Opening day of the NFL's free-agent market is drawing to a close. While we have a moment, let's consider some winners and losers.
The Minnesota Vikings signed a highly regarded, still-young offensive lineman to fill arguably their biggest need without setting a financial precedent. Guard Alex Boone, 28, will sign a contract that averages $6.6 million annually -- a bit more than half what the Oakland Raiders committed to Kelechi Osemele a day earlier. At the moment, Boone ranks sixth among NFL guards in annual pay, and his $10 million in guarantees ranks No. 10. After Osemele, Boone was the Vikings' best option for shoring up an offensive line that left quarterback Teddy Bridgewater pressured on an NFL-high 37 percent of his dropbacks.
The Miami Dolphins took on two descending players and dropped out of the draft's top 10 in a trade that will take some time to understand -- if indeed the reasoning ever becomes clear. Playing with the Philadelphia Eagles last season, Byron Maxwell proved that he doesn't like to tackle and that he is nowhere close to a shutdown corner. Linebacker Kiko Alonso, meanwhile, did nothing to dissuade the notion that he is an injury risk. He has now missed 21 games in the past two seasons. How did this trade do anything but leave the Dolphins with two discards and diminished draft position?
Running back Matt Forte is 30 and might not be equipped to take 250 carries in a season anymore. But he is a unique asset, something the New York Jets recognized as they locked him down moments after the market opened. Forte might be the best receiving back in the NFL, and his ability to run sophisticated routes and make difficult catches -- back shoulder, fingertips in traffic, you name it -- will extend his career beyond the point of most running backs. Jets running backs made 94 catches in offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's scheme last season, and if used correctly, Forte could approach that number himself in 2016.
Doug Martin is an above-average NFL running back who has exceeded 1,400 yards in two of his four seasons -- and finished below 500 yards in his other two. He turned 27 earlier this month, an age that is just about the career peak for most running backs. Yet the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave Martin a five-year deal worth $7 million annually. Last year at this time, the Bucs were so unsure about Martin's future that they declined the fifth-year option in his contract. His new deal will soon mirror the mistakes other teams have made on DeMarco Murray, LeSean McCoy and others.
Under the radar
Receiver Travis Benjamin should blossom now that he's out of Cleveland and catching passes from Philip Rivers in San Diego. Benjamin nabbed 86 receptions and scored eight touchdowns the past two seasons while playing for a Cleveland Browns team whose starting quarterbacks included Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel, Austin Davis, Brian Hoyer and Connor Shaw. Browns QBs completed 58.1 percent of their passes over that period, second-lowest in the NFL. Rivers completed 66.3 percent, fifth-best in the league.
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The Los Angeles Rams issued a first-round tender to restricted free-agent quarterback Case Keenum -- a player who has been released three times, traded once for a seventh-round pick and has never had higher than a 47.7 QBR in a season. The Rams say he is their starter entering the offseason, and the move was designed to dissuade opposing teams from signing him to an offer sheet. What's worse? That the Rams were worried about someone stealing him away, or that -- given the desperate quarterback market -- they probably made the right move?
New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese operated Wednesday like an executive on the hot seat. Reese guaranteed a combined $76.5 million to defensive end Olivier Vernon and defensive tackle Damon Harrison, on top of the $8.5 million he had already committed to defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Building a dominant defensive line is a reliable, winning strategy. In this case, however, Reese could have done it more cheaply. Defensive line is the strength of the 2016 draft, but a mandate to improve the roster immediately meant Reese didn't have enough equity to draft and develop.
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Last week, the Philadelphia Eagles signed quarterback Sam Bradford to a deal that guarantees him $22 million over the next 12 months. That figure made clear Bradford would be the Eagles' 2016 starter. Wednesday, they signed career backup Chase Daniel to a deal that guarantees him $12 million. Daniel's deal is rich for a No. 2 but necessary when the starter has the kind of injury history that Bradford does. It will also suggest to some that he will be given a chance to beat out Bradford, but that will only happen if Bradford completely bombs in coach Doug Pederson's system.
So a team assembles the most unorthodox front office in recent NFL memory, and you're surprised/hysterical/dubious when it doesn't make conventional moves at the outset of free agency? The Cleveland Browns have three Harvard graduates making and guiding their long-term plan. One (Sashi Brown) is the team's former attorney and another (Paul DePodesta) has never worked for a football team. I don't know if they made a calculated decision to part ways with Benjamin, offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz, safety Tashaun Gipson and center Alex Mack -- or whether the departures were a function of inexperience (or even incompetence). Same goes for their failure to cut ties with Manziel at their earliest opportunity. But I'm in no way surprised that the Browns didn't follow conventional wisdom on Day 1. Neither should you be.
And a few quick hits:
I think the Denver Broncos deserve some blame for failing to develop Brock Osweiler into a quarterback they would pay market value for. But as ESPN Insider columnist Mike Sando writes, general manager John Elway deserves credit for recognizing the situation for what it was.
The Atlanta Falcons upgraded their offensive line with free-agent center Alex Mack, assuming he can stay healthy. ESPN Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure considered center one of the team's most pressing needs.