Clockwise, from top left: Kirk Cousins, Saquon Barkley, Danielle Hunter...

Clockwise, from top left: Kirk Cousins, Saquon Barkley, Danielle Hunter and Derrick Henry. Credit: AP

In the farewell to Giants fans that he eventually got around to posting online, Saquon Barkley thanked the organization, the city and the people who inhabit both. His last words to them:

“Ultimately, the NFL is a business,” he wrote, “and I hope everyone can respect my decision.”

Most won’t, of course. They took it hard, and made it personal, and couldn’t fathom a world in which anyone would rather be an Eagle than a Giant. Sure, it was the Giants who initiated this move by letting the running back walk, but, they undoubtedly think, Benedict Barkley should have at least had the courtesy to walk further away than the closest geographic division rival in the NFL, not to mention a hated one that has made life fairly miserable for New York over the past decade.

But if this offseason has so far taught us anything, it’s that the grudges and acrimonies and bitterness that all exist on the outside, that frankly help make football so exciting and intense, don’t really live inside the players themselves. Barkley was one of quite a few big-name free agent mercenaries to turn heel and make the conscious jump to a division rival this week.

Patrick Queen went from the Ravens to the Steelers. Calvin Ridley from the Jaguars to the Titans. Jordan Poyer from the Bills to the Dolphins. It seemed as if Aaron Jones, once cut by the Packers, made it his mission to haunt them by signing with the Vikings. Dan Quinn, new head coach in Washington, poached several Cowboys players to come along with him.

While Barkley at least showed some outward signs of struggle with this new perception of him, others embraced it whole-heartedly.

"It's going to be weird,” Queen said of swapping sides at his introductory news conference in Pittsburgh on Friday, “but I mean, you know, I want to be that villain. I want to be that guy. I'm looking to do some stuff to them."

All of these so-called betrayals will only serve to make the already salty rivalries in the league taste even spicier this fall. It’s all part of the business of football, as Barkley said, and, in the end, it’s football itself that comes out on top.

As for the rest of free agency, here is a look at some of the teams that made themselves much better this past week, and a few who seemed to be stuck in their own muck:



There was one clear-cut starting quarterback on the market in this cycle (sorry, Russ) and the Falcons landed him. Sure, it took $180 million over four years to make it happen. Yeah, there is no guarantee he’ll be ready for the start of the season coming back from a torn Achilles. And, yes, Atlanta probably did some tampering to check on his medical records before they were allowed to. But Kirk Cousins is the player best suited to bring Bijan Robinson, Drake London and Kyle Pitts to life and make the Falcons the odds-on favorites to win the NFC South. Adding receiver Darnell Mooney is a nice touch, too.


How do you make the best of the retirement of two long-time franchise staples in Jason Kelce and Fletcher Cox? Spend the money that their departures saved you on a fresh crop of playmakers. That’s what Howie Roseman did, digging deep into the coffers to land Barkley, Bryce Huff, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Devin White while also retaining free agents Landon Dickerson and Jake Elliott. All of them will be fun toys for two new highly-regarded coordinators — Kellen Moore and Vic Fangio — to play with. They were also in position to catch Kenny Pickett as a backup quarterback after he fell out of favor in Pittsburgh. This could be one of the rare times when winning the offseason translates to the regular season and postseason.


A third bird team that fluffed its feathers this week. The Ravens clearly learned from their downfall in the AFC title game and went about upgrading their backfield. Now they have one of the top running duos in the game in quarterback (and reigning MVP) Lamar Jackson and newly signed Derrick Henry. The big bruising back from Tennessee will be a difference-maker in the traditionally physical AFC North. It would have been nice to hang on to Queen but he was a luxury. More significant was their ability to retain defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, who led all three-technique linemen in 2023 with 13 sacks, 33 QB hits and 38 QB pressures per NextGen Stats. For a team that wasn’t all that far away from the tippy-top of the league a few months ago, the Ravens have gotten even better.


With the quarterback position finally settled thanks to returning Offensive Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud, and one of his favorite targets, tight end Dalton Schultz re-signed, Houston turned its attention to defense. They improved dramatically at the first three levels of that unit, signing Denico Autry up front, Azeez Al-Shaair at linebacker and, in one of the biggest pickups of the week, nabbing edge rusher Danielle Hunter on a two-year deal. Hunter and Will Anderson Jr. will be pass-rushing headaches for every team the Texans face. The one improvement on offense came by way of a trade with the Bengals for running back Joe Mixon.


Joe Schoen let a lot of talent walk out the door in Barkley and Xavier McKinney while getting nothing in return for them (although the comp pick calculators will chew on that next spring). But he also took the biggest swing of his tenure as general manager by trading for and then signing Brian Burns, a young defensive stud who has the chance to become an absolute game-wrecker on a team that has lacked that kind of impact for several seasons. A week ago in this space we challenged Schoen to find a new face of the franchise. Burns has a chance at being that. The Giants didn’t pour money into the top of the market at offensive line but added some nice players in Jon Runyan Jr., Jermain Eluemunor, Aaron Stinnie and Austin Schlottman. Instead of searching for greatness at five positions, the Giants’ plan for the O-line (what are we up to there, Plan G? H? T?) seems to be eliminating the holes of functionality with steadiness and competence. Running back Devin Singletary certainly isn’t Barkley, but he has experience with Brian Daboll from Buffalo, postseason starts on his resume and he comes in at about half the price. There is still work to do — including the potential for a quarterback in the draft — but it feels like the Giants have a plan for the first time in a while.



There was only one team in the entire league that didn’t come to a single free agency agreement with a player on Monday when the negotiating period opened up. Yep, the one with the owner who had said just a few weeks earlier that he was going to be “all-in” for 2024. Since then they have lost their Hall of Fame tackle (new Jet Tyron Smith), starting center (Tyler Biadasz), starting running back (Tony Pollard), a starting receiver (Michael Gallup) and linebacker (Leighton Vander Esch) without replacing any of them. The only players they have added are Eric Kendricks and C.J. Goodwin. The Cowboys should have gotten long-term deals done with Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb to free up some money for this wave of free agency but have been dragging out those negotiations too. Maybe at some point Dallas will wake up and join the rest of the league in the roster-building portion of the calendar, but until they do that Jerry Jones “all-in” comment will be more a punchline than an actual promise.


Few teams sacrificed more at the altar of the salary cap than Buffalo did this year. You could put together a pretty decent roster starting with just the players the Bills had to say goodbye to around the start of this league year: WR Gabe Davis, DE Leonard Floyd, S Jordan Poyer, RB Nyheim Hines, C Mitch Morse, CB Siran Neal. The one thing the Bills still have going for them is their quarterback, Josh Allen, and they were able to retain LT Dion Dawkins and G David Edwards to protect him. Dawkins pulled an all-time social media prank, sending out a post that indicated he would be leaving in free agency before quickly recanting and proclaiming himself “Buffalo for life.”


This is a franchise that is starting over . . . but so far minus the starting. All they have done is dump players, including wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (traded to Cleveland) safety Justin Simmons (released) and, of course, Russell Wilson, the quarterback they will be paying $39 million this season while having him count for $53 million in dead money against their cap . . . all while he plays for the Steelers. At some point this franchise will put the build in rebuild, perhaps in time for the draft, but for now it’s mostly an eyesore of mismanagement and an ugly dismantling.


Jim Harbaugh may already be nostalgic for the nearly limitless funds of big-time college football as opposed to the cap-strapped team he signed up to lead. They did add Gus Edwards, a physical runner, but had to let Austin Ekeler walk away along with WR Mike Williams and TE Gerald Everett. Then they wound up trading WR Keenan Allen to the Bears for a fourth-round pick. The good news is they were able to restructure and keep Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack.


A year after making one of the big offseason moves, acquiring quarterback Derek Carr, the Saints are stuck idling through this offseason. They did add Willie Gay from Kansas City to give them some punch at linebacker, but the financially-strapped Saints just don’t have the maneuverability to make big splashes. Making matters worse are the improvements made by the Falcons, the stability brought to the Bucs with Baker Mayfield, and the it-can’t-possibly-get-worse Panthers in their division. Last season should have been their time to pounce and they didn’t. Now they have to pay for that missed opportunity.


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