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2024 NFL free agency Week 1 winners and losers: Texans, Vikings leading the way as Cardinals, Cowboys slip

Sports2024 NFL free agency Week 1 winners and losers: Texans, Vikings leading the way as Cardinals, Cowboys slip


Every year, the NFL offseason brings a rush of activity. Big names change teams. Lineups get shuffled. Lucrative contracts get signed. Surprise trades unfold. And yet, because of the sheer volume of moving pieces, it can be difficult to pin down exactly which teams have actually gotten better. Or which players are better suited to succeed.

That’s going to remain the case for a while. Because until we see some of the spiciest new pairings in action — Kirk Cousins with the Atlanta Falcons, for example — everything is merely a projection.

Even so, we’ve now had enough movement from each team — and most of the top free agents — to take an early crack at identifying “winners” and “losers,” at least relative to offseason expectations. After nearly a full week of action, here’s our read:

Winners

Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell
USATSI

Cleveland Browns

Everything hinges on quarterback Deshaun Watson, which isn’t a great starting point. But they improved his weaponry by trading for Jerry Jeudy, making a truly formidable route-running duo out wide. They kept their strong front seven intact by retaining Za’Darius Smith and Shelby Harris, while adding Jim Schwartz favorite Jordan Hicks. And Jameis Winston at least adds some flavor to the No. 2 spot under center, with enough juice to match Joe Flacco’s off-the-bench heroics.

Houston Texans

Paying high-level money to extend new running back Joe Mixon is a genuine head-scratcher, but otherwise, they’ve operated exactly like the ascending contender they are. Pass rusher Danielle Hunter is a huge, imposing get for a DeMeco Ryans-led front already headlined by Will Anderson Jr., and the dual poaching of ex-rivals Azeez Al-Shaair and Denico Autry gives the defense even more physicality. With C.J. Stroud leading the other side, their future is bright.

Los Angeles Rams

They haven’t been nearly as splashy as they once were under Les Snead’s direction, but each of their four big first-week moves makes sense: tight end Colby Parkinson brings supersized reliability to the red zone offense for Matthew Stafford, guard Jonah Jackson should pair well with the re-signed Kevin Dotson to keep Stafford upright, cornerback Darious Williams, while older, has proven feisty playing in this secondary before and 25-year-old safety Kamren Curl brings some intriguing upside.

Minnesota Vikings

Losing a steady, likable six-year starter at quarterback is going to sting at first. But it was probably the right time for the Vikings to let Kirk Cousins walk, especially because they’re primed to target a Day 1 signal-caller in the draft — perhaps via trade — with an offense already built to win; Aaron Jones is an explosive addition at running back, joining returning stars like Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson. If not, coach Kevin O’Connell just might be able to get wild-card material out of Sam Darnold, their fallback veteran. On defense, Brian Flores’ unit also looks ripe for continued stinginess now that the front seven has gotten younger with Jonathan Greenard, Blake Cashman and Andrew Van Ginkel all in tow.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Their offseason feels curiously reminiscent of 2021, when Jason Licht drew praise for retaining countless core pieces of the Buccaneers’ 2020 title run. Except running it back doesn’t always pan out. And this time “running it back” means retaining a wild-card team. Even so, keeping all their key free agents — Baker Mayfield, Mike Evans, Antoine Winfield Jr., Lavonte David — gives them important continuity, and Jordan Whitehead is an underrated addition (or re-addition) on the back end.

Losers

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray
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Arizona Cardinals

What are we saving money for here? The Cardinals entered with borderline top-five salary-cap space, and yet their splashiest addition might be jettisoned Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder, who’s going to sit behind Kyler Murray. Jonah Williams helps up front, and Justin Jones should aid Jonathan Gannon’s defensive line, but this club is still in dire need of skill weapons. They can’t be expected to fill every hole through the draft.

Dallas Cowboys

When owner Jerry Jones kept reciting “all in” as the offseason motto, surely he didn’t anticipate the team’s biggest March headlines would involve an off-field legal dispute involving star quarterback Dak Prescott. Savvy linebacker Eric Kendricks is a solid find for the middle of the defense, but he’s also 32. Maybe there’s another shoe yet to drop, and surely Dallas remains talented enough to compete in 2024, but the upgrades have been nonexistent.

Las Vegas Raiders

They can’t be faulted for paying Christian Wilkins market value; the former Miami Dolphins lynchpin should help unlock Maxx Crosby even more, giving Antonio Pierce a fearsome defensive front. But for yet another offseason it feels impossible to pin down the Raiders’ direction. Are they rebuilding? Trying to win now? Gardner Minshew, while spirited, registers as another half-measure at quarterback, and they’ve yet to fill holes that opened up front and at corner.

Miami Dolphins

Cap space was tight coming into the offseason, so expectations were always iffy here. Certainly the linebacker corps should be trustier, with Jordyn Brooks and Anthony Walker coming aboard. But they’re almost going to have to dominate with Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis gone up front. Nothing they’ve done is egregiously off-putting. But for a perceived contender, they’ve settled for lots of Band-Aids at premium spots like edge (Shaquil Barrett) and corner (Kendall Fuller).

Tennessee Titans

It’s one thing to prioritize new toys for young quarterback Will Levis. It’s another to drop a combined $113 million on Tony Pollard and Calvin Ridley. Both players should add much-needed speed to a long-sluggish Titans attack. But the investments are steep, and the top defensive additions — Chidobe Awuzie and Kenneth Murray — have serious questions. This is a classic case of a team probably getting better on the whole, but seemingly struggling to properly allocate its wealth of resources.

In-betweeners

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman
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The rest of the AFC North

We highlighted the Browns earlier. Otherwise there’s been a lot of movement here — even crossover movement, with Patrick Queen hopping from Baltimore to Pittsburgh, Geno Stone going from the Ravens to the Bengals, and so forth. Has anyone made serious headway? Derrick Henry gives Baltimore’s offense some extra rugged punch. Cincy retained Tee Higgins (for now). And the Steelers are making a frugal bet on Russell Wilson finally giving them competent quarterback play.

Carolina Panthers

Good on them for finally beefing up the line in front of maligned young quarterback Bryce Young, but boy did they potentially overpay for a pair of solid, if unspectacular, interior linemen in Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis. Out wide, the concern is the same: Trade acquisition Diontae Johnson clearly improves Young’s receiving corps, but is he enough?

Jacksonville Jaguars

Calvin Ridley out, Gabe Davis in. Rayshawn Jenkins out, Darnell Savage in. Darious Williams out, Ronald Darby in. They’ve done a lot of shuffling, but it’s debatable whether they’ve made significant leaps at any of the positions under construction. Adding recently released Arik Armstead to their defensive front will certainly help, while former Buffalo Bills anchor Mitch Morse is a potential steal as Trevor Lawrence’s new center.

Philadelphia Eagles

There might not be a bigger boom-or-bust offseason than the one the Eagles are having. Saquon Barkley brings a lot of home-run ability to an already-stacked offense, albeit with a decent price tag and checkered medical history. New big-money edge rusher Bryce Huff has explosive burst but has never held a full-time gig before. And the defensive splashes — Devin White at linebacker, familiar face C.J. Gardner-Johnson at safety — offer simultaneously enticing and unnerving bravado. If their gambles hit, they could be back in the title hunt. But each of them carry clear risk.

Washington Commanders

Can you name a random free agent? They’ve probably signed him. With an abundance of cap space, they’ve spent freely, and they’re probably better for it at multiple spots: Austin Ekeler is a solid pass catcher, Bobby Wagner is a tone-setter at linebacker along fellow new face Frankie Luvu, etc. Dan Quinn has definitely collected some proven vets for his first run in D.C. But the upgrades also feel marginal at premium spots (i.e. edge rusher), and everything still comes down to what happens under center.





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