To understand how quickly things move in NFL free agency, consider how things used to be when players first won the right to go on the open market 25 years ago:
Reggie White was the most celebrated free agent in 1993, and the former Eagles star spent 37 days hopscotching across the country on visits — including a stop at the Jets — before agreeing to a four-year, $17-million deal with the Packers.
This year’s most highly- sought-after free agent? Former Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, who essentially agreed to a three-year, $84-million deal before free agency officially started at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Cousins finalized the deal over dinner that night.
Yes, life comes at you fast — especially in the NFL in March. Less than a week into free agency, just about every big name already is off the board.
Here’s a look at some of the hits and misses:
*** The Vikings went all in on Cousins and came away with perhaps the missing piece to a potential Super Bowl run. They had to fork over an entirely guaranteed contract — something that eventually could alter the contractual landscape for other high-priced players — but they had to go that route to outbid the Jets, who were willing to go as high as $30 million a season. Minnesota also signed former Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson to a one-year deal, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s a prove-it contract that indicates Richardson simply isn’t held in high regard around the league.
*** Jets GM Mike Maccagnan already had done a solid job in addressing needs this year with younger players as opposed to his free-agent spending splurge in 2015, when he signed aging stars Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie and then back-filled the roster with the acquisitions of Brandon Marshall, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Marcus Gilchrist. There was an initial surge with a 10-6 season, but it proved to be a sugar high; the Jets imploded in 2016 and went to a full rebuild last year. After missing out on Cousins, Maccagnan has addressed his issue at quarterback in a dramatic way, re-signing veteran Josh McCown, adding Teddy Bridgewater and then pulling off a stunning trade on Saturday to get to the No. 3 overall pick. He’s now in line to take one of the top quarterbacks in next month’s draft.
*** “In hog mollies we trust” ought to be Giants GM Dave Gettleman’s favorite expression. He hasn’t been on the job for even three months, but Gettleman already has made a huge dent in his biggest priority — rebuilding the offensive line with players he likes to call “hog mollies” after the tenacious fish. He spent big on Patriots free-agent left tackle Nate Solder, but that’s the cost of doing business, with the Patriots, Browns and Texans also in pursuit. Jaguars free-agent guard Patrick Omameh is a solid addition, and re-signing guard Jon Halapio, a restricted free agent, also helps. Gettleman already has improved the linebackers by adding Alec Ogletree and Kareem Martin, and although there’s work to be done at cornerback and safety, there’s definitive progress.
*** There’s a lot to like about what the 49ers have done since GM John Lynch, the former All- Pro safety, and coach Kyle Shanahan took over last year. That starts with the trade for Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who was terrific once he took over late last season, and the process continues with the acquisition of free- agent cornerback Richard Sherman, all-purpose running back Jerick McKinnon, a former Viking, and Giants free-agent center Weston Richburg.
*** Look, we’ll never sell the Patriots short, not when Bill Belichick is running the show and not when Tom Brady — even at age 40 — is playing quarterback. But they took a significant hit by losing Solder, wide receiver Danny Amendola, running back Dion Lewis and cornerback Malcolm Butler. Belichick is a brilliant roster-builder as well as coach, and he’ll make some smart moves to replace those players. The attrition rate feels higher than usual this year for a team that still is Super Bowl-worthy but whose window might be closing. One huge signing: Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn late Friday. He’s a terrific pass rusher who addresses the team’s biggest need, especially after New England couldn’t lay a finger on Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles in the Super Bowl.
*** Browns GM John Dorsey is in the midst of a major roster makeover and still has the draft ahead of him (Cleveland owns the first and fourth overall picks). He traded for Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry and Packers cornerback Damarious Randall and signed 49ers free-agent running back Carlos Hyde, among others. Look for Dorsey to come away with a blue-chip quarterback in the draft; Sam Darnold of USC seems like a safe bet at No. 1, although there’s still chatter about Penn State running back Saquon Barkley going that high. Dorsey’s track record suggests that he’ll go quarterback first, but we’ll see. Either way, Dorsey already has done a lot of the heavy lifting to get Cleveland out of its decades-long funk.
*** Tom Coughlin has helped reshape the Jaguars since being hired last year as the team’s football czar, and the process continued with his signing of coveted Panthers free-agent guard Andrew Norwell, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and cornerback D.J. Haden, as well as re-signing wide receiver Marqise Lee.
*** Trader Mike Tannenbaum is living up to his nickname with a series of bold moves in Miami, including the trade of Landry, the release of Ndamukong Suh and the acquisition of wide receiver Danny Amendola, guard Josh Sitton, center Daniel Kilgore and defensive end Robert Quinn. That’s a lot of churn on a roster that still needs help, but Tannenbaum is counting on the return of quarterback Ryan Tannehill from a knee injury to help get his team back to the playoffs.