Free agency is a hope-filled time of year where fans of each team dream of signing one of that year’s marquee free agents. And each year, it seems that whoever spends the most money is crowned “winners of free agency.” However, many times these splash signings are not what they seem from the beginning, and many end up being huge disappointments. On top of that, most of these free agent signings won’t directly translate to more wins. With that being said, it is my job to tell you, the readers who I think won free agency in each of the NFL’s eight divisions.
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
Their rival Bears and Vikings were mostly forced to bargain-bin hunt due to limited resources, and the Lions made some nice pickups, but I think the Packers improved more than the other three teams. Green Bay made much needed upgrades in the front seven with pass rushers Preston Brown and Za’Darius Smith. They also got a nice box safety in Adrian Amos. And they also got some more protection for Aaron Rodgers with versatile offensive lineman Billy Turner. I’m not sure that they got a guy that is going to directly translate to more wins, but the Cheeseheads are without a doubt a much better team now than they were on March 12th (before free agency opened up). The NFC North should not be such a cakewalk for the Bears anymore, like it was last year.
AFC North: Cleveland Browns
Seriously, who did you think it would be? Obviously, they picked up former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt (who will serve an eight game suspension), but he will make an immediate impact once he returns. They also traded for Giants stars Odell Beckham, Jr. (WR) and Olivier Vernon (DE/OLB), who will fit right in with what Cleveland is doing. They also signed former Vikings and Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, as well as former Bears interior OLs Bryan Witzmann and Eric Kush, who each started games for Chicago last season. With a new head coach and a young, geling roster, it still wouldn’t shock me if Pittsburgh or Baltimore took the division crown, but this Browns’ team will not be the laughingstock of the league anymore.
NFC South: New Orleans Saints
Really, none of the teams in this division made a ton of moves this year, but the Saints out-did the rest of the teams for one main reason: they secured their quarterback of the future. Drew Brees isn’t getting any younger, and Sean Payton has his guy in Teddy Bridgewater. He turned down more lucrative offers from other teams to sit behind Brees and be the chosen one for New Orleans. They also added a younger version of Mark Ingram in Latavius Murray, they added much needed tight end help with star Jared Cook, replaced the retiring Max Unger with Nick Easton at center, and made some other nice moves.
AFC South: Houston Texans
Okay, I know this might sound a bit hypocritical, given that they did secure their quarterback of the present and the future, but they had to cut so many assets in order to clear cap space to pay him. The Texans added much needed offensive line help with left tackle Matt Kalil, as well as a big blocking tight end in Darren Fells. They also overhauled the safety position with former Brown, Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Jaguars cap casualty Tashaun Gipson. And former Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby will help shore up the defensive backfield.
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys
Again, this was a division without a ton of splash moves, but the Cowboys did do some nice things in the bargain bin. First, they picked up a shifty slot threat in Randall Cobb on a 1 year, $5 million deal. They also resigned RB/WR Tavon Austin and offensive tackle Cameron Fleming to help keep continuity around Dak Prescott. They didn’t get Earl Thomas, but they did get a dang good safety in George Iloka. The best part? Dallas did all this without overspending.
AFC East: Buffalo Bills
I was very close to picking the Jets here, but I do think they overpaid for C.J. Mosely, and they didn’t get much else outside of Le’Veon Bell. The Bills made it a priority to help out Josh Allen by giving him so new receiving threats and some more protection. They signed tackles LaAdrian Waddle and Ty Nsekhe, as well as guard John Feliciano and centers Mitch Morse and Spencer Long. Then, they added slot Cole Beasley, and speed threats Andre Roberts, John Brown, and Tyler Kroft. Buffalo added consistent power back Frank Gore to help take pressure off of Allen. Defensively, they brought in former first round cornerback Kevin Johnson and linebacker Maurice Alexander.
NFC West: San Francisco 49ers
This was another division where most teams laid low during free agency. The ‘9ers are positioned very well to break out in 2019. They have the second overall pick as of now, and don’t need a quarterback as they get Jimmy Garoppolo back from injury. They bolstered their defense with cornerback Jason Verrett, and linebackers David Mayo and Kwon Alexander. On offense, they brought in receiver Jordan Matthews and running back Tevin Coleman.
AFC West: Oakland Raiders
I am gritting my teeth as I am typing this, as I don’t think the Raiders really got that great of value for their players, but I couldn’t give it to any of the other three teams. They overpaid for left tackle Trent Brown, they took a gamble by giving receiver Tyrell Williams $11 million per year, they traded for Antonio Brown but signed his old nemesis and horrible person Vontaze Burfict, and signed defensive backs LaMarcus Joyner and Nevin Lawson.