We’re not even 48 hours into the free agency period and the entire landscape of the NFL has been turned upside down. It’s fair to say the early days of free agency have lived up to the hype of the highly-anticipated event leading up to the draft.
The most noteworthy moves are the quarterback shakeup, as Tom Brady takes his game down the coastline to Tampa Bay. Brady will join forces with not only the best wide receiver duo in the league but be paired with one of the best quarterback coaches of our generation in Bruce Arians. It’s clear Brady wants to prove he can win without being attached at the hip with his previous boss, Bill Belichick. In New England, the Patriots now find themselves swimming back to shore on quarterback island, grabbing whoever they can that’s left and still serviceable.
Other big moves involving signal-callers included another aging veteran changing uniforms for the first time in his long and illustrious career as Philip Rivers joins the Indianapolis Colts. With Brady out of the conference, Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger are the last of the “old school” quarterbacks in the AFC — looking to prove they still hang with the new gunslingers like Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Drew Lock.
Old friend Teddy Bridgewater signed a three-year deal worth approximately $20 million per season in Carolina. There, he’ll team back up with his former offensive coordinator Norv Turner and new Panthers head coach Matt Rhule as they look to rebuild the foundation and face of the franchise. That means Cam Newton will have a new home in 2020 as well, with the Los Angeles Chargers the odds-on favorite as of now.
Here are five major moves that will have a big splash on the first round of the draft and what the Minnesota Vikings’ options could be limited to as the free agency dominoes continue to fall.
1.) Miami Dolphins
No team made a bigger splash on the opening day of free agency than the Dolphins, who had money to spend and did so in flashy fashion. They set the tone for the rest of the league by clamping down the best free agent on the cornerback market in Byron Jones. Then quickly after that, they added three highly-competent front-seven defenders for defensive-minded head coach Brian Flores to play with. Kyle Van Noy, Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah will help revamp and restock one of the league’s worst defenses in just one offseason.
The Dolphins also nabbed guard Ereck Flowers who has turned around the once awful start to his career and became highly serviceable last season.
Look for the Dolphins to try and move Josh Rosen at some point before the draft as well. The former top-12 pick just two drafts ago could net a Day 3 pick from someone like the Patriots before they choose to just release him altogether as they are clearly heading in a new direction.
With a bevy of new talent and an NFL-high five selections in the top-50 picks, the Dolphins are ready to prove now more than ever just how much parity is in the league as they try to go from worst to first in a hurry.
With veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm, it seems more likely than ever the Dolphins will use their fifth overall pick to grab their quarterback of the future. The only question is will they feel the pressure to give up extra picks to slide up and secure their guy?
If they stand firm, the 18th selection would likely turn into an offensive position, helping aid their new quarterback with more protection on the offensive line or by adding a new target at wide receiver. Both positions are still in desperate need of an upgrade and will likely take one name off the Vikings’ draft board when they get around to picks 22 and 25.
If one of the top four offensive linemen start falling, it seems more and more likely the train will stop in Miami at selection 18. The Vikings would then be forced to make a decision if it’s worth it to move up and past the Dolphins for a top-tier protector like Andrew Thomas from Georgia.
- No. 5) Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
- No. 18) Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
2.) Las Vegas Raiders
One of the best-kept secrets in the NFL was former Los Angeles Rams linebacker Cory Littleton, who turned out to be one of the best coverage linebackers in the league last season. Mike Mayock filled one of the team’s biggest needs with Littleton and former Chicago Bear Nick Kwiatkoski, which will allow the front office to stay flexible with their two first-round picks.
Before the additions, the Raiders had been linked to top linebacker prospects Patrick Queen and Kenneth Murray with one of their first-round picks.
With linebackers crossed off their list, the Raiders could be a major buzzkill for the Vikings’ draft plans as wide receiver, cornerback and defensive line move to the top of their biggest needs.
The Raiders currently own picks 12 and 19 and will almost certainly use one of those to pluck a top-tier cornerback. With two selections before the Vikings and very similar needs on both sides of the passing game, this front office is the team to watch that could potentially derail draft weekend for Rick Spielman.
- No. 12) Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
- No. 19) Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
3.) Cleveland Browns
Out of all the moves we’ve seen unfold this week, I’m still shocked the Browns signing Jack Conklin has gone so unnoticed and under the radar. Coming off his rookie contract, Conklin was near the top of offensive linemen available this offseason.
Had the Tennessee Titans not been forced to dump the Brink’s bank truck at the feet of Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry, there’s no doubt they would have retained the rights to Conklin, who is without a doubt one of the better young blockers in the league.
It’s been reported that one of the Browns top two wideouts could be shipped out, meaning Jarvis Landry or even Odell Beckham Jr. likely won’t be in Cleveland in 2020. That move would open up an obvious void at wide receiver where the Browns want to continue to stock up weapons and help continue Baker Mayfield’s progression in his ever-so-critical third year.
Another hot talker is the idea of the Vikings moving recently franchise-tagged Anthony Harris and the 22nd pick to the Browns for the 10th overall selection. A trade into the top 10 would move Spielman in range to replace Stefon Diggs with a top-tier prospect like Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy or Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, the consensus top-two prospects at their position.
While the likelihood of such a trade may seem minute on paper, it’s important to remember the connection of new Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski with the Vikings. Stefanski spent the first decade in the NFL with the Vikings — up until this offseason — and knows the roster and player personnel better than any other coach in the league. This is why it came to no surprise when his very first move as new head coach was to add a handful of former Vikings to his team — including both players and coaches.
It’s also worth noting the Vikings are set to receive a 2021 third-round compensatory pick for Harris if they let him walk this offseason. In other words, any trade involving Harris would only make sense if it included receiving a second-round selection or higher.
Could this connection push the likelihood of a trade up? If the Browns stay put at pick 10, will they be looking to fill the void of a traded wideout? Even with Conklin added to the group, the offensive line will still be in play as Stefanski looks to surround his new quarterback with the proper talent and protection.
- No. 10) Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
4.) San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers added another first-round pick from the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for DeForest Buckner, a big-named defensive lineman they were likely to be unable to resign. John Lynch and the front office now have the 13th and 31st pick in the upcoming draft and plenty of ammo to move up and target a blue-chip prospect inside the top 10 if they see fit.
Much like the Raiders, the 49ers have virtually identical needs as the Vikings. In other words, cornerback, wideout and offensive line will all be in play before Spielman is on the clock. The trade that leapfrogged the Vikings could prove costly for Spielman as the former team, the Colts, were projected to target a quarterback at 13. The trade would indicate that another likely Vikings target will now be gone by the time they are on the clock with the 22nd selection.
- No. 13) C.J Henderson, CB, Florida
- No. 31) Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
5.) Los Angeles Chargers
While it still remains to be seen who the Chargers quarterback is in 2020 — hello Cam Newton — but whoever it is should be primed to step in and succeed. The front office spent good money on two new offensive linemen in former Green Bay Packer Bryan Bulaga and highly-coveted guard Trai Turner. The team also retained their leading running back from last season in Austin Ekeler and franchise-tagged tight end Hunter Henry, solidifying nearly every offensive position before the draft.
This now leaves all eyes on their quarterback and whether the Chargers will sign a veteran like Jameis Winston or leapfrog the Dolphins in the draft for Tua Tagovailoa. The team currently has Tyrod Taylor as the bridge for a younger developmental prospect to groom, allowing them the luxury to sit for his first year.
If they enter the draft with their quarterback need taken care of, it’s unlikely they will draft another offensive lineman after securing two legitimate starters this week. If anything, the Chargers seem like the team most likely to draft someone on the defensive side of the ball such as defensive tackle Derrick Brown or hybrid safety Isaiah Simmons from Clemson.
After adding two starters in free agency, the Chargers should keep another offensive tackle on the board for the Vikings as well as wide receiver and cornerback, too.
- No. 6) Isaiah Simmons, S, Clemson
6.) Arizona Cardinals
You may not see a bigger steal in the NFL than what the Cardinals pulled off this week. General manager Steve Keim should be in an orange jumpsuit after he stole one of the best wide receivers of the generation for a washed-up running back and a measly Day 2 pick.
The addition of DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans fills a major need at the position and will push the Cardinals’ top draft priority now to the offensive line with the eighth overall pick. The priority was always protecting the investment of No. 1 pick Kyler Murray, but now we’ve cemented what position they will choose from.
For the Vikings, the Cardinals are as close to a sure thing to take one of the top-tier offensive linemen as you can predict. Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton and Alabama’s Jedrick Wills are all options in Keim’s radar, posing a serious threat of plucking a player at a dire position of need for the Vikings.
- No. 8) Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa