Winners and losers from the early stages of NFL free agency
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The beginning of the NFL's new league year once again featured blockbuster trades and splashy signings.

After sorting through all the madness leading up to and through the official start of free agency Wednesday afternoon, theScore's football staff teamed up to identify a few winners and losers.

Winner: Player leverage

Early talk of Antonio Brown wanting out of Pittsburgh was largely dismissed. Trading a player of his caliber is typically a nonstarter, and any deal was going to leave the Steelers with $21 million in dead money against the cap.

More importantly, this is the NFL, a league with minimally guaranteed deals designed to hold players hostage. Forcing trades is nearly impossible. Or so we thought.

To make it happen, Brown went on a mission. He took any and all public opportunities to put the Steelers and their star quarterback on blast. Making the relationship seem unsalvageable and voicing his desire for a new contract likely ended the team's chances of getting anything substantial in return.

Brown eventually got his way in a trade to the Raiders, which returned a third- and a fifth-round pick to Pittsburgh and once again made him the NFL's highest-paid receiver. It was the ultimate power move, as Brown exercised the kind of player leverage typically only seen in the NBA.

Do other NFL stars now have a road map for getting out of similarly contentious situations? - Dan Wilkins

Loser: Dave Gettleman

Gettleman has the once-historic Giants franchise destined for the NFL's basement.

The general manager let Landon Collins, his best defensive player, walk in free agency. Then he dealt Olivier Vernon, his top pass-rusher, and inexplicably received pennies on the dollar in return for Odell Beckham Jr.

Instead of keeping those core pieces, he decided to retain over-the-hill quarterback Eli Manning and sign aging veteran Antoine Bethea. Gettleman did add Kevin Zeitler and Jabrill Peppers to the mix, but his team lacks long-term direction and any offensive firepower beyond Saquon Barkley.

Beckham may have been deemed a headache, but the Browns didn't give up nearly enough for a top-three receiver. Giants fans won't trust Gettleman's word moving forward. - Mike Alessandrini

Winner: Browns

A trifecta of marquee acquisitions has the long-suffering Browns primed to claim AFC North supremacy in the near future - possibly even in 2019.

Beckham should help accelerate the development of quarterback Baker Mayfield, who finished his 2018 rookie campaign on a torrid pace. On the other side of the ball, Vernon and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson give Cleveland a scary front four.

Better yet, the Steelers spent the early portion of free agency self-destructing, while the Cincinnati Bengals did nothing of significance, leaving the Baltimore Ravens as the only threatening team in the division. - Alex Chippin

Loser: Jaguars

One way or another, the Jaguars were going to get a quarterback this offseason, as the time had come to move on from the Blake Bortles mistake. However, it's tough to get on board with going all-in on Nick Foles.

Jacksonville was faced with the prospect of a significant dead-money hit for cutting Bortles. So, the team made a series of cuts (Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, Carlos Hyde, Jermey Pernell) to create cap space. The Jaguars then blew the majority of that space on Foles with a four-year, $88-million deal, even though no other team was seriously linked to the pivot.

When Foles proves to be little more than a replacement-level quarterback who benefited from a tremendous situation in Philadelphia, Tom Coughlin and Co. will wish they'd saved that money and waited for the draft. - Dan Wilkins

Winner: Aaron Rodgers

After forcing their quarterback to carry the franchise for years, the Green Bay Packers finally gave Rodgers some help through free agency.

The Packers inked a trio of defensive stalwarts - safety Adrian Amos and edge defenders Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith - to shore up an inconsistent unit and take pressure off Rodgers as the two-time MVP approaches the twilight of his career. A functional defense, coupled with a more creative offense under new head coach Matt LaFleur, should lead Green Bay back into contention in the NFC next season. - Alex Chippin

Loser: Steelers

The Steelers saw two generational offensive talents leave in the span of four days. The front office and die-hard fans can try to justify losing All-Pros Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, but it's tough to envision a better short-term future without them.

Take into account the return for both players (one third-round pick, one fifth-round pick, and potentially a compensatory pick for Bell), the offensive machine the Cleveland Browns are assembling within the division, and the additions of Earl Thomas and Mark Ingram to the hated Baltimore Ravens - indeed, the Steel City had a truly awful week. - Michael McClymont

Winner: Derek Carr

Is Derek Carr the Raiders' long-term answer under center? That question will likely be the defining storyline of the team's 2019 season, and head coach Jon Gruden made sure his quarterback won't have any excuses.

Carr will now be throwing to a superstar in Antonio Brown and a great second option in Tyrell Williams. Trent Brown, and not the raw Kolton Miller, will be protecting his blind side.

The sixth-year passer has already been mentioned in trade rumors this offseason, and even if those whispers are unfounded, 2019 is the last season in his deal that contains significant guaranteed money.

It's a true make-or-break year for Carr, but he likely couldn't have dreamed up a more perfect free-agency period ahead of the campaign. - Jack Browne

Loser: Colts

This was meant to be the year the Indianapolis Colts would capitalize on their enviable $100-plus-million in cap space and splash cash all over the free-agent market. Instead, it's been all quiet in Indy. The Colts stayed out of the Le'Veon Bell sweepstakes, ignored the talented pass-rush and safety markets, and have only signed breakout corner Pierre Desir and wideout Devin Funchess to date. Perhaps general manager Chris Ballard deserves the benefit of the doubt as a result of his proven track record of building through the draft, but the foundation is set. It's time to start decorating. - Michael McClymont

Winner: Safeties

A year after safeties Kenny Vaccaro, Tre Boston, Mike Mitchell, and Eric Reid all had to wait well past the start of free agency before signing one-year, $1.5-million-or-less deals, the 2019 frenzy opened with Landon Collins landing a six-year, $84-million contract from the Washington Redskins. Meanwhile, Adrian Amos and Earl Thomas both signed four-year agreements for $37 million and $55 million, respectively. And Tyrann Mathieu, a season after his one-year prove-it deal, inked a three-year, $42-million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Although we can only speculate about why the safety market is suddenly prospering, it may be related to NFL defenses allowing 6,867 more yards and 106 more touchdowns through the air last season than in 2017. - Karan Gill

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Winners and losers from the early stages of NFL free agency
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