Monday 11 December 2017 / 08:33 PM

Fast & furious first week of NFL Free Agency

Nothing gets fans’ hearts racing faster than Week 1 of NFL Free Agency. The surge of deals and trades – both before and after the deadline – make for breathtaking drama as fans follow football stars across the country, speculating on which team they will sign with or if they’ll end up back home where they belong. It’s the start of the new league year – the first breath of optimistic air for each fan-base…and the first death knell for others.

WINNERS SO FAR

Teams Re-signing Veterans

A number of teams kicked off the start of the new league year by re-signing some of their veteran players to (relatively) team-friendly deals – pleasing the fans, the owners and the players in the process. Carolina and Kansas City both re-signed veteran defensive ends, both fan-favorites and positions of need; meanwhile, the Bills and Chargers re-signed key components to their lines on the offensive side.

All of the deals had an element of loyalty involved, too. Charles Johnson decided to stay with his original team for considerably less money because he didn’t want to leave the Carolina locker room. Now, Tamba Hali has a chance to retire as a Kansas City Chief. Richie Incognito rewarded the Bills for being willing to take a chance on him last year and now both sides are receiving return on their investment.

It goes to show you that even with the “It’s Just Business” attitude that so many NFL players and coaches tout – sometimes, there’s a little room for loyalty as well.

The Eagles

The Eagles quickly set about erasing some of the mistakes of Chip Kelly’s time in Philadelphia by trading LB Kiko Alonso, CB Byron Maxwell and the 13th pick in the draft to Miami for their 8th pick. Maxwell’s deal last year was a hallmark example of over-paying for free agents – and the sooner the Eagles got that deal off of their books, the better.

At the same time, they secured Sam Bradford for another two years, rather than take a trip on the quarterback-carousel for another year. The deal is relatively team-friendly too, so if things don’t work out – the Eagles won’t have to wait long to start rebuilding again. And they also shed malcontent running back DeMarco Murray via a trade with the Titans, which also involved swapping 4th-round picks.

The Eagles are clearly in a hurry to get started on a new rebuild – they shed many of Kelly’s worst deals and freed up a tremendous amount of cap space with which to work – and moved up in the 1st round as well. Dropping those players allowed them to go after and sign some quality players In OG Brandon Brooks, CB Leodis McKelvin and S Rodney McLeod without destroying their salary cap either.

Colin Kaepernick

Amazingly, after two underwhelming years in a row, Kaepernick now stands in a position of leverage. Not only did the 49ers publicly state that they wanted to give him every shot of winning the job next year, but they went out and signed the most “spread-happy” offensive coach in the league. A number of other teams are now jumping into the “7torm” sweepstakes with trade offers too.

Around the trade deadline this season, Kaepernick looked dead in the water. His original team had given up on him and no one seemed terribly interested in picking up his services. Worse yet, he would lose his job to Blaine Gabbert. Now, at the beginning of the offseason, Kaepernick is suddenly a hot commodity again – with the Browns, Broncos and Jets all jumping into the fray.

The league is simply too desperate for quality quarterbacks to not give Kaepernick every opportunity to prove he can play – and this is clearly a result of that.

LOSERS SO FAR

Owners’ Pocketbooks

In the first hour of Free Agency, the Houston Texans bet the farm ($126 million) on three players to help improve their offense. They’re taking a huge gamble on Osweiler – praying that he doesn’t end up like last year’s young, supposedly “groomed” QB in Ryan Mallett. In the few starts that he’s had, Osweiler was decent but certainly not worth the money the Texans are betting. It’s a huge gamble, but at least fans can’t accuse them of not trying anymore. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they went out and got Lamar Miller and Jeff Allen to help.

Likewise, later that afternoon, the Giants dumped an awfully optimistic  $200 million into just four players in one hour. Two five-year contracts in particular – $85 million overall, $52.5 million guaranteed to DE Olivier Vernon and $62.5 million overall, $28 million guaranteed to CB Janoris Jenkins – are egregious examples of overpaying unproven players. While market rates and salary cap increases often dictate the contract numbers, neither of them has ever played up to those kinds of numbers – nor are they likely to start.

Traditionally, Free Agency is thought of as a way for teams that were one player away to secure the signing that would put them over the top. The Giants desperately need help on defense, and their other two moves – re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul and signing DT Damon Harrison – were relatively good. However, I still can’t help but wonder how much success they can realistically expect when the market is forcing them to hand out those kinds of contracts. They can seriously muck up a team’s salary cap for years if they go badly.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Jaguars and Raiders – who both spent enormous amounts of money (like the Giants and Texans), but did so to supplement a young core of proven players and with mountains of salary cap space to spare.

Ryan Fitzpatrick

After a career year for Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Jets were still reticent to sign the 33-year-old quarterback to a long-term deal. Who could blame them? Fitz-magic has had an up-and-down career – respectable, not great – but nothing close to the numbers he and his agent apparently expected to receive.

Once the Jets’ original negotiations broke off, Fitzpatrick went out and tested the market. However, not even the QB-starved Rams, Browns, or Broncos were interested in investing in the journeyman quarterback. After a few days of repeated stories about his asking-price – it’s starting to become obvious that he might’ve gotten some bad advice from his agent.

Hopefully, he sticks it out in New York, where he’s already proven he can lead the team to the playoffs. It would be a shame to have to see him start over for another team after a fresh round of humiliation because his agent inflated his price.

Looking Ahead

A few big free agents are still left unsigned. Safety Eric Weddle of the Chargers and OT Russell Okung of the Seahawks, in particular, should draw a fair amount of interest. Weddle likely wants to sign for the Raiders out of spite – that way he’ll have a chance to play his old team twice a year. Regardless of his motives, Oakland would be a great place for him to play given the need to replace the retiring Charles Woodson.

As for Okung, there’s always a market for offensive tackles. Even though he’s not a top-dollar tackle, he will definitely be snatched up soon. The question is – how crazy will the deal be since he has been acting as his own agent the whole time?

Stay tuned.

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About the author

Kurt Falkhagen

Taking the reins from CBS legend MICHAEL AIRHART as chief NFL writer, Kurt covers the big game with the same passion, wit and expertise from his lair in the US.

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