Grading Every NFL Team's Free Agency Strategy
You've seen who your favorite teams have picked up or let go, but have you found a completely objective grading system that analyzes each franchise's performance?
I didn't think so. That's where I come in. I broke into my mom's basement while she was at work and freed my erector set, some pogs and the half-eaten creepy crawlers that were left. Don't ask. Not all of my friends from childhood had my best interests at heart.
Or I checked out each team's cap situation and looked at how they fared in the market over the past week. So click through to see how your squad stacked up.
All transactions are sourced from NFL.com. All contract details and cap numbers are sourced from Spotrac.com, unless otherwise cited. All Pro Football Focus grades are from ProFootballFocus.com and require a subscription.
Bruce Arians and Steve Keim inherited a mess from Ken Whisenhunt and company. The quarterbacking position could only be described as a headache, and other veterans produced more off the field than they did on it.
So the new Arizona Cardinals brain trust understood that the first step was offloading the non-paying stowaways. Beanie Wells was cut loose due to lack of production (unless we're counting soundbites) while Kevin Kolb was due to make $11 million in 2013.
In addition, the defense is going through a youth movement. Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes were let go, saving $9 million this year alone. Both players are over 30 and on the downside of their careers.
The housecleaning wasn't surprising, but signing guys like perennial backup Drew Stanton, retread Rashard Mendenhall and Jerraud Powers isn't adding much to your team. Hopefully, there is more coming.
The Atlanta Falcons took the opposite approach of the Cardinals and for good reason: they're close.
The Falcons came within 10 yards of reaching the Super Bowl. There was little reason to do much beyond tinkering.
And Thomas Dimitroff tinkered quite well. He filled a huge need by bringing in evergreen running back Steven Jackson, who will punish defenses and give Matt Ryan plenty of workable 3rd-and-short situations.
Persuading Sam Baker to come back for six years and for $41.1 million was a solid move to keep the offensive line intact, and every fan is happy to shower Tony Gonzalez with love for another year.
The pass rush and secondary will still need to be addressed as John Abraham and Brent Grimes have moved on, but Dimitroff filled a hole and upgraded his team in a significant manner.
The easy analysis and knee jerk reaction to the Baltimore Ravens' offseason thus far is to laugh. To mock them for paying their Super Bowl MVP quarterback a ridiculous sum of money while losing so many pieces from that championship team.
And much of that is justified. But this is a rebuilding team disguised as the defending champs. At a minimum, the Ravens are retooling.
Baltimore couldn't realistically pay Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Anquan Boldin their market worth after rewarding Joe Flacco. Tough decisions to let guys leave are what separate elite franchises from mediocre ones.
Kruger had a nice postseason run and that's about it, while Ellerbe is still more about projection than production. Who would know better about Ellerbe's projection than the guy who employed him?
But Ozzie Newsome did more than just shed aging money or refuse to match overrated offers, he added a solid front-line player in Chris Canty for less than $3 million per year. That's a nice find.
There's still talent on this team, but it's going to be a few years before the Ravens contend. I can appreciate Newsome's mettle, but giving Flacco $20 million per is going to bring your grade down. Regardless of how badly you can't let a franchise quarterback go, Flacco just isn't worth that money.
Head-scratching might be the best word to describe the Buffalo Bills' strategy. Letting top-line offensive guard Adam Levitre walk and releasing safety George Wilson for under $3 million in cap space are the usual marks of a successful offseason.
However, the Bills' new regime could be experiencing the same growing pains as the Ravens without the former success. So while the moves might prove correct in the long run, Buddy Nix doesn't get the short-term pass that Ozzie Newsome does. You have to earn that.
Nix did make the right call in ditching the over-priced Ryan Fitzpatrick. Paying a backup franchise money is one of the quickest ways to failure. See the New York Jets.
The Bills are apparently using a wait-and-see approach. Otherwise, they truly expect the signing of Manny Lawson to lead them back to respectability.
And no, that's not possible.
There wasn't much the Carolina Panthers could do either. In this era of the flat salary cap, wiggle room is hard to find.
The Panthers added a few special teamers and upgraded at the cornerback position with D.J. Moore. The former Bear is a steady presence with a nose for the football, as his 10 picks in the previous three years would attest.
Other than that, the only other notable move was cutting Chris Gamble. He wasn't living up to his contract and the move resulted in $7.9 million in savings.
Maybe the sneaky "winner" of free agency was the Chicago Bears.
New coach Marc Trestman must understand the importance of protecting Jay Cutler as the Bears were aggressive in setting Cutler up for success.
First, they snagged steady offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod from the New Orleans Saints. Left tackle has been the Achilles heel of the Bears' offense and Bushrod will provide some reliability.
Next, the brass threw some money at Martellus Bennett to give Cutler a dynamic tight end who can also block. It's a win-win.
Losing a young, talented cornerback (D.J. Moore) hurts, but it was time to let Brian Urlacher move on.
Solid approach all around.
The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off a playoff run, so there is some reason for standing pat on a lot of things.
One of those things is Michael Johnson. The defensive end was a disruptive force who racked up 55 combined sacks, hurries and quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Focus. Franchising him was the right move, although a long-term deal would have been ideal.
But not everyone needed to be retained. Linebacker Rey Maualuga hasn't distinguished himself, but Cincy only handed him a few million per year. They also slightly overpaid defensive end Robert Gaithers.
In other words, it was a ho-hum March. Which is fine, but the team isn't all that improved.
The Cleveland Browns were almost predictable in their aggression. And it's hard to be mad at them for it.
The roster had more holes than fixtures and the Browns had somewhere around $50 million to spend. So Cleveland went shopping and came home with three new players for their front seven, which will be undergoing a change to Ray Horton's 3-4 scheme.
Paul Kruger was given big money, but he could demand such. Whether he and Quentin Groves will revitalize the linebacking corps is an unknown, but there is certainly hope with these two guys.
Throw in defensive tackle Desmond Bryant, and things are looking up.
The Browns still have a huge void at wide receiver and it's unclear who be chucking the ball, but the defense will ease the burden on the oft-stalled offense.
Try as I might, the only way to describe the Dallas Cowboys' strategy in free agency would be non-existent.
There wasn't any cap space for Jerry Jones to make any splashy (and often unwarranted) signings. That's because he spent the last few years spending every available dollar.
Now, the cows have come home to do whatever it is that they do when they come home that we're so afraid of. Or is it the roosters?
The only move of note was franchising linebacker Anthony Spencer. Smart, but singular. I'm going to tax the Cowboys for those previous years with this year's grade. It's necessary.
I swear I didn't scheme to make this possible, but in the first 10 slides, each pair has contained polar opposites. Or something close to it.
The Denver Broncos have out-Cowboyed the Cowboys. Not many teams have earned such distinctions.
Despite having high-priced studs like Peyton Manning and Von Miller on the roster, the Broncos still found multiple avenues to improve their team for their 2013 title run.
The obvious starting point would be Wes Welker, but it's actually Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Welker is going to be everything Manning wants him to be, but Rodgers-Cromartie brings some youth to Denver's talented-yet-aging cornerback depth chart.
Oh, and the offense added guard Louis Vasquez. Basically, John Elway was aggressive and smart. What's not to like?
And don't bring the Elvis Dumervil noise here. That's his agent's fault.
The Detroit Lions needed a dynamic running back to counter Mikel Leshoure. They got Reggie Bush for $4 million a year.
The Lions then needed a pass-rusher to justify not overpaying Cliff Avril. They got Jason Jones, who played under Jim Schwartz at Tennessee, and will hold down one of the end positions.
The Lions needed to get secondary talent to replace the possibly departing Chris Houston and Louis Delmas. Instead, they re-signed both and added Glover Quin, who is a bit of a question mark.
It was an effective period for a team facing dire cap hits from three players. They didn't overpay to keep their own guys and added some solid pieces for good prices.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers did what the Green Bay Packers do. Mainly, not sign anyone or pay too much money for their own guys.
The Packers cut ties with the beloved Charles Woodson. He no longer was worth his immense contract, and Green Bay has a few options in its secondary thanks to solid drafting.
Ted Thompson also let Greg Jennings cash in on free agency with the Minnesota Vikings. Again, solid drafting and Aaron Rodgers (who is perhaps the best testement to the aforementioned solid drafting) will soften the blow.
Have I mentioned that the Packers draft well? They didn't need much from free agency, but you also can't address every need in the draft.
I'm not sure what the Houston Texans' strategy was. I understand they had a little less than $10 million in cap space, but was their only target Ed Reed?
And if so, how much did they pay him? Glover Quin wasn't elite, but he's much younger and graded out better than Reed last year, according to Pro Football Focus. Unless Houston paid Reed considerably less, they ponied up for a name only. Until those numbers come out, I can't truly assess these maneuvers.
Otherwise, there wasn't much room for the Texans to make a move. Losing Connor Barwin and Kevin Walter is going to hurt because pass rush is always at a premium and the Texans sorely lack for wide receivera.
The Indianapolis Colts were aggressive. And that aggression looks like it might cost them in a couple years.
They added talent at key positions, like offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus and cornerback Greg Toler. But giving them $7 million and $5 million per year, respectively, is a little much.
And that's before we get to Erik Walden's four-year, $16 million deal. I'm not even sure they knew exactly who he was. Jim Irsay just got in a groove and rode the hot pen. Or something like that.
As mentioned above, talent was added. However, overspending is a bad strategy. You're not that good yet, Colts.
From overspending to not spending, and I'm not sure which is worse. At least when you don't sign a player to more than he's worth, you're not flushing money down the drain.
So there's that.
When the biggest move of your offseason is the retention of a center (Brad Meester), you're probably doing it wrong.
Then again, we're talking about the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It's a shame. All that cap space, and no franchise face.
I'm not insinuating that there was a "face of the franchise" player available. What I am saying is that there is a rookie cap, so blow away some talent with large one-year deals and give the fans something to get excited about.
Kansas City Chiefs
Tactical is the most apt one-word summation of the Kansas City Chiefs' approach to the offseason.
They also grabbed another tight end to pair with the oft-injured Tony Moeaki in Anthony Fasono. His arrival with Dwayne Bowe's cancelled flight out of town makes the passing offense extremely interesting.
Sean Smith is getting paid on what Reid hopes he will be, but I'm not convinced that Smith is a $6 million a year cornerback. He will better be though with Dunta Robinson sucking in another $5 million on the other side.
There are plenty of ups here, and a few downs. Overall, not all activity is good activity, but it's better than nothing.
Whew! That's a ton of activity. And a lot of it was positive.
Did the Miami Dolphins overpay for Mike Wallace? Besides it being difficult to tell, it might not matter. He immediately makes things easier for Ryan Tannehill by stretching the defense and letting new acquisitions Dustin Keller and Brandon Gibson work the middle with the re-signed Brian Hartline.
Forgot about those other moves, didn't you? It's cool. You'll remember them once the season gets rolling.
The semi-unrestrained aggression translated to the defense too, where the Dolphins gave Dannell Ellerbe $7 million per season. That might end up being fine, but it's a gamble.
Still, smart ploys like franchising Randy Starks and stealing the sneaky Philip Wheeler will pay off. If only the Phins hadn't given Wallace so much, they could have taken home the highest of honors: a handwritten, fridge-worthy note from yours truly.
Fans must have rebounded by now from the Percy Harvin fallout. At least, they should have.
Greg Jennings for just north of $9 million per season is a steal. If he's healthy, he's Christian Ponder's favorite person. Not football player, person. Because Jennings will make Ponder's life that much easier.
Retaining Phil Loadholt means the offensive line that gave Adrian Peterson some breathing room last year en route to 2,097 yards remains intact. And Matt Cassel has shown he can keep a team afloat when he's not the backbone of said team.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots are Bill Belichick's team, and it's as if he needs to prove it every year.
Well, he's done it again.
Belichick didn't take the bait from the Denver Broncos. He stuck to his guns and let Wes Welker walk away for just a little less money than the Patriots gave Danny Amendola. I'm not willing to say that Amendola will outshine Welker, but I'm not willing to bet against it.
And then Belichick went about adding some veterans, like he always does. This year's crop includes safety Adrian Wilson and the retention of Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington.
As always, well done. But this class doesn't blow you away either.
New Orleans Saints
The good news is that the New Orleans Saints were able to sign a few contracts despite being over the cap limit at the beginning of the free-agency period.
And the news gets even better. Signing Ben Watson gives the Saints two pass-catching big men for Drew Brees to play around with.
But the semi-reckless-yet-understandable spending of yesteryear forced the New Orleans to part ways with Brees' blindside protector (Jermon Bushrod), although it did save the franchise from overpaying him. And that same spending reared its ugly head by giving cornerback Keenan Lewis over $5 million per season.
New York Giants
The New York Giants were somewhat silent, somewhat sneaky, and overall just docile.
They watched oft-broken running back Ahmad Bradshaw and defensive end Osi Umenyiora walk in free agency, and failed to bring in anyone to cover those losses. There are some players on the roster, but it seems like a gamble.
Especially when you factor in that the Giants are replacing Chris Canty with Cullen Jenkins for essentially the same money. Their production isn't all that different, but at least Canty knows the system inside and out.
As for being sneaky, grabbing Brandon Myers to replace Martellus Bennett may very well work out. And at a fraction of the cost.
All in all, there was a lot of intelligence in making the moves they made considering their cap situation.
New York Jets
You have to feel for new general manager John Idzik. He inherited a huge mess that spreads its stank onto the field, into the locker room and especially onto the salary cap.
Long story short, the New York Jets are in disarray and there is little that can really be done right now.
Darrelle Revis continues to keep the team in limbo, although this time his impact is a little more indirect.
However, the one thing that could have saved Mr. Idzik's grade would have been keeping defensive lineman Mike Devito, who signed for three years and $12.6 million with the Chiefs. That's unacceptable.
At least he had the sense not to overpay Shonn Greene.
It's hard not to kill the Oakland Raiders for keeping Carson Palmer and his $15.3 million 2013 cap hit. But a little research shows that he's carrying $9.3 million in dead money, meaning the Raiders aren't getting as much relief as first believed.
But it isn't like Oakland is going to the Super Bowl this year. Why not rip the band-aid off? Not to mention, that money could have kept at least one of the Brandon Myers, Desmond Bryant and Philip Wheeler trio in the Bay area.
Anyways, the losses far outweigh the gains, as you would expect from a team in a slightly better situation than the New York Jets. Maybe Reggie McKenzie can cash in on low-cost-high-reward players like Kaluka Maiava (a very good 7.9 PFF grade in limited snaps) and defensive end Justin Hunter. And the Vance Walker signing was astute as well.
Still, that's a lot of lost talent.
If the Philadelphia Eagles' new brass was a bit hesitant to splurge in free agency, we would all understand. No one has forgotten the spring of 2011.
But Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly knew the Eagles needed some new pieces, and not everyone would come at a great price.
First, the good. Roseman landed James Casey, the do-it-all tight end that Kelly craved, for a tidy $4 million per year and underrated cornerback Brandon Fletcher for next to nothing. Those are solid deals.
Paying Cary Williams $17 million over three years is not. He's an average-at-best cornerback who is somehow getting paid more than Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. And the Connor Barwin deal for $6 million per season might be a reach considering his -22.1 PFF grade playing with J.J. Watt. Things will only get more difficult in Philly.
The only strategy the Pittsburgh Steelers could employ was rummaging through the clearance bin.
That's exactly what they did and they ended up with their own retreads that they'd previously let walk. Signing William Gay is curious (because he isn't that good anymore) but cheap (three years, $4.5 million) while bringing back Larry Foote at least makes a little more sense (although not much considering his -11.9 PFF grade).
The James Harrison move was smart and obvious. Guys whose game centers around physicality don't continue to be productive at 35 years old.
Honestly, there just isn't much to grade here and nothing to really like.
San Diego Chargers
At first look, the San Diego Chargers' offseason doesn't look all that great. They lost stalwart guard Louis Vasquez to a division rival and the money wasn't even that big.
However, King Dunlap softens that blow. He posted the same PFF grade (6.6) as Vasquez on just as terrible of a team and will be making half the money.
That's the type of action that you pay general managers for.
The Danny Woodhead signing is an under-the-radar move that provides some insurance for the ever-injured Ryan Matthews and paying Derek Cox $5 million per season might not prove horrible.
Small moves that added talent that addressed specific needs. Nice approach.
San Francisco 49ers
We'll throw in the Anquan Boldin trade for the sake of this analysis because there isn't much else to look at. And besides, they do have to pay the man, which has an effect on free agency.
Anyways, that trade provides a great playmaker on a team that was three points shy of a title. Easy decision.
Then add in grabbing a second-round pick for Alex Smith and relieving his financial burden and it makes even more sense.
The cherry on top would be signing Glenn Dorsey for just $3 million per season. He can be effective in the 49ers' system if used properly and isn't relied on too much.
Out of the defensive defections, the one to be most worried about is Ricky Jean-Francois, since Dashon Goldson and Isaac Sopoaga were demanding more than their worth.
When you boil it down, this team is better than the former version, and that team was pretty damned good. But the Craig Dahl signing is troubling.
Go ahead and tell me how your team did better than the Seattle Seahawks this offseason. I can't wait to hear the rationale.
The Seahawks grabbed two exciting pass-rushers (Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett) for less than $20 million total.
Then they acquired Percy Harvin and created an offense that can match the defense in terms of production.
All of that and they lost a backup defensive tackle and backup wide receiver. Semi-aggressive and extremely effective.
St. Louis Rams
Last season wasn't a bad one for the St. Louis Rams. They showed improvement and entered this offseason with a ton of cap space.
But I'm not entirely sure they knew what to do with it.
After the dust settled from the first week of free agency, the Rams had lost Danny Amendola, Stevan Jackson and the underrated Bradley Fletcher. Those losses didn't make too much sense considering the cap room available.
Yes, they added behemoth tackle Jake Long, but will he overcome his recent injury woes to regain top-tackle status? And giving exciting-but-underperforming Jared Cook $7 million per season has boom-or-bust status.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I'm going old school with this analysis and bringing back 2pac's "Troublesome," because that's the most apt description of what is going on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Dashon Goldson deal gives them a solid player on the back line, but giving him over $40 million dollars is unsavory. Good players making great-player money is a quick way to bottoming out.
I understand that the Bucs had a ridiculous amount of cap space so they could make such an offer. But if so, why let Jeremy Trueblood take off for Washington? Why let Michael Bennett leave for a mere $5 million when your pass rush is your biggest issue?
Getting LeGarrette Blount for $1.75 million is an absolute steal and if they bring in Darrelle Revis, I'll revise the grade. Until then, this is just troublesome.
The Tennessee Titans have been busy, but how much of that is busy for the sake of being busy?
The Titans decided they were going to aggressively find players in free agency who could immediately plug holes. Guard Andy Levitre is one of those guys. He was paid handsomely, but will provide the requisite value.
Some other solid signings included safety George Wilson, who, like Levitre, is also of Buffalo Bill fame. Pair him with the one-year deal Bernard Pollard, and the safety position was given a significant upgrade.
However, there was plenty of unnecessary movement too. For instance, $10 million for Shonn Greene? Or $17.5 for Delanie Walker? I understand that you lost Jared Cook, but don't go throwing dumb money at the problem.
This is a short story.
The Washington Redskins got dinged by the league for pushing too much of their payroll to the uncapped 2010 season. They lost $18 million in cap space this year.
So the fact that they re-signed tight end Logan Paulsen and stole Jeremy Trueblood from the Bucs should give their fans a nice warm, fuzzy feeling.
Considering the circumstances, that's not too shabby.
And yes, I'm ending this slideshow with the word shabby.