The 2015 NFL free agency started out fast and furious this week, with a significant number of trades and free agent signings. Some contenders took a step closer in their path towards the Super Bowl. Others may not be in contention for the Lombardi Trophy just yet, but improved significantly this week. Then there are those organizations who got significantly worse, or sacrificed their future for what could be little reward. Here are the winners and losers of this year’s free agency so far:
The Colts have steadily improved since drafting quarterback Andrew Luck with the first pick of the 2011 NFL Draft. The colts reached the AFC Championship Game last season, ultimately losing to the New England Patriots. Looking to take the next step, Indianapolis bolstered their running back and wide receiver positions with some veteran help. The team signed running back Frank Gore to a three-year, $12 million deal, according to ESPN. Gore will add toughness to the running back group and provide a strong veteran presence in the locker room. The Colts also added wide receiver Andre Johnson, according to a previous report from The Inquisitr. Johnson will immediately upgrade their receiving core, pairing up with speedster T.Y. Hilton. Although both players are in the twilight of their careers, both are still productive players who will help the team win now. With Andrew Luck under center, the Colts will be contenders for the foreseeable future.
The Cardinals lost defensive end Darnell Dockett to the San Francisco 49ers but also took a player from them during free agency. The team signed Mike Iupati, one of the best guards in the NFL, who had played his entire career in San Francisco. The team also added significant linebacker this week. The Cardinals agreed to a one-year contract with linebacker LaMarr Woodley. The team also added linebacker Sean Witherspoon. The Cardinals had a surprising season last year, and their new additions will help them survive the tough NFC West.
The Seahawks have one of the best running games in the league and one of the best young quarterbacks in league. Despite their two straight Super Bowl appearances, they don’t have much else on the offensive side of the ball. The arrival of tight end Jimmy Graham is sure to change that notion. The Seahawks traded center Max Unger and a first round pick in this year’s draft for Graham and a fourth round draft pick. Although the loss of Unger is significant, the Seahawks receive one of the premier pass catching threats in the NFL. Graham is a dynamic athlete and playmaker who will be Seattle’s true receiving threat since Golden Tate. Graham will bring a new dimension to the Seahawks, and make them that much more formidable.
The Eagles continued their massive roster changes with the quarterback swap with the St. Louis Rams. Quarterback Sam Bradford will now lead the Eagles offensive under Chip Kelly. Whether the Eagles benefitted from the trade or not may still be up for debate, but there is no debate that Bradford will benefit from the move. Bradford has shown some glimpses of quality quarterbacking but has struggled to stay on the field due to injuries. The former Heisman Trophy winner excelled in a no-huddle offense in college at Oklahoma. Chip Kelly’s fast paced offensive system will definitely benefit Bradford’s production. His comfort with a spread attack will help Bradford smoothly transition into the Eagles offense and excel. The big question mark is Bradford’s health. If he can stay healthy, maybe the Eagles will have the last laugh.
The Bills hired Rex Ryan to be their head coach this offseason but the changes haven’t stopped there. The Bills acquired a premier running back in LeSean McCoy from the Eagles in exchange for linebacker Kiko Alonso. McCoy has played the majority of his career in a spread offense but he should be productive in Rex Ryan’s power running game. Rex Ryan will also reunite with receiver Percy Harvin in Buffalo. The all-purpose receiver was disappoint in his short stint with the New York Jets, but could be a solid contributor. The Bills also managed to keep their most important free agent in defensive end Jerry Hughes as well. The Bills look like a better roster after this week. The team is still missing a franchise quarterback, but the signing of Matt Cassel will give them respectable quarterback play until they can find the quarterback of the future.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers who went to three straight championships in the last five years are now becoming unrecognizable. Jim Harbaugh agreed to part ways with the teams after disagreements with owner Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke. Not only did the Niners lose a great head coach but also lost one of the top coaching staffs in the NFL. If that wasn’t enough, 7-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis, 30, announced he was retiring. Franchise rushing leader Frank Gore left in free agency and will play in Indianapolis. Stud defensive end Justin Smith may soon follow Willis into retirement as well. Chris Culliver, one of the 49ers’ best defensive backs last season, will suit up for the Washington Redskins next season. Guard Mike Iupati will play for the division rival Arizona Cardinals next season. The Niners did not just lose great talent but also lost some of their leaders. The team has tried to make up for the losses with the signing of wide receiver Torrey Smith and defensive end Darnell Dockett, but the losses heavily outweigh the gains.
The Browns started the 2014 season with a 7-4 record but the good play would stop there. The Browns proved that they were fool’s gold during the last half of the season. Things have only gotten worse for the Browns since. Stud receiver Josh Gordon is gone due to suspension and Jordan Cameron has packed his bags for Miami this free agency. The Browns signed quarterback Josh McCown to a three-year deal worth $14 million. That is too expensive for a quarterback that had the league’s second-lowest quarterback rating last season (70.5). Cleveland also signed wide receiver Brian Hartline, who was underwhelming with the Miami Dolphins. The Browns seemed to be headed in the right direction early last season, but that journey has now hit another detour.
The Detroit Lions have had one of the best defensive lines in football over the last few seasons, thanks in large part to Ndamukong Suh. Suh has been formidable since being drafted by Detroit in 2010. Although his aggressive play and suspensions have garnered much attention, it is undeniable he is one of the top defensive players in the league. Suh signed a monster six-year deal with the Miami Dolphins. The Lions’ other defensive tackle the last few seasons, Nick Fairley, signed with the St. Louis Rams. The Lions went out and traded for defensive tackle Haloti Ngata for fourth and fifth-round picks. The trade helps fill the void left by Suh and Fairley but it doesn’t completely solve the problem. The cap hit from the Haloti Ngata trade and the departure of Suh also leaves the team with a bad salary cap situation in 2015.
The Baltimore Ravens have an ugly cap situation this season, and it has effected the team this offseason. The team traded defensive tackle Haloti Ngata for two mid round picks and released receiver Jacoby Jones. Jones has since joined the San Diego Chargers. The Ravens also lost receiver Torrey Smith, who signed with the San Francisco 49ers. The loss of Smith leaves the Ravens without a deep threat that can complement receiver Steve Smith. The Ravens are now without three impact players who greatly contributed the last few seasons.
Still Up In The Air?
The Eagles traded away starting quarterback Nick Foles and starting running back LeSean McCoy. They also lost starting receiver Jeremy Maclin. In exchange, the Eagles received quarterback Sam Bradford from the Rams and Kiko Alonso from the Bills. The Eagles also signed running backs Ryan Matthews and DeMarco Murray. While some of the moves made by head coach Chip Kelly are great, others are quite the opposite. Kelly loved the trade of McCoy because it helped fill a position of need and it relieved some cap space. Then he would go and trade for an injury prone quarterback that would make the Eagles cap situation a mess. The Eagles sign Matthews then a day later agreed to sign Murray for big money. The moves are quite contradictory and hard to figure out. At first glance, the Eagles should definitely be in the losers section but there is more to it. Perhaps there are more moves to come that explain the deals made so far. If the Eagles stay put, the deals they made will be criticized more than they already have been. Winning, however, helps silence the critics. A healthy Sam Bradford could help Kelly do just that.
[Featured Image Credit to Wesley Hitt via Getty Images]