The second day of the NFL's negotiating period slowed down, but there was still plenty to talk about. With more than half of my top 101 free agents of 2022 still available, there's plenty more to go.
Here are my biggest takeaways from Tuesday's action:
1) The Cowboys did a nice job limiting their offseason losses -- at least, until Tuesday. The team's website posted an entire article boasting about Randy Gregory returning, which then had to be deleted, because he switched up and agreed to terms with the Broncos.
The change of heart didn't appear to be just about money. The Cowboys insisted -- according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport -- on contract language Gregory did not like. It appears the language would have protected the Cowboys against further suspensions or discipline.
While it was a plus that Dallas was able to retain Demarcus Lawrence on a new contract, the new cap room opened by Lawrence's extension was supposed to be used on Gregory. Dallas' defensive line is very thin, and it'd be a surprise if the Cowboys didn't spend the money earmarked for Gregory elsewhere. NFL Network's Jane Slater reports they are in the mix for Von Miller.
2) My biggest question with the Broncos is whether they can maximize their defensive personnel. They lost one of the league's best play-callers in ex-head coach Vic Fangio and have a first-time coordinator in Ejiro Evero. The moves to add Gregory and former 49ers defensive tackle D.J. Jones help allay any concerns.
Gregory is the ultimate boom-or-bust pickup, but he's a ferocious pass rusher. Jones was one of my favorite candidates to break out on his second contract and could be a bargain at $30 million over three years. The Broncos' front also includes Malik Reed, Bradley Chubb and Dre'Mont Jones, a collection of plus starters. The secondary is talented, although that group stands to lose key free agents Bryce Callahan, Kyle Fuller and Kareem Jackson. It's one of the better rosters in the league.
3) Marcus Williams did not sign a long-term extension after being hit with the franchise tag by New Orleans in 2021, and he was rewarded Tuesday when he landed a big deal with the Ravens. After safeties struck out in recent years, it's been nice to see Williams and Quandre Diggs (three years, $40 million to stay in Seattle) get paid what they are worth. Williams is getting $37 million guaranteed on a five-year, $70 million contract, meaning he will be the quarterback of an extremely talented (and rich) secondary.
4) The Deshaun Watson meeting tour will continue throughout the week. The quarterback met with the Browns on Tuesday, and the Falcons hope to meet with him Wednesday, according to Rapoport. Watson, 26, faces 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct and could face an NFL suspension before he hits the field.
Beyond what these meetings tell us about each organization, the news also could create fallout with their current quarterbacks. How are Browns QB Baker Mayfield and Falcons QB Matt Ryan taking the news that their teams are trying to upgrade? Will either agitate for a way out, no matter what happens this week?
5) Russell Gage is fantastic Chris Godwin insurance in Tampa. Gage was a revelation for the Falcons in an increased role last season, especially down the stretch -- in his final eight games of 2021, Gage caught 50 passes for 611 yards and three scores. It wasn't just the numbers; it was the variety of catches, whether he was lining up inside or out, on nearly any type of route. He profiles as a lesser version of Godwin. Even if Godwin, who was franchise-tagged for a second consecutive time and is recovering from a torn ACL, winds up signing a long-term deal in Tampa, you can never have too many receivers that diverse.
It's hard to overstate how much the Bucs' fortunes have changed since Tom Brady unretired on Sunday. They've brought back Ryan Jensen and Carlton Davis. They picked up Gage, and they agreed to trade a fifth-round pick to New England for guard Shaq Mason, who is 28 years old and has been a top-five player at the position when healthy. This is such a typically mystifying Bill Belichick move, dealing away a fairly priced, high-quality starter who should be in his prime. Maybe Belichick is still a huge Brady fan.
6) This has been a very Patriots free agency thus far, relatively quiet after they made big splashes a year ago. Their biggest moves have included bringing back Nick Folk, James White and Matthew Slater, while saying goodbye to Shaq Mason and Pro Bowler J.C. Jackson. Expect New England to get more active in the coming days.
7) The Jets have added a few of my favorites off the top 101 free agents list, which is a great way to get mentioned in this column. Cornerback D.J. Reed has experience under Jets coach Robert Saleh from their time together in San Francisco, and he's coming off a fantastic two seasons with the Seahawks. If the 2018 fifth-round pick was taller than 5-foot-9 and had been drafted earlier, he'd be even richer. The Jets were reportedly in on the Marcus Williams sweepstakes, but they wound up with a fantastic consolation prize in the form of former Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead, who agreed to a two-year, $14.5 million contract.
Whitehead, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Bucs in 2018, got better every season in Tampa and is especially excellent at hunting down running backs. Tight end C.J. Uzomah also adds leadership and versatility as a three-down player who can block. Jets general manager Joe Douglas may need a big offseason to keep his job, and the early results are promising.
8) After all the media-generated hype Mitchell Trubisky received over the last week, Tyrod Taylor wound up agreeing to a deal with the Giants (two years, $11 million, with a reported $8.5 million guaranteed) that was very similar to what Trubisky agreed to with the Steelers (two years, $14.25 million). Taylor and Giants coach Brian Daboll did not cross paths in Buffalo, where Taylor played from 2015 to '17 and Daboll coached from 2018 to 2021. But the compensation indicates that Taylor could play if Daniel Jones struggles in a new system.
9) Has any player ever gone out any better than Andrew Whitworth? Win Walter Payton Man of the Year award and make a rousing speech on Thursday, then win your first Super Bowl against your former team on Sunday, then you celebrate with your kids on the field after the game. Whitworth officially retired Tuesday, the same day the Rams said goodbye to their longest tenured player, punter Johnny Hekker.
11) New Giants general manager Joe Schoen last worked in Buffalo, so it makes sense that both organizations have enjoyed a similar, effective approach in free agency thus far. The Giants added (presumably) low-cost offensive line upgrades in guards Mark Glowinski and Jon Feliciano. The Bills addressed a clear need at defensive tackle with former Washingtonian Tim Settle and the reported addition of ex-Panther DaQuan Jones. Acquiring guys who can play right away at bargain prices is the way to win free agency.
12) Similarly, the Steelers have astutely admitted their offensive-line overhaul in 2021 didn't work. Their pickup of former Bears guard James Daniels and the reported addition of former Vikings center Mason Cole are smart, low-cost deals that give them two capable starters. Free agency isn't always about finding excellence. Going from bottom of the league at a position group to serviceable is massive, especially on the offensive line.