Grading Every Team's Initial NFL Free-Agency Moves

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2013

Grading Every Team's Initial NFL Free-Agency Moves

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    Free agency may have slowed a little in the last couple of days. However, some teams have already made a clutch of high-profile moves since the bell sounded last Tuesday.

    This group of big spenders is headlined by a rebuilding AFC North team determined to keep pace in a fierce division. There's also an AFC East team who has spared little expense to build a competitor this season.

    These two franchises lead the way, but there have been many smart, under-the-radar signings across the league. As usual, there has also been a share of eyebrow raising and head-scratching moves.

    Here are the complete grades for every team's initial signings in free agency. They are listed by conference, beginning with the NFC.

1. Arizona Cardinals

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    New Signings so Far:

    Rashard Mendenhall, RB on one-year deal

    Drew Stanton, QB on three-year deal

    Yeremiah Bell, S on one-year deal

    Antoine Cason, CB to one-year contract

    Jerraud Powers, CB to a three-year deal

    Jasper Brinkley, MLB on a two-year deal

    Matt Shaughnessy, DE on a one-year contract

    Lorenzo Alexander, LB for three years

     

    The Arizona Cardinals have begun their latest rebuilding effort by acquiring eight low-key free agents. Of course, anything the Cardinals do this offseason will be judged by their decision at quarterback.

    That raises the question of whether ex-Indianapolis Colts backup Drew Stanton can end Arizona's woes at the position. If he can't, it's unlikely the Cardinals will be any better anytime soon.

    Adding a workhorse runner like Rashard Mendenhall will help whoever is under center this season. He knows new head coach Bruce Arians' schemes well. If Mendenhall stays healthy and solves his fumbling problems, he should be a big part of the offense.

    The Cardinals have made some smart additions to their defense. The best is cornerback Jerraud Powers, another former Colt Arians knows. He is an underrated cover man, as is Antoine Cason. Middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley is an aggressive thumper in the middle.

    However, defensive end Matt Shaughnessy may be the Cardinals' best addition. He is versatile enough to dominate on the edge, or cause havoc inside.

    Shaughnessy gives Arians and new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles plenty of options regarding scheme flexibility. Finally, Lorenzo Alexander instantly upgrades the special teams. He is a smart replacement for the departed Quentin Groves.

    The Cardinals have played it safe, opting for short-term investments. Four of their newcomers are only contracted for a year.

    They have added some interesting pieces to an already capable defense. Although Mendenhall is a risk, the upside of his signing is significant.

    As usual, though, there is still that question at quarterback.

    Grade: C

2. Atlanta Falcons

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    New Signings so Far: Steven Jackson, RB on three-year deal

    Key Re-Signings: Tony Gonzalez, TE; William Moore, S

     

    The Atlanta Falcons have only made one new addition, but they certainly got it right. Adding multi-talented running back Steven Jackson gives the Falcons the league's best offense.

    Jackson is more versatile and dynamic than previous incumbent Michael Tuner. Along with the perfectly complementary set of receivers, quarterback Matt Ryan now has all the weapons he'll ever need.

    With Jackson in the backfield, the Falcons retain their position as prime contenders in the NFC. That status is ensured by bringing back tight end Tony Gonzalez, a key component of the passing game.

    The defense couldn't possibly improve without the continued presence of clever safety William Moore.

    Grade: A

3. Carolina Panthers

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    New Signings so Far: Drayton Florence, CB on one-year deal

     

    Like their NFC South rivals, the Carolina Panthers have only welcomed one new addition so far. However, acquiring Drayton Florence was a smart move.

    The Panthers certainly have a need at cornerback after releasing Chris Gamble. Captain Munnerlyn is also testing the market.

    Florence is a savvy and capable veteran. He can lock up in press coverage and also has the size and instincts for the zone schemes the Panthers employ.

    Whether the 10-year pro is still starting material is another matter.

    Grade: C


4. Chicago Bears

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    New Signings so Far: Martellus Bennett, TE on four-year deal

    Jermon Bushrod, OT on five-year deal

     

    The Chicago Bears were quick to conduct some smart business in the early hours of free agency. In doing so, they strengthened two obvious areas of weakness.

    Firstly, signing Martellus Bennett finally gives the Bears a true playmaker at tight end. Bennett could prove crucial in new head coach Marc Trestman's version of the West Coast offense.

    The next move may have done even more to improve the team that missed the playoffs two years running. Signing Jermon Bushrod finally showed a commitment to fixing the offensive line.

    That's the position group that has done more to keep the Bears out of the postseason than any other. Quarterback Jay Cutler will likely be the most grateful man in Chicago.

    The only thing that may give Bears fans pause is the contracts handed to both players. ESPN Chicago claims Bennett's deal is valued at around $20 million. That's a hefty investment in a player who has often been accused of lacking effort and consistency.

    In fairness, Bennett did perform well with the New York Giants in 2012. However, the former Dallas Cowboy still hasn't shed the underachiever label.

    The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Bushrod is set to be paid $39.9 million over five years. Although he has built his reputation protecting Drew Brees, Bushrod is not the league's most agile left tackle.

    He has sometimes struggled with prolific edge-rushers. Bushrod can also seem more proficient blocking for the run than repelling a pass rush.

    Bears fans will have to hope that the team hasn't spent on the right position, but the wrong player.

    Grade: C

5. Dallas Cowboys

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    New Signings so Far: None

     

    The Dallas Cowboys have yet to make a foray into the free-agent market. They hindered their own efforts by placing the franchise tag on outside linebacker Anthony Spencer.

    It was a strange move to invest so heavily in a 3-4 player during a transition to a 4-3 front. It's also given the Cowboys less than $1 million in cap space for new players, according to figures from Spotrac.com.

    With issues along the offensive line and at safety, the Cowboys have risked a lot to keep Spencer. They've also lost a useful third receiver in Kevin Ogletree, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    The Cowboys tried to free up some room by dumping defensive end Marcus Spears. However, they declined to ditch under-performing offensive tackle Doug Free, which would have saved more money.

    So far, the Cowboys' free-agency grades are based more on what they've lost and what they could have had.

    Grade: E

6. Detroit Lions

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    New Signings so Far: Jason Jones, DT on three-year deal

    Reggie Bush, RB on four-year deal

    Glover Quin, S on five-year deal.

     

    The Detroit Lions made two excellent additions to their defense. Tackle Jason Jones is a quick-footed 3-technique who specialises in creating pressure through the middle.

    Jones fits well with the Lions' style of defense. In a scheme that relies on pressure from the front four, Jones will quickly become a valuable member of the rotation.

    However, the signing of Glover Quin might be the best move the Lions make all offseason. A smart and versatile safety is something they have needed for too long.

    Quin is big enough to operate close to the line and smart enough to be an asset in zone-based coverage schemes. He will improve the base and nickel packages.

    Signing Reggie Bush naturally earned the most headlines. While he is a welcome addition at a position of need, the 29-year-old running back is not without his issues.

    What Bush will do is finally give quarterback Matthew Stafford a credible receiver out of the backfield. However, that might not justify a four-year contract for a runner who has only recorded a single 1,000-yard rushing season.

    Yet the Lions earn a good grade for acquiring two young and promising scheme fits for their shaky defense.

    Grade: B

7. Green Bay Packers

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    New Signings so far: None

     

    The Green Bay Packers are yet to make a move in free agency. They have thinned their roster, yet their only major loss has been wide receiver Greg Jennings.

    It was surprising that the Packers didn't make more of an effort to retain their best receiver. They may be stacked at the position thanks to Jordy Nelson and James Jones, but Jennings will certainly be missed.

    Losing him to a major division rival only strengthens the indictment of Green Bay's initial free-agency choices. They've also lost players on defense, although many would argue Erik Walden is replaceable.

    However, the Packers certainly now have gaps at linebacker, along with existing issues in the secondary. They ought to address at least one of these needs if they hope to retain their status at the top of the NFC North.

    Grade: D

8. Minnesota Vikings

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    New Signings so Far

    Greg Jennings, WR on a five-year deal

    Matt Cassel, QB on a two-year contract

    Key Re-Signings: Erin Henderson, LB; Phil Loadholt, OT; Jerome Felton, FB

     

    The Minnesota Vikings made it a successful free-agency period just by signing Greg Jennings. They acquired a legitimate primary receiver who will make young passer Christian Ponder better.

    Jennings may not be as naturally dynamic as some former Vikings' wideouts. However, he is cetrtainly the most reliable pass-catcher the team has had since Cris Carter. That makes $47.5 million over five years more than worth it.

    Opting to bring Cassel to Minnesota, however, is a little bit more contentious.

    Yes, the Vikings certainly need a steady reserve for Ponder. The question is, does Cassel fit the bill? His four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs would seem to suggest otherwise.

    At least Minnesota's powerful running game will remain dominant, thanks to the smart decision to bring back brutal fullback Jerome Felton and right tackle Phil Loadholt.

    Adrian Peterson will have all the room he needs to try and repeat his heroics from 2012.

    Grade: B

9. New Orleans Saints

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    New Signings so Far: Keenan Lewis, CB on five-year deal

    Key Re-Signings: Justin Drescher, LS on four-year deal

    Junior Galette, OLB on three-year deal 

    Brian de la Puente, C to a one-year contract 

    Chris Ivory, RB on a one-year deal

     

    Salary cap restraints have forced the New Orleans Saints to stay relatively quiet so far in free agency. Despite those restrictions, however, the Saints have made several smart moves.

    Their sole new addition is an excellent example. Cornerback Keenan Lewis will quickly improve a shoddy secondary.

    He is a natural press corner and fits the kind of coverage schemes the Saints will likely play in their new 3-4 defense. Lewis was one of the more underrated corners on the market, and the Saints were smart to swoop in early.

    The rest of the moves concern retaining their own free agents. However, the Saints have again chosen wisely. Rush linebacker Junior Galette is exactly the kind of 'tweener who fits well in a 3-4 system.

    Center Brian de la Puente is a key member of the interior of the offensive line. That's an area that remains vital to quarterback Drew Brees' success.

    Keeping running back Chris Ivory means the Saints can still pound out tough yards between the tackles. That's important for their offensive flexibility.

    Overall, the Saints have played it smart during the early days of free agency and certainly merit an above-average grade.

    Grade: B

10. New York Giants

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    New Signings so Far:

    Brandon Myers, TE for four years

    Cullen Jenkins, DT on three-year deal 

    Louis Muprhy, WR on one-year deal

    Dan Connor, MLB on one-year deal

    Josh Brown, K on one-year deal

    Ryan Mundy, S one-year contract

     

    The New York Giants are another NFC team who have spent wisely and added in the right positions. Their first and arguably best move, came within hours of the official start of free agency.

    That was the addition of veteran defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. He is still a playmaking interior pass-rusher, something the Giants have lacked since Justin Tuck moved to end full-time.

    Sticking with defense, middle linebacker Dan Connor helps Big Blue get better at a long-standing problem position. Given that Connor has only made 27 starts in an injury-plagued five-year career, the Giants were smart to offer only a one-year deal.

    However, if Connor pans out, the Giants will finally have an active, intelligent run-stuffer at the heart of their defense. Big Blue also scores big for landing tight end Brandon Myers.

    A real gem of the free-agent market, Myers is perfect for the Giants offense. He is a classic in-line tight end with the power to block and the skills to get open over the middle.

    With the future of Victor Cruz still unresolved, the Giants needed to find at least one receiver who can work underneath.

    Grade: A

11. Philadelphia Eagles

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    New Signings so far: Isaac Sopoaga, NT, via Adam Caplan

    Bradley Fletcher, CB, via The Baltimore Sun

    Cary Williams CB, via Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com

    Kenny Phillips, S, via The Baltimore Sun

    Patrick Chung, S, according to Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com

    Jason Phillips, LB, via Fox News

    James Casey FB/TE, via The Houston Chronicle

     

    The Philadelphia Eagles should reap the benefits from hovering below the radar this year. That approach has yielded several good signings, particularly on defense.

    The best move of the lot was securing Isaac Sopoaga. The Eagles nabbed easily the best pure 3-4 nose tackle on the market.

    Signing Sopoaga provides the basis for Philadelphia's new 3-4 schemes to work, and work quickly. Fans in Philly can also be happy with the way the new regime executed a complete, but low-cost makeover in the secondary.

    Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams are both young cornerbacks with decent potential. Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips give the Eagles two intelligent players at safety.

    The success of the free-agent class will likely depend on the performances of Connor Barwin. His deal is smartly structured, initially paying only $8 million in guaranteed money.

    That's good considering Barwin's inconsistencies. However, if he recaptures his 2011 form, where he recorded 11.5 sacks, Barwin will prove to be one of the bargains of 2013 free agency.

    He will give the Eagles a true edge-rusher for their 3-4.

    Grade: A

12. San Francisco 49ers

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    New Signings so far: Craig Dahl, S on three-year deal via CSNBAYAREA.com

    Glenn Dorsey, DT on two-year deal, according to ESPN.com

    Dan Skuta, LB on two-year deal via CSNBAYAREA.com.

     

    The San Francisco 49ers have stayed as low key as possible following the trade for Anquan Boldin. Their most interesting signing is Dorsey's contract.

    The former Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle never really seemed to fit a 3-4 defense. However, the 49ers must think otherwise, as they will count on him to contribute along their three-man front.

    Journeyman safety Craig Dahl will also be counted on for plays following the loss of Dashon Goldson. Perhaps the smartest signing the Niners made was snaring special teams terror Dan Skuta from the Cincinnati Bengals.

    Special teams is the one area the 49ers have been weak under Jim Harbaugh. Given their struggles in the Super Bowl and in the 2012 NFC Championship Game, Skuta's addition makes a lot of sense.

    Grade: C

13. Seattle Seahawks

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    New Signings so far: Cliff Avril, DE on two-year deal, via ESPN.com

    Michael Bennett, DE on one-year deal, according to ProFootballTalk.com.

     

    Few teams in football have done more to help themselves in a short time this offseason than the Seattle Seahawks. The trade for Percy Harvin answered the need for a true playmaker at wide receiver.

    However, moves to solidify an already strong defense make the Seahawks scary heading into the new season. Landing both Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett was a serious coup for the NFC West outfit.

    Avril is ideal for the hybrid "Leo" position that defines head coach Pete Carroll's multiple defensive fronts. He is lean and fast enough to attack as a standup rush linebacker.

    Avril is also strong and skilled enough to act as a traditional defensive end. As good as the move for Avril looks, signing Michael Bennett may turn out to be the smarter acquisition.

    He is no "joker" or 'tweener-type. Bennett is a classic 4-3 defensive end, as formidable stopping the run as he is pressuring the pocket.

    Positioning Bennett at strongside end could allow the Seahawks to move Red Bryant further inside. That would solidify the run front and generate a huge push in the middle.

    Whatever Carroll chooses to do with his new weapons, the Seahawks line rotation should be close to unstoppable this season.

    Grade: A

14. St. Louis Rams

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    New Signings so far: Jared Cook, TE on five-year deal

    Jake Long, OT on four-year deal, according to ProFootballTalk.com.

    Key Re-Signings: William Hayes, DE on three-year deal, according to USA Today.

     

    The St. Louis Rams have made key moves in free agency. They have added a useful pass-catcher and stellar left tackle around quarterback Sam Bradford.

    Tight end Jared Cook has the potential to be one of the NFL's most dynamic players at his position. The Rams will certainly be hoping so, considering the length of the contract they handed to him. If he plays to his potential, then no problem.

    Cook can stretch the field and has the combination of strength, length and true speed that confounds any defense. In fact, Cook is a hybrid blend of wide receiver in a tight end's body.

    If the Rams scheme ways to make more use of him than the Tennessee Titans did, Cook will represent money well spent. Jake Long finally gives Bradford a credible blindside protector.

    If Long recaptures his early career form, Bradford will be better in 2013.

    Retaining William Hayes was a relatively minimal-risk decision. It keeps a credible pass-rusher in the defensive line rotation.

    Grade: B

15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    New Signings so far: Dashon Goldson, S, five-year deal, according to The Tampa Tribune

    Tom Crabtree, TE, via ESPN Milwaukee

    Jonathan Casillas, LB, one-year deal, via The Times-Picayune. 

    Kevin Ogletree, WR, according to ESPN.com.

     

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers relied on a more thrifty approach to free agency after 2012's big-money moves. Their biggest deal secured prized free safety Dashon Goldson.

    He will certainly improve a weak secondary and form a dangerous tandem with big-hitter Mark Barron. However, as skilled as Goldson is, his play certainly deteriorated in last season's playoffs.

    He was alarmingly bad against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game. Considering he'll now be facing Julio Jones and Roddy White twice a season, Goldson had better get back to his best soon.

    The other signings were low-cost additions that mainly focus on depth. Still, if Goldson plays to his talent, the Bucs will emerge from free agency as winners.

    Grade: C

16. Washington Redskins

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    New Signings so far: Jeremy Trueblood, OT, via Redskins.com.

    Key Re-Signings: Kedric Golston, DE, via ESPN.com.

     

    It's taken a pretty hefty salary cap penalty to finally keep the Washington Redskins quiet during a free-agency period. Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen's options are severely limited.

    Their most notable moves since things began involve two linemen. Jeremy Trueblood will be the latest in a long line to try and solve the issue at right tackle. However, he has never been a stellar starter and started only one game last season.

    Re-signing defensive Kedric Golston was a smart move. He is a tough, hustling lineman who stands up well to the run despite not being a prolific pass-rusher. At least he fills out the rotation.

    It's hard to be too tough on the Redskins given the constraints of the penalty. They've worked hard to rearrange existing deals to try and create cap room.

    However, it's disappointing they haven't yet done all they can to secure a competent cornerback or an athletic safety. Both positions are loaded in this year's market, and the Redskins have missed some credible options.

    Grade: D

17. Baltimore Ravens

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    New Signings so far: Chris Canty, DT, on three-year deal, according to The Baltimore Sun

     Marcus Spears, DE, on two-year deal, according to The Baltimore Sun

    Key Re-Signings: Joe Flacco QB, via SkySports.com

     

    For the Baltimore Ravens, free agency has so far been more defined by what they've lost, not what they've gained. The Ravens simply haven't had the money to retain several key assets from their Super Bowl run.

    Paying $120.6 million over six years to one player will do that to a salary cap. However, the Ravens had to re-sign Joe Flacco.

    He finally delivered a championship, which is what he was drafted to do. Yet the Ravens are certainly feeling the cost of Flacco's deal so far.

    But, in typical Ozzie Newsome fashion, they've still made some smart moves with what they have to spare. Chris Canty and Marcus Spears are both excellent additions to the defensive front.

    They are natural run-stuffers who have plenty of 3-4 experience. The pair will certainly help solidify 2012's 20th-ranked rush defense.

    Signing Canty and Spears might allow the Ravens to shift Haloti Ngata inside to nose tackle. With their line rotation deeper and stronger, the Ravens might also show more true four-man fronts.

    This would help offset the loss of linebackers Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Ray Lewis. The Ravens took care of their biggest need when they secured Flacco. They have also made a pair of crafty signings that could turn out to be vital to their season.

    Only the amount they paid out to Flacco and the calibre of players they have lost prevents the Ravens getting an A.

    Grade: B

18. Buffalo Bills

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    New Signings so far: Manny Lawson, LB on one-year deal, according to Sports Illustrated

    Key Re-Signings: Leodis McKelvin, CB, via Fox Sports

     

    Like the Ravens, the Buffalo Bills may be focused more on what they have lost. They axed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, creating a huge void on offense and signalling a major shift for the franchise. Any new quarterback will have to deal with an offensive line weakened by the departures of Andy Levitre and Chad Rinehart.

    The Bills did add to the defense, although signing Manny Lawson on a short deal isn't a marquee move. Lawson has been a solid citizen at best throughout his career.

    That won't be enough to improve a unit that shockingly underwhelmed in 2012. At least the Bills did bring back one dynamic playmaker in the form of kick returner Leodis McKelvin.

    Another linebacker and help for the O-line and at wide receiver would make Buffalo's free-agency grades look a lot better.

    Grade: D

19. Cincinnati Bengals

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    New Signings so far: None.

    Key Re-Signings: Michael Johnson, DE via Fox Sports

    Wallace Gilberry, DT, according to The Miami Herald

    Robert Geathers, DE, according to Bengals.com

     

    Despite healthy cap space, the Cincinnati Bengals have not welcomed any new players. However, they have succeeded in keeping the basis of their stout defense together.

    That process was started by putting the franchise tag on versatile defensive end Michael Johnson. He has become a prolific playmaker on the edge.

    Re-signing Wallace Gilberry was a smart, below-the-radar decision. He is an underrated pass-rushing tackle who is valuable in Cincinnati's schemes.

    The Bengals used some more of their cash reserves to keep Johnson's pass-rush partner, Robert Geathers, in Cincinnati.

    The depth and dominance of the front four keys the Bengals defense. Keeping that intact is their best hope of returning to the playoffs.

    However, their grade would improve if they parted with some cash to secure a talented wide receiver. That would take some pressure off A.J. Green and give Andy Dalton another credible target.

    Some fresh personnel in the secondary would also dovetail nicely with the pass rush up front.

    Grade: C

20. Cleveland Browns

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    New Signings so far: Paul Kruger, OLB, on five-year deal, according to ESPN.com

    Desmond Bryant, DT, on five-year deal, via ESPN.com

    Quentin Groves, OLB, via Fox Sports.com

    Gary Barnidge, TE, according to The Charlotte Observer.

     

    The Cleveland Browns certainly haven't been shy about using their ample funds under the cap. They have wisely committed to investing in key pieces for their new 3-4 defense.

    Rush linebacker Paul Kruger is the high-profile addition. His contract is certainly reason to pause; however, it is too easy to simply dismiss him as a one-season wonder.

    His dominant form in the postseason could be the start of a career on the rise. If so, the Browns will get the better of this deal in the long-term.

    Quentin Groves is another edge-rusher with 3-4 experience. He played for new defensive coordinator Ray Horton with the Arizona Cardinals and knows the scheme well.

    Signing Desmond Bryant is the Browns' most interesting move. Previously a 4-3 interior pass-rusher, Bryant doesn't seem like an obvious fit to 2-gap in a 3-4 system.

    However, he could be very useful operating similar to the way Horton used Calais Campbell in Arizona. Bryant could slide into the guard-tackle gap and allow the Browns to offer a greater pass-rush threat than most 3-4 lines manage.

    As with Kruger, Bryant's hefty contract is sure to raise a few eyebrows. The Browns are banking on instant reward for their considerable risk.

    With the offense still a work in progress, specifically at quarterback, the Browns need the defense to carry the team. With some solid personnel already in place, if these risky investments pay off, the Browns could approach parity sooner than expected.

    Grade: B

21. Denver Broncos

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    New Signings so far: Wes Welker, WR, on two-year deal, via The Denver Post

    Louis Vasquez, G, on four-year deal, via The Denver Post

    Terrance Knighton, DT, via Broncos.com

    Stewart Bradley, MLB, on one-year deal, according to The Denver Post

    Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, on one-year deal, according to Adam Schefter

    Key Re-Signings: Kevin Vickerson, DT, via Adam Schefter

     

    The Denver Broncos are certainly serious about avoiding a repeat of last season's playoff meltdown. Every move they have made improves an area that failed them against the Baltimore Ravens.

    The headline-grabber was obviously pouncing for Tom Brady's favourite target, Wes Welker. However, the beauty of this signing doesn't reside in weakening the New England Patriots.

    Peyton Manning's arm strength failed him in the AFC Divisional Round. If his downfield passing is beginning to decline, Welker is the perfect short-range target for Manning.

    Defensively, the Broncos are addressing every flaw in their scheme. Massive defensive tackle Terrance Knighton knows the schemes favoured by coordinator Jack Del Rio.

    His size inside will be vital to fortifying a run defense that was flattened by Ray Rice and the Ravens. Adding a thumper like Stewart Bradley at middle linebacker also shows a commitment to getting tougher against the run.

    That commitment also explains the decision to bring back defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. As much as the run defense struggled in the playoffs, the Broncos will likely never forget how Joe Flacco burned them with the deep pass.

    Torrey Smith dominated a struggling secondary, and that explains the deal given to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The ex-Eagle doesn't always play to his talent level, but he is an opportunistic corner who can thrive in the right scheme.

    The Broncos filled positions of need with short, low-risk deals. They added veterans able to contribute now and not waste the current roster's short window for a Super Bowl run.

    Grade: A

22. Houston Texans

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    New Signings so far: None.

    Key Re-Signings: None.

     

    The Houston Texans are yet to delve into the market. They have also lost some key role players, like blocking H-Back James Casey, along with safety and dime linebacker Glover Quin.

    Fortunately, the Texans are well-stocked at most positions. Help in the secondary is probably their only pressing need.

    With not much to really grade, the Texans earn a D until they get moving.

    Grade: D

23. Indianapolis Colts

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    New Signings so far: Donald Thomas, G, via The Boston Herald

    Greg Toler, CB, via Sports Illustrated

    Ricky Jean-Francois, NT, via Adam Caplan

    Erik Walden, OLB, via Colts.com

    Gosder Cherilus, OT, via Adam Schefter

    LaRon Landry, S, via Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports

    Lawrence Sidbury, OLB, according to Pro Football Talk

    Key Re-Signings: Darius Butler, CB, according to ProFootballTalk.com.

     

    Forget raised eyebrows. People shook their heads in disbelief at the hefty contracts the Indianapolis Colts have handed out. However, while some of their moves have been questionable, they deserve a portion of credit for their smart decisions.

    That latter category is headlined by adding guard Donald Thomas from the New England Patriots. A steady technician and powerful run-blocker, Thomas will improve the interior blocking ahead of Andrew Luck.

    Another wise choice was re-signing cornerback Darius Butler. He surprised as a credible ball hawk in 2012.

    It is the deals for Ricky Jean-Francois and Erik Walden that invite skeptical reactions. The Colts have certainly paid big for two previous role players.

    However, last season, their defense suffered because they didn't have the right personnel for their 3-4 scheme. Walden and Jean-Francois boast significant 3-4 experience. Of course, their production hasn't matched that knowledge. That makes the sizeable investments hard to justify.

    Another player the Colts overpaid for is safety LaRon Landry. He is very good at what he does, but his areas of strength are very specific. He shines near the line and becomes a liability the further he retreats into coverage. He missed significant time through injuries in 2010 and 2011.

    For $24 million over four years, the Colts had better hope Landry can stay durable.

    The Colts paid a lot for polarizing targets, but they merit a solid grade for at least committing to addressing the weak unit on their team.

    Grade: C

24. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    New Signings so far: Roy Miller, DT, according to Mike McCartney

    Alan Ball, CB via Jaguars.com

    Justin Forsett, RB via Marc Sessler of NFL.com

    Geno Hayes, LB via John Oehser of Jaguars.com

    Antwaun Molden, CB, according to The Florida Times-Union.

     

    Rebuilding from a 2-14 campaign is a tough task. The Jacksonville Jaguars are clearly taking a measured approach after regretting paying big for the likes of Laurent Robinson in 2012.

    New head coach Gus Bradley is determined to remake a defense that slumped to 30th last season. Cronerbacks Alan Ball and Antwaun Molden both have the size Bradley favours at the edges of his secondary.

    Roy Miller is a quicker option at defensive tackle than the Jags have previously utilised in their 2-gap scheme. In fact, the need for speed along the defensive front was also evident in the signing of linebacker Nick Roach.

    Running back Justin Forsett is also a nice change of pace alternative for an offense usually reliant on power running.

    The Jaguars have quietly assembled a group of solid signings, most of which address their struggling defense.

    Grade: B

25. Kansas City Chiefs

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    New Signings so far: Sean Smith, CB. via ESPN.com

    Mike DeVito, DE, via Chiefs.com

    Geoff Schwartz, OT, via his Twitter account

    Donnie Avery, WR, via ESPN.com

    Anthony Fasano, TE, according to Chiefs.com

    Chase Daniel, QB, via Chiefs.com

    Dunta Robinson, CB, according to Chiefs.com

    Key Re-Signings: Dwayne Bowe, WR; Dustin Colquitt, P; Branden Albert, OT.

     

    Andy Reid hasn't wasted many opportunities to revamp the 2-14 roster he inherited when he joined the Kansas City Chiefs. His key moves have come along both lines.

    Putting the franchise tag on left tackle Branden Albert was a necessary choice. He is the Chiefs' best lineman, and without him, the trade for quarterback Alex Smith would have been wasted.

    Aside from Albert, Reid also signed hulking ex-Minnesota Viking Geoff Schwartz. Smith will be grateful that Reid and new general manager John Dorsey re-signed wideout Dwayne Bowe. 

    Defensively, Mike DeVito finally gives the Chiefs a true 3-4 end for their line. The Chiefs have been soft against the run for too long, and DeVito has spent his career being a force against the rush.

    Some interesting moves in the secondary yielded two press corners in Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson. The secondary couldn't physically dominate anyone in 2012, and that's likely to change now.

    Finally, Donnie Avery gives the passing game a true deep threat, provided he stays healthy. Adding a tight end as accomplished as Anthony Fasano will also help Smith make a fast start.

    Even before they use the first overall pick in April's draft, the Chiefs are already stronger on both sides of the ball.

    Grade: A

26. Miami Dolphins

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    New Signings so far: Dannell Ellerbe, LB, via Ian Rapoport of NFL.com

    Mike Wallace, WR, via Jeff Darlington of NFL.com

    Philip Wheeler, LB, via ProFootballTalk.com

    Brandon Gibson, WR via The Miami Herald

    Dustin Keller, TE, according to John Clayton.

     

    The bumper $65 million contract handed to Mike Wallace will forever define this offseason for the Miami Dolphins. Certainly, those critical of the move haven't been in short supply.

    However, to say Wallace is "just" a deep threat demeans how valuable that attribute is. The pure vertical speed Wallace offers terrorises any defense and expands the playbook for an offense.

    Miami's running game will improve and life will be easier for other receivers like Brian Hartline, all thanks to Wallace. Brandon Gibson is another receiver the Dolphins can use to stretch defenses vertically.

    Tight end Dustin Keller is a natural safety valve for any quarterback. Youngster Ryan Tannehill will have no excuses not to justify his first-round draft status this season.

    Defensively, the money given to linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler does raise questions. Ellerbe was superb for the Ravens in the crunch period of last season.

    It was popular to say he compensated for Ray Lewis's diminishing skills. However, there's no doubt Ellerbe benefited from playing alongside a player as smart and experienced as Lewis.

    The Ravens run a very specific defensive scheme in a structure featuring several crafty veterans. The pressure is now on Ellerbe to prove his skill outside that solid framework.

    Fortunately, he will have a powerful defensive line to keep him free to use his speed and instincts. Wheeler also offers speed the Dolphins defensive front definitely needed, although $26 million is a brave investment in a player yet to improve his general consistency.

    However, the Dolphins merit a B for their bold action in the market. They have added more scheme-suitable fits for their defense and surrounded Tannehill with genuine big-play potential.

    They just have to hope it will be worth all that money.

    Grade: B



27. New England Patriots

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    New Signings so far: Danny Amendola, WR, via Ian Rapoport of NFL.com

    Donald Jones WR via Albert Breer of NFL.com

    Leon Washington RB/KR, via Adam Schefter

    Will Svitek, OT via The Boston Herald

    Adrian Wilson, S via ESPN.com

    Key Re-Signings: Aqib Talib, CB via Albert Breer of NFL.com; Kyle Arrington, CB via ESPN Boston.

     

    The New England Patriots' early free-agency moves have been nothing if not interesting. There was some initial shock of losing Wes Welker, but Danny Amendola is certainly a smart replacement. Welker is still highly capable, but he's not the force he once was. Amendola gives the Patriots a younger player with similar attributes.

    Leon Washington could prove to be a key addition. He has the versatility the Patriots love for third downs and is also as dangerous as any kick returner in the league.

    Adrian Wilson fits well with the more attacking brand of defense the Patriots played in 2012. Expect Bill Belichick to use the aggressive veteran as a a key part of his blitz designs.

    The increased aggression in Belichick's defensive play-calling makes re-signing Aqib Talib a risk worth taking. He has the lockdown skills the Patriots need on the outside.

    The Patriots don't quite get the top grade due to so far failing to add a quality pass-rusher. Belichick must find the appropriate rush end to partner with Chandler Jones and make his multiple fronts work.

    Another safety also rates as a need. With those things, the Patriots would merit an A.

    Grade: B


28. New York Jets

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    New Signings so far: Willie Colon, G via Adam Schefter

    Antonio Garay, DT via Adam Schefter

    Mike Goodson, RB via Adam Schefter.

     

    The New York Jets have cleared away a lot of established players and so far concentrated on revamping up front. Guard Willie Colon is an excellent addition to their offensive line.

    He is a mobile, pulling guard who is strong at the point of attack and a force in the running game. That running game will look a lot different without Shonn Greene.

    Mike Goodson hasn't been a featured back for the Panthers or the Oakland Raiders. The Jets are hoping that he works in their new West Coast offense.

    Veteran Antonio Garay is a shrewd addition to a powerful defensive line. He can play inside in a 3-4, but also provides the interior pressure to be effective in four-man fronts. Rex Ryan should have no problem using Garay's skills well in his hybrid schemes.

    Overall, the Jets have stayed low-key and lost a vital player in tight end Dustin Keller.

    It's questionable that they have added enough to support such a dramatic shift in scheme on offense.

    Grade: C

29. Oakland Raiders

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    New Signings so far: Kevin Burnett, LB via Raiders.com

    Nick Roach, LB via ESPN Chicago

    Jason Hunter, DE/OLB via ProFootballTalk.com

    Pat Sims, DT via ProFootballTalk.com.

    Kaluka Maiava, LB, via Adam Schefter.

     

    The Oakland Raiders have focused on adding inexpensive role players to their defense. Some of the choices have been interesting.

    In particular, rush end Jason Hunter and veteran inside linebacker Kevin Burnett seem like better fits for a 3-4 scheme. After losing linemen like Bryant and Shaughnessy, it's possible the Raiders could make the switch.

    That would explain also signing Kaluka Maiava, another linebacker with 3-4 experience. The role of defensive tackle Pat Sims will reveal a lot about head coach Dennis Allen's intentions for his defense.

    Sims is fearsome run-plugger when he manages to stay healthy. He could easily anchor a three-man line at nose tackle.

    The Raiders have wisely focused on a defense that ranked 28th in points last season. However, they have lost some good players up front, and their early additions raise more questions than answers.

    Grade: D

30. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    New Signings so far: William Gay, CB via Steelers.com

    Bruce Gradkowski, QB via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Matt Spaeth, TE, according to ESPN Chicago

    Key Re-Signings: Isaac Redman, RB; Jonathan Dwyer, RB, both via ESPN.com; Larry Foote ILB, via ProFootballTalk.com.

     

    Retaining their own has been the policy so far for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their best moves were tendering offers to running backs Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. Redman's versatility and tenacity are extremely useful. Dwyer offers the Steelers the power between the tackles they love in the ground game.

    It was also smart to bring back veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote. He knows Dick Lebeau's defense as well as anyone and was an underrated performer in 2012. Scheme knowledge was also behind the move to lure slot cornerback William Gay back to the AFC North.

    Perhaps the smartest new addition is backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. The Steelers had difficulty when Ben Roethlisberger missed three games last season. So nabbing a quality deputy like Gradkowski makes a lot of sense.

    The Steelers would rate a higher grade were it not for the level of talent they have lost. Mike Wallace won't be easy to replace on offense, and the defense will certainly miss cap casualty James Harrison.

    Grade: C 

31. San Diego Chargers

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    New Signings so far: Danny Woodhead, RB via Sports Illustrated

    Chad Rinehart, G via Chargers.com

    Derek Cox, CB via Adam Schefter

    John Phillips, TE according to UTSanDiego.com

    King Dunlap, OT via Adam Caplan.

    Key Re-Signings: Ronnie Brown, RB on one-year deal, according to ProFootballTalk.com.

     

    Making Philip Rivers' life easier has clearly been the free-agency priority for the San Diego Chargers. Snagging Danny Woodhead was a good step in that direction. The diminutive third-down specialist certainly made things easier for Tom Brady in New England. Bringing back Ronnie Brown now gives Rivers two proficient, pass-catching backs.

    Former Buffalo Bills starter Chad Rinehart is a solid replacement for Louis Vasquez. Along with new tackle King Dunlap, the Chargers have added two competent pass-blockers to their offensive line.

    Although Derek Cox isn't a marquee signings, he performed well for the Jaguars in 2012. The signing answers a need at the thinned out secondary.

    San Diego has plotted its moves carefully. Their best signings are intended to create an easier system around their star quarterback.

    With some more short-range weapons and the potential of better protection, Rivers will be under less pressure to force things downfield.

    Despite the lack of high-profile name value, the Chargers' initial free-agency moves rate an above-average grade.

    Grade: B

32. Tennessee Titans

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    New Signings so far: Delanie Walker, TE, via Sports Illustrated

    Andy Levitre, G, according to ESPN.com

    Shonn Greene, RB, via ESPN.com

    Sammie Lee Hill, DT, via Adam Schefter

    Moise Fokou, LB, according to The Nashville Tennessean

     

    Just like the Chargers, the Tennessee Titans have worked to better support their best offensive weapon. Speedy and graceful running back Chris Johnson will benefit from the arrivals of Andy Levitre and Delanie Walker.

    Both will improve the standard and variety of the Titans' run-blocking schemes. Youthful quarterback Jake Locker will also be grateful for a versatile underneath target like Walker.

    Defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill could prove to be one of the better bargain buys of this free-agency period.  At 6'4" and 329 pounds, Hill gives the Titans a dynamic big man. He hasn't always played to his talent level, but the natural ability is certainly there.

    The Titans have gotten stronger in the areas that matter most.

    Grade: B