Posted on

At least we have the NFL off-season to create some sports chatter

At least we have the NFL off-season to create some sports chatter At least we have the NFL off-season to create some sports chatter

While every major spectator sport in America sits frozen in time during the great coronavirus shutdown, business hasn’t stopped in the National Football League, even if it’s not “as usual.”

Thanking their lucky stars that their season –– at least so far –– was the only one not in progress at the time life as we knew it ended, league officials have been busy conducting free agent business and preparing for the annual NFL Draft, set to go on as scheduled April 23-25, with major revisions of course.

Leave it to America’s most popular and biggest money-making league to be the one spared. But that’s OK. Anything sports-related to talk about right now is a good thing, even it isn’t about actual competition.

The free agency and trade frenzy is pretty much over, but it was interesting. I’m sure some NFL paparazzi would’ve loved to see the Tom Brady saga last a little longer. The rest of us were glad it ended quickly with Brady taking what’s left of his talent to Tampa Bay and leaving New England with Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham as its top two quarterbacks heading into the draft. Maybe, just maybe, the Patriots will finally go away.

Brady instantly makes Tampa Bay an intriguing team. The Buccaneers have some weapons, can score points and still have some money to spend. You would think Brady won’t turn the football over nearly as much as Jameis Winston did, which should give the Bucs a chance to not give up as many points as they have the past few years. I’d say Tampa becomes the second-best team in the NFC South behind New Orleans, who did well to re-sign Drew Brees and pick up wily vet Emmanuel Sanders at wide receiver and defensive back Malcolm Jenkins.

The Indianapolis Colts are generally getting praised for bringing in Philip Rivers on a one-year, $25 million deal. I don’t know, it felt to me like Rivers was fading fast in the last year or two. The Colts’ better move was to steal defensive tackle DeForest Buckner from San Francisco, though it came at an $84 million price tag. We’ll see if Rivers’ decline was a product of the Chargers’ offense crumbling around him. Teddy Bridgewater’s second chance at a starting gig, this time with the Carolina Panthers on a three-year, $63 million deal, will be worth watching since former MVP Cam Newton lost his job because of it. It feels like $21 million a year is a lot for Bridgewater, who hasn’t played a ton since his horrible knee injury in 2016. But that’s the price tag on veteran quarterbacks these days and he did play well subbing for an injured Brees with New Orleans last year.

Will the Tennessee Titans be happy they re-signed Ryan Tannehill instead of going after Brady? Will the Chargers be happy with Tyrod Taylor or do they go big on draft day? What will the Chicago Bears do at quarterback after trading for Nick Foles to compete with Mitch Trubisky? Where will Winston and Newton land, presumably as back-ups?

Aside from the quarterback discussion, which will heat up for some teams as the draft gets closer, were there other teams that caught your attention with their moves in the last couple of weeks?

For obvious reasons, I tend to watch the NFC North first. The Green Bay Packers have been underwhelming with only three notable bargain-bin type signings, but that’s not a surprise. Losing Bryan Bulaga, their rock at right tackle, hurts but that’s one where you have to name a price and if someone offers him more, as the Los Angeles Chargers did, you wish him well. The Packers spent a lot of cash on the defense last year and have some major players with expiring contracts after this season like David Bakhtiari, Kenny Clark, Aaron Jones, Corey Linsley and Kevin King. The upcoming draft will be a big one for general manager Brian Gutekunst.

Interestingly, I looked at 10 mock drafts that I randomly found online Monday and all 10 had the Packers picking a wide receiver in the first round. Those predictions included six different receivers. Two conclusions. One, there is wide receiver depth in this draft and two, the perception the Packers need help at wide receiver must be pretty strong. We’ll talk more on the draft later this month.

The Minnesota Vikings have been the most active team in the division, more notably for their subtractions than their additions. The Packers’ secondary may celebrate the Vikings’ trade of wide receiver Stefon Diggs to Buffalo, but Minnesota got a lot of draft picks in return. Defensive backs Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander are all gone, and so is defensive tackle Linval Joseph. They extended quarterback Kirk Cousins for another big chunk of change and picked up a solid replacement for Joseph in Michael Pierce. This is still a dangerous team that is now armed with two first-round draft picks.

The Detroit Lions traded one of their best players, cornerback Darius Slay, to Philadelphia. He was a tough one to get open against. I’m sure division receivers are OK with not facing him twice a year, though Slay’s replacement, Desmond Trufant had some decent years in Atlanta.

The Bears’ moves are marked by the curious trade for Foles, a questionable $16 million contract for tight end Jimmy Graham, the release of 2016 first-round pick linebacker Leonard Floyd, who then signed with the Rams, and a five-year, $70 million contract for Robert Quinn, a pretty good pass rusher who will be 35 if he gets to the end of the contract. Like the Packers, it’s hard to say the Bears have gotten better so far. Chicago does not own a first-round pick in the draft and only eight picks overall as it stands now.

The biggest trade of the frenzy featured the Arizona Cardinals getting star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans for worn-down and costly running back David Johnson. As a 2019 fantasy owner of Johnson, I can honestly yell, “what the heck are the Texans doing?”

The Cleveland Browns have been active as always. On paper, they look better, but, they’re the Browns. They’re more likely to find ways to screw it up. Same with Cincinnati, who probably will draft LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the number-one pick and has signed some potentially decent defensive free agents. But they’re not nicknamed the Bungles for nothing. The Miami Dolphins have been another active AFC team but their biggest move may come with one of the draft’s top quarterbacks. I’m curious to see how former Wisconsin star running back Melvin Gordon fits in with Denver.

The Los Angeles Rams cut a ton of talent that was getting older but, more importantly, getting expensive. They acted quickly by going the stop-gap route to fill some of those holes. You wonder if their 15 minutes of fame in the NFC West is just about up, though they will at least create some buzz with new uniforms and a new stadium.

Hopefully things are back to normal by late summer and that stadium, as well as all others, will actually have people in them again.

Matt Frey is the Sports Editor at The Star News.