2014 NFL Free-Agent Signings: Ranking the Top 50 Adds from 1st Week
Traditionally, on the day after Thanksgiving, many people participate in the nationwide shopping phenomenon known as Black Friday.
We’ll call this “Tantalizing Tuesday.”
Back on March 11, the fiscal year for the NFL’s 95th season began in earnest (although no one named Earnest was actually signed).
So over the past five days, teams around the league have been trimming their rosters and adding some new blood at the same time.
Hence, here are our rankings for the top 50 additions via the NFL’s shopping phenomenon known as “free agency.”
These rankings don’t include trades. So if you’re looking for the Philadelphia Eagles’ much-discussed acquisition of running back Darren Sproles from the New Orleans Saints and/or the San Francisco 49ers’ additions of tackle Jonathan Martin and quarterback Blaine Gabbert, that’s a discussion and slideshow for another time.
A combination of team need, value, experience and production were the major factors in deciding No. 50 to numero uno.
50. T Breno Giacomini (to New York Jets)
Contract terms: 4 years, $18 million
Back in February, Breno Giacomini made the second of two trips this past season to MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. That second trip would result in a Super Bowl title for him and the Seattle Seahawks—a 43-8 pasting of the Denver Broncos.
Now, the 6’7”, 304-pound blocker takes over the right-tackle spot for Rex Ryan’s New York Jets. This past season, Giacomini missed seven regular-season games, but returned for Seattle’s championship run.
49. WR Hakeem Nicks (to Indianapolis Colts)
Contract terms: 1 year, $3.5 million
From first-round draft pick in 2009 to one-year contract in 2014.
Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks failed to score a touchdown last season with the New York Giants. Over the past two years, injuries have limited the talented performer to a combined 109 receptions and three scores.
Nicks totaled 202 receptions, including 24 for touchdowns, in his first three seasons in the league.
If the former Giants wideout can stay healthy, the Colts will present a pretty potent threesome at receiver with the talented T.Y. Hilton and veteran Reggie Wayne.
48. DE Tyson Jackson (to Atlanta Falcons)
Contract terms: 5 years, $25 million
After five somewhat disappointing seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, defensive end Tyson Jackson now joins Mike Smith’s team, the Atlanta Falcons, which is coming off its own subpar campaign.
The third overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, Jackson played in 15 games (nine starts) and recorded a career-high four sacks in 2013. Still, in his stint with the Chiefs, the veteran defender failed to force a fumble and totaled just nine sacks in 74 games.
Perhaps Jackson will find a new lease on life under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
47. T Michael Oher (to Tennessee Titans)
Contract terms: 4 years, $20 million
The former first-round pick has put a new spin on film study. The subject of the motion picture The Blind Side now gets his chance to play in his own version of Remember the Titans. As first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter, Oher agreed to terms with Tennessee on Friday. Still, the massive tackle had his struggles this past season.
The Titans have been one of the busier teams this first week of free agency. Eventually, we will find out if they made All the Right Moves.
46. MLB Brandon Spikes (to Buffalo Bills)
Contract terms: 1 years, $3.25 million
This move has common sense written all over it.
NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported that the Buffalo Bills have added middle linebacker Brandon Spikes to a defense that finished 10th in the league in yards allowed last season.
The addition of the former New England Patriots performer should mean big things for new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
More importantly, Spikes hopes to solve a problem that has been an issue for this team. Despite last season’s top 10 overall ranking, the Bills were 28th in the NFL versus the run. It marked the fifth consecutive season and seventh time in nine years the team had finished in the bottom five of the league in rushing defense.
45. WR/KR Ted Ginn Jr. (to Arizona Cardinals)
Contract terms: 3 years, $9.75 million
Talk about coming full circle.
In the 2007 BCS National Championship Game at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., then-Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in what eventually proved to be a loss to the University of Florida.
Now the speedy performer makes his fourth NFL stop in eight seasons at the home of that memorable moment. Ginn hopes to pick up where he left off last season with the Carolina Panthers. In 2013, he caught 36 passes for 556 yards and five touchdowns in the regular season and added four receptions for 104 yards in the postseason loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Ginn also remains a threat on both punt and kickoff returns.
44. DB Cortland Finnegan (to Miami Dolphins)
Contract terms: 2 years, $11 million
The Miami Dolphins were in position to grab a playoff berth in 2013, only to lose their last two games to fall to 8-8.
Now Joe Philbin’s team has added cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who has the gift of grab. Adam Beasley of The Miami Herald has the details on how one of Jeff Fisher’s former players is now a member of the Fish. (Work with me, OK?)
Earlier this week, the Dolphins added free safety Louis Delmas, who was a salary-cap casualty of the Detroit Lions.
In case you are wondering, the Dolphins do not play the Houston Texans in 2014. That means there will once again be no reunion between old friends Finnegan and Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson.
43. WR Golden Tate (to Detroit Lions)
Contract terms: 5 years, $31 million
Golden Tate goes from the team that currently owns the Vince Lombardi Trophy to a franchise that won its last NFL title in 1957, before Lombardi was an NFL head coach.
Still, the wide receiver should help quarterback Matthew Stafford and fellow wideout Calvin Johnson. With the offseason release of veteran receiver Nate Burleson, the Detroit Lions and new head coach Jim Caldwell could use a little assistance.
Tate, who has spent four seasons in the Pacific Northwest, led the eventual Super Bowl XLVIII champion Seattle Seahawks with 64 catches in 2013 and has totaled a combined 15 touchdown receptions the last three seasons.
42. DT Earl Mitchell (to Miami Dolphins)
Contract terms: 4 years, $16 million
The Miami Dolphins can play defense. They just need to do it with a little more consistency.
All told, Joe Philbin’s club ranked 24th in the league against the run this past season. That’s bad news when you consider that the Buffalo Bills (second), New York Jets (sixth) and New England Patriots (ninth) all ranked in the top 10 in rushing in 2013.
With defensive tackle Paul Soliai off to the Atlanta Falcons, the Dolphins added veteran defensive tackle Earl Mitchell. He’ll team with former Pro Bowler Randy Starks on the inside of Kevin Coyle’s defensive unit.
41. CB Brandon Browner (to New England Patriots)
Contract terms: 3 years, $17 million
The New England Patriots apparently have the corner on cornerbacks.
Last Wednesday, Bill Belichick’s club added Darrelle Revis, who was released this offseason by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (more on him later).
However, we will have to wait to see the tandem play together. Browner will be serving a four-game suspension to open the 2014 season.
With talented safeties Adrian Wilson (who missed all of 2013) and Devin McCourty, New England has the making of a very formidable secondary once Browner is available.
40. DE/OLB Julius Peppers (to Green Bay Packers)
Contract terms: 3 years, $30 million
Can you say pepper jack cheese?
Tom Pelissero of USA Today Sports reports that eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers now gets the chance to face the Chicago Bears at least twice a season instead of suiting up for them.
On Saturday, the 12-year veteran agreed to terms with the Green Bay Packers. This past season, Peppers was part of an injury-riddled, disappointing defensive unit in the Windy City. In four seasons with the Bears, he started every game for the club and totaled 38 sacks.
In a dozen NFL campaigns, Peppers has totaled 119 sacks, nine interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries. He makes for an interesting addition to Dom Capers’ defensive unit.
39. CB Nolan Carroll (to Philadelphia Eagles)
Contract terms: 2 years, $3.65 million
With all the buzz surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles offense this past season and its potential in 2014, you can’t ignore the fact that Chip Kelly’s club finished 29th in total yards allowed in 2013.
The Birds also ranked dead last in passing yards surrendered in last year—this despite playing better during the team’s 7-1 finish.
Still, cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams will face a stiff challenge from Nolan Carroll, late of the Miami Dolphins. He totaled 47 tackles, three interceptions and knocked down 12 passes for Joe Philbin’s team last season.
Last year, the Eagles surrendered 25 touchdown passes, including two or more scores in nine of their 16 regular-season contests.
38. T Branden Albert (to Miami Dolphins)
Contract terms: 5 years, $47 million
A year ago, left tackle Branden Albert was given the franchise tag by the Kansas City Chiefs, but he and the organization couldn’t come an agreement on a long-term deal. While that was going on, there was still talk about the eventual Pro Bowl blocker winding up with the Miami Dolphins.
Hence it was no surprise that Albert was one of the first free-agent signings last Wednesday, when he indeed joined the Dolphins.
It’s safe to say that Miami could use a little (no, a lot) of help up front. No team in the league gave up more sacks than the 58 allowed by the Dolphins in 2013. And it’s also safe to say that the less said about the team’s offensive line issues this past season, the better.
37. DE Antonio Smith (to Oakland Raiders)
Contract terms: 2 years, $9 million
It was the moves the Oakland Raiders—the team with the most salary-cap room entering free agency—didn’t make the last week or so that were indeed perplexing.
The much-discussed Rodger Saffold issue aside, it was perplexing that the organization didn’t try harder to retain offensive tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston, now members of the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears, respectively.
Meanwhile, similar to 2013, the Raiders will use free agency to rebuild their defense. Versatile veteran Antonio Smith figures to move inside to defensive tackle with the additions of LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck, but he could also see some action outside in certain situations. The 10-year pro spent the last five seasons with the Houston Texans, where he totaled 27 sacks.
36. SS Donte Whitner (to Cleveland Browns)
Contract terms: 4 years, $28 million
Talk about a drastic change.
The Cleveland Browns have not been to the playoffs since 2002. Meanwhile, strong safety Donte Whitner and the San Francisco 49ers have appeared in the NFC title game three straight years and reached Super Bowl XLVII in 2012.
Still, Whitner opted for the Browns, and the two-time Pro Bowler got a lucrative contract to relocate to the state of Ohio, where he played his college football with the Buckeyes back in the day.
Now let’s see if the hard-hitting defender can help turn around the fortunes of a team that has lost at least 11 games each of the last six seasons.
35. WR Eric Decker (to New York Jets)
Contract terms: 5 years, $36.25 million
The free-agent market for wideouts was pretty quiet the entire week until late Saturday night, when the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos both added receivers.
That’s when ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported the Pats had inked former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell to a three-year deal and the Broncos had agreed to terms with Emmanuel Sanders, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bleacher Report colleagues Rob Goldberg and Sean O’Donnell further summarized Saturday night’s news.
Sanders takes over for Eric Decker, who broke the bank last Wednesday by joining the New York Jets. This past season, the four-year pro totaled 87 receptions for 1,288 yards and 11 scores for the Broncos.
In 2013, wide receiver Jeremy Kerley led Rex Ryan’s team with 43 catches, and Jets pass-catchers combined for 13 touchdown receptions.
34. DE LaMarr Woodley (to Oakland Raiders)
Contract terms: 2 years, $12 million
As we have already mentioned, it’s been a week of confusion for arguably the NFL’s most perplexing franchise.
So follow if you can.
Instead of re-signing the young, emerging defensive end Lamarr Houston, the Oakland Raiders watched the four-year pro depart for the Windy City.
So with one Lamarr out, the Silver and Black brought in another in the form of LaMarr Woodley, who was released by the Pittsburgh Steelers after seven seasons.
That’s Woodley. The one-time Pro Bowler has 57 career sacks, but injuries the last three seasons caused him to miss a total of 14 games.
With 11 sacks in eight career postseason games, Woodley has always been known for his heady play.
33. DE Willie Young (to Chicago Bears)
Contract terms: 3 years, $9 million
This past season, it has been pretty well documented that the Chicago Bears were dead last in the NFL in rushing defense.
However, not as well-advertised is the fact that Mel Tucker’s defensive unit was tied for last in the league with 31 sacks.
Help is on the way in more ways than one. But the addition of four-year pro Willie Young should be a plus, if not only for the fact the Bears took him from the division-rival Detroit Lions.
In 2013, the former seventh-round pick totaled three sacks, five passes defensed and a pair of fumble recoveries to go along with his 47 stops. Head coach Marc Trestman is hoping youth will be served even more this upcoming season.
32. DT Paul Soliai (to Atlanta Falcons)
Contract terms: 5 years, $32 million
Earlier in this slideshow, we mentioned how the Atlanta Falcons added defensive end Tyson Jackson from the Kansas City Chiefs.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff was far from finished during the first day of free agency on March 11, adding former Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Paul Soliai to a revamped front four.
The seven-year veteran is regarded as one of the better run-stopping defensive tackles in the league, as shown by Pro Football Focus (subscription required). This past season, only the Chicago Bears gave up more yards on the ground than the Falcons.
31. WR Steve Smith (to Baltimore Ravens)
Contract terms: 3 years, $11.5 million
It’s safe to say that once this cat was available, he was quickly swallowed up by a canary.
Make that a raven.
The Baltimore Ravens aggressively pursued veteran wide receiver Steve Smith once the Carolina Panthers let him go after 13 seasons with the club. Lindsay H. Jones and Jim Corbett of USA Today reported Saturday that the five-time Pro Bowler signed a three-year contract with John Harbaugh’s club.
“The one thing that they said that was consistent was ‘we want you to be yourself,’” said Smith via conference call a night earlier. “That was good. That was very encouraging. I enjoyed that.”
Hopefully quarterback Joe Flacco enjoys the presence of the veteran wideout, who brings 836 career receptions for 12,197 yards (19th in NFL history) and 67 touchdown grabs to Baltimore.
30. DT Arthur Jones (to Indianapolis Colts)
Contract terms: 5 years, $33 million
You could make the case that the Baltimore Ravens defense in 2013 was even better than the unit that helped the club win Super Bowl XLVII the previous season.
Defensive tackle Arthur Jones was certainly one reason why John Harbaugh’s club ranked 12th in the league in overall defense, including 11th versus the run. This past season, Jones totaled 53 tackles and four sacks while starting a career-high 13 games.
Now he’s a member of the Indianapolis Colts and will play under head coach Chuck Pagano, who knows Jones from their days in Baltimore.
Pagano also knows his current team finished 26th in the league in rushing defense and was mauled on the ground in the playoffs by both the Kansas City Chiefs (150 yards) and New England Patriots (234 yards).
29. SS Antoine Bethea (to San Francisco 49ers)
Contract terms: 4 years, $21 million
A season ago, the San Francisco 49ers replaced a Pro Bowl defender in free safety Dashon Goldson. The team selected Eric Reid in the first round, and he performed admirably.
For the second straight offseason, it’s safety first in the Bay Area. Only this time, it is one two-time Pro Bowler for another.
With strong safety Donte Whitner’s free-agent departure to the Cleveland Browns, the Niners filled his spot with former Indianapolis Colts standout Antoine Bethea. The eight-year pro has totaled 14 career interceptions, and this past season he racked up 110 tackles for the league’s 20th-ranked defensive unit.
28. G/T Geoff Schwartz (to New York Giants)
Contract terms: 4 years, $16.8 million
There is not a lot to say when a team commits 44 turnovers. It’s safe to say that was one of the major reasons the New York Giants, despite winning seven of their final 10 games in 2013, finished with a 7-9 record.
Due to a number of issues, Tom Coughlin’s club also allowed 40 sacks, while only three teams in the league finished with fewer rushing yards this past season.
It is anyone’s guess where exactly Geoff Schwartz winds up this season along the New York front. The versatile five-year pro played three different positions last season and, according to Pro Football Focus, was especially effective at right guard for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013.
27. G Zane Beadles (to Jacksonville Jaguars)
Contract terms: 5 years, $30 million
Help wanted up front.
Only the Atlanta Falcons ran for fewer yards than the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013. And Gus Bradley’s quarterbacks were sacked a combined 50 times this past season.
The addition of former Denver Broncos guard Zane Beadles, who started 62 out of 64 regular-season games in four seasons in the Mile High City, figures to be a plus. This past season, Denver allowed a league-low 20 sacks and played most of 2013 without left tackle Ryan Clady.
Although Beadles suffered through an erratic season, according to Pro Football Focus’ rankings, the one-time Pro Bowler was playing his best football down the stretch and in the playoffs.
26. ILB Wesley Woodyard (to Tennessee Titans)
Contract terms: 4 years, $15.75 million
Outside linebacker Wesley Woodyard finished second on the Denver Broncos with 84 tackles in 2013, forcing three fumbles, knocking down four passes and totaling 1.5 sacks.
Still, the veteran defender started only 10 games last season for John Fox’s club and gave way to Paris Lenon late last year and in the playoffs.
Now the six-year pro hopes to find new life in Ray Horton’s 3-4 defensive unit with the Tennessee Titans. The versatile performer can line up at a number of spots and has also proven he can get to the quarterback. Woodyard totaled a career-high 5.5 sacks with the Broncos in 2012.
25. DE DeMarcus Ware (to Denver Broncos)
Contract terms: 3 years, $30 million
Be prepared for our best Vanna White imitation.
The Broncos are hoping that a nine-year veteran from Big D can put the “De” in Denver’s Defense.
That’s DE as in defensive end, and De as in DeMarcus Ware.
This past season with the Dallas Cowboys had to be deflating for the seven-time Pro Bowler. Ware played in just 13 contests and missed games (three) for the first time in his career. He wound up with a career-low six sacks and was given his release by the Cowboys.
Now Ware brings his 117 sacks in 141 career regular-season games to Denver. And instead of buying a vowel, the Broncos are hoping the small fortune they spent on him results in a Super Bowl title.
24. RB Rashad Jennings (to New York Giants)
Contract terms: 4 years, $10 million
Only the Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens ran for fewer yards than the New York Giants in 2013.
Injuries, most notably to starting running back David Wilson, were a major factor. While Andre Brown, the Giants’ rushing leader this past season with 492 yards, remains unsigned, general manager Jerry Reese and the organization have been aggressive this offseason.
The re-signing of Peyton Hillis and the addition of the underrated Rashad Jennings should help. The latter ran for a team-high and career-best 733 yards and six touchdowns for the Oakland Raiders this past season. The Giants will be Jennings’ third team in as many seasons, having begun his career with the Jaguars in 2009.
23. DE Justin Tuck (to Oakland Raiders)
Contract terms: 2 years, $11 million
A little over a week ago, Jordan Raanan of NJ.com reported the New York Giants got off to a quick start when trying to re-sign veteran defensive end Justin Tuck.
Well, so much for planning.
The nine-year veteran took his 60.5 regular-season sacks to the West Coast and signed with the Oakland Raiders, where he will team with fellow free-agent additions LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith to bolster a defense than finished 28th in the NFL versus the pass in 2013.
In 2013, Tuck led the Giants with 11 sacks, with 9.5 of those sacks coming in the team’s final six games. He should help the Silver and Black, who, as a team, totaled only 11 sacks in their final six outings this past season.
22. DE Chris Clemons (to Jacksonville Jaguars)
Contract terms: 4 years, $17.5 million
In Gus we trust?
Before free agency kicked off on March 11, Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley managed to entice one of his former players to join him in Florida.
Now you can make that two. Prior to taking over the Jaguars in 2013, Bradley spent four seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks.
The Jaguars now have a pair of Super Bowl champion defenders on their roster in the form of defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons. The former should help a run defense that finished 29th in the league in 2013.
Meanwhile, Clemons figures to bring the pass rush and is now more than a year removed from a knee injury suffered in the 2012 playoffs at Washington.
In four seasons with Seattle, the 10-year pro racked up 38 sacks and forced 10 fumbles. He was released by the Seahawks this offseason.
21. CB Captain Munnerlyn (to Minnesota Vikings)
Contract terms: 3 years, $11.25 million
They’re breaking up that old yet young gang in Carolina.
The defending NFC South champion Panthers have seen a lot of departures this offseason, especially at the wide receiver position.
Now head coach Ron Rivera has said goodbye to cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings. The former seventh-round draft pick has intercepted just seven passes in five seasons, but five of them have been returned for touchdowns. In fact, over the last two seasons, four picks have been taken back for scores.
Meanwhile, Minnesota looks to rebound from a disappointing 5-10-1 campaign in which it allowed the second-most yards in the league and gave up an NFL-high 480 points.
20. RB Toby Gerhart (to Jacksonville Jaguars)
Contract terms: 3 years, $10.5 million
Back in 2011, running back Maurice Jones-Drew was busy leading the NFL with 1,606 yards on the ground.
This past season, the Jacksonville Jaguars ran for 1,260 yards as a team. Nearly two-thirds came from Jones-Drew (803 yards), who had missed most of 2012 due to injury.
Now Gus Bradley and co. are moving on via the addition of running back Toby Gerhart, who ran for 1,305 yards and five touchdowns in four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Nearly half those yards came the same season Jones-Drew was leading the league in rushing. Gerhart ran for a career-high 531 yards rushing in 2011 and also snared three touchdown passes.
Any help on offense will be appreciated for a team that scored an NFL-low 247 points in 2013.
19. T Jared Veldheer (to Arizona Cardinals)
Contract terms: 5 years, $35 million
Led by head coach Bruce Arians, the Arizona Cardinals made dramatic strides in 2013.
A team that lost 11 of its final 12 games the previous season managed a 10-6 mark and was the last team this past season to beat the Seattle Seahawks…in Seattle no less.
Still, the Cards rode one of the best defenses in the league last season and could use some more consistency on the other side of the ball. Left tackle Jared Veldheer started 43 of the first 48 games of his career with the Oakland Raiders before injuries limited him to five appearances in 2013.
The former third-round pick figures to be a big upgrade for an offensive line that hopes to be much-improved this upcoming season.
18. RB Donald Brown (to San Diego Chargers)
Contract terms: 3 years, $10.5 million
San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers earned NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2013. The 10-year veteran got a lot of help from rejuvenated running back Ryan Mathews.
Now Mike McCoy’s team has added some proven depth. A year before Mathews was a first-round pick by the Bolts, the Indianapolis Colts made running back Donald Brown the 27th overall selection in 2009.
After four disappointing seasons, Brown led the Colts in rushing yards (537) and total touchdowns (eight) in 2013. He’s a very solid insurance policy should Mathews go down.
17. QB Josh McCown (to Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Contract terms: 2 years, $10 million
Josh McCown, the quarterback whose career record as a starter is six games below .500 (16-22) will be taking the field for his sixth NFL team.
And according to Gary Shelton of the Tampa Bay Times, new Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith insists that veteran Josh McCown will be his starter this season.
The well-traveled signal-caller comes off a better relief job than Rolaids last year. McCown played in eight games for the Chicago Bears (3-2 record as a starter), completing 66.5 percent of his tosses and throwing for 13 scores opposed to one interception.
It will be interesting to see if Mike Glennon, who threw more than twice as many touchdown passes (19) than interceptions (nine) as a rookie in 2013 will have any say in the matter.
16. C Evan Dietrich-Smith (to Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Contract terms: 4 years, $14.25 million
The Green Bay Packers' loss is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' gain.
Center Evan Dietrich-Smith started all 16 games and the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers for Mike McCarthy’s team in 2013. He helped pave the way for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year running back Eddie Lacy and also helped protect four different starting quarterbacks for the club.
The Buccaneers’ new-look offensive front featuring Dietrich-Smith and one-time Cincinnati Bengals tackle Anthony Collins will be severely tested by defenses such as the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints once again in 2014.
15. DE Lamarr Houston (to Chicago Bears)
Contract terms: 5 years, $35 million
The Chicago Bears finished tied for last in the NFL in 2013 with 31 sacks. They also ranked 32nd in the league when it came to stopping the run.
Head coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery are hoping former Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston has no problem assisting in both areas.
The four-year veteran started 59 of 64 games for the Silver and Black since entering the league as a second-round draft choice in 2010. Houston totaled 16.5 sacks over that span, including a career-high six sacks in 2013.
14. FS Mike Mitchell (to Pittsburgh Steelers)
Contract terms: 5 years, $25 million
Speaking of former second-round draft choices of the Oakland Raiders, safety Mike Mitchell was just that in 2009. The former Ohio University player was a surprise early selection that year.
This past season, he surprised many with his play with the Carolina Panthers. He finished fourth on the team with 66 tackles, totaled four interceptions, knocked down eight passes, amassed 3.5 sacks and forced a pair of fumbles for the NFC South champions.
His versatility and physical style makes him a perfect fit for Dick LeBeau and a Pittsburgh Steelers defensive unit looking to recapture its fearsome form.
13. DT Jason Hatcher (to Washington Redskins)
Contract terms: 4 years, $27.5 million
The Dallas Cowboys finished dead last in the NFL this past season in terms of total defense. The team amassed just 34 sacks—just 21 of those coming in its final 13 games.
Injuries were a big factor for Jason Garrett’s team in 2013. Now it is a pair of departures that won’t make things easy for Jerry Jones’ squad.
The Cowboys released sack specialist DeMarcus Ware, who signed with the Denver Broncos. And Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jason Hatcher took the free-agent highway to the nation’s capital, signing a four-year deal with the rival Washington Redskins.
Jim Haslett’s defensive unit needs all the help it can get. Only the Minnesota Vikings (480) allowed more points than the Redskins (478) this past season. Haslett’s unit also surrendered 52 offensive touchdowns in 2013.
12. CB Corey Graham (to Buffalo Bills)
Contract terms: 4 years, $16.3 million
New Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has to be happy.
The team added middle linebacker Brandon Spikes from the New England Patriots to help stop the run. And the addition of underrated cornerback Corey Graham is a big plus.
The former fifth-round pick of the Bears (2007) has totaled 10 interceptions the last three seasons with Chicago (four) and the Baltimore Ravens (six). This past season, Graham totaled 74 tackles, racked up four interceptions and knocked down 12 passes.
11. CB Aqib Talib (to Denver Broncos)
Contract terms: 6 years, $57 million
In January, then-New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib had to be helped off the field in Denver in the AFC Championship Game.
This season, he will be welcomed on it.
The defending AFC champion Denver Broncos have been busy this offseason, adding to a team that allowed 399 points in 2013 and still managed to make an appearance in Super Bowl XLVIII.
John Fox’s club ranked 27th in the NFL in passing yards allowed and gave up 29 scores through the air in 2013. Talib comes off a Pro Bowl season in which he totaled 41 tackles, four interceptions and 13 passes defensed.
And as for the fact that the talented defender has been injured in each of his last two AFC title game appearances, let’s see if the Broncos get there first.
10. DE Michael Johnson (to Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Contract terms: 5 years, $43.75 million
Conventional wisdom had former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson headed to the Minnesota Vikings in free agency.
Apparently, there was no convention in the Twin Cities this past week.
The emerging defender signed with the pass-rush-needy Tampa Bay Buccaneers, joining head coach Lovie Smith and new defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. It’s safe to say that duo knows something about getting after opposing quarterbacks.
In 2013, Johnson put together a very complete campaign, totaling 56 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 10 passes defensed and a pair of forced fumbles. A year earlier, he managed 11.5 sacks for Marvin Lewis’ club.
9. WR Dexter McCluster (to Tennessee Titans)
Contract terms: 3 years, $9 million
Will former Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson remain a member of the Tennessee Titans?
That is a question for another time.
New Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt is making sure there is a big-play component on the roster. The team added wide receiver Dexter McCluster, who can line up in numerous places and can provide Tennessee with numerous options.
In 2013, the former second-round selection ranked third on the Kansas City Chiefs with a career-best 53 catches. McCluster also led the league in punt returns (58) and punt-return yardage (686), taking two kicks back for scores, and was named to the Pro Bowl.
8. FS Jairus Byrd (to New Orleans Saints)
Contract terms: 6 years, $54 million
Remember when the New Orleans Saints were one of the more opportunistic teams in the league?
Who could forget 2009, when they forced 39 turnovers and totaled eight more takeaways in three playoff games on the way to a win in Super Bowl XLIV?
This past season, Rob Ryan’s defensive unit was much improved, but the Saints still forced only 19 turnovers during the regular season.
Enter three-time Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd, who will now team with second-year pro Kenny Vaccaro as the team’s last line of defense. Byrd totaled 22 interceptions and forced 11 fumbles in five NFL campaigns. This past season, he had four interceptions despite missing the Buffalo Bills’ first five games.
The Saints gave Byrd a pretty hefty contract. We’ll see if the opportunistic defender is worth his weight in takeaways.
7. T Anthony Collins (to Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Contract terms: 5 years, $30 million
In six seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, offensive tackle Anthony Collins never played all 16 games.
He will certainly get his chance with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who will have a new-look offensive line under new head coach Lovie Smith. The team recently parted ways with left tackle Donald Penn and right guard Davin Joseph.
Collins, who started a total of eight games with the Bengals in 2013 (including playoffs), got his share of high marks from Pro Football Focus. And Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht left no doubt where the six-year pro will line up.
"Anthony is a veteran who has played and started on the left side, on the right side, and he has some experience at guard,” said Licht via Roy Cummings of The Tampa Tribune. "But he's a natural left tackle, and we're excited to have him as our new starting left tackle."
The Bucs allowed 47 sacks in 2013, tied for the sixth-most in the league. Collins figures to immediately remedy that situation.
6. G Jon Asamoah (to Atlanta Falcons)
Contract terms: 5 years, $22.5 million
This past season, the Atlanta Falcons ran for an NFL-low 1,247 yards.
In 2013, guard Jon Asamoah played for the Kansas City Chiefs and blocked for Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles, who rushed for 1,287 yards.
Get the point?
Asamoah comes to the Falcons off a season in which he made a dozen starts and earned solid grades from the folks at Pro Football Focus.
Of course, it should be noted that no team in the league ran the ball less often than the Falcons last season. That is also something that has to change in 2014.
5. CB Darrelle Revis (to New England Patriots)
Contract terms: 1 year, $12 million
He’s baaaack…in the AFC East.
Apparently much to the chagrin of the seemingly tortured fans of the New York Jets, Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis signed a one-year contract with the New England Patriots in an apparent attempt to torment the team that made him a first-round pick back in 2007.
All kidding aside, Revis fills the void in the Patriots secondary left by the free-agent departure of Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib, who signed with the Denver Broncos.
In last season’s opener, Rex Ryan’s club edged Revis and the Buccaneers, 18-17. Now New York gets at least two shots at their former superstar, at least for this season. And the New England secondary is starting to look pretty formidable once again.
4. DT Linval Joseph (to Minnesota Vikings)
Contract terms: 5 years, $31.5 million
With all of the big names along the New York Giants’ potent defensive line in recent seasons, the biggest performer in terms of sheer mass may be the most missed.
The Minnesota Vikings now employ four-year defensive tackle Linval Joseph. The 6’4”, 328-pound performer started 46 regular-season games in the last three years combined and has totaled nine sacks over that span.
With the overhaul along the defensive line in the Twin Cities, Joseph figures to bring a lot to one of the worst defenses in the league in 2013. He’ll team with 2013 first-round pick Sharrif Floyd on the inside of Mike Zimmer’s new-look defensive unit.
3. CB Alterraun Verner (to Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Contract terms: 4 years, $26.5 million
Team an opportunistic cornerback with a potent pass rush, and you have the makings of a pretty good defensive unit.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers not only added defensive end Michael Johnson this offseason but signed Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner to a four-year deal.
This past season, the UCLA product came up with seven of the Tennessee Titans’ 25 takeaways. Verner racked up 57 tackles, five interceptions, two fumble recoveries and 22 passes defensed in 2013.
Now he looks to help a Tampa Bay defense that has allowed exactly 30 touchdown passes in each of the last three seasons.
2. ILB Karlos Dansby (to Cleveland Browns)
Contract terms: 4 years, $24 million
The Cleveland Browns finished ninth in the NFL in total defense in 2013.
Of course, the franchise just hired Mike Pettine, the team’s eighth head coach since returning to the league in 1999.
What’s in a number? How about a lot of numbers thanks to the arrival of productive inside linebacker Karlos Dansby?
The onetime Arizona Cardinals defender-turned-Miami Dolphin-turned-Cardinal again had a big season in the desert in 2013. Dansby totaled 122 tackles, 6.5 sacks and four interceptions, and he knocked down 19 passes.
Then again, Cleveland has been a desert when it comes to winning. The franchise has lost 11 or more games each of the last six seasons and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2002.
1. SS T.J. Ward (to Denver Broncos)
Contract terms: 4 years, $23 million
It always helps to have a youthful ward. Batman will attest to this fact.
And the Denver Broncos are hoping Pro Bowl strong safety T.J. Ward can help a defensive unit that was 19th in the NFL this past season in total yards allowed. Only five teams in the league gave up more passing yards per game, and John Fox’s club also surrendered a deceptive 101.6 yards per game on the ground.
Ward had a big year in 2013, totaling 112 tackles, 1.5 sacks and took back both an interception and a fumble for touchdowns this past season.
The Broncos are certainly hoping the arrival of Ward, along with the signings of defensive end DeMarcus Ware and cornerback Aqib Talib, can ensure a return to the Super Bowl. In any case, the former Browns defender offers some solutions in many areas of their defense.
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