Matt Miller’s Scouting Notebook: Early Free Agency Is a Win for Draft Prospects

QB prospects including Josh Allen (middle) and Sam Darnold (right) could both be big winners of Free Agency.

QB prospects including Josh Allen (middle) and Sam Darnold (right) could both be big winners of Free Agency.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Free agency hadn’t even officially begun before the 2018 NFL draft experienced an earthquake-like shakeup. As soon as Kirk Cousins—the largest domino in free agency this offseason—agreed to sign with the Minnesota Vikings, a ripple effect was felt. And no one stands to gain from that ripple more than the group of quarterbacks in this class. 

It’s easy to get carried away by the excitement of free agency, but let’s not forget that teams are built through the draft. And while your team may or may not have signed a marquee free agent, there is still time to improve through the upcoming selection process. 

How does free agency change things? Here’s how I see a few major signings shaking things up.


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Kirk Cousins to the Vikings

This signing is notable more for how it affects the teams that didn’t land Cousins. Now the Denver Broncos (No. 5 overall), New York Jets (No. 6) and Arizona Cardinals (No. 15) are all scrambling to land quarterbacks. Each team did sign at least one veteran in free agency, but none has their quarterback of the future. 

Cousins signing with a team drafting outside the top 10 is great news for Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen. The market for those quarterbacks only intensified with Cousins off the board. Supply and demand for starting quarterbacks will dictate how many teams try to trade up in Round 1 to land a prized passer.

Nate Solder to the Giants

Nate Solder to the Giants is pivotal. Now the Giants are free to use the No. 2 pick in the draft on running back Saquon Barkley (Penn State) if they choose, and they shouldn’t feel forced to address the offensive line. This also means that the New England Patriots are in the market for a left tackle. That could be good news for Connor Williams (Texas), Kolton Miller (UCLA) or Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame), as the Patriots could easily put another tackle into the first round.

Carlos Hyde to the Browns

Does a Carlos Hyde signing mean the Browns are out on Barkley? They may say otherwise, but the signing of Hyde and the team’s attempts to sign Duke Johnson to an extension likely mean they won’t draft Barkley.

Barkley might be the top player in the draft, but Free Agency could push him down the draft board.

Barkley might be the top player in the draft, but Free Agency could push him down the draft board.Darron Cummings/Associated Press/Associated Press

If anything, the Browns’ moves point to the selection of Sam Darnold (USC) as the top pick. Moving on from DeShone Kizer, bringing in Tyrod Taylor as a bridge quarterback and securing another running back has me leaning toward Darnold as the top pick in my next mock draft.

Allen Robinson to the Bears

Good for Allen Robinson, who tore his ACL in Week 1 last season and now signed a true No. 1 wide receiver deal with the Chicago Bears. This move and others (like Sammy Watkins’ and Ryan Grant’s deals) tell me a lot about what the NFL thinks of this wide receiver draft class. If the Bears valued it, they wouldn’t aggressively sign Robinson and Taylor Gabriel. Same for the Kansas City Chiefs with Sammy Watkins or the Baltimore Ravens signing every receiver imaginable.

Here’s what else is going on this week:

  • News, rumors and notes from around the league
  • Updated Round 1 draft order
  • Risers, fallers and sleepers
  • Stick to Football podcast: NFL trade and free-agency review, plus FSU safety Derwin James

 Missing out on Kirk Cousins means one thing for the New York Jets: They are all in on this quarterback class. General manager Mike Maccagnan gets a chance to draft another quarterback after missing badly on Christian Hackenberg. And with the No. 6 overall pick, I’m told by league sources the Jets are now a candidate to trade up.

 Who could the Jets be targeting in a trade-up? The Indianapolis Colts sit at pick No. 3 overall and let it be known at the combine they’ll listen to offers. Any team wanting to trade up for a quarterback knows they must get in front of Denver at No. 5 overall.

• Another team moving up openly is the Buffalo Bills. After shipping Cordy Glenn and pick No. 21 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals for pick No. 12 (and a swap of Day 3 picks), the Bills are in striking distance to get a quarterback.

The Bills could be in the market for a QB like Josh Rosen after trading QB Tyrod Taylor as well as moving up to No. 12.

The Bills could be in the market for a QB like Josh Rosen after trading QB Tyrod Taylor as well as moving up to No. 12.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

The team still owns five of the top 65 picks and probably isn’t done trading up. Like the Jets, the Bills will be trying to get inside the top five.

 The teams trying to trade up could be a major boost for the Browns. If Cleveland selects Sam Darnold at No. 1 overall, there could be a hot market for the No. 4 overall pick they also own. I wouldn’t rule the Browns out as sellers when they’re on the clock with that second pick and a team wants to move up for a quarterback.

• The Oklahoma pro day was Wednesday, and NFL Media’s Andrew Groover reported the Bengals’ Marvin Lewis, the Broncos’ Vance Joseph and John Elway, the Giant’ Mike Shula, the Steelers’ Randy Fichtner and the Jets’ Maccagnan were all in attendance.

• All eyes were on Orlando Brown following a disastrous performance at the combine. Oklahoma announced Brown improved his 40 time to 5.63 seconds, which is better than his previous 5.85 but still poor for an offensive tackle.

 UMass tight end Adam Breneman announced his retirement from football due to injuries. Breneman was one of my early favorites in this class, but once I started digging on his background, it became clear he was a medical flag. Breneman previously retired from Penn State after a knee injury before resurfacing at UMass.

1. RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State

2. OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

3. EDGE Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State

4. S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

5. QB Sam Darnold, USC

6. QB Josh Allen, Wyoming

7. QB Josh Rosen, UCLA

8. CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State

9. S Derwin James, Florida State

10. LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

11. LB Roquan Smith, Georgia

12. QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

13. OT Connor Williams, Texas

14. CB Josh Jackson, Iowa

15. WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama

16. EDGE Marcus Davenport, UTSA

17. EDGE Harold Landry, Boston College

18. LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama

19. LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State

20. C Billy Price, Ohio State

21. OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame

22. C James Daniels, Iowa

23. OG Isaiah Wynn, Georgia

24. DL Vita Vea, Washington

25. DL Da’Ron Payne, Alabama

26. EDGE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State

27. CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville

28. RB Derrius Guice, LSU

29. RB Sony Michel, Georgia

30. DL Maurice Hurst, Michigan

31. CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado

32. WR Courtland Sutton, SMU

10. With trades starting to change the first round, each week I’m going to post an updated first-round order. Some weeks it won’t change, but at the rate this offseason is going, there might be many changes between now and the draft.

1. Cleveland Browns

2. New York Giants

3. Indianapolis Colts

4. Cleveland (from Houston Texans)

5. Denver Broncos

6. New York Jets

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

8. Chicago Bears

9. San Francisco 49ers

10. Oakland Raiders

11. Miami Dolphins

12. Buffalo (from Cincinnati Bengals)

13. Washington

14. Green Bay Packers

15. Arizona Cardinals

16. Baltimore Ravens

17. Los Angeles Chargers

18. Seattle Seahawks

19. Dallas Cowboys

20. Detroit Lions

21. Cincinnati (from Buffalo Bills)

22. Buffalo (from Kansas City Chiefs)

23. Los Angeles Rams

24. Carolina Panthers

25. Tennessee Titans

26. Atlanta Falcons

27. New Orleans Saints

28. Pittsburgh Steelers

29. Jacksonville Jaguars

30. Minnesota Vikings

31. New England Patriots

32. Philadelphia Eagles

9. It’s a good time to look at which teams have the most (and least) draft capital after the first wave of free agency (barring future trades). Here are the teams with the most picks:

Packers: 12 (nine picks on Day 3)

Bengals: 11

Broncos: 11 (six picks in top 109)

Raiders: 11 (six picks in Round 6)

Browns: 10 (five picks in top 65)

Cowboys: 10

Bills: 9 (six picks in top 100)

8. And on the flipside, here are the teams with the least draft capital:

Giants: 5 (own two picks on Day 3)

Lions: 6

Eagles: 6 (own one pick in top 110)

Titans: 6

Washington: 7

Patriots: 7 (own four in the top 100)

Texans: 8 (no picks in first two rounds)

7. From ESPN’s Field Yates, take a look at the Browns’ new additions thus far.

Offense: QB Tyrod Taylor, RB Carlos Hyde, WR Jarvis Landry, TE Darren Fells, OT Chris Hubbard.

Defense: CB Terrance Mitchell, S Damarious Randall, DE Chris Smith.

New Browns WR Jarvis Landry was acquired via trade earlier this offseason.

New Browns WR Jarvis Landry was acquired via trade earlier this offseason.Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

And they still own two picks in the first round (Nos. 1 and 4), three in the second round (Nos. 33, 35 and 64) and five selections on Day 3. 

New general manager John Dorsey said at his introductory press conference that he wanted to get “real football players” and he’s done exactly that. If Dorsey and Co. can nail the selection of a quarterback, this team could win five or six games in 2018.

       

6. With my focus now being more NFL draft (and next season probably more college football), I don’t get to flex my NFL analyst muscles as much—we have Chris Simms for that—but I miss talking free agency and grading players. Here are a few of my favorite free-agent signings so far:

Allen Robinson to the Bears: Get Mitchell Trubisky a true WR1 and a red-zone threat with smooth route-running skills.

Teddy Bridgewater to the Jets: I’m still a huge Bridgewater fan and want to see him given a chance to start in 2018.

Anthony Hitchens to the Chiefs: They had to replace Derrick Johnson and without a first-round pick, this was the way to do it. Hitchens is an athlete and a quality middle ‘backer.

Jimmy Graham and Mo Wilkerson to the Packers: I just like that the Packers are finally signing free agents. And both players could help them regain the NFC North.

5. And now the least favorites…

Ryan Grant to the Ravens: Giving Ryan Grant $29M over four seasons is a major head-scratcher.

Sam Bradford to the Cardinals: $20M for one season of Bradford, which he’ll probably be hurt for most of, is silly.

Prince Amukamara to the Bears: The only Ryan Pace move I haven’t liked so far. An annual salary of $9M for Amukamara seems pricey. Cornerback is still a need for them in the draft.

4. NFL Draft Sleeper: EDGE Jeff Holland, Auburn

Jeff Holland continues his rise up draft boards.

Jeff Holland continues his rise up draft boards.Michael Woods/Associated Press

The 2018 EDGE class is not great at the top, which could benefit sleepers like Auburn’s Jeff Holland. He’s a tad undersized (6’2″, 249 lbs) but had great production in college and got on the field in a talented defense as a freshman. He needs to improve his body and post a much better pro day performance than what we saw in Indy (4.79 40), but he has the tools to see the field immediately as a situational rusher.

3. NFL Draft Riser: CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville

Go back and watch the 2016 tape on Jaire Alexander, before he got hurt, and prepare to be reminded why he was considered a first-rounder before the season began. Alexander is quick, physical and plays with the right blend of speed and balance. He might be a nickel, given his size (5’11”, 192 lbs), but he’s moving into my top 32.

2. NFL Draft Faller: RB Royce Freeman, Oregon

Royce Freeman was a super productive back throughout college and one of my favorite players to watch over the last four years, but his draft stock has taken a hit after the combine and with more film study for our NFL Draft 400 project. Freeman had over 1,000 touches in college and was banged up in 2016. That heavy workload could be detrimental to his longevity at the next level. Add to that a lack of explosiveness, and he looks like a Day 3 prospect.                 

1. A new Stick to Football episode is ready for download. If you haven’t already, subscribe and leave a five-star review!

This week, Connor Rogers and I look at how the rash of free-agent signings and trades affect the upcoming draft and are joined by Florida State safety Derwin James. 

Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.