How Has Free Agency Changed the NFL Draft?
Please draw your attention to the above picture for a moment. You’ll see a picture of Carlos Hyde getting the football. In this picture, Hyde was a member of the San Francisco 49ers. Next time we see Hyde running the ball, he’ll be a member of the Cleveland Browns. Hyde isn’t the only player to sign with a new team. Many other notable players such as Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, and Teddy Bridgewater have also signed new contracts with new teams.
Why is this significant? Everything we thought we knew about the NFL Draft may have just changed. We’ve all been creating mock drafts of which team drafts what players. It was fairly easy to decide who would go where, or at least what position a team would draft before this frenzy started, especially at the top of the draft. We thought our mock drafts looked good, but then the frenzy that is free agency dropped a few bombs on our mock drafts.
My question is, how has free agency changed the draft? Below I’ve broken down how free agent signings could change the NFL Draft, starting with the Cleveland Browns. I haven’t included every team, but the teams I feel could change the course of the draft the most because of who they’ve signed.
1. Cleveland Browns
One thing we think about when we think about who the Browns will draft, is a quarterback. It’s always that way because they seem to draft a new one every year. This offseason has been pretty much the same, but then the Browns signed Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is considered a bridge quarterback for the Browns, so quarterback is still very much in play for this team, but the question becomes which pick they’ll use on a quarterback. Will it be pick one or pick four?
As mentioned above, Carlos Hyde has signed with the Cleveland Browns. Before this signing by the Browns, many of us thought they’d use the number one overall pick on running back Saquon Barkley. While it’s still possible they could select Barkley, the presence of Carlos Hyde makes it much less likely. If the Browns don’t draft Barkley first, they’ll almost surely use the pick on a quarterback. The question then becomes, where will Barkley land? Will he be there at pick four? Probably not. If he’s not, who do the Browns pick fourth overall?
2. New York Giants
Who the Giants draft second overall could heavily depend on who the Browns pick first, or will it? Two of the most common picks I’ve seen for the Giants are quarterback and running back. Eli Manning is at the end of his career and the Giants should be looking for his eventual replacement. Do they find his replacement this year? Quarterback will be an option for the Giants regardless of who the Browns select.
If the Browns don’t select Saquon Barkley, will the Giants take him? They need a better running game, but they just signed Jonathan Stewart. Would that prevent them from taking Barkley? If the Giants decide to draft Barkley and not take a quarterback, that leaves another team we may not have expected to take a quarterback to draft one.
3. Indianapolis Colts
What would the Colts do if Saquon Barkley was available at pick three? They need a better running game, but they also need to improve their pass rush. They’d have to decide between Bradley Chubb and Saquon Barkley. I don’t think they’d go wrong with either choice. I’d personally go with Barkley, but that’s not up to me. Either way, the Colts would get a great player.
4. Cleveland Browns Again
If the Colts selected Saquon Barkley, the Browns could draft Bradley Chubb. Could you imagine having Chubb and Myles Garrett on the same defensive line? If the Colts select Chubb, the Browns then have a second chance to draft Saquon Barkley. Maybe the Browns don’t take either of these guys and go with a player like Minkah Fitzpatrick.
5. Denver Broncos
As we can see from the possible situations above, one team picking a certain player can lead another team to take someone else. Let’s say that everything goes pretty much according to how we’ve been mocking up to this point and Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, and the top two quarterbacks are off the board at pick five. Two popular picks for the Broncos have been a quarterback and Notre Dame guard, Quenton Nelson.
Denver signed Case Keenum in free agency. Will they still draft a quarterback to eventually be their starter, or do they draft Quenton Nelson to protect Case Keenum? If they don’t take a quarterback, it leaves a quarterback for another team to select later on down the road.
6. New York Jets
After missing out on Kirk Cousins, the Jets went with their backup plan at quarterback by signing Teddy Bridgewater. Would Bridgewater stop the Jets from drafting a quarterback? It’s not very often I’ve seen a mock draft where the Jets don’t take a quarterback. I don’t think Bridgewater is the answer, but maybe the Jets do. If Denver still drafts a quarterback, would the Jets consider Quenton Nelson? Do they take Minkah Fitzpatrick? Again, if it’s not a quarterback, it leaves a quarterback for another team down the road.
12. Buffalo Bills
This is jumping down a little ways, but the concept remains the same. After trading Tyrod Taylor, the Bills traded up to get pick twelve in the draft. We all knew why the Bills were trading up. They didn’t want to run the risk of not getting the quarterback they wanted, or maybe not getting one at all.
Then the Bills signed A.J. McCarron. It has been his intentions to be a starting quarterback. There have been reports that the Bills are still looking to trade up in the draft, but is that to get a quarterback or another player they’re targeting? I personally think they should still be targeting a quarterback, but the Bills might be thinking differently. If they do target a quarterback and the situations above play out differently than we expect, the Bills could have a lot more quarterback options to choose from than they might think.
15. Arizona Cardinals
Arizona has been in need of a quarterback this offseason, so they went out and signed two in free agency. Both Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon were brought in. Does this mean they’re done looking for a quarterback? Hopefully not. It is a possibility for them though, especially after releasing safety Tyrann Mathieu. Could they be targeting a player like Derwin James? The picture if a lot more unclear than it was before free agency started. Once again, if they choose to go a route that’s not quarterback, it leaves those quarterbacks to be chosen by another team.
Free Agency is Sure to Change the Draft
We’ve seen some interesting moves in free agency so far. Those moves are sure to change the shape of the NFL Draft, but in what way exactly is unclear. Draft madness will start with the first overall pick and work it’s way down through the draft. The situations above have so many different options, and that’s not even considering trades. There’s still a good amount of time left before the draft, and I’m sure we’ll hear more rumors about who’s drafting who before then. Until then, we’re going to create our mock drafts like we always do. All I can to you and myself included, is good luck!