The NFL world is one week into its new year and rosters across the league are reshaping. With the introduction of a longer ‘legal tampering’ phase, huge new deals came flying off the table almost immediately following the opening of free agency. Now that the dust has settled on the initial excitement, lets take a look at some of the moves which caused joy (or heartache) to fans across the league.
With the worst defence in the league in 2015, the New York Giants spent big to avoid the same fate in 2016. Big Blue snapped up four of the NFL.com’s top 20 free agents with big contracts, including resigning their premier pass rusher Jason Pierre Paul on less money than he was reportedly offered elsewhere, as well as picking up Olivier Vernon from the Dolphins. Adding corner Janoris Jenkins and nose tackle Damon Harrison completed the defensive makeover. Whilst new head coach Ben Macadoo is rubbing his hands in glee, Tom Coughlin is probably still picking his jaw up from the ground.
Could 2016 be the year for the London-bound Jacksonville Jaguars? With the best cap space situation in the league and plenty of work to do it’s not surprising they have currently splashed the second most cash behind the Giants. Jacksonville have previously struggled to attract big names, but a combination of money, a solid regime and great facilities seem to have come together at the right time. Pass rusher Malik Jackson, running back Chris Ivory and safety Taushaun Gipson were quick additions which bolstered areas of need. A high draft pick and the return of injured rookie Dante Fowler Jr. mean the 2016 Jaguars are being tipped for an emergent year.
The Oakland Raiders continue to build their roster around the talented pieces acquired in recent years including QB Derek Carr, WR Amari Cooper and DE Khalil Mack. They have used their acres of cap space to add Bruce Irvin from Seattle, snatch cornerback Sean Smith from divisional rival Kansas City and make Kelechi Osmele the highest paid guard in the league. The Raiders look stacked across the field.
The Philadelphia Eagles and especially GM Howie Roseman have emerged well from the ‘Chip Kelly Experience’ making some interesting manouveres to put themselves into strong draft position. By trading away a number of players (including DeMarco Murray) they’ve moved up in the first round and gained a fourth round pick. At quarterback, Sam Bradford has been resigned on a two year contract which could be used as future leverage, as Chase Daniel was also added to the roster.
San Francisco 49ers fans may be left scratching their heads as the team has so far done nothing of note with one of the best cap situations in the league. The focus has been on where QB Colin Kaepernick will end up, following his alleged trade request. Chip Kelly has clearly not been given the free reign he had last year in Philadelphia, but for a team who were one of the worst in the league in 2015, it seems odd that some changes haven’t been attempted.
It’s always difficult for a championship team to maintain key players who demand money once they’ve contributed to bringing in a Lombardi trophy, but the Denver Broncos have had a pretty rough ride. The retirement of Peyton Manning was not unexpected but the sour grapes felt by Brock Osweiler who defected to Houston mean that a huge question mark remains over who will be starting QB in September. The Broncos have traded for Mark Sanchez from the Eagles, but this is surely not the end of the story.
The New York Jets are still unable to agree a price to re-sign quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. New York is the best fit for Fitz, who has only ever thrived under Chan Gailey, but he is holding out for more money based on his 2015 performance. Where the leverage lies is unclear, but with Fitz, Kaepernick and RG3 still floating around, the quarterback carousel across the league continues to rotate. As always there are more teams in need than viable options, especially as this year’s draft class has limited plug and play options.
The initial furore may have quietened as the cream has been strained from the top the free agency pool, but there are still many questions to answer across the league. The next few weeks will remain interesting.