It’s hard to top a night when Odell Beckham gets traded and Le’Veon Bell heads to New York. The first official day of the NFL’s new league year ultimately didn’t contain as many fireworks as the frenetic first two days of the week, but there were plenty of transactions that will shape NFL Sundays for years to come. Here were the big takeaways from Wednesday:
1) Earl Thomas in Baltimore feels so right.
I love when an all-time great is allowed a chance to author a memorable second chapter to his career. I love when a franchise continues a rich tradition of greatness at a position. The Ravens‘ signing of Earl Thomas accomplished both.
From Ed Reed to Eric Weddle to Earl Thomas, the attacking Ravens‘ defense has always been anchored by a center fielder who can run the show and cover ground. Reed and Thomas are two of the greatest to ever do it. Weddle’s release makes more sense following this move, with Thomas now able to prey on the confusion that quarterbacks feel when they go up against Baltimore’s blitzes.
After an exodus of talent the last two days, it was clear the Ravens had a lot of work to do. Thomas’ signing is a huge start because it helps give the team’s defense an identity in the back end. In Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Tony Jefferson and Thomas, the Ravens may have the deepest, most talented secondary in football. Their system can help create pressure up front and the secondary can make the pass rush look better by forcing quarterbacks to hold the ball. Thomas’ time in Seattle was clearly over. But he will only be 30 years old this season and is always a huge difference-maker when he’s on the field. The Ravens gave Thomas the huge payday he was hoping for and they also give him a chance to become an inner-circle Hall of Fame-type player, with a second peak playing on a team that will know just how to maximize his unique skills.
The Ravens have more moves to make on both sides of the ball, but agreeing to terms with Mark Ingram was a step in the right direction. He didn’t cost anything more than Latavius Murray did in New Orleans and fits the rugged mold of running backs that have thrived in Baltimore. Ingram figures to share the workload with Gus Edwards and Lamar Jackson for an attack that is the early favorite to lead the league in carries again. Now they just need to find some receivers for Jackson to throw to.
2) Bargain shopping has already begun.
Free agency moves faster every season. Sometime after the Thomas deal came together, it felt like "Phase two: bargain shopping" began. The Panthers brought back tackle Daryl Williams, a second-team All-Pro coming off a major surgery, on a one-year, $6 million contract. That’s a great risk worth taking in a market that paid Ju’Wuan James and Trent Brown like superstars.
Running back Tevin Coleman, who may have been waiting for Le’Veon Bell to sign to find a home because they share an agent, had to settle for a two-year contract with the 49ers worth up to $10 million. That’s similar to the money that Adrian Peterson got to return to the Redskins. Niners coach Kyle Shanahan knows how successful Coleman can be in his system based on their time together in Atlanta, even if Coleman will have to compete for carries in a crowded backfield that includes Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida. There are still quality players available like Justin Houston and K.J. Wright, with most of them unlikely to come at top-market prices.
3) An era ends in Kansas City.
The Chiefs releasing Eric Berry on Wednesday makes sense. The writing was on the wall after they signed Tyrann Mathieu. Berry’s played in just three games in the last two years and there’s no telling if he can physically hold up to NFL play again. But it’s worth remembering that he’s an all-time great Chief, the heartbeat of their team throughout this decade. After shedding Berry, Justin Houston and Dee Ford this week, the Chiefs‘ defense is going to have a dramatically different identity in 2019.
The Jaguars officially released Blake Bortles on Wednesday, but Ryan Tannehill curiously remains on the Dolphins‘ roster. Miami convinced Teddy Bridgewater to visit the team’s facility Wednesday night, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, after reports that Bridgewater was staying put in New Orleans as Drew Brees‘ backup. Perhaps the Dolphins will close the deal to sign Bridgewater, but Tannehill’s continued presence on the roster indicates there could be a chance he stays. It’s not like they have better veteran options, and they’d be taking on a healthy chunk of dead cap money just to get rid of Tannehill.
Tyrod Taylor, believed to be a potential target for the Dolphins, signed a two-year contract in Los Angeles to be Philip Rivers‘ backup. Nick Foles and Joe Flacco are long gone. The Dolphins‘ quarterback situation remains as wide open as any in the league and would certainly be Tannehill’s only chance to start. It’s hard to figure where Tannehill could wind up if released, just like it’s hard to find a path to snaps for Bortles anytime soon.
5) Al Davis would be proud.
With three gleaming Super Bowl trophies in the background, Jon Gruden, Antonio Brown and Mike Mayock beamed from the podium in a scene that would have looked completely insane to humans in 2017. Sometimes it’s worth taking a step back to note just how crazy this league can be, how quickly an entire franchise can change — that tableau certainly did it.
The press conference didn’t prevent Mayock and Gruden from staying active Wednesday, as they signed former Chargers receiver Tyrell Williams to a contract worth $11 million per season. Williams should see plenty of single coverage opposite Antonio Brown, with Jordy Nelson likely to move into the slot, assuming he stays on the team. If Gruden’s history says anything, it’s that the Raiders have more big moves to make.
6) The quiet teams begin to make their moves.
Only 12 of our top-50 free agents remain available, but the majority of the free-agent transactions for the offseason are still to come. The next few days could include surprising trades, and we should definitely see an uptick in action from some of the quieter teams of the week, such as the Patriots, Steelers and Colts.
Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard rewarded cornerback Pierre Desir with a strong three-year contract on Wednesday. The Patriots are bringing back role players Jason McCourty, John Simon and Phillip Dorsett. These are the types of moves that will continue over the next week, transactions that aren’t great for press conferences but will surely figure into which teams are still playing next January. The 11 teams other than the Browns, of course.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.