Day 1 of the legal tampering period kicked off with a bang on Monday. Serious money was being thrown around the NFL leading up to the start of the new league year and some of the biggest free agents are now starting to come off the board. Of course, all of these deals cannot become official until the new year actually begins on Wednesday but these handshake agreements are as concrete as you can get at this time of the year.
While Monday’s action is merely just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to player movement this offseason, we’re going to dissect some of the most notable signings and determine who is currently leading the pack with their haul after Day 1. Below, you’ll find our winners and losers from the unofficial start of free agency.
Bill Belichick rolled into free agency like his stimulus check just cleared. The Patriots wasted no time in trying to rebuild a roster that went 7-9 in 2020 and were quick to address key positions of need. The first major splash was signing tight end Jonnu Smith to a four-year, $50 million deal that solidifies a position that the club has been trying to fill ever since Rob Gronkowski retired. Smith is as well-rounded of a tight end as they come with the ability to block and be a lethal receiver, particularly after the catch. From Day 1, he should be looked at as the Patriots’ top pass-catching option. Not only did the Patriots add a tight end, but they also brought in receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. Agholor will help Josh McDaniels’ offense stretch the field while Bourne could be an option for the club out of the slot.
Meanwhile, the most surprising splash of the day for the Patriots came on the defensive side of the ball by agreeing with linebacker Matt Judon on a four-year, $56 million contract. He brings elite talent to a Patriots pass-rushing unit that will also boast Josh Uche, Chase Winovich, and Dont’a Hightower. All of a sudden, that grouping is shaping out to be pretty lethal. Finally, the Patriots solidified the interior of their defensive line by adding Henry Anderson and Davon Godchaux.
It wasn’t all positives for the Patriots, however, as they did lose star left guard Joe Thuney (more on him below).
Loser: Ravens pass rush
While the Ravens did make a big addition to their O-line by adding guard Kevin Zeitler, John Harbaugh’s front seven did take a hit with the club losing both Yannick Ngakoue (Raiders) and Matt Judon (Patriots). Judon led the team in sacks and quarterback hits while Ngakoue wasn’t too far behind after only joining the club for nine games following a mid-season trade from the Vikings. While the Ravens have a history of restocking their defense on the fly — and should see even more production from middle linebacker Patrick Queen in Year 2 — the edge will need to catering as free agency and the draft moves forward.
Give Bruce Arians credit, his declaration during Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl LV celebration that the Buccaneers would be bringing back all of their key pending free agents proved to be true. While the club had already reached an agreement with linebacker Lavonte David and franchised receiver Chirs Godwin, the status of Shaq Barrett was still hanging in the balance. However, the club was able to retain the star pass rusher by inking him to a four-year, $72 million deal on Monday. Not only were the Bucs able to keep Barrett, but they also re-upped Rob Gronkowski to a one-year deal. As things stand currently, Tampa Bay is well-positioned to defend its title.
With the uncertain status looming over Russell Wilson, one would think it’d behoove Seattle to come in hot on the first day of free agency and give the star quarterback what he wants: protection. However, the Seahawks remained quiet on Monday as the likes of guards Joe Thuney and Kevin Zeitler came off the board along with star center Corey Linsley. If the Seahawks were to take Wilson’s previous comments this offseason about adding to the offensive line to heart and came out of the gate firing, that could have been a key olive branch to possibly mend some fences. At the moment, it doesn’t seem like Seattle has done much of anything to smooth things over with their franchise cornerstone.
Patrick Mahomes clearly doesn’t want to get beaten up like he did in Super Bowl LV ever again. The quarterback recently restructured his contract with the Chiefs to give the club more cap space and it has provided immediate dividends with the team signing left guard Joe Thuney to a five-year deal. Thuney has been a key piece to the Patriots offense through two Super Bowl championships and now he’ll look to add to his résumé by blocking for Mahomes for the next half-decade. According to PFF, Thuney has allowed just three sacks dating back to 2018. Not only does he bring elite production, but he’s also proven to be one of the more durable offensive linemen around.
Clearly, Mahomes likes what his team is doing on Day 1 of free agency.
With tight end Jonnu Smith signing with the Patriots and Corey Davis inking a deal with the Jets, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill is losing two of his top three pass-catchers from a season ago. Smith and Davis combined for 1,432 yards of Tannehill’s 3,819 passing yards in 2020, which is roughly around 37.5% of his production. Of Tannehill’s 33 touchdowns last season, 13 were either to Smith or Davis. Of course, Tannehill can still lean on receiver A.J. Brown and running back Derrick Henry to help push Tennessee’s offense down the field, but it likely just got a bit more difficult with both Smith and Davis moving on.