Skip to main content

Winners, losers from NFL free agency's first week

It didn't take long for the free-agent market to settle down. Seventeen of the top 20 players of our original top 99 players list were signed within 24 hours of the market officially opening. After two days of free agency, only 10 players out of our top 40 are available. We reached the second wave of free agency quicker than ever before, with most of the action coming during the "legal tampering" period. The official start to free agency now feels like an anticlimax.

Quality players like Prince Amukamara and Robert Ayers started to take mid-range deals Friday, and similar contracts will continue to get done slowly over the next week as players like Arian Foster, Robert Griffin III and Percy Harvin look for homes. So reporters with weekend plans were ultimately big winners during this crazy week. It should be quiet this weekend, barring a Colin Kaepernicktrade blockbuster.

So who were some of the other winners and losers from the first week of free agency?


Running backs: It's once again safe to pay running backs like valuable contributors to society! We saw some criticism of Doug Martin's deal, which includes $15 million guaranteed over the first two years of the deal. Those people did not watch Martin play like the best running back in the league last year. There are questions about whether Lamar Miller can carry the load, but the Texans paid him more than $6 million per season. Chris Ivory won't even necessarily be a starter in Jacksonville, but he'll get $10 million in the first two years of his contract to support T.J. Yeldon and take goal-line carries. Matt Forte came at a relative bargain price for the Jets, but it was nice to see running backs start to at least approach third-receiver money again. Speaking of which...

Bengals receivers:Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones didn't top 850 yards in a single season since being drafted together in 2012, but they are both being paid like top-level starters now. The lesson: Andy Dalton gets people paid!

Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs: While the Broncos were enduring a difficult week, two of their division rivals were getting better. The Raiders added quality starters in guard Kelechi Osemele, linebacker Bruce Irvin and cornerback Sean Smith. Chris Wesseling picked the Raiders as big winners in free agency on the latest *Around the NFL Podcast* and it's hard to disagree. These are players still in their prime, even if they have the usual free agency price-tag markup.

The Chiefs quietly did a nice job retaining Jaye Howard, Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali at reasonable prices. Tackle Mitchell Schwartz adds consistency to their offensive line.

Adam Jones: Coming off the most infamous on-field moment of an infamous career, Jones managed to inspire a bidding war between the Dolphins and Bengals, leading to a contract worth $8 million per season. That's incredible money for a 32-year-old cornerback and a testament to how well he played last year. Meanwhile, his younger teammates, Reggie Nelson and Leon Hall, are still looking for work.

Members of the 2015 Rams secondary: We've always liked Rams safety Rodney McLeod as a guy that covers a lot of ground because of his smarts and his ability to hit. The Eagles agreed and paid him big bucks to suit up next to Malcolm Jenkins. Janoris Jenkins got the second most guaranteed money in football, while Trumaine Johnson will make $13.9 million as the Rams' franchise player. We always thought this group was underrated, but that is a lot of scratch for a secondary that put up mediocre stats last year. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams makes people money.

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers are a team that is usually quiet in the first few days of free agency, but we like what they accomplished. The team re-signed two under-the-radar starters (Ramon Foster, William Gay) and picked up perhaps our favorite free agency bargain in tight end Ladarius Green.

The 49ers: Back in December, the 49ers could not have expected to have so much interest in Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers have the leverage to get the draft pick they want (a second-round pick), something that would have been hard to believe while watching Kaepernick play last year.

While the 49ers say they are comfortable bringing Kaepernick back, the safer bet is Denver or Cleveland coming up with the right money and compensation to get a deal done.

NFL Kickoff Game possibilities: How about Brock Osweiler heading to Denver to face the defending champions? If you don't like that one, the Patriots and Panthers still make potentially tasty visitors to the Broncos. It sounds strange to say, but the Broncos would be a more interesting team to watch with Kaepernick or a rookie draft pick at the helm.

General managers that finished deals before free agency: After players wait years to approach the open market, why did so many of them sign deals late in the season or in February? If Malik Jackson and Olivier Vernon were worth more than $14 million per season, then Derek Wolfe and Mike Daniels look vastly underpaid by comparison. The Eagles signed a number of relative bargains, including Jenkins and Zach Ertz before other teams could get to them. And virtually every "franchise quarterback" contract looks good in comparison after Sam Bradford and Osweiler got $18 million per season.

Teams that stayed out of spotlight: The Colts and Dolphins were among the offseason champions last year. That's why we wanted to send a little love to the teams that stayed quiet this week, taking care of their own players, looking for bargains and waiting for price tags to come down in the market: Fear not, Patriots, Seahawks, Packers, Colts and Ravens fans.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles re-made their roster with trades, re-signings and strategic free-agent pickups. Eagles executive vice president Howie Roseman's moves won't all pan out, but we like the thinking behind most of them. This is the best roster in the NFC East, and that was probably true before free agency started.

Steve Spagnuolo: You can question the dollar figures attached to the Giants' defensive pickups (and we have). But there is no denying that the Giants' defensive coordinator has far more talent to coach up next season. The defensive line goes from a huge weakness last season to a strength with Jason Pierre-Paul, Johnathan Hankins, Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison. The back seven still has a ton of question marks, but there is way too much talent here overall for the Giants to finish last in yards allowed again.


Tom Coughlin: First, the Giants bring everyone back in the front office and coaching staff except Coughlin. Then they spend more money in one week than they did in the last five years when Coughlin was around.

Denver Broncos: Rings are forever, but the events of the last week at least dimmed some of the afterglow following Denver's Super Bowl title. As of Friday, Mark Sanchez sits atop the Broncos' depth chart at quarterback. General manager John Elway can say he only wantsBroncos who "want to be there" but the reality is that Osweiler rejected Elway. Denver extended far past its initial offers for Osweiler, eventually topping $16 million per season. The Broncos wanted Osweiler as their long-term quarterback, and they didn't get the deal done.

It remains possible that Kaepernick is the team's Week 1 starter, and that would be a more fascinating story to watch than Osweiler returning to Denver anyhow. Kaeperick has put together more impressive film than Osweiler as a pro by far, and we'd give him a real chance to rebound under coach Gary Kubiak. But no one, including Elway, knows if this deal will be consummated.

In addition, the Broncos have lost two of their great homegrown defensive talents in Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan, without great options yet to replace them. Elway needs to start drafting better after more misses than hits of late. That could include selecting a new quarterback.

CornyMoneyball references: It was a rough week for the Browns, who lost four of their best starters from 2015 and had to admit their biggest mistake of the last five years. But can we hold a moratorium on outdated and irrelevant Moneyball references when talking about this front office and its plan?

Cue a general manager saying: "Don't mistake activity for productivity at this time of year." Miami is annually an offseason champion without anything to show for it. Cleveland has been the subject of plenty of optimism in various offseasons, including when it spent on Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant, or two years ago when they drafted Manziel. Offseason hype is cheap. The Browns got too much of it when they hired coach Hue Jackson and they're getting too much of the opposite now. This is going to be a true rebuild, so let's see what the team does first before going buck wild.

Clarity about the Dolphins' plan: Miami was tight to the salary cap entering free agency, so we knew  they couldn't necessarily be big spenders in free agency. But something smells funny about spending the money they do have on Mario Williams while watching younger players (Olivier Vernon, Derrick Shelby) leave. Cameron Wake, 34, also remains on the roster at a big salary coming off a torn Achilles tendon.

The Dolphins also decided to bet on veterans who didn't work out elsewhere, trading for Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso. They had to move down from the No. 8 to the No. 13 pick in the draft to pull that off. At least the Dolphins had one move we loved: Letting Lamar Miller walk for too much money while signing C.J. Anderson to an offer sheet. The Broncos have yet to say whether they will match.

Aging players: This is not a new development in free agency, but Jones' fun month mentioned above was the exception, not the rule in free agency. Our list of the best remaining free agents is full of solid players who are in their 30s. Eric Weddle, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Reggie Nelson, Chris Long, Arian Foster and Donald Penn are some of the original top 50 free agents that are still on the market.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content