Joe Namath with the Rams. Johnny Unitas on the Chargers. Franco Harris or Jerry Rice with the Seahawks.
We all remember. Not just for old football players, either. Willie Mays ending his career with the New York Mets is still memorable almost 50 years after it happened. People will recall Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards jersey decades from now. When a great athlete changes teams late in his career, it’s burned in our minds.
That’s part of what makes Tom Brady’s reported jump from New England to Tampa Bay so crazy. Few players are as synonymous with a franchise as Brady is with the Patriots. Nobody has won more rings with a team. And now we’ll see Brady in a different uniform, like Namath and Unitas and many others before him. It seems unfathomable.
Brady’s move was the most interesting story in free agency, but there are plenty of others that will have impact on the coming season.
First, here’s a look at who got the franchise tag. These players aren’t listed in our top 25 free agents (the exceptions are the Titans’ Derrick Henry and the Bucs’ Shaq Barrett, who got the tag right before the deadline):
Baltimore Ravens – LB Matthew Judon
Cincinnati Bengals – WR A.J. Green
Dallas Cowboys – QB Dak Prescott
Denver Broncos – S Justin Simmons
Jacksonville Jaguars – DE Yannick Ngakoue
Kansas City Chiefs – DT Chris Jones
Los Angeles Chargers – TE Hunter Henry
Minnesota Vikings – S Anthony Harris
New England Patriots – OL Joe Thuney
New York Giants – DT Leonard Williams
Pittsburgh Steelers – LB Bud Dupree
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – LB Shaq Barrett
Tennessee Titans – RB Derrick Henry
Washington Redskins – OL Brandon Scherff
Our top 25 free agents:
25. Panthers CB James Bradberry (AGREED TO SIGN with GIANTS)
Bradberry reportedly wanted a huge contract, and got it from New York, agreeing to a reported three-year, $45 million deal. He was a good, solid cornerback for the Panthers and the former third-round pick doesn’t turn 27 until August.
24. Vikings DE Everson Griffen
Griffen rebounded well off a lost 2018 to post eight sacks. He is 32 but still a productive player who can rush the quarterback.
23. Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes
Rhodes is coming off a bad season. In Pro Football Focus’ grades, only three corners with at least 300 snaps ranked worse. He was cut by the Vikings on Friday in a salary-cap move. Rhodes is a former first-round pick, won’t turn 30 until June and is a former first-team All-Pro cornerback. Someone will bet on a rebound.
22. Packers OT Bryan Bulaga (AGREED TO SIGN WITH CHARGERS)
Bulaga is a good right tackle and at age 30, still should have some prime years left. That makes him a rarity in this free-agency class, which is light on quality offensive linemen. Bulaga reportedly reached a three-year deal with the L.A. Chargers for $30 million.
21. Eagles OT Jason Peters
When the Colts signed tackle Anthony Castonzo to a two-year extension, it took one of the best tackles off the market. Peters is 38, but he’s still very good. He ranked sixth among starting tackles in Pro Football Focus’ grades last season. The end could come soon, but there just isn’t a lot of veteran help at left tackle in free agency.
20. Titans QB Marcus Mariota (AGREED TO SIGN WITH RAIDERS)
Mariota has had NFL success. It came his first two seasons, and there has been plenty of injuries and subpar play since, but at least we have seen him play well. The Raiders could see him as this year’s Ryan Tannehill: A player who was a high draft pick, didn’t work out with his original team, got a job as a priority backup and then flourished with a change of scenery and opportunity.
19. Chargers RB Melvin Gordon (AGREED TO SIGN WITH BRONCOS)
Gordon miscalculated his holdout last season. He didn’t get a long-term extension, and this offseason the Chargers chose to pay Austin Ekeler, who thrived in an expanded role as Gordon held out. Gordon is a very good but not transcendent running back, and that can be a tough market. He’ll stay in the AFC West as he reportedly got a two-year, $16 million deal with Denver.
18. Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins (AGREED TO SIGN WITH SAINTS)
On Tuesday, Jenkins became a free agent when the Eagles declined his 2020 option. Jenkins is 32 but a three-time Pro Bowler who didn’t miss a game in six Eagles seasons, and can still give the Saints, his former team, a versatile piece in the secondary. He reportedly got a four-year deal valued at $35 million.
17. 49ers DE Arik Armstead (AGREED TO SIGN WITH 49ERS)
Armstead looked like a first-round bust, with just nine sacks through four seasons. Then he had 10 last season. Armstead agreed to a five-year extension with the 49ers, which will pay him as much as $85 million.
16. Rams DT Michael Brockers (AGREED TO SIGN WITH RAVENS)
Brockers is a durable, active interior defender who hasn’t yet hit 30. He’ll immediately help the Ravens who will sign him to a reported three-year, $30 million deal.
15. Rams LB Cory Littleton (AGREED TO SIGN WITH RAIDERS)
Inside linebackers aren’t in demand like they used to be, but Littleton was an exception for the Raiders. Littleton is a three-down inside linebacker who can do a little bit of everything. His rise from undrafted special teams standout to 100-tackle inside linebacker says a lot about his motor. He reportedly will sign a three-year, $36 million deal with Las Vegas.
14. Rams OLB Dante Fowler Jr. (AGREED TO SIGN WITH FALCONS)
Fowler is 25, was once the third overall pick of the draft and had 11.5 sacks last season. He washed out with the Jaguars early in his career, but has rebounded. He reportedly got a three-year deal in Atlanta for $48 million.
13. Falcons TE Austin Hooper (AGREED TO SIGN WITH BROWNS)
A tight end who can stretch the middle of the field is huge for a passing game, and Hooper has improved year after year. He’s not in the Travis Kelce-George Kittle tier, but he’s available and an instant upgrade for the Browns. Hooper reportedly agreed to a four-year, $42 million deal with the Browns.
12. Cardinals RB Kenyan Drake (TRANSITION TAGGED)
Drake was woefully underused by the Dolphins. When he finally escaped, via a midseason trade to the Cardinals, he flourished in a bigger role. The Cardinals used the transition tag on Drake. That made even more sense after Arizona traded running back David Johnson to Houston.
11. Saints QB Teddy Bridgewater (AGREED TO SIGN WITH PANTHERS)
He filled in well for the Saints last season when Drew Brees was out, proving he’s healthy and still capable. He’s not a high-end starter but still quite good for the rebuilding Panthers, and it’s just a question of whether he wants to remain with the Saints or seek a starting opportunity elsewhere.
10. Titans OT Jack Conklin (AGREED TO SIGN WITH BROWNS)
Conklin is a good player who benefitted from being the best tackle on the market. Conklin’s massive contract will be a good example of supply and demand. The Browns moved fast, agreeing to a three-year deal with Conklin worth $42 million. That will allow Conklin to hit free agency again at age 28.
9. Jets WR Robby Anderson (AGREED TO SIGN WITH PANTHERS)
Anderson is a talented receiver who (surprise, surprise) Adam Gase and the Jets didn’t seem to get enough out of. He’s off to rebuilding Carolina, where he got a reported two-year, $20 million deal.
8. Titans RB Derrick Henry (FRANCHISE TAGGED)
His incredible stretch late last season had a lot of people crowing that running backs still matter, but will that result in a huge contract? Henry is a phenomenal runner who adds little in the passing game. The NFL’s reigning rushing champ is obviously very good as a traditional workhorse runner. With Ryan Tannehill signed to a long-term extension, the Titans used the franchise tag on Henry.)
7. Broncos CB Chris Harris Jr. (AGREED TO SIGN WITH CHARGERS)
Harris will be 31, but has been one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL on the outside and in the slot for many years. Harris told ESPN that he has reached a deal with the Chargers.
6. Cowboys CB Byron Jones (AGREED TO SIGN WITH DOLPHINS)
Jones is a fantastic all-around player with versatility, a first-round pedigree and he’s at a prime age (27). It’s why Miami reportedly will make him the highest paid cornerback on a five-year, $82.6 million deal.
5. Buccaneers DE Shaquil Barrett (FRANCHISE TAGGED)
There is risk in Barrett. Before last season, he was mostly anonymous and his one-year, $4 million deal reflected that. Then he led the NFL with 19.5 sacks, and might have won NFL Defensive Player of the Year had he been a more recognizable name. He has only one notable season, but that one season is one of the best in NFL history for a pass rusher. (Only 12 times in NFL history has a player posted more than 19.5 sacks in a season.) This seems like an extreme boom-or-bust signing. The Buccaneers used the franchise tag on Barrett, which means quarterback Jameis Winston was free to hit the market.
4. Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston
Can we just put a shrug emoji here? Every positive with Winston — former Heisman winner and national champion, first overall pick, 5,000-yard season, just turned 26 years old — is mitigated by all the interceptions and his history of off-field issues. He’s absolutely confounding, and his market might reflect that.
3. Cowboys WR Amari Cooper (AGREED TO SIGN WITH COWBOYS)
Cooper can be wildly inconsistent, but Dallas still went all-in for a reported five-year, $100 million deal. He reached 1,000 yards in four of his first five NFL seasons, is 26 and still has the physical gifts that made him the fourth pick of the draft. Teams will ignore the quiet weeks from the four-time Pro Bowler and back up the truck to pay him.
2. Patriots QB Tom Brady (AGREED TO SIGN WITH BUCS)
One quarterback at age 43 or older has thrown more than 60 passes in a season. Vinny Testaverde had six starts at age 44 for the 2007 Panthers and posted a 65.8 rating. In 100 seasons of NFL football, only eight times has a quarterback at age 43 or older started a game (six for Testaverde, one for Steve DeBerg, one for Warren Moon). Brady is an outlier in many, many ways. But assuming that he’ll still be at a Hall of Fame level at age 43 and is worth a huge contract ignores history. Yet, he’s still Tom Brady, the owner of the greatest resume of any quarterback ever.
1. Seahawks DE Jadeveon Clowney
There are seven defensive players with a contract of $100 million or more. Clowney seems set to become the eighth. He’s a former No. 1 overall pick, and after dealing with injuries early in his career he has become a fantastic defender against the run and rushing the passer too. He can take over a game like few other defenders can. It’s rare for a player of this ability to actually reach the open market, and the bidding will be fierce.
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