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

NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport joins Tim and Sid to discuss NFL free-agent headlines, Calvin Johnson's retirement and the most likely landing spot for Robert Griffin III.

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 winner from Day 1 of NFL free agency?

LOWE: The Philadelphia Eagles. From the moment this week kicked off, it was clear Eagles VP of football ops Howie Roseman was set on erasing all of the damage done to his franchise by former head coach Chip Kelly. Roseman was able to turn Byron Maxwell’s horrible contract (along with disappointing linebacker Kiko Alonso) into a jump into the draft’s top 10, giving the team loads of flexibility in that respect.

The distraction of DeMarco Murray (who “took a year off”) is also gone, which is a win for the Eagles despite only moving up 13 spots in the fourth round of this year’s draft in exchange. The return doesn’t matter—Murray had to go.

Once the cleanse was complete, Philadelphia turned to real needs and they hit the mark: up-and-coming safety Rodney McLeod fills a long-standing void opposite of Malcolm Jenkins; after bringing in former Bills corner Leodis McKelvin on Tuesday, Nigel Bradham (LB) and Ron Brooks (CB) were signed, both of whom were successful under now-Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in Buffalo; and the interior of the offensive line was upgraded with the addition of former Texans guard Brandon Brooks.

The Eagles also brought in former Kansas City Chiefs backup Chase Daniel as No. 2 to Sam Bradford, but also to put a bit of pressure on the former No. 1 pick.

SIMMONS: The Minnesota Vikings. They didn’t get too involved with the funny money flying around on Day 1 of free agency, but made one key addition to address a position of weakness by bringing in former San Francisco 49ers guard Alex Boone on a reasonable deal to upgrade the offensive line. Boone will provide an element of toughness that was missing in the Vikings’ front five last season and will ultimately help shore up two positions as he can improve the left guard spot while Brandon Fusco can move back to his natural position on the right side. Protecting Teddy Bridgewater is essential for the Vikings’ progress in 2016.

BENNETT: Super agent Jimmy Sexton, who represents both Brock Osweiler and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Sexton negotiated last off-seasons’s most eye-popping deal when he brought Ndamukong Suh to Miami for a franchise-record $114 million, and he’s done it again on Day 1 with Osweiler’s $72-million dollar deal. His true power is he still has Fitzpatrick as the ace in his pocket after already seeing everyone’s deck when negotiating Osweiler’s deal. Now not only are the Broncos losing the top two QBs on their depth chart, but the Jets, Rams and 49ers all have great needs at the position. Sexton can use the leverage of great demand and little supply to drive Fitzpatrick’s number up north of what Osweiler made.

Sexton won Day 1 and is in pole position on Day 2.

HEATH-RAWLINGS: Brock Osweiler. Anytime a QB with less than half a season of utterly mediocre (and at times worse than that) service manages to land himself $72 million over four years, that man is a Donald Trump-approved “winner.” The other big winner, by the same token, is the Denver Broncos organization, who saw enough of Osweiler replacing Peyton Manning last season to realize that other people could probably replace Manning to the same result for a lot less money.

JOHNSTON: Olivier Vernon’s bank account. A ludicrous amount of cash was thrown around on the opening day of free agency, but no one took home more guaranteed money than Vernon’s $52.5 million (on a five-year, $85-million deal). That’s even more than the $51.8-million J.J. Watt was guaranteed when he signed his six-year, $100-million contract prior to the 2014 season.

By extension the New York Giants’ whole defensive line was a big winner. In addition to adding Vernon, they re-signed Jason Pierre-Paul and pried Damon Harrison from the Jets. Harrison is the best run-stopping defensive tackle in the NFL and playing alongside fellow tackle Johnathan Hankins in the middle with Vernon and J.P.P. rushing the passer from the outside should put a scare into opposing offences.

Honourable mention goes to the Oakland Raiders. They added Kelechi Osemele, Bruce Irvin and Sean Smith. In fact, I’m going on the record now saying the Raiders will win the AFC West next season. Book it!

For Day 1 losers, click here.

For Day 1 surprises, click here.

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