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Free agency: Three of the NFL’s best players change teams within hours of each other

Read more: Patriots stay quiet as free agent wide receiver market starts to shrink

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NFL: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

While the New England Patriots continued to stay rather quiet on the free agency market and watched two more of their players — Cordarrelle Patterson and Eric Rowe — leave town, the NFL witnessed three of the league’s premier players change teams: wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was traded from the New York Giants to the Cleveland Browns, running back Le’Veon Bell has agreed to join the New York Jets as a free agent, and edge defender Dee Ford was sent from the Kansas City Chiefs to the San Francisco 49ers.

The three moves happened within hours of each other, with the Beckham Jr. trade the first to take place. After weeks of speculation that also saw the Patriots come up as a potential landing spot for the 26-year-old, the Browns now pulled the trigger and will send the following to New York in exchange for the star wideout:

2019 first-round pick (#17)

2019 third-round pick (#95)

Safety Jabrill Peppers

Acquiring Beckham Jr. gives the Browns and second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield one of the league’s biggest offensive weapons. On top of that, Cleveland inherits a relatively team-friend deal that will hit the club’s salary cap as follows over the next few years:

Odell Beckham Jr. contract details

Year Base salary Bonuses Cap hit
Year Base salary Bonuses Cap hit
2019 $16,750,000 $250,000 $17,000,000
2020 $14,000,000 $250,000 $14,250,000
2021 $14,500,000 $1,250,000 $15,750,000
2022 $13,750,000 $1,250,000 $15,000,000
2023 $13,750,000 $1,250,000 $15,000,000

Of course, the expectation is that Beckham Jr. wants his deal to be re-negotiated upon arrival in Cleveland — similar to what happened when the Pittsburgh Steelers traded Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders earlier this week. Nevertheless, the trade still makes plenty of sense from the Browns’ perspective as they now pair Mayfield with one of the NFL’s premier offensive weapons.

The Giants, meanwhile, lose their best player just seven months after signing him to a multi-year contract extension. While they get two high draft picks and a talented young defender that was drafted 25th overall just two years ago, they will also have to swallow a $16.0 million dead cap hit by moving Beckham Jr. off their roster. New York is in rebuilding mode, but so far the plan the organization follows is hard to decipher.

The Le’Veon Bell saga, for comparison, is pretty straight forward: after refusing to play back-to-back seasons under the Pittsburgh Steelers’ franchise tag, the running back opted to sit out the 2018 season. The club then opted not to place the tag on the 27-year-old for three years in a row, making him a free agent — and it did not take long for Bell to find a new home as he is now headed to the AFC East.

In order to get him on board, the Jets are giving Bell a four-year, $52 million contract that includes $35 million in guarantees and can reach a maximum value of $61 million via incentives. The deal is, of course, enormous and makes the three-time Pro Bowlers role in New York’s offense clear: he will be the unit’s top running back option and as such help take some pressure off of second-year quarterback Sam Darnold.

Bell, like the aforementioned Beckham Jr, will of course be on the Patriots’ schedule next year. As division rivals, the reigning world champions will play the Jets twice during the 2019 regular season. The dates have not yet been announced by the league, but it will be interesting to see if Bell can keep up the success he has had against New England in the past:

Le’Veon Bell vs. New England

Season Rushing Attempts Yards Touchdowns Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Season Rushing Attempts Yards Touchdowns Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns
2013 16 74 0 10 4 65 0
2016 21 81 0 13 10 68 0
2016 6 20 0 0 0 0 0
2017 24 117 1 6 5 48 0

Over his four games against the Patriots — one of which the 2016 AFC title game — Bell averaged 5.5 yards per touch. That being said, the club will now be able to focus more on him than they did when the runner was still playing alongside star wide receiver Antonio Brown.

The Dee Ford trade got lost a bit in the news coming out of New York and Cleveland, but will have a big impact on the two teams involved as well. From the 49ers’ perspective, this impact is pretty straight forward: the club bolsters its pass rush by trading a second-round pick for the soon-to-be 28-year-old, and also will have to pay him $87.5 million on a five-year contract that was agreed to quickly after the move was made.

Kansas City gains a second round selection in the 2020 draft, meanwhile, but in turn loses one of its best defenders after he just delivered arguably the best year of his career. Advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus had to say the following about its eleventh-ranked edge defender:

Ford had the best season of his career; he led all edge players in total pressures with 84, and he finished eighth in pass-rush productivity (8.5). Unlike previous seasons, Ford showed the ability to rush from both his preferred left side (9.4 PRP) and the right side (7.1) [...]

Speaking in total numbers, Ford was second on the Chiefs with 13.0 regular season sacks and added another quarterback takedown in the playoffs. Given his productivity, it was no surprise to see Kansas City place the $17.128 million franchise tag on its former first-round draft investment. However, the Chiefs apparently had different plans in mind and now make Ford the latest member of its league-leading pass rush to leave town.

Just three days ago, Kansas City released veteran edge defender Justin Houston to generate additional cap space. As a result, 22.0 of the club’s 52.0 sacks from last year are now gone — with 6.0 potentially following in the form of unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Allen Bailey. All in all, the one thing the Chiefs defense did well in 2018 — rushing opposing quarterbacks — could look a lot different next season.