The start of NFL free agency is the biggest day on the NFL calendar, and it's finally here.
The Super Bowl decides the NFL championship—but by the time it happens, the other 30 NFL teams and their fans have already shut it down weeks ago. The NFL draft adds a mostly equal number of rookies to all the teams at the same time, which is important for the future of each team but doesn't really shake up the pecking order.
Only free agency means big changes for every NFL team all at once. No day means more for the fate of all 32 squads' 2013 postseason hopes.
For the past few days, new contracts have been getting signed (and old ones shredded) across the NFL. Trades have been made, deals have been agreed to and the rosters of every team are changing by the minute. How can you tell which teams are getting better and which are slipping behind?
Bleacher Report is here to keep you posted on all the free-agent signings as they happen. Every time a player inks a new deal, come back to this article for the latest reports, letter grades and analysis for every signing!
Haven't seen the latest? Here are all the big free-agent signings so far, with the newest news on top. Keep reading to see the grades and analysis for each new move, and keep checking back as deals keep getting signed!
March 20: Ed Reed to Houston Texans
After a long, long free-agent courtship, career Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed has decided to join the Houston Texans, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
March 20: Turk McBride to Chicago Bears
The Bears announced (via the Associated Press) the signing of former New Orleans Saints defensive end Turk McBride.
March 19: Antwan Barnes to New York Jets
On March 18, former Chargers outside linebacker Antwan Barnes announced that he's signing with the Jets (via Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com). Incredibly, Barnes then walked it back, saying he and the Jets were close to, but not at, an agreement (via Pro Football Talk). Later on March 18, Barnes proclaimed it "official" on Twitter, with a picture of him signing paperwork. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News confirms: Barnes signed a a three-year, $4 million deal with the Jets.
March 18: Ryan Fitzpatrick to Tennessee Titans
March 18: Matt Hasselbeck to Indianapolis Colts
With Drew Stanton off to Arizona, the Colts needed a veteran backup for Andrew Luck. Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, they have found one: Matt Hasselbeck, who was released by the Titans and on the market for just hours.
March 18: Ben Watson to New Orleans Saints
March 18: Jake Long to St. Louis Rams
On March 13, Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that former Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long agreed to terms with the St. Louis Rams. Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported later that day no deal had been reached. After a multi-day visit, extended physical and some soul searching, Florio reports Long has finally signed with the Rams.
March 17: Kevin Burnett to Oakland Raiders
Per Adam Kaplan of TheSidelineView.com, linebacker Kevin Burnett, most recently of the Miami Dolphins, has agreed to sign with the Oakland Raiders.
March 16: Brandon Myers to New York Giants
With former tight end Martellus Bennett off to Chicago, the New York Giants have replaced Bennett with former Oakland Raiders tight end Brandon Myers, according to Pro Football Talk.
March 16: Craig Dahl to San Francisco 49ers
Per Howard Balzer of Sirius XM NFL Radio, former St. Louis Rams safety Craig Dahl has signed a three-year deal with the 49ers.
March 15: Adrian Wilson to New England Patriots
After Patrick Chung departed for Philadelphia, the New England Patriots added former Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson, according to Mike Jurecki of radio station XTRA910.
March 15: Marcus Spears to Baltimore Ravens
Former Dallas Cowboys defender Marcus Spears will help reload the depleted Ravens defense, per Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun. The deal is for two years and $3.55 million
March 15: Greg Jennings to Minnesota Vikings
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, Greg Jennings has agreed to terms with Minnesota, easing the pain of former Vikings receiver Percy Harvin departing for Seattle. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports Jennings' five-year deal is worth $45 million in base salary, with more in incentives and $18 million guaranteed.
March 15: Willie Colon to New York Jets
Per Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com, former Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon agreed to a one-year, $1.2 million contract with the New York Jets.
March 15: Danny Woodhead to San Diego Chargers
According to Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, another New England Patriots skill-position player is on the move; tailback Danny Woodhead signed a two-year deal with the San Diego Chargers.
March 15: Geoff Schwartz to Kansas City Chiefs
B/R's own Matt Miller reports Geoff Schwartz has signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. The former Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman adds to Kansas City's impressive haul.
March 15: Dustin Keller to Miami Dolphins
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, former New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller is switching AFC East rivalry sides, agreeing to a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins.
March 15: Mike Goodson to New York Jets
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the New York Jets have inked a free agent, former Oakland Raiders tailback Mike Goodson, on a three-year, $6.9 million deal.
March 15: Nick Roach to Oakland Raiders
Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times reports former Chicago Bears linebacker Nick Roach has agreed to a deal with the Oakland Raiders.
March 14: Jasper Brinkley to Arizona Cardinals
Per Mike Garafalo of the New Jersey Star-Ledger, former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley has agreed to a two-year deal to man the middle for the Cardinals.
March 14: Michael Bennett to Seattle Seahawks
By inking Michael Bennett to a one-year, $5 million deal, the Seahawks now have three top-flight pass-rushers to rotate on the edges against NFC West offensive lines. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk had the scoop.
March 14: Leon Washington to New England Patriots
Former Seattle Seahawks running back Leon Washington is jumping to the New England Patriots, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, on a one-year deal.
March 14: Connor Barwin to Philadelphia Eagles
Per the Houston Chronicle’s Tania Ganguli, former Houston Texans defensive end Connor Barwin has agreed terms with the Philadelphia Eagles. Ganguli reports Barwin’s six-year deal is worth $36 million, and as much as $40 million after incentives.
March 14: Keenan Lewis to New Orleans Saints
Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, cornerback Keenan Lewis has agreed to terms with the New Orleans Saints.
March 14: Steven Jackson to Atlanta Falcons
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports former St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson has agreed to join the Atlanta Falcons.
March 14: Cary Williams to Philadelphia Eagles
Former Baltimore Ravens cornerback Cary Williams will take the place of departed Eagles corners Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
March 14: Kenny Phillips to Philadelphia Eagles
Former New York Giants safety Kenny Phillips further rounds out the thin Philadelphia Eagles secondary; ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Phillips has agreed to terms.
March 14: Matt Cassel to the Minnesota Vikings
According to FOX Sports insider Jay Glazer, recently cut Chiefs QB Matt Cassel has agreed to terms with the Minnesota Vikings.
March 14: Ricky Jean-Francois to Indianapolis Colts
Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com reports former 49ers DT Ricky Jean-Francois has agreed to a four-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts.
March 14: Sean Smith to Kansas City Chiefs
Agent David Canter confirms that the Chiefs have reached an agreement with former Miami Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith.
March 13: Jeremy Trueblood to Washington Redskins
Mike Jones of the Washington Post reports the Redskins—normally big splash-makers in free agency—are finally on the board with the inking of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood.
March 13: Derek Cox to San Diego Chargers
Per team announcement, via a tweet from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Chargers have signed former Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox to a four-year deal.
March 13: LaRon Landry to Indianapolis Colts
Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports reports the Colts have signed LaRon Landry, former New York Jets safety, to a four-year deal.
March 13: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to Denver Broncos
Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, former Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie signed a one-year deal with the Denver Broncos.
March 13: [UPDATE: not a done deal] Josh Cribbs to Arizona Cardinals
Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that returner/receiver Josh Cribbs is adding to the Arizona Cardinals’ impressive free-agent haul. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com contradicts that report, saying Cribbs has picked Arizona as his destination, but no deal is close.
March 13: Danny Amendola to New England Patriots
Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Patriots wasted no time replacing departed receiver Wes Welker. Former St. Louis Rams wideout Danny Amendola has agreed to a five-year deal.
March 13: Cliff Avril to Seattle Seahawks
Former Detroit Lions defensive end Cliff Avril, touted as a sought-after free agent, finally got an offer he liked from the Seattle Seahawks. NFL.com's Albert Breer reports Avril's agreed to terms.
March 13: Jonathan Casillas to Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Former New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas is staying in-division; per his agent, Blake Baratz (via ESPN’s Adam Schefter), Casillas has agreed to a one-year deal with the Buccaneers.
March 13: Jerraud Powers to the Arizona Cardinals
Arizona continues its crop of under-the-radar free agents, snagging former Indianapolis Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.
March 13: Terrance Knighton to Denver Broncos
Many reported his signing was forthcoming, but defensive tackle Terrance Knighton confirmed his move to the Denver Broncos himself, leaving the Jacksonville Jaguars behind.
March 13: Jason Hunter to Oakland Raiders
Following a long tradition of the rival Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders swiping players and coaches from each other, former Broncos defensive end Jason Hunter has agreed to join the Raiders, per a team release (via Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com).
March 13: Kaluka Maiava to Oakland Raiders
The Raiders stop the outflow of free agents from their front seven by bringing in former Cleveland Browns linebacker Kaluka Maiava on a three-year, $6 million deal, according to NFL.com’s Albert Breer.
March 13: Pat Sims to Oakland Raiders
Further bolstering the Raiders' front seven, former Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Pat Sims is on his way to Oakland on a one-year deal, per a tweet from his agency, Priority Sports.
March 13: Lorenzo Alexander to Arizona Cardinals
Alex Marvez of FOXSports.com reports that former Redskins defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander has agreed to terms with the Arizona Cardinals.
March 13: Drew Stanton to Arizona Cardinals
Per a tweet from his agent, Mike McCartney, former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Drew Stanton rejoined Bruce Arians in Arizona with a three-year deal. He'll be competing with fellow Michigan State grad Brian Hoyer.
March 13: Wes Welker to Denver Broncos
March 13: Sammie Hill to Tennessee Titans
The Titans added a whole lot of beef to their defensive front, signing 330-pound defensive tackle Sammie Hill to a three-year, $11.4 million deal, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
March 13: Stewart Bradley to Denver Broncos
The Broncos snatched up linebacker Stewart Bradley on a one-year contract, and the former Arizona Cardinals defender adds depth/competition per team executive vice president John Elway.
March 13: Drayton Florence to Carolina Panthers
Former Detroit Lions cornerback and "future general manager," according to his twitter bio, Drayton Florence is on the move to Carolina, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
March 13: Glenn Dorsey to San Francisco 49ers
Per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Glenn Dorsey is finalizing a deal with San Francisco. The former Chiefs defensive tackle won't be sticking around for the Andy Reid era in Kansas City.
March 13: Shonn Greene to Tennessee Titans
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that former New York Jets tailback Shonn Greene has agreed to a three-year, $10 million deal to complement Chris Johnson in Tennessee.
March 13: Dashon Goldson to Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After falling just short of winning it all, former San Francisco 49ers safety Dashon Goldson is set to cash in. Per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Goldson has agreed to a five-year, $41.25 million deal with the Buccaneers, $22 million of which is guaranteed.
March 13: Glover Quin to Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions saw nothing but losses on the first day, but are hauling in gains on the second. Former Houston Texans safety Glover Quin has agreed to terms with the Lions, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Per the team's official site, it's a five-year deal.
March 13: Rashard Mendenhall to Arizona Cardinals
Per a tweet from his agent, Mike McCarthy, the tailback-starved Cardinals have added former Pittsburgh Steelers runner Rashard Mendenall on a one-year deal.
March 13: Reggie Bush to Detroit Lions
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports the long-expected: The Lions have agreed to terms with former Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush.
March 13: Gary Barnidge to Cleveland Browns
Cleveland's spending spree still hasn't stopped. NFL.com's Aditi Kinkhabwala reports the Browns have come to terms with former Carolina Panthers tight end Gary Barnidge.
March 13: Jason Jones to Detroit Lions
According to a tweet from his agent, Mike McCartney, former Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Jason Jones has agreed to terms with his hometown Detroit Lions. Jones will be reunited with his former defensive coordinator, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz.
March 13: Donnie Avery to Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs keep adding targets for new quarterback Alex Smith, this time signing former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Donnie Avery, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
March 13: Bruce Gradkowski to Pittsburgh Steelers
It may be the end of the Charlie Batch era in Pittsburgh. Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com reports the Steelers signed Bruce Gradkowski, the former Bengals quarterback, presumably to back up Ben Roethlisberger.
March 13: Manny Lawson to Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills get on the board with former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Manny Lawson, per a tweet from his agency, Schwartz & Feinsod.
March 13: Quentin Groves to Cleveland Browns
Cleveland's free-agent spending spree isn't over yet: Adam Schefter of ESPN reports former Arizona Cardinals linebacker Quentin Groves has agreed to terms with the Browns.
March 12: Desmond Bryant to Cleveland Browns
Per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, former Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Desmond Bryant will sign with the Cleveland Browns, increasing their haul.
March 12: Patrick Chung to Philadelphia Eagles
Former New England Patriots safety Patrick Chung joined the rush of free agents to Philadelphia, according to Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com.
March 12: James Casey to Philadelphia Eagles
Per a team announcement, via Pro Football Talk, the Eagles have signed tight end/H-back James Casey, formerly of the Houston Texans, marking head coach Chip Kelly's first offensive signing.
March 12: Isaac Sopoaga to Philadelphia Eagles
Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com reports that the Eagles have landed former San Francisco 49ers nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga.
March 12: Bradley Fletcher to Philadelphia Eagles
Cornerback Bradley Fletcher, formerly of the St. Louis Rams, has also agreed to terms with the Eagles, again per Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com.
March 12: Philip Wheeler to Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins continue their spending spree, agreeing to terms with former Oakland Raiders linebacker Philip Wheeler, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Florio reports it's a five-year, $26 million deal.
March 12: Chris Canty to Baltimore Ravens
Former New York Giants defensive lineman Chris Canty stopped the bleeding in Baltimore; ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Canty agreed to a three-year, $8 million deal to restock the depleted Ravens defense.
March 12: Jermon Bushrod to Chicago Bears
NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reports the Bears are wrapping up a long-term deal with former New Orleans Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod, a deal long rumored to be in the works.
March 12: Jared Cook to St. Louis Rams
NFL.com's Ian Rapoport also reports the Rams have inked former Tennessee Titans tight end Jared Cook to a five-year deal.
March 12: Mike DeVito to Kansas City Chiefs
According to Adam Teicher of The Kansas City Star, the Chiefs have reached an agreement with former Jets defensive end Mike DeVito, while DeVito was visiting Chiefs facilities. CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora reports DeVito's three-year deal is worth $12.6 million with $6.2 million guaranteed.
March 12: Dannell Ellerbe to Miami Dolphins
The big money is flowing in Miami. Per Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, former Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is flying the coop to Miami. The heir apparent to Ray Lewis has abdicated the throne. Per Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports, Ellerbe's deal is for five years and $35 million.
March 12: Chase Daniel to Kansas City Chiefs
Adam Schefter of ESPN reports the Chiefs have an agreement in principle with Chase Daniel. The former New Orleans Saints backup is regarded as a potential starter, though he'll be behind former San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith on the depth chart.
March 12: Erik Walden to Indianapolis Colts
Via an announcement on the official team site, the Colts have agreed to undisclosed terms with former Green Bay Packers linebacker Erik Walden.
March 12: Greg Toler to Indianapolis Colts
Also per the Colts' official site, the Colts have agreed to (undisclosed) terms with former Arizona Cardinals cornerback Greg Toler.
March 12: Donald Thomas to Indianapolis Colts
Again per the Colts' official site, they've agreed to (undisclosed) terms with former New England Patriots offensive guard Donald Thomas.
March 12: King Dunlap to San Diego Chargers
Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com reports the Chargers have signed former Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle King Dunlap to a two-year deal.
March 12: Delanie Walker to Tennessee Titans
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Tennessee Titans have inked former San Francisco 49ers tight end Delanie Walker to a four-year deal.
March 12: Gosder Cherilus to Indianapolis Colts
According to the Colts' official site, former Detroit Lions offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus has agreed to (unreported) terms with the Indianapolis Colts.
March 12: Anthony Fasano to Kansas City Chiefs
Per Adam Teicher of The Kansas City Star, the Chiefs have added veteran tight end Anthony Fasano, who's spent the last five seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
March 12: Louis Vasquez to Denver Broncos
Mike Garafalo of the New Jersey Star-Ledger reports the Broncos have signed former San Diego Chargers guard Louis Vasquez to a four-year, $23.5 million contract, of which $13 million is guaranteed.
March 12: Andy Levitre to Tennesee Titans
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Tennesee Titans have signed former Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre to a six-year, $46.8 million deal.
March 12: John Phillips to San Diego Chargers
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the San Diego Chargers added tight end John Phillips, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys.
March 12: Mike Wallace to Miami Dolphins
Per Jeff Darlington of NFL Network, Wallace is taking a physical and has agreed to terms, which Darlington stated on NFL Network as five years, $65 million with about $30 million guaranteed.
March 12: Martellus Bennett to Chicago Bears
Per Michael C. Wright of ESPN Chicago, the Bears have signed former New York Giants tight end Martellus Bennett. Terms are not yet available.
March 11: Anquan Boldin to San Francisco 49ers
According to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, the Ravens have traded receiver Anquan Boldin to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick. This move isn't a free-agent signing, but it changes some team needs.
March 11: Percy Harvin to Seattle Seahawks
According to Jay Glazer of FoxSports.com, the Vikings have traded receiver Percy Harvin to the Seahawks for a package of picks that includes this year's first-round selection. Again, this is not a free-agent signing, but it takes the Seahawks out of the running for a free-agent wide receiver, and possibly puts the Minnesota Vikings in the market for one.
March 10: Cullen Jenkins to New York Giants
Per Kim Jones of NFL Network, the Giants signed former Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Cullen Jenkins to an three-year deal worth $8 million, with $3 million guaranteed.
With safety Glover Quin off to the Detroit Lions, the Houston Texans had a vacancy in the backfield—and, per Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, would be without a "big leader," on and off the field.
It just so happens that a safety with plenty of on- and off-field leadership quality was available: former Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick called Reed "the best weak safety" Belichick has seen in his NFL career. Reed's outstanding career backs up that praise, but at age 34 he's not quite the five-time All-Pro player he used to be.
The 5'11", 200-pound Reed still has a nose for the ball, with four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) in 2012. He also broke up 15 passes, as well as registering 49 tackles—his most since 2006. However, Reed made a lot of those plays by lining up extremely deep, keeping the play in front of him. Without the speed he once had, he needs to be deep to take proper angles in the run game.
Pro Football Focus graded Reed 59th (out of 88) safeties in 2012. His coverage grade was a 17th-best plus-4.5, but every other mark was red. Reed may still have a season or two left in the tank, but Houston had better free-agent options earlier in free agency.
Out with the old, in with the not-young-anymore.
That's the approach the Tennessee Titans have taken with their backup quarterback position, releasing 37-year-old veteran Matt Hasselbeck and signing 30-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick, until recently the starting quarterback of the Buffalo Bills, provides interesting insurance for young Titans starter Jake Locker.
Fitzpatrick, a 6'2", 221-pound Harvard graduate, was a seventh-round selection of the St. Louis Rams back in 2005. Fitzpatrick was forced into action that season, as the Rams dealt with multiple quarterback injuries and head coach Mike Martz's heart condition. Fitzpatrick got off to a rip-roaring start, leading the Rams back from a 21-point deficit with a 310-yard, three-touchdown performance.
Fitzpatrick fell back to Earth after that; after two miserable starts, he sat the rest of the season and the entirety of his second season. Fitzpatrick was traded to Cincinnati for a seventh-round draft pick, where he backed up Carson Palmer for a season and four games. Then, Palmer blew out his elbow and Fitzpatrick got his chance.
Fitzpatrick wasn't amazing for Cincinnati. He completed 59.4 percent of his passes, averaged just 5.1 yards per attempt and threw more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (eight). But he did well enough get interest on the free-agent market after that season, signing with Buffalo to back up Trent Edwards.
Over the next two seasons, Fitzpatrick would play for three different coaches, replace Edwards due to injury, be named the starter, be benched and be named the starter again. Throughout it all, he completed about 60 percent of his passes for relatively few yards per attempt and threw about as many touchdowns as interceptions.
At this point, FItzpatrick is what he is. He will not consistently help the Titans win games, but he will provide a smart, steady presence with plenty of experience against AFC opponents. Fitzpatrick is also a solid insurance policy for Locker, who has yet to prove he can consistently help the Titans win games.
The Rams have been searching for a blindside protector for Sam Bradford since before they drafted Sam Bradford. After drafting Jason Smith with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2009 draft and Bradford at No. 1 overall in 2010, the Rams selected tackle Rodger Saffold in the second round of the 2010 draft.
Last season, Smith was traded to the New York Jets, who eventually released him. Saffold was moved to Bradford’s blind side last season, and he played well, but the Rams need help at the right tackle spot, where Saffold may be a more natural fit.
The Rams, then, must be thinking Long upgrades them at two positions.
However, it’s hard to overstate just how far Long has fallen from his All-Pro form. The fine folks at Pro Football Focus graded Saffold’s play in 2012 well above Long’s, giving Saffold’s pass protection a plus-12.9 grade and Long’s only a plus-3.0.
Further, Bob Glauber of New York’s Newsday reports that Saffold will now likely ask for a trade rather than be moved to right tackle.
Instead of upgrading two positions, the Rams might be downgrading at one.
With Philip Wheeler off to Miami, the Oakland Raiders needed a very good outside linebacker to replace him. It only seems fair that they landed a former Dolphin, Kevin Burnett. In a free-agent market that often pays more for potential than reality, the Raiders got a linebacker who is playing just as well as Wheeler is for significantly cheaper.
Burnett, a 6’3”, 237-pound former second-round draft pick, is not the outside pass-rusher Wheeler is. In the Stanford/49ers-style one-gap 3-4, this could prove to be a limitation. Interestingly, Burnett’s best season rushing the passer came in 2010, when he lined up as the right inside linebacker for the San Diego Chargers; his six sacks that season topped his career high by 3.5.
However, Burnett is a much stronger run-stopper, notching at least 80 tackles in each of his last three seasons. Overall, Pro Football Focus gave Burnett a plus-11.9 grade (subscription required), better than Wheeler’s plus-9.8. Burnett is helped by playing a much cleaner game, being flagged only once all season, and turning in positive grades in every phase of the game.
In the swap of Wheeler for Burnett, Oakland got older and less talented—but steadier, more balanced, more experienced and with much less red on the balance sheet.
With last year’s top tight end, Martellus Bennett, one of the first players to switch teams, the New York Giants needed to make sure Eli Manning still had a big target to throw to. At 6’4”, 250 pounds, Myers is just that.
With career highs of 79 catches and 806 yards in 2012, Myers established himself as a quality option on a not-high-quality Oakland Raiders offense. The 27-year-old has seen more action in each of his four years in Oakland, finally starting full time in 2012.
The bad news here is that Myers cannot run block. Myers’ minus-20.4 Pro Football Focus run-block grade (subscription required) was dead last in the NFL; it dragged his otherwise mildly positive metrics all the way down to 61st out of 62 qualifying tight ends.
According to Jenny Vrentas of the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Myers’ four-year, $14.25 million contract is almost entirely voidable, making it extremely cap friendly. As long as the Giants don’t mind that Myers can’t help much in the run game, they did a great job of replacing a premium young pass-catching talent on a budget price.
No word yet from Tarkenton about this deal: longtime Packers standout receiver Greg Jennings has crossed the Wisconsin/Minnesota border to sign a massive five-year deal with the Vikings.
With wide receiver/offensive sparkplug Percy Harvin off to Seattle, the Vikings couldn’t leave quarterback Christian Ponder weaponless—especially given the make-or-break nature of this season for him.
Though Jennings is coming off an injury-hampered 2012 season, he collected at least 50 receptions, 900 yards and four touchdowns in each of his previous five seasons. Jennings’ speed, hands, smooth cuts and route-running ability make him dangerous on deep routes, or picking up YAC after a short timing route.
Jennings is a perfect fit for the Vikings’ variant of the West Coast Offense, and a great security blanket for Ponder.
However, this is a massive, massive contract for a player two years removed from his three-season run of 1,000-plus yard seasons. At age 29, he may still have plenty of gas left in the tank, but with a significant dropoff in quarterback play he’ll likely never produce like he did in Green Bay—and certainly not when he’s 34.
For the 2013 season, this grade is a “B+.” For the length of Jennings’ five-year deal?
The Miami Dolphins both added to their impressive free-agent haul and snaked a valuable contributor away from a division rival by signing tight end Dustin Keller.
Keller, a five-year veteran and steady producer for the Jets since his rookie season, will take his 6’2”, 248-pound frame south to Miami. There, he and his career 11.9 yards per reception and reliable hands should help quarterback Ryan Tannehill move the chains with more consistency.
If Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess can draw coverage downfield, Keller should be effective. He’s not an excellent blocker—especially not in the run game—but the more reliable targets Tannehill has, the better.
The Dolphins are wise to have signed Keller to a one-year deal, as he's coming off ankle and hamstring injuries that limited him in 2012. If he’s a less effective receiver in 2013 than he’s been to this point in his career, the Dolphins will have to re-address the position this time next year.
NFL teams scout pro players on other teams much like they scout college prospects: They’re not just looking at past production, but size, speed, tools, potential and fit in the team’s system.
Fans and media like to rank free agents from “best” to “worst,” as if there’s only one way to be good. Just as most would be surprised by any one team’s real draft board—and how far it might vary from the “consensus”—the real market for each free agent is often much different than it’s perceived.
So when the New York Jets replace departed tailback Shonn Greene with former Oakland Raiders backup Mike Goodson, heads get scratched and eyebrows get raised.
The Jets aren’t just looking at Goodson’s scant 160 carries in four seasons with two different teams, though, they’re looking at his 5’11”, 195-pound frame, his burst, his excellent receiving and returning ability and all the tread left on his not-yet-26-year-old tires.
A three-year, $6.9 million deal and a chance to start is a big investment for a player whose potential is still more valuable than his reality. Then again, if Goodson fits into coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s offense like he imagines, we could look back on this as one of the best buys of the free-agent class.
The Seattle Seahawks had the top scoring defense in the NFL last season, doing almost everything well.
The Seahawks kept teams out of the end zone, allowing an average of just 15.3 points per game. They covered the pass, allowing an average of just 5.4 net yards per attempt (fourth best in the NFL). They held the line against the run, allowing a 10th-best total of 1,649 rushing yards.
Even with the addition of pass-rush specialist Bruce Irvin, though, the Seahawks didn't rack up a ton of sacks. As a team, the Seahawks registered 36 sacks, which ranked them 18th in the NFL.
With the addition of former Detroit Lions speed rusher Cliff Avril and now Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Michael Bennett, the Seahawks are hoping to change all that.
Bennett, a 6'4", 271-pound 27-year-old, has 15 sacks in his four-year career, nine of them coming last year, his only full season as a starter. Bennett finished seventh overall in Pro Football Focus's 4-3 defensive end rankings, grading out just as well against the run (plus-10.6) as he did in rushing the passer (plus-11.3).
Given Bennett's size and power, it's easy to envision a three-man rotation between him, Irvin and Avril where Bennett moves inside in nickel situations... and hard to see how opponents would stop them.
The only head-scratcher here is the contract. A presumed hot market for Bennett only produced a one-year, $5 million deal in Seattle. If he improves on last season, the Seahawks might have to break out the franchise tag. When you're trying to win a Super Bowl, though, win now or bust.
Part of the Philadelphia Eagles defense's complete retooling into a base 3-4 alignment, former Houston Texans outside linebacker Connor Barwin will man the edge for the new-look Birds.
Barwin is very young for a free agent; he’ll still be 26 when the regular season starts. At 6’3”, 253 pounds, he has good size for a 3-4 outside linebacker. The former second-round pick needed a couple of seasons to bloom, but when he did—wow.
Barwin’s third season was massively productive. His first career start came in the first game, and he started all 15 games the rest of the way, racking up 11.5 sacks, 36 tackles and 13 assists.
Unfortuately, Barwin took a major step back in 2012, with only three sacks this past season. It's tempting to think it's because J.J. Watt gobbled up all the sacks, but Barwin's Pro Football Focus pass-rush grades were quite poor, ranking second-to-last among all 3-4 outside linebackers.
Given Barwin's youth, obvious talent and natural skill set, it's easy to believe this was just a bump in the road for him. If so, the Eagles got a great young piece at a position of huge importance for the transition they're hoping to make.
If not, and Barwin can't provide pressure off the edge, the Eagles' newest crop of expensive free-agent secondary players won't look much better than the last one.
The glutted cornerback market didn’t depress Keenan Lewis’ numbers. The 6’0”, 198-pound corner signed a five-year, $25.5 million contract with the New Orleans Saints, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.
Lewis, who turns just 27 in May, fills a critical secondary need for the Saints. Per Pro Football Reference, New Orleans allowed more net yards per attempt than any other team in football. Lewis is a physical presence who racked up 23 official passes defensed in 2012. He’s also able to make plays against the run, accumulating 54 solo tackles and 15 assists.
Lewis can occasionally be too physical; per Pro Football Focus, he was penalized eight times in 2012 (subscription required), with one of those flags picked up. Overall, PFF graded Lewis 40th out of 112 qualifying cornerbacks, with slightly positive grades against both the run and the pass. Lewis played the most snaps out of any Steelers cornerback, but had only the third-highest PFF overall grade.
Once again, the big question here is the contract. Lewis has played only four seasons, and only had one career start in his first three seasons. That means the Saints gave a five-year deal with a $6 million signing bonus to a player with just one average season as a starter on his resume.
Steven Jackson and the Atlanta Falcons are a storybook free-agency romance.
Jackson, the stud workhorse back, driven into a sea of expectant defenders 2,395 times over a nine-year career, all for naught. The Atlanta Falcons, an exotic sports car built around a power-running-game engine, which ran out of gas before the trophy was won.
Depending on which metaphor you prefer, the Falcons have either hitched themselves to Jackson, or Jackson dropped himself into the Falcons' empty engine bay. Either way, the result is the most complete offense in football.
Jackson, all 6'3", 229 of him, is a ridiculous combination of size, power and moves. He still has enough burst to hit the hole hard and drive through it; his 4.1 average yards per carry last season was right on pace with his career 4.2 average. In fact, just two of his nine seasons haven't seen him run for between 4.1 and 4.4 yards per carry (2004's 5.0 and 2010's 3.8 are the outliers).
Jackson looked good doing it, too; he was Pro Football Focus' 13th-ranked running back in 2012 (subscription required), out of 59 qualifiers.
Will Jackson be just as good at the end of this new three-year deal as he was in 2012? That remains to be seen. The Falcons are putting the pedal to the metal this season, though, and Jackson's got more than enough horsepower to get them to the checkered flag.
Two years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles put together a “Dream Team” of stars. The biggest star in the constellation was Nnamdi Asomugha, whose addition was supposed to give the Eagles the best cornerback trio in football—maybe the best ever.
Just two years later, all three cornerbacks are gone. Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were released, traded and allowed to leave as a free agent, respectively. Cary Williams joins cornerback Bradley Fletcher and safeties Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung in an Eagles starting secondary comprised entirely of 2013 free-agent acquisitions.
Williams, a 6'1", 185-pound cornerback, is 28 years old but has only two seasons as a starter under his belt. As a seventh-round pick of the Tennessee Titans, he failed to catch on and was cut midway through his second season. The Ravens picked him up, and after a season-and-a-half as a reserve, he stepped into a starting role.
Williams put his good size to excellent use, racking up 130 solo tackles, 29 assists and four interceptions while starting all 32 games for the Ravens since 2011. All four interceptions came in 2012, as Williams had his best year as a pro.
Williams isn't a shutdown corner, at least not yet: He finished 69th out of 133 cornerbacks graded by Pro Football Focus. Still, his size, potential and Ravens-approved approach to the game could be just what the Eagles defense needed.
With just a three-year, $17 million contract, the Eagles struck a balance between locking the still-growing player up for the future and breaking the bank on a player who's not a proven star.
It’s no wonder many considered Sean Smith the needle in haystack of the cornerback market. The 6’2”, 215-pound cornerback doesn’t turn 26 until July, yet has 56 career starts, five interceptions, 177 tackles and 31 assists to his credit.
Smith is coming off a hot-and-cold 2012 campaign. His good, consistent performances in the front half of the season turned into second-half struggles. Smith is solid athletically, but is not a blanket in coverage and can be beaten. He’s a willing tackler but, despite his size, is not gifted at it.
All told, Pro Football Focus graded Smith 74th out of 113 cornerbacks (subscription required); his seven penalties dragged his overall score down quite a bit.
Smith and fellow Chief signee Dunta Robinson should have a very healthy competition to start across from Brandon Flowers; the Chiefs have gotten simultaneously younger and more experienced at the position.
The Indianapolis Colts might be going on the most thrifty spending spree in NFL free-agent history. Rather than making a huge splash by lavishing monster deals on the biggest available names, they’re locking up second-, third- and fourth-tier players to long-term deals.
Essentially, they’re replacing all the startable young veterans they should have netted from the last five-plus years of drafting.
Former San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois barely had a chance to start for the mighty 49ers defense. During his four-year career, the 26-year-old lineman, with a 6’3”, 295-pound frame, has only started two games.
As the Colts complete their transition to a 3-4 defense, though, Jean-Francois has the size and tools to stop the run on his side of the line for years to come.
That’s exactly what the Colts are betting $5.5 million guaranteed, and $22 million overall, over the next four years on: Francois playing just as well for 16 games a season as he did in just under an average of 70 snaps a season (per Pro Football Focus).
LaRon Landry is an impressive physical specimen. Fond of posting shirtless pictures of himself on Twitter (@MrLandry30), Landry is well known for keeping his physique sculpted and his biceps bulging.
Fitness, though, should not be confused for football form. New York Jets fans and muscle-mag enthusiasts voted him into the 2013 Pro Bowl, but as Bleacher Report AFC East Lead Blogger Erik Frenz explained, Landry was far, far down the list of deserving AFC safeties.
Landry is not gifted in pass coverage, and for all his physical strength he's not a great run stuffer either. As controversial former movie critic Michael Medved once described the movie Pulp Fiction, Landry is "rampagingly mediocre." Pro Football Focus graded Landry their 65th-best safety (out of 88) in 2012.
Then, there's his contract.
The Indianapolis Colts, per CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora, signed Landry to a four-year, $24 million deal with $12 million fully guaranteed. This after Landry just wrapped up a one-year "prove it" deal with the Jets where he only questionably proved it.
Landry is not a terrible player, and this isn't the worst contract the Colts have inked a player to this offseason. The Colts, though, could have gotten a much better player for that money, or an equal player for much less investment.
The 2013 NFL free agency class was supposed to be a cornerback bonanza. With several top-quality veterans, some intriguing young players and some big names, the market for corners was supposed to have been bullish.
Instead, the glut of available corners seemed to keep teams from making the first move. When Chris Houston opted to return to the Detroit Lions for a smaller-than-expected deal, it seemed to be a "hometown discount." When Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie signed with the Denver Broncos on a one-year deal, it didn't set the market for multi-year deals.
The San Diego Chargers' inking of former Jacksonville Jaguar Derek Cox is the first real cornerback signing of the year, and it's a fairly well-sized one. Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Cox signed a four-year, $20 million contract, with $10.25 million fully guaranteed in the first two years of the deal.
The good news is that Cox is a good-sized (6'1", 180 pounds) corner who will still only be 26 when this season starts. Despite being just a couple of years older than some rookies, the former third-round pick already has 45 career starts and 12 interceptions.
Cox is a decent cover corner and a willing, if not great, tackler. Some may be shocked by Cox's low overall Pro Football Focus grade of -2.5 (subscription required), but most of that is due to a disastrous game against Detroit, where Calvin Johnson caught six of seven targets against Cox for 103 yards. The rest of it is due to Cox's high penalty rate; Cox drew seven flags last season (two of which were offset or declined).
For most of the season, Cox was a consistently positive force for the Jaguars. The big question going forward is going to be his health; the Chargers have already bet $10.25 million they know the answer.
Apparently, the tiff between Wes Welker and Danny Amendola was about love, not money. Shortly after Welker signed with the Denver Broncos, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport is reporting Amendola inked a five-year, $31 million deal with $10 million of that guaranteed.
Amendola was widely touted as a replacement for Welker, given that they share certain physical attributes: elite quickness, a lack of size and nearly identical 2012 Pro Football Focus grades (subscription required).
The comparison is valid, if only skin-deep. Welker has truly top-notch deep speed and a fearlessness that Amendola lacks. Welker is also legendarily tough, both in terms of taking hits and rehabbing from injuries.
Amendola has much better hands, though. Welker had 15 drops on 166 targets, while Amendola dropped just two of the 95 balls thrown his way. Perhaps Welker’s high-profile drops in the last AFC Championship Game, and Super Bowl XLVI, finally convinced the Patriots it was time to find a new go-to target.
That contract, however, may be a huge stumbling block. In his four NFL seasons, Amendola has started only 17 games. His inability to stay healthy is a big concern when the Patriots have put all of their receiving eggs in Welker’s basket for so long. Can Amendola handle Welker’s crazy, 166-target workload?
The Patriots are betting at least $10 million he can.
In this space, I recently called Cliff Avril “the best free agent no one is talking about.” Avril’s pure natural speed hasn’t diminished from his ‘tweener days at Purdue, but his frame has gradually filled out to a very lean 265 pounds.
Avril boasts an elite ability to get around the corner and strip or sack the quarterback. Playing as a left defensive end in Jim Schwartz’s wide-nine alignment, though, Avril has been less effective when using inside, spin or power moves against massive right tackles.
Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn comes from a defensive-line background, and he certainly knows the importance of fixing the one issue with the Seahawks’ outstanding defense: a lack of pass rush from the front four.
Avril will still only be 27 when the season starts and already boasts 39.5 career sacks and 16 forced fumbles. A note of caution, though: Avril's pressures have decreased in each of the last three seasons.
Pro Football Focus charted Avril's Pass Rush Productivity as just the 29th best (subscription required) out of 43 4-3 defensive ends. Whether this is a symptom of declining effectiveness, or of a greater malaise within the Lions' defense, is unknown. Though Avril's sack numbers still look great, his down-to-down play in 2012 wasn't nearly what it was in 2010 or 2011.
Depending on the size of the contract dished out, this could be a brilliant signing for the Seahawks or a mediocre one. Avril may still fit best in a 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker; in order to get their money's worth, the Seahawks will need to prioritize putting Avril in the best possible position to rush the passer.
The Raiders need to restock a front seven that had two of its best players, Philip Wheeler and Desmond Bryant, leave via free agency.
Former Cleveland Browns linebacker Kaluka Maiava is an excellent fit to replace Wheeler and came much cheaper to boot. The two outside linebackers finished seventh and sixth, respectively, in Pro Football Focus’s 3-4 outside linebacker grades (subscription required).
So how did Maiava agree to a 3-year, $6 million deal with Oakland when Wheeler raked $26 million over five seasons? The premium was paid for Wheeler’s pass-rush ability. PFF charted them both with three sacks, but Wheeler with 14 quarterback hits and 13 hurries, compared to Maiava’s one and three.
The 5’11”, 226-pound Maiava is quite undersized for a 3-4 outside linebacker, yet he edged Wheeler in PFF’s run-stopping grades.
All told, Maiava is a solid replacement for Wheeler. Better yet, the four-year veteran will turn just 26 this month—his best football is likely ahead of him. It wouldn’t be too surprising if three years down the road, Oakland is happier about signing Maiava than Miami is about signing Wheeler.
It’s been a long, hard road for Drew Stanton. After a standout career at Michigan State, he was drafted in 2007 by his hometown Lions to be their quarterback of the future. The only problem: Then-offensive coordinator Mike Martz wanted nothing to do with him.
Through a combination of poorly timed injuries and willful disregard of his ability, Stanton stagnated in Detroit. After Jim Schwartz took over, Stanton was slowly built back up and, when forced into action as an emergency backup, performed surprisingly well.
Stanton has natural athleticism and enough arm to make all throws. He's typically accurate, but he seems to have one or two head-scratching “misfires” a game. Stanton was probably the best quarterback the New York Jets had on their roster in 2012, even if it was only for a few days.
In each of his last two stops, Stanton’s only wish was a chance to compete for the starting job; in both New York and Indianapolis, he was denied that chance. In Arizona, the door is wide open. That new Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians worked with Stanton in Indianapolis is a great sign for Stanton's odds.
Stanton told The Arizona Republic he wants to be “the answer” at quarterback the Cardinals have been searching for ever since Kurt Warner flew the coop. But Stanton hasn't started a game since 2010, and has only started four in his five-year career.
He’ll have to prove he’s not just the latest in a long line of not-quite-good-enough quarterbacks.
The contract tango that receiver Wes Welker and the New England Patriots danced through the media seemed to take years, all leading up to the final moment—when, unexpectedly, the Patriots’ offer wasn’t enough. Welker spurned Tom Brady and the Patriots, and went looking for a dance partner.
Across the room, Peyton Manning was waiting with a rose clamped dashingly between his teeth, and within what seemed like minutes, a two-year, $12 million deal had been reached.
Welker is the perfect fit for Manning and the Denver Broncos' offense. He’s quick, runs sharp routes and is more than tough enough to go over the middle, weave through defenders and make catches in traffic. He’s also got the route-running ability and deep speed to get open downfield against quality cornerbacks, further enhancing a vertical element of the Broncos' passing game that was already a major threat with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on the outside.
You couldn’t get a better player, a better fit or a better contract. Executive VP John Elway and the Broncos hit this one out of the park.
The San Franciso 49ers just traded their former No. 1 overall pick, quarterback Alex Smith, to the Kansas City Chiefs. Now, the Chiefs’ former No. 5 overall pick, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, is headed to San Francisco.
Football is funny that way sometimes.
Dorsey was a prized draft pick who couldn’t get a chance in the Chiefs organization. Drafted to play defensive tackle in Herman Edwards’ Tampa 2, the Chiefs made Dorsey learn three different defensive schemes in his first three seasons.
The system the Chiefs stuck with for Dorsey’s third, fourth and fifth seasons was the one he was the worst fit for: Romeo Crennel’s 3-4. The 6’2”, 310-pound Dorsey couldn’t rush the passer well anymore—but he turned out to be a gifted run-stuffer.
Dorsey’s last season was cut short by injury. Per Pro Football Focus, though, Dorsey’s 2011 was quite excellent; he graded 14th out of 32 3-4 defensive ends. His plus-17.7 run-stopping grade was second best in the NFL that season. First and third were 49ers ends Ray McDonald and Justin Smith, respectively.
In 2012, though, Smith’s pass rush took a huge step back, and McDonald was nowhere near as effective against the run. Will Dorsey be groomed to replace Smith? He’ll need to improve dramatically as a pass-rusher. Is Dorsey an immediate upgrade over McDonald? Or, will Dorsey be used to replace the departing nose tackle, Isaac Sopoaga? As defensive coordinator Vic Fangio uses a one-gap front, this is a strong possibility; the relatively lean Dorsey wouldn’t be expected to play a traditional monster two-gap tackle.
The 49ers got younger, more versatile and better at stopping the run with the acquisition of Dorsey. His signing is a savvy move with little downside.
Hailing from tiny Stillman College, 6’4”, 331-pound Sammie Hill is anything but tiny. His natural size and athleticism allowed him to anchor a desperately understaffed Lions defensive line in his rookie season; despite the Lions adding Corey Williams, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley during his four seasons there, he still carved out a solid rotational spot.
Per Pro Football Focus, Hill’s 419 snaps were third most amongst Lions defensive tackles, and just behind Fairley’s 511. He graded out as PFF’s 24th-best defensive tackle (of 85), and his plus-7.9 pass-rush grade ranked him 17th.
Hill's rare combination of size and speed give him almost unlimited potential; his still-raw technique and apparent lack of conditioning hold him back a bit. For a man with his bulk, he sometimes struggles to anchor at the point of attack.
Still, Hill will be just 26 years old when the season starts, and has yet to play his best football. His three-year, $11.4 million contract is a very low-risk investment for a proven young veteran with such upside.
The feared Tampa 2 defense was backstopped by strong safety John Lynch for many years. Their Super Bowl XXXVII win came on the back of an MVP performance from free safety Dexter Jackson. Stalwart cornerback Ronde Barber moved to safety last season, and had one of the best seasons of any safety in football.
Now, the Buccaneers have invested a massive $41.25 million into arguably the best available safety, former San Francisco 49ers defender Dashon Goldson.
Goldson is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons; this last season earned him a first-team All-Pro nod.
Pro Football Focus is not as generous (subscription required) as the Associated Press, grading Goldson their 20th-best safety in 2012. Still, the 6’2”, 205-pound Goldson is a gifted two-way player and, at age 28, may not yet be at the peak of his powers.
Still, with a reported $22 million of that five-year contract guaranteed, Goldson will have to be two years into a seven-year streak of Pro Bowl appearances to earn his money. Tampa spent a lot of cash last season, and not all of it wisely.
The Bucs are taking another huge risk on Goldson; at least he’s a far more proven commodity than cornerback Eric Wright.
Counting starters and heavy-rotation players, the Lions had seven significant contributors to their 2012 defense enter unrestricted free agency. Three of those were in the defensive backfield.
Though the Lions have re-signed cornerback Chris Houston and safety Amari Spievey, the Lions still need a replacement for safety Louis Delmas, and likely a challenger for Spievey.
Enter Glover Quin. Ranked 40th out of 88 qualifying safeties by Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the 5’10”, 201-pound Quin is decent in pass coverage and provides good pop against the run—much like the man he replaces, Delmas. Quin happened to have one of his best pass-coverage games last season against the Lions on Thanksgiving, which may have caught their attention.
Quin isn’t a world-beater, but he and his five-year deal do bring stability to a position the Lions haven’t had a reliable starter at since Ron Rice. Depending on the terms, this could be a good value signing at a desperate-need position.
If a quality every-down back is called a “workhorse,” the Cardinals have been stuck in the desert on a horse with no name. Having let 2012’s leading rusher, the unremarkable LaRod Stephens-Howling, go in a different direction, the Cardinals had no credible starting tailback on the roster.
Mendenhall, though well removed from his best form, is a credible starting tailback. With a tantalizing mix of speed and power, the 5’11”, 210-pounder has both flashed dominance and been moribund through long stretches throughout his five-year career. In fact, Mendenhall has alternated years rushing for less and more than four yards per carry in each of his five seasons.
If the unrelated-to-anything pattern holds, Mendenhall will be an impact player at a position of desperate need. If the massive decline in health, production and effort that happened last season isn't reversed, though, Mendenhall won't be an upgrade over Stephens-Howling, who only rushed for 357 yards last season.
Either way, the Cardinals are only into Mendenhall for one year and $2.5 million, per NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah. The Cardinals should have had a better Plan B in store in case Reggie Bush signed in Detroit, which he did, but Mendenhall is a perfect Plan C; they couldn't get a more talented back for less investment.
The thought going into free agency was that the Lions were cap-strapped and in desperate need of defensive help. They let starting right tackle Gosder Cherilus leave for Indianapolis, and they appear to be letting defensive end Cliff Avril walk, too.
So why are the Lions rolling out a white limo for running back Reggie Bush, arguably the top skill-position player available?
The Lions offense needs a threat out of the backfield to keep defenses honest and make plays in the space underneath Calvin Johnson and the passing attack. Running back Jahvid Best was supposed to fill that role, but his head and neck injuries may have ended his career.
Bush may not be quite as explosive as he was coming into the league, but he still has better start-stop burst than most NFL backs. The 6’0”, 200-pound tailback has finally rounded out his “satellite player” game (i.e. he only works in space). In two seasons as the Miami Dolphins’ feature back, Bush averaged 222 carries, 1,036 yards (that’s 4.7 yards per carry) and six touchdowns per season.
The value in this deal isn’t as much about what Bush will do for the Lions as it is about what the Lions will be able to do with Bush in their backfield.
Defensive tackle Jason Jones signing with the Lions is a homecoming in two ways.
First, Jones, who turns 27 in May, was born and raised in Detroit and went to school at nearby Eastern Michigan. Second, Jones spent the first four seasons of his career in Tennessee, where he was coached by then-Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in his rookie year. Schwartz, of course, is now the head coach of the Lions.
At 6’5”, 272 pounds, Jones is a bit of a ’tweener. He’s not quite bulky enough to play defensive tackle on every down, but he’s not quite fast enough to get around the corner as an edge rusher, either. He does provide consistent pressure up the middle as a nickel defensive tackle and is strong enough to set the edge against the run as a defensive end.
In his sole year in Seattle, Jones was used as a situational tackle and received Pro Football Focus’s 16th-best pass-rushing grade out of 85 defensive tackles. It remains to be seen whether the Lions see Jones in that role or as a full-time defensive end.
Depending on the as-yet-unreported terms of the three-year deal, Jones should be a versatile, high-floor value signing for a team that desperately needs defensive line depth.
The Chiefs made a serious commitment to new quarterback Alex Smith, and now they’re seriously committing to getting him weapons. After re-signing No. 1 receiver Dwayne Bowe and bringing in tight end Anthony Fasano, they’ve now added former Indianapolis Colts wideout Donnie Avery.
Avery, walking at 5’11”, 186 pounds, was the first pick in the second round of the 2008 draft. He showed good potential in his first two seasons, hauling in 100 passes for 1,263 yards and eight touchdowns.
Avery’s development was cut short in his third year, though, when he blew his ACL in a preseason game. Avery missed the entire 2010 season and was released by the Rams. He was signed by the Titans in 2011 but barely got on the field for them; he was active for just eight games and caught only three passes.
In 2012, though, Avery was back in form, this time in Indianapolis. He caught 60 passes for 781 yards and three touchdowns. Even if he can’t produce better than that in 2013, it’ll be okay. The more targets Alex Smith has who can get open past the sticks and catch it, the better chance he has to hit the Arrowhead Stadium ground running.
The Cleveland Browns are making a serious commitment to retooling their defense. After adding outside linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive tackle Desmond Bryant, they’ve inked former Arizona Cardinals linebacker Quentin Groves.
Groves, who’ll turn 29 in July, was a 2008 second-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars. At 6’3”, 250 pounds, Groves has the build to rush the passer from the outside linebacker spot. That’s not his game, though.
As a spot starter throughout his four-year career, Groves only has 6.5 career sacks. Zero of those sacks came in his two years as an Oakland Raider, where he got the most playing time. With one season in Arizona, though, and just seven starts, Groves had four sacks, 34 tackles and seven assists.
That new Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton would want to bring Groves with him from Arizona speaks volumes. Groves also is known as a quality special-teams player. Depending on the terms, this could be a good value signing on the heels of some major splashes—or a gross overpayment of a special-teams specialist.
It’s rare that the signing of a single player throws a whole defense’s identity into question, but it appears that’s what’s happened with the Bills’ acquisition of linebacker Manny Lawson.
Lawson is a perfect fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker, the position he played for the San Francisco 49ers after they took him in the first round of the 2006 draft. Lawson played at the strong outside linebacker spot in Cincinnati’s 4-3 defense for the past two seasons, but at 6’5” and 240 pounds, Lawson was an awkward fit.
Not in position to use his pass-rushing skills, and so limited in coverage the Bengals took him off the field for many passing downs, Lawson had only 3.5 sacks during his two seasons in Cincinnati. Lawson averaged more sacks across each of the four full seasons he played in San Francisco.
With new Buffalo defensive coordinator Mike Pettine being a disciple of Rex Ryan, the signing of Lawson might signal a shift to a 3-4 base alignment. This would be a potential unnerving twist for defensive end Mario Williams, who left Houston for Buffalo partly to avoid being miscast as a 290-pound 3-4 outside linebacker.
Williams, though, should be on board with this signing. Per John Kryk of the Toronto Sun, Williams and Lawson were roommates at North Carolina State. Kryk also reported Lawson’s contract as a four-year, $12 million deal that shouldn’t pose any cap problems if things don’t work out.
This signing might raise more questions than answers about the Bills defense—but assuming it fits into Pettine’s master plan for the defense, it’s a good pickup at a good value.
The Browns are wasting no time in getting new defensive coordinator Ray Horton the horses he needs to run his aggressive 3-4 defense. Though Desmond Bryant is probably best known for this spectacularly unflattering mugshot, the Harvard grad was quietly one of the best-performing defensive tackles in the NFL last season.
Pro Football Focus graded Bryant the sixth-best interior lineman in football last season, crediting him with four sacks, 11 quarterback hits and 20 hurries last season—all in just eight starts. The 28-year-old didn’t see the starting lineup until his third season and has only 18 career starts to his credit.
That means there’s a lot of tread left on the tires of that 6’5”, 290-pound frame, but it also means Bryant doesn’t have much of a track record. The Browns are putting a lot into the hope that all of their new pieces will click. Per Adam Schefter of ESPN, they’re betting $34 million over five years that Bryant will lead the way.
This is a savvy investment by the Browns, but it’s a big one.
In the 2009 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots had back-to-back picks to start the second round. With them, the Lions took safety Louis Delmas and the Patriots took safety Patrick Chung. Both had plenty of physical talent, but Delmas struggled with injuries and Chung with both injuries and pass coverage.
After four seasons, Delmas and Chung entered the free-agent market together.
Chung is the first to find a home; the Philadelphia Eagles have added the 5’11", 207-pound safety to their new-look defense. He isn’t a stud, but Chung finished 38th out of 88 safeties graded by Pro Football Focus this season.
Best of all, he’s only 25 years old.
He’ll turn 26 before the season starts, but a four-year veteran who’s still that young is quite rare. He still has some developing to do, and it’s entirely possible that he just wasn’t cut out to excel within Bill Belichick’s complex defense.
Perhaps new Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis will finally unlock Chung's potential, or perhaps not. Assuming the price is right, this is a pickup that makes sense.
Unlike most of the four- and five-year veterans in this free-agent class, Philip Wheeler isn't a first-time free agent. A former third-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts, Wheeler only saw part-time duty for each of this first two seasons. He started as a third-year player, but wasn't re-signed before hitting the market.
New Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie signed Wheeler to a one-year deal. Wheeler had a heck of a year, finishing with three sacks, 78 tackles and 31 assists in just 13 games played. Pro Football Focus graded Wheeler their sixth-best outside linebacker in 2012.
The Dolphins offered Wheeler the multi-year deal the Raiders couldn't, or wouldn't, and then some: a five-year, $26 million dollar contract.
Wheeler's short track record probably hasn't earned that big of a deal, but the Dolphins are betting on a player trending upwards as he's hitting his prime. That's usually a good bet.
With linebacker Ray Lewis retiring, and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger departing via free agency, the Ravens' front seven is badly depleted. The signing of former New York Giant Chris Canty, however, will shore up the defensive line, and help keep whoever replaces those linebackers clean.
Canty, an eight-year veteran who’s played both inside and outside during his career, should solidify a spot in flux since Cory Redding left after the 2011 season. Canty’s 6’7”, 286-pound frame is big enough to stop the run, but built to rush the passer; he’s totaled 19 sacks, 191 tackles and 82 assists in his eight seasons.
The 30-year-old's best football days are probably behind him, but he should be a stout addition to a Ravens defensive line that can always get better. With a short (three-year) deal and only $2.8 million guaranteed, the Ravens are protected if Canty can’t make an impact.
Jermon Bushrod going to the Chicago Bears might have been both the best fit and worst-kept secret of this free-agency period. The Bears had one of the worst left tackle situations in the NFL, and a quarterback they paid dearly for but couldn’t protect.
In a free-agent market saturated with offensive tackles, it was thought Bushrod would be a big upgrade without too big of a price tag for the cap-strapped Bears.
Then, the Bears signed Bushrod to a five-year, $36 million contract with $17.7 million guaranteed.
Somewhere in the mutual lovefest, the fact that the inconsistent Bushrod was supposed to be affordable was lost.
In fact, Bushrod (the 44th-ranked offensive tackle, per Pro Football Focus) barely outperformed incumbent J’Marcus Webb (ranked 47th). In fact, Webb was assigned a plus-1.5 for his pass protection, when Bushrod’s minus-3.5 mark was significantly lower. Bushrod went to the Pro Bowl, but offensive linemen often make it regardless of whether they play well.
Bushrod has played much better than he did in 2011, but he’s also played worse. The Bears have to hope they’re getting the best Bushrod there’s ever been—and even then, he might not be worth that contract.
For the first time since 2009, and the first time in quarterback Sam Bradford's career, the St. Louis Rams will enter a season with the same offensive coordinator as the season before.
In this critical year for their franchise quarterback's development, the Rams needed an athletic tight end that could give Bradford a chain-moving target down the middle of the field. Cook fits the bill.
At nearly 26 years of age, Cook has just gotten started in the NFL. Though he's played in nearly every game for which he's been healthy, he has only 12 starts in four seasons. Despite his obvious athleticism, the Titans' need for blocking help didn't often see Cook put his 6'4", 235-pound frame to good use.
That former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher lavished a five-year deal on Cook tells you all you need to know about his potential.
Miami’s got it, and it's not to flaunt it. “It,” of course, is salary-cap space, and former Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is the latest free agent to be wooed by the Dolphins’ charms.
Ellerbe, presumed to be the successor to Ray Lewis, is a 27-year-old four-year veteran. At 6’1”, 236 pounds, he isn’t massive, but Ellerbe is fast, athletic and an aggressive run-stopper. Ellerbe earned the 13th-best grades from Pro Football Focus among all inside or middle linebackers in 2012, despite his snaps being limited due to injury.
Ellerbe had 4.5 sacks, 66 tackles and 23 assists in the regular season, despite starting only seven games. Like former teammate Paul Kruger, Ellerbe made much of his free-agent money in the playoffs. Ellerbe notched 25 tackles and seven assists in the postseason, including a combined nine in Super Bowl XLVII.
$35 million is a lot to invest in a four-year player with just 14 career starts. But Miami’s got the money, and Ellerbe’s got the talent.
When a team signs a new free agent, it's always cause for celebration. During a season where every player gained for one team means a player lost for another, adding is always better than subtracting.
Sometimes, though, a player-to-team fit is so bizarre, or the size of their deal is so out of whack with their perceived value that it gives everyone pause. Erik Walden to the Colts is one of those signings.
On the surface, it makes some sense: Walden is a young veteran (just 27 years old) with five years in the NFL and 25 starts in his last two seasons. He puts in a ton of effort and has a high motor. As a starting/rotational left outside linebacker in Green Bay's 3-4, he's a positional fit for the Colts, whose attempt to use their 4-3 ends as 3-4 outside linebackers didn't go well in 2012.
However, Walden's production just isn't there. Pro Football Focus graded Walden dead last among 3-4 outside linebackers last season and assigned him a league-worst minus-25.5 pass-rush grade. With 783 snaps under his belt, PFF charted Walden with just three sacks and zero hurries in 2012.
To put it in perspective, the Colts signed Walden to replace Dwight Freeney.
Worse yet, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Walden signed a four-year, $16 million deal. Unless his game takes a huge step forward, the Colts will have to restructure or release him well before he hits the last year of that deal.
Part of the Colts’ first-day spending spree, offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus is the ultimate boom-or-bust signing. A 6’7”, 315-pound natural right tackle, Cherilus lived up to his massive potential last season. Pro Football Focus graded Cherilus the second-best right tackle in football (subscription required), and the best right-side pass-protector. Best of all, Cherilus finally kicked his nasty personal-foul habit.
However, Cherilus comes with some major caveats. He had microfracture surgery on his right knee prior to the 2011 season and, according to a Detroit Free Press report Cherilus denied, flew to Germany in January for FDA-unapproved Regenokine treatment on that same knee.
If Cherilus’ knee holds up, and his form is what it was in 2012 and not any of the prior four seasons, the Colts will get fair value for their Pro Football Talk-reported five-year, $35 million investment and a top-notch protector for Andrew Luck.
If not, Cherilus will cash his $10 million signing bonus whether or not he plays a down as a Colt.
In the midst of a free-agency shopping spree, the Colts addressed a longstanding need at cornerback with Greg Toler, a former Arizona Cardinal.
Despite the fact that he’s a four-year veteran, Toler is still more potential than reality. At 5’11”, 191 pounds, the former fourth-round pick boasts good size. In just 15 career starts, Toler has five interceptions, and returned two of them for 66- and 102-yard scores.
Toler played 308 snaps for the Cardinals last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and rotated between the left- and right-cornerback positions. He was Pro Football Focus’ 27th-ranked cornerback out of 113 (subscription required).
The question for Toler is going to be if he can handle a full load of reps over the course of an entire season. After sitting most of his rookie season and blowing out an ACL in his third preseason, Toler only played a rotational role, albeit a significant one, in 2012.
He’s a talented player with his best football ahead of him, and represents smart value. However, the Colts are awash in cap money and there’s a bumper crop of standout veteran cornerbacks available. Unless the Colts have another move coming at this position, this signing underwhelms.
When you find a franchise quarterback, protecting him becomes the top job. The Indianapolis Colts had the second-worst pass-blocking offensive line in football last year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and former New England Patriots guard Donald Thomas should play a big part in shoring that up.
Thomas, a 6'3", 295-pound 27-year-old, was pressed into service last season due to injuries along the Patriots' line. He performed extremely well, especially for a fourth-year player with only 14 previous career starts.
Thomas has outstanding versatility, having taken NFL snaps at left guard, right guard and center in his short career. Pending details on his contract, Thomas is an excellent value signing that will help the Colts in the short, medium and long term.
After a disappointing 2012 from last season's new left tackle, Jared Gaither, and rookie Michael Harris, the San Diego Chargers bolstered the position by signing King Dunlap away from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Dunlap, a four-year veteran who stands 6'8" tall and checks in at a lean 310 pounds, has been the Eagles' Band-Aid along the offensive front for much of his four-year career. Having played guard and tackle, and on both sides of the line, Dunlap should have an opportunity to solidify the left-tackle spot—or, if Harris makes strides in camp, replace departing guard Louis Vasquez.
Depending on the so-far unreported terms, Dunlap is a value signing for a team that needs help in several spots. Dunlap is not a franchise left tackle, nor does he have great technique or footwork. He is, however, an athletic pass-protector with size, strength and versatility; just what the Chargers need.
With new head coach Andy Reid installing his pass-first flavor of the West Coast offense, having just one tight end on the roster wouldn’t do—regardless of young Tony Moeaki’s quality.
The Chiefs inked seven-year veteran Anthony Fasano to a four-year, $16 million deal. The 6’4”, 255-pound target has started 86 games for the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys, catching 205 career passes for 2,373 yards and 24 touchdowns.
What Fasano really brings to the Chiefs' offense, though, is blocking ability that Moeaki lacks—especially in pass protection. Fasano graded out as Pro Football Focus’s 10th-best pass-blocking tight end in 2012, which will help keep new quarterbacks Alex Smith and Chase Daniel upright.
This signing would be a perfect fit, except for the heavily front-loaded contract structure reported by CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora.
Fasano’s speed may be starting to leave him; his average yards per reception declined to 8.1 last season from a career average of 11.6. If he can’t be a viable chain-moving target, the Chiefs will take little solace in knowing there were a lot better, cheaper blocking tight ends available.
The Broncos did an excellent job of protecting star quarterback Peyton Manning during his first year in Denver—and it’s critical the Broncos keep Manning upright if they’re going to keep their Super Bowl hopes alive.
That’s why the lifting of guard Louis Vasquez from the division-rival Chargers makes so much sense. Not yet 26 years old, Vasquez was Pro Football Focus’s ninth-best overall right guard in 2012 (subscription required); his pass-blocking was graded especially strong.
The 6’4”, 330-pound Vasquez should provide an immediate upgrade over the aging Manuel Ramirez, who also struggled to run-block well. However, 2012 was Vasquez’s first getting through all 16 games healthy in his four seasons in the NFL; a guard making this much money (four years, $23.5 million with $13 million guaranteed) has to be reliable, and Vasquez’s short track record is troubling.
Paul Kruger had a very good fourth regular season. He racked up nine sacks, 30 tackles and 12 assists, coming off the edge for the Baltimore Ravens. At 6'4", 285 pounds, Kruger has impressive burst for his size, and would likely be getting paid quite handsomely even if the Ravens didn't make the playoffs.
The Ravens did make the playoffs, though, and it's there where Kruger earned his reported $8 million-per-year contract. In the first round, the Indianapolis Colts had no answer for Kruger's size, speed and moves. Kruger notched two and a half sacks against the Colts, and added two more in the Super Bowl.
The Ravens are pressed tight against the cap, and their AFC North rivals did very well to poach a key young player at a premium position. The addition of Kruger should make the Browns' transition to a 3-4 base defense much smoother.
The only question is if Kruger spends those five years playing more like the solid young performer he was in the regular season, or the beast he became in the playoffs. It could mean the difference between being viewed as a bargain or a bust.
Former Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre has been one of the most consistent young performers in football, grading out amongst Pro Football Focus' top inline blockers in most of his first four seasons in the NFL.
Levitre, who turns 27 in May, should be a huge step towards fixing the Titans' biggest problem: the lack of daylight for explosive tailback Chris Johnson. The deal for the 6'2", 306-pound Levitre is steep for a guard, but not backbreaking-ly so; Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Carl Nicks signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract last season.
Put it this way: The Titans aren't just adding a big contract to the bottom line. They're hoping to again get top production out of the cash they sunk into Johnson. If it works, they'll be getting two elite players in the prime of their career for the price of one.
It was one of the most reported, likely free-agent moves, and now it’s happened: Blazing fast wideout Mike Wallace is headed to Miami, giving second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill a target who can scare defenses and force them to adjust.
This very column named Wallace as potentially the biggest bust of this free-agent class, and his new contract, which Jeff Darlington of NFL Network states will be a five-year deal worth $65 million with about $30 million guaranteed, is a big reason why.
Wallace is not a do-everything No. 1 receiver; he’s excellent on deep routes and screen passes, but his very slim build and inconsistent hands keep him from being a third-down safety blanket for Tannehill. Wallace will have to prove he can physically overcome a steady diet of double-teams.
He’ll also have to prove he wasn’t just playing for this contract.
Wallace’s talent is the kind the Dolphins need, but the Dolphins aren’t a great fit for Wallace. Worse yet, this is a scary level of money and commitment for a young player trending downward.
With new head coach Marc Trestman leading an offensive overhaul in Chicago, his first move is to add the kind of two-way tight end the Bears haven’t had since they traded Greg Olson away.
Martellus Bennett is coming off of the best year of his career, hauling in 55 catches for 626 yards and five touchdowns for the New York Giants in his fifth season. The 6’7”, 240-pound 26-year-old was Pro Football Focus’ fifth-rated tight end (subscription required), grading out positively in pass-receiving, pass-blocking, run-blocking and penalty avoidance.
Bennett’s commitment and effort have occasionally come into question, but his talent is a great on-field fit with the Bears’ needs.
The New York Giants have won two recent Super Bowls—thanks in larger part to the relentless pass rush of their physical, versatile defensive line.
Cullen Jenkins fits right into the Giants' mold. Jenkins played both inside and outside in his first seven years with the Green Bay Packers, the last two of which were as a 3-4 defensive end.
In 2011 and 2012, Jenkins played defensive tackle with the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite the struggles of that team's defense, Jenkins still racked up 9.5 of his 38.5 career sacks in Philadelphia.
With defensive tackle Chris Canty released, and end Osi Umenyiora likely headed elsewhere, Jenkins's size will bolster the run defense and his pass-rush skills will keep the Giants' defensive line strong. A three-year, $8 million deal (of which only $3 million is guaranteed) couldn't be more appropriate (via ESPN).