The NFL is two weeks into free agency, and all the big money is now gone. So who has benefitted from all the spending and shuffling? That’s the subject of our weekly Talk of Fame Network poll – which team has been the big winner thus far in free agency. Here are your eight options:
Cleveland Browns. The Browns allowed an NFL-leading 66 sacks last season, 15 more than any other team, and finished 30th in offense. So blocking was a problem that Cleveland addressed this offseason, signing free-agent guard Kevin Zeitler and center J.C. Tretter and spending $52 million to re-sign guard Joe Bitonio. Zeitler cost $60 million and Tretter $16.75 million. Line those three up alongside perennial Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas, and the Browns may actually have the blocking to run their offense this season, regardless who the quarterback is.
Denver Broncos. The Browns weren’t the only team looking to upgrade their blocking front. The offensive line let the Broncos down in defense of their Super Bowl championship. Denver allowed 40 sacks and finished 27th in rushing. So John Elway signed a run blocker (Ron Leary) away from one of the NFL’s best run-blocking lines (Dallas) and a pass blocker (left tackle Menelik Watson) away from one of the NFL’s best pass-blocking lines (Oakland).
Detroit Lions. Blocking also was a problem for the Lions a year ago when they finished 30th in rushing. So the Lions spent $76 million for a couple of new offensive linemen, tackle Ricky Wagner from Baltimore and incumbent Pro Bowler T.J. Lang from Green Bay. Detroit also signed two wide bodies for the defensive line, Cornelius Washington and Akeem Spence. The Lions were a wild-card team a year ago. They are hoping bigger can make them better and a division champion this season.
Jacksonville Jaguars. This marks two consecutive offseasons the Jaguars have been big spenders. They spent $166 million in 2016 on three players – defensive end Malik Jackson, offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum and safety Tashaun Gipson – and all it got them was a 3-13 finish. This offseason the Jaguars have spent $153.5 million on three more players – cornerback A.J. Bouye, defensive end Calais Campbell and safety Barry Church. If defense does indeed win championships, Jacksonville ought to start seeing some dividends soon.
Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings couldn’t run the ball a year ago without Adrian Peterson, finishing dead last in the NFL in rushing, and on too many Sundays struggled to protect quarterback Sam Bradford. So Minnesota lured former 1,000-yard rusher Latavius Murray away from the Oakland Raiders and also signed a pair of offensive tackles, Riley Reiff from Detroit and Mike Remmers from Carolina. Those three players cost the Vikings $103.7 million.
New England Patriots. Not many incumbent Pro Bowlers reach free agency, but Buffalo cornerback Stephon Gilmore did – and the Patriots gave him $40 million guaranteed to change addresses in the division. That’s the most guaranteed money given any free agent to change teams this season. The Patriots also made trades to bring in a speed receiver (Brandin Cooks), a pass-catching tight end (Dwayne Allen) and a 3-4 defensive end (Kony Ealy).
Philadelphia Eagles. Carson Wentz struggled at times as a rookie last season, throwing 14 interceptions against his 16 TD passes. He was young, and his receiving corps was young. The Eagles finished 24th in passing and under .500 on the season (7-9). To accelerate the development of a young quarterback, you give him better weapons — and the Eagles have done that this offseason, signing Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Both are former 1,000-yard receivers and Jeffery a former Pro Bowler. Jeffery had a 10-touchdown season in 2015 and Smith an 11-touchdown season in 2014.
San Francisco 49ers. There were a lot of holes on a team that finished 31st in offense and 32nd in defense – and the 49ers signed a lot of players to fill them: Quarterback Brian Hoyer, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin, tight end Logan Paulsen, linebacker Malcom Smith, kicker Robbie Gould and special teams ace Don Jones. Standing pat was not an option for a 2-14 team.