Ron Burgundy was right. That escalated quickly.
NFL free agency came and went in the blink of an eye. A few more signings will trickle in (we’re rooting for you, Michael Crabtree), but most of the heavy lifting has already been done. With things slowing down, now seems like as good a time as any to revisit my free agent predictions.
Prediction: Jets, 3 years, $21 million
Actual: Jets, 4 years, $32 million
This one was easier than the word search on a kid’s menu. So many dots connected to New York. Cromartie has a house there, he played for the team from 2010 to 2013 and his former Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is the new head coach. And most importantly, the Jets needed cornerback help.
Did they need three of them? Probably not. But when you have deep pockets, you can afford nice things. Wide receivers might as well take the week off when they play the Jets next season. They’re not catching anything.
Justin Forsett, RB
Prediction: Ravens, 2 years, $10 million
Actual: Ravens, 3 years, $9 million
Two for two! It can only go downhill from here. Forsett had the season I was expecting Ben Tate to have. Finally freed from the shackles of backup duty, Forsett let loose with 1,266 rushing yards on a league-best 5.4 yards per carry. He wore down late in the year (67 combined rushing yards in Weeks 15 and 16), but that’s natural for any back with a big workload. Teams were a little hesitant to fork over big cash for a guy pushing 30, but $9 million isn’t chump change. The Ravens are lucky to have him back.
Frank Gore, RB
Prediction: 49ers, 2 years, $8 million
Actual: Colts, 3 years, $12 million
I should have known better. The 49ers drafted Carlos Hyde for a reason: so he could be their starting running back. Gore built a legacy in San Francisco, but as we’ve learned through free agency, loyalty doesn’t play much of a factor. Gore went to the team that gives him the best chance to win a Super Bowl. Reuniting with college teammate Andre Johnson was just icing on the cake.
Gore is the game changer Indianapolis desperately needed after looking painfully one-dimensional at times last season. Signing Gore also gave the Colts an excuse to unload depressing draft bust Trent Richardson.
Andre Johnson, WR
Prediction: Seahawks, 2 years, $16 million
Actual: Colts, 3 years, $21 million
Getting paid $16 million a year to catch passes from Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett isn’t exactly a prison sentence, but Johnson understandably thought he could do better. Turns out, he could do better. Not financially of course: $7 million a year for a 33-year-old, even if he’s a future Hall of Famer, is more than generous. But now Johnson finally has the top-tier quarterback he’s coveted for so long. Johnson and Andrew Luck will make magic together in Indy.
Jeremy Maclin, WR
Prediction: Raiders, 5 years, $50 million
Actual: Chiefs, 5 years, $55 million
The Chiefs, as most of you know, went 16 games without any of their wide receivers catching a touchdown pass last season. That’s three fewer touchdowns than J.J. Watt. They needed a wide receiver overhaul and with Kevin White and Amari Cooper likely to be long gone by pick No. 18, it had to come in free agency.
Maclin is a natural fit given his history with Andy Reid, but with barely any cap space to work with, I just didn’t think the Chiefs could pull it off. Cutting Dwayne Bowe helped, but I still thought the Raiders would outbid them after missing on Randall Cobb. The Chiefs proved me wrong, which as you’ll notice, isn’t that hard to do.
Byron Maxwell, CB
Prediction: Eagles, 4 years, $40 million
Actual: Eagles, 6 years, $63 million
I’m sure everyone came to this realization at some point, but my “The Eagles really need a secondary moment” came when Dez Bryant burned Bradley Fletcher for three straight touchdowns in Week 15. Naturally, Chip Kelly went out and signed the best corner he could find. And because the football gods like to play practical jokes on the Eagles, Darrelle Revis became available a day later. The cycle continues.
Devin McCourty, FS
Prediction: Jaguars, 4 years, $36 million
Actual: Patriots, 5 years, $47.5 million
Nobody would have blamed McCourty for signing elsewhere, especially after the Patriots deemed Stephen Gostkowski more important by giving him the franchise tag. In the end, hitting the market was probably the best thing that could have happened to McCourty. Spooked by the thought of losing both McCourty and Darrelle Revis, New England splurged on a long-term deal that pays him almost $10 million a year.
Jacksonville entered free agency with Scrooge McDuck money, but they decided to upgrade in other areas. I’m not sure they would have outbid the Patriots anyway.
Rahim Moore, FS
Prediction: Giants, 5 years, $30 million
Actual: Texans, 3 years, $12 million
It’s a little surprising Moore didn’t land a bigger deal. His asking price was at least $5 million a year. What’s more surprising though, is that the Giants missed on all three of their free agent safety targets. Devin McCourty, Moore and Antrel Rolle all signed with other teams. It’s possible the Giants are saving up to give Eli Manning a big extension. It could be something close to the $108 million deal Ben Roethlisberger just signed with Pittsburgh.
DeMarco Murray, RB
Prediction: Colts, 4 years, $44 million
Actual: Eagles, 5 years, $42 million
I guessed $11 million a year. The Cowboys offered $5 million a year. The answer was in between.
Murray signing with the Eagles a month ago would have been inconceivable. Last week, it still seemed pretty unlikely. But here we are, living in the post-Chipocalypse.
From Philadelphia’s perspective, this was the ultimate power move. Not only did the Eagles sign the best running back available, they snatched him away from their bitter rival. It was a mic drop moment, like Rabbit embarrassing Papa Doc at the end of 8 Mile. By scorning Dallas, Murray turned up the Cowboys/Eagles rivalry from a two to a ten. This is the Monday night game we all can’t wait for.
Some people were surprised Ryan Mathews signed with the Eagles after they already had Murray, but here’s why I like it:
1) Murray had almost 500 touches last year. When he inevitably breaks down, they’ll be glad they have Mathews.
2) The Eagles are still paying Mathews starter money. Who was he to turn that down?
3) By not playing every snap, Mathews is going to have a longer career and make more money.
4) If they can drum up a wide receiver, either in the draft or free agency, the Eagles are going to be pretty darn good. After spending most of his career playing for a fringe playoff team in San Diego, that had to be a selling point for Mathews.
Brian Orakpo, OLB
Prediction: Cowboys, 3 years, $18 million
Actual: Titans, 4 years, $32 million
Orakpo did well to land a four-year deal coming off another injury-plagued season. By signing Orakpo and Derrick Morgan, the Titans addressed their need at edge rusher. But now what do they do with the second pick in the draft?
Most mock drafts I’ve seen have Tennessee taking Leonard Williams, Randy Gregory or Dante Fowler. All three of those players project as defensive ends or outside linebackers. With Orakpo and Morgan filling those roles, drafting anyone from that trio would be superfluous. The smarter choice would be to draft a franchise quarterback like Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston. Both players have a much higher ceiling than current starter Zach Mettenberger. We’ll see if the Titans take my advice.
Darrelle Revis, CB
Prediction: Patriots, 2 years, $30 million
Actual: Jets, 5 years, $70 million
Cue the “I’m Coming Home” montage. We were made to believe this was a two horse race between the Jets and Patriots. Turns out, the Pats never had a chance. Revis had $70 million reasons to sign with the Jets.
You probably noticed the Jets, at least on paper, look pretty good. They beat the Patriots soundly this offseason, landing Revis, Cromartie, Buster Skrine and Brandon Marshall. Let’s keep it in perspective though. Marshall isn’t Rob Gronkowski and Ryan Fitzpatrick definitely isn’t Tom Brady. Until that changes, the Pats are still favorites to win the AFC East.
Torrey Smith, WR
Prediction: Ravens, 5 years, $40 million
Actual: 49ers, 5 years, $40 million
You can understand why staying in Baltimore would seem like the right play for Smith. He grew up in Virginia and went to college at the University of Maryland. To this point, he’s spent his entire life in the DC area. The Ravens offered him five years and $35 million, a pretty fair deal for a good but not great wide receiver.
Not only did Smith have every reason to stay in Baltimore, but he also had every reason not to go to San Francisco. The Niners lost three huge contributors to retirement, Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree had zero interest in re-signing there, Jim Harbaugh went back to college and the team almost traded Colin Kaepernick. Trainwreck is too kind a word for their offseason. My guess is Smith REALLY likes sourdough bread.
Smith surprised me by leaving, but I still get half credit for guessing his exact salary.
C.J. Spiller, RB
Prediction: Eagles, 4 years, $16 million
Actual: Saints, 4 years, $18 million
In a way, Spiller admitted defeat by signing with the Saints. Not because the Saints are going to be bad next year. That’s obvious. It’s because he’ll never get the chance to be a starter.
For years, we’ve wondered about Spiller’s ceiling. What if he didn’t have to split carries with Fred Jackson? Could he be a consistent 1,000-yard rusher? Could he lead a team to the playoffs?
Now that Spiller is paired with Mark Ingram, we’ll never know the answer to those questions. Spiller seems to have accepted his fate as a gadget player in the mold of a Darren Sproles or a Reggie Bush. Coming out of Clemson in 2010, Spiller had feature back potential. You can’t feel too bad for a backup running back making $4.5 million a year, but I still feel the world was cheated out of the full C.J. Spiller experience.
Ndamukong Suh, DT
Prediction: Dolphins, 6 years, $102 million
Actual: Dolphins, 6 years, $114 million
God forbid Suh sign for $102 million and settle for only semi-luxury. Monday, I drove past a gas station and saw a sign for Powerball and Mega Millions. The jackpot for one was $40 million and the other was $42 million. The point is, you could win both and still have $32 million less than Suh. This year, the NFL salary cap is $143 million. That’s a Suh and a quarter.
Quick Dolphins sidebar: trading Dannell Ellerbe, a player Miami was going to cut anyway, for the quietly awesome Kenny Stills was a stroke of genius. Seriously though, who’s running the Saints? Drew Brees’ six-year-old son?
Julius Thomas, TE
Prediction: Falcons, 5 years, $35 million
Actual: Jaguars, 5 years, $46 million
The Falcons made a couple moves in free agency, inking deals with defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and O’Brien Schofield. But what Atlanta needed most was a tight end who can catch passes. Julius Thomas, destined to leave Denver after the team franchise-tagged Demaryius Thomas, seemed like an obvious fit.
Instead, the Falcons watched while the Jaguars showered Thomas with all kinds of American currency. Striking out with Thomas certainly won’t help Atlanta’s chances of keeping Julio Jones next season. Meanwhile, Thomas is now making $9.2 million a year in a state that doesn’t have income taxes. Is it any surprise he majored in business administration?
Vince Wilfork, NT
Prediction: Broncos, 2 years, $10 million
Actual: Texans, 2 years, $9 million
Stock up those vending machines, Big Vince is coming to Houston! For Pats fans, this is really the best-case scenario after hearing rumors Wilfork was drawing interest from Baltimore, Denver and Indianapolis. I don’t think Robert Kraft’s heart could handle seeing Wilfork with a horseshoe on his helmet.
The Texans are like New England’s cool cousin with former offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien coaching and former Pats Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett vying for the starting quarterback gig. If J.J. Watt continues ripping the league to shreds and Jadeveon Clowney comes back healthy, the Texans are going to have one heck of a front seven.