Down, set … whaaat?
NFL free agency opened with a stunner Thursday, as Houston traded big-money quarterback Brock Osweiler to Cleveland, while Tony Romo — who already had bid farewell to Dallas Cowboys fans — floated in limbo.
At first blush, it looked like an absurd move for the one-win Browns, seeing as Osweiler was a disappointment in his lone season with the Texans with 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
But it didn't take long for the possibilities of a larger plan to come into focus. By taking Osweiler off Houston's hands — a quarterback Cleveland could cut or trade — the Browns got an extra second-round pick that they could then package with one of their two first-round selections and make a run at Jimmy Garoppolo, Tom Brady's backup in New England.
The Browns are hoarding draft picks and currently have two first- and two second-rounders this year, and one first-rounder and three second-rounders next year.
Meanwhile, all signs pointed to the Texans trying to pry loose Romo, who last season became expendable in Dallas with the rise of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.
Initial reports were that the Cowboys would cut Romo on Thursday, but the club wound up hanging on to him, presumably to trade him to Houston, Denver, or perhaps Cleveland. As speculation percolated, Romo posted an emotional video to Twitter thanking fans for their support. It looked as if it was shot in the gym at his home, and playing on his phone was the Bob Dylan classic "The Times They Are A-Changin.'"
"Hey everyone, I just wanted to come tell you it's been a crazy 48 hours here," Romo said. "Me and my family felt the outpouring of support from all of you. It's been overwhelming and it doesn't go unnoticed. I want to say thank you and we have a lot to think about going forward but we'll see what happens. Until then I'm going to keep listening to Bob Dylan."
Such are the constantly moving chess pieces of free agency, which is arguably more impactful than the draft, at least in the short term.
The Rams were able to address their two biggest areas of need, picking up an offensive tackle in Andrew Whitworth, formerly of Cincinnati, and a receiver in Robert Woods, the onetime USC standout who spent his first three seasons in Buffalo.
The Chargers acquired left tackle Russell Okung (Denver), who acted as his own agent and, according to various reports, secured a four-year deal worth $53 million that includes $25 million guaranteed.
Carolina not only got a new left tackle for Cam Newton in Matt Kalil, but also united the former Minnesota offensive lineman with his older brother, center Ryan Kalil. Both played at USC.
Philadelphia, which came into the off-season in desperate need of receivers, grabbed a pair of seasoned standouts in Torrey Smith of San Francisco and Alshon Jeffery of Chicago. Jeffery reportedly turned down a multi-year offer from Minnesota to sign a one-year, $14-million deal with the Eagles, essentially betting on himself that he can put together a compelling season with quarterback Carson Wentz and secure an even more lucrative deal next year.
As expected, Chicago was the City of Broad Shrugging Shoulders, releasing quarterback Jay Cutler after eight seasons and just one playoff victory. The player once seen as the second coming of Sid Luckman broke all kinds of Bears passing records but never emerged as the centerpiece of a consistent winner. The franchise turned its attention to signing former Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon to a three-year deal reportedly worth an average of $14.5 million per season.
The retooled San Francisco 49ers didn't sit on their hands. They signed an array of free agents, among them quarterback Brian Hoyer (Chicago), receivers Pierre Garcon (Washington) and Marquise Goodwin (Buffalo), linebacker Malcolm Smith (Oakland), and kicker Robbie Gould (New York Giants).
Jacksonville's defensive makeover is underway, with the Jaguars signing massive defensive end Calais Campbell (Arizona), cornerback A.J. Bouye (Houston) and safety Barry Church (Dallas).
The rich get richer, and the Super Bowl champion Patriots made improvements on both sides of the ball, trading for tight end Dwayne Allen (Indianapolis) and agreeing to terms with free-agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore (Buffalo). Reports swirled Thursday that New England might trade cornerback Malcom Butler — who made the Super Bowl-saving interception against Seattle — to New Orleans for blistering-fast receiver Brandin Cooks.
The future is unclear for several big-name players, among them running backs Adrian Peterson (Minnesota) and Jamaal Charles (Kansas City), who are pricey and in their early 30s, and Romo, who knows change is on its way.