Anarchy in the South: Free Agency creates seismic shift in the NFL landscape

Courtesy+of+Pixabay+%28Mohamed+Hassan%29

Courtesy of Pixabay (Mohamed Hassan)

Kyle McKee

The biggest signing of free agency thus far has been Tom Brady agreeing on a two-year, $50 million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The contract is fully guaranteed and includes up to $9 million in additional incentives. 

The soon to be 43-year-old is viewed as the greatest quarterback in NFL history and has spent his entire 20-year career in New England coached by Bill Belichick. Together, the two are considered the greatest player-coach duo in NFL history, and one of the greatest in all of sports. In their 20 seasons together, the Patriots reached the Super Bowl nine times, winning the big game on six occasions. The Patriots have almost played in half of the Super Bowls since the turn of the century, a testament to the dominance exuded by Brady and Belichick.

Naturally, Brady in a Bucs uniform is going to be a strange sight to see, and it will definitely take some time to get used to. This move is reminiscent of other all-time greats finishing their careers with another team. Some examples of this phenomenon include Michael Jordan with the Washington Wizards, Joe Montana with the Kansas City Chiefs, Willie Mays with the New York Mets and Wayne Gretzky with the St. Louis Blues. It remains to be seen if Brady can finish his career on a high — similar to his contemporary Peyton Manning with the Denver Broncos — or have a forgettable time with his new team like Jordan, Montana, Mays and Gretzky.

Out of all the options that were available for Brady, the Bucs made the most sense on the gridiron. Tampa Bay has two elite wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, which Brady has not had since 2007 with Randy Moss. The Bucs also have two capable tight ends in OJ Howard and Cameron Brate. Although Howard had a lackluster 2019 season, he was a first round pick for a reason. He has flashed potential in his two seasons thus far and he is still developing, as he is only 25. Tampa’s head coach Bruce Arians is the complete opposite of Bill Belichick. Arians was formerly Peyton Manning’s quarterbacks coach and he is seen as a player’s coach. Also, a bunch of veteran players have already expressed interest in joining the Bucs because of Tom Brady, similar to how veterans have flocked to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA to win a title in recent years.    

The NFC South is forming into the most formidable division in football. Not only have the Bucs improved, but the Saints, the winner of the division the past two seasons, have also improved. Drew Brees has opted not to retire, signing a two-year, $50 million deal to remain in New Orleans. Additionally, the Saints add to their already prolific offense by signing Emmanuel Sanders to a two-year, $16 million deal. On the other side of the ball, New Orleans added three-time Pro Bowl safety Malcom Jenkins on a four-year $32 million deal.

As for the other two teams in the division, the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers, they both have made some noteworthy moves that will improve them going forward.

The Atlanta Falcons have been one of the busiest teams in free agency thus far. They made headlines by signing running back Todd Gurley to a one-year, $6 million contract. A day after being released from the Rams, Gurley decided to come to his home state and play for the Falcons. Two seasons removed from finishing second in MVP voting, Gurley has not been the same player since, as he has dealt with persistent knee injuries that have held him back. Having said that, Gurley is still only 25 years old and at the end of last season showed flashes that he can be the player he once was. Overall, this is a good gamble for the Falcons to take. Not only did Atlanta add Gurley, but they traded for tight-end Hayden Hurst and a 2020 fourth rounder from the Ravens after losing Austin Hooper to the Browns in free agency, where he signed a four-year, $44 million contract. The Falcons did not lose much in the exchange, sending 2020 second and fifth round picks to Baltimore. Atlanta also improved on the defensive side of the ball, where they struggled so mightily last season, by signing outside linebacker/defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. to a three-year, $48 million deal. 

As for the Panthers, they signed quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year, $63 million deal, effectively ending the Cam Newton era in Carolina. Cam’s release from the organization days later served only as the final nail in his Carolina coffin. Teddy goes from being a back-up in New Orleans to becoming the face of a franchise in Carolina. He will have plenty of weapons in Carolina to work with, including the best running back in the game in Christian McCaffrey, and two young up-and-coming receivers in DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel. 

Other notable transactions include quarterback Philip Rivers signing a one-year $25 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts. It remains to be seen what this means for Jacoby Brissett, as he could remain in Indy as a back-up, or the Colts could look to trade him.  

Staying in the South, Ryan Tannehill remains in Tennessee, cashing in on a four-year, $118 million contract extension with the Titans. Out west, Melvin Gordon signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Denver Broncos. Meanwhile, Amari Cooper remains in the Big Easy, signing a five-year, $100 million deal with the Cowboys.

In the NFC North, the Minnesota Vikings traded star reciever Stefon Diggs to Buffalo first, fifth and sixth-round picks in this year’s draft, as well as a 2021 fourth-round pick.

However, the most stunning transaction of the offseason thus far took place in the AFC South. The Houston Texans traded star receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a 2020 fourth round pick to Arizona for running back David Johnson, 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 fourth-round pick. First of all, this is  is an objectively great move for the Cardinals. They get one of the best receivers in football for half of what the Bills got for an arguably lesser receiver in Stefon Diggs. Arizona gives their young quarterback, Kyler Murray, a true number one receiver. Also, they get rid of David Johnson’s contract. Kenyan Drake will completely take over that starting job. 

As for the Texans, this is a head scratcher, to say the least. A rift between Hopkins and Head Coach and General Manager Bill O’Brien would provide the most logical cause for the trade. O’Brien explained that the Texas did not want to pay Hopkins who was asking for a new contract, and this upcoming NFL draft is loaded with wide receivers. Having said that, it is unlikely that  any of the receivers will turn out to be as good as Hopkins and even more unlikely that the Texans draft the best receiver. Quarterback Deshaun Watson must be furious after seeing his number one option getting traded for the football equivalent of a “ham sandwich,” at least according to hall-of-famer Michael Irving on ESPN’s Get Up.

Not only did the Texans get rid of a top-three wide receiver in the league, but in return, they got a broken down running back in David Johnson. Johnson had one great season four years ago, back in 2016. Since then, he has dealt with a myriad of injuries and nothing close to the same player he was back in 2016. He turns 29 in December, and for running backs, that is over-the-hill. The Cardinals pulled off highway robbery, making O’Brien look foolish and Watson potentially running his own escape route out of Houston.