We get it. Free agency isn’t a competition, and we won’t know who came out ahead until the end of next season. That won’t stop us from grading out who’s red hot, and who got burned in free agency.
Winner: Safeties, like all of them.
Ok, maybe not all of them. But the market was flooded with top and upper-tier safeties this offseason, including some of the biggest names at the position: Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu and Earl Thomas led a crop of elite defenders that raked in an AVERAGE of $12 million per year with their new contracts. The departure of Collins from New York was surprising and seeing the Honey Badger bring his game to an anemic Chiefs defense could shift the balance of power in the AFC.
Loser: Pittsburgh Steelers
Sure, an argument could be made that the Steelers are simply moving on from Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, but any time that much talent departs in the offseason, it’s not good. Sure, they got some trade value back from Oakland for Brown, but nowhere near his actual value, as Oakland needed to pay up to extend Brown’s deal. As for Bell, the Steelers played chicken and lost the best rusher in the league over the past half-decade after missing the playoffs without him. You simply can’t convince me that this is all a good thing for the Steelers.
Winner: New England Patriots
Sure, they saw the departure of Trent Brown, Trey Flowers and Cordarrelle Patterson. But here’s a secret that everybody should know. New England is better than anyone at letting players go instead of overpaying them. Trent Brown? He wasn’t a planned starter. Isiah Wynn, New England’s top pick from last year’s draft is back after an injury. Brown would likely have been relegated to the second string. Trey Flowers? The Pats picked up Michael Bennett for less than half the cost of the departing Flowers, plus Bennett had more sacks and QB pressures last year. The league is littered with former New England standouts who make bank and don’t perform as well as they did with Belichick and company. They’ll be fine.
Yes, Washington lured Landon Collins away from the rival Giants, but it’s an easy case to make that they paid too much for a safety given the amount of help they need all over the field. The departure of Jamison Crowder weakens an already anemic offense that lacks any real downfield threat, and Preston Smith walking leaves them with no consistent edge rush. With so much money allocated to Collins, they have too many needs to fill in the draft.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
I said it. Don’t @ me. The Browns added OBJ plus defenders Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson this offseason. That’s a lot of talent added to a team that’s clearly on its way up. A word of caution here. The Browns are still the Browns, and I’m not sold on this team as an AFC favorite as some writers are, but I think they’re the taking steps that they need to at least contend with the Ravens and Steelers in the AFC North.
Loser: New York Giants
I’ll put this as nicely as I can. The Giants were not a very good team last year. They got significantly worse this offseason. Losing OBJ and Olivier Vernon, plus eating sixteen million in cap space, in the Browns deal was bad but allowing Landon Collins to sign a big deal with Washington, in their own division is simply putrid. Eli Manning can probably be serviceable this year IF his offseason regime is better than we expect, but they need a future at quarterback. On the plus side, they’ll be picking twice in the first round, so perhaps not all is lost.