American Football Expert & Columnist
Neil Reynolds' Free Agency takeaways: Odell Beckham, Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell and more
Last Updated: 14/03/19 2:35pm
It has been a monumental week in the NFL… the kind where you don't want to put your phone down and you spend far too much of your life hitting 'refresh' on your Twitter feed.
A case in point being Tuesday night when I went to bed thinking things had finally calmed down enough to go to sleep. And I woke on Wednesday morning to the news that wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr had been traded to the Cleveland Browns and running back Le'Veon Bell had joined the New York Jets.
It has been that kind of crazy week. I was originally due to write a 'winners and losers of free agency' article here but it's hard to gauge the losers at this early stage. And the winners, for that matter. So let's just call this six things that really caught my eye and captured my attention over the past week.
NFL Free Agency round-up
Track the latest moves as the new NFL season gets underway, with a flurry of free agent signings becoming official.
Browns get OBJ at bargain price
I'm not saying the Cleveland Browns stole Beckham away from the New York Giants, but they have to be happy with the price they paid. First and third-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft along with a middle-of-the-pack safety in Jabrill Peppers is a very nice deal indeed.
OBJ is arguably the most gifted player in the league and watch him soar in 2019 with Baker Mayfield at quarterback in Cleveland. Mayfield is aggressive and willing to throw the ball downfield but also very accurate. That is the polar opposite of New York's Eli Manning, who was risk-averse and inaccurate last term.
The Browns are not quite Super Bowl calibre just yet, but they are going to be one of the most fascinating teams to watch and I feel they are playoff bound. The Giants, on the other hand, really don't seem to have a plan. They have a superstar running back in Saquon Barkley and very little else at the moment. They certainly don't have a great deal of hope.
The rebuilding Raiders
It seems a long time ago - a week is a long time in politics and the NFL - since the Raiders pulled the trigger on a trade that saw them acquire elite wide receiver talent in the form of Antonio Brown.
And if Cleveland fell into the 'got themselves a bargain' category with OBJ, I think the Raiders did indeed steal Brown away from Pittsburgh. Third and fifth-round selections for a player of Brown's calibre is daylight robbery, even if he does come with some red flags following his erratic behaviour in recent months.
Brown will bring out the best in Derek Carr and also create opportunities for newly-signed wide receiver Tyrell Williams, who joins from the Los Angeles Chargers with a penchant for making big plays downfield.
The Raiders have also added a new left tackle in Trent Brown (New England Patriots), a hard-hitting safety in Lamarcus Joyner (Los Angeles Rams) and still control the 2019 NFL Draft with three picks in the first round. This is a team with a long way to go, but they are making strides in the right direction.
Bell wasted a year for nothing
Short of engineering his way out of Pittsburgh, I can see little benefit from star rusher Le'Veon Bell sitting out the entire 2018 season. He lost $14.5m (£10.96m) that I do not see him making up through the remainder of his career.
If the numbers being offered by the Steelers are to be believed, he could have made $15m (£11.33m) per year on a long-term deal by staying in Pennsylvania. Bell is now set to make around $13m (£9.82m) per season with the Jets as his market did not materialise as he and his agents envisioned. Todd Gurley (LA Rams) and David Johnson (Arizona Cardinals) are higher up the RB ladder in terms of pay than Bell and that cannot be what he pictured when sitting out in 2018.
Setting the potential business issues to one side, the Jets are getting a back who has played at an historic level and one who never has to come off the field. Bell can run, catch and block. Now, we just need to see if he can return to the height of his powers after a year away from the game.
Mixed bag for the Ravens
Free agency got off to a bad start for a Baltimore Ravens team that had already released veteran safety Eric Weddle. The Ravens were then raided further as they lost edge rushers Terrell Suggs (Arizona Cardinals) and Za'Darius Smith (Green Bay Packers), as well as influential inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (New York Jets).
That set off alarm bells among Ravens fans but they bounced back nicely late on Wednesday with two signings that I believe are perfect fits for this franchise… New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram and Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas.
The triple-headed rushing threat of Lamar Jackson, Gus Edwards and Ingram is going to be tough to slow down in 2019, although the lack of receiving options is a real worry in terms of needing a balanced attack. The top two wide receivers currently on Baltimore's roster are Willie Snead and Chris Moore and that will not get the job done.
The Ravens have long been a defense built on intensity, high-level production and holding each other accountable. And that, in my mind, makes Thomas the perfect fit because he ticks all of those boxes. He can run and cover the entire field, he has a nose for the ball and he loves to hit. And he will demand a high level of play from those around him.
49ers roll the dice
The 2019 season will mark the third in San Francisco with general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan at the helm. In the previous two campaigns, the 49ers have won a total of 10 games and that creates some urgency to show real improvement in the upcoming campaign.
I believe that is the reason why the Niners have, in my opinion, taken some risks - albeit calculated ones - this spring. The most notable being the offering up of $54 million over the next four seasons for Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander. That is a hefty price for a defender coming off torn knee ligaments with a penchant for missing tackles. There is some wiggle room in the deal from a team point of view and if it doesn't pan out, San Fran can move on with a one-year cost of $14 million.
San Francisco 49ers trade for Ford
The Kansas City Chiefs agreed to trade pass-rushing linebacker Dee Ford to the 49ers for a 2020 second-round pick.
As always, the devil is in the detail of these contracts.
I like the signing of running back Tevin Coleman from the Atlanta Falcons and Dee Ford could be a very nice pass-rushing addition after he was acquired from Kansas City for a second-round pick in 2020. But here is where the 49ers have rolled the dice, signing Ford to a five-year, $87.5 million deal.
The Chiefs didn't feel Ford was a good fit for their new four-man defensive line front, yet the Niners - who don't really know Ford the same way that Kansas City do - feel he will be just fine in their similar line and felt so confident they threw mega bucks at their new man. That is one of the risks associated with free agency, when you almost always expected to over-pay.
Titans quietly improve
The Tennesee Titans have not made the OBJ, Antonio Brown or Le'Veon Bell-type headlines, but there is no doubt they have improved their team in recent days.
Guard Rodger Saffold (Los Angeles Rams) and slot receiver Adam Humphries (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) upgrade the attack, while the signing of veteran defensive end Cameron Wake should still pay dividends on the other side of the ball. I also like the re-signing of safety Kenny Vacarro in the backfield.
With the Titans improved, the AFC South is going to be a dogfight in 2019. The Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts are not declining from their playoff runs of a year ago and the Jacksonville Jaguars should be better at the game's most vital position after signing Super Bowl-winning quarterback Nick Foles and releasing long-time starter Blake Bortles.Sky Sports coverage of the NFL will continue through the off-season as we track the player moves and the storylines in the build-up to the 100th year of the NFL - and we will have all three days of the NFL Draft covered in April.