Kirk Cousins just changed the landscape in the NFC North
Even though the NFL season ended just over a month ago, we’re already back into the swing of things with free agency. In this article I’ll go over some of the top free agents on the offensive side of the ball, and later I’ll take a look at some moves on defense.
The new league year is upon us, and NFL players are now free to sign with new teams for the upcoming season. A lot of familiar faces are looking for a new home this season, so let’s take a look at who has already signed, and who is left after the dust has settled after the first few days.
The quarterback who was originally drafted as an afterthought by the Redskins the same year that RGIII was selected 2nd overall and was supposed to be the future in Washington. After playing the last two seasons under the franchise tag, the Redskins finally cut ties with the player that they refused to see as the future of their team. This year, Cousins was the biggest name among free agents and with a lot of teams in the market for a capable quarterback he was bound to get paid. After narrowing it down to the Jets and the Vikings, Cousins decided to take his talent to Minneapolis, leaving some money on the table in order to get a shot at a Super Bowl.
With the signing, Cousins became the first NFL player to have a full guaranteed contract. Coming in at $28 million per year before any incentives, Cousins is now the highest paid player in the NFL. However, just because he’s paid the most does not mean that he’s worth it. There’s a lot of teams desperate for a quarterback in the NFL, and pretty much all of them had money to throw around. Cousins benefitted from a bit of a bidding war for his services, with teams like the Jets or Browns helping to drive up the price. In three seasons as the starter in Washington, Cousins never won more than 9 games, and is 0-1 in the playoffs. Last season was actually his least productive as a starter, throwing for 4,093 yards and 27 touchdowns, still good for 7th and 8th in the league. However, one knock is that Cousins puts up these stats in garbage time. Whether it’s true or not, it’s hard to see Cousins living up to such a big contract, but I’m guessing that will all be forgotten if he’s able to win the first Super Bowl in Vikings history.
Case Keenum (2 years, $36 million)
With Cousins headed to Minnesota, the Vikings let all three of their quarterbacks from last season test the open market. Keenum, who took the Vikings to the NFC Championship game last season, was in for a raise and the Broncos were looking to find a solution to their own QB problem. The only question is whether or not Keenum is capable of another strong season or if it was all just a fluke.
Teddy Bridgewater (1 year, $5 million)
There are a lot of questions about his health, but if he manages to stay on the field Bridgewater can be a decent starter in the NFL. He’ll get a chance to prove himself this season, but if he can’t find the same level he was at before his first knee injury, the low salary makes this a safe deal for the Jets.
AJ McCarron (2 years, $10 million)
He had a successful college career with Alabama, but has been a backup in Cincinnati his entire NFL career. He feels as though he can be a starter, and Buffalo was in the market for a new quarterback after trading Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland and we’ve all seen what Nathan Peterman is capable of. It’s another safe deal for the team. If he wins, they have a good quarterback on a cheap contract. If not, it’s only $5 million per season and they’d likely cut him next offseason.
The free agent QB class this year wasn’t very special after Cousins, and gets even weaker after taking those other names off the list. We’re left with Brock Osweiler, Geno Smith, Blaine Gabbert, Matt Moore, and Jay Cutler.
Carlos Hyde (3 years, $15 million)
The Browns have been making moves, including bringing in a new running back to provide some spark to the offense. He had 938 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground, while adding another 350 yards through the air last season in San Francisco. Cleveland has made moves that should help them actually win a game this season, and Hyde is a reliable back who should be featured primarily on 1st and 2nd down.
Dion Lewis (4 years $20 million)
Lewis is coming off the best season of his career after returning from an ACL injury. He was known primarily as a receiving back in New England, but exploded for a career-high 896 rushing yards along with 6 touchdowns. Lewis became an important part of the running game in New England, and also helped out on special teams as a returner. He’ll likely fit into the same role in Tennessee while Derrick Henry takes the majority of carries on early downs and goal line situations.
Running backs are often easily replaced through the draft, but there are a few notable names still on the market that should find a new home. We’re left with Shane Vereen, DeMarco Murray, Adrian Peterson and Danny Woodhead to name a few.
Sammy Watkins (3 years, $48 million)
After trading Alex Smith, the Chiefs are all in on Patricks Mahomes and looked to add another target for their young QB. The Chiefs already have some dynamic weapons in Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt, but if Watkins finally lives up to his potential he could become arguably the most important piece of this offense. However, some wonder that if he couldn’t reach that potential in LA, it might not possible for him to ever reach the level that everyone expected a few years ago.
Allen Robinson (3 years, $42 million)
He can be a deep threat, but is coming off ACL injury. In 2015 he had 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns, and the Bears are hoping he can reach that level again. While the team still isn’t a contender in their division, they have money to spend and could use a target for their own young QB. He’s still only 24, and based on his play while healthy, he still has a lot to life left in the NFL.
Jordy Nelson (2 years, $15 million)
After falling down the depth chart in Green Bay, Nelson became an expendable piece and was let go by the team. He managed just 482 yards last season and is now 33 years old, but Nelson can still be a reliable slot receiver in Oakland. While he may be past his prime, it’s still a relatively cheap deal for a receiver of his calibre.
There aren’t many big names left, but there are a few guys who should still be able to find a new team for 2018. We’re left with Jeremy Maclin, Jordan Matthews, Mike Wallace, Eric Decker.
Jimmy Graham (reported 3 years, $30 million)
Graham was a monster in New Orleans, and was widely considered one of the best tight ends in the NFL just a few seasons ago. His production dropped off in Seattle and he only had 520 yards last season, but he was still able to find the endzone 10 times. He’ll likely see his targets go up in a pass heavy offense in Green Bay, and as long as Aaron Rodgers stays healthy he’ll likely help the Packers back to the playoffs.
Trey Burton (4 years, $32 million)
After breaking out in a big way with the Eagles, Burton cashed in on the best season of his career and a Super Bowl ring. He had 248 yards and 5 touchdowns last year, caught 74.2% of his targets. He seems to be just finding his stride in the NFL, and once again the Bears had the cap space to make a move.
There are a lot of notable names left on the tight ends list, however many of them are past their prime. We’re left with Martellus Bennett, Julius Thomas, Antonio Gates, Ben Watson, Eric Ebron, and Luke Willson.