NFL teams can’t officially sign outside free agents until Tuesday afternoon, but just in case you spent the weekend on a self-imposed media blackout, let me be the first to tell you that some clubs got an early jump on the action. Even if they weren’t supposed to.
While teams are allowed to talk to outside free agents, they can’t extend or imply formal offers – the giant, specific, kind that are being signed today. Which makes for a largely anticlimactic free agent bonanza (spoiler alert: Ndamukong Suh got paid), and will almost certainly lead to the league filing a tampering charge or two (Oh good!)
Still, there’s plenty to discuss as NFL free agency opens, and here are five real questions that desperately need answering.
Does Ndamukong Suh make the Miami Dolphins contenders?
The $114 million, $60 million guaranteed deal for Suh is the largest ever given to a defensive player, and tops the total value of contracts that were signed by players like Calvin Johnson, Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt. It’s almost impossible for any player to be “worth” that much, but the most salient question for Dolphins fans is whether or not adding Suh gets them over the hump and makes them contenders in the suddenly (sorta) stout AFC East.
The short answer: Probably not.
As great as Suh is, an elite defensive tackle can only make Miami so much better, especially since he’s replacing a pretty good defensive tackle already in Jared Odrick. He will certainly improve their 24th-ranked run defense, and increase sack opportunities for Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, but that’s not going to make Ryan Tannehill a better quarterback than Tom Brady.
Which is the same problem the Jets and Bills face in this current AFC East “arms race”: They don’t have any. Tannehill is better than New York’s Geno Smith or Buffalo’s inanimate carbon rod – I mean Matt Cassel – but none look poised to best Brady in 2015. And you don’t have to look far to see evidence of why quarterbacks are so valuable. Just ask Suh, who played with the Lions for five seasons and was never able to win the division over Rodgers and the Packers.
Are the 49ers back to Dennis Erickson levels?
Before the arrival of Jim Harbaugh in 2011, the 49ers had not posted a winning record in eight years. Their 8-8 finish last season seemed like the floor for a Harbaugh-coached team, but they are working with a whole new floor since they replaced him with Jim Tomsula.
That became crystal clear on Monday, after the announcements that Patrick Willis and Justin Smith would retire, meaning that San Francisco isn’t just losing their head coach, but also their two biggest leaders on defense. That’s not all though, as Frank Gore heads to Indianapolis and Mike Iupati goes to division rival Arizona, meaning they’ve also lost two veteran leaders on offense.
Worse yet, the 49ers fell too far behind in the free agency race to catch up, missing out on big names and seemingly doing very little to replace Gore, Smith, or Iupati, while both of their starting corners – Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox – are also unsigned and could be good as gone. And with the Seahawks reigning supreme, the Cardinals still a threat and the Rams always interesting, it appears San Fran could be destined for the basement of the NFC West. They better hope it doesn’t take eight years to climb out of it again.
Who is going to sign Greg Hardy?
One of the best players at one of the most valuable positions is free to sign with any team in the NFL – and yet, until San Francisco’s name popped up Monday, the free-agency rumors surrounding Greg Hardy barely registered above a whisper.
Even though domestic assault charges against Hardy were dropped in February, he still faces an extended suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy; it is expected that a hearing to determine his fate could come Tuesday.
But that’s only a symptom of a larger problem: Many fans still view Hardy as someone who abuses women, and now is not an ideal time for teams to publicly endorse him or Ray Rice with contracts worth millions of dollars. However, the day will come when one team does take a chance on Hardy, mostly because he’s an elite player. In 2013, he had 15 sacks, 25 QB hits and was a second-team All-Pro. He’s only 26 and under normal circumstances would likely be looking at a deal topping $80 million, if not more. That’s how good he is on the field, but what’s costing him millions of dollars is how bad he may have acted off of it.
As for San Francisco, this does not seem to be an ideal time (especially in the wake of news that Bruce Miller was arrested for misdemeanor spousal battery) to inquire on a person like Hardy. However, how many smart decisions have the 49ers made lately? Still, I think the Colts ultimately sign Hardy and hope that they’ve saved up enough goodwill from the forever-untroubled Andrew Luck.
Will the Jaguars buy their way to the playoffs?
Jacksonville entered free agency with more money than anybody: Almost $70 million in cap space. Their biggest obstacle would be convincing anyone to play for the Jaguars, but it appears as though they’ve managed to wrangle in at least a few of them.
The aforementioned Odrick will become their new defensive end; They gave Jermey Parnell a $32 million deal to leave the Cowboys and become their new starting right or left tackle; they’ve reportedly signed tight end Julius Thomas to a contract worth roughly $9 million per season and made a push for DeMarco Murray after missing out on Devin McCourty and Randall Cobb, which shows they aren’t afraid to go after the biggest names on the market, if they can just convince them to overlook the franchise’s 14 wins over the last four years.
There might also be some hope to sell.
In addition to the players they’ve already signed, suspended receiver Justin Blackmon has stayed out of trouble and could be reinstated, and as long as Jacksonville welcomes him back, they’ll be getting a potential number-one receiver, which puts quarterback Blake Bortles in a better position to succeed. They’re also set to pick third in the draft this April, which could give them an elite pass rusher or corner. It could be just enough to get them over the hump in the AFC South.
It’s a long road up, but unlike the Raiders, it looks like the Jaguars realize that the least you can do is pave that road with paychecks.
Is Darrelle Revis a genius or just greedy?
The second year of the “two-year” deal that Revis signed with the Patriots last March was so bogus that not even playing at an elite level and winning the Super Bowl was enough for New England to pick up his $20 million option. But that should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to Revis over the last eight years: If he’s not in control of his own destiny, than he wants to get paid. He’s going to get paid – again.
Revis held out for the most money possible on his rookie contract in 2007, held out for a new deal in 2010, worked out a trade and new contract with the Bucs in 2013 and has managed to make approximately $85 million over his eight-year career. That’s about as much as any non-QB could hope to make in the NFL, so of course he’s a genius to milk the system for all it’s worth as long as he keeps backing it up with elite play every season.
Greedy? Disloyal? Try one of the best businessmen in the NFL.