It’s been a week since legal tampering started, bringing the 2020 season to a close and firing the starting gun on the 2021 season, and there’s already been high-profile retirements, quarterback trades, shock cuts, shock moves, and as always, big money signings.
This article isn’t going to go through the ins and outs of the last week, but instead the biggest winners and losers after the first week of free agency. 

You’ve got Kevin Cole’s PFF 2021 offseason improvement index that takes wins above replacement (WAR) into account, and it goes a long way to showing the fortunes of teams during free agency, but I’ll also be looking a little deeper at what the moves mean going into the draft and beyond as well – so don’t take the WAR as a be all and end all.

Winners


New England

  • QB Cam Newton – 1 year / up to $13.6 million
  • WR Nelson Agholor – 2 year / $26 million
  • WR Kendrick Bourne – 3 years / $22.5 million
  • TE Hunter Henry – 3 years / $37.5 million
  • TE Jonnu Smith – 4 years / $50 million
  • OT Trent Brown – Trade with Raiders / pick swap – 5th for 7th
  • C David Andrews – 4 years / $19 million 
  • C Ted Karras – 1 year / $4 million deal
  • DE Deatrich Wise Jr. – 4 years / $30 million
  • DT Davon Godchaux – 2 years / $16 million 
  • DL Montravius Adams – 1 year / $2.5 million
  • DL Henry Anderson -2 years / $7 million
  • LB Matt Judon – 4 years / $56 million deal
  • LB Raekwon McMillan – 1 year
  • LB Kyle Van Noy – 2 years / $13.2 million
  • CB Justin Bethel -3 years / $6 million 
  • S Jalen Mills – 4 years / $24 million contract
  • DB Cody Davis – 2 years
  • K Nick Folk – 1 year /$1.625 million

Bill Belichick went into free agency this year like a man on a mission, and boy does it show. The Patriots responded to their first postseason omission since 2008 with a flurry of major signings intended to provide Cam Newton with quality weapons and also allow the Patriots to return to dual-tight end sets and rely on a run-heavy offense. Their defense has also seen improvement, particularly with the signing of Matt Judon at linebacker.

All of this points to the Patriots returning as a playoff contender, but probably not enough to unseat the Buffalo Bills at this moment. This all rests on Cam Newton’s ability to make the most of what he’s given as well and guide his team to more wins this season – and that’s not a given either. In any case, the Patriots didn’t overpay at the QB position this year in all likelihood to draft one either this year or next and be able to surround the QB with better weapons for a few years. Relatively un-Patriots like, but every team needs to rebuild at some point.

The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins both made improvement strides this week also, but New England’s spree and culture, alongside major quarterback questions (bigger than Cam Newton – and that’s saying something) in New Jersey and Miami, would post them short of being winners at this stage. In any case, the AFC East got a lot better this week – that much is certain.


Washington

  • QB Ryan Fitzpatrick – 1 year / $10 million
  • RB Lamar Miller – 1 year
  • WR Curtis Samuel – 3 years / $34.5 million
  • G Brandon Scherff – franchise tagged
  • C Tyler Larsen – new deal
  • LB David Mayo – new deal
  • CB William Jackson III – 3 years / $40.5 million
  • K Dustin Hopkins – 1 year / $2,462,500

Washington were the laughing stock of the league until about October, but their stock has only risen since including an improbable division win and that’s continuing into this free agency period. 

The additions of Curtis Samuel and William Jackson III on multi-year deals, and in veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as a bridge quarterback, puts them in great stead to make a run at the NFC East again this season as they improve on both sides of the ball.

Washington are big winners here because they continue to improve and seem to have a roadmap that allows them to improve while competing in their division. The other teams in their division are looking stagnant in free agency at the moment and as such Washington is looking like the team to beat for the NFC East title.

There are big questions at quarterback, but the addition of Fitzmagic can push that into the dirt for another year, meanwhile the rest of the team is starting to look more complete. The New York Giants signing Kenny Golladay and Kyle Rudolph shows their intentions too and are worthy of an honorary mention here.

Washington Football Team news: Ryan Fitzpatrick signs one-year, $10M
clutchpoints

Cleveland

  • WR Rashard Higgins – 1 year deal
  • WR JoJo Natson – deal agreed
  • OT Greg Senat – deal agreed
  • DE Takkarist McKinley – 1 year / $4 million
  • DT Malik Jackson – 1 year deal
  • LB Malcolm Smith – deal agreed
  • LB Anthony Walker – deal agreed
  • CB Troy Hill – 4 years / $24 million deal
  • S John Johnson III – 3 years / $33.75 million
  • K Cody Parkey – 1 year deal

The Cleveland Browns were seemingly a pace-driven secondary away from making the AFC Championship game last season, and they have answered those concerns without breaking the bank with some savvy transactions for some of the better defensive free-agents available.

John Johnson III reportedly turned down better offers to be part of the Browns’ defense next season, while former LA Rams team-mate Troy Hill returns to his home state of Ohio in his own multi-year deal. Browns’ GM Andrew Berry making the most of a Rams franchise looking to create some cap space by picking off two key pieces of the best pass defense in the league last season.

Deals for Takk McKinley, Malik Jackson, and Anthony Walker continue along the teams philosophy of offering low-risk, high-reward deals to players whose stat sheets haven’t matched their potential. Browns fans will also be pleased to see wide receiver favourite Rashard Higgins return on another team-friendly deal.

With these moves, Browns fans will now believe that their team is now set in terms of core talent to not only make a run for the AFC North, but a run for the Super Bowl after a strong end to the 2020 season. Both Baltimore and Pittsburgh have made some moves, but overall haven’t improved their position as of yet. The AFC North is likely to continue to be one of the strongest divisions in football in the autumn.

John Johnson looks pretty good in our threads 👀 : Browns
reddit


Losers


Cincinnati

Key departures

  • WR A.J. Green (Cardinals)
  • WR John Ross (Giants)
  • OT Bobby Hart
  • C B.J. Finney (Steelers)
  • DE Carl Lawson (Jets)
  • DT Geno Atkins
  • CB Mackensie Alexander
  • CB William Jackson III (Washington)
  • K Randy Bullock

Key additions

  • OT Riley Reiff: 1 year / $7.5 million
  • DE Trey Hendrickson – 4 year / $60 million
  • DL Larry Ogunjobi – 1 year deal
  • CB Chidobe Awuzie – 3 years / $21.75 million
  • CB Mike Hilton – 4 years / $24 million

Surely a team signing Riley Reiff, Trey Hendrickson, and Mike Hilton in free agency should be considered for the opposite side of this article, but alas the talent dump for relatively little back makes this a bitter but necessary addition to the losers column.

Instead of keeping Carl Lawson, they offered the same money and an extra year to Trey Hendrickson for seemingly extra risk. The Bengals know what they’re getting with Lawson, and he knows their scheme inside out. They now need Hendrickson to pick up things quickly and hope that his break-out season stats aren’t a one-year wonder and can continue to be league-beating.

While they’ve brought in Reiff, the losses on the offensive line mean that the line remains a major need to ensure that returning quarterback Joe Burrow doesn’t spend another half a season on the sidelines. Look for them to address this a lot during the rest of free agency and the Draft.

Realistically, the Bengals have shed a lot of talent including Green, Ross, Atkins, Lawson, and for many that would symbolise a dedication towards a wider rebuild. It could be that Bengals fans have a season or two of misery to endure yet – particularly as they are in one of the most powerful divisions in the league going into the 2021 season.

NFL news: Cardinals, A.J. Green finalizing 1-year deal, per report
Michael Hickey – Getty



Chicago

Key departures

  • QB Mitchell Trubisky (Bills)
  • WR Cordarrelle Patterson
  • DE Brent Urban (Cowboys)
  • DT Roy Robertson-Harris (Jaguars)
  • LB Barkevious Mingo
  • CB Buster Skrine
  • S Tashaun Gipson

Key additions

  • QB Andy Dalton – 1 year / $10 million
  • WR Allen Robinson – franchise tagged

Chicago fans hopes took a nose-dive this week and all because of a quarterback deal that actually made little sense for all involved. Andy Dalton signed on a one-year deal worth $10 million while Mitch Trubisky, who they let go, signed for the Buffalo Bills for just $2.5 million.

Granted, Trubisky bore the brunt of a lot of the Chicago Bears wrongdoings over the duration of his rookie contract, and he wasn’t going to be their man under centre long term, but a quarterback that brought the Bears two playoff berths had to be worth bringing back in as a bridge quarterback until a better option rolled around? Andy Dalton did himself no favours in Dallas yet was still rewarded with a bumper bridge contract to start for the Bears next season. All of that points to a franchise with little going on upstairs and free-falling for picks next year. That and losing veteran defensive players will do little to hold back the tide.

Allen Robinson coming back for another year will help, but I wouldn’t rule out Robinson being used in a trade to help turn things around.

Chicago Bears: Andy Dalton passing success under pressure
Scott Taesch – Getty


Detroit

Key departures

  • QB Chase Daniel
  • QB Matthew Stafford (traded to LAR)
  • RB Adrian Peterson
  • WR Jamal Agnew (Jaguars)
  • WR Danny Amendola
  • WR Kenny Golladay (Giants)
  • WR Marvin Jones (Jaguars)
  • WR Mohamed Sanu
  • TE Jesse James
  • C Russell Bodine
  • OL Oday Aboushi (Chargers)
  • OL Joe Dahl
  • DE Everson Griffen
  • DT Danny Shelton
  • LB Jarrad Davis (Jets)
  • LB Christian Jones
  • CB Justin Coleman (Dolphins)
  • CB Darryl Roberts
  • CB Desmond Trufant (Bears)
  • S Duron Harmon
  • K Matt Prater (Cardinals)

Key additions

  • QB Jared Goff – Trade with Los Angeles Rams (Goff plus 2021 3R, 2022 & 2023 R1 picks for Stafford)
  • RB Jamaal Williams – 2 year / $7.5 million
  • WR Breshad Perriman – 1 year / $3 million
  • WR Tyrell Williams – 1 year / $4.7 million
  • TE Josh Hill – deal agreed
  • DE Charles Harris – deal agreed
  • DE Romeo Okwara 3 year / $39 million
  • DT Michael Brockers – Trade with the Los Angeles Rams (2023 R7 pick in return)

So, the main thing to mention is that they undeniably got worse at quarterback. The Lions knew that they couldn’t give Matthew Stafford the team he deserved to make a run at the post-season and set him free in return for a good haul of picks to help rebuild their team. This is bad for the short-term, but potentially franchise-altering for the long term.

The second thing to mention is look at the list of departures! It’s an exodus from Detroit reminiscent of the population of Detroit itself after the automobile jobs went. Keeping Romeo Okwara was a good move to hold on to a core defensive player, but apart from that you can’t help but see the huge disparity between those who have left and those who have come in.

The contracts at least are mainly short term. This is a team that knows they are rebuilding and looking to make a run in the future. Look for them to be aggressive in the next few drafts and free agency periods as they amass a haul now. With John Dorsey as Senior Personnel Executive with the team, that haul will come in handy moving forward.

In any case, the NFC North has definitely become weaker and Green Bay will feel like winners without doing too much themselves. Staying conservative and keeping their band together is probably enough to see them to the division title once again this season.

Matthew Stafford speaks for first time since trade to Rams in farewell  video to Detroit - mlive.com
Mike Mullholland – MLive

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