N.F.L. free agency is in full swing, and this year is one of the most heated in recent memory. Many franchises turning there lists upside down, whilst others face the million dollar task off attracting fans back to a winning culture. Prominent quarterbacks, Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater each of whom have now all moved locker rooms, lead the list of free agent shakers.
Vikings’ all in on Win Now Kirk Cousins Franchise QB
The 29yo Kirk Cousins made potentially the best decision of his career, leaving some money on the table and joining the Super Bowl ready Vikings. After three full seasons as a starter for the Washington Redskins he is a unicorn of sorts as a franchise quarterback in his 20s who can choose to play wherever he’d like. As a result, his asking price is expected to be extraordinarily high and is now confirmed at Minnesota on 28 million a season.
What that means: The Vikings nearly made the Super Bowl with Keenum as their starting quarterback. Cousins, who has thrown for more than 13,000 yards and 81 touchdowns over the last three seasons, would represent a fairly substantial upgrade. There are those who point toward Cousins’s 26-30-1 career record as a starter as a potential warning sign, but he has consistently played on a team with a subpar defense, and that will not be a problem in Minnesota. Cousins would also enjoy a deeper supporting cast on offense, with a pair of star receivers in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, a rock solid tight end in Kyle Rudolph, and a potential star in Dalvin Cook, a second-year running back who had a good start to the 2017 season before missing the final 12 games of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Where they might go: All three of the Vikings’ quarterbacks are on their way to new teams. Case Keenum going to the Broncos, Teddy Bridgewater will sign with the Jets and Sam Bradford with the Cardinals.
Bridgewater was once an ascending star who was expected to lead the Vikings to the promised land and, when his knee exploded before the 2016 season, Bradford was the quarterback Minnesota traded two draft picks to acquire.
What that means: Bradford, 30, has occasionally shown signs of why he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, but he has also dealt with fairly serious injuries. He inherits a Cardinals team that was a contender with Carson Palmer on the field over the last few years but fairly bad without him. If Bradford can stay injury-free, there is the potential for a good fit, but it will be an uphill climb in the competitive N.F.C. West. The stakes are lower for the 25-year-old Bridgewater, who has attempted just two passes in the two seasons since his devastating knee injury (both fell incomplete). He looked great in 2015, and has youth on his side, but the Jets are also bringing back Josh McCown, and have enough question marks on the team’s roster to ease the pressure on Bridgewater’s comeback.
Jordy Nelson Out, Jimmy Graham In for Green Bay
Where he might go: It is too soon to know which teams Nelson might be interested in joining, since the Packers did not announce his release until 5 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, but there will surely be suitors lined up for the 32-year-old wide receiver. For mine, he would be an outstanding and dominant threat with the Patriots and Tom Brady.
What that means: After a down year in which he had just 53 catches for 482 yards, Nelson became expendable to the Packers. The fact that his release will give the team $10.2 million in cap space was certainly the deciding factor considering the respect he commands in an out of the Packers organization. In the announcement of Nelson’s release, Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst said “Jordy will always be a member of the Packers family and we look forward to his eventual induction into the Packers Hall of Fame.” Nelson is expected to put off that induction by signing with another team, and just a year removed from a season in which he had 1,257 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns, it is reasonable to think that he still has something to offer.
With some money freed up, the Packers are believed to have reached an agreement with Jimmy Graham, a five-time Pro Bowler at tight end, who had 57 catches for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns last season with the Seattle Seahawks. The 31-year-old was a favorite target for Drew Brees in New Orleans, had a good rapport with Russell Wilson in Seattle, and will now get a chance to catch passes from another top-shelf quarterback in Aaron Rodgers.
Malcolm Butler Headed to Titans
Where he might go: Butler appears committed to joining the Titans after four years in New England. A 28-year-old cornerback, he will be paid like a top defensive back even after a rocky end to his career with the Patriots.
What that means: Butler was once the hero of a Super Bowl victory thanks to a last-minute interception and had developed into one of the game’s better cornerbacks in just his third year, but a poor end to the 2017 season and a bizarre demotion to the bench for last year’s Super Bowl made him a bit of a wild card heading into free agency. Butler is not old enough to have lost a step, and the Titans clearly believe he just needed a change of scenery. But the Patriots are known for getting rid of players at just the right time — if occasionally a year early — so he is far from a sure thing to succeed.
Jerick McKinnon to 49ers
Where he might go: Running back Jerick McKinnon was set to sign for the 49ers, ESPN, NFL.com and other outlets reported. His deal would be for $30 million over four years, ESPN reported.
What that means: McKinnon would replace Carlos Hyde, who is leaving the Niners and headed to the Browns.
Drafted by the Vikings in the third round out of Georgia Southern in 2014, McKinnon started his career as a backup to Adrian Peterson. Last season, he got a chance for a bigger role when the rookie Dalvin Cook was injured and responded with his best season, 570 yards rushing and 421 receiving, both career highs.
Along with Latavius Murray, he provided an effective rushing attack that helped send the Vikings to the conference championship game.
Trumaine Johnson Chooses Jets
Where he might go: The 28-year-old cornerback is walking away from the Los Angeles Rams after six seasons and will be part of the rebuilding process with the Jets.
What that means: It is slightly surprising for one of the biggest prizes of the off-season to end up with the Jets, a team that had to overachieve to go 5-11 last season. But the Jets should certainly benefit from adding a defensive back squarely in his prime who has 18 career interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns. The question is if they can be a contending team while he is still at the top of his game.
Case Keenum Out to Prove Himself With Broncos
Where he might go: His regular season success, and a postseason touchdown throw that will be remembered for decades, were not enough to earn him the full-time job in Minnesota, so Keenum has reportedly agreed to terms with the Denver Broncos to take over as that team’s starting quarterback. The deal cannot be completed until Wednesday, but all indications are that he has found a permanent home.
What that means: The Broncos won the Super Bowl as recently as the 2015 season, but the retirement of Peyton Manning after his second Super Bowl title left the team without a reliable starting quarterback. That led to two years missing the playoffs as the once-terrific defense slowly withered away. Enter Keenum, who had been stamped with the label of journeyman backup until last season, but will now be asked to prove that his 11-2 record as a starter in 2017 was not a fluke. There is plenty of statistical evidence to show that Keenum earned his success last season, but stepping away from the talent-ridden Vikings could make him suddenly appear far more pedestrian.
Drew Brees Staying in New Orleans
What that means: The 17-year veteran lasted a few hours as a free agent before the Saints did what everyone expected, bringing him back on a two-year deal that will most likely ensure that he finishes his career in New Orleans. While Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara both had fantastic seasons, leading to much more diversity in the Saints offense, Brees was still the team’s engine, throwing for more than 4,000 passing yards for the 12th consecutive season. His 23 touchdown passes were the fewest he had thrown since 2005, but the 39-year-old can still get the job done.
Andrew Norwell Upgrades Jacksonville’s Line
Where he might go: Several news media reports indicate that Norwell, a guard, will sign with the Jaguars on the largest contract ever for a player of his position. He is also expected to break records for average money per season and guaranteed money.
What that means: The Carolina Panthers were unwilling to pay money more typically associated with offensive tackles to a guard, but the Jaguars saw a good fit for the first-team All-Pro player. He immediately upgrades Jacksonville’s line and should make life considerably easier for Leonard Fournette, the team’s rookie running back who had 1,040 rushing yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie despite inconsistent work from the team’s interior linemen.
Allen Robinson, on the Comeback Trail, Leaves Jaguars
Where he might go: It is expected that Robinson, a 24-year-old wide receiver, will sign a three-year deal with the Bears, where he will try to aid in the development of the team’s young quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky.
What that means: Robinson was well on his way to being considered a top-flight receiver after he finished the 2015 season with 80 catches for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. He slowed down some in 2016, and missed all but one game in 2017 because of a torn A.C.L., but he is still young and, at 6 feet 3 inches and 220 pounds, he provides a big target for Trubisky.
Sammy Watkins Makes the Speedy Chiefs Even Faster
Where he might go: All signs are pointing toward Watkins, the 24-year-old wide receiver, signing with the Kansas City Chiefs after just one season with the Los Angeles Rams.
What that means: He has not quite lived up to the hype generated by his sophomore season in 2015, but Watkins had bursts of production for the Rams last season, and he gives the Chiefs another burner on offense alongside Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt. Kansas City’s offense may be fairly inconsistent as Patrick Mahomes gets used to the starting quarterback job, but the strong-armed Mahomes should not have to worry about overthrowing many players this year.
Danny Amendola Leaving Patriots
Where he might go: The undersized 32-year-old wide receiver is on the verge of signing with the Miami Dolphins, where he is expected to be one of two additions to a new-look offense along with Albert Wilson, formerly of the Chiefs.
What that means: Amendola was a fan favorite and a frequent target for Tom Brady in the passing game, but the oft-injured receiver has never had production that matched his level of fame. Last season was just the third time in his nine seasons that Amendola played in as many as 15 games, but he did well with that opportunity, catching 61 passes for 659 yards. The highlight of his season was putting up 152 receiving yards in New England’s loss to Philadelphia in Super Bowl LII. The thought of a breakout season at this point for the former Texas Tech star is a little unrealistic, but he can make a big play on occasion, which could prove useful for Miami. Wilson, at 25, has more potential for career growth, but he is also much less of a sure thing.
Richard Sherman Joins 49ers
Where he went: As has been known for a few days, Sherman, the 29-year old cornerback who has starred for the Seattle Seahawks for the last seven seasons, is headed to San Francisco to bring a veteran presence to a youthful team.
What that means: Sherman is working his way back from a tear of his Achilles’ tendon, but the 49ers must have been confident that he can regain his explosiveness since they have agreed to pay him $13 million in 2018. The contract is structured to help the team if Sherman does not perform, but he will bring intelligence and swagger to a defense that is still firmly in rebuilding mode.
Super Bowl Odds
|New England Patriots|
|Green Bay Packers|
|New Orleans Saints|
|Kansas City Chiefs|
|San Francisco 49ers|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers|