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B/R NFL Staff Roundtable Takes on Free Agency from Early Tampering Period

NFL Staff

If you turned to NFL free agency for a distraction early this week, the frenzy delivered. 

Barely 24 hours into the legal tampering period, the shelves containing blue-chip impending free agents are nearly barren. The vast majority of the top players slated to hit the market have agreed to terms, and several blockbuster trades have been unofficially consummated. 

That being the case, Bleacher Report's team of NFL writers—Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski, Gary Davenport, Mike Freeman and Mike Tanier—have thoughts. Many, many thoughts.

Here are their takes on the first wave of free agency, roundtable-style. 

Biggest Surprise

Jason Behnken/Associated Press

The early stage of free agency almost always offers a few developments that make you double-check to confirm you aren't being duped by a phony Twitter account. Plenty of us have been fooled by "Adarn Schefter" or fake Ian Rapoport

But no, the Houston Texans really did agree to trade a superstar receiver for an expensive, fading running back. The San Francisco 49ers really did agree to trade one of their best defensive players to the usually conservative Indianapolis Colts. Byron Jones really did become the highest-paid defensive back in the league by a shocking margin. And Stefon Diggs really is about to become a member of the Buffalo Bills. 

Here's a look at what stunned our experts the most in the first day-and-a-half of free agency. 

     

Mike Freeman

The Texans shipping DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for a bag of kazoos. This is almost unfathomable and is definitely front-office malpractice. There was a collective "what the hell" from every corner of the sport.

            

Mike Tanier

To purposely not pick the most obvious stuff, I would say the 49ers-Colts DeForest Buckner trade stunned me. I didn't think he would be available, I didn't think the Colts would be aggressive in their pursuit of a high-end veteran after being so inactive last season, and I assumed they would want to keep their first-round pick so they could stay in the QB-of-the-future market. It's a clever move by the 49ers to extend their Super Bowl window while minding the cap. As for the Colts: They're an odd team to suddenly think they should be in win-now mode.

      

Ty Dunne

Buckner getting traded to Indy. He seemed like a 49er for life, but the big surprise is what the Colts gave up to get him. They sent a first-rounder to San Francisco and then signed him to a four-year, $84 million deal. Throw veteran quarterback Philip Rivers into the equation—the Colts signed him to a one-year contract Tuesday worth around $25 million—and wow. The Colts need to win in 2020.     

      

Brent Sobleski

How can this answer be anything other than the Texans trading Hopkins? The Texans have a legitimate problem, and it starts with grand poobah Bill O'Brien leading the way. The head coach/general manager received less-than-market value for both Hopkins and Jadeveon Clowney within the past seven months. What a disaster.

     

Brad Gagnon

Never rule out a stupid decision from Bill O'Brien, who has no business running a front office. But I never would have imagined Colts general manager Chris Ballard would trade a first-round pick away for a great-but-not-yet-incredible player and then pay said player $84 million. I trust Ballard, and I could see Buckner becoming a superstar, so this could very well pan out. But that doesn't make it any less shocking. 

     

Gary Davenport

Um, I'm going to go with trading an elite wide receiver for an injury-prone running back and a Day 2 pick. I still can't believe that it happened. I half-expect to hear tomorrow that the Texans traded J.J. Watt for a punter and 12 dollars and released Deshaun Watson.

Most Overpaid Player

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It often feels as though every player gets overpaid in the early stages of free agency. That's typically because many of them are. You have to pay a premium when the market opens, and desperate teams are usually willing to do so. 

But it's also somewhat of a shock to the system because the salary cap shoots up significantly every year, which basically means you have to add 5-10 percent to every comparable contract from the previous offseason.

It's still wild that in the first 24 hours of the legal tampering period, 16 players signed contracts worth at least $10 million per year. For the sake of comparison, only two free agents signed deals of that ilk throughout the entire 2011 offseason.

Who has been the biggest robber on the market so far?

     

Mike Freeman: None

Not a one. These guys deserve every penny they get.

     

Mike Tanier: OL George Fant (New York Jets)

I think of Fant as a backup tackle who is somewhat useful as an extra blocking tight end. The Jets somehow think of him as a starting tackle worth $30 million over three years. This is what happens when you neglect a position group for nearly a half-decade, then wander into free agency with money but no plan.

     

Ty Dunne: WR Randall Cobb (Houston Texans)

Randall Cobb's best days are long, long behind him. He is undersized, slow and aging, which does not exactly ease the sting of losing DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans could have used that $18.75 million of guaranteed money in so many other, more useful ways.

     

Brent Sobleski: OL Halapoulivaati Vaitai (Detroit Lions)

Follow me for a second: The Lions released right tackle Rick Wagner, who had a base pay of $9 million this season before being released, and signed Vaitai to a five-year, $50 million contract. Vaitai has 20 starts over his four-year career. Basically, the Lions paid a premium to get younger and less experienced.

     

Brad Gagnon: CB Byron Jones (Miami Dolphins)

Jones is a good cornerback, not a special one. He's been to one Pro Bowl in five years, he's never been an All-Pro and he hasn't intercepted a pass since 2017. He's consistently reliable, but he isn't a playmaker. So how can anyone—even the cap-rich Miami Dolphins—justify giving him a five-year, $82.5 million contract with $57 million guaranteed? That's stupid money for a player who isn't a game-changer.

     

Gary Davenport: WR Randall Cobb (Houston Texans)

After trading maybe the best wide receiver in the NFL, Bill O'Brien gave a three-year, $27 million contract to a slot receiver with one 1,000-yard season in nine years. Randall Cobb, come on down!

Which Team Took the Biggest Step Back?

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

We knew some teams had the luxury of going on shopping sprees, while others would suffer significant losses as a result of limited salary-cap space and high numbers of key impending free agents. 

But who was hit the hardest on Monday and Tuesday? 

Mike Freeman: New England Patriots

This one is easy. It's the Patriots. They lost the best quarterback ever. I don't care how old Brady is. This is a catastrophic loss.

        

Mike Tanier: Houston Texans

By trading DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans went from a team poised to go around 10-6 like they always do to one that could easily end up 5-11 if the Titans stay strong and the Colts improve. They also sent a message to players seeking contract extensions (like Laremy Tunsil and, soon, Deshaun Watson) that they don't have the patience for negotiations.

              

Ty Dunne: Houston Texans

The Texans. For obvious reasons that are still difficult to compute.

      

Brent Sobleski: New England Patriots

The Pats are not only losing Tom Brady, but Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins as well. Yes, the organization placed the franchise tag on Joe Thuney, but the "Patriot Way" will be tested without one of the two key components from its 20-year run.

     

Brad Gagnon: New England Patriots

The New England Patriots lose Collins-esque players every offseason and it never seems to hurt them, but this offseason is different. Take away Brady along with Collins and  Van Noy, and it's hard to view New England as a contender right now. It also doesn't help that the rest of the AFC East is tapping the Pats in the back bumper. 

     

Gary Davenport: New England Patriots

This is an easy call. The Patriots lost the most successful quarterback in NFL history and two key pieces on defense in Collins and Van Noy. The dynasty is dead.

Which Team Immediately Benefits Most from Their New No. 1 Receiver?

Brett Duke/Associated Press

Two star wide receivers were traded Monday, with DeAndre Hopkins moving from the Houston Texans to the Arizona Cardinals and Stefon Diggs jumping from the Minnesota Vikings to the Buffalo Bills. 

In both cases, young teams gave blossoming quarterbacks new No. 1 weapons. Josh Allen should benefit greatly from the arrival of Diggs in Buffalo, while Kyler Murray should be positioned for a breakout sophomore season thanks partly to Hopkins. 

But which of those two franchises will benefit the most? 

     

Mike Freeman: Arizona Cardinals 

Part of it is that Hopkins is a better player than Diggs. The other part is that Murray is on the edge of true stardom. Allen is really good, but Murray will be even better.

     

Mike Tanier: Buffalo Bills 

I think Nuk both upgrades the Cardinals and turbocharges Murray. But the Diggs acquisition, coupled with the you-know-who news in Foxborough, makes the Bills the favorites to win their division at the moment.

       

Ty Dunne: Arizona Cardinals

This is easy: Arizona. Murray immediately proved that he can sling it in the pros, plays in a pass-happy offense, and Hopkins is Hopkins. Nobody knows yet what to make of Allen, who finished dead last in completion percentage this past season.

     

Brent Sobleski: Buffalo Bills

The Bills should now be considered the favorites to win the AFC East. Diggs adds to any already burgeoning squad as a true No. 1 target for Allen.

     

Brad Gagnon: Arizona Cardinals 

It's simple: Diggs is good, but Hopkins is a game-changer. The former has never been to a Pro Bowl, whereas the latter is a three-time first-team All-Pro. Even if the Bills were more desperate for a No. 1 receiver (even that is debatable with John Brown on board), the two players aren't even remotely comparable. 

     

Gary Davenport: Buffalo Bills

The Bills were a playoff team last year and may now be a Super Bowl contender. The Cardinals are maybe the third-best team in their own division. I'll go with Diggs.

Trade You're Still Expecting to See?

Mike McCarn/Associated Press

When free agency officially launches Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, at least seven trades will become official. At that point, Diggs, Hopkins, DeForest Buckner, Hayden Hurst, Russell Okung, Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, David Johnson and Trai Turner will be on the move. 

But more trades are almost certainly in the works. 

Who do our panelists still expect to move despite being under contract this offseason? 

                

Mike Tanier: Andy Dalton to somewhere, eventually

I think we'll see some quarterback trades: Andy Dalton for a middle-to-late-round pick, that sort of thing. But the smoke will clear for a few days first. Teams will catch their breath by Friday, realize they have some extra time to think things through and take a long look at the veteran bridge-QB market before making too many moves.

       

Ty Dunne: Sammy Watkins, somewhere

The wide receiver market is clearing up. If the Chiefs can find a trade partner, now would be the time. Maybe Miami will continue its shopping spree?

     

Brent Sobleski: Cam Newton to the Los Angeles Chargers

Newton is the obvious answer, because some quarterback-needy team (Chicago Bears? New England Patriots?) will likely swing a deal before the Carolina Panthers release their former starting quarterback.

     

Brad Gagnon: Cam Newton to the Los Angeles Chargers

This has always made so much sense for both sides, on and off the field. Newton needs a fresh start, and the Chargers need a veteran who can guide a roster that is in win-now mode while trying to capture new fans in a new stadium. If the Bolts lose out on Brady (as expected), they should be all over Newton. 

     

Gary Davenport: Andy Dalton to the New England Patriots

He makes sense as a short-term fix with the Patriots, won't cost a ton and is good enough to keep the Patriots relevant in the AFC East.

Will Marcus Mariota Pull a Ryan Tannehill on Derek Carr with the Raiders?

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Backup quarterback signings rarely make large-font headlines, but Marcus Mariota's arrival in Las Vegas is an exception to that rule. After all, the Raiders have never seemed fully comfortable with current starter Derek Carr under Jon Gruden's tutelage, and Mariota is a talented 26-year-old who likely isn't coming cheap by backup standards. 

With the Tennessee Titans past season, Mariota struggled early and lost his starting job to Ryan Tannehill. Now, the 2015 No. 2 overall pick will land in Vegas with little to lose, which is probably how Tannehill felt arriving in Nashville a year ago. 

Can he eventually supplant Carr? 

     

Mike Freeman: Yes

I'm not so sure Carr even starts the season. If he does, Gruden will have him on a short leash. He's seen plenty of Carr. The problem is that Mariota is a more inaccurate version of Carr. The Raiders' quarterback for next year might be in the draft.

     

Mike Tanier: Yes

Then Carr will pull a Mariota on Mitchell Trubisky or somebody, then Trubisky will pull a Carr on, like Drew Lock, and at no point along the way will NFL teams realize that second-tier quarterback talent is a lot more plentiful than they think it is.

        

Ty Dunne: No

We've seen Mariota enough by now to know what he is. There isn't any more talent around him in Vegas than he had in Tennessee, and Derek Carr is the better QB.     

      

Brent Sobleski: No

As naturally gifted as Mariota is, his deficiencies won't disappear in a move from Tennessee to Las Vegas. Furthermore, Carr is better than he's often given credit. The Raiders' seeming unwillingness to commit to Carr reflects more on Gruden than him.

     

Brad Gagnon: Kinda

Carr is a more efficient and reliable quarterback than Mariota, but he isn't Gruden or Mike Mayock's guy. Eventually, an organization desperate to make a strong impression in a new home will grow tired of his lack of playmaking ability and give Mariota a shot. But I also wouldn't be surprised if that ends up being a short-lived change. 

     

Gary Davenport: No

Carr's unwillingness to take chances limits the sorts of mistakes that could get him the hook. Even if Chucky sits Carr for no other reason than spite, I don't trust Mariota to be able to seize the reins, especially given the Raiders' lack of passing-game weapons (as things stand now).

Which Move Will Impact the 2020 NFL Season the Most?

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Brady's eventual signing will make international news (even now) and will be remembered far longer than any other deal this offseason, but that doesn't mean his move will have the greatest effect on the 2020 NFL campaign. 

As we await that and other significant transactions, which current deal is most likely to make a substantial impact on the 2020 NFL landscape? 

     

Mike Freeman: Tom Brady to Tampa Bay

He is still one of the centrifugal forces in football. So much still centers on him.

     

Mike Tanier: Tom Brady leaving New England

Brady's departure rewrites a script we have followed for 20 years, particularly in the AFC East. It's going to spur some teams to be more aggressive in the short term to try to win now. Unfortunately for many of those teams, the Chiefs and Ravens already have a big head start on them.

       

Ty Dunne: DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona

This offense had mini-stretches of being downright unstoppable without one of the best receivers in the game. Now the Cardinals can realistically compete for a playoff spot. What a turnaround.

     

Brent Sobleski: Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers to Baltimore

The Ravens' moves won't get as much love as teams with big skill-position additions. However, the additions of Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers will create an impenetrable wall after Baltimore allowed only 4.4 yards per carry last season.

     

Brad Gagnon: Stefon Diggs to Buffalo

While I believe Hopkins can make a bigger difference in Arizona, I think the Cardinals are still farther from competing. The NFC West is still San Francisco's, while the Rams and Seahawks are always tough. But the AFC East is up for grabs, and one elite receiver could put Buffalo over the top. 

     

Gary Davenport: Tom Brady leaving New England

Well, that and the moves the Buffalo Bills made to improve on both sides of the ball. It's been more than a decade since anyone but the Pats won the AFC East. Expect that to change in 2020.

Who Has the Better Remaining NFL Career: Teddy Bridgewater or Cam Newton?

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

The Cam Newton era is apparently over in Carolina, while the Teddy Bridgewater era is about to begin. Newton's next destination is still undetermined, but there's little doubt that the two will now be closely compared for the remainder of their respective careers. 

They couldn't be any different. Newton is a uniquely athletic, big-armed, mobile 30-year-old who has struggled to remain healthy; Bridgewater is an accurate, conservative, athletically limited 27-year-old who has barely seen the field in recent seasons but has remained healthy ever since recovering from a major knee injury in 2017. 

Who has a better chance to succeed going forward?  

     

Mike Freeman: Bridgewater

We think Newton will be healthy, but we don't know. Also, we might be talking about Bridgewater as an MVP candidate next year.

     

Mike Tanier: Bridgewater*

Bridgewater's best football is well ahead of him. Newton just took too much of a pounding for too many years. However, I could see Newton disappearing on a bench for a year or two (perhaps this year) and reemerging to have a successful late career as a pocket passer who runs only once in a while. In other words, he could have a "Randall Cunningham with the Vikings" late-career surge.

       

Ty Dunne: Bridgewater

Nobody has a clue where Newton will be physically Week 1 and beyond, while Bridgewater walks into a fantastic situation with the best pure offensive weapon in the game behind him.

     

Brent Sobleski: Bridgewater

Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady worked wonders with Joe Burrow. Bridgewater is a more-than-capable quarterback who should shine in Brady's scheme, especially since the two already worked together in New Orleans.

     

Brad Gagnon: Newton

Time and health might be on Bridgewater's side, but Newton's ceiling is so much higher. This could change if he doesn't land in an ideal environment, and there's a bit more of an injury risk with Newton, but let's not forget the guy was the league MVP four years ago. If he can recapture that for even a season or two, it might be enough to beat out Bridgewater. I like Teddy B, but he isn't a big playmaker. 

     

Gary Davenport: Bridgewater

This is hard to answer before we know where Newton winds up, but it's tough to go against Bridgewater here. This isn't to say that Newton is washed up, and it wouldn't be surprising if the Panthers have some growing pains in the early going under new head coach Matt Rhule. But Cam is a lot closer to the end of the line than Teddy, and with two careers on opposite trajectories, my money's on the one trending upward.

Should the NFL Just Do Away with the "Tampering Period" and Start Free Agency?

Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

This was the eighth offseason in which the NFL half-opened the doors to the free-agent market a few days early for a "legal tampering period," which exists to prevent teams and players from unfairly negotiating before the start of the new league year. 

But dozens of deals are unofficially sealed in the first few hours of that window, which suggests discussions are still taking place in secret prior to the NFL's soft opening to free agency. 

With that in mind, should the league scrap the legal tampering period moving forward?

     

Mike Freeman: No

I love the legal tampering period. It's free-agent foreplay.

     

Mike Tanier: No

The speed limit of 65 is not there to make people drive 65, but to keep them from doing 90. The drinking age of 21 is not to stop 20 years olds from having a beer in the dorms but (theoretically) to set a bar that's old enough to restrict alcohol to younger teens. And no matter when free agency begins, teams will start making deals a month early and jump the gun on announcements by 3-4 days. The two-tiered system is silly, but it keeps teams from holding press conferences at 4 a.m. from Indianapolis cocktail lounges during the combine, so it has its value.

       

Ty Dunne: Yes

The less meaningless red tape and bureaucracy (in all of life), the better.

     

Brent Sobleski: Yes

All of the current deadlines are arbitrary since the groundwork for deals begins at the NFL combine (if not before). Tampering period or not, NFL free agency dominates headlines between that point and when players are actually allowed to put pen to paper.

     

Brad Gagnon: Yes

Free agency now starts two days earlier than it used to, and teams looking for an edge are just reaching out earlier than they might have prior to 2013. It's completely useless. Just start free agency at the beginning of the new league year and do your best to cut down on tampering. Or let it happen if everyone's doing it anyway. 

     

Gary Davenport: No

What? And lose out on the opportunity to mock how ridiculous the whole charade is? Never!

   
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