NFL Free Agency Winners and Losers: Browns draft rich; Vikings’ missed opportunites

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Dec 21, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) is pursued by Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay (23) and cornerback Quandre Diggs (28) during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Lions defeated the Saints 35-27. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 21, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) is pursued by Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay (23) and cornerback Quandre Diggs (28) during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Lions defeated the Saints 35-27. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL’s new league year kicked off with a bang on Thursday at 4 p.m. EST as free agency officially commenced. The league was abuzz with activity as many teams dove in head first, while others were content to dangle their bare feet into the free agency pool. Some managed to improve and upgrade their rosters through acquisitions and trades, but others were not able to close on some of the most highly touted names in free agency.

This last week saw all sorts of action with some fans boasting about their team’s moves and acquisitions that have them eagerly anticipating the start of the regular season. On the flip side, other, more unfortunate fans were left groaning in misery and disappointed in their team’s lack of action as missed opportunity after missed opportunity, slipped on by.

With only one weekend of free agency in the books, plenty of new surprises await in the coming days, as the new league year has only gotten started. With any trade, acquisition or move, there will always be a winner and a loser, and this is just as true today in the NFL as it will be tomorrow.


AROUND COVER32

Big Landings: Alshon Jeffery lands with Philadelphia Eagles

Making Moves:: Cleveland Browns trade for Osweiler and draft picks

More Free Agency News:: Tampa Bay Buccaneers add DeSean Jackson to receiving corps

2017 Mock Draft: With the NFL Combine wrapping up last weekend, how might the draft play out

cover32 Exclusive:: Watch this one-on-one interview with the combine’s fastest prospect John Ross

Trivia Blitz: See if you have what it takes to get them all right in Friday’s free agency quiz.


NFL 2017 Free Agency Winners and Losers

Winners

Cleveland Browns

The Browns came out of Thursday as one of the league’s biggest winners. Cleveland has made quite the haul after just one day of free agency and the draft yet to come. After their trade with the Texans for the overpriced and underwhelming Brock Osweiler, the Browns have now managed to gather five picks in the top-65 of this year’s draft and four picks in the first two-rounds of next year’s.

While it is too early to tell if the returns are worth it, the Browns have been applauded for their trade for Osweiler as it gives them another top pick for them to continue to rebuild their roster on.

With more than $200 million of available salary cap space to work with, the Browns invested more than $100 million during the first day of free agency into improving an offensive line that gave up a franchise record 62 sacks in 2016. They landed one of the top offensive lineman free agency had to offer in guard, Kevin Zeitler, signing him to a five-year $60 million contract with $31.5 million guaranteed. Cleveland also signed former Green Bay Packers’ center, J.C. Tretter, to a three-year $16.75 million contract and agreed to a five-year $51 million contract extension with guard, Joel Bitonio, with $23 million guaranteed.

The Browns did not stop there as they agreed to a deal to bring veteran wideout, Kenny Britt, to Cleveland, giving them some much-needed stability at wide receiver, after losing Terrelle Pryor to the Washington Redskins and Josh Gordon to rehab in the middle of the 2016 season.

While the Browns are still a mess, it is encouraging to see them pulling out the stops in an attempt to restore the glory that this storied franchise was once known for.

Jacksonville Jaguars

One of 2016’s greatest disappointments, the Jaguars began the year with high expectations but failed to live up to even the most modest of projections. 2017 looks to be a similar story, in that there is much to be optimistic about in Jacksonville, following their flourish of big time moves and making quite the splash on day one of free agency.

The Jaguars made defense their clear priority this offseason, signing two of free agency’s biggest names on the defensive side of the ball in A.J. Bouye and Calais Campbell. They signed Bouye to a five-year $67.5 million deal, with free agency’s top corner due to collect $44 million over the first three years. Jacksonville will pair the 25-year-old shutdown corner with Jalen Ramsey, their first-round pick in last year’s draft, bolstering their defensive backfield.

The Jaguars also managed to land Campbell, coaxing the star defensive lineman from the Arizona Cardinals with a four-year $60 million contract. Campbell joins Malik Jackson, Dante Fowler Jr. and Abry Jones, giving Jacksonville a stalwart defensive front that is capable of bringing menacing pressure against opposing quarterbacks.

The Jaguars also signed former Dallas Cowboys’ safety, Barry Church, to a four-year $26 million deal, as they attempt to rebound in 2017 after winning just 11 games since 2014.

New England Patriots

Even after winning Super Bowl 51, the Patriots were not content to rest on their laurels and bask in the gleam of their latest Vince Lombardi Trophy. New England carried the same competitive spirit they brought on the field, off the field and were one of the more active teams as the new league year began.

The Patriots continue to find ways to upgrade an already dominant roster. They traded a second-round pick to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for promising defensive end, Kony Ealy and a third-round draft choice. Known for his three sacks against Peyton Manning in Super Bowl 50, Ealy is in the final year of his rookie contract and set to make $803,660 this season.

New England continued to turn heads when they traded a first and a third-round pick to the New Orleans Saints for standout wide receiver, Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round draft selection. Cooks breathes new life into an aging wide receiver corps, with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola on the wrong side of 30 and gives Tom Brady his best deep threat since Randy Moss.

The Patriots didn’t stop there as they looked to fill the void at tight end left when Martellus Bennett decided to maximize his value in free agency. Making yet another trade, New England acquired Indianapolis Colts’ big man, Dwayne Allen and a sixth-round pick in exchange for their fourth-round pick. Allen will likely play a similar role to what Bennett did for the Patriots last year.

With Malcolm Butler’s future with the team uncertain, New England signed one of free agency’s top corners in Stephen Gilmore. The two sides agreed to a five-year deal with $40 million guaranteed. Though not particularly pleased with the Gilmore signing, there still is a chance Butler remains with the team.

As of now, the Patriots look to be the odds on favorite to be representing the AFC in Minneapolis come February.

Honorable Mentions

The Green Bay Packers made an uncharacteristically big move when they signed free agency’s top tight end, Martellus Bennett, after negotiations fell apart with Jared Cook. Bennett is seen as a nice upgrade from Cook and should give Aaron Rodgers another weapon to spread the field with. Like the Packers the Carolina Panthers are not known for their moves in free agency, yet over the first two days of free agency found them highly active; likely in response to their disappointing 6-10 2016 regular season record. They reunited with defensive end, Julius Peppers and cornerback, Captain Munnerlyn, while signing left tackle, Matt Kalil, wideout Charles Johnson and safety, Mike Adams. The Los Angeles Chargers outdueled the Minnesota Vikings to land veteran left tackle, Russell Okung. Not afraid to spend, they made him one of the league’s highest paid tackles after signing him to a four-year $53 million contract with $13.25 million guaranteed. Former Washington wide receiver, DeSean Jackson, came out on top in free agency, finding his way free of a dysfunctional Redskins’ franchise by way of a three-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers worth $33.5 million with $20 million guaranteed. The home run threat will look to take advantage of the extra attention paid to Mike Evans and Jameis Winston’s cannon of an arm.

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