The Houston Texans and Cleveland Brownsstunned the football world on Thursday just as the new league year opened, swinging an NBA-style trade that sent quarterback Brock Osweiler and a 2018 second-round draft pick to the Browns, who will simply eat the contract with their massive amount of salary-cap space and pick up yet another top-100 pick.
Here are the winners and losers from one of the craziest afternoons in recent NFL history.
Romo said his goodbyes to Dallas just as the league year began, which could mean he has an understanding of how his next few days will go down. The Texans cleared cap space to make signing Romo possible and will be rolling out the red carpet for Texas royalty. Romo, assuming he is headed to Houston, receives a hero's welcome and doesn't have to leave the state, while a fan base hungry for adequate quarterback play celebrates his arrival. This is a championship-caliber defense with two of the five best pass rushers in the NFL (Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt) -- something Romo never enjoyed while in Dallas. Golden years, indeed.
O'Brien seemed over the Brock Osweiler experiment early on last year but did all he could to manufacture points with the one-time, free-agent prize. Eventually, O'Brien made the uncomfortable decision to bench Osweiler, then bring him back once Tom Savagecouldn't compete in a playoff game. This dizzying carousel had to be insanely frustrating for the Texans head coach, who has struggled to find a franchise-caliber quarterback since arriving in Houston. He now gets his best shot yet if Houston can land Romo.
Paul DePodesta and Sashi Brown
When was the last time the Browns were almost universally associated with a move that caused the football world to pause and say, Hmm, that's actually a good idea? Thursday's deal was radical by NFL standards, as the Browns brass completed an NBA-style, contract-eating trade to aid the team in its rebuild. Cleveland's picks over the next two drafts now look like this:
2017: 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 5, 6
2018: 1, 2, 2, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 6, 6, 7
Obviously, the Browns need a higher success rate when it comes to the draft, but, man, did they just improve their chances in the lottery.
At the combine, O'Brien was asked, What happened? to DeAndre Hopkins in 2016, responding with the filthiest stare to the inquiring reporter. What happened was obvious, and has now been rectified. Hopkins, who caught 111 balls for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015, now might have a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback hurling him passes. O'Brien can now empty out the playbook in ways he rarely could with Osweiler.
Browns fans have hope. Maybe 20-plus draft picks in two years amounts to nothing, but the trade seems to have capped a strong opening day of free agency that was also cause for celebration. The franchise will be the butt of jokes until they win, but, in the moment, their team seems to be making savvy maneuvers for the first time in years.
Osweiler was Smith's big move in free agency last year, and he finds a clever way to rid himself of a bad deal and clear the way for an NFL legend with something to prove.
If the Broncos do not end up entering the fray for Tony Romo, this is an acknowledgement from ownership and the coaching staff that one of these two young quarterbacks are more than capable of carrying the franchise forward. The talk about Romo has to be at least somewhat uncomfortable for Lynch and Siemian, who are watching as the rest of the football world assumes they are not good enough for the job.
I genuinely feel for Brock who, as NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport noted, will likely be released if the Browns can't trade him. He will have the unpleasant distinction of being the NFL's first high-profile, contract-eating trade and it continues a massive slide since March 2016 when he signed a four-year, $72 million deal. There have been reports of interest from other teams, but I cannot imagine a scenario where his confidence does not have to be rebuilt a bit. Despite popular opinion, Osweiler had his moments in Houston -- even if they were few and far between.
Rapoport reported that the Browns will move on from Griffin. This will essentially save the team $7.5 million and help offset the cost of eating Osweiler's contract. Griffin was given more than a fair shake in Cleveland and was touted as the captain and starter last offseason before injuries got in the way. Now, he is at the whim of the next team willing to take a chance on him. There's always the one-quarterback 49ers in San Francisco. As a bonus, he can hand-select his next destination, though it's hard to imagine a team pouring as many resources into him as the Browns did in 2016.
The Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are, at some point, getting rid of the league's best backup quarterback. But more than that, they seem to have been caught up between a graceful parting of ways and a half-hearted attempt to recoup value for Romo. As of Thursday afternoon, the Cowboys and Texans are still staring each other down because they can. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had the chance to simply say goodbye, and if he ends up letting Romo go for nothing, it will look awkward. Granted, the NFL has come a long way since Jones took over the Dallas Cowboys, and it's not always easy to do the right thing when the game moves at light speed.
The unashamed diva wideouts raised some chatter last year when their target numbers began to dip, and the prospect of playing with Romo has to be enticing. To be clear, nothing has been settled between Romo and the Texans, so there is always a chance the Broncos can throw their hat back into the ring. If they don't, they will have to spend the summer and fall wondering What if? Sanders and Thomas were spoiled during the height of the Manning years, and a Romo trade is probably their best chance to replicate those stats until Lynch or Siemian develops.
General managers who have previously overpaid for players just to reach the cap threshold
The NFL is a copycat league, and lots of bad teams have blown salary-cap space simply because they had to over the years. Should this move work out in the long run, there are going to be a few embattled general managers who might get a knock on their door from ownership wondering, Why didn't you think of this?
Smith deserves a lot of credit for getting out of a bad situation, as we noted above. Other people in his position have tried to blame head coaches, assistant coaches and personnel for big mistakes, and he essentially took one on the chin Thursday in a big spot. However, this was also a high-profile acknowledgement that he, and the rest of his staff, completely misfired a year ago.