Before free agency will even start later today, the first major losses for the New England Patriots have already been reported (moves that cannot be made official, however, until 4:00 p.m. ET today): While the team will be able to retain one of its core special teamers, it will also lose three of its most important players of the last three seasons. Let's quickly recap what happened yesterday:
WR Danny Amendola: Will sign with Dolphins (2-year, $12MM)
CB Malcolm Butler: Will sign with Titans (5-year, $61MM)
SS Nate Ebner: Re-signed by Patriots (2-year)
RB Dion Lewis: Will sign with Titans (4-year, $23MM)
Here are some quick-hit thoughts on the moves as well as other news from around the league ahead of the start of free agency.
Only one of New England's losses is surprising – until you look at the contract
The Patriots were expected to lose at least one of their big-name free agents to the open market: After his benching in Super Bowl LII, Malcolm Butler playing elsewhere in 2018 was a foregone conclusion. The outlook for Dion Lewis was a little more optimistic from New England's perspective but it is still not that big of a surprise to see him leave on a multi-year deal. Danny Amendola joining the Dolphins, on the other hand, came out of the blue.
The veteran was a member of Tom Brady's circle of trust and has taken hometown discounts in each of the last three years. He appeared to be a safe bet to return to the team with which he won two Super Bowls and earned a reputation as one of the most clutch performers in the NFL. However, Miami's offer – two years, $12 million with $8.25 million in guarantees – was likely far too big for New England to bring the 32-year old back. C'est la vie.
Tennessee is becoming the new “Patriots South”
After Bill O'Brien became head coach of the Houston Texans, the team was awarded the “Patriots South”-title due to its many connections to New England. However, it appears as if the Titans are slowly taking over: The team added two more former Patriots yesterday in Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler. The duo joins general manager Jon Robinson, head coach Mike Vrabel, defensive coordinator Dean Pees, linebackers coach Tyrone McKenzie, cornerback Logan Ryan and – likely – guard Josh Kline as members of the organization who once worked with the Patriots.
Green Bay makes surprisingly huge splashes
Throughout the years, the Packers preferred in-house development over making big moves in free agency. However, with Brian Gutekunst taking over as general manager, the team's approach apparently changed – at least when judged by yesterday's transactions: Green Bay added two high-priced free agents in tight end Jimmy Graham (3-year, $30 million) and defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson (3-year, $22.5 million), while also releasing wide receiver Jordy Nelson to create cap space. An unusually active day for the team.
The Saints keep their quarterback of the present,...
Certainly the biggest name on the list of unrestricted free agents was New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees – even though chances he actually hit the open market were seen as slim. Still, the future Hall of Famer remained unsigned until the legal tampering period started and reportedly received offers from other teams. In the end, though, the Saints brought Brees back on a two-year contract worth a reported $50 million with $27 million in guarantees.
...the Vikings will sign their quarterback of the future
Even though the move will not be made official until later today, former Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins is expected to sign a contract with the Vikings to become the team's new franchise quarterback – and an expensive one: Minnesota will pay the 29-year old a fully-guaranteed $84 million over the next three seasons. The deal makes Cousins the highest-paid passer in the NFL and is the first major quarterback contract with a fully guaranteed salary. The Vikings believe Cousins is the guy to lead them to the promised land and they are paying him as such.
The Jets add considerable talent to their defense
New England was not the only team involved in big moves yesterday as the team's division rivals from New York also had an active day: The Jets signed two quarterbacks – Josh McCown (one-year, $10 million) and Teddy Bridgewater (one-year) – and added running back Isaiah Crowell on a three-year deal. The biggest splashes, however, were made on the defensive side of the ball, where New York added cornerback Trumaine Johnson (on a reported $15 million per year) and linebacker Avery Williamson.