The circus is almost over.
Sure, we'll see more free agents sign deals in the coming weeks and months. Ndamukong Suh's still out there. As is Kenny Vaccaro. Don't you worry about nothing, though, as Mike Glennon has already found a home. Which gives me an excuse to provide this hyperlink (Byyyyyy Glennon!).
But the true "free agency frenzy" has come and gone. Fans who are hyper-worried that their team didn't do enough during this period -- ahem, Cowboys -- must be patient, as so many organizations wait until the NFL draft theater plays out before moving on to those veterans who are still on the street.
No one seemed to be very patient when it came to wide receivers -- that market moved fast and furious. Allen Robinson was the headliner, but guys like Sammy Watkins, Michael Crabtree, Paul Richardson, John Brown, Taylor Gabriel, Danny Amendola and Donte Moncrief all found new employers in swift fashion. This, more than anything, reveals how much trust GMs have in this year's draft crop of receivers. And when it comes to Moncrief's former locale ...
The Colts are galloping henceforth, with the end of ranks tighter than before.
So, in the wake of free agency's opening wave -- talk about March madness ... -- we found it an appropriate time to reconfigure the ranks of NFL teams. Send your market corrections to @HarrisonNFL. Be nice.
Let the dissension commence!
The Super Bowl champs aren't going to be chumps on the phone. That's what we learned this past week when it came out that the Cardinals lobbed a call for Nick Foles. Howie Roseman laughs at your offer of a non-first-round pick. He scoffs. He doesn't bite. He gleams. OK, that last one didn't make sense, but you have to hand it to Eagles brass for the way they've managed their resources. Losing Patrick Robinson hurts, as he was one of the most underrated players last season. Retaining Nigel Bradham, on a don't-wanna-move discount, helps. Still No. 1.
Much hand-wringing these days about the Patriots plummeting after a tough Super Bowl loss, the unpopular benching of a season-long starter and some free-agent defections. Not to defecate on the implosion theories, but those same skeptics should also realize that New England darn near won the Super Bowl without Julian Edelman, and with Brandin Cooks nearly missing the whole game. Unless Tom Brady hits a wall -- or legitimately gets disgruntled over the Malcolm Butler benching and every other piece of gossip -- it's hard to downgrade these guys too much. Who in the AFC is better?
So much to like about this Jacksonville team, although no one is overly excited about the Jags occasionally trying to win in spite of the quarterback. No more Chad Henne to fall back on, either. Yet, Jacksonville holds the three spot, as this group almost made the Super Bowl with Blake Bortles at quarterback. Also of importance: importing guard Andrew Norwell, the best player at his position on the market.
Hard to fault the Vikings so far this offseason. They upgraded at quarterback, even if Case Keenum played as well as -- if not better than -- Kirk Cousins last season. Recall that Cousins endured injuries on the offensive line, a backfield of transient backs and his supposed WR1 ending up as the biggest bust in last year's free-agent class. Moreover, signing Sheldon Richardson only helps the top defense in the conference. And we haven't even gotten to Dalvin Cook rehabbing. Dude.
While people point to the moves the Vikings and Rams have made, another of the NFC elite hasn't stood pat. Picking up Patrick Robinson -- fresh off an excellent 2017 season -- and a steady leader at safety in Kurt Coleman will only help this football team. The Saints are ready to win it all now, as they've got two years of Drew Brees to grab that second ring. In win-now mode, New Orleans must look to the draft to shore up the offensive line, add some more juice at wideout and at least take a long look at acquiring another quarterback besides Tom Savage, just in case.
Are these guys the best outfit in the NFC? They're not far off. Amazing what GM Les Snead was able to pull off with the secondary, when it appeared a strong 2017 unit was going to be decimated by expiring contracts in 2018. The Rams instead made deals for Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, while surprisingly retaining Nickell Robey-Coleman for palatable dollars. Oh, and the offense is still good. Don't harangue me about the Sammy Watkins departure, either. Not a huge deal. Well, it was costly ... for the Chiefs.
The Le'Veon Bell storyline is (thankfully) solved for now, although we will endure this whole rigmarole again next offseason if the organization and the star running back don't come to terms on a long-term deal. Ah, the joys of franchise-tagging. So sexy. That said, Bell's position on his position's pay is understandable: He's not Devonta Freeman -- or any other back in the league, for that matter. He's the queen on the chessboard for that offense, able to line up anywhere and beat who's across him. How many players like that are running around?
Slight dip for the Falcons, who have taken it on the chin thus far in free agency. Nothing horrible, but losing Adrian Clayborn and Taylor Gabriel -- two solid and occasionally spectacular performers -- does put a dent in matters. ( SEE: Clayborn vs. Cowboys left tackles. Holy guacamole.) Losing Dontari Poe also hurts. Atlanta should be fine, and more than capable of putting up 10 wins again. That said, the NFC South isn't getting any easier. Thomas Dimitroff wasn't expected to be a big player in free agency anyway. Other than, um, Brandon Fusco. Calm down.
Whew doggie, the Jordy Nelson departure caught football folks off guard. It's a sad part of the business, and, Well, better to get out on a player a year early than a year late. What other crap did we hear about the Nelson ouster? Here's the bottom line: Nelson is coming off a season in which he averaged less than 10 yards per catch. He's entering Year 11. Then again, he fit in with the offense, quarterback and community. Not sure Jimmy Graham did two out of those three while in Seattle. Maybe Graham was a system player in New Orleans whose athletic feats fit in perfectly with Sean Payton and Drew Brees utilizing the seam route high-ball often. Interesting move. The new GM isn't afraid of making 'em, either.
Every other team in the AFC West has ferociously sounded the bugle since free agency kicked off last week. Not these dudes. The Chargers mostly stood pat, letting other teams parse out dollars and cents (sense?) for quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs. Hey, they signed Virgil Green and Caleb Sturgis! Get excited. Then GM Tom Telesco brought in former Dolphin center Mike Pouncey. That's a large stroke. Maybe lightning will strike twice, as Russell Okung was signed last year and ended up in the Pro Bowl.
Carolina feels like the perfect team for this spot in the rankings. Nobody really knows how good Ron Rivera's squad is, but these Panthers seem fully capable of securing another playoff spot -- so long as Cam Newton is upright and healthy, and the defense keeps them in games. To that end, Carolina re-upped Julius Peppers, who will be heading into his 55th season in the National Football League. To think, he once sacked Bart Starr! Actually, his 11 sacks in 2017 -- on a one-year, $3.5 million deal -- made him one of the biggest bargains from last offseason's free-agent market. Retaining him on another one-year pact made sense for all parties. That said, this team must overcome some difficult defections, headlined by the top guard on the free-agent market: Andrew Norwell, who'll be lining up for the Jaguars in 2018.
Everyone, including your hack writer, is excited to see Deshaun Watson back in action. What that translates to is rather challenging to surmise at this point, yet with J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus back in tow, the Texans should be back in bidness. Also exciting: The arrival of the Honey Badger. If you haven't taken in Animal Planet lately, just know: You don't mess with those little guys. Remember that this Houston defense was No. 1 in total defense in 2016, without the benefit of Watt for most of that season. Even if he's not the same player anymore, methinks Houston secures a wild-card spot in 2018.
People haven't been this jacked about the 49ers since Jim Harbaugh's introductory press conference over seven years ago. Garoppolomania is approaching the Tebow stratosphere, with recent free-agent acquisitions only boosting the adrenalized exuberance over a team that finished the season with five straight wins. Carlos Hyde could be a loss, although he was a peaks-and-valleys player for most of his career in Frisco. That said, you'd think Jerick McKinnon was the second coming of Marcus Allen, given the fans' reaction to his signing and the money the Niners are doling out for him.
Like what Tennessee's done in free agency. Bolster the secondary with a player who has much to prove in Malcolm Butler (ya think?), while re-tooling the backfield with a more appropriate complement to Derrick Henry in the newly arrived Dion Lewis. Maybe the Titans got so tired of seeing the latter jitterbug his way through their linebackers in the playoffs that they were willing to pay Jerick McKinnon-Niner money for New England's scatback. Wideout is still a major concern for this team, but it's hard to argue that the defections there will detract from the overall prospects of this team. Wonder what it's going to be like for Tom Brady to see his sixth ring out there playing corner when the Pats visit the Titans this year.
While it was weird seeing the Seahawks miss the playoffs last year, we might have to get used to it. Seattle took a hit or three in free agency (although I did like the Ed Dickson signing). The offense should be alright -- even without Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson -- if the offensive line adds a piece and doesn't lose a starter in preseason. The defense lost much, starting with No. 25. Was at a barbecue the other day where I spoke with Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell. He is an unabashed Seahawks fanatic, complete with a Richard Sherman road jersey. He seemed less than enthused about his team than usual.
Depending on your perspective, the Ravens have either enjoyed a very fruitful or fruitless winter session. The team managed to energize the wide receiver corps with the speedy John Brown and highly emotional Michael Crabtree. (Question 1: Did you see Aqib Talib was traded to the Rams? Question 2: When do the Ravens play the Rams next??) On the other hand, Brown is often hurt, while Crabtree is coming off his worst year since an abbreviated (post-Achilles surgery) 2013 campaign. Baltimore also lost center Ryan Jensen to free agency and there are additional questions -- health- and depth-related -- on the offensive line. Draft.
We know that the Lions can hang their hat on Matt Stafford and a fairly talented stable of wideouts. Leggie Blount comes to town to add some oomph to the run game, a massive failure (and the biggest reason Detroit missed the playoffs) last season. The offensive line should be healthier, with Taylor Decker ready to go from Day 1. Still, Detroit lost a few parts on the assembly line of the defense, a unit that wasn't all that strong to begin with in 2017. Look for GM Bob Quinn and new beard Matt Patricia to look hard at defensive line in the draft, potentially taking a DE and a DT in the first few rounds.
So much blabber about Patrick Mahomes that the general public might be overlooking a major obstacle for Chiefs success in 2018: the defensive side of the ball. Kansas City needs help at corner, defensive line and in the pass rush. Marcus Peters is gone. The odd saga of Tamba Hali has reached its "all is lost" moment, while Dee Ford has been as reliable as Elvis Grbac. Anthony Hitchens should help out. He's turned into a solid pro after a muddy start in Dallas. But all the Sammy Watkins signings in the world won't help the Chiefs stop Philip Rivers, Derek Carr or even Case Keenum.
Welp, Bills fans -- some at least -- got what they wanted. No Tyrod Taylor under center for the first time since 2014. Don't get me wrong: I've seen few picketers with poster boards of The Neck Beard waltzing in concentric circles around Ralph Wilson Stadium. Yet, does that mean AJ McCarron is better than Kyle Orton or TT? Who knows. What the Bills Mafia does know is the ceiling on Taylor's play, which McCarron might not surpass. Ah, but he could. Therein lies the hope. Glad Kyle Williams is returning for another season. Not glad E.J. Gaines is as good as gone.
No one seems too sure what Chucky and those Raiders are up to -- my colleague quipped that the team looked at a fantasy mag from three years ago and started making moves. Jordy Nelson and Doug Martin aside, Oakland jettisoned kick-return ace Cordarrelle Patterson, shipping him to the Patriots, who never do reclamation projects ... or is that always. Hopefully that move turns out like the Randy Moss acquisition. Or not. Marshawn Lynch is back for another year. Somewhat under the radar, Beast Mode was effective in spots. Perhaps Gruden can find a better way to use the masked mauler on the ground this time around.
It's March. Which means I have no idea how good (or bad) the Cowboys are going to be. Contributors like Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Hitchens are gone, a la Ronald Leary, Doug Free and Barry Church last offseason. Granted, those were much larger departures -- literally and figuratively. Yet, if Dak Prescott is not the answer, this team simply isn't strong enough to overcome his shortcomings. Talent outside is an issue, as Dallas has mulled over Dez Bryant's immediate future. Going down the road, salary-cap problems are omnipresent for this group. Franchise-tagging DeMarcus Lawrence is merely a bridge to next offseason for now, unless a long-term deal gets done. Then there's the issue of signing draft picks. Speaking of, call it appropriate that the draft is in Big D this year, because the great college trade fair is oh so important for the Jones gang this time around.
Entering the Alex Smith era immediately provides the Redskins a leg up on the Cowboys and the Giants at the quarterback position in the NFC East. Originally, Washington was going to be without Kirk Cousins this offseason, which translated to taking a dive off the deep end in the first-round quarterback pool. Then the organization traded for Smith, who won't have to deal (hopefully) with a banged-up offensive line and running back stable. Also incoming: Paul Richardson, who should bring much better returns than Terrelle Pryor did in 2017.
At the risk of going nutso, I am certifiably excited about the
Bears this season. Let's talk free agency inside-baseball stuff. Chicago went out and grabbed an 'X' in
Allen Robinson, a 'Y' in
Taylor Gabriel, kicking help in
Cody Parkey, a relatively established QB2 in
Chase Daniel and a classic off-everyone's-radar signing in
Aaron Lynch. That's the kind of move nobody cares about until he's contributing to wins. Speaking of, improvement might not come courtesy of wins, given that the three other quarterbacks in the division are
Kirk Cousins, a healthy
Aaron Rodgers and a still-underrated
Trivia: Other than Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, have the Bears ever had two receivers post 1,000 yards in the same season? If so, who? ( @HarrisonNFL)
Your guess is as off as mine. Could this be too low for the Bucs? Certainly. The spot here is indicative of the Bears' progress. Tampa shored up both lines, which is always wonderful -- that is, if you consider 98 years of data showing that being in contention on the line of scrimmage means contending in the standings. Extending Mike Evans and re-signing Cameron Brate was optimal, as well. The holes are still holes, however -- most notably at running back.
Much like the Bucs over in the NFC, what the Bengals are is anybody's guess. As in, they can play with anybody (SEE: at Lambeau, 2017) or get flattened just as easily (SEE: vs. Bears, 2017). There is still plenty of talent in the building, particularly at the skill positions. The Chris Baker signing made sense, even if he projects as a mere rotational player. Loved Cincy going out and getting Preston Brown. So many teams could use Brown at linebacker this season. Trading for Cordy Glenn was nifty. Still, offensive line is a massive question mark. And the defense is devoid of major matchup problems for offensive coordinators. #WhoDey
The Broncos-Cardinals- Jets corridor in these Power Rankings was easily the toughest to arrange. Who cares, right? It's Nos. 26, 27 and 28. Well, where were the Jaguars in these Free Agency Power Rankings last year? How about the Eagles? Granted, those two teams probably enjoyed the two most productive offseasons of 2017, but you get the point. Often some franchise at the bottom of the heap surges. The Broncos upgraded at quarterback with Case Keenum, who was more effective in Minnesota than Sam Bradford. They are also narrrrrowly better than the Cards at the skill positions and much better than the Jets at QB-RB-WR. Defense? Still Von Miller's boys.
The Sam Bradford acquisition provides hope for an organization that eked out a .500 record with Blaine Gabbert, Drew Stanton and a little bit of Carson Palmer last year. The Cardinals were without David Johnson's services for most of the season, as well. You can lump Markus Golden in that box. Yet, there is no getting around the massive loss of the front man for this franchise. Former head coach Bruce Arians was the beating heart of this football team. Honey Badger is also gone. And Larry Fitzgerald is 34 years old, with little in the way of a complement on the other side.
The Jets knocked the free agency period out of the park -- sort of. Call it a Mookie Wilson inside-the-park special. They tried, and failed, to get a sitdown with Kirk Cousins. Which means that defenses will lunch on a McCown/Bridgewater sandwich like the rancor at Jabba's palace. Yet, kudos for at least rolling the dice on Teddy Bridgewater, who looked to have many bright days ahead of him before that devastating knee injury two years ago. Trumaine Johnson can play and, along with Jamal Adams and Morris Claiborne, gives the secondary some punch. The deal with the Colts was especially smart. Why not move up now and prepare for being able to land a top quarterback while putting pressure on other QB-needy teams? Drafting third overall should be enough to get a player the Jets covet ... or perhaps charge an even larger price for another team trying to sneak in the top three, if they so choose. Hey, stranger things have happened.
The Giants are ranked above the Dolphins on the strength of Odell Beckham Jr.'s return and, frankly, not much else. Does Beckham make that kind of difference? Yep. Adding Nate Solder and Jonathan Stewart to the offensive set sure doesn't hurt, either. Look, the headline here is whether Big Blue will make a move for a quarterback in the draft. Perhaps the Giants will. Let's not gloss over the defections of Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg on the offensive line, although neither was particularly healthy last year. Look for the Giants to hit this area on Day 2. Oh yeah, forgot to mention new head coach Pat Shurmur. Pat Shurmur.
Remnants of that 2016 playoff team remain, but the key pieces do not. Gone are Jay Ajayi, Jarvis Landry, Mike Pouncey and Ndamukong Suh. The Dolphins have cleaned house. Jermon Bushrod also departed, with Josh Sitton -- late of the Bears -- moving in at guard. This is a huge year for young tackles Laremy Tunsil and Ja'Wuan James. Especially with Ryan Tannehill and his healthy knee back under center. While no one misses Jay Cutler, what to anticipate from Tannehill is another matter. He hasn't played meaningful football since two Decembers ago. That, as much as the team makeover, accounts for this placeholder not too far from the bottom.
Browns haven't crept out of the cellar since the early days of the 2017 season. They pulled it off here thanks to a string of personnel maneuvers over the last couple of weeks. Cleveland acquired
Tyrod Taylor and
Jarvis Landry via trade, while signing contributors like CB
T.J. Carrie, OL
Chris Hubbard, DE
Chris Smith and the most notable, RB
Carlos Hyde. They're not done.
Terrelle Pryor is still out there. A reunion could be in the works. Oh, and then there's the pile of high draft picks they're sitting on, including the first, fourth, 33rd, 35th and 64th overall selections. Those are all in the
first two rounds. Look out.
Hall of Fame talk/trivia: Farewell to one of the very best players of this millennium, Joe Thomas. Mark it now: This blind-side boss will be inducted into Canton with the Class of 2023. Can you name all of the Browns offensive linemen currently in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? ( @HarrisonNFL)
Someone -- or some team -- must be last. With the Colts making virtually no moves in free agency, Andrew Luck yet to air it out and Indy losing a few folks (like linebacker Jon Bostic, corner Rashaan Melvin and wideout Donte Moncrief), Chris Ballard wants to build from the ground up. The old Colts/Packers/ Steelers method of "draft and develop." Can't blame the Colts GM for that. With Luck still grounded and a pretty barren roster, the draft will be like an Etch A Sketch for Indy. Edge rusher at sixth overall? Bucky Brooks says yes. But what if the Browns trade out of the cleanup spot to a team in need of a quarterback and Saquon Barkley is still sitting there?
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.