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2017 NFL Free Agency Winners and Losers

It’s often said that Super Bowls aren’t won in February, they’re won in the offseason. Now, that’s a load of bullshit and whoever said that probably never won any Super Bowls, but it’s undeniable that a good offseason can be the driving force that makes the difference between a team making an early playoff exit or making confetti angels on the first Sunday of February. Free agency, trades, and the NFL Draft have all evolved into massively important ways of adding and subtracting players from teams, and the teams that work to succeed in these areas are often the ones that are making noise come playoff time. And for Exhibit A, look no further than the champions of Super Bowl LI:

So, without further ado, here are your winners and losers of NFL Free Agency (so far):

Winners

New England Patriots

I know, I know, but I had to start here. What a weekend these guys had! We’ll start with the re-signings of DT Alan Branch and safety Duron Harmon, to 2- and 4-year deals, respectively. Branch was one of the best Patriots stories this year that nobody talked about, going from an early season suspension to 14 postseason tackles and a huge fumble recovery in the Super Bowl. He’s a giant body (6’6″, 350 lbs) that takes up a lot of space in the middle and makes it extremely tough for opposing teams to run the ball up the middle. And in Harmon, the Pats retain a versatile DB who’s missed just 1 game in his first four NFL seasons. On top of that, just in case the increasingly-complicated Malcolm Butler situation doesn’t work itself out, the team locked down Pro Bowl CB Stephon Gilmore for 5 years. And although this is technically a “free agency” evaluation, I’d be an idiot if I didn’t mention acquiring Dwayne Allen from Indianapolis and Brandin Cooks from New Orleans without giving up a single actual human player. It’s becoming apparent now that Bill Belichick realizes his Brady-feuled joyride isn’t going to last forever, and he’s stocking up for a final push for a few more Lombardi’s before it’s all said and done.

Still to be done: Figure out the Butler situation and re-sign Dont’a Hightower

Jacksonville Jaguars

Yes, I’m aware who I’m talking about here. The 3-13 Jaguars, who came in dead last in the mediocre AFC South a season ago and are starting the 2017 season with a new head coach after firing Gus Bradley last season. But as far as free agency is concerned, the Jags are doing alright for themselves. To shore up their defense, which was already a top-10 unit, they dropped almost $60 million of guaranteed money on CB A.J. Bouye and DE Calais Campbell. Bouye is widely considered a top 10 corner in the game, and his career-high 63 tackles in 2016 lined up opposite Jalen Ramsey (65 tackles in 2016) will certainly give opposing OC’s nightmares in 2017. As for Campbell, his 6’8″, 300 pound frame combined with deceptive speed combined to generate 53 combined tackles and 8 sacks last season, his 9th as a pro. He’ll certainly assist a unit that was in the bottom 3rd of the league in sacks a season ago. Overall, Jacksonville has only begun to alleviate many of the issues that plague the dismal franchise that hasn’t experienced a winning season since 2007, but this past weekend was a step in the right direction.

Still to be done: Replace Julius Thomas at TE and shore up the offensive line

Chicago Bears

Another surprising pick, but let me explain. How does a team lose its top receiver in Alshon Jeffrey and still salvage a winning first weekend of free agency? Well, that starts with replacing Jay Cutler, who still remains unsigned but is certainly not heading back to the Bears. Chicago did this by “winning” the Mike Glennon Sweepstakes, locking down the untested QB to a 3-year, $45 million deal with $18.5 million guaranteed. Glennon may not be the most glamorous option to take the reigns, but he showed some promise in his small sample size in Tampa Bay and lacks the attitude issues that have plagued the QB position in Chicago for the last 8 seasons. Additionally, they went and got Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright to join Eddie Royal in a speedy receiving core that now becomes deceptively deep with the potential to give secondaries fits with the proper scheme. They also snagged CB Prince Amukamara, a great cover corner who racked up 49 tackles and 6 passes defended in 14 games a season ago, TE Dion Sims, a solid, 6’4″ tight end that can be a matchup nightmare in the red zone, and SS Quintin Demps, who recorded a career-high 6 interceptions last season with the Texans. Overall, a strong weekend for Daaaa Bears.

Still to be done: Strengthen the defensive line and improve at RT and LT

Honorable Mention Winners: Cleveland Browns and Green Back Packers

Losers

Houston Texans

First and foremost for the Texans is the obvious – they’ve made a grand total of zero free agent signings since free agency began. Contrary to popular belief, doing absolutely nothing while the rest of the league is out filling holes in their rosters is not the recipe for getting back to the postseason. And, of course, the move they made that grabbed headlines on Thursday was shipping QB Brock Osweiler to the Browns just a year after signing him to a 4-year, $72 million deal. They also included 2nd and 6th-round picks in the NBA-style salary dump deal and got just a 4th-rounder in return, meaning Osweiler is officially worth… less than nothing? Is that how that works? Either way, Cleveland plans to trade or release Osweiler despite a roster that includes only Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan at quarterback, and if that isn’t the biggest kick in the nuts on the planet I’m not sure what is. Houston also lost A.J. Bouye to Jacksonville and Quintin Demps to Chicago, leaving them with their work cut out for them to improve their defensive unit, which was the team’s strongest facet a season ago.

Top priorities: Sign Tony Romo and strengthen the secondary

New York Jets

The words “Jets” and “losers” have basically become synonyms in the past few years, and that trend continued this past weekend. Most notably, they lost top WR Brandon Marshall to the cross-town rival Giants, and as reports surfaced that they may also be parting ways with WR Eric Decker, the team became even less appealing to free agents. It also appears that quarterback will continue to be an issue for the Jets, who have yet to re-sign Geno Smith or Ryan Fitzpatrick and currently boast Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg as their best options under center. Oft-injured lineman Nick Mangold  and former All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis were both released, while lineman Ryan Clady is unlikely to return. They did have Dont’a Hightower in over the weekend to visit, while also throwing him a pathetic birthday party — with cupcakes — but that was likely just to drive up his price tag. Overall the Jets have done little to help their push to climb out of the basement of the AFC East, and appear destined to return there in 2017.

Top priorities: Sign an experienced QB and strengthen the offensive line

Arizona Cardinals

Unlike my other two losers, the Cardinals did make a handful of moves over the first weekend of free agency. They replaced place-kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who fled to the Jets, with 42-year old Phil Dawson, a move that could really go either way, since we know kickers don’t really age. They also added OLB Karlos Dansby and SS Antoine Bethea to a defense that was already one of the best in the NFL a season ago. So why, then, are they in the losers section? Well, that comes down to the talent that they weren’t able to retain. First and foremost is the aforementioned Calais Campbell, who will take his talents to Jacksonville this fall and leave a noticeable void in Arizona’s defensive unit. As will FS D.J. Swearinger and SS Tony Jefferson, who both depart a defense that allowed just 210 passing yards per game last year, good for 4th in the NFL. The Cards aren’t necessarily in trouble heading into 2017, but they’ve created some voids for themselves that they certainly cannot ignore.

Top priorities – Evaluate the QB position and shore up the defensive front

Honorable Mention Losers: Minnesota Vikings

Agree or disagree with us? Leave a comment below on who your 2017 NFL Free Agency Winners and Losers were.

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