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NFL free agency frenzy: Saquon Barkley, Kirk Cousins among top players already with new team on Day 1

NFL free agency frenzy: Saquon Barkley, Kirk Cousins among top players already with new team on Day 1

Tooba Shakir 1 month ago 0

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The NFL free agency’s legal tampering period began on Monday at noon, when every player on the market had the ability to negotiate with teams, and even better, agree to terms on deals that could be made official on March 13 when the new league year begins. 

What transpired was an onslaught of blockbuster deals (and even some trades) that shook up the market immediately before the 2024 season begins.

Let’s dive into the biggest takeaways from Day 1 of NFL free agency, starting with a position group that did not get much love last offseason.

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Saquon Barkley vs Packers

Saquon Barkley, #26 of the New York Giants, in action against the Green Bay Packers at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 11, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Running backs galore

This year’s running backs class was star-studded, though many were wondering what exactly the market would be after the 2023 offseason saw a lack of paying running backs. 

Well, the position was completely shaken up for next season with big names flying off the free agent board, and that is no pun intended for the biggest deal of them all: Saquon Barkley joining the Philadelphia Eagles. 

The former New York Giants star is heading to his NFC East rival on a three-year pact that would net a maximum $46.76 million. If the rivalry was not strong already, this created an immediate divide on social media between Eagles and Giants fans. Even Giants legend Tiki Barber tried to say Barkley’s legacy in New York is tarnished, to which the Penn State product barked back on social media by calling him a “hater.”

Either way, Barkley’s arrival in Philly next season, alongside Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert, makes this Eagles squad very scary. 

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Eagles fans probably forgot by now that D’Andre Swift signed a three-year deal of his own to join the Chicago Bears. He will be getting $24 million in the deal, according to reports. 

However, Josh Jacobs and the Green Bay Packers surprised everyone with their pact – a four-year, $48 million deal, according to NFL Network, that will net him $12 million per season. In turn, the Packers will be releasing Aaron Jones, their veteran back who will now enter the free agency pool. 

Another release was the Cincinnati Bengals and Joe Mixon, as they instead signed former Indianapolis Colts running back Zack Moss to a two-year, $8 million deal.

Here are other notable running backs who came off the board: 

  • Tony Pollard: Tennessee Titans (3 years, $24 million)
  • Devin Singletary: New York Giants (3 years, $16.5 million)
  • Austin Ekeler: Washington Commanders (2 years, $11 million)
  • Gus Edwards: Los Angeles Chargers (2 years, $6.5 million)
  • Antonio Gibson: New England Patriots (3 years, $11.25 million base)
Kirk Cousins points

Kirk Cousins, #8 of the Minnesota Vikings, reacts after throwing a pass for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Oct. 29, 2023 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Kirk chooses a new squad

You like that, Atlanta Falcons fans? 

With Russell Wilson announcing he was going to the Pittsburgh Steelers late Sunday night, all eyes were on Kirk Cousins, the top free agent quarterback, to see what he would do with his talents in Year 13 of his career. Would he stay in Minnesota to continue playing for the Vikings, or head elsewhere? 

Cousins chose a new chapter in his football life, going to the Falcons, who were the frontrunner to land him if he chose a team other than the Vikings. He agreed to a reported four-year deal worth $180 million with $100 million guaranteed at signing. 

Those are big bucks for the 35-year-old, who is coming off a torn Achilles that ended his final season with the Vikings in Week 8 last year. However, Cousins’ production of over 4,000-plus yards in his three previous seasons is something the Falcons are betting he can do with their dynamic, young talent, which includes Drake London, Kyle Pitts and Bijan Robinson. 

There were a couple of other quarterback transactions on Monday as well. 

Gardner Minshew creates true competition in training camp with Aidan O’Connell, as he joins the Las Vegas Raiders on a two-year, $25 million deal. Additionally, happy reunion to Jacoby Brissett, the journeyman quarterback who is back with the New England Patriots on a one-year, $8 million deal. Brissett is expected to compete with Bailey Zappe and perhaps the No. 3 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft if the pick is a quarterback as many predict. 

Christian Wilkins runs on field

Christian Wilkins, #94 of the Miami Dolphins, runs on the field during a game against the New York Jets at Hard Rock Stadium on Dec. 17, 2023 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Brandon Sloter/Image Of Sport/Getty Images)

Big men on the move

Both offensive line and defensive line free agents were checked off the board, including the Raiders making a huge splash by signing former Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins to a $110 million deal over four years. He will be fun to watch alongside Maxx Crosby out in Sin City. 

There was also Jonathan Greenard not returning to the Houston Texans, but rather choosing a $76 million deal over four years with the Vikings, including $42 million guaranteed at signing. Another defensive tackle, Leonard Williams, found common ground with the Seattle Seahawks, who traded for him from the Giants last season. He signed a three-year deal worth $64.5 million. 

In the outside linebacker department, the Eagles signed Bryce Huff, the New York Jets’ undrafted project that turned into a stud off the edge, to a three-year, $51 million deal. Frankie Luvu also cashed in with the Commanders on a $36 million deal over three years.

Here are other defensive linemen with a new home in the NFL: 

  • DT Grover Stewart: Indianapolis Colts (3 years, $39 million)
  • DE Dorance Armstrong: Washington Commanders (3 years, $33 million)
  • DT Justin Jones: Arizona Cardinals (3 years, $30.1 million)
  • DE Bilal Nichols: Arizona Cardinals (3 years, $21 million)
  • OLB Za’Darius Smith: Cleveland Browns (2 years, $23.5 million)
  • OLB Leonard Floyd: San Francisco 49ers (2 years, $20 million)

The men tasked with blocking these linemen also had some big paydays, like former Dolphins guard Robert Hunt, who agreed to a five-year, $100 million deal to join the Carolina Panthers. He gets $63 million at signing. 

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The Patriots also found the right price with Mike Onwenu, their standout guard, on a three-year, $57 million deal with $38 million guaranteed. 

The Giants, in desperate need of offensive line help, added two veteran interior players in Jon Runyan (3 years, $30 million) and Jermaine Eluemunor (2 years, $14 million). 

Here’s who else found new offensive lines to play for in 2024: 

  • G Jonah Jackson: Los Angeles Rams (3 years, $51 million)
  • G John Simpson: New York Jets (2 years, $18 million)
  • C Lloyd Cushenberry: Tennessee Titans (4 years, $50 million)
  • C Tyler Biadasz: Washington Commanders (3 years, $30 million)
  • C Aaron Brewer: Miami Dolphins (3 years, $21 million)
  • C Mitch Morse: Jacksonville Jaguars (2 years, $10.5 million)
Xavier McKinney makes a tackle

Michael Mayer, #87 of the Las Vegas Raiders, is tackled near the goal line by Xavier McKinney, #29 of the New York Giants, in the second quarter of a game at Allegiant Stadium on Nov. 5, 2023 in Las Vegas. (Ian Maule/Getty Images)

Secondary signings

The safety market is one that experts had a bad feeling about this offseason given the number of releases teams had there. However, former Giant Xavier McKinney may have set the market on day one with his four-year, $68 million deal to join the Green Bay Packers – a team that needed safety help. 

One of the safeties McKinney is replacing is Darnell Savage, who moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars on a $21.75 million deal over the next three years. The Bears also landed All-Pro Kevin Byard (2 years, $15 million) and Geno Stone is going to the Cincinnati Bengals (2 years, $14 million). 

There is still lots of safety talent available, but to see a good amount go on day one should give solace to those still waiting for a new deal. 

As for cornerbacks, Chidobe Awuzie’s deal with the Titans (3 years, $36 million) was the cream of the crop. There was also Sean Bunting landing with the Cardinals for $25.5 million over three years. 

Here are other secondary pieces who will ink new deals come Wednesday:

  • S Brandon Jones: Denver Broncos (3 years, $20 million)
  • S Alohi Gilman: Los Angeles Chargers (2 years, $11 million)
  • CB Jeff Okudah: Houston Texans (1 year, $4.75 million)
  • CB Michael Ford: Houston Texans (2 years, $4.5 million)
Brian Burns vs Saints

Brian Burns, #0 of the Carolina Panthers, looks on from the sideline during an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints at Caesars Superdome on Dec. 10, 2023 in New Orleans. (Perry Knotts/Getty Images)

Blockbuster trade

The Giants reached a trade with the Panthers for two-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Brian Burns, and they immediately extended him with a five-year deal worth up to $150 million. 

Burns is now the second-highest-paid defensive end in NFL history. 

New York only sent away a 2024 second-round pick and 2025 fifth-round pick for the 25-year-old star, which was surprising considering what the Los Angeles Rams previously offered for Burns in 2023: a 2023 second-rounder, 2024 first-rounder and 2025 firstrounder. 

The Panthers declined then, but after both sides could not find common ground on a new deal, which led to a franchise tag earlier this month, Burns is on the move and got his big payday he was looking for. 

While Carolina fans may be scratching their heads, the Giants are ecstatic to get Burns signed long-term to go with defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and end Kayvon Thibodeaux. 

Who’s left?

A large chunk of the free agent market found new homes next season, but there are still a bunch of players looking for a deal after day one, beginning with Derrick Henry in the running backs market. 

With Jacobs and Barkley setting the tone with deals at $12 million and $12.583 million respectively, Henry’s market could be set around that price tag now. Jones and Mixon join him now as the top backs looking for a new team after their release. There is still Ezekiel Elliott, Alexander Mattison, JK Dobbins and others as well. 

Additionally, while Gabe Davis found a new home with the Jaguars (3 years, $39 million), receiver was not the theme on Monday. Perhaps the likes of Calvin Ridley, Odell Beckham Jr., Hollywood Brown, K.J. Osborn and many others could be heading somewhere on Tuesday. 

As far as defense goes, Danielle Hunter is a name to watch, as the 29-year-old former Vikings edge rusher is more than capable of disrupting offenses in 2024. Linebacker Patrick Queen remains available, too, as does safety Justin Simmons and edge rusher Chase Young. 

Calvin Ridley runs

Calvin Ridley, #0 of the Jacksonville Jaguars, runs the ball up the field in the second quarter of a game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sept. 10, 2023 in Indianapolis. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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Here are some other notables that could be off the board moving forward: 

  • EDGE Jadeveon Clowney
  • S Jeremy Chinn
  • WR Josh Reynolds
  • OT Tyron Smith
  • WR Darnell Mooney
  • DT DaQuan Jones
  • S Kyle Dugger
  • G Kevin Zeitler
  • S C.J. Garnder-Johnson
  • DT D.J. Reader

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