Free Agency Movers and Shakers

With one week of free agency completed there have been numerous headline-grabbing moves, and some head-scratching decisions. In this article I wanted to concentrate on 4 sides that I think have made trades that will significantly change their fortunes in 2019.

Cleveland Browns

Let’s start with the easy one – the Cleveland Browns. In 2017 I sat surrounded by Cleveland Browns fans at Twickenham to watch the NFL London game versus the Minnesota Vikings. These were some of the greatest fans I had ever encountered – so much so that there and then I adopted the Browns as my AFC team and Ohio State as my College team. Remember at this time they were on their way to an overall 1-31 record over 2016 and 2017. The Browns fans sense of humour was amazing. One thing that record did do through was it earned them some high draft picks and in 2018 the recovery began – a 7-8-1 record behind their new start QB, Baker Mayfield. In Nick Chubb they had a RB nearly making the 1000 yard mark, ditto Jarvis Landry in receiving yards at WR. The defensive improved significantly too with Myles Garrett leading the way.

And then we hit 2019 free agency – and, amongst others they bring in Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson and, wait for it, ODELL BECKHAM JR…..

How do these guys not win the 2019 AFC North? The Pittsburgh Steelers are still reeling from the Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell circus, the Ravens lost key players on defense and the Bengals, well, they haven’t exactly shifted gears have they? But, I can imagine my Cleveland friends and probably still sat there thinking “yeh, but we could still only finish about 8-8, this is the Browns after all”. Well, not this year. For me (even before the draft) I think Cleveland have got to be aiming for division title and a playoff run.

Green Bay Packers
The Pack limped through 2018, as did Aaron Rodgers for most of it. An offense rated around 14th and a defence at 15th summed them up – their record of 6-9-1 was their worst for 10 years and their second straight year at 3rd in the NFC North. Not good enough, certainly not for this highly respected franchise, and Mike McCarthy was dispensed with before the season was out. Traditionally a team who do not look to expensive free agency targets the Packers sent out a signal to the rest of the NFC North that they were “coming to get ya” as they re-tooled the defence – Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith (both LB) and Adrian Amos (S) are great additions.

If Green Bay can give Aaron Rodgers a little more help – he was sacked joint 3rd highest number of times in 2018 – they can be competitive again in the NFC North where the Vikings appear to be listing, the Lions rebuilding and the Bears just about on top, for now. I’m expecting one last playoff hurrah from Rodgers and one or two more Hail-Mary for the highlights reel.

Tennessee Titans
After 3 seasons at 9-7, with one playoff run to the divisional round, the Titans are looking to make the next step to turn them into a team who can make a deep run in the playoffs. Taking into account a highly competitive AFC South, where all their divisional rivals can make a case for the title, the Titans needed to make a statement in free agency that they are here to stay. And they have. With the issues around Marcus Mariota, his injury record and the need for him to now step up in order to earn a longer term contract as the franchise QB, the Titans have given him every opportunity to succeed in 2019 by acquiring support.

Mariota now has some additional protection, in the form of Rodger Saffold from the Rams, and a new reliable target, in the form of wide receiver Adam Humphries from the Buccaneers. Throw into the bargain the resigning of safety Kenny Vaccaro and veteran edge rusher Cameron Wake from the Dolphins, and the Titans roster is shaping up nicely for 2019.

Oakland Raiders
Couldn’t leave these guys out could we? After the soap opera that was the Raiders 2018 season and the new Gruden/Mayock axis in charge of player recruitment we all knew they were going to make a splash in free agency, before they utilise their draft capital in late April. And they didn’t disappoint.

At left tackle Trenton Brown arrives from the Patriots on a massive contract ($66M over 4 years, $36M guaranteed), as does wide receiver Tyrell Williams from the Chargers ($44M over 4 years, $21m guaranteed) and LaMarcus Joyner from the Rams ($42M over 4 years, $21M guaranteed). These are some marquee signings who must succeed if the Raiders are to succeed in 2019. If they can mesh these additions in with a slew of draft picks then the Raiders overhaul may be sufficient in order to challenge in the AFC West – remembering that the Chiefs and Chargers had the 2 best AFC regular season records in 2018.

Who should be worried?
It is still early days but teams where free agency has only added to the woes would be: Minnesota Vikings (only Anthony Barr has been able to be retained – and Kirk Cousins looks increasingly expensive), Cincinnati Bengals (unsure as to the direction the franchise is headed), Miami Dolphins (Brian Flores overseeing a clear out which is fine but who is coming in?) and of course the NY Giants (Gettlemen says there’s a plan but did it really need to send OBJ to Cleveland?).

Free Agency can be an expensive gamble but I think the four teams focussed on will have better seasons for having rolled the dice. Now the attention can start to turn to the NFL Draft as all sides look to ace their draft class.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s