Jesse Pantuosco

Bump and Run

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The Second Wave

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Every year I look forward to NFL free agency and not for the reason you would probably expect. Sure, I enjoy the drama. Kirk Cousins choosing the Vikings was inevitable, but it was still a landmark signing, a turning point we can all identify years later as the moment when Minnesota became a true powerhouse.

 

But what I really crave is the social interaction, which can be hard to come by in this job. I know we have a full house at NBC Sports headquarters in Stamford, which is where my boss Ed and a few others work, but the vast majority of Rotoworld writers work from home, myself included. There’s a certain convenience in that—my usual work attire is a t-shirt and sweatpants—but the isolation does take its toll.

 

The Rotoworld Slack thread—up until about nine months ago we were still on AIM, if you can believe it—is mostly dormant over the winter months. But during free agency, it comes back in full force. Last week was definitely a good excuse to get the gang back together and the backdrop of March Madness gave our usual banter an extra spark. At one point when we were discussing the insane amount of endurance basketball players have (random, I know), the subject turned to running. That’s how it goes on Slack. You start one place and by the end, you’ve moved to an entirely different zip code.

 

I was a middle-distance runner back in high school, so I’ve put a few miles on the odometer. I can only speak to my own experience running, but my races usually followed the same pattern. I’d come out hot, maintain in the middle (or at least try to), then catch my second wind all the way to the finish line. And that’s sort of how free agency is, isn’t it? There’s a ton of activity at the start, a bit of a lull in between and then a second wave a couple days later.

 

Because Ray and Rich did an extremely thorough job recapping the first few days of free agency (you can read their fallout columns here), I’ll use this space to shed light on some of the later developments. Let’s start in Minnesota.

 

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Vikes Reel in Richardson

 

No one would have faulted Minnesota for calling it a day after signing Cousins to a three-year, $84 million megadeal. But that’s not how the Vikings roll. To quote the wise philosopher Kristaps Porzingis, shooters shoot (Michael Scott/Wayne Gretzky have been known to offer similar advice). The Vikings shot one from half-court Friday by offering Sheldon Richardson a one-year contract. Nothing but nylon.

 

Minnesota’s defense was already one of the league’s best—no team allowed fewer yards last season. Now with Richardson in tow, they should be downright unstoppable. The 27-year-old arrived in the league as an edge-rusher but shifted inside this past season under Seahawks DC Kris Richard. It was a smooth adjustment for Richardson, who garnered PFF’s No. 10 pass-rushing grade among 79 qualifiers at defensive tackle. The Vikings employ a similar 4-3 scheme, so he’ll continue to play on the interior in Minnesota. With Richardson joining the likes of sack machine Everson Griffen and run-plugger Linval Joseph up front, the Vikings will be a daunting assignment for opposing offenses.  

 

The Seahawks had hoped to retain Richardson—they offered him $11 million annually—but the lure of playing for a contender in Minnesota was too much to overcome. The Vikings laid it on thick, enticing Richardson by putting him in a room with Cousins. From Brett Favre’s interception in the NFC Championship to Blair Walsh’s missed field goal against Seattle, no team knows heartbreak quite like Minnesota (except maybe these guys). But after a promising 2017 campaign that included one of the more remarkable finishes in playoff history (I’ll use any excuse to link this in an article) and a pair of top-flight free agent signings, the Vikings look poised for greatness.

 

The loss of Richardson continues Seattle’s mass exodus, which began when the Seahawks traded long-time defensive end Michael Bennett to Philadelphia earlier this month. Richard Sherman followed Bennett out the door and quickly planted his flag in San Francisco while fellow Legion of Boom member Jeremy Lane was also handed his walking papers. Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham were next to go, both signing elsewhere in free agency. Richardson—Sheldon, not Paul—was only on the team a year, but that doesn’t make his departure any less significant.

 

It’s important to keep in mind that what the Patriots have accomplished in New England is an anomaly. The NFL is largely cyclical. Seattle coasted off young talent for the better part of a half decade but when it came time to pay everyone, the once-dominant Seahawks predictably stalled. Russell Wilson can still move mountains—when he’s not running for his life behind a patchwork offensive line—but with a slew of key contributors gone and Kam Chancellor coming off a serious neck injury, Seattle’s arrow is pointing down. Last season ended Seattle’s run of five straight postseason appearances. With a depleted roster and division rivals Los Angeles and San Francisco both picking up steam, it might be a while before the Seahawks start a new streak.

 

Honey Badger Lands in Houston

 

The Cardinals showed Rod Tidwell the money in Jerry Maguire but in real life, the only thing they showed Tyrann Mathieu was the cold shoulder. Arizona wanted Mathieu back, but not at his $10.75 million price tag. The Honey Badger understandably balked when the Cardinals asked him to take a pay cut and was later released when the two sides couldn’t find a middle ground in talks to restructure his contract. The move was time-sensitive as Mathieu was due a $5 million roster bonus on the first day of the new league year, which was last Wednesday. Assuming the Cardinals designate Mathieu as a post-June-1 cut, the move will save Arizona $11 million in cap space.

 

Predictably, Mathieu didn’t last long on the open market, joining the Texans on a one-year pact two days after his release from Arizona. The one-year deal gives Mathieu a chance to rebuild his value in Houston before hitting the market again next offseason. The Honey Badger is coming off somewhat of a down season in 2017 but still led the Cardinals in defensive snaps and at age 25, it’s not crazy to think that Mathieu’s best years are still ahead of him. An All-Pro selection in 2015, Mathieu is one of the most versatile DBs in football with experience at corner, safety and nickel back. He can also suit up at dime linebacker in a pinch.

 

Despite their pitiful 4-12 record in 2017, the Texans could be in for a quick turnaround. The offense really looked like it was onto something last year before Deshaun Watson went down with a torn ACL prior to Week 9. The defense was also plagued by injuries with difference-makers J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus both going down with season-enders in Week 5. Assuming those three are at full strength, the Texans should have a chance to put heat on Jacksonville and Tennessee in the rapidly-improving AFC South.

 

The Texans don’t have a first-round pick next month—they traded it away so they could move up to draft Watson last year—but they knocked it out of the park in free agency. Houston addressed its leaky secondary by signing Mathieu and former Jags slot corner Aaron Colvin while also shoring up the offensive line by adding Zach Fulton, Seantrel Henderson and Senio Kelemete. The Texans have the pieces to make the postseason and that’s probably what it will take for head coach Bill O’Brien to keep his job.

 

Jets Trade Up

 

While this doesn’t technically fall under the umbrella of free agency, the Jets made quite the splash Saturday by acquiring the No. 3 pick in next month’s draft with Indianapolis getting back picks No. 6, 37 and 49. Indy will also receive a second-round choice in 2019.

 

It’s a shrewd move by the Colts, who get three second-rounders in exchange for moving down just three spots in the first round. That’s quite a haul and the Colts could add to it by trading down again if the Bills or another team (perhaps the Cardinals) come calling. Second-round picks are valuable currency in the NFL—Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon and JuJu Smith-Schuster all went in the second round last year with Derrick Henry, Deion Jones and Michael Thomas highlighting the second-round class of 2016. It may have cost them a shot at Saquon Barkley or Bradley Chubb but Indy fans should be pleased nonetheless.

 

The Jets gave up a ton—too much, I would argue—but with Buffalo and Denver threatening to trade up, unloading all those picks for a shot at a franchise quarterback may have been a necessary evil. New York had its heart set on Cousins but obviously that was not to be. The Jets quickly turned the page on Cousins by signing Josh McCown and former first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater. It struck some as odd that the Jets would sign two signal-callers, especially when the team was likely to draft a quarterback anyway. But New York had plenty to spend this offseason (they still have over $44 million in cap room) and decided McCown and Bridgewater were both worthy flyers. Bridgewater is the ultimate wild card coming off a gruesome knee injury but McCown held his own as a starter last year and makes sense as a bridge quarterback/mentor for whoever the Jets end up drafting at No. 3.

 

New York moved up to No. 3 with the sole intention of drafting a quarterback, which means Cleveland can no longer afford to get cute with the No. 1 pick. Last week I suggested the Browns could take Barkley first and wait until No. 4 to draft a quarterback but New York’s move into the top three changed things. With the Jets ready to pounce, the Browns MUST take a quarterback at No. 1.

 

The good news is, the Browns may actually have a shot at roping in Barkley at No. 4. With the Jets committed to drafting one of Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield or Josh Rosen, the Browns would only need the Giants to pass on Barkley at No. 2. That seems like a real possibility. Eli Manning is clearly nearing the end of his illustrious career and New York hasn’t had a top-three pick in over a decade. If ever there was a chance to draft Eli’s successor, this would be it.  

 

After seeing the Colts make out like bandits, Cleveland should be open to trading down if the right offer comes along. Buffalo would surely be interested in moving up and could offer an appealing package with the No. 12 and 21 overall picks. After dealing Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland and signing A.J. McCarron for backup money, the Bills need a quarterback in the worst way. Trading up for the Giants’ pick at No. 2 or Cleveland’s at 4 would put them in excellent position to land their quarterback of the future.       

 



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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