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8 ways free agency impacted the 2018 NFL Draft

The Jets and Bills will probably be interested in quarterbacks early after not landing long-term solutions in free agency.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The dust has mostly settled on free agency. A few signings will still trickle in, but the biggest difference-makers are off the market. Now, the most significant way left for teams to build their rosters is during the 2018 NFL Draft in April.

Free agency helped clarify what teams will be looking for in the draft. For a few teams, they filled holes with free agents. For example, we know that the Minnesota Vikings are out of the quarterback market after committing $84 million to Kirk Cousins over the next three years and trading for Trevor Siemian to be his backup.

But for other teams, those holes still exist — and free agency may have even opened up new ones.

Here are eight ways the draft was affected by the wave of free agent moves this week:

Buffalo is definitely aiming for a quarterback

The Bills are still on the hunt for a quarterback. While the Vikings, Broncos, and Cardinals all made significant investments at the position in free agency, Buffalo’s only addition was AJ McCarron on a two-year, $10 million deal.

The former Bengals quarterback will have a chance to compete for a starting job and possibly prove his mettle as a bridge starter. But his $5 million per year show what the market thought of McCarron and the Bills don’t have much reason to believe Nathan Peterman is about to breakout as a Pro Bowler any time soon.

Trading Cordy Glenn to the Bengals inched the Bills up the draft order from No. 21 to No. 12. The Bills also own picks No. 22, 53, 56 and 65, so they’re well-positioned to make a move to get even higher in the order — likely in the top five — and take the player they decide will be their quarterback of the future.

That got a little tougher Saturday morning when the Jets and Colts swapped picks, giving New York the No. 3 selection. If Buffalo doesn’t want to end up with the fourth or fifth quarterback off the board, it will probably need to broker a deal with the Giants, owners of the No. 2 pick.

The Jets want a quarterback early too

New York was a little more aggressive than Buffalo to address its quarterback concerns in free agency. It brought back Josh McCown on a one-year, $10 million deal and added Teddy Bridgewater with a one-year, $5 million contract.

That makes for an interesting quarterback battle this offseason and possibly a player to rally around for the future if Bridgewater can return to form. But it leaves the Jets with no passer beyond the 2018 season — assuming the team is done with dreaming Christian Hackenberg can eventually take over.

A trade Saturday seemingly made it crystal clear that another quarterback will be added to the fold early with the Jets moving up to No. 3 in the order.

Hoping Bridgewater can be the future is optimistic, at best. And if he outplays his $5 million deal, it’s never a bad idea to have two good quarterbacks.

Jacksonville is also on the quarterback hunt

The Jaguars didn’t have many needs after a season that ended in the AFC Championship, but they were active in free agency anyway. The team lost Allen Robinson and Aaron Colvin, but added guard Andrew Norwell, Donte Moncrief, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and Niles Paul, and a few others.

One of the only positions of need that was untouched was quarterback. Blake Bortles is still the team’s starter in 2018 after signing an extension in February, but there is no backup after the Jaguars allowed Chad Henne to walk.

It’s slim pickings on the quarterback market, though. Geno Smith, Drew Stanton, Brock Osweiler, and EJ Manuel are among the few veterans who are still available.

Bortles hasn’t shown that he’s the quarterback of the future for the Jaguars. He’ll get another chance in 2018, but expect the team to provide him some competition. The only way left to do that is to go after a quarterback early in April.

As owners of the No. 29 pick, those options may be limited. A trade up may be in the cards, or the Jaguars could sit tight and hope a player like Lamar Jackson is on the board or one of the top quarterbacks slides. The second day of the draft could also be a prime spot to address the position with someone like Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph.

The Bears can be more patient at receiver

Having Kendall Wright at the top of the depth chart wasn’t the best way to get Mitchell Trubisky’s NFL career started. The Bears finished 2017 dead last in passing yards and Wright led the team in receiving yards with just 614 yards. No Chicago wide receiver even had more than one touchdown.

Giving Trubisky help was a must and the Bears did it by signing wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, as well as tight end Trey Burton.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the Bears are finished surrounding Trubisky with weapons. The team could still use picks No. 8 and 39 to add another receiver or tight end to the fold, but Chicago has options now. Offensive line and defensive help at linebacker and cornerback may be higher priorities.

Cleveland doesn’t have to force it at quarterback with No. 1 pick

The Browns weren’t going to throw another rookie into the fire. So even trading for Tyrod Taylor was a little surprising, it made perfect sense the team aggressively identified a veteran quarterback it wanted and made it happen. It’s also completely unsurprising that he’s already been named starter for 2018.

It wouldn’t be smart for the Browns to allow the addition of Taylor to affect which quarterback they elect to pursue in the draft. If the team thought a quarterback was worth the No. 1 pick, he should still be the pick.

But adding a veteran — expected or not — means the Browns don’t have to grab a quarterback first overall. The other major option would be Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, who got the endorsement of new Browns running back Carlos Hyde.

It’s still a good bet that the Browns take a quarterback with the No. 1 pick — especially after the Jets climbed into the mix — but now they have the room to evaluate all their options.

The Ravens still need to add a No. 1 receiver

Baltimore needed help at receiver and there were a few top options worth pursuing in free agency.

A restaurant offered Allen Robinson free crab cakes for life, the Ravens reportedly attempted to trade for Jarvis Landry, and they missed out on Sammy Watkins too. Then Baltimore’s deal with Ryan Grant fell through when the receiver failed his physical.

They weren’t shut out completely. The Ravens signed John Brown and Michael Crabtree. But they could still use a young, starting receiver they can rely on for years to come.

There are a lot of receivers at the top of the draft class, but if the Ravens are looking for a real No. 1, the No. 16 pick may have to be used to nab a receiver. Finding a receiver hasn’t been Baltimore’s strength, but this may be the draft class the team can’t screw up.

The Broncos need to fill the hole left by Aqib Talib

Losing five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib wasn’t a free agency problem — the Broncos traded him to the Rams earlier in March to save salary cap space. They already had 2014 first-round pick Bradley Roby ready to go as Talib’s replacement, too.

That leaves the Broncos in good shape with Roby and Chris Harris as the starting cornerbacks, but beyond them, they face a lot more uncertainty. Denver didn’t do much to fill the void left in that No. 3 spot. The only addition made so far was a one-year, $4 million deal for former Vikings cornerback Tramaine Brock. He’ll likely contribute as a nickel cornerback with Harris and Roby slated to start on the outside.

Denver may be confident in 2017 third-round pick Brendan Langley, but the team is now lacking depth. At pick No. 5, Minkah Fitzpatrick could be a possibility or the Broncos could trade down in the first round to nab another option like Denzel Ward, Isaiah Oliver, Mike Hughes, or Jaire Alexander.

The Packers also have work to do in the secondary

Green Bay took cornerbacks in the first round of two of the last three drafts, but the position is far from fixed. That’s especially the case now that the Packers traded one of those two first-rounders, Damarious Randall, to the Browns.

Randall was the team’s best cornerback in 2017 and even if the Packers have high hopes for Kevin King, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

The Packers took an aggressive swing at fixing the position by signing Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller to an offer sheet, but Chicago will match the offer and keep Fuller.

One of the other major needs for the Packers was providing Aaron Rodgers with more weapons — particularly after they jettisoned Jordy Nelson to save space. Green Bay got that by signing Jimmy Graham. Now it’s full steam ahead on finding defensive backs.