Keep up with all the latest free-agent signing in the NFL.
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Nearly a week after free agency officially commenced, many NFL rosters look decidedly different. And as money and players move around, so do draft needs. That may be especially true for the four teams currently atop the draft board, each of them heavily active in recent days.
1. Cleveland Browns
They’ve upgraded and reinvested in their offensive line while making a de facto swap of WR Terrelle Pyror for Kenny Britt. The Browns still don’t have a solution at quarterback, but they do now own four selections during the first two rounds of each of the next two drafts after deciding to swallow the remainder of Brock Osweiler’s deal in order to obtain the Houston Texans’ 2018 second rounder.
Now what? Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett still seems like a no-brainer with the first overall pick. But that doesn’t box the Browns into taking a quarterback at No. 12. They could. They can also trade up to secure the rights to, say, Deshaun Watson, choose another of this year’s quarterback projects later on, or balk entirely and wait until 2018 while using this year’s haul to build up other areas of a roster with deficiencies. Cleveland also has the draft equity make a run at Jimmy Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins, AJ McCarron or another established quarterback down the road. Bottom line, this franchise needs a lot of help, and there’s no reason to overpay for anyone right now when the Browns can continue to adhere to their preference of collecting young players, cap space (they still have more than $60 million) and additional draft picks.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Like the Browns, they remain unsettled long-term under center. However veterans Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley are now on board to at least handle the job for 2017, providing more flexibility than the franchise had just a week ago. New coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch targeted other mid-tier free agents like WR Marquise Goodwin, DT Earl Mitchell, LB Malcolm Smith, FB Kyle Juszczyk and TE Logan Paulsen. WR Pierre Garcon is the biggest name to come aboard. But San Francisco has been prudent financially and currently retains more than $80 million in cap space, most in the league.
Now what? The Niners could use the draft’s second overall pick on a rookie passer if they fall in love with Watson, Mitchell Trubisky or someone else. But given the issues that remain on the league’s worst defense (and elsewhere), the compelling talent at other positions, plus the ongoing possibility that Cousins could eventually wind up here, it seems more likely that Lynch and Shanahan continue to import the best players available in the draft and worry about addressing specific needs — even under center — in 2018 and beyond.
3. Chicago Bears
They made a moderate splash by replacing QB Jay Cutler with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup Mike Glennon for three years and $45 million. But the Bears have been quietly busy elsewhere, adding two receivers with upside (Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton), a blocking tight end (Dion Sims) and secondary improvements (S Quintin Demps, CB Prince Amukamara).
Now what? Though moving on from Cutler had become imperative, Glennon is probably no more than a placeholder (his deal offers an out after one year), so the Bears find themselves in a position similar to the teams picking above them at quarterback. But for a team that won three games in 2016, Chicago is hardly bereft of talent. A big-time receiver may make sense with Alshon Jeffery moving on and Kevin White still unproven. A stud defensive lineman would definitely make more sense than reaching for a quarterback or left tackle at No. 3. But given the players GM Ryan Pace has already added, he might more comfortably roll the dice if not consider trading out if the right value is offered.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
A defense that was sneaky good in 2016 welcomes CB A.J. Bouye, DL Calais Campbell (both arguably the best free agents at their respective posts) and S Barry Church. This franchise that has been unafraid to spend on veterans in recent years and remains in position to continue doing so.
Now what? A week ago, the Jags might have felt compelled to roll with the best available player at No. 4, which likely would have been a defender. But new executive vice president Tom Coughlin sounds committed to helping QB Blake Bortles beyond supporting him with what appears to be a loaded defense. It would be tough for any tailback to replicate the impact of last year’s fourth overall pick, Ezekiel Elliott, but Coughlin would have to feel better now if he decided to pick Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook this high in an effort to establish the ground game Bortles has never had in his corner. Of course if Coughlin and new coach Doug Marrone suspect they need a new look at quarterback, they could also opt for a replacement to push Bortles, whose future remains uncertain as the team faces a May deadline to decide on his 2018 option.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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