On March 9, the NFL’s new league year commenced. With free agent players now able to sign with any team that they please, NFL clubs began their annual bidding war in an attempt to pry talent away from rival teams. While some teams played it conservative, there were many big spenders who stood out from the crowd.
The first team that stands out is the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars spent big last offseason, signing a number of high priced free agents. The result was a 3-13 season and head coach Gus Bradley losing his job. However, Jacksonville decided to double down on their aggressive free agency approach and decided to spend big once again. The Jaguars signed safety Barry Church away from the Dallas Cowboys and cornerback AJ Bouye away from their division rivals, the Houston Texans.
Church has been a solid starter for many years and will provide valuable leadership to a young Jacksonville team. Bouye emerged as a very good player for Houston last year and will be Jacksonville’s other starting corner alongside Jalen Ramsey. However, the biggest signing for Jacksonville was the acquisition of defensive lineman Calais Campbell, previously on the Arizona Cardinals.
Campbell is a two time pro bowler, who should make an instant impact on the Jacksonville defense. Teaming Campbell up with an already promising defensive line of Malik Jackson, Dante Fowler and Ngakoue Yannick should set up the Jaguars to terrorize any quarterback that they face.
The Cleveland Browns are another team that was able to improve greatly through free agency. After experiencing a 1-15 season, the worst in franchise history, last year the Browns sought to improve on the offensive side of the ball. Cleveland signed center JC Tretter away from the Green Bay Packers and signed guard Kevin Zeitler away from their cross state rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals.
The signing of Zeitler allows the Browns to move 2015 first round pick Cameron Erving to tackle. Erving had previously been forced to play guard due to depth issues, even though tackle is his natural position. The Browns then signed wide receiver Kenny Britt away from the LA Rams. Britt was able to top 1,000 receiving yards last year despite awful play from the Rams quarterbacks.
Lastly, the Browns shocked the football world in a blockbuster trade for Texans QB Brock Osweiler. Last offseason, Osweiler signed a massive contract with the Texans, only to disappoint by being one of the worst QBs in the NFL last year. The Texans asked almost nothing in return for Osweiler and a second round pick, essentially paying the Browns a second round pick to take Osweiler’s overbearing contract off the books for them.
The Browns had more than $100M in cap space entering free agency and could afford to overpay Osweiler for one year. It remains to be seen whether or not the Browns intend to make Osweiler their starting QB or attempt to trade/cut him.
The other team that clearly improved since the start of the league year is the New England Patriots. The Patriots have shocked the football world by aggressively attacking the offseason instead of resting on a roster that just went 14-2 and won the Super Bowl. While New England did lose a fair share of players in free agency such as tight end Martellus Bennett and cornerback Logan Ryan, they were almost all replaced by better players.
Bennett was replaced by TE Dwayne Allen who was acquired in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts. While Ryan was replaced by Stephon Gilmore who the Patriots signed away from the Buffalo Bills to a massive 5 year, $65M contract. Gilmore is a pro bowler and when paired with Malcolm Butler should form one of the best CB tandems in the NFL.
Other key moves include the resigning of star linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Duron Harmon. As well as the acquisition of defensive end Kony Ealy in a trade with the Carolina Panthers and the signing of defensive line Lawrence Guy from the Baltimore Ravens to add depth to the Patriots DL.
The biggest acquisition for the Patriots was their trade with the New Orleans Saints, which sent wide receiver Brandin Cooks to NE in exchange for the Patriots first round pick. Cooks is one of the fastest players in the entire NFL and his presence should once again ensure that the Patriots have one of the top offenses in the league.
Some of the other intriguing offseason stories are the moves that haven’t been made yet. After a decade with the Minnesota Vikings, running back Adrian Peterson is free to sign wherever he likes. Peterson led the NFL in rushing back in 2015. However, this past season, he only played in just three games for Minnesota and averaged less than two yards a carry. With a contract well beyond his current worth, the Vikings decided to release Peterson and signed running back Latavius Murray from the Oakland Raiders. Peterson has not indicated where he would like to play next year, but teams that would benefit the most from him include the New York Giants, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Denver Broncos or the Baltimore Ravens.
In the National Football Conference East, the Dallas Cowboys are expected to move on from QB Tony Romo. After losing the starting job to Dak Prescott last season, it was widely assumed Romo would be playing elsewhere next year. Romo confirmed this when he posted a message on Instagram on March 9, bidding farewell to Cowboys fans.
While many expected the Cowboys to release Romo and let him pick who he plays for, he remains under contract with Dallas. Many expect that the Houston Texans will trade for Romo now that Brock Osweiler is gone, while some expect John Elway and the Denver Broncos will make a move for him. Romo moving to either of these teams would dramatically affect the NFL landscape. Romo would likely make either of these teams capable of challenging the Patriots in the American Football Conference.