Free agency is a marathon. It’s not that a fast start is bad, it just doesn’t guarantee victory. Classes take months to build and years to judge. But this week is the opening chapter of the book, one that is often indicative of how it will end.
This is not an exhaustive look at this week’s moves. For that, check out Nick Mensio’s amazing Transactions Tracker. For an equally comprehensive rundown of everyone already signed and still available, dive into Evan Silva’s 2015 NFL Free Agents.
Winners — Jets
688 days elapsed between Darrelle Revis’ Jets tenures. Not one of them passed without Jets fans — or media — pining for his return. Tuesday, Gang Green’s wish was granted. Only Revis wasn’t all they got. Ascendant ex-Brown Buster Skrine has been brought in to man the slot, while Revis’ former running mate Antonio Cromartie will bookend him on the outside. A secondary that was an embarrassing weakness in 2014 is once again a strength, and ready to suffocate in tandem with one of the league’s scariest young defensive lines. New GM Mike Maccagnan didn’t just go to work on the defensive side of the ball. Brandon Marshall has been brought in to run alongside Eric Decker, while quarterback hasn’t exactly been solved, but certainly enhanced. Why teams seem to prefer quarterbacks like Brian Hoyer and Charlie Whitehurst to Ryan Fitzpatrick is anyone’s guess, but he’s a stronger bet than Geno Smith. The Jets may still be lacking the pieces to dethrone the Patriots in the AFC East, but no one is more improved this spring.
Losers — 49ers
The 49ers fired their brain in January. Two months later, the heart walked out. Gone are Patrick Willis and Frank Gore, and likely to follow is Justin Smith. The 49ers have made up for this body-and-soul drain by adding Torrey Smith and 33-year-old Darnell Dockett. That’s better than nothing, but no team has lost more talent over the past seven days. Maybe GM Trent Baalke’s veteran exodus was unavoidable. Or maybe Willis, Gore and Smith saw a sinking ship taking on more water, and determined it couldn’t be bailed out. History will judge Baalke’s victory over Jim Harbaugh. The present has already rendered its ominous ruling.
Winners — Dolphins
When the Dolphins aren’t striking out on big-ticket free agents (Peyton Manning), they’re usually overpaying them (Mike Wallace). Not this year. Say what you will about Ndamukong Suh, but his six-year, $114 million contract represents fair-market value, and is a worthy gamble on a generational defensive lineman. Suh was the best defensive free agent since Mario Williams — if not Reggie White — and the Dolphins won the war without a shot being fired. Regardless of who else is added or subtracted, the Dolphins have won free agency by virtue of adding the kind of talent that only becomes available maybe once or twice per decade.
Losers — Lions
If someone gained generational talent Ndamukong Suh, that means another team lost him. In theory, the Lions prepared for Suh’s departure by drafting Nick Fairley one year later. Only he’s out the door, as well. GM Martin Mayhew saved a little face with the acquisition of Haloti Ngata, but Ngata is 31 and unsigned beyond next season. He’s also not Ndamukong Suh. As is the case with some of these other teams, maybe there’s nothing the Lions could have done differently. Maybe Suh was gone no matter what. All that matters is that he’s gone, and can’t be replaced. The Lions are worse than they were one month ago. It’s as simple as that.
Winners — Giants
For all the questionable moves they’ve made this week — $7.1 million guaranteed for Dwayne Harris seems like a one-way ticket to regret — the Giants also made one of the best, sniping pass-catching back Shane Vereen from Super Bowl nemesis New England for just $5 million guaranteed. Vereen has had trouble staying on the field, and isn’t always the most efficient player. He’s also caught 99 passes over the past two seasons, averaging four receptions per game. He’s a perfect fit for the Giants’ quick-hitting passing attack, someone who can turn Eli Manning dumpoffs into big plays. That’s an element neither Rashad Jennings nor Andre Williams provides. It’s an element that could help send OC Ben McAdoo’s offense into liftoff during his second season in New York, all for half the price of Eddie Royal.
Losers — Cowboys
It’s possible the Cowboys simply couldn’t afford DeMarco Murray. That doesn’t change the fact that they’ve lost the foundation of their offense. It’s not just that Murray carried the load last season. It’s that he took it off Tony Romo, giving Dallas’ overanalyzed quarterback rare breathing space. So it’s incorrect to say the Cowboys are “only” losing 449 touches and 2,261 yards from scrimmage. They’re also putting the weight of the world back on Romo’s shoulders. It’s a weight that’s often crushed both player and team, a weight that will feel heavier than ever in 2015 unless some combination of Darren McFadden, young holdovers and draft picks can replicate Murray’s smashing dual-threat success.
Winners — Seahawks
Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Ricardo Lockette, Chris Matthews and Luke Willson. These were Russell Wilson’s “weapons” in Super Bowl XLIX. It’s a wonder the Seahawks were even in position to make one of the most ill-fated play calls of all time. “No. 1 playmaker” was the only real void on GM John Schneider’s No. 1 overall roster, and he’s filled it with one of the league’s best in Jimmy Graham. Graham’s addition coupled with Marshawn Lynch’s placation means Schneider has done something his Super Bowl foes the Patriots have made a habit of doing: Being rich and getting richer.
Losers — Browns
As the Browns settled in for Thanksgiving dinner, they found themselves at 7-4, and within striking distance of their first postseason appearance since 2002. It would prove a high point from which they’ve yet to stop descending. Gone are Josh Gordon (suspension) and Jordan Cameron (talents to South Beach). In are Josh McCown and Brian Hartline. That would be the same Josh McCown who posted the league’s second-lowest QB rating last season (70.5). That would be the same Brian Hartline who has 12 touchdowns in six seasons, only two of which came in 2014. You could say there’s not much the Browns could have done differently this week and be right. That doesn’t change the facts on the ground. This was a mediocre team that’s gotten much worse.
Winners — Colts
Yes, the Colts got older this week. Didn’t we all? Frank Gore and Andre Johnson boast 64 combined years. Ok. They’re also All-Decade talents aging as gracefully as anyone in football. Gore adds desperately needed interior toughness and durability, while Johnson is a massive upgrade on the remains of Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks. If they don’t pan out, well fine. These are the kinds of chances you can take when your franchise cornerstone is a 25-year-old Andrew Luck. The Colts have earned the right to reload. This year, they’ve done so splendidly.
Incomplete — Eagles
If you can hear a piano fall, you can hear Chip Kelly coming down the hall. But for all the sound and the fury of the Eagles’ offseason, has there been any gain? Are DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews at $23 million guaranteed better than LeSean McCoy at his original 2015 salary of $9.75 million? Separated from the Legion of Boom, is Byron Maxwell really that much different than Cary Williams? Is Sam Bradford in any way, shape or form an improvement on Nick Foles? The Eagles are vastly different than they were a month ago. Aside from maybe Kelly, nobody knows if they’re actually any better.
Winners — Bills. The Bills still don’t have a quarterback, but they kept their most important free agent (Jerry Hughes) while adding one of the league’s best runners (LeSean McCoy) for a player new coach Rex Ryan didn’t want (Kiko Alonso).
Losers — Titans. Welcome to Ken Whisenhunt’s used-car lot, now featuring a fully-refurbished Harry Douglas and lightly-used Anthony Fasano. This 2009 Brian Orakpo could be a steal … as long as it doesn’t tear its pectoral for the fourth time.
Winners — Redskins. “A Redskins Team Quietly Getting Better” was one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes of all time.
Losers — Bucs. Out is basically every significant free-agent signing of the past two years, and in are all the Lovie Smith retreads one could ever dream of.
Incomplete — Saints. The Saints are completely remaking their roster. It doesn’t look good right now, but Sean Payton deserves the benefit of the doubt. It’s not as if he’s dismantling a 13-3 team.