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Thursday, February 21, 2019

8 NFL teams that have improved the most in free agency

AJ Bouye

NFL free agency officially began on Thursday afternoon, and teams wasted no time signing players and making previously agreed upon deals official. Some teams lost players, while others gained them. And some teams improved simply by shedding players who were weighing them down.

Here’s a look at 8 NFL teams that have already improved the most in free agency.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars were a putrid 3-13 last season, but they’re already working hard to turn things around.

Now with Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone leading the team, the Jaguars got busy in free agency, committing multi-millions to sign a few of the top defensive players on the market.

They signed DE Calais Campbell to a four-year, $60 million deal with $30 million guaranteed. Though Campbell will be 31 when the season starts, he has continued to produce at a high level year-in and year-out. He recorded eight sacks last season and has averaged 7.5 sacks per season over the past four years. He should give the Jags more than they got out of Jared Odrick.

Jacksonville also signed top free agent cornerback A.J. Bouye. Bouye was signed to a five-year, $67.5 million deal that includes $26 million guaranteed. Bouye emerged as a shutdown corner for the Houston Texans last season and only gave up two touchdowns in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus, which graded him out as a top-10 CB.

The Jags will be able to pair Bouye with last year’s No. 5 pick Jalen Ramsey for one of the best cornerback tandems in the league. That will come in handy for shutting down Indy’s passing offense in the division, as well Tennessee’s emerging passing game under Marcus Mariota.

The Jags did lose safety Johnathan Cyprien to the divisional rival Titans in free agency and Luke Joeckel to the Seahawks. They will also likely lose CB Prince Amukamara. However, they are replacing Cyprien with Barry Church, with whom they agreed to a 4-year deal.

The Jags are on their way to an improved 2017, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

2. New England Patriots

The New England Patriots are coming off a Super Bowl win over the Atlanta Falcons, and they appear to be on their way to defending their title.

They kicked off free agency by signing CB Stephon Gilmore to a 5-year, $65 million deal with $40 million guaranteed. It’s big money for a cornerback, and not the kind of splash the Pats typically make. But signing Gilmore gives the Patriots some flexibility on defense and also takes away from their division rival Buffalo Bills.

The Pats will now have an upgrade over Logan Ryan, whom they’re likely losing in free agency. They could also use the signing of Gilmore as flexibility to potentially deal their other top corner, Malcolm Butler, in a trade. Butler will be a free agent next year, so the Patriots will likely try to get something for him if they do not think they will be able to re-sign him. There have been talks of trading him to the Saints in a deal for Brandin Cooks.

In addition to bringing in Gilmore, the Patriots took care of a couple of in-house priorities.

They re-signed defensive tackle Alan Branch, who was a core member of their defensive line, to a two-year deal reportedly worth up to $12 million.

The Pats also re-signed Duron Harmon to a four-year, $20 million deal. Harmon was mostly a slot guy last season, and will provide another option in case New England loses both Ryan and Butler.

The Patriots also knew it would be tough to keep Martellus Bennett, so they addressed that by acquiring TE Dwayne Allen in trade with the Colts. They dealt a fourth-round pick to Indy for Allen and a sixth. Allen had 35 catches for 406 yards and six TDs last season.

The Pats appear likely to lose defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard, potentially to Miami or Indianapolis.

3. Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns are beginning to position themselves for a quick turnaround following last year’s 1-15 disaster.

They were already sitting pretty with the Nos. 1 and 12 picks this year, two seconds, and two seconds in 2018. And that was before they acquired a third second-round pick in 2018 in the Brock Osweiler trade. They effectively bought a second-round pick for $16 million, which they felt was worth more than spending on a free agent. Armed with tons of picks, the Browns continue to push for a Jimmy Garoppolo trade.

Whomever is taking snaps for the Browns next season will at least be well-protected.

In addition to left tackle mainstay Joe Thomas, the Browns will have a Pro Bowl line up-front.

They signed right guard Kevin Zeitler to a 5-year, $60 million deal with $31.5 million guaranteed. An added bonus to that move is that they are taking him away from AFC North rival Cincinnati.

The Browns also extended left guard Joel Bitonio through 2022 with a five-year, $51 million deal. Bitonio, 25, has been limited by injuries and is coming off a serious foot injury, so the move could be risky by Cleveland, But Bitonio is a strong guard and should pay off if healthy.

As if adding a right guard weren’t enough, the Browns signed center J.C. Tretter. One of the biggest benefits to this move is that the team can at least move Cameron Erving, who was ill-suited at center.

The Browns also made a move at wide receiver, agreeing to a 4-year, $32.5 million deal with Kenny Britt. Britt had 68 catches for 1,002 yards and 5 touchdowns with the Rams last season — no small feat. Though Britt is a good player and should be a nice option for whomever the Browns add at quarterback, his signing likely indicates Terrelle Pryor will not be back with the team.

4. San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers certainly are winning free agency when it comes to quantity. Whether the quality of their signings pays off remains to be seen, but there is little doubt they have at least improved.

The Niners added all sorts of offensive talent.

They agreed to a two-year deal with Brian Hoyer, reportedly worth $12 million. That’s a very reasonable price for a quarterback who can serve as a bridge to someone else in 2018 (Kirk Cousins perhaps?). And Hoyer should do much better than either Colin Kaepernick or Blaine Gabbert did for San Francisco last season.

The Niners lost Torrey Smith, but they added Pierre Garcon, speed demon Marquise Goodwin, and they re-signed Jeremy Kerley.

Garcon is the highlight of the group. Turning 31 in August, Garcon caught 79 passes for 1,041 yards and three touchdowns in Washington last season. He excelled under Kyle Shanahan in 2013, catching 113 passes for 1,346 yards. Reuniting with Shanahan in San Francisco should lead to strong results.

The 49ers also added fullback Kyle Juszczyk for four years at $21 million. The deal is costly but at least will improve the offense.

On defense, San Francisco has added LB Malcolm Smith, who recorded 103 tackles last season for the Raiders. He should provide some depth at linebacker for the team.
See Nos. 5-8 on Page 2

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