Trey Flowers got overpaid, and other early free-agency observations
As soon as the clock struck 4 p.m. on Wednesday, a flurry of NFL signings and trades became official as the league year began anew.
Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on free agents, mostly from teams that missed the playoffs last year. Of course, as we know well by now, NFL contracts are never what they seem, often loaded with “funny money” that will never be earned.
Let’s take a look at some of the best, worst and most surprising free agency moves thus far:
■ First of all, most of these deals are terrible value, by nature. As one agent put it on Wednesday, “a bunch of C-plus and B-minus players getting ‘A’ money.” Not surprisingly, most of the money being thrown around is by teams desperate to improve — Green Bay, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Oakland and San Francisco, most notably.
■ Almost every deal so far is really, “two years, then we’ll see” — which can’t be a coincidence, since there are only two more seasons until the collective bargaining agreement expires in the spring of 2021. Trey Flowers, who received a massive $28.07 million signing bonus on a five-year contract, has the best chance of any free agent to last three years on his deal. (Ze’Darius Smith, who got a $20 million signing bonus from the Packers, could also.) Otherwise, every other free agent has his guarantees run out after 2020 and won’t have roster protection.
■ Flowers wins for most absurd deal of free agency. This is not meant to bash Flowers. He’s a good, young player. Right in his prime. Plays the run well and rushes the passer. And he’ll be a good fit for Matt Patricia’s defense. But there’s just no way he’s going to justify $90 million over five years, with $40 million fully guaranteed over two years (and $54 million over three).
Flowers’ $18 million average makes him the fifth-highest paid defensive player in the NFL, behind only Khalil Mack ($23.5 million), Aaron Donald ($22.5 million), DeMarcus Lawrence ($20.571 million franchise tag), and Von Miller ($19.08 million). No offense to Flowers, but he’s not in the same company as those players or several making less than him. But Detroit is desperate, had big money to spend, and Flowers benefits from good timing.
■ New Washington safety Landon Collins is a close runner-up, getting $32 million guaranteed over two years. That’s a lot of money for a player the Giants were happy to let go.
■ The Lions also spent big money on a slot cornerback, but made three value deals that I like. They signed former Patriots backup cornerback Justin Coleman for what amounts to two years and $18 million, believed to be a record for a slot cornerback.
And they added two players on offense that should help change the culture. The Lions know exactly what they’re going to get out of Danny Amendola and their $4.5 million. And they got former Steelers tight end Jesse James for $11 million guaranteed over two years. At that price, I thought the Patriots would be in on the 6-foot-7 tight end who is still only 24 years old.
■ The Raiders are spending ridiculous money, but why not? Yes, $50 million over three years is a lot to give a wide receiver, but how can you not like the Raiders getting Antonio Brown for just a third and a fifth? Giving Trent Brown $36.75 million over two years is risky, but at least it’s not a long-term commitment. They added arguably the best receiver in free agency in Tyrell Williams, giving him a reported $44 million over four years, but without the pressure that comes with it. With Brown in tow, the Raiders only need Williams to be a solid No. 2 receiver. And the Raiders also signed a decent safety in LaMarcus Joyner for essentially two years and $22 million.
The Raiders finally have a pulse again, and still have three first-round picks at their disposal, to either load up on young talent or take a run at Kyler Murray. The fans in Oakland will hopefully get one last fun season from their team.
■ Two other moves that I like: Kansas City upgrading its safety position by releasing oft-injured Eric Berry and signing versatile playmaker Tyrann Mathieu for a reported three years and $42 million; and Indianapolis signing 6-foot-4-inch receiver Devin Funchess for one year and $10 million, plus $3 million in incentives. Funchess is coming off a disappointing 2018 season, but with Andrew Luck throwing him the ball, I could see him having a big renaissance type of year like Eric Ebron just had.
■ With Odell Beckham, Kareem Hunt and Olivier Vernon coming to town, the Browns are the new Dream Team Eagles, or more recently, the 2018 Rams. They have Baker Mayfield on a cheap rookie contract, entered the season with more than $80 million in cap space, and are basically creating a fantasy football all-star team. The Patriots are likely to open the season at home on Sunday Night Football, and the Browns, scheduled to come to Foxborough this fall, would be a tremendous choice of opponent.
■ There used to be three guarantees in life: Death, taxes, and the Packers sitting out free agency. But former GM Ted Thompson is gone, Brian Gutekunst is in, and these Packers are ready to spend. They bought a new defense, including the two best edge rushers after Flowers. Former Ravens defensive end Za’Darius Smith will make $34.5 million over two years, while former Washington linebacker Preston Smith will make $27.5 million over two years. The Packers also gave $20.8 million over two years to safety Adrian Amos.
■ The Ravens, meanwhile, broke up last season’s No. 1 defense. Safety Eric Weddle was released. Long-time franchise cornerstone Terrell Suggs wasn’t brought back after 16 years with the team. Linebacker C.J. Mosley signed with the Jets in free agency, and Za’Darius Smith with the Packers.
The Ravens got younger and arguably better at safety, replacing Weddle with Earl Thomas. And I’m sure new GM Eric DeCosta has a pipeline of players ready to replace the former ones. But these moves have an air of DeCosta looking to move on from Ozzie Newsome players and make his own imprint.
■ Speaking of Suggs, it is interesting and a bit weird seeing several veterans leaving their longtime teams this offseason. Suggs, who had been with the Ravens since 2003, signed with Arizona. Cam Wake, signed by Bill Parcells in Miami in 2009, signed essentially a one-year, $8 million deal with Tennessee. And linebacker Thomas Davis signed with the Chargers after spending 14 seasons in Carolina.
■ Nick Foles’ free agency had little drama, as he quickly signed with the Jaguars for a reported $88 million over four seasons. The more interesting quarterback free agency has been with former Saints backup Teddy Bridgewater. NFL Network reported on Tuesday that Bridgewater had a deal to return to New Orleans, but a league source called that premature and said Bridgewater was visiting the Dolphins at their training facility on Wednesday evening. The Dolphins’ quarterback job is wide open, and if Bridgewater wants to see the field in 2019, Miami is likely his best shot.
■ The top free agents still available as of 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (in no particular order): QB Blake Bortles, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR Golden Tate, WR Randall Cobb, TE Jared Cook, DE Ziggy Ansah, DT Ndamukong Suh, LB Justin Houston, LB Zach Brown, LB Jamie Collins, CB Ronald Darby, CB Bryce Callahan, S Eric Berry, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, K Stephen Gostkowski.