2017 NFL Free Agents: Grades for Wednesday's Free-Agent Moves
The marketplace is open—almost.
Technically, NFL teams can't sign free agents (other than their own) before 4 p.m. ET on March 9, but during this "legal tampering" period, clubs can negotiate everything up to and including what color pen their newest players use to sign on the dotted line.
The first day of the tampering period (Tuesday) was quiet relative to a year ago, but it didn't take long on Wednesday for news to start trickling in on some big-name players who are changing mailing addresses.
Here's a look at each of those deals that aren't just yet—beginning with a veteran receiver who won't be moving far at all.
Brandon Marshall to New York Giants
Two years, $12 million
Well, at least Brandon Marshall won't have to spring for a moving van. After being released by the New York Jets a week ago, the 32-year-old is just headed to the other side of MetLife Stadium to join Big Blue.
Per Seth Walder and Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, sources indicate that Marshall has agreed in principle to terms on a two-year, $12 million pact with the New York Giants.
Marshall has struggled with injuries in two of the past three seasons, but sandwiched between those down years in 2014 and 2016 is a 109-catch, 1,502-yard, 14-touchdown 2015 campaign with the Jets—the eigthth 1,000-yard season of Marshall's 11-year career.
Marshall may not be the player he once was, and there's a reason he's headed to the fifth team of his NFL career. But when healthy and on his game, Marshall's a physically imposing legitimate star at the wide receiver position.
And defensive coordinators across the NFC East are reaching for the Pepto Bismol after imagining Marshall lining up opposite Odell Beckham in the Big Apple.
Last year, the Giants were one of the NFL's most aggressive teams in free agency, sinking well over $100 million in guaranteed money into remaking the defense.
That spending spree paid off with a trip to the playoffs, and while signing Marshall wasn't nearly as expensive, it's a shrewd move that could pay a similarly substantial dividend in 2017.
Ricky Wagner to Detroit Lions
Length unknown, $9-plus million per season
As is sometimes the case with these deals that aren't quite deals yet, we don't have all the details on the pact offensive tackle Ricky Wagner is reportedly set to sign with the Detroit Lions.
What we do know is that ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted that "Wagner expects to become a Detroit Lion assuming no snags in final negotiations." Ian Rapoport of NFL.com added that the contract is expected to pay the 27-year-old in excess of $9 million a season.
It's not any sort of surprise. Just one day ago, Mike Garafalo of NFL.com said he believed given the demand for quality offensive linemen in free agency that Wagner would "blow the lid off the [right tackle market]."
Wagner took a big step forward in his fourth NFL season, especially in pass protection. Wagner was Pro Football Focus' seventh-ranked right tackle in 2016, and he ranked inside the top 10 among all tackles in pass blocking.
The offensive line was arguably the biggest area of weakness in 2016 for a Lions team that made the playoffs. Detroit still has work to do in that regard (guard Larry Warford is a free agent), but Wagner's a sizable upgrade over 2016 starter Riley Reiff.
Anytime you can sign a top free agent at a relatively reasonable price, it's a win.
And the Lions won with this deal—assuming it comes to pass.
Jahleel Addae Re-Signs with Los Angeles Chargers
Four years, $22 million
It's a time of great change for the Los Angeles Chargers. A new home. A new logo. And a new head coach in Anthony Lynn.
However, those changes won't be extending to the back end of the Chargers secondary. As Field Yates of ESPN reported, Los Angeles will be retaining four-year veteran safety Jahleel Addae on a four-year deal believed to be worth $22 million.
On one hand, the Bolts are keeping a young player in the fold who ranked inside the NFL's top 25 safeties last year, per Pro Football Focus.
However, Addae lost half the 2016 season to injury—the third time in four seasons the 27-year-old has missed time. And in 13 games for the Chargers in 2015, Addae was PFF's seventh-worst safety in the NFL.
Addae is a decent young safety who has shown flashes of being more. But he's also been inconsistent and prone to getting nicked up.
It isn't an awful signing by any stretch. But it isn't one that inspires a lot of enthusiasm, either.
Vernon Davis Re-Signs with Redskins
Three years, $15 million
At this point a year ago, Washington Redskins tight end Vernon Davis was an afterthought—an aging player playing out the string.
Well, Davis turned back the clock with the Redskins in 2016, racking up his most receiving yards since 2013.
Now, Davis is enjoying the fruits of those labors.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Davis and the Redskins have agreed to terms on a three-year, $15 million contract that will bring the veteran back to the nation's capital in 2017.
Davis was all smiles while talking with ESPN's Josina Anderson. "I feel very excited," Davis said. "My time here has been amazing. My experience with Washington has been the best of my entire career because I grew up a Skins fan and achieved a childhood dream. To see that come to fruition brings me a lot of joy."
Five million a season isn't an insignificant amount for a 33-year-old tight end who looked done not too long ago. But there's no denying that Davis looked more like the athletic field-stretcher he was in his heyday with the San Francisco 49ers than he has in a good long while in 2016.
There's also no denying that given Jordan Reed's lengthy injury history, Washington needs a viable Plan B at tight end.
Assuming this deal offers the Redskins an "out" if age catches up to Davis (and I'd be stunned if it doesn't), this is a good signing. Not great, mind you...but good.
Tyrod Taylor Restructures with Bills
Five years, $7 million signing bonus
There are a number of veteran quarterbacks with uncertain futures who have been the source of endless speculation in recent weeks.
And sure enough, some of those players appear to be moving on. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that the Dallas Cowboys are set to release Tony Romo, and with the Bears intent on signing Mike Glennon, per Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, Jay Cutler's days in Chicago are numbered.
However, despite rampant rumblings that the Bills were going to part ways with Tyrod Taylor, the 27-year-old will be staying in Buffalo.
As Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News reported, the Bills and Taylor have agreed to a restructuring that will keep Taylor in Western New York.
Head coach Sean McDermott released a statement.
"We are excited about the opportunity to keep Tyrod with the Bills," McDermott said. "I've gotten a chance to know Tyrod and study him over the past several weeks and he is both a great person and competitor. Doug and I are confident this was best move for the Bills at this time."
Frankly, I don't even need to see all the terms of this deal to grade it.
No, Taylor isn't Drew Brees. Or Aaron Rodgers. Or Tom Brady. And the Bills weren't confident enough in Taylor's long-term prospects to commit the $30 million and change he would have been due at the end of this week.
But Taylor has a plus-25 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the past two years, and he's ranked 10th among NFL quarterbacks in each of the last two seasons at Pro Football Focus.
Taylor might not be a great quarterback. But he's a good one.
Making him worth his weight in gold in today's QB-starved NFL.
Just ask yourself this, Bills fans. Would you rather head into Week 1 with Taylor as your starting quarterback, or Glennon?
I rest my case.
Chandler Jones Gets Megadeal from Arizona Cardinals
Five years, all of the millions
After spending a Day 2 pick and a player to acquire Chandler Jones and watching him pile up 11 sacks in his first season with the team, it wasn't exactly news when the Arizona Cardinals slapped the franchise tag on the 27-year-old.
However, with other prominent defensive starters also set to hit free agency Thursday, the best-case scenario for the Redbirds was always a long-term extension that afforded the team maximum cap flexibility.
It appears the Cardinals have accomplished that goal.
As Ian Rapoport reported for NFL.com, the Cardinals are finalizing a "large" five-year extension with their best pass-rusher.
Well, Bleacher Report's Jason Cole tweeted that the contract is expected to come in just under the $85 million that Olivier Vernon received from the New York Giants in 2016.
That's a ton of cheddar, but it's the going rate for elite pass-rushers in their prime. And only two players in the National Football League have more sacks over the past two seasons than Jones' 23.5.
It's unknown if the extra wiggle room this deal will afford general manager Steve Keim and the Cards will impact the possibility of re-upping defensive end Calais Campbell and safety Tony Jefferson. And in a perfect world, this deal would have been done a few days ago, allowing Keim a bit more time to devise a plan of attack before the floodgates open Thursday.
But that's nitpicking, and this deal was a no-brainer.
Brian Hoyer to San Francisco 49ers
Two years, $12 million
So much for all the Kirk Cousins to San Francisco hooplah...maybe.
In his first year as an NFL general manager, John Lynch has apparently decided that the slow and steady approach at quarterback beats the big splash. Rather than commit a large portion of their salary cap resources to a veteran free agent like Tony Romo, or spend money and picks on a trade for Cousins, it's bridge time.
You know how they love bridges in San Francisco.
According to a report from ESPN.com news services, free-agent quarterback Brian Hoyer will be reunited with Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan after agreeing in principle to terms on a two-year deal that will pay around $6 million a season.
Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweeted late Wednesday evening that the deal contains $10 million in guarantees and another $6 million in performance incentives.
Granted, this isn't a signing that's going to have 49ers fans making playoff plans or doing cartwheels. The 31-year-old Hoyer is about to join the sixth team of his NFL career. He's the definition of a journeyman quarterback, and on the very best day of his life, Hoyer is an average-ish NFL starter.
On his best day.
However, this move shows a measure of patience from Lynch. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the 49ers won't be, either. If the team drafts a quarterback early this year who isn't quite ready to start, Hoyer can at least hold down the proverbial fort.
Ditto if this year's class doesn't do it for Lynch and he decides the second overall pick is better spent on filling one of the team's other holes.
And there are so many holes.
This isn't an acquisition that will inspire cheers. But it doesn't inspire groans, either.
Don't worry. We'll get to those in a second.
Pierre Garcon to San Francisco 49ers
$16 MILLION IN 2017!!!
That is not a typo. Nor are the all-capital letters. Or the three exclamation points.
Listen, I get that the 49ers are more starved for receiver talent than any team in the NFL. Garcon topped 1,000 receiving yards for the Redskins in 2016. And Garcon and Kyle Shanahan have familiarity from their time together in Washington.
I also get that the team is front-loading this contract to make it easier to cut bait on Garcon as his skills fade. And I'm well aware that the 49ers can easily afford to pay Garcon given their almost $100 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.
But it's still nuts.
Garcon's 1,041 yards last year marked only the second time in nine years that he's hit the 1,000-yard mark, and he'll be 31 before the season starts.
There is only one wide receiver in the league (Antonio Brown) who averages more than that $16 million in annual salary. Only Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys will make more than that $16 million in 2017.
Garcon isn't in either's class.
The devil's in the details, and once the fine print is available on this deal, it might look a little better.
But at the moment, while Hoyer's signing looks prudent and reasonable, Garcon's deal looks like a knee-jerk decision to set money on fire.
Barry Church to Jacksonville Jaguars
Four years, $24-plus million
Only two teams in the National Football League entered free agency with more wiggle room than the perennially disappointing Jacksonville Jaguars.
General manager Dave Caldwell isn't letting that coin burn a hole in his pocket.
According to yet another report from the very busy Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, strong safety Barry Church is expected to bolt the Dallas Cowboys for the Jags after reaching an agreement (tentatively, of course) on a four-year deal worth $6 million and change a season.
On the surface, the move might actually be seen as a bit of a downgrade for Jacksonville. While 2016 starter John Cyprien was the fifth-ranked safety in the NFL last year, per Pro Football Focus, the 29-year-old Church checked in five spots lower.
However, it's another story altogether if you look at the pair in pass coverage. Church was a top-20 safety in that regard last season, while Cyprien checked in a full 52 slots below him.
While Cyprien's younger and a thumper in run support, Church is a more well-rounded player and veteran presence who can help direct traffic at the back of the Jacksonville defense.
Add in a reasonable price tag and the Jaguars are off to a good start in free agency.
Now if they can just translate that to the regular season for once.
Patrick DiMarco, Mike Tolbert to Buffalo Bills
DiMarco: Four years, $8.5 million
Tolbert: One year, terms not disclosed
In addition to keeping their quarterback in town, the Buffalo Bills have also reportedly found a new lead blocker for tailback LeSean McCoy.
According to Rapoport (because of course it is), the Bills have agreed to terms on a four-year, $8.5 million contract with Atlanta Falcons fullback Patrick DiMarco.
About half that amount is guaranteed.
This isn't a signing that's going to generate a ton of press, but DiMarco is one of the best in the NFL at what he does.
And assuming the Bills aren't planning an offensive sea change, having an elite fullback on the roster can only help one of the league's most run-heavy clubs.
However, it was a little curious that after adding DiMarco the Bills also agreed in principle (per Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer) on a one-year deal with Mike Tolbert of the Carolina Panthers, who was the NFL's worst qualifying fullback in 2016.
ESPN.com's Jordan Ranaan tweeted Wednesday afternoon that Tolbert is being brought in as a running back, presumably because of McCoy's short-yardage struggles last season.
As a short-yardage battering ram and occasional receiver, the Bills could do worse.
Grade (DiMarco): B+
Grade (Tolbert): C
Dwayne Allen Traded to Patriots
It wouldn't be a proper free-agent frenzy without a trade.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the New England Patriots have acquired tight end Dwayne Allen and a sixth-round pick from the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for a fourth-round pick.
Allen, who is in the second year of a four-year extension that will pay him $5 million in 2017, hauled in 35 passes for 406 yards and six scores for the Colts in 2016.
This is the rare trade that works for both sides. The Colts appeared to have soured on the athletic but inconsistent Allen in 2016, largely because of the emergence of Jack Doyle. Clearing Allen's salary off the books helped the Colts retain Doyle, whom they re-signed Tuesday. It could also aid the team in the pursuit of other free agents.
The Patriots, meanwhile, were facing an uncertain future at tight end given Rob Gronkowski's troublesome back and the impending free agency of Martellus Bennett.
Allen has an injury history of his own, but at least now the Pats have a contingency plan if Gronkowski misses time in 2017 and a complementary tight end if he doesn't.
The Patriots got the better end of the trade given their acquisition of a talented (if inconsistent) veteran who's still only 27 for a modest cost, but both sides are probably smiling Wednesday afternoon.
Grade (Patriots): B
Grade (Colts): C+
Kyle Juszczyk to San Francisco 49ers
Four years, $21 million
At first glance, given what we know about Kyle Juszczyk, this looks like a good signing.
We also know that San Fran head coach Kyle Shanahan made good use of Patrick DiMarco in Atlanta in 2016. In theory, he should be able to take full advantage of Juszczyk's superior skills as a receiver.
That's all well and good.
Right up until you see (per Rapoport) the size of the contract the 49ers gave him.
John Lynch didn't just make Juszczyk the highest-paid fullback in the National Football League. He literally doubled up the average annual salary of the No. 2 player at the position (Kansas City's Anthony Sherma, per Spotrac).
There is no doubt fans are loving Lynch's aggressiveness in pursuing (and acquiring from all indications) players who can help the 49ers early in free agency.
He can't take the cap space with him, after all.
But San Francisco needs quantity as well as quality on a roster that's as talent-deficient as any in the NFL. And what some might call going and getting the players you want, others could counter is overpaying needlessly.
There were two contracts Wednesday whose numbers made my jaw drop.
Lynch was behind them both.
From a player and fit standpoint, this is a quality move. But a price tag of over $5 million a season knocks much of the shine off.
Marquise Goodwin to San Francisco 49ers
Terms not disclosed
I'll say this for the 49ers. They aren't sitting on their hands.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, the Bills will be adding a second wide receiver when free agency kicks off Thursday after agreeing to terms with four-year veteran Marquise Goodwin.
The thing is, without knowing the terms, I can't grade this one. I just can't.
If the 49ers got Goodwin at a reasonable price, the 26-year-old could be the sort of steal that can make free agency for a team. Pundits like Bleacher Report's Matt Miller are already comparing the impact Goodwin's speed could have to what Taylor Gabriel did in Atlanta in 2016.
It might be that 4.27 40-yard dash he peeled off at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.
However, Goodwin has 49 catches in four NFL seasons—total. If GM John Lynch displayed the sort of desperation at receiver with Goodwin that he appears to have with Pierre "You'll pay me WHAT in 2017?" Garcon, then this deal could be a clunker that just needlessly saps San Francisco's salary cap resources.
We'll know more Thursday, but for now this signing gets a big fat I don't know.
Brandon LaFell Re-Signs with Cincinnati Bengals
Two years, $10 million
The Cincinnati Bengals are not a team historically known for making a big splash in free agency. But sometimes it's the little signings that have a big impact.
As Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote, the Bengals made just such a quietly savvy deal Wednesday, bringing back veteran wideout Brandon LaFell on a two-year, $10 million extension.
The 30-year-old LaFell told Owczarski that he intends to better last year's production (64 catches, 862 yards, six scores) in his second season in the Queen City.
"I proved I could stay healthy," LaFell said. "I proved I could catch the ball consistently. I felt like I did that. I feel like in the second year within the offense with Andy (Dalton), I think I’ll be even better," he said."
No one is going to confuse LaFell with batterymate A.J. Green anytime soon. But he's a capable outside receiver and solid complement to the Bengals star.
One year after losing both Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones to free agency, the Bengals insured they won't be rebuilding the receiving corps once again—and did so at a reasonable price.
This isn't to say the Bengals won't add a receiver in the draft, but with Green, LaFell and youngster Tyler Boyd anchoring the position, they don't necessarily have to early on.
Andre Branch Re-Signs with Miami Dolphins
Three years, $27 million
In 2016 Andre Branch finally realized some of the potential in 2016 that led to his being drafted early in the second round back in 2012.
He just didn't do it for the team who drafted him.
Still the Miami Dolphins liked what they saw from Branch's 49-tackle, 5.5 sack fifth NFL season enough to bring him back on a three-year, $27 million contract, according to James Walker of ESPN.
Walker also pointed out the problem with paying Branch $9 million a season.
"Branch is a solid player," he wrote, "but not a dynamic defensive end. He's an average pass-rusher who never has had more than six sacks in a season and has 19.5 for his career."
In the immortal words of the Fonz, "Exactamundo."
This isn't to say that Branch isn't a decent young defensive end. He can set the edge against the run and has shown at least some aptitude as a pass-rusher. Last year was easily the best-all-around season of his career.
However, Branch isn't a difference-maker, and even in that "best" season Branch checked in with the sixth-lowest ranking among qualifying 4-3 defensive ends at Pro Football Focus.
Upwards of $10 million a season is a lot to pay for "OK."
Kenny Stills Re-Signs with Miami Dolphins
Four years, $32 million
The Miami Dolphins were burning the old midnight oil where it comes to keeping their own free agents off the market.
In addition to re-signing Andre Branch, the Dolphins also brought back wide receiver Kenny Stills, who caught 42 passes for 726 yards and nine touchdowns in 2016. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (who will forever more be known as the oracle of free agency), Still's deal will pay $32 million over the next four seasons.
Of that money, $20 million is guaranteed.
Granted, $20 million in guarantees is a lot for a four-year player already on his second team who has yet to catch 65 passes or eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
However, Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill regularly looked Stills way in the red zone during the Dolphins' run to the playoffs last season, and had the 24-year-old made it to the open market the bidding could easily have sailed right past $8 million a year.
It's a substantial investment in a relatively unproven player, but if the Dolphins hadn't been willing to make it some other team would have.
And in Stills, Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker the Dolphins have the makings of a wideout corps that could be paired with Tannehilll for quite some time.