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What we learned: Giants go bold in win-now strategy

There will be no honeymoon period for Giants coach Ben McAdoo. After general manager Jerry Reese's spending spree Wednesday, expectations will be to win now, and win big.

The Giants doled out nearly $200 million worth of contracts to try to fix a former championship defense that withered away under Reese's stewardship. They entered free agency with huge needs throughout the defense, and Reese seemingly tried to fill them all by signing defensive end Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and nose tackle Damon Harrison in conjunction with a one-year deal to bring back Jason Pierre-Paul. JPP is the only one of the four players to make a Pro Bowl.

Still, these were some of the top free agents available at their respective positions. Vernon was our No. 2 overall free agent on the market and Pierre-Paul was No. 6. But they are being paid like superstars. Vernon, who has 14 sacks over the last two seasons, has guarantees in his $85 million contract that rivaled J.J. Watt's deal. Jenkins, who the Rams viewed as their No. 2 cornerback, is now being being paid more than Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman. Harrison gives the Giants another great run stopper next to Johnathan Hankins on a vastly improved defensive line. Somewhere, Tom Coughlin weeps.

In this market of unprecedented salary-cap space, players are worth whatever teams are willing to pay. And the first day of free agency has always been where good players get paid like superstars. This is Reese's version of Philadelphia's "Dream Team" and there's no doubt that the Giants' defense is far superior to what it was a week ago. There's also no doubt that Reese will be squarely on the hot seat if New York doesn't get out to a fast start. McAdoo needs to win fast or he'll join him there. After being a model of a stable franchise for so many years, the Giants are starting to resemble any other desperate franchise that becomes compelled to win offseason championships.

Here's what else we learned on wild opening day of free agency that resulted in only two of our top-15 free agents still being available on the open market.

Houston goes big

Brock Osweiler jilting the Broncos for the Texans, and the hurt feelings involved in the move, was the story of the day. It was also a case of a general manager and coach pushing all their chips into the middle of the table. The next few years of football in Houston (and Denver) will be determined by Osweiler's effectiveness.

The four-year, $72 million contract for Osweiler is reminiscent of the contract Kevin Kolb received from the Arizona Cardinals when they acquired him in a trade from Philadelphia. That trade helped fry general manager Rod Graves and coach Ken Whisenhunt in the desert.

We give Osweiler a better chance for success than Kolb, but no one truly knows how this will play out. Osweiler was very streaky last season while showing promising traits in seven starts. And Broncos general manager John Elway's salty reaction to Osweiler's departure sounded out of place. Denver was willing to pay Osweiler more than $16 million per year to be their franchise quarterback. Yet their team's website put it this way:

"Considering that the Broncos won it all with sub-optimal quarterbacking, they like their chances of remaining a contender with even modest improvement under center."

Osweiler just chose to take more money from a team that didn't bench him. The Broncos wanted to keep Osweiler and were caught flat-footed while other good players like Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan left town. (C.J. Andersoncould be next.) Denver is starting over at quarterback, and the options to replace Osweiler aren't pretty. It is going to be a challenging offseason for the defending champs.

Tweet of the day

Sneaky Big Stories

  1. Chase Daniel's three-year, $21 million contract with Philadelphia was one of the day's pleasant surprises. We've always liked Daniel's potential and we love the bizarre idea that the Eagles will hold a quarterback competition with a guy (Sam Bradford) they just paid $18 million per season. NFL Media's Albert Breer reported Daniel will indeed compete to start, even though logic dictates he will be a big underdog. Could Bradford be an option to trade?

Regardless of the quarterbacks, Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman has enjoyed a nice week. We learned the Eagles will move up five spots to the No. 8 overall pick in the draft as part of the Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso trade to Miami. The team also spent big money on safety Rodney McLeod, linebacker Nigel Bradhamand guardBrandon Brooks.

  1. While the Broncos start searching for a quarterback, could Ryan Fitzpatrick be an option? Osweiler and Bradford making $18 million per year made it a lot harder for the Jets to bring back Fitzpatrick.
  1. More bad news for the Broncos: After Olivier Vernon got $55 million guaranteed from the Giants, what is a long-term contract for Von Miller going to cost? Negotiations might start at $20 million per season.
  1. Apparently it's safe to pay running backs again. Doug Martinearned his five-year, $35 million contract with Tampa Bay. He was arguably the best running back in the NFL in 2015, and is a big asset for Jameis Winston. Lamar Miller got $26 million over four years from Houston, in part, because Miller scorched the Texans in a blowout win for Miami last season. Miller will apparently finally get a chance to carry the load on his own, although Osweiler could use more weapons at wide receiver.
  1. Matt Forte's agreement with the Jets probably didn't come at a big price tag. But we think he'll add a lot to a veteran offense. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey does a great job using versatility in his running backs, and Forte could wind up looking like a steal. He's an upgrade from Chris Ivory, for far less than the Jaguars paid Ivory.

Moves we liked

It's nearly impossible to recap everything that happened Wednesday, so check out our fancy free agency tracker which is sortable and everything. In the meantime, here were some of our favorite signings:

  1. Ladarius Green to the Steelers: The money was reasonable ($20 million over four years) but that's not why we love the move. Green is a breakout star waiting to happen and is joining an offense that was already full of matchup problems.
  1. Safety George Iloka's return to the Bengals slipped under the radar. He's a dynamic starter for a fair price ($30 million over five years) and provides continuity. In a crazy market for secondary talent, he came cheaply. The Bengalsalso keptAdam Jones, who was coming off one of his best seasons.
  1. Travis Benjamin gives Philip Riversanother weapon and should help the team's desultory return game. And it was nice to see Antonio Gatesback with the Chargers, where he belonds.
  1. Linebacker Danny Trevathanshould help out an inexperienced Bears defense plenty.
  1. Kansas City's moves to keepTamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and Jaye Howard at reasonable rates made a lot of sense. The Chiefs probably didn't expect to keep their great defense together.

Toughest act to follow

We love Marvin Jones' skill set and he has a high ceiling for a player that has never topped 850 yards receiving. We are just worried expectations will be too high after he received $27 million in the first three years of his deal with Detroit. It's hard to be the guy that gets big money from the Lions the day after Calvin Johnson retires.

Fans that had rough days

  1. Denver Broncos: Read above.
  1. Cleveland Browns: They lost four quality starters in Travis Benjamin, center Alex Mack (Falcons), Mitchell Schwartz (Chiefs) and safety Tashaun Gipson (Jaguars). The Browns reportedly offered Mack $10 million per season to stay, but he chose Atlanta. The team oddly pulled Schwartz's contract offer, according to multiple reports. Titles aren't won or lost on the first day of free agency, but a bad Browns roster looks worse.
  1. Miami Dolphins: They moved down in the draft, cut Brent Grimes and got older on the defensive line.

Staying quiet is not a bad thing

The New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers were among the teams that mostly stayed out of the headlines. This is not atypical behavior for these teams. There's a reason they are so successful; most Day 1 free agency deals do not pan out. The values are yet to come. Until then ...

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