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Winners and losers from the 1st official day of NFL free agency

The Houston Texans were big winners on Wednesday, and in a way, so were the Broncos.

Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

With the NFL salary cap increasing yet again this year, teams were expected to throw around large sums of money this offseason. The first official day of free agency did not disappoint.

The biggest signing of the afternoon occurred when the New York Giants signed pass-rusher Olivier Vernon to the largest contract a defensive end has ever received. Vernon inked a five-year, $85 million deal with a record-setting $52.5 million in guarantees. Last spring, Vernon's former teammate in Miami, Ndamukong Suh, signed the biggest contract of any nose tackle in history.

Along with Vernon, the Giants lured cornerback Janoris Jenkins to the Meadowlands with a five-year deal. The contract includes $29 million in fully guaranteed money, which is the second-most a cornerback has ever signed for. Darrelle Revis was able to land $39 million in guarantees from the New York Jets in 2015.

Though the teams that dish out a lot of money often garner most of the attention, sometimes the clubs that show fiscal restraint wind up winning the day. That's exactly what the Denver Broncos are probably hoping, considering they've let Brock Osweiler, Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan walk so far in free agency.

The Broncos offered Osweiler a hefty deal on Wednesday, but they were outbid by the Houston Texans. Feelings may be raw now -- as evidenced by John Elway's curtly worded statement -- but when the Broncos look back on this offseason, they may be happy Osweiler wound up elsewhere.


Denver Broncos: The Broncos tried desperately to retain Osweiler, reportedly offering him $16 million per season with more than $30 million guaranteed. But the Houston Texans offered Osweiler a little more, inking him to a four-year, $72 million contract along with $37 million in guarantees.

Though Osweiler may have been the most seamless replacement for Peyton Manning, he's hardly the Broncos' only option. Denver can set its sights towards bringing in veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick as a stopgap or potentially trade for Colin Kaepernick. The truth is, spending $18 million per season on a quarterback with only 305 career passing attempts is a risky proposition. The Broncos did go 5-2 with Osweiler under center last season, but his performance was inconsistent. He posted a QB rating below 80 in three of his seven starts.

Denver may currently feel spurned, but losing Osweiler might wind up being a blessing in disguise. The defending Super Bowl champions can afford to take a short-term hit in exchange for not feeding into the spending frenzy, which is probably why they've allowed Jackson and Trevathan to walk, as well.

Houston Texans: The Super Bowl champion Broncos may be able to be financially prudent, but that same luxury isn't extended to the Texans. Bill O'Brien has coached six different starting quarterbacks in two years. Houston desperately needs some stability at the position.

It's uncertain whether the 26-year-old Osweiler can provide that, but he showed some flashes of brilliance last year -- recording a QB rating north of 100 in two starts and also beating the New England Patriots. In addition to signing Osweiler, the Texans acquired running back Lamar Miller with a four-year, $26 million deal. Miller gives them a viable replacement for the oft-injured Arian Foster, who was released last week. He rushed for 1,971 yards over the last two years in Miami.

The Texans also invested in offensive line help Wednesday, signing former Kansas City Chief and second-round pick Jeff Allen to a $28 million deal, too.

Spending over $100 million on Osweiler, Miller and Allen may seem excessive -- and it is -- but the Texans needed to improve their offense to compliment their defense. Osweiler and Miller were two of the best options available in a relatively thin free agent class. Beggars can't be choosers.

New York Jets: With Chris Ivory expected to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars for a whopping $6 million per season, the Jets were wise to move on. And signing Matt Forte -- who's one of the best running backs of his generation -- is a coup.

The Jets inked Forte to a multi-year deal on Wednesday, and he instantly becomes the most dangerous threat they've had coming out of the back field in a long time. Forte, 30, is second in Bears franchise history in rushing yards (8,602) and rush attempts (2,035) behind Walter Payton, and his 45 touchdowns on the ground rank fourth in the team's record books. He's also totaled at least 800 rushing yards and 300 receiving yards in each of his eight seasons.

Forte's production dipped a bit last season, as he missed three games and recorded the lowest and second-lowest number of rushing and receiving yards in his career, respectively. But still, Forte combined for well over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 2015. Given that he'll likely be more of a complimentary piece with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker at wide receiver, he could be the rare running back who's effective past the age of 30.

In addition, the Jets didn't overspend on defensive lineman Damon Harrison, who signed a $46.25 million deal with the Giants on Wednesday.

Tennessee Titans: Rookie general manager Jon Robinson's first foray into free agency is off to a nice start. After finalizing a trade for running back DeMarco Murray, the Titans signed wide receiver Rishard Matthews to a three-year contract Wednesday. Matthews was in the midst of a breakout season before being sidelined for the last five games with a foot injury. He amassed 662 yards and caught four touchdown passes in 11 games.

The additions of Murray and Matthews give second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota more weapons to work with. That's a very positive development indeed.

Mediocre wide receivers: Marvin Jones and Travis Benjamin have only combined for 234 catches in their careers, but yet they received a total of $64 million Wednesday. Jones inked a five-year, $40 million deal with the Detroit Lions and Benjamin landed a $24 million contract from the San Diego Chargers.

When salaries escalate, players in the middle benefit in a big way. This trend may continue later on in the week, as the Atlanta Falcons are rumored to be courting wideout Mohamed Sanu with a deal that could pay him as much as $7 million per year.


Cleveland Browns: The grace period for the Browns' analytics-leaning front office may be over after a disastrous opening day of free agency. The Browns lost four starters -- offensive linemen Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz, safety Tashaun Gipson and Benjamin -- without adding any players of consequence. The losses of Mack and Schwartz especially hurt, considering they both played every snap last season.

It may only get worse for the Browns from here on out. They still have to release the embattled Johnny Manziel and may have to deal star tackle Joe Thomas, who said in January he wouldn't rule out asking for a trade if he's unsatisfied with the direction of the franchise.

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs did sign Schwartz and retained veterans Derrick Johnson and Jaye Howard. But all of those moves are overshadowed by their alleged nefarious behavior last year.

The NFL stripped the Chiefs of a third-round and sixth-round pick Wednesday for supposedly tampering with Jeremy Maclin in 2015. The team was also docked $250,000.

Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt promised to appeal the punishment in a statement, but history shows commissioner Roger Goodell seldom deviates from his draconian disciplinary rulings. The Chiefs are the latest team to feel Goodell's wrath for a seemingly innocuous rules violation.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles have invested roughly $60 million in quarterbacks this week, but the problem is that money is going towards Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel.

Philadelphia signed Daniel, 30, to a three-year deal worth up to $36 million Wednesday with $12 million guaranteed. Eagles coach Doug Pederson served as Daniel's offensive coordinator in Kansas City and seems to believe in the veteran, despite his limited resume at the NFL level. No backup quarterback, even ones who have started a number of games in their careers, gets paid near this kind of money.

The Eagles also signed safety Rodney McLeod Wednesday in an effort to continue to transform their defense. But their quarterback situation is still a mess, and more expensive than ever.

Buffalo Bills: During a week in which the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets both improved, the Buffalo Bills stayed quiet. On paper, they've fallen further behind in the AFC East race.

Given how Mario Williams underperformed in Buffalo, few Bills fans are probably lamenting his departure to Miami. But if he's rejuvenated in South Beach, the Dolphins have acquired a dangerous pass-rusher for a reasonable two-year, $18 million deal.

One can debate how much signing Williams and trading for Byron Maxwell improves the Dolphins, but they've gotten better. There's little doubt that Forte is a suitable replacement for Ivory in New York as well. The Bills, meanwhile, are staying stagnant.

Von Miller/Josh Norman/Trumaine Jackson: While Vernon and Jenkins received monster paydays Wednesday, all three of those players were barred from the free agent market due to the franchise tender.

The franchise tag for linebackers is set at $13.17 million and for cornerbacks the rate is $13.03 million, so all three stars will be paid handsomely next season. But still, it must sting to see your peers get record-setting or near record-setting contracts while you're relegated to the sidelines.

Reckless spending

New York Giants: The Giants, who had the worst defense in football last season, dramatically improved themselves after shelling out more than $200 million to sign Vernon, Jenkins and Harrison. But as we've seen time and time again, there's often little correlation between winning free agency and winning games on the field.

The truth is, Vernon is far from the best defensive end in football and Jenkins isn't the second-best cornerback. Pro Football Focus, in fact, ranks Jenkins as the 25th-best corner in the league.

It's seldom wise long-term to pay players dramatically more than what they're worth. The Giants may experience some immediate gains with Vernon, Jenkins and Harrison now added to their defense, but there's a good possibility they'll regret these signings a couple of years from now.


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