So this is really happening. The most compelling NFL free agency period of our lifetime is about to happen during an unprecedented time for the world swirling around it.
The NFL's memo that the league year would indeed start on time was first reported by NFL Network's Tom Pelissero just before 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, only 17 hours before teams will be able to start negotiating with players from other organizations. The NFL and NFL Players Association discussed moving the calendar year back according to all of our NFL Network insiders, but it didn't happen. The news capped a 24-hour period that included the league's players approving a new collective bargaining agreement by a narrow margin, ensuring labor peace until 2030, an extra playoff team in each conference and a 17th regular season game that will start no earlier than 2021. In between those league-shaking news items, we saw a huge quarterback contract and trade agreed to. There has never been a day quite like it in league history, because there's never been a time quite like this in modern history. There is no instruction manual for how to conduct business during a global pandemic.
Based on Sunday, it appears the NFL news cycle will look like business as usual. The Titans agreed to terms with Ryan Tannehill on a massive four-year contract, just in time to free up their franchise tag for Derrick Henry. (That deadline for tagging players remains Monday at 11:59:59 a.m. ET.) In trading Calais Campbell to the Ravens, the Jaguars made the type of move that rebuilding teams make, while Baltimore made the type of acquisition that championship teams make. The market for Tom Brady is dwindling, and the Patriots now have until Wednesday to sign him before taking a $13.5 million cap hit, whether he plays in New England this year or not.
How COVID-19 impacts the rest of the league's offseason remains to be seen, and perhaps that uncertainty is one reason why free agency is going off as planned this week. With so much potentially on hold in the months ahead, teams and players will mostly know what their 2020 roster will look like by this time next week.
This is all foreign territory for those inside the league and those covering it, but there's not much else to do right now than to react to the news as it comes. I'll be writing daily right here -- and podcasting with my Around The NFL cohorts. I'll just be doing it from home.
Here are the rest of my big takeaways from Sunday's news:
1) The Titans were smart to get Ryan Tannehill's contract done, even if the terms were surprising. Tannehill's ability to secure $62 million fully guaranteed on a four-year contract is proof that he was never going anywhere. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported all along that the Titans were determined to bring back Tannehill, and this contract shows it. Tom Brady was never their primary option.
The contract is essentially for two years and $62 million with a strong likelihood it's a three-year deal, unless Tannehill totally tanks in 2020. Rapoport reported via a source that the third year of Tannehill's deal will be guaranteed by the fifth day of the 2021 league year, meaning that the Titans could only avoid paying it if they decide to completely give up on Tannehill next offseason at a considerable cost. It's a lot like a better version -- for Tannehill -- of Nick Foles' contract with the Jaguars.
There is risk involved in committing to Tannehill, but not as much risk as trying to sign Brady heading into his age-43 season or seeing what's behind door No. 3 in free agency. I've seen too many analysts discount Tannehill's performance in the 2019 campaign, crediting the historic running game in the playoffs that led to the Titans' AFC Championship Game appearance. Those analysts must not have watched Tannehill in the regular season. He didn't just put up good numbers; he put up the best numbers in football in yards per attempt, completion percentage above expected and Pro Football Focus grading. His deep ball and athleticism fit the Titans' offense perfectly. His performance was an outlier compared to the rest of his career, but it was also his first season away from a nightmarish situation with the Dolphins.
Folks also need to calm down about the price tag. Quarterback contracts are skyrocketing, and in two years, this one will likely be outside the top 12-15 players at the position. All contracts are about to skyrocket under this new collective bargaining agreement, and the deals done early may look like bargains in the long run. It would have been crazy for the Titans to not run it back with Tannehill, which also opens up the Titans' franchise tag. ...
2) Look for the Titans to tag Derrick Henry. Rapoport reported that negotiations between Henry and the Titans on a long-term deal have gone nowhere. Paying Henry just over $10 million on a one-year contract is a perfect way to keep the band together in Tennessee without risking the long-term pain associated with recent running back contracts. The Titans should still have plenty of flexibility in cap room to make improvements to the team that took out the Patriots and Ravens in January. (UPDATE: The Titans placed the franchise tag on Henry, NFL Network's Mike Giardi reported Monday.) Speaking of which ...
3) Tom Brady has already lost a little leverage. It sure looks like the Titans enjoyed not shooting down those Brady rumors in Nashville a little too much. By letting the Brady speculation fester and even contributing to it with Mike Vrabel's kind words and FaceTime calls, the Titans did their best to raise doubts while negotiating with Tannehill. It's a strange world when Brady is being used as leverage for Ryan Tannehill, but "it's a strange world" sums up most anything in March 2020.
NBC's Chris Simms -- who has Kyle Shanahan's initials tattooed on his body -- reported on Sunday that the 49ers are not in on Tom Brady. The 49ers and Titans may have represented places Brady wanted to go -- and successfully got reporters to speculate about -- but it's clear now Tennessee was never that interested. Whether Brady is truly willing to sign with the Bucs or Chargers remains to be seen, but it sure looks like his safest move remains staying in New England.
4) The Ravens' acquisition of Calais Campbell was a no-brainer. Rapoport reported that the Ravenswill send a fifth-round pick to Jacksonville in exchange for the reigning Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner. Sure, Campbell is about to turn 34 years old. But he's still a huge difference maker, ranking in PFF's top five players at his position whether looking at him as an interior player or as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Campbell's flexibility and ability to push the pocket fit perfectly in a big Ravens front line that needed more juice. The Ravens committed $20 million guaranteed to Campbell on a new two-year, $27 million contract that should stack up favorably to other deals handed out in free agency. It's one of those trades I can imagine CBS' Jim Nantz referencing incredulously in January: "The Ravens got Campbell for WHAT?!"
5) The Jaguars are clearly in rebuild mode. There aren't many pieces left, even on defense, of the team that made the 2017 AFC Championship Game. Most organizations that truly restart from scratch do so after some prolonged success. The Jaguars have enjoyed one season with more than six victories since 2010.
6) The Colts already got one of the steals of free agency. The two-year, $33 million contract given to Colts tackle Anthony Castonzo is a big victory for both sides. Castonzo, who thought about retirement, committed to playing two more seasons. The Colts also got him at a hometown discount. There's no question that Castonzo could have made more than that in a barren free agent market for tackles.
7) The Patriots will look different in 2020, but not as different as you might think. The team reached agreement Sunday night with safety Devin McCourty on a two-year, $23 million contract, just days after news leaked out that they would bring back his brother Jason McCourty. They also re-signed perennial Pro Bowl special teamer Matt Slater to a deal on Friday, retaining some of the aging core that won so many games for them last decade. Tom Brady is obviously the biggest question left on the table for the team, but other starters like guard Joe Thuney, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and linebacker Jamie Collins appear set to hit free agency. (UPDATE: Rapoport reported Monday that the Patriots are using the franchise tag on Thuney.)
8) The Texans made a necessary gamble by signing cornerback Bradley Roby before free agency. If three years and $36 million seems rich for Roby, it is. But just wait until the other free agent cornerbacks sign! The Texans know what Roby can do after having him in the building for the last year. He has a high ceiling, and they desperately need bodies in the secondary. If Bill O'Brien believes Roby is worth that sort of commitment, it's a better risk to take than paying even more in a market where most everyone available has a few warts.