the Colts. Anchored by interior mauler Quenton Nelson, the team's front five offers guaranteed protection for the ex-Chargers quarterback, especially after the re-signing of bookend Anthony Castonzo.

Ballard wasn't afraid to flex, either, trading a first-round pick (No. 13 overall) to the Niners for defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. The 6-foot-7 centerpiece immediately upgrades an Indy front seven that also includes Justin Houston, Denico Autry and sensational linebacker Darius Leonard.

Rivers could use a few weapons on offense, but Ballard has plenty of time to sift the open market for his brand of affordable, fit-like-a-glove gems. Less than a year removed from the mind-blowing retirement of Andrew Luck, Ballard has the Colts in position to rattle the AFC South and beyond.

Bills put the finishing touches on one of the league's juicier cadres of wideouts. Every club inside the AFC East is a winner based solely on the sea changes unfolding in New England. The Bills, though, already viewed themselves as contenders after a promising run to the playoffs in 2019. GM Brandon Beane used last offseason to address the team's hyper-ugly receiving group, snatching up under-the-radar assets in John Brown and Cole Beasley.

One year later, Beane's trade with the Vikings for wideout Stefon Diggs gives Buffalo a bona fide lead wideout who trailed only Michael Thomas and A.J. Brown among receivers in yards per route run in 2019. The Bills gave up plenty to Minnesota -- first-, fifth- and sixth-round picks in 2020 and a fourth-rounder in 2021 -- meaning Diggs hits the scene with immediate pressure to help oft-inaccurate quarterback Josh Allen grow through the air. On paper, though, Diggs, Brown and Beasley comprise a rock-solid threesome for the Bills to unleash on opposing defenses. Play-caller Brian Daboll is already crafting masterpieces on napkins in Buffalo-area hangouts.

Tennessee's old-world, hammer-dropping offense lives to see another day. In a previous column lost to the winds of the Internet, I labeled Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry as a pair of risky free-agent signings -- if they wound up anywhere but Nashville. The juiciest landing spot all along was right at home inside a Titans offense that caught fire down the stretch last season thanks to both players operating at career-defining levels. It's unrealistic to expect Tannehill to match his outlier statistics from a year ago -- or assume Henry can handle the same workload -- but if it's happening anywhere, that place is Tennessee.


Niners forego playing a terrible prank on Jimmy G: It became clear Tuesday that Brady's choice of Tampa had plenty to do with Florida's easy-flight access to his family in New York. Not the case with the Chargers, but Brady reportedly was open to joining Kyle Shanahan's Niners in San Francisco. Ultimately, the team never openly pursued Brady. This makes me smile for Jimmy Garoppolo, who would have been forced back into a world of holding the clipboard of the man he backed up for three seasons or being shipped off to another team. Those events might have airmailed Garoppolo back to New England of all places, but not without the sting of being rejected by his current employer. Instead, bad feelings were avoided, and Jimmy G remains.

Panthers ghost Cam. The non-move here is the Panthers apparently deciding to put insufficient effort into a relationship with their one-time franchise quarterback. You don't have to love everything about the Cam Newton Experience, but he deserved better from a team he's given his life to since 2011. Newton appropriately bristled at Carolina's online declaration that the signal-caller had been given permission to seek a trade. "Stop with the word play," Cam wrote on Instagram. "I never asked for it. There is no dodging this one."

Per one report, Newton was "completely blindsided" and "had to be consoled by those close to him." The knife presumably dug deeper when the Panthers suddenly signed Teddy Bridgewater as their new guy under center while attempting to float a rehabbing Newton via trade. With player visits wiped away due to COVID-19, Newton is nothing short of a hyper-risky target -- enough to apparently scare away the Chargers on Wednesday. A depressing and messy breakup for arguably the most important player in Carolina's history.

Ignoring whispers of an Odell Beckham Jr. trade, Browns double down on last year's build-an-offense.Chatter dating back to the regular season suggested the Browns and Beckham might not be together for long. With yet another front office in place, it was anyone's guess as to how this latest Cleveland regime would tackle the open market. Instead of blowing up the roster, GM Andrew Berry aggressively filled needs with deals for tight end Austin Hooper and right tackle Jack Conklin while tendering running back Kareem Hunt. The Browns are widely expected to add a left tackle in the draft, shoring up the attack's biggest weakness while doubling down on Beckham as a part of the team's future. Berry pulled this off without the Browns being pinged as the dreaded WINNER OF THE OFFSEASON. With all of last year's pieces returning -- and then some -- maybe 2020 will prove itself less bleak for a Cleveland fan base eternally waiting for the other shoe to drop. Don't hold your breath.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSessler.

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