For all those fans of the Raiders and Jets who believed in that rebuilding-program message, their teams have handed them a big “never mind” this week.
For fans of the Giants and Steelers, well, maybe that rebuilding tag should be placed on them.
During the frenzied two days of “legal tampering” before the NFL’s 2019 business year begins — and even beforehand in Oakland’s case — the future became now for Jon Gruden and Adam Gase. All that talk about setting a solid foundation through the draft and youngsters? A lot of it was just talk.
Gruden’s first season in his return as Oakland’s coach was lowlighted by dealing away perhaps his two best players, Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper. The word was that having three first-round draft choices this April would provide a strong base for the franchise when it arrives in Las Vegas next year.
The magic word now for the Raiders is spend. They are bringing in pro football’s best receiver of the last decade, Antonio Brown, and giving him more than $50 million over the next three years, with $30 million guaranteed.
They agreed to a $66 million contract ($36.75 million guaranteed) with left tackle Trent Brown, whose blocking not only filled a void in New England but helped the Patriots to another championship. And the Raiders will be paying $42 million over four years for safety Lamarcus Joyner .
These are not negative moves. If Trent Brown plays the way he did protecting Tom Brady, Derek Carr will do a lot more smiling. Having Antonio Brown as a target — until the wideout begins complaining he isn’t getting enough action — also will bring a wide grin to Carr’s face. And Joyner is better than nearly all of Oakland’s defenders.
But when did the frugality that cost them Mack, arguably the NFL’s best defensive player, and the long-range plan that led to Cooper’s departure turn into opening the vault so wide?
At least the Jets were more transparent in their approach . They believe they found their franchise quarterback last spring when they drafted Sam Darnold, and they had been pointing to the 2019 offseason — and more than $82 million of cap space — to fill in holes.
Still, their spending spree also indicates they’ve become impatient in pursuit of a turnaround in a division where, frankly, combining the rosters of the Jets, Bills and Dolphins might not provide a team capable of knocking the Patriots from their throne.
New York’s additions should help lift the Jets from the depths of the AFC, though. C.J. Mosley is a quality linebacker who was overshadowed by Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle in Baltimore. He gets a monstrous deal of $85 million over five years, with $51 guaranteed. Such money means the Jets expect to get an All-Pro caliber player.
The Jets also dived into the receivers pool, but not like the Raiders and Browns did. Adding Jamison Crowder and Josh Bellamy bolsters a mediocre pass-catching corps, but not significantly.
Where the Jets are making a huge step toward respectability is bringing in Le’Veon Bell , the best player in this crop and exactly the kind of weapon Darnold needs to help his development. Yes, there are concerns Bell could be rusty, and he’s one wrong off-field move away from a lengthy league suspension. He’s also the right fit for a club whose best recent successes came with high-quality running backs such as Hall of Famers Curtis Martin and LaDainian Tomlinson and the dependable Thomas Jones.
With Bell in the Meadowlands and Brown in the Bay Area, the Steelers have taken some huge hits. Their streakiness won’t disappear as they retool, and there are question marks throughout their roster.
As for the Giants, the furor over the departures of two of their three best players, Beckham and Landon Collins — he went to division-rival Washington — already is intense. It will grow until the draft, when perhaps the team’s fans will calm down should New York land its replacement for 38-year-old quarterback Eli Manning.
This question lingers, though: Why re-sign Beckham last year, making him the highest-paid wideout in NFL history, then make this deal? Perhaps the Giants saw how Brown maneuvered his way out of Pittsburgh for less than equal value and feared a disgruntled Beckham would try the same.
Regardless, it certainly seems off-kilter that the folks who wear green to MetLife Stadium are being praised, and those who wear blue are being excoriated.