Grading the NFL's Latest Big Moves Before 2022 Season

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IAugust 18, 2022

Grading the NFL's Latest Big Moves Before 2022 Season

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    New Jets OT Duane Brown (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

    The 2022 NFL offseason has been arguably the wildest in recent memory. We've seen franchise quarterbacks and Pro Bowl receivers traded, free-agent dollars spent by the barrel and an unpredictable and trade-saturated draft.

    The action kicked off in March with the start of free agency. While the activity has slowed down considerably over the last couple of months, things are getting interesting once again.

    Tuesday marked the preseason cutdown to 85 players, and rosters must be further trimmed to 80 players on August 23 and 53 by August 30. Trades have been part of the preseason process, and we've seen a couple of notable players released as part of roster cuts.

    Meanwhile, a few big extensions came through just before the start of training camps.

    Here, we'll break down the biggest roster moves of the past month and provide grades for each team involved based on factors such as proven production, potential upside and compensation.

    Let's kick things off with a look at the latest quarterback to get the bag.

Arizona Cardinals Sign Kyler Murray to 5-Year Extension

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    Set Number: X163910 TK1

    On July 21, the Arizona Cardinals signed quarterback Kyler Murray to a five-year, $230.5 million extension. The deal is tacked onto Murray's rookie contract, which means that Arizona has full team control through the 2028 season.

    At first blush, this seems like a big win for Arizona. The Oklahoma product is a two-time Pro Bowler and will now be a Cardinal until he's 31 years old. Finding a franchise quarterback is hard, and theoretically, the team won't have to worry about the game's most important position for the foreseeable future.

    And it's not as if quarterback contracts will go down in the coming years. By extending Murray now instead of in a year or two, Arizona has probably saved itself some money. Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert will raise the bar soon enough.

    On the other hand, one can argue that Murray hasn't done enough to be the league's second-highest-paid quarterback (annual salary) behind Aaron Rodgers.

    The Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles extended Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively, in 2019. Both deals came before their rookie contracts had expired, and in retrospect, both came too early. At least Wentz and Goff helped their teams reach a Super Bowl before getting paid. The Eagles won it with Nick Foles following Wentz's torn ACL in 2017. Murray hasn't come close to accomplishing that.

    Though he is a Pro Bowl talent, he has a losing record (22-23-1), one postseason appearance and no playoff wins. For that, Murray got $104.3 million guaranteed at signing, the highest guarantee behind only Deshaun Watson.

    A good move? Sure. A risky one? Definitely.

    Grade: B

49ers Release Dee Ford

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    We don't usually see a lot of big names released during the initial wave of roster cuts.

    However, the San Francisco 49ers released a notable player July 27, parting ways with pass-rusher Dee Ford, who was acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs for a second-round pick in 2019. He signed a five-year, $85.5 million deal upon his arrival.

    The 31-year-old's tenure in San Francisco was largely a flop. Ford did have 6.5 sacks in his first season with the 49ers, but he appeared in only seven games over the last two campaigns because of neck and back injuries.

    Releasing Ford was a necessary move, given his injury history and the fact that he did not report to training camp. It was also long expected by some, though Ford told Michael Silver of the San Francisco Chronicle in December that he was planning to rehab and stay with the franchise.

    "Got a text from 49ers edge-rusher Dee Ford: 'The articles saying I told my teammates I expected to be released are false. I'm going to be getting rehab and taking the time needed to get back,'" Silver tweeted at the time.

    It's still a tough move to swallow, however. Ford is set to carry dead-cap hits of $5.8 million and $8.2 million in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

    Grade: D

Seahawks Extend DK Metcalf for 3 More Years

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    We saw a handful of wide receivers get big-money deals this offseason, including Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown following trades. Seattle Seahawks wideout DK Metcalf took his turn at the contract table July 28.

    The team extended the Mississippi product on a three-year, $72 million deal. That's in addition to the final year of his rookie contract, meaning he'll be in Seattle through the 2025 season.

    This was a smart move by the Seahawks, who traded quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos in the offseason. At some point, they'll find their quarterback of the future. With all due respect to Drew Lock and Geno Smith, that player probably isn't on the current roster. When they do, they'll have a top-notch pass-catcher already in place.

    Metcalf was a Pro Bowler in 2020, and over the past two seasons, he has accumulated 2,270 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns. His running mate, wideout Tyler Lockett, is also under contract through the 2025 season. Tight end Noah Fant, who was acquired in the Wilson trade, is also in the mix.

    This means that Seattle's next quarterback will have three quality targets from Day 1.

    Financially, this was also a win for the franchise. Metcalf will earn roughly $20.2 million annually over the next four years. That's $2.2 million more per year than Christian Kirk will make in the same time frame. While Kirk is a fine complementary receiver, he hasn't been the dominant No. 1 target that Metcalf has shown himself to be.

    Grade: A

49ers Give Deebo Samuel His Own 3-Year Extension

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Once Metcalf got paid, 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel was the next logical domino to fall. Both wideouts were taken in the 2019 draft, seeking new contracts, willing to sit out of training-camp practices and are represented by agent Tory Dandy.

    Samuel's extension came July 31, only three days after Metcalf put pen to paper. He got a three-year, $71.6 million deal that runs through 2025. He'll earn roughly $19.6 million annually over the next four years.

    We've already discussed Kirk's contract, which represents the market for second-tier receivers. Samuel, who was a first-team All-Pro in 2021, comes at a fair price in relation to his production.

    Last season, the South Carolina product tallied 1,405 receiving yards, 365 rushing yards and 14 combined touchdowns. He was the centerpiece of the offense.

    "We are overjoyed to have come together with Deebo to keep him with the 49ers for years to come," general manager John Lynch said in a statement.

    While Samuel does have only one year of elite production, keeping him in place was wise. The 49ers are turning to second-year quarterback Trey Lance on a full-time basis in 2022. The North Dakota State product flashed promise in his two starts last season but is inexperienced, playing just one full season in college, and taking the reins of a playoff team.

    Keeping Samuel in the fold will both ease Lance's transition into the starting role and keep San Francisco in contention this season.

    Grade: A

Diontae Johnson Gets 2-Year Extension from Pittsburgh

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    Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Diontae Johnson is the latest 2019 draftee to receive a contract extension. The former Toledo standout signed his deal on August 4, less than a week after Samuel's agreement.

    Like Metcalf and Samuel, Johnson was "holding in" at training camp.

    While Johnson only signed for another two years, the deal is great for the Steelers. The 26-year-old's contract is worth $36.7 million. Over the next three seasons, he'll earn roughly $14.8 million annually.

    That's well below what Kirk is getting, and one could argue that Johnson deserves much more.

    Though he has shown some inconsistency in his three seasons as a Steeler—he had 13 drops in 2020—he recorded a 1,161-yard Pro Bowl campaign last year.

    Pittsburgh added wide receivers George Pickens and Calvin Austin III in the 2022 draft, but keeping Johnson in the lineup was important. The team lost James Washington and JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency and is starting over at quarterback.

    Veteran Mitchell Trubisky appears to be Pittsburgh's Week 1 replacement for the retired Ben Roethlisberger, but we may see first-round pick Kenny Pickett on the field this season. With Johnson, Pickens, Austin, Chase Claypool and tight end Pat Freiermuth on the roster, Pickett will have no shortage of targets if he gets the start as a rookie.

    Grade: A

Jets Sign Duane Brown to a 2-Year Deal

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    Abbie Parr/Getty Images

    Every offseason, quality players are still on the market when training camps open. There are several still out there in 2022, but the New York Jets recently scooped up one of them. On Monday, they inked offensive tackle Duane Brown to a two-year, $22 million deal.

    This was a huge move. Starting right tackle Mekhi Becton suffered a fractured right kneecap in practice and is done for the season after being placed on injured reserve.

    With Brown coming into the fold, left tackle George Fant will move to the right side to replace Becton.

    "I know he is going to put in the work, and he's going to do everything he can to be the best right tackle he can possibly be," head coach Robert Saleh said of Fant, per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post.

    Finding Brown available was a best-case scenario in this situation. Though he's on the older side at 36, he has shown that he's still capable of playing at a high if not elite level.

    With Seattle last season, Brown was responsible for eight sacks allowed, according to Pro Football Focus. However, he started all 17 games and was named to the Pro Bowl. He's a seasoned vet with 203 starts on his resume and should have little trouble getting ready for Week 1.

    Financially, it's not a bad deal for a New York team in a jam. Brown is now the 26th-highest-paid offensive tackle in annual salary. Getting a Pro Bowl-level lineman at that price and with a dire need is a big win.

    Grade: A

Buccaneers Sign Carl Nassib to a 1-Year Deal

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    Though not a Pro Bowler like Brown, pass-rusher Carl Nassib is another notable free agent who agreed to terms Monday. He will join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a one-year deal, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

    Nassib spent the last two seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders and largely served as a rotational player. However, this marks his second stint with the Buccaneers, and the 29-year-old was quite productive the first time around.

    During the 2018 and 2019 campaigns, he tallied 12.5 combined sacks and 38 quarterback pressures while appearing in 29 games with 17 starts. His 2019 season came under then-defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who is now Tampa's head coach.

    The familiarity and versatility Nassib will bring makes this a solid move, even if it's only a depth addition.

    "When he played, when he was here with us, he's a very good pass-rusher on the outside, and he can also play inside in some nickel situations," Bowles told reporters Tuesday. "He has a lot of versatility, he brings a lot of energy, brings a lot of toughness and he understands the system."

    Nassib may not play a major role in a pass-rushing rotation that also includes Shaquil Barrett, Akiem Hicks and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. However, the Buccaneers have their sights set on a deep playoff run, and quality experienced depth is always valuable to a contender.

    Grade: B

Eagles Trade J.J. Arcega-Whiteside to Seahawks

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    Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    We often see trades near cutdown days as teams seek to get something in return for players they don't intend to keep.

    The Eagles took this approach with 2019 second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. The former Stanford receiver never panned out in Philadelphia and saw limited playing time in his three seasons.

    Arcega-Whiteside played 42 percent of the offensive snaps as a rookie but only 25 percent in 2020 and 16 percent this past season. Over three years, he caught just 16 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown.

    By trading Arcega-Whiteside to the Seahawks on Monday, the Eagles didn't get any cap relief. His $1.2 million base salary was not guaranteed. However, they did get defensive back Ugo Amadi, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.

    Amadi, a 2019 fourth-round pick out of Oregon, has seen the field more than Arcega-Whiteside. He played 55 percent of the defensive snaps in Seattle last year and finished with 54 tackles, six pass breakups and an interception.

    Amadi is due to earn $2.5 million in 2022.

    In this trade, the Eagles moved on from a receiver who had no clear role heading into the regular season while bolstering their secondary depth. Seattle gets a project at receiver for a group that lacks proven depth behind Metcalf and Lockett. No other wideout topped 400 receiving yards last season.

    Consider this a fair deal and a minor win for Philadelphia.

    Eagles Grade: C+

    Seahawks Grade: C

Chargers Ink Derwin James to 4-Year Extension

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    On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Chargers signed Derwin James to a four-year, $76.5 million extension that includes $42 million guaranteed. It was a move that was widely expected, as James was a hold-in during camp.

    The 26-year-old is now the league's highest-paid safety, both in terms of total contract value and annual value. James is a two-time Pro Bowler and was a first-team All-Pro as a rookie in 2018. The Chargers are understandably happy to have him locked up through the 2026 season.

    "He's our signal-caller and the heartbeat of our defense," head coach Brandon Staley said, per ESPN's Lindsey Thiry.

    It's hard to argue that James isn't deserving of a new deal, though there is some significant risk involved. While the Florida State product has been great when healthy, he has a notable injury history.

    The 26-year-old was limited to five games in 2019 with a foot injury and missed the entire 2020 campaign with a torn meniscus. He missed two games last season with a hamstring issue and also dealt with a shoulder ailment. He underwent shoulder surgery following the 2021 season.

    While James started all 16 games as a rookie, he's appeared in only 20 over the last three years. It would have made some sense for L.A. to wait on an extension until James proves that he is actually 100 percent and can stay healthy.

    Still, this was a big move for the Chargers, who ensured that they'll have their defensive centerpiece on the field in Week 1 and under contract for the next half-decade.

    Grade: B


    *Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted. Contract information via Spotrac.

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