Winners, losers in free agency: Cheers to Commanders, ode to OGs

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Two short years ago when the confetti flew at the start of the 2022 NFL league year, lines formed to congratulate the biggest winners of the early transaction period.

And who could blame them, what with the Denver Broncos solving a years-old quarterback quandary by trading away multiple players, draft picks and ultimately committing hundreds of millions for the magic elixir.

Well, Russell Wilson stands to count a record $85 million against the salary cap for the Broncos in 2024 while suiting up for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Wilson won 11 of his 30 starts but takes with him a parting gift of the $161 million guaranteed from Denver for two years of service and a grand total of zero postseason snaps.

We’re going to avoid the obvious — 35-year-old, physically limited quarterback Kirk Cousins ($180 million with Falcons) and pass rusher Brian Burns (traded to Giants, deal includes $76 million guaranteed) are definitely lucky ducks, but you don’t need us to point that out.

It’s with this caveat we present the early reaction to the trades, signings and expected deals two days into the 2024 NFL league year. Please, hold the confetti.

Contract numbers are as reported by multiple outlets and listed by Spotrac.com.

–Free Agency Winners Offensive guards If you haven’t seen new Panthers guard Robert Hunt moving in the open field, we recommend checking out the 6-foot-6, 327-pounder making a TD catch in the Dolphins-Ravens “Thursday Night Football” game that was called back because of a penalty. Hunt can play guard, tackle and probably salsa for his new salary of $20 million per year. He signed a five-year, $100 million deal to become a paver in front of the Panthers’ new-look offense and quarterback Bryce Young.

Hunt wasn’t the only big man to cash in.

The Eagles signed Landon Dickerson to an $84 million contract and is currently third in the NFL in total contract value at the position behind Hunt and Chris Lindstrom (Falcons), whose five-year deal is worth $102.5 million.

Patriots guard Michael Onwenu ranked No. 2 in total cash in his contract for 2024 at $26 million in 2024.

Running backs Two of the top five contracts in terms of total value were handed out within minutes of the negotiating window opening Tuesday.

Saquan Barkley jumped from the Eagles to the Giants for $37.75 million and Josh Jacobs was welcomed to the Green Bay Packers on a four-year, $48 million agreement. His $14.8 million in total cash is more than Barkley will make this season — $13.25 million — and the 2023 franchise-tagged backs are 1-2 in total cash this season.

Washington Commanders We knew they were planning to shop free agency, but Washington shuffled in 13 players in the first 48 hours of free agency without signing an individual that consumes more than 4.2 percent of the team’s total cap space.

Defensive end Dorance Armstrong received the largest guarantee at a total of $22.125 million over the course of his contract.

The Commanders still have a few highlight moments ahead in the offseason. Washington holds the No. 2 overall pick and six of the top 100 selections in the 2024 draft.

–Free Agency Losers Jacksonville Jaguars Not signing franchise-tagged pass rusher Josh Allen to a long-term extension before March 13 meant Jacksonville would roll the dice on a deal with wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who convinced two teams — the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans — to bring better bids to the ball.

Ridley wound up with $50 million guaranteed and signed a four-year, $92 million deal and then celebrated with a keyboard TD dance of a signoff in Jacksonville, posting the statement: Chess not checkers.

Jacksonville didn’t come up entirely empty-handed, luring Bills free agent Gabe Davis. That’s what we call a downgrade.

But the Jaguars also lost superior players at other positions, namely safety. Jacksonville signed Darnell Savage (Packers) and lost Rayshawn Jenkins to the Seahawks.

Chicago Bears By now, it’s not clear to the outside world what the plan is at quarterback.

If the Bears held the line on Justin Fields because they believe he’s the quarterback to build around — spoiler alert, they didn’t — kudos to general manager Ryan Poles.

But not finding a landing spot for Fields creates doubt about the big picture.

Poles isn’t out of shots by any stretch. There’s the matter of the NFL draft, No. 1 and No. 9 overall picks, and plenty of free agency left.

Credit for re-signing cornerback Jaylon Johnson and landing an every-down running back in D’Andre Swift. Will he hold up in a regular role?

As for needs, can Poles still find proper solutions in bargain pass rushers and wide receivers and further repair an offensive line we’d rate as mediocre before picking his prize at quarterback?