The bridge-quarterback market took a long time to develop last season. That was not the case this time around. On the second day of permitted contract agreements Tuesday, the quarterback carousel spun out of control.
Jacoby Brissett will be Tua Tagovailoa's backup plan in Miami after Ryan Fitzpatrick graduated to a $10 million contract in Washington. Andy Dalton will get the same money in Chicago, helping to end the irrational hopes of Bears fans that Russell Wilson could save them. Tyrod Taylor will land in Houston on a contract nearly identical to the ones agreed to by Jameis Winston in New Orleans and Cam Newton in New England, which were heavy on incentives. Like Winston and Newton, Taylor is the leader in the clubhouse to be a Week 1 starter. Deshaun Watson is waiting for a new clubhouse.
It's possible that a trade tsunami could hit Wednesday, when teams have to officially get under the salary cap. It's unlikely that Watson or Jimmy Garoppolo will be part of the wave. Any remaining major quarterback moves are more likely to happen closer to the 2021 NFL Draft, if not during it. In the meantime, the Broncos are still looking for competition for Drew Lock, Mitchell Trubisky is still looking for a home, and there aren't many other chairs left to fill.
Here's a look at the other winners and losers from the transactions on Tuesday (and late Monday night):
Washington Football Team fans and fantasy football enthusiasts: No one makes a mediocre team more fun to root for than Ryan Fitzpatrick. No one will juice the stats put up by his new teammates more quickly, either, because Fitzpatrick isn't about that throw-away life.
The size of the one-year contract Fitzpatrick agreed to -- $10 million, with incentives for more -- indicates that the 38-year-old's the heavy favorite to start over Taylor Heinicke and a possible rookie quarterback to be named later. The weapons in Washington are underrated, with Terry McLaurin, Antonio Gibson and Logan Thomas comprising a nice trio to start with. If Washington adds another playmaker to the mix with intriguing role players Kelvin Harmon and Cam Sims, offensive coordinator Scott Turner will be cooking with gas.
This is still a defense-first team, led by the defensive line and coach Ron Rivera. Washington scraped out seven wins playing around its quarterbacks last year, and Fitzpatrick qualifies as an upgrade. I'm still not sure Washington will top seven wins in 2021, but they will have better numbers and be more fun to watch.
Browns general manager Andrew Berry's stealth additions: As Baker Mayfield and Lil Wayne have noted, real Gs move in silence like lasagna. The Browns have done a nice job over the first two days of free agency, even if they didn't make big headlines.
Former Rams safety John Johnson is signing for a reasonable price (three years, $33.75 million), adding smarts and versatility to a safety group that desperately needed help. The Browns' pickup of former Falcons first-round pick Takk McKinley on Tuesday (one year, $4 million) was just the type of low-risk, high-reward move I like in free agency. McKinley has the juice to be a great third pass rusher, if not more.
Josh McDaniels' flexibility: The Patriots' offense has fallen a long way since they rocked the league with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez a decade ago. Bill Belichick and McDaniels loved the unpredictability that the two-TE sets provided, along with the ability to play hurry-up without changing personnel. But in 2020, no team played with two tight ends less than the Patriots did -- and no team was less effective.
That will change dramatically after the Patriots agreed to terms with Hunter Henry on a contract (three years, $37.5 million) that looks a lot like the one fellow tight end Jonnu Smith agreed to (four years, $50 million) on Monday. I've already outlined why paying premium prices for upper-middle class players is a bad sign for the Patriots, but Henry gives the team more firepower. If Smith is a poor man's young Gronk, Henry can make plays down the field like Hernandez once did. This is Belichick's way of admitting even more draft mistakes, as the team used two third-round picks at the position last year, selecting Devin Asiasi (two catches, 39 yards, one TD) and Dalton Keene (three catches, 16 yards). This entire spending spree seems to be largely about covering up Belichick's draft miscues.
Versatility is always the key for Patriots pickups. Henry can line up next to a tackle, in the slot or out wide. The team's wideout acquisitions (Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne) can similarly move inside and out. After a season when Jakobi Meyers was easily the team's best receiving option, there should be far more open targets in 2021 for Cam Newton or a rookie quarterback to throw to. It'd be hard to find less.
Robert Saleh's Jets defense: Carl Lawson was my favorite pure 4-3 pass rusher available this offseason. He agreed to a deal with the Jets for $45 million over three years, with $30 million guaranteed. None of the pass rushers in this market came at a discount, with Lawson, Trey Hendrickson (who will replace Lawson in Cincy on a four-year, $60 million pact), Matt Judon (four years, $56 million with the Patriots) Yannick Ngakoue (two years, $26 million with the Raiders) and Bud Dupree (five years, $85 million with the Titans) all coming in at similar price tags in the first two years of their deals.
Saleh's defense is predicated on the presence of a strong front four, and he found production with a variety of players as San Francisco's defensive coordinator before taking the head job with the Jets. Lawson doesn't need to play every down to be worth it, because he creates havoc, snap after snap, when he's out there. It will be hard to send double-teams Lawson's way when he's lined up next to Quinnen Williams. While the Jets' new big-ticket receiver, Corey Davis, could struggle to live up to his sizable deal (three years, $37.5 million), the bright New York lights should make Lawson a star.
Teams who waited for bargains: Center Rodney Hudson (released by the Raiders), corner Adoree' Jackson (released by the Titans) and defensive back Kareem Jackson (parting ways with the Broncos) are three of the players I've added to my list of the top 101 free agents over the last day. More solid veterans are likely to be released before the official start of the league year on Wednesday. With less cap space overall in the market and more starter-caliber veterans available than usual, there will be bargains to be had in the next week.
The Bengals' payroll: Cincinnati's aggressive foray into free agency last season (D.J. Reader, Trae Waynes) didn't go according to plan, but at least their relative boldness wasn't a one-year anomaly. The team reached agreements with pass rusher Trey Hendrickson, outside cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and slot corner Mike Hilton before the league year even started.
In very Bengals fashion, each player is precisely replacing a departing Bengal. Hendrickson will take the place of Carl Lawson, who went to the Jets. Awuzie is expected to replace William Jackson, while Hilton takes over for Mackensie Alexander. All three players are in their mid-20s and have promise. At least the Bengals are trying, which didn't always feel like the case in previous offseasons. (Insert obligatory "But what about Joe Burrow's protection?" comment here.)
Vic Fangio's defense: In surprising news, the Broncos decided to keep Von Miller's massive salary on the books this year. They were also able to re-sign Shelby Harris and bring in cornerback Ronald Darby on a three-year contract. I've believed that Darby was undervalued for a while, and he finally earned a nice multi-year deal in free agency. To help make all this work, the team will let elder statesman Kareem Jackson leave via free agency. One thing Jackson should learn: Playing on Fangio's defense usually leads to a nice payday and Pro Football Focus score.
Derek Carr: Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock surely have moves upcoming, so it's unfair to evaluate the Raiders' offseason plan before the offseason technically starts. Still, Carr can't feel all that comfortable that the team is saying goodbye to his top receiver from 2020 (Nelson Agholor), a former Pro Bowl tackle ( Trent Brown) and one of the best centers of his era, Rodney Hudson. Tuesday's news of Hudson's release was the biggest surprise and makes me wonder if the previously reported cut of guard Gabe Jackson is still happening. (Jackson officially remains on the roster.)
Hudson has only missed one start in the last five years and is, at worst, still among the 10 best centers in football. He had a big contract, but the Raiders won't save any cap room by releasing him unless they designate him a post-June 1 cut. (Even then, the savings won't be available until the summer.) The Raiders' offensive line has been this team's identity over the last five years, providing Carr a warm blanket of protection. That blanket has been ripped off.
Either way, I hope the schedule makers put the Bears in prime time less this year than they did in 2020. Chicago has a lot of high-priced defensive talent that could be traded. Dalton is a slight upgrade over Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky, but the situation remains challenging, with questions on the offensive line and coaching staff. In what appears to be a do-or-die season for coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace, they shot their silver bullet with a Red Rifle.
Dave Gettleman haters: It's been open season on the Giants' GM for a while, largely with good reason. His return to the franchise has not worked out thus far. That said, picking on him for his 2019 acquisition of Leonard Williams, followed by the application of two franchise tags and then Tuesday's massive contract (including $45 million guaranteed) is not fair. Gettleman bet that Williams' potential could be unlocked with the Giants. Placed in defensive coordinator Patrick Graham's system, Williams was an absolute hoss, one of the best in football at his position. What more do these people want? (Oh, yeah: wins.)