Early NFL Free Agency Review
In one of the more eventful beginnings of the new league year in recent memory, there has been no shortage of superstars and household names on the move. The first week of free agency has left certain NFL franchises in shambles, and has others emerging as early playoff contenders on paper. Between the Pittsburgh Steelers losing their dynamic duo of WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell, the New York Giants unexpectedly parting ways with WR Odell Beckham Jr. and S Landon Collins, and the Cleveland Browns bolstering their roster on both sides of the ball, I expect there to be a significant shift of power across the league this upcoming season. This is still only the initial surge of the free agency period, but with many of the top available names off the board, there are already clear winners and losers based off of the transactions made.
The Cleveland Browns are seemingly making the most out of their cap space and draft capital out of all 32 teams up to this point. Ironically enough, the team that at least appears to have little to no idea what their plan is moving forward, the New York Giants, have done business with the Browns on separate occasions in the past couple of weeks.
To elaborate on these transactions, the Giants first traded DE Olivier Vernon for RG Kevin Zeitler. Based on positional needs, that was not necessarily a bad trade for either team. Nevertheless, the blockbuster deal made by the Giants in trading star WR Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns highlighted that New York was ready to rebuild, but by just recently signing WR Golden Tate, who would make them better right now, the franchise cannot seem to make up their mind as to whether or not they are fully committing to rebuilding, as they are also keeping (and supposedly starting) a 39 year old Eli Manning at quarterback yet again this year. His $23 million cap hit could also be one of the reasons why from a financial standpoint, the Giants also let star S Landon Collins leave for Washington in free agency, as they felt obligated to allocate the money that would have went to Collins to an aging and deteriorating Eli Manning.
The Giants have signed and traded for some quality players in these early stages of free agency, but they are currently taking one step forward and two steps back, without a clear plan or direction for the team. It is also worth noting that second-year GM Dave Gettleman was fired from his GM position in Carolina prior to this for letting too many high-profile players go, so parting ways with all of the superstars that they have in the past couple of weeks should come as no surprise. With an astounding 12 draft picks (2 first rounders), Gettleman certainly has the opportunity to make a quick turnaround, including drafting the successor to Eli Manning, although he has not necessarily instilled faith in many people that he will be able to capitalize on all of those picks, but only time will tell.
As far as the early frontrunners for the winners of free agency, the Cleveland Browns have began to stack their roster on both sides of the ball with tremendous talent in nearly every position. As a longtime football fan, it feels weird praising what the Browns have done to this level, as they had an 0-16 season in 2017 and have been abysmal for years prior, but they have truly executed a textbook rebuild of their roster since hiring John Dorsey as their GM.
Building off of a promising rookie season from QB Baker Mayfield, and a 7-8-1 record, the Browns offensive weapons added include WR Odell Beckham Jr. and RB Kareem Hunt. On top of the fact that they already have Baker Mayfield under center, RB Nick Chubb coming off of a strong rookie season, WR Jarvis Landry, and TE David Njoku, they have truly assembled a stacked offense on paper.
On the defensive side of the ball, Cleveland had already exceeded expectations in the 2018 season. They proceeded to acquire DE Olivier Vernon from the Giants via trade, and signed DT Sheldon Richardson in free agency already, and do not appear to be done making moves, as they were in the top 5 for available cap space coming into the offseason, and we are still in the very early stages of the new league year.
Honorable mentions worth including in the discussion of winners of free agency also consist of the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, and New York Jets based off of the moves they have already made. There is still plenty of unsigned talent available in nearly every position though, so teams with money remaining that are willing to spend it can still make significant additions to their roster prior to the NFL Draft.