How Free Agency 2020 Changed the NFL
By: Steven Wasco
It goes without saying but the NFL in 2020 will be different. No not for some world changing pandemic that may delay the season opening but in other ways. How over ¼ of the NFL will have new Quarterbacks starting for them this year. 10-11 franchises from most of the 8 divisions are affected by this which could have a positive or negative swing of power in each conference and division. While turnover in the NFL at Quarterback is not new, what is new is how 3 Franchise Quarterbacks have reshaped how we’re going to view the upcoming season. I’m going to look at each team that will have some type of Quarterback change this year and how it impacts the Division and Conference as a whole.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Remove Jameis Winston, Add Tom Brady
Change doesn’t get as big as this. While Tom Brady was seemingly in decline last season, he was also on arguably the most talent poor offense he has ever had. Back in 2013 when he was down two of his starting receivers, analysts were also talking about a Tom Brady decline until the team pulled it together and made yet another run at the Super Bowl. Now, Brady goes to one of the best offensive minds in Bruce Arians with some of the best talent in the NFL in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, OJ Howard, and Cameron Brate.
This is not only a monumental shift of power in the NFC South but the entire AFC. Brady has a 20 year with the Patriots and that includes 9 trips to the Super Bowl, 13 AFC Championship Appearances, and 17 Division titles. The Ravens, Steelers, Colts, Broncos, and Chiefs were the only teams in recent years to actually pose any legitimate threat to the AFC Powerhouse that was the Patriots. And now the AFC East is wide open for the Dolphins, Bills and Jets. So Brady leaving the AFC leaves the whole conference in a mass power grab. While the Chiefs are the Super Bowl victors, they’re not safe. Not when you look at the AFC North with the Steelers getting Big Ben back and the Ravens reloading, the Texans and Colts in the AFC South, the AFC East with the Bills, and the challenge within their own division with the Broncos and Raiders.
Brady is also reshaping the NFC South as well. The Saints re-signed Drew Brees, a team that has been Super Bowl ready for several years now. Brees and Brady are two of the most accurate passers in the NFL and both have gone back and forth on passing records. For the next two years we get to see these two titanic Quarterbacks duke it out twice a year. In addition to all the other talent in the NFC Brady may have strengthened the NFC as a whole.
New England Patriots
Remove: Tom Brady, Add: TBD
A lot about what has been discussed with the Patriots was covered with Tom Brady and the balance of power in the AFC, so let’s look at what the Patriots could do. Fortunately they have 12 Draft Picks:
1st Round – 23rd pick
3rd Round – 87th pick
3rd Round – 98th pick (compensatory selection)
3rd Round – 100th pick (compensatory selection)
4th Round – 125th pick (from Chicago Bears)
5th Round – 172nd pick (from Detroit Lions)
6th Round – 195th pick (from Denver Broncos)
6th Round – 204th pick (from Houston Texans)
6th Round – 212th pick (compensatory selection)
6th Round – 213th pick (compensatory selection)
7th Round – 230th pick (from Atlanta Falcons)
7th Round – 241st pick (from Seattle Seahawks)
The best chance for the Patriots to grab a new Quarterback would arguably be on day 2 but would it be possible for one of the top 6 rookie Quarterbacks to fall to them? The Patriots have Brian Hoyer, an experienced Veteran and Journeyman backup. Cody Kessler, another experienced backup but younger, and Jarrett Stidham the 2nd year Quarterback who saw limited time on the field last year. Signing Cam Newton makes a lot of sense for both sides but I doubt that it will happen. So I believe that Bellicheck will either stick with the Rostered Quarterbacks or they will use their first round pick on Tom Brady’s successor.
However, my confidence in the Patriots is shaken, not only did they let Tom Brady go into Free Agency but they also lost key pieces of their defense through trade and Free Agency. This really does open the door to the AFC East. The Buffalo Bills are the odds on favorite to win the division but look at the Jets and Dolphins. The Jets were down Sam Darnold for a chunk of the season and could be a contender. The Dolphins however are the dark horse, whether it be Ryan Fitzpatrick or a rookie QB, they were extremely well coached last year so I expect them to make noise in the AFC East if they have a strong draft. The division is up in the air and the Patriots are no longer the lock to take the AFC East Crown.
Remove: Cam Newton, Add: Teddy Bridgewater
It is hard to fathom this move. Cam Newton was seen as the future of NFL Quarterbacks because he is one of the best hybrid quarterbacks to have played the game. Yet when the Panthers tried to adjust his playing style, Cam was quoted as saying, “Why Cage the Lion?” Unfortunately uncaging the lion led to two lingering injuries that derailed the last two seasons of Newton’s career.
We all know that Newton is going to be on a new team and he will be a starter. The question will be if Newton can stay healthy. My questions are different and two-fold: Will Cam make appropriate adjustments to his play to stay healthy? Will Newton learn to take his time to come back from injury to make sure he is fully healed? Newton has something to his advantage, he is 30 going on 31. The years that Quarterbacks enter their prime, if he can make the appropriate adjustments I believe that Cam can once again be the superstar we know.
But let’s look at what Teddy Bridgewater brings to the table, as the New Quarterback of this team there will be a lot of expectations put on him. But I think Bridgewater is up for it. In the 2015-16 NFL playoffs he kept the Vikings competitive against the Seahawks who still had members of the Legion of Boom and that stellar defense. While they didn’t score a Touchdown he did lead them on a game winning drive that resulted in a missed kick as time expired. He was a budding superstar at that time and a gruesome knee injury later that year during training camp almost ended a budding career.
Fast forward to two years later. Bridgewater smartly signed to be a backup on the New Orlean Saints and while his week 17 performance left a lot to be desired, he still got an offer from Miami to be their starting Quarterback and were willing to pay him. Bridgewater declined and instead re-signed with the Saints. You know the story after that, Bress getting injured led to a 5 game stretch where Bridgewater showed command over the Saints offense. He didn’t have Alvin Kamara to lean on, it was just Brigewater and Michael Thomas. He won all 5 of his games which kept the Saints in the playoff hunt. While DJ Moore, newly signed Robby Anderson, and Curtis Samuel are no Michael Thomas, they are a great core of weapons to work with, along with one of the best running backs in the Christian McCaffery. So there is a lot of optimism that the Panthers can be competitive for the division if they can just fix the missing pieces they need on defense.
Remove: No one, Add: Philip Rivers
Jacoby Brissett was a serviceable quarterback, however he proved that he was not a franchise caliber player. Enter Philip Rivers, a 36 year old hyper competitive playoff caliber, battle tested quarterback. I do believe Rivers moving to the Colts makes them a contender for the division and the playoffs. But I am unsure about how deep the team can go into the playoffs. I am also wondering if Rivers is simply a stop-gap for the next franchise level quarterback for the Colts.
San Diego Chargers
Remove: Philip Rivers, Add: TBD
The Chargers brass are saying that they have no interest in a veteran Quarterback and that they will be moving forward with Tyrod Taylor. Three things make me not believe that. 1) They have the #6 pick in the draft, 2) Tyrod Taylor, while serviceable, is not the answer, 3) Cam Newton. The AFC West has a history of being a highly competitive division and Anthony Lynn, in my opinion, is a great Coach. So I do believe that with a roaster that has pieces on both sides of the ball, $23.7 Million in cap space, and high draft picks, the Chargers will be making a move at Quarterback and we will see someone other than Philip Rivers under center for the first time in 16 years.
Remove: Nick Foles, Add: No One
The Jacksonville Jaguars have the #9 pick in the draft. One of two things will happen, the Jags will stick with Gardner Minshew at Quarterback and let him continue to develop, or the Jags get bold and take Jordan Love, Jacob Eason, or Justin Herbert in the first round, or take a shot at Jalen Hurt in the 2nd round. Either way the Jaguars are in rebuild on defense this offseason so I don’t see them being better than ‘maybe’ 3rd in the Division.
These are not the only teams affected by the new wave of Free Agency. The Bears trading for Nick Foles signifies a quarterback battle to come. The Raiders signing Mariota will be a hot button training camp story to follow, because Mike Mayock loved Marcus Mariota and if Carr struggles, you know there will be calls for Mariota. Who knows if the Redskins are satisfied with Dwayne Haskins? Finally, the Bengals and Dolphins will be drafting Quarterbacks. Not to mention Cam Newton and Jameis Winston are still Free Agents with Andy Dalton expected to be traded or released. So if all scenarios play out how we believe they could, we could possibly be looking at 11 franchises who will have new Quarterbacks at their helms this year. The 2020 Free Agency period has been crazy to put it mildly but it has also shown us that a new decade of Football is ahead of us.