Let’s start off with the obvious one, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Many were saying that this upcoming season could be a “prove-it” season for head coach, Gus Bradley. I’m sure he heard some of these reports because he obviously responded in a big way. Jacksonville needed some pass-rushers, O-linemen, and DB’s, and they got just that. The nucleus of Bortles, Robinson, and Telvin Smith will grow to be one of the best in the league and this is a team to watch out for next season.
They got Tashaun Gipson, who didn’t have a great 2015 season but had two stellar seasons prior. He came a little cheaper because he was on a downswing, but he could easily, and probably will, return to his form in 2016.
Malik Jackson was obviously the marquee signing for the Jaguars, and he adds some much-needed pass rush for that Jaguars defense. Getting Prince Amukamara on a 1-year $5 million deal is an amazing signing, and hopefully he will probably end up doing very well as their No.1 cornerback. Grabbing Chris Ivory on a team-friendly deal certainly doesn’t hurt, although it might slow the progress of TJ Yeldon a little bit.
Some fans hate that Brock Osweiler is getting $18 million a year after a sample size of proven himself; I say otherwise. The Texans haven’t had a true starting QB since Matt Schaub was decent, so head coach Bill O’Brien has never had a stable QB since taking the job in 2014. The Texans have entered every season for the past 3-4 years without knowing who would be their starting QB or what their team’s identity would be. Getting Osweiler, for an expensive price tag, was the right move because now the Texans know for sure who their starter will be and they don’t have to worry about any QB competition in the offseason or during the season. Now that the offense is set and comfortable, they start to move to other positions of need.
Signing speed-back, Lamar Miller, was a great pickup, as he has proven himself to be a No. 1 RB and capable of taking 200+ carries a season. Releasing Arian Foster was a good move for the Texans, as they are moving on from the Foster, Schaub, and Andre Johnson era and transitioning into a new one that features Lamar Miller, Osweiler, and Hopkins on offense.
The Buccaneers have quietly been one of the best teams in free agency thus far. They came in needing help in the secondary and needing another DE, but also with Doug Martin’s possible departure looming over them. They fixed all of these problems. They started off by re-signing the 1,400 yard back to a 5-year $35 million contract, which ensures that they keep their trio of Winston, Martin, and Evans for a while longer.
They next paid was OG J.R. Sweezy - $32.5 million for 5 years, which might be the only signing that I think was wrong on their part, as it seems like a big overpay to me. He will help make holes for Doug Martin, and that’s always a plus, even if he’s earning a little too much.
Grabbing Robert Ayers on about $6.5 million a year is a great pickup, as they add another much-needed piece next to star-defender Gerald McCoy.
Last, but certainly not least, they kept Brent Grimes in Florida, but he’ll be going about 300 miles Northwest of Miami to play cornerback. The 4-time Pro Bowler is 32 years old, and he will likely play out his career on a two-year deal with the Buccaneers. Grimes will be getting about $6 million a year and should provide solid play for Tampa Bay.
The biggest reason that they are a winner though, is that they have versatility in their draft picks now. At pick No. 9, I had them taking either a defensive end or a cornerback, but after they filled those gaps, they can really choose the best player on the board, which is a positive for any NFL team.
It took one year for the Raiders to go from being the butt of every NFL joke to almost making the playoffs. Khalil Mack established himself as one of the NFL’s best defenders, and Amari Cooper showed that he has a chance to be the next great receiver in Oakland. How do you follow up a season like that? Answer: By using your $60 million in cap space very effectively.
They bolstered their O-line greatly by adding Kelechi Osemele, who can play LT at a high level if he needs to, but is one of the best guards in the NFL. This is a great signing because the Raiders LT Donald Penn is a free agent, so if he decides to leave, it’s no worries in Oakland. If he stays though, then we have the makings of a fantastic O-line next season.
Adding Bruce Irvin to the defense helps the Raiders become even more talented on that side of the ball. Bruce Irvin knows how to win, playing in two Super Bowls with the Seahawks, going 1-1. Irvin also adds incredible versatility to their defense. He can play DE in a 4-3 and OLB in a 3-4. Sounds like someone else on the Raiders? Ya, Khalil Mack. Having these two on the same defense means that the Raiders can line up in a 3-4 or a 4-3 during games, which makes their defense so much more difficult to beat.
The Raiders may be building a great front-seven, but you also need a good secondary to succeed (Listen up Pittsburgh Steelers!). This is why they signed 6’3” cornerback, Sean Smith. Smith may have been overshadowed by rookie sensation Marcus Peters last year, but he is still the great cornerback we know and the poster boy for the trend of tall corners.
Notice that I haven’t mentioned anything about their contracts. That’s because it really isn’t a big deal to the Raiders, who walked into free agency with money spilling out of their pockets. About $68 million worth of money by the way.
The Raiders filled almost all of their needs in free agency and are one of the teams to look out for in a couple of years. Fans haven’t been able to say this in a long time, but it looks like the Raiders did something really well.
The Giants came into free agency with a lot of cap space, so they were definitely going to do something big with it. No one ever thought it would be anything this big though. Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon, and Damon Harrison should bolster the defense to at least the top-15 next season.
The Giants had a decent secondary with DRC and Prince Amukamara, but they gave up the most passing yards per game. This isn’t a matter of poor play by the secondary, but the fact that the linemen weren't putting pressure on the QB. The Giants finished in the bottom three in the league in sacks, with 23. Getting Olivier Vernon should definitely help this issue. While I’m not a fan of Vernon being one of the highest paid defenders ever, I have to call the Giants winners here due to the fact that they added to their pass rush.
Grabbing Damon Harrison should vault this defense to at least the 35-sack mark next season. The amount of push he gets off of the line helps everybody in the front-seven tremendously, and he was a big reason as to why the Jets has such a feared defense. I’m not crazy about the price tag or the fact that potential star Johnathan Hankins’s development will be stunted by this signing, but you can’t fault the Giants for adding more linemen.
I am not a fan of the Janoris Jenkins signing at all. To be honest, I wasn’t really a fan of any of their signings except giving JPP a one-year “prove it” type deal. Making Janoris Jenkins on of the highest paid cornerbacks in football is absurd to me. This free agent class isn’t the strongest, but teams will still give out huge money to the top cornerback on the market, whether it’s a truly elite corner worth their price tag or Janoris Jenkins, just because they are the top cornerback on the market. If you watched a Rams' game last season, you wouldn’t look at Janoris Jenkins and think that he’s worth $62.5 million. Well, I guess one team thought that he was. Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t a bad cornerback, he is actually pretty good, but he’s nowhere near where the Giants paid him.
While I was really confused by how much the Giants were paying these new players, they did have a lot of cap space, so they had the ability to spend big. I put them as a winner mainly because they went out and got some of the best free agents on the market and they took a HUGE step in the right direction.