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Monday, March 4, 2024

Shocking moves, trades catapult new contenders

With many blockbuster trades, is this the start of something new? Looking at every big move in this whirlwind NFL offseason

By MARLON ROLON — sports@theaggie.org

 

 During the last week of the NFL season, two fan bases get to dream of watching their team hoist the Lombardi trophy. Of course, only one team is crowned the Super Bowl champion and one fanbase gets to enjoy the championship euphoria, while the other fanbase is left heartbroken. One of the most exciting times comes during the offseason — where hopes, aspirations and dreams are planted.

The 2022 NFL offseason has been one of the most memorable offseason in recent memory. The salary cap increased to $208.2 million — a $25.7 million increase from last year. The higher cap provided more flexibility for teams which gave free agents an opportunity to earn lucrative contracts. 

The NFL has never seen so much movement from star free agents going to new teams, to teams trading away impactful players for draft capital. With so much movement around the league, new teams have emerged as legitimate playoff contenders. People say the NFL is a copycat league: Teams who added star players within their divisions encouraged opposing teams to go out and make a splash signing in order to compete for the division crown — and, that’s exactly what some of them did. 

 

Free Agency Summary

 

On March 8, Aaron Rodgers announced he would stay put in Green Bay after much speculation that he would either retire or sign elsewhere in pursuit of a ring. The Packers signed Rodgers to a 4-year extension where he’s set to earn $150.8 million in the first three years of the deal. This move is seen as a head scratcher to some but necessary to others. Rodgers has been on the record of being unhappy with the Packers organization. Rodgers had said multiple times that he wants to be surrounded by players who give him the best opportunity to win another Super Bowl. Therefore, the move of trading one of the best receivers, Davante Adams, and another reliable receiver in free agency, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, is surprising. The Packers seem to have gotten worse with the loss of playmakers and how they maximize Aaron Rodgers’ remaining years has yet to be seen.  

The Rodgers news was big and put some quarterback news to rest, but that would not be all that day. The Seattle Seahawks agreed to trade QB Russell Wilson and a fourth-round pick in the 2022 draft to the Denver Broncos in exchange for three players and five total draft picks. The Seahawks seem to be in a rebuilding situation, but with so much draft capital with proper draft management their future is potentially bright. The Broncos on the other hand are putting all their chips on the table with this trade. With Wilson at the helm, they’re contending for the AFC West title — 2015 being the last time they won the division — and anything short of the playoffs or possible Super Bowl in the near future might be seen as a failed experiment.

The Indianapolis Colts were on the move, trading away QB Carson Wentz to the Washington Commanders for draft capital. Wentz will get another fresh start with a chance to revive his career in Washington after his lone season in Indy. The Colts will get the Commanders 2022 and 2023 third-round picks; the teams also swapped their second-round picks. The Colts held the 47th pick, but with the swap, they moved down to No. 42 in the upcoming draft. After reports that Wentz was also an issue off the field, it was clear why the Colts would look in a different direction.

 On March 10, the Los Angeles Chargers made a splash trading for prominent pass-rusher Khalil Mack. The Chicago Bears traded away a six-time Pro Bowler for the Chargers’ 2022 second-round pick and their sixth-round pick in 2023. The Chargers are another team to look out for, as they already had some talent on the defense with Pro Bowl caliber Joey Bosa who is coming off a 10.5 sack season. Adding the services of Mack makes the Charger defense scary, and not only is the defense much improved, but also their star signal caller Justin Herbert is one of the best young quarterbacks the league has to offer, so the Chargers could be a serious threat in the AFC West. The Chargers were not done; however, as they also lured free agent CB J.C. Jackson from the Patriots, signing him to a five-year deal worth $82.5 million including $40 million guaranteed. 

A few days later on March 12, the Dallas Cowboys traded WR Amari Cooper along with a sixth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for a 2022 fifth-round and sixth-round pick. The Cowboys played it smart here by dumping Cooper’s big contract to another team that’s willing to pay him $20 million a year. Sure, Cooper is an elite receiver that is only 27; however, his inconsistencies of disappearing in the game happen randomly throughout the season. But when he is on his game he is more than capable of being a go-to guy in crunch time. By trading him away to the Browns, the Cowboys saved $16 million in cap space. 

The drama was far from over on March 13, as Tom Brady shockingly announced his comeback from his brief 40-day retirement. Brady’s comeback has Tampa Bay back in contention to battle for the NFC crown. Especially with many superstars going to the AFC, the path to make a run for another Super Bowl appearance has never been so wide. 

The Dallas Cowboys and DE Randy Gregory had initially agreed to a deal; however, on March 15, Gregory had a change of heart and decided to sign with the Broncos to a five-year, $70 million contract. Gregory’s change of heart at the last minute was a surprise, but according to his agent a language change in the contract made him not want to play for the Cowboys. There were clauses within the contract that Gregory didn’t agree with and the fact that Wilson recruited Gregory made it easier for him to sign with the Broncos. 

The following day, another pass-rusher went off the board as Chandler Jones signed a three-year, $51 million contract with the Las Vegas Raiders. To make room for Jones, the Raiders opted to trade edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue to the Colts in exchange for CB Rock Ya-Sin. With the Chargers and Broncos making significant moves, the Raiders needed to improve their defense to keep up with their division. Pairing Jones with Crosby makes the Raider pass rush scary as the duo is now constructed to get after Herbert, Mahomes and Wilson.

The Buffalo Bills made a significant move in signing prized free agent and two time Super Bowl winning outside linebacker Von Miller to a six-year deal worth $120 million. The Bills were 13 seconds away from reaching the AFC championship game last season, but Mahomes torched their defense to send the Bills home. Buffalo has improved their defense and should have no problem going up against any team in the AFC, especially with rising star quarterback Josh Allen leading the team.

With the big name players almost all off the board, the Raiders sent shockwaves throughout the league when they traded their 2022 first and second-round picks to the Packers for WR Davante Adams. Adams is highly regarded as the top receiver in the NFL and the Raiders gave Adams a five-year contract worth $141.25 million. Adams will play for his childhood team and with college teammate Derek Carr. Las Vegas’ offense now has Darren Waller, Hunter Renfrow, Adams, Josh Jacobs and of course, Carr. The Raiders are loaded, but the AFC West is stacked with talent on both ends of the ball. The deals for wide receivers were not done, as the Los Angeles Rams added to their offensive firepower in signing WR Allen Robinson to a three-year contract. Robinson is set to make $45 million with $30 million being guaranteed. The Rams lost some instrumental pieces on defense during free agency but they are still the team to beat in the NFC.

In one of the biggest and most questionable moves of the offseason, Texans traded QB Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns for three first-round picks (2022-2024), a third-rounder (2023), and two fourth-rounders (2022, 2024). Watson signed to a five-year contract that’s worth a record-breaking $230 million guaranteed. Before the addition of Watson, the Browns were considered to be one of the most talented teams in the NFL. They have a formidable defense and the best running back tandem in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the league. Also, with the addition of Watson — granted he plays — and Cooper, they should be considered Superbowl contenders. This trade spoke for the Browns that they’re betting their entire future that Watson will take them to the promiseland. Cleveland gave up a lot here, especially for a player that is facing cases of sexual misconduct. There is also potential discipline to be imposed by the NFL — if found guilty, Watson faces a lengthy suspension. The Texans, on the other hand, acquired a massive draft pick package to help with their rebuilding process. 

After the free-agency frenzy slowed down, the Atlanta Falcons traded their longtime QB Matt Ryan to the Colts. The Falcons received the Colts 2022 third-round pick. The Falcons then added free agent QB Marcus Mariota to a two-year contract. Mariota will get an opportunity to play an entire season after being the Raiders backup for the past two-years. In the limited playing time that he got in Las Vegas, Mariota looked capable of being a starter with his mobility in the pocket and his decent arm. 

In an offseason with shocking WR moves, one of the bigger ones was yet to come. The Chiefs shockingly traded six-time pro-bowl WR Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a 2022 first-round and second-pick, fourth-round pick, and 2023 fourth and sixth-round picks. Before trading away Hill the Chiefs signed star WR JuJu Smith-Schuster to a one-year deal and  signed free agent Marquez Valdes-Scantling to a 3-year, $30 million deal. Kansas City is still dangerous with the likes of Mahomes, Travis Kelce and the newly added talent but the AFC West is now up for grabs as the Chargers, Broncos, and Raiders have vastly improved and we have yet to see what the Chiefs do to replace the explosive Hill. 

On the flip side, the Miami Dolphins are another team that has improved during free agency, especially with the addition of Hill. The Dolphins gave Hill a four-year, $120 million extension including $72.2 million guaranteed making him the highest paid receiver in NFL history. QB Tua Tagovailoa will now have a premier target who is considered the fastest receiver in the NFL. There’s more, the Dolphins upgraded their position at running back by signing Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds to help Tua on the ground. This tandem has a lot of potential, and Tagovailoa is now entering the biggest season of his young career. 

 

Power Shift

 

The NFL is changing in terms of teams becoming aggressive in pursuit of trading away assets for star players. The increase in the salary cap has a lot to do with that. Additionally, players who play certain positions have more leverage in asking for more money as the market rises. This is forcing teams to trade them for draft assets or other players similar to what the NBA does. Players are now choosing to be traded to a team that they desire, something that would rarely happen before. Teams would trade players away to teams that offered the most value. In today’s game, players threaten to sit out for the season if they’re dealt to a team they do not wish to play for. Davante Adams is a perfect example; he was franchise tagged by Green Bay, but he made it clear he would not play on the tag. Adams wished to be traded to the Raiders to play with his college teammate and got the payday he desired for so long — something the Packers were not willing to grant until the last hour when they attempted to match the Raiders offer. However, it was too late, Adams felt unappreciated and chose his hometown team instead.

The Rams are a perfect example and the blueprint of trading for star players or signing them through free agency for a chance to win a Super Bowl, like they did last season. Teams are going all in as it has been evident in the 2022 offseason. Teams are willing to mortgage their future by trading away their draft picks for a proven player that can take them over the hump just like Matthew Stafford did in winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Rams. This offseason can potentially change the way teams approach free agency moving forward, depending on who wins the Super Bowl by season’s end. If a team who was aggressive during free agency wins, expect an offseason like this one to be the new norm. But if it backfires big time, these teams could regret it down the line. 

 

Written by: Marlon Rolon — sports@theaggie.org

 

 

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