Updated: Mar 22, 2020
By John Kaufman
NOTE – this article will be updated as new NFL transactions are reported. Check back often for the latest updates. Keep in mind that the terms reported in the deals below have been agreed upon, but are not official. They won’t become official until at least after the new NFL league year begins at 4:00 pm on March 18, 2020.
Last updated: March 20, 6:04 pm
Latest additions: Stefon Diggs trade, Jimmy Graham, Byron Jones, James Bradberry, Javon Hargrave, Marcus Mariota, Kendall Fuller, Randall Cobb, Nick Williams, Jamie Collins, Eric Murray, George Fant, A.J. Klein, Mario Addison, Austin Ekeler, Amari Cooper, Jimmie Ward, Jarran Reed and A.J. McCarron.
Despite the coronavirus’ best efforts to halt everything sports-related, NFL Free Agency is Brad Pitt at the end of World War Z, parting a stream of zombies as he casually strolls towards the CDC workers. And just like those CDC folks who were eagerly anticipating Brad’s arrival, so too were we fervently waiting for the NFL’s free agency period to begin. Our usual excitement for the start of free agency notwithstanding, with every news blurb seemingly about the coronavirus, we knew that this year’s free agency period would provide an exceptional distraction from COVID-19, which has undoubtedly affected us all.
Well, the start of the 2020 NFL free agency period did not disappoint. Not one bit.
So, I’m here to walk you through all the trades, all the signings, all the franchise and transition tags, everything. And while this article is intended to be informational in nature – I will post as many details of each transaction as are known at the time of writing – I will provide my thoughts about the signings, trades, etc., that were either really savvy or completely baffling. I mean, can you even have a conversation about the NFL and not mete out judgement only seconds after any deal is announced? No. No you can’t. I’m pretty sure that instantaneous scrutiny is mandatory.
Well then, let the judgements begin…
The Texans traded WR DeAndre Hopkins and a 2020 fourth-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for RB David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 fourth-round pick.
Bill O’Brien has really outdone himself here. This has to be one of the worst trades in league history. DeAndre Hopkins will be 28 years old this year on June 6. He is in the prime of his career. For his career, he has averaged – averaged – 1229 receiving yards per season, and that includes his rookie year where he totaled 802 yards, the least amount he’s recorded in any season. Without that rookie season included in the math, his average goes up to 1300 yards even. He has four seasons of 96-plus receptions. He has three seasons with 11-plus touchdowns scored. He routinely makes difficult catches look like a breeze. Simply put, his game is sublime.
And let’s not forget that a great deal of his accomplishments occurred before Deshaun Watson arrived in Houston. Do you remember the quarterbacks that were, ahem, “throwing” the ball to Nuk? Let’s all rejoice as we read through this list together, shall we?
Matt Schaub, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage.
Good lord. That list is impossibly bad. It looks like the back of that famous Cleveland Browns jersey, the one that starts with Tim Couch and just gets sadder and sadder until it hits the floor. And while you ponder the depths of misery invoked by that list of QBs, consider this: in 2015, DeAndre Hopkins turned in this stat line: 111 receptions, 1521 yards & 11 TDs. He did that with Brian Hoyer for nine games, Ryan Mallett for four games, T.J. Yates for two games, and Brandon Weeden for one. Producing those numbers with those four QBs may be the most underrated wide receiver season in NFL history. We throw around the word “elite” a lot these days. But DeAndre Hopkins absolutely deserves that descriptor. He truly is elite.
That’s why this trade is objectively horrifying for O’Brien. If we consider the fourth-round picks that each team gave up a wash, then this trade is Hopkins for David Johnson and a second-round pick. On what planet is that equal value? Maybe if Houston had plucked Arizona’s first-round pick (#8 overall) we could consider this trade somewhat even. But even in that situation we’d all probably expect the Texans to draft either Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb so that they could replace DeAndre Hopkins. You know what would be better than searching for Hopkins’ replacement? Realizing how amazing he is and just keeping him on your roster.
Bill O’Brien has now traded for three RBs in the past year: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson and David Johnson. Hyde stinks. O’Brien barely used Duke Johnson this past season even though he gave up a third-round pick to get him. So yeah, I’m sure we all can’t wait to see how he utilizes David Johnson this year. I’m sure DJ will give the Texans Hopkins-like production. Yikes.
Perhaps typing out 488 words (so far) about this trade is a bit much. But I really cannot fathom how this trade could ever have even come close to being executed. Bill O’Brien is an unmitigated disaster as a GM, and I thought that before he gave away a top-three receiver for a decent draft pick and the ghost of David Johnson. Now I believe that he is in the running for the worst GM of all time, and he has a substantial lead on everybody else.
The Vikings traded WR Stefon Diggs and a 2020 seventh-round pick to the Bills for their 2020 first-round pick (#22 overall), along with their 2020 fifth- and sixth-round picks, and their 2021 fourth-round pick.
While I do think this trade is pretty even strictly from a value standpoint, I absolutely love this trade from Buffalo’s point of view, and I really think that Minnesota squandered an opportunity here. Let's get into this.
First, let’s deal with what Buffalo’s GM, Brandon Beane, had to give up to get his #1 wideout in order to get some context on Diggs’ true cost. Beane sent his 2020 first- (#22 overall), fifth- and sixth-round picks, and a 2021 fourth-round selection. So, let’s be honest for a second. How many fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-round picks do we expect to turn into rosterable NFL players? The answer is not many at all. Maybe you could argue that fourth-round selections should become roster contributors at a fairly decent rate (and I wouldn’t push back if you did), but once you get past the third round of the NFL draft, our expectations are appropriately low. This means that Beane gave up four draft picks, three of which we have a very low probability of turning into much of anything. (By the way, this does not mean that I believe that all late-round picks are worthless, nor does it mean that I don’t understand that late-round picks are valuable as trade pieces. For the sake of brevity, I’m just arguing that most late-round picks don’t turn into All-Pros, that’s all.) And that leads up to the true cost of this trade: Beane essentially gave up the 22nd overall selection for Stefon Diggs.
In a vacuum, I would understand if someone would prefer to keep the 22nd overall pick instead of having Diggs on their roster. Maybe you value taller receivers. Maybe your team’s roster is loaded at WR and Diggs isn’t a necessity. Maybe his injury history scares you. Hell, maybe you just don’t like Diggs as a player. If that’s how you feel, that’s fine.
But I don’t think there’s much of an argument that Buffalo’s roster isn’t very much improved with Diggs on it. The Bills won 10 games last year, and they did it with an offense that – to put it mildly – lacked firepower.
Now don’t get me wrong, this roster is no joke. Beane put together a solid team and head coach Sean McDermott coached his ass off, like he always does. But you wouldn’t be alone if you lived outside of the Buffalo area and you couldn’t name three or more wide receivers on this team. Well, if you’re in a 20-team dynasty fantasy league where you roster 40 players each, maaaaaybe Andre Roberts is on your squad. But outside of that one crazy-ass fantasy league, most of you don’t even know if Andre Roberts is an actual Buffalo Bill football player, or if I just made him up to prove a point. (FYI, I didn’t make him up. His mama and his papa did, and they did a fantastic job because he does, in fast, collect a paycheck from the Buffalo Bills.)
Where was I? Oh yeah, a lack of firepower. Right.
Okay so here are the stats of last year’s receiving core:
John Brown caught 72 passes for 1060 yards and six TDs.
Cole Beasley snagged 67 balls for 778 yards and six TDs.
Wanna guess who was third on the team with 29 receptions for 194 yards and two TDs?
It was RB Devin Singletary.
If any team needs Stefon Diggs, it’s the Buffalo Bills.
Diggs is an incredible route-runner (maybe the best in the NFL), has phenomenal hands, isn’t afraid to go over the middle, has speed for days (which you know Josh Allen is gonna absolutely adore), and is dying to play for a team – and a fanbase – that actually wants him in town.
And that brings me to my final point on why I love this trade for Buffalo. I just respect the hell out of a GM who takes advantage of a deteriorating situation like the one that Diggs was experiencing with the Vikings. I mean, think about this for a second: the Vikings ended up having to trade Diggs because they couldn’t figure out how to utilize an ultra-talented guy like him, which frustrated him and the team and ultimately lead to his departure.
That’s it. That’s the essence of this whole thing. They drafted a wide receiver who is superb at running routes, is twitchy fast, and who catches every damn thing thrown his way, AND THEY COULDN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET THAT GUY THE BALL.
I mean, my goodness, Minnesota. Things just don’t have to be this difficult. If you just can’t seem to figure out how to deal with a supremely gifted WR when he falls into your lap, no worries. Just set him down, walk away, and let Josh Allen and the Bills show you just how easy it is to have a guy like Stefon Diggs on the roster.
The 49ers traded DT DeForest Buckner to the Colts for their 2020 first-round pick (#13 overall).
This trade is very intriguing for both teams. In 2019, the 49ers front four was as impactful a defensive line as exists in the NFL. Not only were they good, they were loaded with talent. The 49ers extended Arik Armstead on a five-year deal a few days ago, so they clearly viewed Buckner as somewhat expendable. It’s hard to blame them for moving one of their guys for the 13th pick in the draft. That’s an excellent return for a team that doesn’t have too many holes to fill. If Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb are on the board at 13, it’s hard to imagine John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan passing either one of them up.
This is an interesting deal for the Colts because it somewhat reveals their intentions at the quarterback position, at least a little bit. We were pretty sure that the Colts weren’t going to go into the 2020 season with Jacoby Brissett being the only plan at quarterback. Count me among those who thought that Indianapolis might be very interested in either Oregon QB, Justin Herbert, or Utah State QB, Jordan Love. One of those QBs was likely to be on the board at 13. With this trade, the Colts gave up on taking either of those young fellas. Very intriguing indeed.
On one hand, passing up on the chance to draft a potential franchise QB is unbelievably risky, to say the least. I mean, you simply don’t have the chance to pick a QB of that caliber very often. Maybe your draft pick isn’t that high. Or maybe it is but there’s really only one QB projected to be a good pro, except that he’ll never fall to where your pick is, and you may not have the ammo to trade up and get him. If you’re lucky enough to be in position to draft a QB who you think will be the face of your franchise, you cannot – under any circumstances – pass on the opportunity to select him. Period. Clearly, Colts GM Chris Ballard doesn’t believe that either Herbert or Love is that guy, so he felt he could move his first-round pick for a quality player.
On the other hand, it makes all the sense in the world for the Colts to forgo the opportunity to take a rookie QB with their now former draft pick. Their roster is very good and is ready to compete right now. The one thing they are very sorely missing is solid play from the QB position. Relying upon a rookie QB for that can often be, well, anything but reliable. Windows in the NFL open and close rather quickly and very unexpectedly. It’s not all that shocking that Ballard is choosing to place his team’s 2020 postseason chances on a non-rookie QB. Exactly who he plans to hand the reins to is anyone’s guess. I, for one, can’t wait to find out who it is. I’m sure we won’t have to wait long for the reveal.
The Ravens traded TE Hayden Hurst and a 2020 fourth-round pick to the Falcons for second- and fifth-round 2020 picks.
This is a bizarre move for the Falcons to make. They let 25-year-old Austin Hooper walk so that they could give up a second-round pick to lock up an older (Hurst will turn 27 on August 24), former first round pick who has been very underwhelming so far in his career? Why not just sign Hooper and keep your draft capital? It’s not like you don’t know which TE is better. Hooper has already had two seasons that have been more productive than Hurst’s career best. And, signing a top shelf TE isn’t crippling for your cap at all. They make about half of what the top-tier WRs make. This deal doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever.
The Jaguars traded DE Calais Campbell to the Ravens for a 2020 fifth-round pick.
The Panthers traded OG Trai Turner to the Chargers for OT Russell Okung.
The Jaguars traded CB A.J. Bouye to the Broncos for a 2020 fourth-round pick.
Free Agency Signings – Players Signing with a New Team:
The Browns have agreed to a deal with former Titans RT Jack Conklin on a three-year $42 million contract.
While I understand why the Browns made this move, I don’t necessarily love this signing. Mind you, I don’t hate it either. But again, I get it. New Browns GM Andrew Berry inherited a mess of an offensive line. The interior of the line (LG Joel Bitonio, C J.C. Tretter and LG Wyatt Teller) was actually pretty solid. But the tackles (LT Greg Robinson and RT Chris Hubbard) were abysmal. Moves had to be made, so Berry pulled the trigger on Conklin.
On the positive side, Conklin was the best tackle available in free agency this year. He is a fantastic run-blocking tackle, repeatedly grading out near the top compared to his peers. And, he is only 25 years old.
On the negative side, Conklin became a free agent because the Titans didn’t pick up the fifth-year option on him. It’s always concerning when a young, seemingly good player isn’t retained by his own team. We’ll probably never know why Tennessee decided to move on from Conklin. But if I had to guess, and clearly I do, Conklin’s torn ACL near the end of the 2017 season that led to him not being ready for the start of 2018 probably has a lot to do with it. Or perhaps the Titans walked away because Conklin is a subpar pass protector. According to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell on ESPN.com:
“ESPN's pass block win rate analysis isn't quite as sanguine, ranking (Conklin) 59th among NFL linemen while blaming him for 10 sacks in 2019, a far less impressive number.”
Now, Conklin’s new offensive line coach is Bill Callahan, one of the best and most well-regarded coaches in the league. If anyone can help improve Conklin’s game, it’s Callahan. So let’s not write him off as a pass-protection liability just yet.
Look, the bottom line is that, with the tackles that Cleveland currently has on its roster, Berry had to make a move. And considering the other tackles that are available in this year’s free agency class, Berry may have made the only move he reasonably could have made, and he didn’t overpay to do it. That counts for something.
In the end, this signing will be judged like all others are. If Conklin stays healthy and shores up his pass-protection mistakes, this deal will be lauded for some time, and rightly so. If Conklin’s injury-ridden past becomes his injury-ridden future, and if he continues to make pass-blocking gaffs, Berry will be criticized for ignoring the warning signs that will end up being obvious to us with our perfect, 20-20 hindsight vision. The spotlight will be on Conklin right from the start, so we’ll be able to grade this transaction soon enough.
The Dolphins have signed OG Ereck Flowers to a three-year contract worth $30 million, $19.95 million of which is fully guaranteed.
Flowers was originally drafted by the Giants as a LT, and he had been a massive bust until he moved to guard after signing with the Redskins in 2019. The move inside was an excellent decision, as last season was easily the best of his young career.
The Browns have agreed to a four-year deal with forme