NFL free-agency takeaways: Execs on Beckham, Bell, the Raiders and more

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While NFL free agency was ramping up, tabloid photos showed a shirtless New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick winding down on a beach in Barbados, girlfriend at his side.

An admiring coach from a rival team marveled at the juxtaposition.

"While Bill is strolling on the beach," this coach said, "his proteges are out there working with metal detectors looking for the shiniest specks that they can turn over for $18 million a year."

Indeed, that was the reported price the Detroit Lions, led by former Belichick underlings Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn, paid for free-agent Patriots defensive lineman Trey Flowers. That signing and the Patriots' inactivity in the unrestricted market will probably send a 2020 third-round compensatory pick to New England.

Meanwhile, the Patriots traded for defensive lineman Michael Bennett, who has been more productive than Flowers and will cost $7.2 million this coming season.

You already knew the Patriots were ahead of the game.

The following takeaways from the first day of free agency weren't so obvious. They come directly from conversations with more than a dozen team executives and other insiders discussing the hottest topics, including: the New York Giants' trade of Odell Beckham Jr., what people typically miss regarding Le'Veon Bell, and thoughts on what the Oakland Raiders' moves mean for Derek Carr.

Takeaway No. 1: The Giants aren't talking about drafting a quarterback, but they might be clearing a path for one

Evaluators have long credited the Patriots for accurately evaluating their own roster, a critical component of team building. That is where so many execs think the Giants went awry last year when they kept Eli Manning, drafted running back Saquon Barkley second overall, re-signed Odell Beckham Jr. and basically acted like a contender.

"Like most football guys, they overestimated themselves, which is why they extended Beckham, because they did not want him to be a distraction," an exec said. "Now they realize, 'S---, we were totally wrong. Now we do need a quarterback. Do we want to bring in a new quarterback and have Beckham screaming at him all the time to get him the damn ball?'"

From there, this exec theorized, the Giants traded Beckham to Cleveland, a team with an eager owner and a willing general manager.

"It lets the Giants convert Beckham into assets that will be more valuable with a young quarterback and let him develop the way he should, which is running the offense and not having to answer to one guy, and they made a decent deal," this exec said.

Reports surfaced Wednesday that the Giants would bring back Manning, and there were suggestions the team might not select a quarterback early in the upcoming draft. Meanwhile, Beckham will still be paired with a young quarterback in the Browns' Baker Mayfield, who might just possess the swagger to withstand what awaits.