NFL free-agency Day 1 round-up: Biggest losers

Two disappointed Cleveland Browns fans. (Tony Dejak/AP)

Got a hot topic? Our NFL panel has opinions. The panel includes Sportsnet deputy editor Jordan Heath-Rawlings, staff writers Donnovan Bennett, Mike Johnston and Jeff Simmons, and associate editor Geoff Lowe.

Who’s the big loser from Day 1 of NFL free agency?

LOWE: New regime after new regime and the Cleveland Browns continue to make head-scratching decisions. Not only did the Browns lose two premier offensive linemen in Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz, they let Travis Benjamin walk and did absolutely nothing to replace that trio of players on the first day of free agency. Oh, and standout safety Tashaun Gipson also flew the coop.

Hell, they didn’t even manage to cut Johnny Manziel in hopes of getting something in return for the embattled quarterback via trade. Is it just me, or does that sound crazy?

And it’s not like the Browns are strapped for cash: according to Spotrac, Cleveland has almost $42 million in cap space. I understand the idea of building through the draft and not overspending on free agents, but the Browns have so many areas of need that remaining silent on the busiest day of the off-season makes little sense.

SIMMONS: Tom Coughlin, former New York Giants head coach. Coughlin’s tenure in New York, despite winning two Super Bowls, was ultimately cut short by a run of poor personnel decisions from the front office, caused mostly by a stretch of poor drafting that left the defence lacking talent. Well, New York went buck wild to address their issues on Wednesday, adding three big-time defensive starters on mega deals (Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins) to totally revamp the unit. Somewhere, Coughlin must’ve been all red-faced, wondering where the heck this kind of help was the last three seasons.

BENNETT: The Miami Dolphins. What is the point in drafting and developing good players if you can’t retain them? Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller—their most productive defensive and offensive players from last year—are at an age where they profile to play their best football in the coming years. But they’ll be playing it for someone else. Miller, for one, is only 24 years old, the youngest running back in free agency, and hasn’t had an injury history. The four years and $26 million he got from Houston seems very reasonable when you consider only $14 million is guaranteed.

To make matters worse, they also lost wide receiver Rishard Matthews to the Tennessee Titans after a career year.

Instead of retaining those guys, they took on two under-performing players from the Eagles in Byron Maxwell and Kiki Alonso (cutting Brent Grimes to make room), and gave Mario Williams two years and $17 million after his worst season with the division-rival Buffalo Bills. Individually or in concert, none of the Dolphins’ moves make sense.

HEATH-RAWLINGS: I’m not a fan of the Houston Texans’ signing of Brock Osweiler, but they also got Lamar Miller inked to a very economical deal and those two kind of balance out. Until further signings become apparent, though, the real losers are the Cleveland Browns, who have a ton of cap space, yet still managed to lose their best receiver from last season, Travis Benjamin, to the Chargers, and miss out on the biggest FA WR, Marvin Jones, who went to Detroit. And their losing went far beyond receiver, as centre Alex Mack, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and safety Tashaun Gipson all fled Cleveland as fast as possible. Those aren’t just four starters leaving—they’re arguably four of the Browns’ very best players. And why would any free agent look at the exodus and decide he wants to be a part of this mess?

JOHNSTON: Denver Broncos fans. The Broncos are still going to have an excellent defence, but they’re undoubtedly worse—on paper at least—than the team that just won the Super Bowl. Losing Malik Jackson to the Jacksonville Jaguars is a huge blow to their defensive line and linebacker Danny Trevathan joined the Chicago Bears. On top of that, Brock Osweiler, the supposed replacement for Peyton Manning, inked a massive deal with the Houston Texans, leaving Denver with a serious QB conundrum.

The silver lining to these players leaving is now they’ve got money to potentially re-sign/extend the likes of Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Brandon Marshall and Emmanuel Sanders, all of whom have contracts expiring at the end of the 2016 season.

For Day 1 winners, click here.

For Day 1 surprises, click here.

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