There’s never been a more intriguing free agency for established quarterbacks in the NFL. Tom Brady’s dramatic move to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was proof that, come what may, the 2020 draft will be remembered for all the right reasons. For those first three exhilarating days of the draft, the football cognoscenti were working day and night on stories of a magnitude that momentarily drowned out the public health crisis engulfing us.
In other sports, such as rugby or soccer, there are more opportunities during the season or off-season to tempt players away from other teams. In the NFL, the March window is a lot tighter based on how many quality and ordinary players appear on the market and then disappear fast. Lofty contracts are the norm once these players hit the open market. The NFL should be vindicated by its decision to proceed with free agency in the face of the coronavirus. And what a flurry of activity we saw in just 72 hours. The Philadelphia Eagles, Buccaneers, Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills were teams that notably improved. The New Orleans Saints landed experienced wide-receiver, Emmanuel Sanders, which means that if the season goes ahead they’ll be touted as the team to beat yet again in the NFC. They are a fine, well-coached team on either side of the ball but they need to show us more this season. We have said this many times, but this really ought to be their last chance in the Drew Brees era to win a Superbowl. Head coach Sean Payton’s announcement that he had the coronavirus was a surreal and dramatic backdrop to free agency. But general manager Mickey Loomis’ decisive roster moves ensured that the Saints would ultimately move from front page to back page news once again. I’ve found the lack of interest in Cam Newton, so far, a little puzzling. Sure, there are major injury concerns surrounding him that were a factor in the Carolina Panthers releasing him. But is a one-time MVP and lethal dual threat quarterback not worth the risk? The New England Patriots, Los Angeles Chargers and perhaps even the Jacksonville Jaguars will be watching carefully. Yes, there remains difficulties evaluating his fitness when the coronavirus is derailing the off-season and teams ability to carry out a medical. But the upside of Cam in the short term, if fit, is worth almost any rookie in the draft and certainly any stragglers left on the quarterback market. I’m thinking of Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton. Part of the catch, might entail Newton being a back-up for a period. If he really wants to play again, which we’ve every reason to believe he does, then at 30 he still can choose this path and benefit. It’s another fascinating watch.
The Houston Texans were responsible for the most shocking move, trading away star wide receiver DeAndre Watson to the Arizona Cardinals and not even getting a first-round draft pick in return. The head scratching call by head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien was not entirely out of character. O’Brien gave up two first-round picks and a second in the trade for Laremy Tunsil last year and only secured a third-round pick for Jadeveon Clowney. The Cardinals made all the right moves and are loaded on offense. Elsewhere, the Rams hemorrhaged more players and revered defensive coordinator Wade Philips. They have the look of a team that is starting again, especially after moving on from former Offensive Player of the Year and running back Todd Gurley. Sean McVay has been feted as the doyen of young head coaches in the league. His toughest coaching assignment now beckons in the loaded NFC West. If you’re ever played for the Patriots, I take it you’ve given the Detroit Lions a call by now. Head coach Matt Patricia is in quicksand and he’s doling out juicy contracts to the Patriots he used to coach. We’re a long way from the start of the regular season but Patricia must be very close to Jacksonville’s Doug Marrone on the coaching hot seat. Next to the Packers. With the Chicago Bears and Lions floundering, and the Vikings losing players, the Packers on paper appear to be the strongest team in the NFC North. That's not hard, I hear you say. After last year's free agency splurge, this year was an altogether more reserved affair in Green Bay. General Manager Brian Gutekunst brought in solid players to compete on the offensive line and at linebacker, a reflection that several top class players will need to be paid big money over the next two seasons. It is hard to argue that the Packers are better now than they were at the end of the season. Getting to the NFC Championship exceeded all expectations for rookie head coach Matt LaFleur. Trying to replicate that looks intimidating. LaFleur is about to find out how difficult head coaching in this league is as you attempt to back up a strong first year. I’ll finish with Tom Brady’s move. We’ve seen considerable decline in his game over the past two seasons but the Buccaneers are betting the house that if he’s paired with the wide receiver weapons he’s been lacking in New England, in the shape of Chris Goodwin and Mike Evans, he’ll thrive in Tampa. As alluring for Brady, was the chance to work under head coach Bruce Arians, known as the quarterback whisperer. The challenge for the Bucs is to shore up the porous offensive line and keep the pass rush at bay from their new A-List asset. If they succeed they should be a real wildcard threat in the NFC, especially with their improvements on defense. That wraps up free agency. Let me know your thoughts. And stay tuned for the busy NFL draft month ahead.