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NFL Draft

Winners & Losers Of 1st Day of Free Agent Tampering

  • The Draft Network
  • March 16, 2021
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Friends, family, and football fans of all ages, we made it past the first 24 hours of the NFL’s legal tampering period for the 2021 free agency cycle. If you take a deep breath, you can just smell the chaos in the air. The big signings, the overactive tweets, the insane takes on sports talk radio; it’s all there and so much more.

Though many of the big names didn't get the chance to even hit the open market due to their teams giving them the franchise tag, there was still plenty of moving and shaking that went down on day one.

Here are some of my biggest winners and losers from the early tampering period.

Winner: New York Jets

The Jets were quiet for most of the day, which we thought was a bad sign, but it just turned out to be a slow burn. They started the day coming to an agreement with former Detroit Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis for a one-year, $7 million deal. Davis’ play hasn’t been worth that from his time in Detroit, but the Jets are hoping his best days are ahead of him, as they will also get C.J. Mosely back

As the day went on, the signings got sweeter. First, the Jets landed Corey Davis, one of the top wide receivers on the market. They were able to grab him for a three-year, $37.5 million contract. And as the night went on, it was reported that they were the winners in the Carl Lawson sweepstakes, landing them a talented pass rusher they so desperately needed. 

It was a big day for the Jets, who hit many of their top needs with high-upside players.

Loser: New England Patriots

The Patriots aren’t often the ones to spend a ton of money in free agency. Not that they don’t like doing it, but as contenders for most of the past two decades, they just haven’t had a ton of money lying around in a given year like you would see for teams in rebuild mode. But that’s exactly where the Patriots are, and they announced that early and often with a lot of signings on Monday.

Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jonnu Smith, Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Matt Judon, and Jalen Mills all got announced within the first few hours of the tampering period opening—wow, how impressive that they could negotiate all those deals within just a few hours (wink). That’s a lot of new players for a lot of new money—on Tuesday, Hunter Henry was added to the list. The only problem is, I don’t think it changes much.

The Patriots already brought back quarterback Cam Newton, so the flood of new free agents is clearly a “let’s hit all the needs so we can draft for talent through the draft,” which is the right mindset. But they gave a lot of money to players that I don’t think move the needle. Smith with the third-highest tight end contract in the league? $13 million per year average for Agholor? A four-year deal up to $24 million for Mills a year after he was only able to sign a one-year deal with a position change in Philadelphia? Bill Belichick is the best, but he better know what he’s doing, because these guys weren’t getting these kinds of deals elsewhere.

Winner: Shaq Barrett and Buccaneers

You might be sitting here thinking, “Trevor, why would Barrett signing for much less than he could’ve gotten elsewhere be a win?” The reason why is because he’s staying where he wanted to stay and still getting paid well for it.

This could also be a big win for the Buccaneers, who were massive winners of not just this free agency period, but the offseason as a whole to this point. Barrett signed a four-year, $72 million deal that has a $17 million per year average as a base but can go up to $18 million per year. That’s not market-setting money, but it’s still good money. Shaq was still the highest-paid pass rusher to sign on day one.

Barrett gets to stay where he wanted to be all along, and the Buccaneers got to retain him in a manner that allows them to continue to keep their Super Bowl core.

Loser: WR Market

Will Fuller, Kenny Golladay, JuJu Smith-Schuster, T.Y. Hilton, Antonio Brown, and Curtis Samuel all went unsigned on day one of the tampering period. This was a talented wide receiver group that got a lot of hype over the last month, but it seems the price tag these receivers are looking for and the price tag teams are willing to give up aren’t matching, as of right now. I expect there to be a heavy dose of wide receiver signings on day two, but this market did not catch fire the way we initially thought it would.

Winner: Jonnu Smith and Joe Thuney

Holy Capitalizing On The Free Agency Hype, Batman. These dudes cashed out.

Smith agreed to a four-year, $50 million contract that makes him the third-highest paid tight end in the NFL on a per-year basis behind just Travis Kelce and George Kittle. And on top of that, Smith’s $31.25 million in fully guaranteed money is by far the most guaranteed money for a tight end in the NFL.

As for Thuney, he became one of the highest-paid interior offensive linemen in the NFL on Monday, agreeing to a five-year, $80 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs that is second to only Zack Martin’s $84 million deal. The Chiefs needed offensive line help and they got one of the best the free agency pool had to offer.

Loser: Miami Dolphins

For a team that we read so much about with plenty of cap space to use and plenty of targets to be interested in, the Dolphins were quiet. The big domino that didn’t fall their way was that of running back Aaron Jones, who re-signed with the Green Bay Packers. But missing out on Barrett, Judon, Lawson, and not hitting a wide receiver was also a surprise. Perhaps more action is on the way.

Favorite Signing: John Johnson III to Cleveland Browns

I loved this move for the Browns. Yes, they already have Ronnie Harrison and Grant Delpit, but this is one of the defenses in the league that can be comfortable playing from big nickel and three-safety sets. Johnson was an impact safety for the Rams, and for the Browns to get him for three years and $33.7 million is a great value from the jump.

Least Favorite Signing: Aaron Jones to Green Bay Packers

Let me start by saying this: Aaron Jones is a good football player and the Packers made a signing to keep a good football player on their team—one that is clearly important to what they do, as they have reached the NFC Championship Game in each of the last two seasons. In a vacuum, bringing him back makes sense. I just personally didn’t like it over letting offensive lineman Corey Linsley walk.

Jones signed a four-year, $48 million contract with Green Bay while Linsley agreed to a five-year, $62.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Chargers. That’s about the same money per year for both players. The Packers have some offensive line flexibility with Elgton Jenkins and Lucas Patrick, but I often lean money is better spent in the trenches.

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