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Grading Early NFL Free Agency Moves

One of the definitions in Webster’s Dictionary for the word tampering is, “to carry on underhand or improper negotiations”. Therefore, the phrase “legal tampering” is an oxymoron.

There is no such thing as legal tampering. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen used the term “legal negotiation period”, and that’s what the NFL should call the current window of time they’re in.

The NFL’s Legal Negotiation Period is always one of the fastest moving times in the sports year. This is mostly because illegal tampering has already taken place, and the NFL likes to think we don’t know that. This year, despite all the fallout from the Coronavirus implications, hasn’t disappointed. Let’s take a look at the early moves so far. *Note: All moves cannot be made official until 3/18 at 4pm Eastern time.

Franchise Tags

Dallas Cowboys: Tagged Dak Prescott ($31.5 million). This was the most expected tag given. Dallas couldn’t let their franchise QB walk scott-free. The most interesting part of this will be whether the Cowboys can lock up Dak to a long-term deal. Though their inability to lock him up long term earlier will allow Amari Cooper to hit the market as a UFA. GRADE: A-

Tennessee Titans: Tagged Derrick Henry ($10.2 million). Signing Ryan Tannehill before the deadline to issue tags allowed Tennessee to tag the NFL’s reigning rushing leader. I don’t expect both sides to come to a long term deal, unless the number is much less than the tag number. But it secures the perfect fit for their system for the upcoming year. GRADE: B+

Kansas City Chiefs: Tagged Chris Jones ($16.1 million). Kansas City won’t be able to sign Jones to a long term deal as they are dealing with salary cap issues as well as needing to sign Patrick Mahomes to a long term deal to keep him in red. Jones is an elite defender in the NFL and we will need to see what the haul they are able to bring in before we react to this. GRADE:

INCOMPLETE


New York Giants: Tagged Leonard Williams ($16.1 million). This was still one of the biggest questions in New York right up until the deadline when the Giants decided to hang onto the former #6 overall pick, who they acquired from the Jets in a trade during the 2019 season. It’s a big price for someone who hasn’t lived up to the hype coming out of college, but this was all about making the 3rd and 5th round picks they sent for him worthwhile. GRADE: B-

Cincinnati Bengals: Tagged AJ Green ($17.8 million). The 31 year old wide receiver missed the entire year last year and only played in 9 games the year before. They will most likely draft Joe Burrow #1 overall, so the need to have a #1 target for him was imperative, but it’s a big risk for someone with Green’s injury history. GRADE: C

Minnesota Vikings: Tagged Anthony Harris ($11.4 million). This was surprising considering the salary cap issues the Vikings have, but they keep one of the top defensive back free agents from hitting the market. GRADE: B+

Arizona Cardinals: Transition tagged Kenyan Drake ($8.5 million). This was shocking until we learned to the David Johnson/Deandre Hopkins trade. The Cardinals are now stocked at the skill positions at relatively decent prices. GRADE: A-

New England Patriots: Tagged Joe Thuney ($14.8 million). This move was all about maintaining Thuney’s rights because they will not be able to afford him with their cap issues. They will look to tag-and-trade just like Kansas City with Chris Jones. If the Pats can get a 2nd rounder or better for Thuney, they will consider it a win. GRADE: INCOMPLETE

Trades:


Houston-Arizona
Houston receives: David Johnson, 2020 2nd round pick, 2021 4th round pick
Arizona receives: DeAndre Hopkins, 2020 4th round pick

This was a head scratcher. When the trade was first leaked, it was that Houston was trading for Johnson AND picking up his whole contract. That was a shock. Then we found out that Hopkins was going to Arizona and all Houston was getting was a 2nd and a swap of 4th’s. There has to be something else other than Houston not wanting to negotiate a deal with Hopkins with 3 years remaining.

What this means for Houston: They get a top 50 pick, something they didn’t have, but will have a tough time replacing one of the top two or three wide receivers in the league. Johnson will fit in better with Houston’s system than Arizona’s, but he’s still on the back-nine of his career. This cannot make Deshaun Watson very happy. GRADE: F

What this means for Arizona: This gives a high flying offense an elite weapon on the outside. It gives them the ability to commit to Kenyan Drake as their #1 running back. It also guarantees Arizona, who is sitting in the 8 spot in the draft, one of the 2 elite defenders (Okudah or Simmons) or one of the top 4 offensive tackles (Wills, Wirfs, Becton, Thomas) in the draft. This is because it is almost guaranteed that at least 2 quarterbacks get drafted in the top 7. GRADE: A+

Buffalo-Minnesota
Buffalo receives: Stefon Diggs, 2020 7th round pick
Minnesota receives: Buffalo’s 1st round pick (22nd overall), 2020 5th round pick, 2020 6th round pick, 2021 4th round pick

How is it that Stefon Diggs returned a better haul than DeAndre Hopkins? This seems like a very fair deal for both sides.

What this means for Buffalo: Buffalo gets the #1 wide receiver that they’ve been coveting. One that is more proven than any of the players in the draft.

What this means for Minnesota: Minnesota frees themselves of a seemingly disgruntled player and adds another 1st rounder. This gives them the ability to either package their 2 picks to move up for an elite player, or stay put and add a cheaper guy to fill his spot. This draft is loaded with quality wideouts.

Free Agents

Tom Brady – It’s not often that the greatest quarterback of all time hits the unrestricted free agency market. And Brady certainly had the whole sports world talking when he posted that he would not be returning to New England.

Then we find out he’s going to Tampa Bay. Brady hasn’t had a wide receiver with the skillset that Mike Evans possesses since Randy Moss. Their #2, Chris Godwin, is a better wide receiver than anyone Brady has had in years as well. Sorry, Julian Edelman, but it’s true. Does this make Tampa a Super Bowl team? That’s still too early to say. Does it make them better? Instantly. GRADE A-


Amari Cooper – The top wideout on the market stayed put by re-signing with Dallas for 5 years, $100 million. It’s a hefty price tag for someone who is still considered a fringe top-10 wide receiver in the league. Between the contracts for Dak, Zeke, and Cooper, it’s going to be interesting to see how the Cowboys are going to build their defense. GRADE: B-
Byron Jones – The Miami Dolphins shocked the NFL by ponying up for Jones to solidify their defensive backfield. We all perceived Miami as still being a year or 2 away. So going hard after a top free agent was not expected. Jones has lifted himself from a good safety to a great cornerback with a couple years of stellar play. GRADE: B+


Ryan Tannehill – The fit between Tennessee’s system and Tannehill’s skill set seemed to be a perfect fit. Tannehill has been hot and cold the majority of his career, so the 4 year, $118 million contract may seem a bit steep. But if you look at the details, Tennessee can get out of the contract after 2 years, $62 million. That makes it a much lesser investment should things go wrong. If things go right, it’s a great investment. GRADE: A-


Cory Littleton – The Raiders bolstered their linebacking group by bringing in one of the top 3 down linebackers in the league from last year. 3 years, $36 million is a nice price for someone with the tackling/coverage combination Littleton possesses. GRADE: A


Jack Conklin – The Browns needed major help along their offensive line. They paid a pretty price for Conklin who, although in an elite Right Tackle, is still a Right Tackle. $14 million a year is a nice payday for a Left Tackle, and that’s what Conklin is getting on the right side. Look for Cleveland to address the left side with the 10th pick in the draft. GRADE: B

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