Eastman: Winners and losers of NFL free agency

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NFL free agency graphic. - Multimedia Editor / Drew Peltzman

The first round of NFL free agency has just about wrapped up and there have been some pretty big changes to the NFL landscape.

Players like Saquon Barkley and Patrick Queen have crossed enemy lines to play for rival franchises while quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson found new starting opportunities. As the dust settles, it’s time to start looking at who came out on top of the free agency cycle and who didn’t fare as well.

Winner: Chicago Bears

The Bears made it very clear that they are all in on creating the best offense possible for eventual No. 1 pick, Caleb Williams. Chicago signed D’Andre Swift and Coleman Shelton early on free agency but the biggest move came out of nowhere, agreeing with the Chargers on a deal for Keenan Allen.

Allen will pair with D.J. Moore to create one of the best wide receiver duos in the league and give Chicago an exciting offense heading into 2024. Speaking of the Chargers…

Loser: Los Angeles Chargers

A shakeup in personnel was expected after LA brought in new general manager Joe Hortiz to pair with new head coach Jim Harbaugh at the beginning of the offseason, although it still doesn’t make it any less painful.

New management, paying for the mismanagement of the salary cap from the previous regime, moved on from Allen as well as Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler. At the moment, LA has a wide receiver group led by Quentin Johnston and Josh Palmer. Yikes.

The Chargers also lost both their starting linebackers Kenneth Murray and Eric Kendricks. Outside of Justin Herbert, there isn’t much to get excited about at the moment on this Chargers roster. 

Winner: Wide Receivers 

NFL teams are in a perpetual arms race to collect as much offensive firepower as possible, even willing to overspend at times. That philosophy is reflected in the contracts given out these past couple of weeks.

Calvin Ridley, coming off a solid but not spectacular season and nearing 30 years old, signed with the Titans for a whopping $92 million over four years. Gabe Davis, who has never had over 50 catches or 850 yards in a season, replaced Ridley in Jacksonville on a 3-year, $39 million deal.

Darnell Mooney, fresh off a 31-catch season, also signed an identical contract as Davis with the Atlanta Falcons. While the receiver position group thrived, the same can’t be said for other positions. 

Loser: Safeties

The safety position has quickly entered running back status when it comes to how NFL teams are valuing them.

Justin Simmons, the top safety and one of the top overall players on the market has yet to sign a contract with a team. Outside of Xavier McKinney and C.J Gardner Johnson, most of the top safeties signed deals on one to two-year deals for around $5 million annually.

The wage discrepancy is hopefully something that can be addressed in the future, but for now, it looks like the market has spoken on how safeties are valued. 

Winner: Carolina Panthers

Carolina might be the most dunked-on franchise in the entire league at the moment.

First, they traded away the future for Bryce Young, which promptly blew up in their face. Next, they now infamously held onto edge rusher Brian Burns despite being offered two first-round picks for him before eventually trading him to the Giants this March for just a second and fifth-round pick.

Yet despite all of that, they actually made some pretty good moves this free agency. They started off by locking down two offensive linemen Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis before trading for receiver Diontae Johnson to give Young a go-to target. The offense should be miles better than it was last season, which could lead to better results from their young franchise quarterback. 

Loser: Dallas Cowboys

It’s always fun to get a good laugh at the expense of Dallas. After Jerry Jones stated the Cowboys were “all-in” going into the free agency period, Dallas brought in a grand total of one player, signing linebacker Eric Kendricks.

Meanwhile, a parade of players streamed out of Dallas to sign deals elsewhere. Jones recently walked back his comments by now stating Dallas will need to “win with less”. Somewhere Stephen A. Smith has a huge grin on his face watching Dallas execute their plan in a fashion only Dallas could do. 

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