NFL free agency winners and losers
It’s been nearly one week since NFL free agency got underway, and already the landscape of the league has shifted drastically.
Tom Brady is no longer a Patriot, but his exit from New England isn’t the only reason the AFC East appears more competitive. The NFC South also underwent a major transformation, and friction in Houston cost the Texans one of their most valuable pieces.
While there are still more moves to be made across the league, here are the biggest winners and losers of the 2020 free-agency period, so far.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No name dominated headlines ahead of free agency more than Brady. The soon-to-be 43-year-old is past his prime, but signing the six-time Super Bowl winner has already paid off for the Bucs.
Updated: Tom Brady's contract details with Tampa, sources tell ESPN: 2 years, $50 million deal, all guaranteed, that also includes another $9 million in incentives - $4.5 million in incentives per year. The contract also prohibits tags and trades.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 20, 2020
Tampa Bay ranked second to last in home-game attendance percentage (79.1%) in 2019 and has consistently struggled to fill Raymond James Stadium over the past decade. When word got out Brady was nearing a deal with the Bucs, thousands of fans flooded the team’s website to purchase season tickets.
For the first time in a long time, the Bucs are front and center in the spotlight, and they will remain there all season, whether they win or lose with Brady.
Loser: Los Angeles Chargers
Another franchise that could have used the boost in fan attendance, the Los Angeles Chargers not only missed the boat on Brady, but they also released longtime QB Philip Rivers, who’s now a member of the Indianapolis Colts.
The Chargers are reportedly eyeing 30-year-old journeyman Tyrod Taylor, who experienced some success as a starter with the Buffalo Bills from 2015-2017. Los Angeles could also use its fifth-overall pick in the upcoming draft to add another QB.
On the plus side, the Bolts brought in right tackle Bryan Bulaga, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, and cornerback Chris Harris. You could argue the Chargers are winners, for spending responsibly, while building toward the future. Still, the Brady effect on ticket sales would have been nice, especially with the Chargers moving into the new SoFi Stadium in 2020.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
In 2019, the Buffalo Bills ranked near the top of the league in passes dropped and sorely needed another trusted option at receiver, in addition to John Brown and Cole Beasley. Last week, the Bills traded away their 2020 first-, fifth-, and sixth-round picks, plus a 2021 fourth-round pick, for Minnesota Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs and a 2020 seventh-round pick.
Diggs tallied 1,130 yards and six scores on 63 catches in 2019, with Kirk Cousins at the helm of the Vikings offense. He’ll now haul in passes from Bills QB Josh Allen. The 2018 first-round pick took a huge leap in 2019 and piled up 3,089 yards through the air, 29 total touchdowns, and registered nine interceptions. Diggs could help Allen take another giant step forward in his pivotal third season as a pro and make the Bills a legitimate playoff contender.
Loser: Houston Texans
Texans head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien left us scratching our heads in 2019, when he traded Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks and acquired pass rusher Barkevious Mingo, linebacker Jacob Martin, and a 2020 third-round pick in return.
O’Brien has elicited even more confusion for his decision to ship away DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals, in exchange for aging running back David Johnson, a second-round pick in the 2020 draft, and a fourth-round pick in 2021. Hopkins led the Texans in receiving, with 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns on 104 receptions, and is arguably one of the best wideouts in the league.
He and O’Brien allegedly had a falling out, which prompted the Texans coach to shop Hopkins and leave quarterback Deshaun Watson with little to work with on offense.
It's far from a comparable replacement, but Houston picked up former Dallas receiver Randall Cobb, who racked up 828 yards and three scores on 55 catches in 2019.
Winner: Nick Foles
The Jacksonville Jaguars entered the 2019 season filled with hopes of a playoff run, after they signed 2017 Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles to a four-year, $88 million contract. That all came crashing down, when Foles broke his clavicle in the season opener, then rookie Gardner Minshew won over the fan base and eventually took the permanent starting job.
Foles’ career seemed doomed ahead of the 2020 season, but last week, Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy — who worked with Foles briefly when they were in Kansas City — stepped in to extend the 31-year-old another lifeline. In a trade with the Jags, Nagy brought in Foles to battle it out at quarterback with Mitchell Trubisky, the Bears’ No. 2 overall pick from the 2017 draft.
Foles could earn the starting job and experience a resurgence in his career, as he reunites with some familiar faces. Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor served as Foles’ quarterbacks coach with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. In that season, Foles threw a career-high 2,891 yards, 27 TDs, and just two interceptions through 13 games.
The former Eagle will also rejoin his quarterbacks coach from 2017, John DeFilippo, the current QBs coach of the Bears.
It may not have been the signing Bears fans had hoped for, but it's certainly a win for Foles and his latest shot at redemption.
Loser: Jameis Winston
The other quarterback in Florida who didn't quite pan out, Jameis Winston is still searching for a team, now that Brady is the head man in Tampa Bay.
Winston will enter his sixth season in the NFL, after he led the league both in passing yards (5,109) and interceptions (30) in 2019.
The former No. 1 overall draft pick underwent Lasik surgery in the offseason to correct his vision and is now resorting to social media to show off his strength, in an effort to impress teams looking to sign a passer.
Winston still possesses starter potential, but with the way free agency has gone, chances are he'll be forced to accept a backup role in the coming season.
Winner: Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins were projected to finish 0-16 ahead of the 2019 season, but first-year head coach Brian Flores refused to roll over and play dead.
With the help of some "Fitzmagic," the Dolphins flipped the script and went 5-4 in the second half of the season, including a Week 17 road victory in New England.
Flores, a former Patriots assistant, should be able to build even more on 2019's surprise success, after the Dolphins acquired a ton of talent in free agency.
#Dolphins spending spree big board:— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) March 17, 2020
Byron Jones: 5 years, $82.5M
Kyle Van Noy: 4 years, $51M
Shaq Lawson: 3 years, $30M
Ereck Flowers: 3 years, $30M
Emmanuel Ogbah: 2 years, $15M
Also: Miami has picks 5, 18, 26, 39 and 56 in the first two rounds of the 2020 draft.
Miami signed Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy, Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones, Kansas City defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and Bills DE Shaq Lawson. On the other side of the ball, Eagles running back Jordan Howard and Redskins guard Ereck Flowers were brought into the mix.
Add in the 14 picks for the 2020 draft (including three in the first round), and Miami could become a threat in the AFC East much sooner than anticipated.
Loser: New England Patriots
When is the last time the Patriots were losers at anything? With Bill Belichick running the ship, you can't completely count them out, but so far in free agency, the Pats look far from world-beaters.
Brady is gone, which leaves Jarrett Stidham, Cody Kessler, or free-agent signee Brian Hoyer (in his third stint with the Patriots) to lead the offense.
As for the Patriots' lethal defense, the unit lost linebacker Jamie Collins and defensive tackle Danny Shelton to the Detroit Lions, where former New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is the head coach. Linebacker Elandon Roberts also left to join Van Noy and Flores in Miami.
It's difficult to imagine what this New England team will look like in 2020, but the current Patriots roster doesn't exactly strike fear in opponents.