By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and the New England Patriots were staggeringly busy during the opening days of free agency. The Patriots re-signed quarterback Cam Newton, signed both of the best-available tight ends (Jonuu Smith, Hunter Henry), added a few receivers, edge rusher Matthew Judon, defensive lineman Henry Anderson, safety Jalen Mills, and a few other depth pieces. While, in some cases, New England’s free-spending is quantity over quality, the Patriots did address some of its glaring needs. It’ll be interesting to follow the rest of New England’s off-season gameplan.
Though it lacks flash, Washington’s signing of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick could prove to be a difference-maker in the NFC East. WFT boasts a defense built for contention, and the offense has capable playmakers. In 2020, Washington managed to make the playoffs despite subpar quarterback play. Fitzpatrick is hardly an MVP, but he is a massive upgrade for the franchise. Plus, at only $10 million, Fitzpatrick’s signing allows Washington to pursue free agents. This is a low-key great move by Washington.
Another signing that lacks flash that could have a massive impact is Cleveland’s three-year deal with safety John Johnson III. While multiple teams opted to overspend for pass rushers, the Browns netted a bargain in Johnson III. Cleveland’s defense struggled for consistency in 2020, but the pieces are there for the Browns to have an elite unit in 2021. The Browns are looking to ensure last season’s trip to the playoffs was not a one-off experience.
Jacksonville landed a solid weapon for the team’s assumed top selection in next month’s draft quarterback Trevor Lawrence, signing veteran receiver Marvin Jones to a two-year deal. Jones is coming off a strong run with the Detroit Lions, and he will form a great combination with D.J. Chark. There’s still plenty of work to do for the Jaguars—and plenty of cap space to do it with—but Jacksonville is well on its way to fielding a competitive team in 2021.
Defensive lineman Leonard Williams re-signed with the New York Giants, agreeing to a new deal worth $63 million over three years. It’s a hefty sum for Williams, who has made steady improvement since entering the league as a top-ten pick in 2015 but remains well below the elite defensive lineman ranks in the league. The Giants overpaid to acquire Williams via trade two seasons ago, overpaid to retain him last off-season via the franchise tag, and are now overpaying to keep him around for the next three seasons.
Elsewhere in New York, the Jets made a solid move, signing receiver Corey Davis to a three-year deal. Davis is coming off the best season of his young career, and should his breakout prove legitimate, the signing will prove to be a bargain for the Jets. Even with some drop-off from Davis, he should return plenty of value as a high-end complement to the duo of Denzel Mims and slot receiver Jamison Crowder. The Jets also added Carl Lawson, arguably the best pass rusher available on the market, at a below-market price (three years, $45 million). It was a great start to the off-season for a franchise in desperate need of a good one.
While the Jets struck a relative bargain with Lawson, the Tampa Bay Bucs weren’t given a home-town discount by Shaquil Barrett. To re-sign the breakout pass rusher, Tampa Bay committed four years and $72 million. It’s a sizeable amount, but Barrett has emerged as a pressure-generating force during his two-year stint with the Bucs. Tampa Bay, having locked up Barrett and Lavonte David, along with franchise tagging receiver Chris Godwin, are going all-in on another Super Bowl run.
In a difficult deal to rationalize, the Tennessee Titans locked up edge defender Bud Dupree to a five-year deal worth a staggering $82.5 million. Dupree has racked up plenty of quarterback hits the past few seasons, but much of the credit is due to his teammates’ dominance. With T.J. Watt, Stephon Tuitt, and Cameron Heyward all deserving of the superstar treatment, Dupree has feasted. With the Titans, Dupree will not have that luxury.
Kansas City added to its offensive line by signing guard Joe Thuney to a five-year deal. Thuney joins a blocking unit in shambles following the release of both of its starting tackles. He’s among the best pass-blocking interior lineman in the NFL, and within Kansas City’s scheme, Thuney should establish himself as a star. The only real negative here is that it’s a large sum of money heading out for the Chiefs ($80 million), and for a franchise already struggling for cap space, it is nearly impossible to foresee Kansas City fielding a solid offensive line around Thuney.