NFL Free Agency First Day Frenzy – Winners and Losers

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The NFL salary cap jumped 13% between 2023 and 2024, increasing for each team by almost $31 million. That was evident in the first day of free agency, as the check books were open and the money was flowing.

Kirk Cousins – Winner

If you need someone to negotiate a contract for you, call the agent for Kirk Cousins. The former Minnesota Vikings quarterback is coming off an achilles tear and he’s going to be 36 when the season starts. Yet the Atlanta Falcons gave him a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million in guaranteed money. And that goes on top of the $231.6 million he had made through 2023, which is the fourth-highest mark in NFL history.

Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Russell Wilson are the only players with more career earnings.

To be fair, this is also a big win for the Falcons. This is a huge upgrade for them at quarterback, with Cousins easily being the best QB in the division. NFL online sportsbooks have responded to the move by making the Falcons the easy favorite to win the NFC South next year. They are paying -115, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have dropped to +285.

Carolina Panthers – Loser

The Carolina Panthers are at the bottom of the NFC South betting table, paying +1500 to win the division, and even that feels too optimistic. On Monday, they traded away their best young player for the third straight season – this time in the person of top pass rusher Brian Burns.

The New York Giants gave them a second- and fifth-round pick for Burns, just a year after they said no to the Los Angeles Rams, who were offering two firsts and a second. That’s rejecting two first round picks for one year of Burns – a year in which they won two games.

The trade tale of the trade tape since 2022 is not pretty.

The Panthers have traded away Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Brian Burns, first-round picks in 2023 (ninth overall), 2024 (first overall), and a second-round pick in 2025. In exchange, they received quarterback Bryce Young, outside linebacker D.J. Johnson, and two fifth-round picks.

This is how franchises stay at the bottom.

Interior Offensive Lineman – Winners

It is good business these days to be a guard or center. Just on the first day of free agency, the following contracts were given to the big men in the middle:

Robert Hunt, five years, $100 million (Carolina)

Michael Onwenu, three years, $57 million (New England Patriots)

Damien Lewis, four years, $53 million (Carolina)

Jonah Jackson, three years, $51 million (Rams)

Lloyd Cushenberry, four years, $50 million (Tennessee Titans)

Tyler Biadasz, three years, $30 million (Washington Commanders)

Jon Runyon, three years, $30 million (New York Giants)

Teams are recognizing the value of interior lineman through things like the “tush push” and the continued emergence of pass rushing defensive tackles, and they are willing to pay a premium.

Defensive Tackles – Winners

Speaking of those defensive tackles that can get after the quarterback, just a day after Chris Jones was paid $95 million in guaranteed money to stay in Kansas City, their rival in the AFC West, the Las Vegas Raiders, paid Christian Wilkins $110 million for four years, with $82.75 million of that in guaranteed money.

The Seattle Seahawks are keeping defensive tackle Leonard Williams around for three years and $64.5 million. A total of $43.85 million of his contract is guaranteed. Seattle has a new defensive-minded head coach in former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Ben Macdonald, and Washington retail sportsbooks have the Seahawks at +700 to win the NFC West.

Also getting paid at the defensive tackle position was Justin Jones. He moves from Chicago to the Arizona Cardinals for three years and $31.16 million.

Wide Receivers – Losers (So Far)

The only significant wide receiver signing was Gabe Davis, who went from a perennial division champion in the Buffalo Bills, down to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The weather is better and the money is good (three years, $39 million). But with the Jags allowing Calvin Ridley to walk, it is a net loss for their offense.

Tee Higgins was also in the news on Monday for asking for a trade. He’s annoyed that the Cincinnati Bengals haven’t spoken to him about a long-term contract in more than a year. The Bengals are also set to lose wide receiver Tyler Boyd in free agency, and right now Ohio online sportsbooks are paying +165 on Cincinnati winning the AFC North.

Other top wide receivers still available after Day 1 are Darnell Mooney, Marquise Brown, Michael Thomas, Curtis Samuel, and Odell Beckham Jr.

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