Biggest Winners and Losers of NFL Free Agency (So Far)

WINNER: Odell Beckham Jr.

The Cleveland Browns just became the most interesting team in the NFL. In a shocking move Tuesday night, the Browns acquired the 26-year-old Beckham from the New York Giants. Cleveland sent back a first and third round pick, as well as 2017 first-round pick S Jabrill Peppers. Ultimately, none of that matters. Beckham, arguably the most talented offensive skill player in all of football, is now gone from the clutches of the aging Eli Manning.

The enigmatic wideout is joining a team with the league’s best running back room and the second-most promising young quarterback in the league. Adding Beckham to a receiving corps that features Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, and David Njoku gives Cleveland the deepest group of pass catchers in the AFC. Beckham will see fewer double teams, and get a chance to prove himself as a contributor on a winning team. Landing in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Dallas may have been better in terms of location. However in terms of football, there couldn’t have been a more perfect match for Odell.

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LOSER: New York Giants

When you consider the moving parts in the Giants/Browns deal, it doesn’t look all that bad for New York. They moved off a big contract at a time when they weren’t looking like contenders. They grabbed additional draft capital which could be very useful if they intend on moving up from the No. 6 pick. Beckham critics have labeled him a distraction, and his ousting allows Saquon Barkley to shine as the team’s franchise player.

All should be well in New York.

Wrong.

While the deal looks passable on paper, the Giants are merely attempting to fix issues that they brought upon themselves. Nobody told GM Dave Gettleman to cave last season and award Beckham the richest contract for a receiver in NFL history. They had a chance to trade Beckham last year if they desired, and would have likely received far better compensation. They traded a 26-year-old All-Pro in the heart of his prime. In the process, the Giants received minimal cap relief and uneven draft pick value. The team had already paid Beckham $21.5 million of his salary for just 12 games last year. Between Beckham and Olivier Vernon (also joining the Browns), the Giants will carry a $24 million dead money charge on their salary cap.

Trading Beckham signals a full-rebuild in New York, but putting a band-aid on the regime’s previous mistakes shouldn’t warrant a pat on the back.

WINNER: Jon Gruden

Business is boomin’ for the Silver and Black. The soon-to-be Vegas Raiders have been as active as any team in the league. This past week, Oakland acquired a handful of instant impact players. Among the new Raiders are four-time All-Pro Antonio Brown, speedy receiver Tyrell Williams, and ball hawking safety Lamarcus Joyner. Although the moves don’t immediately place Oakland among the conference’s elite, they will be far more competitive and deep across the board.

This has been Gruden’s dream off-season. He traded Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper last year — effectively erasing the Reggie McKenzie-era — and has reshaped the team in his image. He has an even further chance to place his finger prints on the franchise with three first-round picks upcoming. With an impending move to the Entertainment Capital of the World, everything’s coming up Gruden.

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LOSER: Le’Veon Bell

After a long day of rumors flying around, Le’Veon Bell ended his free agency eligibility by signing with the New York Jets on a four-year/$52.5 million deal. This came less than twelve months after Bell rejected a five-year/$70 million deal from the Steelers — the team that originally drafted him in 2013. It confirms that Bell had little interest in rejoining Pittsburgh (though it is unclear as to what soured the relationship between player and franchise).

Bell elected to sit out the entire 2018 season. As a result, he essentially forfeited the $14.5 million he would have earned had he signed for the franchise tag. Bell is going to make double the amount in guaranteed money that he would have in Pittsburgh, but signed for an overall lower number. Bell didn’t reset the running back market like he planned, and is now on a team with a far worse football situation.

WINNER: NFL Safeties

It was a good time to be a free agent safety this past off-season. The most loaded position in the pool, NFL teams were willing to pay top dollar for back line defenders.

Tyrann Mathieu (Chiefs) and Landon Collins (Redskins) received $14 million AAV deals. Perennial All-Pro Earl Thomas (Ravens) wasn’t too far behind with $13.75 AAV. Versatile former Texan Kareem Jackson can play any spot in the secondary, and signed for $33 million to join the Broncos. The aforementioned Joyner got $43 million from the Raiders. Green Bay bolstered their safety depth by poaching Adrian Amos from the Bears for $37 million. Even 34-year-old Eric Weddle was talked out of retirement by the Los Angeles Rams for $10.5 million over the next two years.

It’s a meaningful shift in team building. In a league that just saw Drew Brees break the completion percentage record (again) by destroying defenses across the middle, having ample amounts of able bodies who can contend with slot receivers and tight ends is imperative. The NFL craves these types of versatile athletes. Skill-sets include lining up as corners, safeties, or outside linebackers. These sorts player can — and will — be paid handsomely for their services.

Image Source: Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports

LOSER: Florida teams (Dolphins, Jaguars, Buccaneers)

The NFL franchises which inhabit the Sunshine State have been a mess for the past decade. The Dolphins cycle through a new coach and a new identity every other year. The Jaguars have had one winning season since 2007, and are fresh off a 5-11 season (after coming within one game of the Super Bowl the year prior). The Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, and employ a $20 million liability (and former No. 1 overall pick) at QB who couldn’t win a starting job over Ryan Fitzpatrick.

This off-season hasn’t gotten much better for Miami, Jacksonville, or Tampa. None of their quarterback situations are figured out. The Jaguars splurged on Nick Foles. They granted the journeyman Super Bowl MVP a deal worth up to $88 million. We aren’t quite sure who Shad Khan was bidding against. Miami is deciding between Ryan Tannehill and Teddy Bridgewater (an uninspiring crop to say the least). Tampa Bay never entered the Le’Veon Bell race, lost DeSean Jackson for next to nothing, and signed two perceived first-round busts in Deone Bucannon and Breshad Perriman.

Considering the relative toughness of each team’s respective division, the Miami-based squads could all be cellar dwellers in 2019.

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