2017 NFL Free Agency Day One Musings

Cleveland came to Houston’s rescue and traded for Brock Osweiler, “buying” a second-round pick.

Surely somewhere deep inside their Park Avenue headquarters, the NFL thanks their lucky stars they have the Cleveland Browns and curse the day they let the first incarnation of this treasured franchise to leave for Baltimore. The Browns were the worst team in 2016, yet are one of the best at creating headlines

The opening day of the 2017 NFL Free Agency period and the start of the New Year in the league already steals the sporting headlines, however the Browns added the biggest storyline which sent Twitter and the NFL world into meltdown.

Brock Osweiler, the $72 million mistake in Houston, was traded to Cleveland on the eve of the new NFL year and league Twitter initially destroyed the Browns, understandably, and then suddenly began praising Paul DePodesta and the front office for the innovative deal which sent Osweiler and a second-round pick from the Texans to the Browns for a 4th and a 6th round pick in the upcoming draft.

The deal has now been labelled as “creative” and considered a win-win for both franchises as Cleveland essentially paid $18 million for a second-round pick. The deal does make sense for both teams, but it’s hardly a game-changer.

Rich Smith looks like a magician, having now washed his hands clean of the disaster that was signing Osweiler to the monster deal last off-season, however the team is still without a capable starting quarterback and sound out of the race for Tony Romo who looks destined to end up in Denver.

The Browns get another second rounder this year to make it 22 picks across the next two drafts. It means another dart to throw at the dartboard and knowing Cleveland’s history, there’s no guarantee they nail the pick, or any pick for that matter.

The caveat is if they can pull off a trade, which has to be the strategy, however their main target doesn’t seem available for any price. Jimmy Garoppolo is unlikely to be traded, no matter what Cleveland offers.

The main question and where Cleveland could have improved the deal would have been whether they could have squeezed more out of Houston to help free up the cap space Osweiler was stealing next season. But, nevertheless the deal is done and the Browns livened up free agency once again.

The trade kicked off the new NFL year; however the action began well before 8am AEST time and now on to other matters, from a typically jam-packed opening day of free agency.

Jags gonna jag

Jacksonville goes all out to spend as much money as possible on beefing up their defence. Nope, it’s not 2016, or 2015, or 2014. The Jaguars have broken the bank once again, splashing the cash on a number of high profile defensive free agents. They began by handing Calais Campbell a massive $14 million per year deal to beef up an already loaded, money-wise, defensive line and then grabbed free agency darling A.J. Bouye from their division rivals for $67.5 million over five-years and Barry Church from Dallas to add starters in their secondary. At some point all this spending will generate some wins for the struggling AFC South outfit.

Washington are imploding, which is not like them

The off-season drama at Redskins Park is just as crazy as usual with an exodus of team members, both on and off the field.

Having already lost one wide receiver in Pierre Garcon to San Francisco, DeSean Jackson will line up across from Mike Evans in Tampa Bay, as he accepted a $35-million deal over three-years. Defensive tackle Chris Baker joined the speedy wide receiver in moving south to Tampa and their quarterback drama continued to roll on as Kirk Cousins continued rumblings of his desire to move to San Fran.

Lastly, the saga of Scot McCloughan finally came to an end in Landover as he was officially fired having already been driven out of the building by a toxic front office which even went and tarnished his reputation on the way out.

Oh, at least they did re-sign Jay Gruden for two more years.

NFC West contrasts

There were a lot of comings and goings in a division which struggled overall in 2016, with Arizona and San Francisco leading the news.

The Cardinals lost a host of defensive starters with Campbell being joined by safety pair Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger who left for Baltimore and Washington respectively. They are also poised to lose linebacker Kevin Minter, although did acquire safety Antoine Bethea from the Niners and had already re-signed pass rusher Chandler Jones for five more seasons.

San Francisco was the opposite and has thrown money around to simply add capable starters. Including their own re-signings, the 49ers have added 12 players, with some costing a fortune. They can pair newly added Garcon with Aldrick Robinson to provide some weapons for whichever former Chicago quarterbacks starts, with Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley both moving to Santa Clara.

The Niners have also added linebacker Malcolm Smith, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, tight end Logan Paulsen and full back Kyle Juszczyk, who becomes the ninth highest paid rusher in the league, receiving $21-million over four-years.

Mike Glennon gets paid and Chicago fans hold their breath

No news on Romo or Garoppolo on day one, however the next big name on the quarterback off-season list found a new home. The Buccaneers back-up has found his starting job with the Bears and got a massive payday to go with his promotion, a three-year deal at an average of $14.5 million. It’s no doubt a massive gamble to throw starting QB money to a guy who hasn’t started a game since 2014, but Glennon has at least shown some signs.

The big issue facing the Bears and Glennon is their lack of receivers and the loss of Alshon Jeffery, who signed a one-year deal worth $14 million in Philadelphia, won’t help that. They did add former Pittsburgh wideout Markus Wheaton and tight end Dion Sims from Miami, but it’s not exactly an imposing receiver group and Glennon isn’t going to play at a decent level without the talent around him.

Other titbits

– Safety Micah Hyde left Green Bay for Buffalo and looms a decent signing for a team which also lost cornerback Stephon Gilmore to New England.

– Speaking of New England, your candidate for departing Patriot who re-joins the team before the end of the deal he just signed is Logan Ryan. The depth cornerback signed a massive $30 million deal over three-years with Tennessee and will be back under Bill Belichick by 2019, for half the cost.

– Typically quiet running back market with Seattle providing the main news as they sniff around both Eddie Lacy and Jamaal Charles. All quiet on the Adrian Peterson front, the same for Latavius Murray and LeGarrette Blount.

Jay Cutler was released by Chicago, finally.

Taking a ride on the QB carousel

Both Kirk Cousins and Tyrod Taylor could have new homes in 2017.

Anyone familiar with Face Off, the 1997 insane action thriller starring a bonkers Nicholas Cage and even more bonkers John Travolta would know the dangers of carousels.

Slight spoilers if you haven’t seen it by now. In the opening scene of the movie, Travolta is enjoying a carousel ride with his young son, when Cage arrives with his sniper rifle and guns down the small boy with the bullet passing through Travolta on the way.

Now a scenario like this is unlikely, however carousels are still dangerous, especially in the NFL where quarterback carousels can spin around and around, for some teams across multiple decades.

It isn’t hard to glean from the 2016 season alone that there is a sever dearth of QB talent in the league. From the 32 teams, there’s maybe 10 absolute franchise quarterbacks and maybe eight or so more who can reach that level or are at least adequate.

There’s also a large chunk of teams stuck in an endless circle, either without a competent quarterback or without a QB at all (San Francisco).

Two teams which sit somewhere in the middle are Washington and Buffalo. Kirk Cousins and Tyrod Taylor are around the same level of quarterback. For the Redskins, Cousins has already led the team to the playoffs and demonstrated a clear ability to be a solid starter, capable of playing at, or near a Pro Bowl level.

In Buffalo, Taylor may not be as accomplished a passer as Cousins, however has the athletic traits to compliment a decent arm and solid playmaking ability.

Neither of these guys loom as potential top-10 passers, however with enough around them, they could lead their respective franchises on playoff runs and, if the cards fell the right way, even to a Championship Game or a Super Bowl. The main point being, there are worse options available.

And yet both teams are refusing to lock up their starting quarterbacks and one seems increasingly likely to leave the team this off season.

For the second straight year, Washington has chosen to snap the franchise tag on Cousins. This is the first-time multiple franchise tags have been used on a quarterback in successive years and strongly indicates the Skins’ reluctance to lock up Cousins for the long-term.

Cousins threw for a career-best 4.917-yards in 2016, adding 25-touchdowns and 12-interceptions. These numbers took his past two-season total to over 9,000-yards and 54-touchdowns. Those are quality figures and although the team struggled down the stretch and missed the playoffs, Cousins played at a consistent level.

Jay Gruden has publicly sung the praises of his 27-year old passer and Cousins fared favourably on Football Outsiders rankings, finishing fifth in DVOA. Yet no long-term deal, for the second season in a row.

Now the major barrier you would assume keeping Dan Snyder from handing out a big deal to Cousins is the required pay packet it will take. Under the franchise tag, he’ll earn around $24 million and any long-term deal would average out to over $20 million at a minimum. That’s par for the course for quarterbacks in the 2017 market.

For a second, ignore all the reasons why Washington should not pay up for Cousins and consider this, what superior options do they have?

The reason there is a lack of QB talent in the NFL is because there aren’t many good quarterbacks. Just a look at the free agency market shows pickings are slim and the only even competent signal caller who will join the market shortly is Tony Romo, who is 37 in April and is one injury away from having his bones disintegrate.

Going with Kirk Cousins is Washington’s only logical solution for next season and the seasons beyond that, it’s the logical solution for any length of time that would be covered in a long-term deal. There aren’t any better options out there.

Which brings it back to the Bills. They’ve gone even further than Washington and with a new coach in charge could move on from Taylor this very off-season.

Buffalo’s quarterback of the past two seasons was surprisingly benched for EJ Manuel of all people in Week 17 and Sean McDermott hasn’t exactly been enamoured with the dual threat playmaker since he arrived at Orchard Park from Carolina.

Taylor is a clear level or two below Cousins, however has been a consistently solid starter since 2015. He’s thrown only a combined 12-interceptions in two season, compared to 37-touchdowns and also added 10-touchdowns on the ground and over 1,000 rushing yards. He’s done all this with fairly mediocre receiver talent and an offensive group often wrecked by injuries.

He must have surely exceeded Bills expectations since arriving from Baltimore where he was a career back-up. Yet the stats barely bought him any loyalty under Rex Ryan and those feelings have translated to a new coaching staff.

It’s hard to imagine what both Buffalo and Washington envision as they plan their quarterback rotation for 2017. Where is this next incarnation of Aaron Rodgers waiting in the draft or in free agency?

This year’s draft class sounds particularly mediocre and despite the annual Combine buzz driving the likes of Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson and Deshaun Kizer up the draft board, all will be huge gambles and nothing suggests they can be 2017’s Dak Prescott.

Make no mistake, both players have flaws and ceilings, but even if their peaks aren’t at a truly dominant and transcendent level, teams can compete with decent quarterback play and Denver won a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning’s noodle arm leading their offence.

Teams never seem to be content with what they have and obviously win-losses force decisions and neither Buffalo or Washington made the playoffs in 2016. However, both teams have bigger issues than at quarterback and if they’re not careful they’ll be like 15 other franchises, going around in circles.

A moustachioed Nicholas Cage won’t be eying them off through the scope of his sniper rifle, but both the Redskins and the Bills need to tread carefully and avoid the spinning horses.