BY JOHN FELTMAN
The beginning of NFL free agency has its own level of madness of its own. NFL front offices went absolute bonkers last week when players were first eligible to sign with teams. A lot of major signings were made, which also led to a few surprising cuts promptly after. The Green Bay Packers ended up cutting pro bowl receiver Jordy Nelson, and the Oakland Raiders cut their star receiver Michael Crabtree. At the end of the day, there were big winners and losers of the free agency insanity.
Winners: Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers
After the improbable Minneapolis Miracle, the Vikings were one win away from heading to the Super Bowl. They would have been the first team in NFL history to play in the big game on their own home turf. After being thrashed by the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, it was quite apparent that the Vikings needed a franchise quarterback. They say money can’t buy happiness, but I think former Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins a very happy man. The Vikings signed Cousins to a three-year $84 million contract, with the contract being fully guaranteed. In the NFL, it’s very rare to see that kind of money being thrown at a player in which all of the money is guaranteed. In my opinion, I don’t think Cousins deserves that type of money. I really think he’s a mediocre quarterback who makes a big throw here and there. But, with the market of a decent quarterback being so thin, it does not surprise me he got the big deal. The Vikings got significantly better, and automatically become a Super Bowl contender. Good for Cousins gambling on himself by taking the franchise tag the last couple of years; the man ended up with a monster payday.
I never thought I’d say this, but the Cleveland Browns are setting themselves up for a successful future. After making big-time trades for Pro-Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry, and former Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, the Browns were not finished with their offseason moves. They signed former 49ers running back Carlos Hyde to bolster their running game to a 3-year deal. The former Ohio State Buckeye had some solid seasons with the 49ers, and if it weren’t for a couple of injuries he would have been a pro-bowler. It wouldn’t surprise me if Penn State running back Saquon Barkley was still on the Browns radar in the draft, but either way Hyde will be a solid edition. The signing of former Steelers offensive lineman Chris Hubbard also proves to me the emphasis the Browns want to put on their running game. This was a big move considering that future Hall-of-Famer lineman Joe Thomas announced his retirement last week. Assuming the Browns take their quarterback of the future and Saquon Barkley in the draft, Cleveland will not be the laughing stock of the league much longer.
It’s a pretty simple formula to follow in the NFL. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but all you need to do is find a franchise quarterback. The San Francisco 49ers kicked off their free agency fiasco early on by signing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a five-year $137.5 million contract. The 49ers traded for Garoppolo in the middle of last season, but he was due to be a free agent at the end of the season. The 49ers now have their future franchise quarterback, and automatically become playoff contenders. When you have a great quarterback, you need some good receivers to compliment him, so the 49ers wasted no time in extending receiver Marquise Goodwin. They were not finished yet, as they signed Pro-Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman, and running back Jerrick McKinnon. Both players signed multi year contracts, and will make an impact right away. The 49ers will be a playoff team in 2018.
Losers: Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills
The Dallas Cowboys are coming off a disappointing 2017 season, and it was time to make some offseason moves. Well, that didn’t exactly happen. Last year, the Cowboys struggled at receiver as wide receiver Dez Bryant is getting up there in age, and will not be able to carry the load much longer. With all of these good receivers being signed, I am absolutely stunned the Cowboys didn’t even make a single move for one of them. With Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot set to be together throughout the entire 2018 season, it was time to make some sort of move. But, the Cowboys just kicked back and put their feet up while they watched all of these other teams make moves. With a receiving core of Bryant, Terrance Williams and Cole Beaseley, they could have really used an extra receiver at least. I understand the NFL draft is coming up in April, but now was the time to at least make some sort of trade or signing. Maybe the draft they will do some damage, but for right now being patient this offseason may go back to hurt them.
The Buffalo Bills are coming off a season where they made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. They had a very nice season overall, but now they are in trouble. They just traded their quarterback Tyrod Taylor to the Browns, and now they are stuck without their franchise quarterback. The Bills were very quiet in free agency and didn’t sign any type of impact players. I expect the Bills to trade up in the draft in order to pick a quarterback, but with a team ready to win now it’s pretty astounding how they didn’t go out and sign a quarterback. Plenty of lower-tier guys were available such as Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford. Anyone of those guys are decent enough to replace Taylor. With a Bills team loaded on defense and a strong running game, they are going to struggle immensely without a decent quarterback, and not signing one could cost them a playoff trip in 2018.
John Feltman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org