NFL free agency primer, Tom Brady rumors, draft talk and more


NFL free agency is upon us, and while Tom Brady dominates the headlines, the Tennessee Titans made the biggest gamble in the young offseason.

Ryan Tannehill changed the landscape of 2020 NFL free agency and a pair of careers.

Yeah, that’s a sentence we all saw coming at Thanksgiving.

Tannehill’s four-year, $118 million ($91M guaranteed) deal with the Tennessee Titans sets the stage for one of the more dramatic free-agency periods in recent memory.

For starters, it means Tennessee’s starting quarterback spot is spoken for. Tom Brady won’t be a Titan, and he can’t use the notion as leverage with New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. His options are essentially down to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Chargers.

Both Tampa Bay and Los Angeles have fan attendance issues and would presumably offer almost anything to land Brady. Whether Brady wants to give up his situation in Foxborough for either is unknown, but his choices are now limited.

Tennessee always made sense for Brady. He played with head coach Mike Vrabel, the weather is relatively mild and the team is a Super Bowl contender. With the Bucs and Bolts, only one-third of those statements is true, and it’s the least important one.

Tannehill’s deal also means the best running back is off the table.

Derrick Henry is going to be slapped with the franchise tag as the Titans attempt to work out a deal. Had he hit free agency, the rival Houston Texans would have been a great fit, with both Carlos Hyde and Lamar Miller hitting the open market come Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET when the new league year kicks in.

With Henry off the table and Melvin Gordon rumored to be a target of the cap room-rich Miami Dolphins, perhaps Hyde or Miller end up back in Houston.

The Tannehill contract also makes the negotiations with other quarterbacks tougher, especially in Dallas.

The Cowboys have been pushing to sign Dak Prescott long term to open up the franchise tag for Amari Cooper. It was a longshot to happen anyway before Monday’s deadline, but when Tannehill’s numbers came out, Prescott’s price on guaranteed money had to shoot up. He’s far more accomplished and much younger. He also has more sweat equity in the Cowboys than Tannehill has with the Titans.

Finally, how it all impacts Tennessee and its situation moving forward.

The Titans are all-in on the Tannehill-Henry tandem, especially if their intention is to sign their All-Pro running back to a lucrative extension.

General manager Jon Robinson pushed in all his chips, much like the Jacksonville Jaguars did with Nick Foles last offseason. For Jacksonville, it ended in a 5-11 season and a full-scale rebuild 12 months later. Tennessee is better positioned to make a deep run in 2020 than the Jaguars were in 2019, but Tannehill was terrific for 10 games. This remains a massive gamble.

Make no mistake: if Tannehill reverts back to his Miami form, Robinson and Vrabel will be out jobs within a few years. This is a career-altering bet for both.

One signing, a bevy of altered futures. Welcome to NFL free agency.

Power rankings

Top 10 impactful signings of 2019 free agency 

1. Tyrann Mathieu, FS, Kansas City Chiefs (three years, $42M, $26.8M guaranteed)
2. Earl Thomas, FS, Baltimore Ravens (four years, $55M, $32M)
3. Shaquil Barrett, EDGE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (one year, $4M, $3M)
4. Za’Darius Smith, EDGE, Green Bay Packers (four years, $66M, $20M)
5. Mark Ingram, RB, Baltimore Ravens (three years, $15M, $6.5M)
6. Preston Smith, EDGE, Green Bay Packers (four years, $52M, $16M)
7. John Brown, WR, Buffalo Bills (three years, $27M, $11.7M)
8. Rodger Saffold, OG, Tennessee Titans (four years, $44M, $22.5M)
9. Kareem Jackson, S, Denver Broncos (three years, $33M, $22M)
10. Justin Houston, OLB, Indianapolis Colts (two years, $24M, $18.5M)


– NFLPA president DeMaurice Smith presenting his thoughts on the new CBA

Shortly after this tweet, the NFLPA ratified the proposed Collective Bargaining Agreement. It passed by 65 votes and became effective immediately, ensuring labor peace for the decade.

So what does it mean? In the near future, a 17-game season and a new playoff format. It also means significant raises for minimum-wage players, in some cases $100,000 per year. The new CBA also means more jobs with an increased roster size once the schedule is elongated.

From a fan’s perspective, the main takeaway is the longer season. From the players’ vantage point, it means a major annual bump in the salary cap. FanSided reported from the NFL Scouting Combine that next year’s cap could reach $240 million, although the potential recession is a stumbling block nobody saw coming a month ago.

And for the owners, it’s more money even with giving up 1.5 percent more of total revenues to the players (47 percent to 48.5 percent). An easy deal for them to sign off on.


Random stat

The San Francisco 49ers beat the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams 17 consecutive times in the 1990s.

Then, in 1999, the Rams swept the series and won Super Bowl XXXIV behind Kurt Warner’s magical season.

Only the Dolphins beating the Bills all 20 times in the 1970s is a longer winning streak against one opponent in NFL history.

Info learned this week

1. Coronavirus impact of NFL Draft in early stages

The coronavirus outbreak in the United States is becoming more serious by the day. Late last week, it began affecting the NFL.

The league announced its annual owner’s meetings were canceled, set originally for March 29-April 1 in Palm Beach, Florida. More importantly, teams began scuttling travel for scouts and coaches, while non-essential personnel has been asked to work exclusively from home for an indefinite period.

The NFL Draft is still six weeks away, scheduled to start on April 23. Whether the league will move it back or continue whether fans can be there or not remains to be known. What is known is the coronavirus is rapidly changing the draft’s landscape, especially in relation to pro days being called off and private visits being taken away.

Right now, the whole country is in a holding pattern. Nobody is quite sure how long this threat will last and when it will plateau, including the NFL. The right move is to exercise caution and worry about the public’s health instead of a sporting event.

Still, strictly from a football standpoint, the disruption in draft planning is testing all teams to figure out their best practices for finding top talent next month. We’ll see which ones do the best.

2. Patriots have far more than Brady on their mind

Tom Brady is the headliner, but don’t miss the other acts in New England.

Yes, Brady will rightfully be the talk of the football world this week and beyond, but Bill Belichick has other players to consider as well.

New England has $41.6 million available, but the money dries up quickly. If Brady isn’t signed by March 18, his contract is voided, leaving the Patriots with a $13.5 million cap hit. Should New England sign Brady between now and then, his cap charge will obviously be larger than the $13.5M, leaving some tough decisions on Belichick’s desk.

After re-signing core special teams player Matthew Slater, the Patriots are still watching linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, guard Joe Thuney, center Ted Karras, receiver Phillip Dorsett and safety Devin McCourty all hit free agency. Some may return, but many will be gone.

This is going to be a frenetic time for a place defined by being in complete control over the years.

3. Veteran releases provide a buy-low opportunity for contenders

The salary cap purging has begun.

On Thursday, the Titans cut running back Dion Lewis and edge rusher Cam Wake.  Later in the day, it was the Packers releasing tight end Jimmy Graham. The Miami Dolphins also moved on from former Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones. Earlier in the week, it was linebacker Christian Kirksey getting his walking papers from the Cleveland Browns.

Friday saw more cuts. The Minnesota Vikings made the expected moves of cutting cornerback Xavier Rhodes and Linval Joseph, clearing $18.6 million. The Los Angeles Chargers also released a pair of defensive veterans in tackle Brandon Mebane and linebacker Thomas Davis. The savings there is $9.5M.

For contenders, the flood of older, proven players represents a chance to get better at a meager price. With some of the league’s best teams against the cap — the New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers and 49ers among them — these recycled vets are a decent bet to have a few quality years left before the rocking chair.

While none will garner major attention at the outset of free agency, each could play a big role in the upcoming season if given the right role and some good health.

4. Bengals should change stripes in free agency

The Cincinnati Bengals are cheap. This has long been both reputation and reality.

Owner and general manager Mike Brown should open the wallet this week for a few reasons:

1) Improve the team
2) Show Joe Burrow he’s serious about winning

To go on an all-out spending spree would be foolish, with Cincinnati so far away from contention. This doesn’t have to be the New York Jets signing Le’Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley only to go 7-9.

This can be a smart approach while showcasing a winner’s mentality. The Bengals can add across their roster with a projected $55 million in cap space. There’s no reason for Cincinnati not to be aggressive in free-agent offensive linemen, giving Burrow a fighting chance in his first season. Defensively, look for second-tier cornerbacks and find some additional pass rush beyond Geno Atkins.

Again, this isn’t saying Byron Jones and Jadeveon Clowney. This is talking about the next group. Bashaud Breeland and Dante Fowler, for example.

If the Bengals ever want to compete on the highest level, they need to shake the shackles of penny-pinching and get in the mix.

5. Beginning of draft could be impacted this week

We’ve all been reading or producing mock drafts for the past few months. All of them can be thrown in the trash.

With free agency comes a complete revamping of needs for each team. Some will lose players and create holes across the roster, while others will essentially take care of their biggest weaknesses with large checks.

While we know the Bengals and Burrow are an item, what of the three teams behind Cincinnati? The Washington Redskins are extraordinarily likely to take Ohio State Buckeyes edge rusher Chase Young, but would a package of multiple first-round picks entice them to move down? Tough to say, but if they add a pass-rusher in free agency, there might be a hint to be had.

Next, the Detroit Lions. Ohio State cornerback Jeffrey Okaduh is the popular choice, but could Detroit surprise us by not trading Darius Slay and adding some defensive muscle throughout March? If so, maybe that means Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert, playing understudy to Matthew Stafford for a season.

Finally, the New York Giants. Few teams have as many needs. The most-pressing could be at tackle. However, if general manager Dave Gettleman lands Jack Conklin, suddenly the need at No. 4 overall for Big Blue changes drastically.

The moving parts are everywhere over the next few days and weeks. Pay attention to the big picture.

History lesson

The 1980 Oakland Raiders became the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl playing four postseason rounds.

Oakland was the AFC’s fourth seed – the top wild card — and beat the Houston Oilers at home before defeating the Browns and San Diego Chargers on the road. In Super Bowl XV, the Raiders demolished the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10, at the Superdome.

Parting shot

Our country is seemingly coming undone around COVID-19.

Now is not the time for anger and division. It’s time to put down our political swords and look into the eyes of our neighbors. It’s a time for using good judgment and thinking about more than our needs. It’s a time to be the best version of what America is supposed to stand for.

How long this health crisis continues for is a great unknown. We may be looking at weeks or months. What we do know is it’ll pass. What we don’t know is how many will be gone before it does.

This is one of the more challenging times I can remember in my 31 years.

I’m old enough to remember the 9/11 attacks. I remember sitting in my eighth grade English class and watching those towers come down. I was 90 miles from the carnage, a fact not lost on me as my classmates frantically ran down the hallway, looking for a phone to call loved ones in the city.

Outside of that day, COVID-19 and its impact ranks among the starkest memories I have of Americans enduring panic and fear. Whether it’s justified or not is immaterial because it’s existence is very real.

The point? Look deep in your neighbor’s eyes and understand we must be there for one another.