Report Card Grades for the NFL's Top 50 Free-Agent Signings So Far

Wes StueveContributor IIIMarch 26, 2012

Report Card Grades for the NFL's Top 50 Free-Agent Signings So Far

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    Oh, free agency. It's the most exciting time of the year (for some of us, at least).

    In this year's NFL free agency, we saw something none of us thought we'd ever see:

    Peyton Manning.

    The Manning sweepstakes sort of dominated the news (as it should have), but plenty of other big moves were made. Some were good, some were great and some were awful.

    Do you want to know how your team stood up to the challenge of adding or keeping players as contracts expired?

    Look no further.

Jeff Saturday, Green Bay Packers

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    Contract: two years, $7.75 million

    This is a superb deal for the Packers. After losing Scott Wells, Green Bay needed to add a starting center, and they did so without breaking the bank.

    Jeff Saturday has been surrounded by awful linemen the past few years, so he's hard to judge. He's still young enough to play at a high level, though, and the Packers risk very little here.

    Grade: A

Mario Manningham, San Francisco 49ers

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    Contract: two years, $7.375 million

    Mario Manningham was expected to get a lot more money than this. The Giants' mental breakdowns and inconsistency hurt his value, however, and he had to settle for a modest two-year deal.

    San Francisco signed a potential steal here. Manningham is capable of a 1,000-yard season, and he adds a valuable piece to the 49ers offense. Wideouts with similar ability got a lot more money in free agency, so this is an absolute bargain. 

    Grade: A+

Stephen Tulloch, Detroit Lions

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    Contract: five years, $25.5 million

    Though not elite, Stephen Tulloch is a solid player. He's Detroit's best linebacker, and the Lions couldn't afford to let him walk.

    It's debatable how much money Tulloch is worth, but D'Qwell Jackson, another non-elite linebacker, got $42.5 million over five years.

    This isn't exactly a steal, but it's not a bad deal by any means.

    Grade: B

Michael Bush, Chicago Bears

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    Contract: four years, $14 million

    Michael Bush was expected to find a job as a starter, but he will back up Matt Forte in Chicago. Bush backed up Darren McFadden in Oakland, but he is capable of starting, a key factor for the Bears as they negotiate with Forte.

    As far as backup running backs go, Bush is an excellent one. His presence allows Chicago to give Forte more breaks while still being able to run the ball.

    Grade: B

Mark Anderson, Buffalo Bills

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    Contract: four years, $27.5 million

    After signing Mario Williams, the Bills were on the verge of forming an elite defensive line. Then they signed Mark Anderson to make a dominant trio a foursome.

    Adding Anderson wasn't a bad move, but the contract was. The ex-Bear racked up 10 sacks last year, but most of them were a result of good coverage, not his own abilities.

    Buffalo overpaid here, plain and simple.

    Grade: D

Brodrick Bunkley, New Orleans Saints

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    Contract: five years, $25 million

    The Saints apparently have no interest in re-signing Aubrayo Franklin or Shaun Rogers, so they needed to add someone along the interior defensive line. 

    Brodrick Bunkley has had some injury issues, but he was terrific in 2011. There is some element of risk here, so this doesn't get a perfect grade. However, Bunkley adds a strong presence in the middle of New Orleans' defense, and he should make a significant impact.

    Grade: A-

Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers

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    Contract: three years, $33 million

    This is more money than Alex Smith deserves, but the 49ers didn't have any other options. San Francisco went all in on Peyton Manning, and it should be commended for that. When it didn't work out, though, it had no other options.

    Smith isn't an upper-echelon quarterback, but his 2011 results were impressive. The 49ers won, and Smith's numbers were good. If the team won with him last year, it should be able to win with him next year.

    Grade: B

Kamerion Wimbley, Tennessee Titans

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    Contract: five years, $35 million

    Kamerion Wimbley hasn't put up a 10-sack season since 2006, but this isn't a terrible deal. The former No. 13 overall pick can get after the quarterback, which is something the Titans desperately need.

    Though he won't light the world on fire, Wimbley will produce reasonably well. Tennessee knows what it's getting, and that is the team's new best pass-rusher.

    Grade: B-

Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

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    Contract: five years, $96 million

    I don't care about the risk. This is all about the reward.

    When healthy, Peyton Manning is the NFL's best quarterback. He can make any team a winner, regardless of how little talent is there. Look at the 2010 Colts vs. the 2011 Colts.

    This signing instantly makes the Broncos a playoff contender. Not many other players in football can do that, and none of them were free agents.

    Grade: A+

Matt Flynn, Seattle Seahawks

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    Contract: three years, $26.5 million

    Well, at least Seattle added someone. The Seahawks couldn't go into 2012 with Tarvaris Jackson as their lone quarterback option.

    At best, Matt Flynn is unproven. He obviously played well in limited action, but is that enough to convince anyone that he deserves $26 million?

    Flynn's upside is limited, and his downside isn't great, but he is an option.

    Grade: C

Brandon Lloyd, New England Patriots

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    Contract: three years, $12 million

    This is a terrific fit. Brandon Lloyd gained 1,448 yards in 2010 with Josh McDaniels in charge of the team's offense. The two are reunited in New England.

    The Patriots needed another wide receiver option, especially one that could stretch the field. Lloyd can do that, and he should produce at a high level once again in 2012.

    Grade: A+

Eric Winston, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Contract: four years, $22 million

    Eric Winston is a much better right tackle than this contract suggests. It's puzzling why he was released in the first place, and it's almost as confusing why he didn't get more money.

    Kansas City has solid options at left tackle, right guard and center, but Barry Richardson needed to be replaced at right tackle. The Chiefs went from arguably the NFL's worst right tackle to arguably the best.

    Grade: A+

Stanford Routt, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Contract: three years, $19.6 million

    Signing Stanford Routt was considerably cheaper than re-signing Brandon Carr. Sure, the Chiefs downgraded here, but the difference in cost justifies the move.

    Routt isn't an elite player by any means, but he can be a No. 2 cornerback opposite Brandon Flowers. The Chiefs added a solid player at a reasonable price.

    Grade: B+

Jermichael Finley, Green Bay

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    Contract: two years, $15 million

    Jermichael Finley hasn't reached his full potential, yet he was a productive player in 2012. Green Bay didn't risk much here, signing him for only two years.

    If Finley plays like he should, the contract is a bargain. If he doesn't, the Packers have to pay him for just two seasons. This is a virtual win-win situation for Green Bay.

    Grade: A+

D’Qwell Jackson, Cleveland Browns

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    Contract: five years, $42.5 million

    The Browns overpaid here, but they could not afford to let D'Qwell Jackson walk. Jackson was a key part of Cleveland's defense in 2011, and he is the team's only above-average linebacker.

    But does that need really justify this massive contract? Jackson probably wouldn't have gotten this much from another team in free agency, and there were other options on the market for Cleveland.

    Grade: C+

Ahmad Brooks, San Francisco 49ers

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    Contract: six years, $44.5 million

    Ahmad Brooks does not deserve this much money. Sure, the versatile Brooks is good against the run, and he can play in coverage. He is not, however, a particularly productive pass-rusher, which is pretty important at his position.

    San Francisco has two star inside linebackers in NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. Aldon Smith is already a great pass-rusher, and he's going to improve. So why did the 49ers feel the need to shell out money on a slightly above-average player?

    Grade: C

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks

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    Contract: four years, $32 million

    No running back deserves this much money unless he is truly elite. Marshawn Lynch is not.

    The Seahawks could easily draft a running back in the second round while not breaking the bank. It's possible they could even get Trent Richardson in the first round.

    Lynch is a big part of Seattle's offense, but this contract is obscene.

    Grade: D+

Arian Foster, Houston Texans

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    Contract: five years, $43.5 million

    Unlike Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster truly is elite. However, he's had injury problems, making this a pretty risky contract for a team short on cap room.

    With that said, this isn't a terrible deal. Foster is an outstanding player, capable of running or catching the ball. He's instrumental to Houston's success, and he will continue to be.

    Grade: C+

Stevie Johnson, Buffalo Bills

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    Contract: five years, $36.25 million

    Compared to other wide receiver contracts handed out in free agency, this is a bargain. Stevie Johnson has his bad moments, but on the whole, he's a productive player with remaining upside.

    Johnson is easily Buffalo's best wideout, and though he isn't elite, he is above average. The Bills needed Johnson back if they were to score at a high level in 2012.

    Grade: A-

Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts

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    Contract: four years, $36 million

    I get that the Colts can't let all their talent leave, but this one doesn't make sense to me. It's debatable whether Mathis deserves this much money in the first place, and Indianapolis is obviously rebuilding.

    So why give this much money to a 31-year-old defensive end?

    Mathis is still productive and capable of playing at a high level. It just doesn't make sense for a team that is letting much of its best talent go to re-sign an aging player to a huge deal.

    Grade: D-

Sione Pouha, New York Jets

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    Contract: three years, $15 million

    This is a terrific contract for the Jets. Sione Pouha is a crucial presence in the middle of the team's 3-4 defense, and it had no options to replace him.

    The deal is short, and it's not overly lucrative. New York isn't risking too much if Pouha's play declines, and it will probably get good value for the money.

    Grade: B+

Red Bryant, Seattle Seahawks

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    Contract: five years, $35 million

    Red Bryant is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. The massive defensive lineman plays in Seattle's weird defensive scheme, and he does it all.

    Lesser defensive tackles are getting paid this much or more. Bryant is a huge part of Seattle's defense, and he is worth every penny of the deal.

    Grade: A-

Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints

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    Contract: five years, $40 million

    Based on production, Marques Colston is absolutely worth this contract. After all, he has put up at least 1,000 yards in five of his six seasons.

    Based on skill set, Colston probably isn't worth this contract. The Saints star isn't overly explosive and struggles to separate on an island. Drew Brees and Sean Payton have caused Colston to produce more than he otherwise would have.

    So I need to balance the two categories.

    Grade: B+

Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins

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    Contract: five years, $42.5 million

    OK, Pierre Garcon is a young, talented player, but this contract is risky. Garcon has had some serious issues, especially when it comes to catching the football.

    Washington's desire to add a wide receiver is obvious. The team won't have a chance to add a wideout through the draft until the third round, and it doesn't have much talent currently on the roster.

    With that said, it's difficult to justify this contract.

    Grade: C-

Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Contract: five years, $55 million

    A 29-year-old wide receiver with off-field issues gets this much money? Vincent Jackson is talented, but Tampa Bay gave a risky player a massive contract.

    The negatives aside, the Buccaneers just added an outstanding player. They had the money to spend, and they spent it on a terrific offensive weapon.

    Grade: C

Cortland Finnegan, St. Louis Rams

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    Contract: five years, $50 million

    This seems to be the going rate for cornerbacks. Cortland Finnegan is a young, nasty player who isn't afraid to play physically. He also happens to be pretty good.

    St. Louis' secondary was dreadful in 2011. The Rams could've signed either a wide receiver or cornerback in free agency and then drafted the other. They chose to draft the wideout.

    Grade: B-

Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts

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    Contract: three years, $17.5 million

    This was shocking.

    Not only that Reggie Wayne re-signed with the Colts, but also how little money he got from them. It's one thing to rebuild, but it's another entirely to leave the cupboard completely bare. Indianapolis is finding that balance. 

    Wayne isn't an elite wideout, but he's better than some of the guys who were paid a lot more money in free agency. Andrew Luck may not have a ton of weapons in 2012, but he will have at least one.

    Grade: A+

Robert Meachem, San Diego Chargers

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    Contract: four years, $25.9 million

    This one doesn't make sense.

    The Chargers were right to go after a wide receiver, but this much money for someone who has never gained more than 722 yards in a season is pretty ridiculous. Even that was in one of the NFL's most prolific passing attacks.

    San Diego apparently thinks Robert Meachem can be a No. 1 wide receiver, though he was nothing other than a deep threat in New Orleans. 

    At best, this is a risky contract, and at worst, it is downright foolish.

    Grade: D

Jeremy Mincey, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Contract: four years, $27.2 million

    This is a reasonable contract for both sides. Jeremy Mincey recorded eight sacks in 2011 while also defending the run well. Nothing spectacular, but solid all around.

    Jacksonville would have had an even more glaring hole at defensive end if it hadn't retained Mincey. The Jaguars needed to re-sign him, but they didn't get desperate and overpay.

    Grade: A

Carl Nicks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Contract: five years, $47.5 million

    It's hard to overpay an elite offensive lineman, but the Buccaneers are trying their best. Carl Nicks is arguably the best guard in football, and he deserves a massive contract, but this might be a bit too huge.

    Regardless, Nicks will make a huge impact on Tampa Bay's rushing attack. The 6'5", 340-pounder allows Jeremy Zuttah to move inside to center, and the Buccaneers now have a great—and highly-paid—interior line.

    Grade: B-

Eric Wright, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Contract: five years, $37.5 million

    Uh, what?

    I know Tampa Bay is desperate for cornerbacks, but in what universe is Eric Wright worth this type of cash? Wright is inconsistent in coverage and consistently awful in run support.

    If the Buccaneers wanted to add a cornerback, there were plenty of options. They may have been more expensive than Wright, but they certainly were better deals.

    Grade: D-

John Carlson, Minnesota Vikings

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    Contract: five years, $25 million

    I'm not really sure why Minnesota did this.

    The Vikings already have Kyle Rudolph, who seems poised to break out in 2012. So, essentially, they are paying $5 million a year for a backup tight end with injury problems.

    It's understandable for Minnesota to sign a backup tight end. Rudolph is unproven. This is simply way too much money.

    Grade: D

Curtis Lofton, New Orleans Saints

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    Contract: five years

    This contract is still pretty fresh, and the money isn't available yet. I'll go ahead and grade it based on the assumption that it isn't too absurd.

    Jonathan Vilma's play has declined as of late, and he could be facing a suspension in 2012. The Saints wanted a physical presence in the middle of their defense, and few linebackers are better run-defenders than Curtis Lofton is.

    Lofton isn't great in coverage, but his play against the run makes up for it. Lofton is also still only 25 years old, so he should play out the contract at a high level.

    Grade: A-

Brancon Carr, Dallas Cowboys

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    Contract: five years, $50.1 million

    Brandon Carr is good. He isn't $50.1 million good. 

    Dallas' secondary was dreadful in 2011, but it shouldn't have overpaid like this. The team is facing cap ramifications, and this contract is just a bad idea.

    The odds of Carr ever living up to his salary are slim. Dallas will have a chance to add a cornerback early in the draft, and it would have been better off adding a lower-priced veteran and going defensive back at No. 14.

    Grade: D+

Paul Soliai, Miami Dolphins

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    Contract: two years, $18 million

    Even after a disappointing 2011 season, Paul Soliai is a good player. The nose tackle isn't a great fit in Miami's soon-to-be-instituted 4-3 scheme, but he will still be solid.

    This is a lot of money, though. Sure, it's only two years, but those two years will be expensive. Miami had other options at defensive tackle, and it may have been better off going cheap in free agency.

    Grade: C+

Laurent Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Contract: five years, $32.5 million

    Apparently, one decent season after three years of almost nothing is worthy of this type of contract in Gene Smith's world. Laurent Robinson has had injury issues, production issues and, again, only one good, but not great, year.

    We knew Jacksonville was desperate for wide receivers, but I'm not sure anyone realized just how desperate it was. This contract reeks.

    Grade: F

Peyton Hillis, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Contract: one year, $2.8 million

    Peyton Hillis was hit hard by the Madden Curse in 2011, but he is a steal. Hillis won't start in Kansas City, but he will provide great value in relieving Jamaal Charles.

    Hillis probably won't suffer from as many injuries as a backup, and he could dominate if kept fresh. The former Brown is an excellent receiver, and he can play in any situation.

    Grade: A

Ben Grubbs, New Orleans Saints

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    Contract: five years, $36 million

    Based on other guard contracts, this is a steal. Ben Grubbs isn't Carl Nicks—the man he's being asked to replace—but he is an excellent player.

    Grubbs can do everything on the field. He can power-block, pull, pass-block—whatever you want him to do. He isn't as dominant as Nicks is, but for the money, he's a great replacement.

    Grade: A-

Mario Williams, Buffalo Bills

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    Contract: six years, $100 million

    Mario Williams deserved to get paid. Super Mario is perhaps the game's best defensive end, and he's only 27 years old. Players like him don't hit free agency too often.

    But did Williams deserve this much money? He's had just two 10-sack seasons, and his past two seasons were cut short due to injury. That's not a great trend for the Bills.

    On the whole, though, Williams' injuries aren't likely to return, and he has been dominant when healthy. Buffalo already had two great defensive linemen, and now it adds a third.

    Grade: B+

John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons

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    Contract: three years, $20.72 million

    If John Abraham weren't 34 years old, this would be a terrific contract. However, Abraham has missed just two games the past five years while picking up 54.5 sacks.

    The Falcons needed Abraham back. The team's pass rush isn't great with him, and it would be awful without him. The money per year is good, and Atlanta probably has some opt-outs built into the deal's language.

    As long as Abraham remains healthy and his play doesn't fall off a cliff, this is a good deal.

    Grade: B

Chris Myers, Houston Texans

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    Contract: four years, $25 million

    This is a fantastic contract for Houston. After losing Eric Winston and Mario Williams, the Texans couldn't let another one of their best players leave in free agency.

    In 2011, Chris Myers was arguably the NFL's best center. Myers isn't a fit in every scheme, but in Houston's zone-blocking offense, he is elite.

    Other teams would have gladly paid Myers this much money, and the Texans should be exhaling a sigh of relief after getting him back.

    Grade: A+

Scott Wells, St. Louis Rams

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    Contract: four years, $25.5 million

    A little older and not quite as good as Chris Myers, Scott Wells can make a bit more money with incentives. That's not to say this is a bad deal for St. Louis, though. The Rams needed a center after releasing Jason Brown, and Wells is a pretty good one.

    Having a center who knows what he's doing should make Sam Bradford's life a lot easier. Wells will allow Bradford to worry less, and he'll also help out the team's run game. In essence, he'll do what a veteran center should do.

    Grade: A

Steve Hutchinson, Tennessee Titans

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    Contract: three years, $16 million

    Tennessee certainly needed to do something along the interior line. Chris Johnson's failings in 2011 weren't entirely his fault. The Titans' offensive line deserved much of the blame. 

    Though he isn't the player he once was, Steve Hutchinson isn't awful. The former Viking is still better than average, and Johnson should be happy to see this signing.

    Grade: B

Jared Gaither, San Diego Chargers

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    Contract: four years, $24.6 million

    In Baltimore, Jared Gaither was an excellent left tackle. Then he had some back issues, lost some weight and eventually became a Chief. Then he became a Charger. Now he's still a Charger.

    To make a long story short, Gaither offers upside and downside. He's a great player when he's on the field and motivated, but that isn't always the case.

    If San Diego let Gaither walk, the team would not have a starting-caliber offensive tackle, so it took the risk and gave Gaither a reasonable contract.

    Grade: A-

Carlos Rogers, San Francisco 49ers

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    Contract: four years, $29.3 million

    In order to analyze this contract, all I had to do was look at the other deals cornerbacks are getting. Carlos Rogers was superb in 2011, and only his age kept him from getting paid more.

    While other equally-skilled cornerbacks were paid $50 million, Rogers was paid $30 million. Rogers' play could start to drop off soon, though, so he didn't deserve quite as much money.

    Regardless, though, this is a good deal for San Francisco.

    Grade: B+

Jacob Tamme, Denver Broncos

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    Contract: three years, $9 million

    We've seen Jacob Tamme produce with Peyton Manning. No, Tamme isn't a superstar, but he's a solid, reliable target who can catch the football. That's what Manning needs right now.

    So much of Manning's game is based on chemistry and timing, so it makes sense for Denver to bring in some of his former teammates. Tamme is younger and healthier than Dallas Clark, so he got the job.

    Grade: A-

Mike Tolbert, Carolina Panthers

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    Contract: four years, $10 million

    This contract kind of confuses me.

    The Panthers gave DeAngelo Williams a horrible contract last year, and they still have a great player in Jonathan Stewart not getting as many carries as he should. What seemed like a logjam is now a complete mess.

    The one way this is justified is if Carolina is trading Stewart. The Panthers should have let Williams walk a year ago, but with that no longer an option, maybe this would be a good move. 

    In any case, this isn't a bad contract for Mike Tolbert. He's a decent player who can contribute in multiple phases of the game. The only bad part is the fit.

    Grade: C

LaRon Landry, New York Jets

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    Contract: one year, $3.5 million

    New York's safeties are pretty terrible, and this is a nice low-risk signing. When healthy, LaRon Landry can be a good player. On a one-year deal, the Jets aren't taking much of a risk, and the deal could pay off for them.

    The Jets defense receives a ton of hype, but it has plenty of holes. The team filled one of them here, and it's hard to criticize the move.

    Grade: B+

Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Contract: five years, $25.5 million

    The biggest key here is that only $7 million was guaranteed. When healthy, Evan Mathis is one of the NFL's best zone-blocking guards. He's an absolute steal at $5 million a year.

    If it weren't for the low guaranteed money, this contract would probably be too risky. However, the Eagles put very little on the line here, and it's hard for this deal to turn sour on the team.

    Grade: A+

Kendall Langford, St. Louis Rams

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    Contract: four years, $24 million

    Kendall Langford has never played in a 4-3 scheme before, so this could be interesting. Langford is big enough to handle the 3-tech position, but his skill set is better suited in a 3-4 defense.

    However, Langford offers a big upgrade for the Rams. St. Louis' defensive tackles were dreadful, and this should help the team's run defense out considerably.

    The deal is not without some risk, but it's not insane either.

    Grade: B-