2014 NFL Free Agency: Grading Early Moves at Start of Signing Period

Richard Langford@@noontide34Correspondent IMarch 11, 2014

Indianapolis Colts' Antoine Bethea (41) prepares for an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Free agency got off to a flying start as NFL teams locked up plenty of big-name players on Tuesday, the first day of the signing period.

The flurry of activity was no surprise. Teams were allowed to talk to free agents for three days prior to the start of the signing period. So there were plenty of contracts ready to go.

ESPN has a tracker to help get you up to date on all the signings.  

For this article, I want to focus on three of the day's bigger signings, and I want to focus on players who switched teams. That's far more interesting than analyzing a player re-signing.  

I'm not a huge fan of any of these signings, but all are backed with a solid strategy. The problem is that the contracts are a bit excessive.

That is what it takes, however, to land a quality player in the early stages of free agency. 


Antoine Bethea to 49ers 

The San Francisco 49ers made a switch at safety, saved a little cash and got worse in pass defense in the process. 

ESPN tweeted the news: 

According to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, Bethea signed for "four years at just under $6 million a year." 

Bethea, 29, will be coming over from the Indianapolis Colts to replace Donte Whitner, who signed with the Cleveland Browns for, according to Barrows, four years and $28 million. 

Bethea is not as big of hitter as Whitner, but he is strong in the run game. It is in the passing game where he has been struggling. 

The two-time Pro Bowler has lost a step, and he's prone to getting beat in coverage. 

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Still, he's an experienced and steady player who will help lead a young secondary. 

Signing Grade: C+


Jared Veldheer to Cardinals

Ben Margot/Associated Press

The Arizona Cardinals were wise to target offensive line early in free agency.

Veldheer changed his Twitter avatar to a cardinal and was gracious to the Raiders and their fans on the way out: 

According to Team Rankings, the Cardinals were 18th in sacked percentage last season and 28th in yards allowed per rush.

So it is with that in mind that the Cardinals signed left tackle Veldheer, and they signed him to a healthy contract. NFL on ESPN reports that it's a five-year, $35 million deal.

Veldheer is a former third-round pick entering his fifth season. He instantly outperformed his draft status as a starter at left tackle.

The massive tackle has made little improvement over his first four seasons, although he has been part of a poor offensive line.

Last season, Veldheer was only able to play in five games due to a triceps tendon tear. It was the first year he wasn't able to play in all 16 games.

The signing fills a position of need for the Cardinals, but Arizona paid a hefty price. Veldheer is strong in run blocking, but he is vulnerable in pass protection. That is a vital component to a player handling the blind side.

Still, I commend the Cardinals in their quest to improve the offensive line.

Signing Grade: B- 


Rodger Saffold to Raiders 

L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

On the surface, this move is a giant fail.

Steve Corkran, who covers the Raiders for the Contra Costa Times, helps explain:

It's not as simple as comparing the two, however. For starters, according to the Rams sideline reporter Tony SoftliSaffold will play offensive guard in 2014.

So this move wasn't viewed as swapping Saffold for Veldheer. This move was a way for the Raiders to upgrade at guard, and they needed to do that. 

Lucas Nix handled right guard for the Raiders last season. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gave him a league-worst mark of negative-44.3 last season.

Meanwhile, Saffold, who spent his first three seasons at left tackle and spent last season at right tackle and guard, earned a strong rating at guard from PFF at plus-9.4. That was the 18th-best mark among guards.

So all of this helps take the sting out of the deal for the Raiders. What puts the sting back in it is the amount. ESPN reported the terms of the deal: 

That is a lot of money for a guard. Check out Spotrac's listing of the highest-paid guards for the upcoming season. Saffold's average annual salary would put him third on that list. 

Throw in the fact that Saffold has yet to play in more than 12 games in a season in his three years in the league, and the massive amount of his contract weighs the grade down for this signing. 

Signing Grade: C