With the first and second waves of free agency (mostly) over, all 32 teams across the league appear to have survived the annual trolly dash that will inevitably lead to relative league wide mediocrity. However, whilst one team stands out as having benefited the most from said free agency; here we take a look at who has improved over the last couple of weeks and who continues to struggle heading into the draft.
0-16 feels like a long time ago now. The Browns turned the NFL on its head when they bagged Odell Beckham Jr., bringing a generational star wide receiver back to the AFC North just as another departed. The trade means that Cleveland won’t be on the clock until the 49th pick in April; a stark change for a franchise that seemingly always has a top 5 pick. Whilst the trade for Beckham Jr. will get all the headlines, don’t underestimate the other moves made by the Browns. Kareem Hunt is a steal, and look for 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson and former 3rd round pick Olivier Vernon to strengthen a potentially lethal defensive line. Whilst they may still be behind the Pats and the Chiefs, the Browns are loaded, and might just be the 3rd best team in the AFC; something that was unthinkable for the Dawg Pound before John Dorsey took the reins in 2017.
The Titans narrowly missed out on consecutive playoff appearance seasons (9-7), but their additions in free agency certainly show they intend to get back to their first Super Bowl in 20 years. Many people will disagree, but the trade for Ryan Tannehill might well be Tennessee’s most important move with Marcus Mariota fast becoming the NFL’s equivalent of Mickey Mantle (injuries not talent). Whilst Tannehill won’t light up the scoreboard in Nashville, he is a better option at the backup QB position when compared to Blaine Gabbert, and could propel this Titans team into the 10-11 win bracket when called upon. And how about stealing Adam Humphries from under the noses of the defending champs? Humphries will fill a huge need at a team crying out for a wide receiver. Nevertheless, one potential roadblock for Tennessee could be what is now looking like a loaded AFC South. Time will indeed reveal all as to whether Tennessee can challenge in 2019, but their free agency additions certainly have done them no harm.
Whenever a team acquires arguably one of the league’s best players for just a third and fifth rounder, they are onto a winner. Whilst the trade for Antonio Brown in itself was not surprising, the value (or lack of) that Oakland had to give up to acquire him was. It gave the impression the Steelers were so desperate to ship Brown they were willing to trade him anywhere outside of New England, including a fellow AFC powerhouse franchise for peanuts. Unbelievably the Raiders are still sitting pretty with three first round picks in the upcoming draft. Brown wasn’t the only big name to head to the Bay Area, though. Super Bowl winning offensive linesmen Trent Brown will offer Derek Carr some much needed protection (the Raiders were 27th in sacks allowed in 2018), whilst LaMarcus Joyner (formerly of the NFC Champion L.A Rams), and Vontaze Burfict (who has had multiple run ins with Antonio Brown), will certainly sure up Oakland’s sieve like defense. All in all, expect the Raiders final season in Oakland to be considerably better.
New York Giants
Yikes. The free agency period went about as badly as you could imagine for the G-Men. Along with Jabrill Peppers and two draft picks, the Browns seemed to have also sent the accolade of ‘basement team’ to the Giants. For a team that doesn’t score an awful lot (23.1 PPG in 2018), trading your star receiver isn’t going to help. The 2019 Giants offense will consist of Saquon Barkley and… not a lot else. Not a lot includes the signing of Golden Tate (now 31 years old) to a 4 year, $37.5m deal, but his best days are behind him, and worryingly for New York, Tate will be the best wideout on their roster. Additionally, the departure of Landon Collins for the division rival Redskins leaves a big hole in the safety position on an already flaky defence that gave up 25.8 PPG in 2018. The positives are hard to find for fans of the Giants, aside from the fact they could draft the successor to Eli Manning in April. Bold prediction: the Giants will hold the first overall pick in 2020.
Kansas City Chiefs
No, this is not me saying this because I am Chiefs fan, but I genuinely cannot see how the Chiefs have improved during free agency. Providing Patrick Mahomes and the rest of the offense light it up again in 2019, the Chiefs are a reliable defense away from winning a championship. KC ranked #31 in total defense in 2018, and Andy Reid literally gave away their best defensive players in the form of its league leading pass rush duo of Dee Ford and Justin Houston, and its defensive leader and fan favourite Eric Berry. Whilst these departures freed up a lot of cap space, the most recognizable name on the Chiefs defense is Tyrann Mathieu; who has a lot to prove going into to the 2019 season. The problem for the Chiefs is they are in win now territory; after all they were a coin toss away from a first Super Bowl appearance in 49 years last season. In an offseason where the defence just needs to be improved from the league’s worst to an improved status of simply ‘mediocre’, they will once again be exposed when it most matters, unless they have one hell of a draft.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will look a lot different next season. No Brown. No Bell. Simply put, Pittsburgh has imploded ever since the end of the 2017 season and that implosion carried on throughout 2018 and free agency. Letting Jesse James leave is a strange move, but it has ultimately been overshadowed by the departures of the double B’s. James would be a starting TE on most teams and now leaves a Pittsburgh offense looking remarkably thin. Sure they still have Big Ben, Juju Smith-Schuster and breakout RB James Conner, but does their offensive firepower really compare to the Browns? Probably not. Consequently, Pittsburgh’s season will be heavily influenced by the performance of their division rivals in Baltimore and Cleveland, but it is very difficult to see whether the Steelers are any better than third best in the AFC North at present. Certainly worrying times for fans in the Steel City. B