While it’s dangerous to declare anyone having won or lost in the immediate aftermath one day into free agency, with no clue which deals will actually turn out well or set a franchise back, we can tentatively speculate on what went down over a wild few hours both before and after the actual opening of the new NFL year. Here are five who might not be overly pleased for now with the outcome of the start of free agency.
The Cleveland Browns
It’s pretty safe to say that things did not go to plan for the Browns. The primary factor in including them here comes down to losing four key starters that they wanted to keep, having made a statement beforehand declaring that the plan and to “reward their own”. They now find themselves with a previous area of strength weakened in their offensive line, with center Alex Mack taking a big deal with the Atlanta Falcons, followed by right tackle Mitchell Schwartz landing with the Kansas City Chiefs. As previously reported during the legal tampering period, wide receiver Travis Benjamin did indeed team up with Phillip Rivers in San Diego. A defensive star in Tashaun Gipson then chose to join the defensive revolution of sorts in Jacksonville. All this despite having in excess of $40 million in cap space. Just to make matters worse, who did they sign to replace the talent lost? No-one. Even those who were suggested as potentially joining their old coordinator Hue Jackson such as receivers Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu never seemed to even come close to considering moving to Cleveland. The Browns made some huge changes to the front office this off-season in order to finally put a structure in place to succeed. This is just one day, but it’s hardly a great start for the new regime. Let’s see how things go in the second wave of free agency.
Derek Wolfe, Defensive Lineman, Denver Broncos
It’s hard to feel too sorry for Derek, not going to lie! The guy has plenty of money coming his way, no question. Still, he has to be wondering “what if?” today, after seeing the ridiculous money that was potentially out there for stud defensive players, that would almost certainly have been significantly more than what he ended up with. Wolfe signed a four-year, $36.75 million deal to stay with the Broncos, putting pen to paper during the season. He has since seen his former fellow lineman Malik Jackson receive a mammoth $90m deal, and the Dolphins’ Olivier Vernon get a $85m contract from the Giants. Wolfe took the security option, and chose to stay where he loves playing for a successful team. If he’d got injured during the playoff run, which came after his new deal was in place, he’d have been breathing a sigh of relief that he didn’t take a chance and wait. Still, the difference in his bank account as a result of that choice is massive. He’ll be 30-years-old when he next hits the market, should he see out the life of his current deal, and might not have another shot at taking advantage of free agency in his prime.
San Francisco 49ers
Could there be a bigger difference between the last two free agencies for the team Chip Kelly has been the head coach of? After making a lot of noise with the Eagles last season, his new employers the 49ers were the complete opposite, going deathly silent on day one. We know in hindsight that the former was not the way to go in Philly, but it’s hard to argue that doing virtually nothing is much better. They did make a wise re-signing before free agency, with defensive tackle Ian Williams secured on a five-year deal. The 49ers have $50 million in cap space however, and will likely be implementing some changes stylistically under the new regime that could have used a couple productive players that would fit in. No new faces were added. Another factor to include them here, the loss of one of their best offensive lineman, with guard Alex Boone moving on to the Minnesota Vikings. Rather than the extremes one way or the other, a more balanced approach to spending somewhere in the middle might have been preferable. It’s possible they had targets and a line drawn on what to offer those players that ended up out-with their price range. None-the-less, they arguably need to step things up over the coming days.
John Elway, General Manager of the Denver Broncos
Personally, I like the stance that Elway took on Osweiler. He’s watched him for four years, knows the guy, stuck to what he believed he was worth. They do still need to find a viable replacement though, and fans will be uncomfortable for as long as it takes to announce one (and even then, given some of the options, might remain that way). More significantly however is the defensive losses, despite re-signing Wolfe early as mentioned previously. They expected to lose Malik Jackson and could never match those numbers. But losing Danny Trevathan to the Chicago Bears was also a significant loss. Trevathan’s ability in space to cover tight ends and slot receivers is not easy to find. Kubiak’s offensive system tends to allow running backs to flourish, and doesn’t necessarily require a big name talent. As yet though, no moves have been made there either, with both Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson now available to other teams, and all the top names from elsewhere mostly off the board now. It just adds another hole at an important position. There’s nothing overly negative about what Elway has done with his roster in these early stages, but when you look at what division rivals the Chiefs and Raiders have done in comparison, it’s hard to argue against the fact that those two, and even the Chargers with some sensible signings, have all closed the gap a bit on the AFC West champs.
Tom Coughlin, former head coach of the Giants
It’s not difficult to imagine the frustration, or worse, that Coughlin must have been feeling as he watched things unfold yesterday. Much of the issues on the Giants roster that contributed to three consecutive losing seasons were on general manager Jerry Reese rather than the two-time Super Bowl winning coach, only for he to be removed at the end of the 2015 season. Only to then see that same GM wait until after that to finally break the bank and spend big to get some much-needed talent onto the team. The deals were huge and somewhat risky, but it was on proven players at positions of need. The defensive line which was the key to success in previous years looks great again, with JPP and Vernon on the edges, and now Harrison joining Hankins in the middle. Just as important, Janoris Jenkins joins from the Rams to give a big boost to the secondary. Suddenly a defense that ranked dead last in the NFL last season looks dramatically different. Reese’s job is on the line, and that in part fuelled this last ditch effort to save his job, but that isn’t any comfort to Coughlin, who is already out of a job, who could have benefited from all this expenditure. Free agency is all about timing, and that goes beyond just referring to when players hit the market.