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Winners and losers from 1st wave of NFL free agency

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The NFL already looks a lot different following the first few days of free agency. While offseason wins don't directly translate to the standings, more than a few teams are positioning themselves nicely for the 2024 campaign. There are also some clubs that have us scratching our heads.

Here are the top winners and losers from the first wave of free agency:

Winner: Running backs

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There were questions regarding the state of the running back market heading into free agency. Many rushers were unhappy with how their 2023 offseason unfolded financially, and several high-profile tailbacks were available this offseason. However, NFL teams showed they remain interested in investing in a star running back if the price is right. Several RBs inked lucrative multi-year deals with incentives on the first few days of free agency in 2024. Here's what the contracts look like:

RB Age New team Old team Yrs Value Gtd.
Saquon Barkley 27 PHI NYG 3 $37.7M $26M
Derrick Henry 30 BAL TEN 2 $16M $9M
D'Andre Swift 25 CHI PHI 3 $24M $14M
Josh Jacobs 26 GB LV 4 $48M $12.5M
Tony Pollard 26 TEN DAL 3 $24M $10.5M
Austin Ekeler 28 WAS LAC 2 $8.4M $4.2M
Aaron Jones 29 MIN GB 1 $7M X
Devin Singletary 26 NYG HOU 3 $16.5M $9.5M

None of those running backs reset the market, but seeing Super Bowl contenders like the Eagles, Ravens, and Packers wasting no time in getting a star rusher is great news for a position group looking to prove its value. Months ago, Ekeler, Barkley, and Henry, among others, held a meeting to discuss running back contract issues after Barkley, Jacobs, and Pollard were the only franchise-tagged players unable to sign multi-year deals in 2023. Now they're all in new places and seemingly happy with their contracts.

Loser: Panthers

What is Carolina doing?

We expected the Panthers to aggressively try to improve the supporting cast around quarterback Bryce Young, the 2023 No. 1 overall pick who struggled as a rookie. However, the Panthers, now led by rookie head coach Dave Canales and first-year GM Dan Morgan, aren't off to an encouraging start this offseason.

The Panthers franchise tagged Brian Burns before trading him to the Giants. Not getting a first-round pick in return for a stud pass-rusher at age 25 was a major mistake by a rebuilding Carolina team that doesn't have a 2024 first-round selection. In November 2022, Carolina reportedly rejected a Rams offer for Burns that included two first-round picks and a second-rounder. Burns immediately received a five-year extension from New York worth $150 million, an amount that Canales, Morgan, and Co. opted to invest in ... free-agent guards.

Carolina reportedly inked five-year contracts with Robert Hunt (worth $100 million) and Damien Lewis ($53 million). Hunt and Lewis are solid options, but the Panthers didn't have to overpay a pair of guards to fix their O-line issues. The team did get a rare win in its 2024 offseason by acquiring former Steelers receiver Diontae Johnson in exchange for corner Donte Jackson and a late-round pick swap, but Carolina needs a lot more.

Winner: Texans

General manager Nick Caserio appears inspired to put together a Super Bowl-caliber roster around crown jewel C.J. Stroud. Caserio is spending the early part of free agency wheeling and dealing and is yet to miss. First, he swooped in to acquire former Pro Bowl running back Joe Mixon before he would hit the open market. Then, in an even bigger move, he landed premier pass-rusher Danielle Hunter, who recorded a career-high 16.5 sacks last year.

Despite losing Jonathan Greenard, the Texans didn't hesitate to swing even harder with Hunter. The rest of the front office's moves were savvy, too. Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair reunites with head coach DeMeco Ryans, while defensive lineman Denico Autry is also a great addition after a personal-best 11.5 sacks last season. The Texans are aided by Stroud's rookie contract, and it's clear they don't intend to waste that window.

Loser: Justin Fields

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The bulk of the 2024 NFL quarterback carousel is over, and Justin Fields is still without a date.

The Bears quarterback was expected to be one of the most intriguing trade candidates this offseason, but his number of potential suitors may have dwindled down to zero after the opening days of free agency. The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Russell Wilson. The Atlanta Falcons got Kirk Cousins. The Minnesota Vikings signed Sam Darnold. Even the Las Vegas Raiders added Gardner Minshew III.

Perhaps Bears general manager Ryan Poles overplayed his hand, or maybe there just wasn't a robust market to begin with. Either way, the chances of Fields going somewhere as a starter are getting lower and lower with each passing day.

Winner: Falcons' offense

The Falcons netted the biggest catch in free agency by inking Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180-million contract. Sure, it's a risk considering Cousins is 35 and coming off of a torn Achilles. But should he return to his usual self, there's the potential for Atlanta to boast an aerial passing attack not seen since Matt Ryan's heyday.

No longer will the likes of Drake London and Kyle Pitts be neutralized by the play of their own quarterback. Instead, they'll get Cousins, who was off to one of his best starts last year before injury. Just how confident the Falcons are that Cousins will get back to that level is reflected by their addition of another star wideout in Darnell Mooney. Let's not forget the effects that having a quarterback like Cousins can bring to the running game. Whether you're London, Pitts, Mooney, or Bijan Robinson, Cousins' arrival means the Falcons could put up video-game numbers.

Loser: Cowboys

Jerry Jones and Co. know free agency already started, right?

After a disappointing wild-card home loss to the Packers, the Cowboys owner said that his team - which has gone one-and-done eight times in the postseason since 1996 - would go "all-in" this season. But Dallas hasn't made any major moves. Meanwhile, Pollard, center Tyler Biadasz, and defensive end Dorance Armstrong signed elsewhere. Offensive tackle Tyron Smith and corner Stephon Gilmore remain unsigned. Plus, Dallas and quarterback Dak Prescott have reportedly had no recent talks regarding an extension.

Granted, the Cowboys have a well-rounded roster with star power on both sides of the ball. But not being aggressive early in free agency leaves a Dallas team desperately trying to get over the hump with more questions than answers.

Winner: Eagles

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Few teams are making as many splashes while addressing needs as the Eagles. Philadelphia kicked off its free agency by bringing in Barkley - one of football's premier running backs when healthy - on a three-year contract. The team then handed three-year deals to Bryce Huff - a young pass-rusher who broke out in 2023 - and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who's reuniting with Philly after one season in Detroit. Gardner-Johnson led the NFL in interceptions as a member of the Eagles in 2022 and fills a major need in the secondary.

The Eagles shouldn't be done yet, though. Their linebacker group still has a big question mark, and other positions, including wide receiver, have depth issues. But the early days of free agency suggest that Howie Roseman is on track to fix his roster after a disappointing 2023 campaign.

Loser: Bills

Sean McDermott once said it's not a matter of if, but when the Bills would win a Super Bowl. Well, after the first days of free agency, Buffalo looks no closer to capturing a Lombardi Trophy. In fact, the franchise appears even farther.

While no one was expecting a splash from the Bills, their roster doesn't inspire confidence. The departure of aging stars such as Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, and Tre'Davious White were somewhat expected, but an awful lot of snaps will need replacing. Dane Jackson and Leonard Flloyd's departures are significant hits, too. The biggest loss, though, was wideout Gabe Davis, who cashed in with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In order to replace those on the way out, the Bills re-signed Cam Lewis, A.J. Epenesa, and Taylor Rapp while also making modest additions such as Mack Hollins and Nicholas Morrow. Will that be enough to keep them in championship contention? With Josh Allen in the picture, the answer will likely always be a yes. However, Buffalo's offseason didn't ease any concerns that this team would be able to get over its playoff hump next season.

Winner: Will Levis

Levis is going to have a lot of new friends when the Titans' offense takes the field for the first time this offseason.

The Titans put their money where their mouth is by providing their second-year quarterback with two weapons and one serious enforcer. The surprise move no one saw coming was swooping in to sign Calvin Ridley to a monster 4-year, $92-million contract. Levis already had one star receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, and he gains another in Ridley. There's no replacing "The King" Derrick Henry, but his departure is alleviated by the addition of running back Tony Pollard to a rotation that already includes Tyjae Spears. And if anyone tries to disrupt Levis' plans to use his new toys, former Broncos center Lloyd Cushenberry - who inked a four-year, $50-million deal - will be ready to throw them out of the club.

There were a lot of questions when the Titans elected to move on from head coach Mike Vrabel. But, hiring a offensive-minded coach in Brian Callahan, plus the blockbuster signings of Ridley, Pollard, and Cushenberry, shows they are all-in on making Levis the face of the franchise.

Loser: Broncos

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Russell Wilson affected Denver's 2024 offseason. The Broncos still owe Wilson $37.8 million after cutting the veteran quarterback, who will be playing in Pittsburgh on a one-year, $1.2-million deal. Wilson's contract left the Broncos with a terrible salary-cap situation, and the result was the team parting ways with other players, including Justin Simmons, an All-Pro safety who became too expensive for the club. Sean Payton's outfit was also reportedly priced out of a potential race for Kirk Cousins, leaving Jarrett Stidham as its top quarterback at the moment.

Then there's the Jerry Jeudy trade to the Browns. Denver only received fifth- and sixth-round picks for the wideout, a disappointing return given that Denver reportedly rejected an offer for Jeudy that included a Day 2 pick in October. The Broncos can't really do much other than trust that Payton will reshape and fix the roster. But Denver has more questions than answers after the first wave of free agency.

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