NFL Free Agency: Report Card Grades for Every Major Signing of 2012

Nick KostoraContributor IIIOctober 9, 2012

NFL Free Agency: Report Card Grades for Every Major Signing of 2012

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    The 2012 NFL free agency class had no shortage of superstars. Players like Peyton Manning and Mario Williams left the comfort of franchises that drafted them in favor of new surroundings and giant paydays.

    Some, like Cortland Finnegan, have exceeded expectations while others have left teams shaking their heads as to how they spent millions on an underachiever (here's looking at you, Matt Flynn.)

    So, let's go back to school and hand out report card grades for the ten biggest free agent signings of the past offseason.

    Side Notes: Only free agents that changed teams are included in this list, and if you are looking for letter grades of "F" you are out of luck, real teachers use "E" and so will these report cards.

10. Matt Flynn

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    When you are given $19.5 million over three years, you are expected to win the starting QB job.

    Matt Flynn failed to do that in the Seattle Seahawks preseason. Credit head coach Pete Carroll for taking money out of his decision and awarding the job to rookie Russell Wilson, who clearly outplayed Flynn in training camp.

    Flynn was a sought after commodity after excelling as a backup in Green Bay, but so far in Seattle, he is an overpaid bench warmer.

    Report Card Grade: E

9. Peyton Hillis

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    With the "Madden Curse" and the eternal doom of the Cleveland Browns franchise behind him, Peyton Hillis joined the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason on a one-year contract worth $2.8 million.

    He has not been worth even half that amount. Hillis has lagged behind starter Jamaal Charles, struggling to assert himself as the thunder to Charles's lightning.

    His ability to earn tough third-down yardage and bulldoze defenders on the goal line has not yet been showcased, and Hillis has just 93 yards and zero touchdowns to his credit.

    He has also continued his injury issues from last season, missing Week 4 and 5 due to an ankle injury.

    At least it's a better reason than a sore throat, right?

    Report Card Grade: D

8. Mario Williams

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    Mario Williams was the biggest free agent signing of the offseason, and he has also been the biggest disappointment.

    Seriously, Williams has only 1.5 sacks, and both of those came against the Cleveland Browns.

    Really, Mario? A six-year deal worth up to $100 million and the only guy you can sack is Brandon Weeden?

    Williams is one of the most talented defensive ends in football, and maybe his supposed left wrist injury is bothering him more than expected, but still his play has been terrible.

    Buffalo did not give him $50 million in guaranteed money to be this unproductive.

    Report Card Grade: D

7. Carl Nicks

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    It is rare that an offensive lineman is one of the biggest free agent signings of an offseason, but when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave All-Pro Carl Nicks $47.5 million over five years, everyone paid attention.

    Nicks surpassed Logan Mankins of the New England Patriots as the highest paid guard in the league, and he has done what you would expect so far this season. Nicks has been a steadying force along the Buccaneers offensive front.

    Running back Doug Martin has not quite exploded yet, but Nicks has provided some holes for him along the left side of the line, and quarterback Josh Freeman has been sacked seven times through four games.

    Report Card Grade: C+ 

6. Michael Bush

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    Paying $14 million for a change of pace back is a lot, but the Chicago Bears deemed Michael Bush worthy of such a payday this past March.

    Bush has contributed nicely to the Bears offense, even if he is a secondary piece to Matt Forte's feature back status. He has scored three touchdowns on 206 yards rushing through five games, although he has managed only a 3.6 yards per carry average.

    His carries have varied greatly from week to week, but Bush has largely done what has been asked of him. He has not been amazing, but the job is getting done.

    Report Card Grade: C+

5. Vincent Jackson

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave Vincent Jackson top wide receiver money, and he has rewarded them with exceptional play.

    Jackson had plenty of critics during his time with the San Diego Chargers, but so far he is earning his $55 million salary in Tampa Bay.

    Jackson has 304 yards receiving and two touchdowns this season. He has provided quarterback Josh Freeman with an all-important No. 1 passing option and opened up the field for rookie running back Doug Martin.

    The Buccaneers are still 1-3 and struggling to keep pace in the NFC South, but it is not because of poor play out of Jackson.

    If it weren't for his somewhat inconsistent performances thus far, his grade would be higher.

    Report Card Grade: B

4. LaRon Landry

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    The New York Jets have not exactly set the world on fire through five games this season, but safety LaRon Landry has been a solid presence in the defensive backfield.

    Landry, who was signed to a one-year $3.5 million deal this offseason, has been a constant reminder of just how bad the Jets secondary played last season, and with Darrelle Revis injured, has been the best player in the secondary.

    Landry has 22 tackles and an interception at this point in the young season, and New York is holding opponents to under 200 yards passing per game.

    That stat seems improbable for a team with a 2-3 record, but the Jets struggles have largely stemmed from offensive woes, not the play of Landry and company. 

    Report Card Grade: B+

3. Peyton Manning

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    Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning.

    After all the hoopla and hullabaloo over his free agency decision, Manning has settled in nicely with the Denver Broncos.

    Most importantly, he has proved his neck problems are a thing of the past. The season has not been perfect so far though, as the Broncos are just 2-3 and Manning has a three-interception game to his credit.

    Still, most signs are positive, and Manning's passing yards have increased each of the last four weeks. The Broncos offense has been excellent when utilizing the hurry up, and should be a contender in the weak AFC West all season.

    Report Card Grade: B+

2. Brandon Carr

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    The Dallas Cowboys made a commitment to improving the play of their secondary this offseason. Before they drafted Morris Claiborne out of LSU, they landed a huge free agent cornerback, Brandon Carr.

    Carr was signed to a five-year deal potentially worth $50.1 million, and the dividends are already being paid.  He held Sidney Rice to just 33 yards on three catches in Week 2 and followed that performance up by holding Vincent Jackson to just one catch for 29 yards in Week 4.

    Carr has been a defensive force for the better part of four years now, and the Cowboys are no longer a laughingstock in the secondary. Dallas has the top-ranked pass defense in the league through five weeks, allowing just 169 yards per game through the air. Credit Carr for a large portion of that success.

    Report Card Grade: A

1. Cortland Finnegan

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    Perhaps no one has lived up to their big offseason contract as much as Cortland Finnegan. The new St. Louis Rams cornerback has helped resurrect a franchise that was supposed to be in rebuilding mode.

    Finnegan has three interceptions, one touchdown, and along with Janoris Jenkins, has formed one of the most formidable CB tandems in the NFC.

    $24 million is a big salary for any position, but head coach Jeff Fisher is changing the culture in St. Louis, and Finnegan is an important piece of the puzzle.

    Report Card Grade: A