The initial few waves of the 2018 NFL free agency period have come and gone, and there has been no shortage of headline-making moves. Trades have increased dramatically compared to past years, and an increasing salary cap has contributed to richer deals. As with every year, there are teams that raise fan bases’ hopes and others that fall flat on their faces. Here are the top-three winners and top-three losers of free agency and the offseason period as a whole.
Los Angeles Rams
Key additions: WR Brandin Cooks, DT Ndamukong Suh, CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib
Key departures: CB Trumaine Johnson, WR Sammy Watkins, DE Robert Quinn, LB Alec Ogletree
The Rams have had no fear of the trade market this offseason, completing five notable ones in just a few weeks. After unloading key defensive contributors Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn to the Giants and Dolphins, respectively, Los Angeles restocked quickly. Bringing in Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters shores up the secondary that lost Trumaine Johnson to the Jets, and pairing Ndamukong Suh with Aaron Donald on the defensive front has the makings of a nasty defense. Replacing Sammy Watkins with another talented receiver in Brandin Cooks is just icing on the cake. Rams fans have plenty to anticipate this upcoming season and beyond.
Key additions: QB Tyrod Taylor, WR Jarvis Landry, RB Carlos Hyde, CB Damarious Randall, CB E.J. Gaines
Key departures: OT Joe Thomas, CB Jason McCourty, RB Isaiah Crowell, DT Danny Shelton
It seems every offseason, the Browns make a few free agency moves or draft a few players who will supposedly right the ship. Usually they don’t pan out, but this offseason feels different. Armed with tons of cap space and draft capital, new general manager John Dorsey has made the most of it. New acquisitions Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry and Carlos Hyde revamp the mediocre Cleveland offense of the past. On the defensive side, big strides have been made in the secondary, as Damarious Randall, T.J. Carrie and E.J. Gaines bring starting experience. The losses of veterans Joe Thomas and Jason McCourty will sting, but the Browns still have four picks in the first 35 of the upcoming draft, allowing for plenty of chances to fill the leftover holes.
Key additions: QB Kirk Cousins, DT Sheldon Richardson, WR Kendall Wright
Key departures: QB Case Keenum, QB Sam Bradford, QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Jerick McKinnon
The Kirk Cousins sweepstakes fell the Vikings’ way, as they gave him a fully guaranteed contract and a contending team to play with. The addition of Cousins, the Redskins’ former star quarterback, made Bradford, Bridgewater and Keenum expendable and took the stress out of losing them. Although there haven’t been any other huge moves for Minnesota, one-time Pro Bowler Sheldon Richardson adds to an already talented defense, and Kendall Wright brings experience and production to the slot receiver position. McKinnon’s departure opens up even more touches for promising running back Dalvin Cook. With many returning starters and the new additions, the Vikings have all the pieces to make a Super Bowl run in 2018.
Key additions: WR Jordy Nelson, RB Doug Martin, LB Tahir Whitehead, CB Rashaan Melvin
Key departures: WR Michael Crabtree, P Marquette King, CB T.J. Carrie, WR Cordarrelle Patterson
When Jon Gruden came out of retirement earlier this year to coach the Raiders, he promised to take the game back to 1998. Granted more personnel decision power than the usual head coach, Gruden has made moves to support his plan, and it hasn’t always been a good thing. One of his first moves was to sign long snapper Andrew DePaolo to a record contract for the position. You read that right. After that, Michael Crabtree was released, and his exact salary was given to the older and more often injured Jordy Nelson. The Raiders whiffed on signing Ndamukong Suh and traded one of the top kick returners in Patterson. On top of it all, Doug Martin was signed after two years of rushing for fewer than three yards a carry in Tampa Bay, and Marquette King, statistically the best punter in the league, was let go. It’s a bold strategy for Gruden, and we’ll have to see how it works for him.
New England Patriots
Key additions: CB Jason McCourty, DT Danny Shelton, RB Jeremy Hill, DE Adrian Clayborn, WR Jordan Matthews
Key departures: OT Nate Solder, WR Brandin Cooks, RB Dion Lewis, CB Malcolm Butler, WR Danny Amendola
It almost doesn’t feel right to say the Patriots have done anything wrong. No matter what personnel they have, they still always find ways to win when the season rolls around. On paper, though, this offseason hasn’t been the best for Bill Belichick and company. Sure, they picked up the Pro Football Focus No. 27 cornerback in Jason McCourty along with a nine-and-a-half sack producer from last year in Adrian Clayborn, but the losses far outweigh the gains. Five key contributors from past seasons have departed, including Nate Solder, who has held down the left side of the offensive line since 2011. Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler will take his elite coverage to Tennessee. Dion Lewis, Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola leave behind huge holes in the skill positions. Jeremy Hill and Jordan Matthews have been signed to pick up some of the touches, but they seem to be sharp downgrades. The two-time defending AFC champions have more questions than answers heading into the NFL draft but do have two first and second rounders each to turn this offseason around.
Key additions: QB Sam Bradford, OT Justin Pugh, OT Andre Smith, WR Brice Butler
Key departures: QB Carson Palmer, S Tyrann Mathieu, WR John Brown, RB Adrian Peterson, OT Jared Veldheer
The Cardinals’ offseason can be considered more of a marginal fail so far. They’ve addressed their problems, just not in the best way possible. As one of the teams in the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, Arizona couldn’t meet all of his demands and ultimately had to settle for injury-prone Sam Bradford after Carson Palmer’s retirement. One of their biggest problems last season was along the offensive line. Smith and Pugh should help that, but ball hawk Tyrann Mathieu had to go to create cap room for them. Brice Butler, who hasn’t topped 317 receiving yards in any of his first five years, replaced John Brown. New head coach Steve Wilks will have his work cut out for him in 2018, especially in the suddenly stacked NFC West.