Which Division won the Free Agency?

We all have our opinions as to which teams or players got or bad deals. Maybe you loved Mark Ingram to the Ravens, Dee Ford to the 49ers or maybe even Geoff Swaim to the Jags (you sick people!).

But lets go one step further than that, which DIVISION won in Free Agency? For me, one clear winner…

AFC East

This in my mind is the unquestionable winner from the Free Agency frenzy;

Cast your minds back 12 months, Bills fans were celebrating the arrivals of Jeremy Kerley and AJ McCarron (*pukes*) and Miami fans were shuddering at Brock Osweiler being their long term solution (I kid, of course). Added on to that, current free agent Isiah Crowell was being signed by the Jets on a 3 year, $12m deal (get well soon Isiah).

At time of this article, I don’t think that there is any doubt that the AFC are now finally in position where the playing field is shaping towards being a tiny bit more even.

Yes, the Patriots are probably going to still win the AFC East, maybe perhaps for the last time as the chasing pack have applied their Fast and Furious NOS systems and pressed the launch button.

Starting off in New York, the acquisitions of LeVeon Bell, Jamison Crowder on offence and CJ Mosley on defence make them the main protagonists to the Patriots in 2019. The kicker here is the 3rd pick in the 2019 draft too. If they manage to trade down and pick up another few picks inside the first few rounds, this team could make a real push at a division title.

Before we all go rushing to the bookmakers and shoving some hard earned on the currently 100/1 available on them to win the Super Bowl (50s for the AFC is tempting though!), there are scenarios where this goes horribly wrong.

Firstly, LeVeon Bell may be rusty. He’s just taken a year out to release a dodgy rap album and become a pro at riding jet skis. There isn’t one person in the world in any sport that can be off the field and still stay in match fitness, not even Cristiano Ronaldo. You’ll get all the cliche “best shape of his life” quotes from coaches in the offseason about Bell, just take it with a pinch of salt.

Secondly, we have Adam Gase running the ship. I’m not his greatest fan despite his love for flying Tacos and the jury is still out on him in my opinion as to whether he is a good coach or even a good offensive mind in the NFL. Apart from his time with Peyton Manning (where he was OC), what has he accomplished? Probably about as much as Theresa May has with Brexit negotiations. Miami are in a mess after his few years there, and Chicago were hardly perennial playoff visitors. As a head coach, I am yet to see why Gase is held in high regards. Always reports of rifts with players, especially in Miami, what’s to say that he doesn’t get on with Sam Darnold or LeVeon Bell or anyone in New York for that matter?

Talking of Darnold, there is also a case to be made that he may not progress in his second year in the NFL. I am a big fan and he showed flashes last year of what he can do. His love for interceptions may be hard to shake off but now with more pieces around him, a stellar guy in the backfield as a security blanket along with Crowder, you may see Darnold flourish. But there is a slightly bigger than small chance that he maybe not quite there yet. Offences can struggle when new HC come in and implement something new, just ask Matt Ryan and Marcus Mariota.

I still see the Jets as the main contenders and a dark horse in the AFC to play a game in January this year (you heard it here first!), but just don’t buy first class tickets on the hype train just yet…it’s expensive in New York after all.

Moving on to a team which i think are in the top 3 of teams that won in Free Agency, the Buffalo Bills.

The exodus on the offensive line is starting to be repaired, with Mitch Morse coming over from Kansas City who is a former 2nd round pick in the 2015 draft and Ty Nsekhe, a solid tackle from Washington.

Buffalo were awful at running the ball last season (taking away Josh Allen’s scrambles) with only Marcus Murphy averaging over 4 yards per carry (on 52 attempts). So the additions in FA, plus whatever they pick up in the Draft, should see Josh Allen have more time to throw deep bombs to newly acquired John “Smokey” Brown.

Many people will forget how electric John Brown was in Baltimore last season when Joe “Statue” Flacco was quarterbacking for them in the early weeks of the season. Prior to the week 10 bye, Brown had 601 yards on 34 receptions. Compare that to Lamar Jackson time, Brown had 114 yards on 8 receptions. John Brown showed us last season that he can play a full season after seemingly overcoming his sickle cell trait that he had over in Arizona. I think Brown and Allen are a match made in heaven and could help fire this Buffalo offence into scoring points where they were 3rd worst in the league last season (I’ll also happily take John Brown at a discount in draft come August).

Cole Beasley and Tyler Kroft are good supporting cast members too and will slot in nicely  to provide a veteran presence alongside Buffalo’s younger pieces of Zay Jones (23), Isiah McKenzie (23) and Robert Foster (24). You would expect at least one of those to step forward to complete this wide receiving core. Whilst collectively they are as old as Countdown viewers average age in the backfield (especially with the addition of Gore), I would expect this to be addressed in the draft this year, if not next.

We move on to Miami finally, and this one could take a little bit longer to boil.

They’ve just said their goodbyes to Ryan Tannehill and shoved him in a suitcase and up Route 75 to Tennessee, leaving 2 schmucks at Quarterback (interesting stat, Rams Punter Johnny Hecker has thrown an NFL ball more times than Luke Faulk and Jake Ruddock. I smell a trade rumour! Just kidding).

The outlook though is not so bleak;

They have a projected $120m in rolled over cap for the 2020 season (pending any subsequent trade moves, which, by the way, I am predicting Colin Kaepernick starts week 1!) and at this moment at LEAST 10 picks in the 2020 draft. The one that apparently has millions of HOF Quarterbacks as we keep hearing over and over (do over with it, already). Chris Grier is putting the work in to fully rebuild this franchise which needs to take a step back before it can take a step forward. Whilst this season may not be pretty for new HC Brian Flores and the Dolphins, the future certainly is looking bright and finally, there may be light at the end of the tunnel for the fans in the South East of America. Kenyan Drake may finally be seen in a positive light (still only 25) and Kalen Ballage/Mike Gesicki are also entering their 2nd seasons. Pair that with 26yr olds Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker (OK, maybe clutching here a bit), it wont actually take much to make this offence watchable when the new QB is installed.

Add all of this together, and all of a sudden, Buffalo and New York don’t seem too far away from a Patriots team that is going to come back to the pack at some point. Miami should be casually late to the party, like the cool kids at school except the part about being cool. Miami are not cool.

Last, but by no means least the Patriots. Whilst they may not have done anything in Free Agency of note, especially with regards to the “IN” door, they are the masters at staying on top and the intrigue of how the other 3 teams have approached this Free Agency automatically means that the Patriots are a winner in Free Agency. Letting go of Trent Brown, Trey Flowers, et al. means they get compensatory picks in next year’s Draft. We all know at how good New England are with getting the most out of their picks and turning them in to seemingly big stars when it’s the system. Whilst they will return to the pack when Brady/Gronk etc retire, they will always be the ones setting the bar in the division and as each year passes, the fascination increases as to whether the moves made by the other teams finally give them the chance to leapfrog New England. The same applies to this year.

These are the reasons I put to you that the AFC East division is the winner of the 2019 Free agency.

When the Patriots do come back to the field a little bit and we say that every year (and we saw signs last regular season that the time is nigh), there is more than just one team ready to pounce and one could argue that the next few years, the AFC East could be the most intriguing and that the division as a whole at the very least is now competitive where over the last few years, it’s been the laughing stock of the NFL (even with the Patriots winning it all multiple times over that time period).

Let me know your thoughts and whether or not there is another division that won the Free Agency. Maybe you think the AFC North with the Cleveland stuff? Or perhaps the NFC north with Green Bay strengthen that defence? Would love to hear your thoughts so get in touch with us on THE TWITTER @full10yards or @Tim_Monk85.

We’ll be covering Free agency on our podcast on the 26th March. Don’t miss it!

In the great words of late great Mr Buffalo Bill himself Kevin Cadle, Bye Bye for now… Bye Bye.

Where Do They Go From Here; Pittsburgh Steelers

After our divisional season review podcasts, we are now looking to the future and asking where each franchise goes from here. We put ourselves in the chair of being GM or the owner and going over what moves we would make in order to win a Superbowl, make the playoffs or just regain some pride…

Today we take a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers. Don’t forget to check out the AFC North podcast where we talk to a fan and get their thoughts on them!

How Did Last Season Go?

Well, where can you start other than Le’Veon Bell? Decided he wasn’t being paid enough and wanted to stay healthy and fresh for 2019. Whether or not that pays off remains to be seen (personally, I think it’s unlikely) but one this is for sure, the next man up James Conner did admirably in his absence. Conner’s 2nd season went to the tune of 4.5 yards per carry on 215 attempts including 5 games of 100+ rush yards plus 55 receptions totalling just under 500 yards and 13 total touchdowns (not exactly going to help Bell’s value is it?). That all in 13 games this season, so room for more…I think the Steelers have no qualms about waving off Le’Veon Bell.

Aside from the backfield, the Steelers, perennially a hot/cold team were exactly that again this season; The Steelers got themselves off to a slow start, with an opening weekend tie with the Browns leading to a 1-2-1 record after 4 games. They then turned on the afterburners and won their next 6, taking them to 7-2-1. Then the Steelers steeled and had losses to Denver and Oakland (on top of losses to New Orleans and LA Chargers) in their final 6 games to somehow miss out on the playoffs. The Oakland one in particular was a vintage away Big Ben/Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers type of performance. Absolutely no right in losing a game of that stature, away to one of the worst teams in football but unfortunately, it is no surprise that this happened. Another statistic showing beautifully the hot and cold Steelers; They had 8 games where they scored 28+ points but 7 games with 21 points or less (averaging out on the season at 26.8pts per game).

Housekeeping

Pittsburgh own the 20th Pick in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd rounds this year, I think predominantly they will look to bolster the defence that isn’t what it once was.

Let’s not forget, they could add to their draft picks if they are able to deal Antonio Brown for something decent but that remains to be seen. Maybe they’ll use the picks acquired in the Brown trade to find his replacement, too.

In terms of Free Agency, Pittsburgh have around $20m of cap space, but I expect that to fluctuate throughout the offseason depending how they wrangle the AB trade and some other pieces.

Outgoings

Antonio Brown will dominate all the headlines as he heads for the Heinz Field exit door and Le’Veon Bell will have a new home in 2019, but there are a few other names that may not return in 2019. Offensive lineman Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert along with Tight End Jesse James could see a fairly different offensive line to the one that has been so dominant for the past few seasons. Heyward-Bey, Grimble and Hunter at WR are all Free Agents too but you may see 1 return from that group. On defence, Ryan Shazier, still recovering from that awful injury, leads the list in terms of cap value.

Incomings

With not the biggest salary cap to wiggle around, the Steelers need to be smart in this year’s draft (certainly need to do better than the 2018 draft haul)

Needs at Corner are there for everyone to see; 2016 draft pick Artie Burns was benched during the 2018 season so I would assume that this would be their primary focus. A swarming linebacker too will be high on the priority list.  Players at Corner that will appeal to the Steelers include Byron Murphy (Washington) and Deandre Baker (Georgia) whilst Devin White (LSU) will have Mike Tomlin’s ears pricked up at Linebacker (hopefully he’ll be more successful in the NFL than Kevin White).

After selecting James Washington in round 2 last year, I would be surprised if the Steelers use an early pick on another WR despite the departure of Brown, but the Steelers have a long and successful history of drafting WR….

Outlook for Next Year

Steelers fans and owners’ aspirations are obviously a deep run in the playoffs, the growth of James Washington at WR (and let’s not forget Juju ascending to the WR1) and James Conner in the backfield, but anything short of that could see Mike Tomlin’s tenure called to an end but every circus tour has to end soon…

The offence is still a talented one and Big Ben is still around for another year or 2 at least (despite some of his hissy fits reminiscent of a 4-year-old who has just had their electronic device taken away) and if they are smart with their 2018 draft picks on defence, could yet be the favourite to usurp New England from their AFC throne after all.

Prediction

Due to the circus like fanfare that follows the Steelers each year, I am predicting that the arrow is going to point downwards for a few reasons;

I think Big Ben and the Steelers struggle without their 2 foundations from the last number of years in Bell and Brown and in a division where the Browns and the Ravens have some momentum about them, the Steelers could easily see themselves on the outside looking in again this season.

Their defence may be their Achilles heel again this season as well as the customary Mike Tomlin away performance to a poor team. The Steelers may be putting the “terrible” in the terrible towel in 2019 if they don’t sort their act out in that locker room and address the culture that Tomlin has allowed to manifest there.

The Steelers are like Netflix UK; A place where all the stars aligned and was the place to be with all the household names, but then one or two pieces moved away to go on their own and you now wonder where that leaves everyone else and the choice is starting to look a bit thin.

Fantasy Football

Once a goldmine for fantasy points, you may struggle for depth for fantasy football this year; Big Ben will have his backers, especially after passing for the most yards in 2018. I’ll pass though (pun intended) due to my fears he could cliff dive next season with the mass exodus at the skill positions. I am only really interested in 1 guy here. No, it’s not James Conner and no, it’s not JuJu (mainly because his fan base is bigger than the capacity of the mall he played in the other day will consequently see him drafted at an inflated price). It’s James Washington. There will be some leagues where he falls to a ridiculous round and will be a value. Washington could be a guy that goes in the 5th round or the 10th round depending on the casualness of your league. If he is still there in round 7/8, he is a guy that you may want to snap up before someone else does. Especially if Pittsburgh don’t bring in another WR.

The reason I won’t be a James Conner or a JuJu buyer this year is probably because of price and the fact that there will be a player I would rather have instead. James Conner (RB7 in 2018 in standard scoring) at the back of the first could look good paired with an Elite WR, but the likelihood is that Joe Mixon will be sniffing around the same part of the draft, and I will always take him over Conner. JuJu (WR9 in standard scoring in 2018) is going to go around mid to late 2nd round due to his WR 1 status in the offence but again, you have guys like Tyreek Hill and Mike Evans around here. I just would rather have those guys before as I want to see JuJu do it on his own vs the #1 CB against him each week. On the positive side for both, they’ll be the undisputed workhorses at their positions for the team and Big Ben consistently delivers for his pieces on offence.

Ben Roethlisberger – Late rounds in drafts – low end QB1

James Conner – late 1st round pick – RB1

JuJu Smith-Schuster – 2nd Round pick – WR1

James Washington – mid to late rounds – WR3 – potential value in drafts.

Vance McDonald – Late rounder/undrafted – TE2

 

 

Masters of their Kraft – Free Agency & Combine

A deep look in to team needs and whether or not the crop of free agents fit the bill.

Shaun from ALL32 joins Tim and Lee to see which players will calling somewhere else their home in 2019 and also, what his favourite GIFs are.

First though, a bit of news to get through including Robert Kraft, Andrew Whitworth and John Ross.

The Collapsing Pocket Podcast tackle the NFL Quiz and we finish off with a bit of talk about Lee’s eye-catchers to look out for at the combine.