2017 NFL Free Agents: Grades for Day 1 Signings and Trades
Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.
NFL free agency (officially) got underway on Thursday afternoon, and the majority of the most sought-after players were wrapped up almost immediately. If it felt as though we were moving at about 67,000 miles per hour, that's because we always are! (Hold for applause.)
But on this day, football fans encountered some special G-force.
Building off of what happened on a busy Wednesday during the legal tampering period—covered impeccably here by Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport—let's break down and grade all of the key and semi-key moves from Thursday.
Cleveland Browns Acquire Brock Osweiler and 2nd-Round Pick from Houston Texans
Let me rephrase that: Cleveland Browns acquire second-round pick and Brock Osweiler from Houston Texans. Because the reality is, this is more about the draft pick than Osweiler, whose entire fat contract moves from Houston to Cleveland.
The Browns take on Osweiler's $16 million salary and receive a 2018 second-round pick as well as a 2017 sixth-round pick [ESPN's Adam Schefter]
The Browns have more than enough draft picks already, so I don't see the point in willingly absorbing a major financial blow just to swap a fourth-round pick for a sixth-rounder.
If the Browns took on Osweiler's contract thinking he's the answer to their quarterback problems, they're out of their minds. If they did it because they had the money and really wanted another draft pick, they're still not thinking straight. A second-round pick is not worth that kind of cash, especially when you're also giving up a fourth-rounder.
The Browns were never going to spend the money they had under the cap anyway, but why? There are plenty of talented players out there, and even if you can't justify spending $100 million on overpriced second- or third-tier free agents, you can carry over as much cap space as you'd like.
None of it makes sense.
The Texans receive $10 million in salary-cap relief and a 2017 fourth-round pick
Giving up a second-round pick just to get rid of a guy has to hurt, but the somewhat cap-strapped Texans can really use that $10 million, and the fourth-rounder this year definitely makes that easier to swallow.
The Texans are desperate. They showed us that last year by overpaying Osweiler, and now they're admitting they made a mistake and moving on. This gives them a chance to bring in a better quarterback like Tony Romo or Jay Cutler, which could put them over the top. Remember, this team had the league's top-rated defense last year despite the absence of J.J. Watt. With Watt back, they're a quarterback short of being a contender.
Kudos to Houston for realizing that and finding a way to cut bait in a way that suits it. The Texans already had enough talent to compete without that second-round pick, and now they've got the cash to fix what ails them under center.
Alshon Jeffery to the Philadelphia Eagles
One year, $14 million [NFL Media's Ian Rapoport]
This is Alshon Jeffery betting on himself after a couple of rocky seasons.
Rapoport noted on NFL Network that the 27-year-old opted for this "rather than taking a below-market multi-year deal," essentially treating it like a franchise tag. The goal, of course, is to earn a lucrative long-term contract with a strong season in Philadelphia.
That's a dream scenario for the Eagles, who add a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver with no strings attached beyond 2017.
Jeffery was hampered by injuries in 2015 and had his 2016 campaign tarnished by a four-game suspension. But when he was last at his best without those issues, the former second-round pick had 2,554 yards and 17 touchdowns in a two-season span (2013 and 2014).
Philadelphia needed a receiver in a bad way, and Jeffery was the most accomplished 20-something wideout on the market. Getting him for one year gives the Eagles a chance to see if he can get back to his 2013/2014 form before making any big decisions regarding a potential long-term deal.
At the very least, they got a heck of a lot better on offense without having to make a long-term commitment. And that's rare.
Kenny Britt to the Cleveland Browns
Four years, $32.5 million [Rapoport]
Even with the Texans trade, the Browns entered the new league year with more money to spend than any other team. And a franchise often criticized for its approach to free agency delivered an early splash by bringing in veteran wide receiver Kenny Britt.
That's a drop in the bucket for a Browns team flush with salary-cap space, especially since it gives them a proven receiver who is still only 28 years old and has quietly become a quality weapon.
The 6'3" former first-round pick is coming off the first 1,000-yard season of his career, despite the fact he spent the year trying to catch passes from the second-lowest-rated group of quarterbacks in the NFL. Under those circumstances, it's rather astonishing he caught 61.3 percent of the throws that came his way.
If 2016 first-round pick Corey Coleman can emerge in his second season and Britt can continue to produce the way he did last year, the Browns will be in good shape at receiver.
Now they'll just have to find a guy who can throw those dudes the ball.
DeSean Jackson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Three years, $35 million with $20 million guaranteed [Schefter]
I can't think of many receivers who make more sense for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers than DeSean Jackson, who will complement the bigger, younger Mike Evans. Jackson can be the veteran deep threat, while Evans can continue to emerge as one of the league's best receivers in traffic.
The Bucs entered Thursday with plenty of salary-cap space and in need of more weapons for young franchise quarterback Jameis Winston. Jackson is only 30, and he averaged 17.9 yards per reception last season, ranking first among 48 players who were targeted at least 100 times.
For less than $12 million a year, this was a no-brainer move for Tampa Bay.
Stephon Gilmore to the New England Patriots
Five years, $65 million with $40 million guaranteed [Schefter]
As unfair as it seems, the New England Patriots also entered the new league year with plenty of cap space. That might explain why New England—which already has a supposed No. 1 cornerback in Malcolm Butler—signed one of the top corners on the market.
It might also indicate the Pats aren't done wheeling and dealing. They traded for tight end Dwayne Allen this week, and ESPN's Dianna Russini reported on Thursday that the Pats could now flip Butler to the New Orleans Saints for wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
For now, though, this is a strange move. Stephon Gilmore is a good-but-not-great corner coming off a good-but-not-great season. He'd certainly provide an upgrade over Logan Ryan, who is now a Tennessee Titan, per Rapoport. But we're talking about an awful lot of money here. Per Spotrac, he is now the seventh-highest-paid corner in the game, despite the fact Pro Football Focus graded him 60th among 120 players at the position last season.
If this is a precursor for a deal involving Butler and Cooks, it's a hefty price to pay for another speed wide receiver. If that's not the case but this hinders their ability to re-sign linebacker Dont'a Hightower, it'll also look odd.
I'll regret this grade because Bill Belichick is smarter than all of us, but I have no choice.
A.J. Bouye to the Jacksonville Jaguars
Five years, $67.5 million with $26 million guaranteed [Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle]
Including franchise-tagged Rams corner Trumaine Johnson, only four cornerbacks are slated to have higher salaries than A.J. Bouye will under this deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
That's a little dicey considering the 25-year-old has been a starter for just one season, but Bouye appears to be emerging in a major way. He was graded by PFF as the ninth-best corner in football last season, surrendering completions on just 54.5 percent of the passes thrown his way.
And numbers don't do justice to some of his late-season showings, especially the dominant performance he put together in a Wild Card Game victory over the Oakland Raiders.
The Jags certainly had the money to spend, and a defense that gave up 25.0 points per game last season can use the help. But this is probably a boom-or-bust signing, which is risky with so many other holes to fill and Jalen Ramsey already on the roster.
Johnathan Cyprien to the Tennessee Titans
Four years, $25 million [USA Today's Tom Pelissero]
On the same day the Jacksonville Jaguars gained a defensive back coming off a breakout season, they lost one to a division rival. And so the Tennessee Titans get extra marks for stealing a top-notch safety from Jacksonville while addressing a major need.
Johnathan Cyprien became a tackling machine and a force against the run in 2016, earning the highest PFF grade at his position in run defense. And it's not as though he wasn't solid before that. He's started 60 of a possible 64 games since coming into the league.
The 2013 second-round pick isn't great in coverage and doesn't intercept many passes, but he won't be asked to do that in Dick LeBeau's defense.
At just over $6 million per year, that's gold.
Calais Campbell to the Jacksonville Jaguars
Four years, $60 million with $30 million guaranteed [Schefter]
The Jaguars had a lot of salary-cap space entering free agency, and Calais Campbell makes them better up front. That's all that matters to a lot of folks, but it doesn't mean this is a good contract.
The defensive end was a Pro Bowler in 2014 and 2015 and a snub in 2016. He's stout as both a pass-rusher and a run defender, and he's missed just two games in the last four years. But how much gas does the soon-to-be-31-year-old have left in his tank? He's started 120 games over the last eight years, and now he'll have to make a late-career adjustment to a 4-3 defense.
The Jaguars wouldn't have signed him if they didn't think he could excel in spite of all that, but he might have made more sense for a team on the cusp. I get the feeling that by the time the Jaguars are competitive, Campbell will be declining and his contract will have become an albatross.
Brandon Williams Re-Signs with the Baltimore Ravens
Five years, $54 million with $27.5 million guaranteed [Rapoport]
Terrell Suggs is 34, Zachary Orr recently retired due to a spinal condition, and Elvis Dumervil is gone, leaving the Ravens in need of talent in the front seven. Losing nose tackle Brandon Williams would have been tough for that D to overcome, even if Suggs were to stay healthy and C.J. Mosley were to continue his emergence.
Keeping nose tackle Brandon Williams will cost Baltimore more than $10 million per year over the next half-decade, with more than half of that total guaranteed.
I can't give Baltimore a bad grade here because the Ravens did what they had to do. Williams was the best player available at his position, and Campbell's contract indicates they didn't get robbed. This is the new normal in a league that has seen its salary cap increase by about 35 percent in the last four years.
Still, the highest-paid nose tackle in the game has never been to a Pro Bowl and was graded by PFF as only the ninth-best defensive player on his team last season.
That's a bit concerning.
Tony Jefferson to the Baltimore Ravens
Four years, $36 million [Schefter]
Tony Jefferson is coming off a couple of strong years as part of a very talented Arizona Cardinals defense, and as a result, he was viewed as one of the best safeties on the free-agent market.
Still, it's odd to see the Baltimore Ravens—a team that already has a high-paid safety in Eric Weddle—give Jefferson a contract worth $9 million a year. Baltimore released 2016 starting safety Lardarius Webb after this article was published, but the team still has multiple holes to fill, and big-name free agents Ricky Wagner and Kyle Juszczyk have already left town. The Ravens also don't have a lot of salary-cap wiggle room.
They need to rejuvenate the front seven, and they need to replace Wagner, Juszczyk and retired receiver Steve Smith. And frankly, they need to get better after an 8-8 season.
With that in mind, spending that kind of money on a fifth-year undrafted free agent with no Pro Bowls on his resume doesn't make a lot of sense.
Andrew Whitworth to the Los Angeles Rams
Three years, $36 million with $15 million guaranteed [Albert Breer of The MMQB]
On the surface, it would seem like an odd choice for a rebuilding team to spend $15 million in guaranteed money on a 35-year-old offensive tackle, but I don't hold that against the Rams. That's because Andrew Whitworth was undoubtedly the best offensive lineman available in free agency, and Los Angeles simply couldn't afford to hang quarterback Jared Goff out to dry any longer.
With bust tackle Greg Robinson "protecting" his blind side, the 2016 No. 1 overall pick was one of only three qualified quarterbacks who were pressured on more than 43 percent of their dropbacks last year, according to PFF. Robinson took 14 penalties in 14 games and was responsible for eight sacks, earning the worst PFF grade among the 21 left tackles who made more than 12 starts.
Meanwhile, Whitworth made the Pro Bowl for the second year in a row. He hasn't missed a start since 2013, and his presence will enable the Rams to move Robinson inside, potentially improving in two spots. They might not love this contract in a couple of years, but right now it gives Goff a much better chance at succeeding.
Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter to the Cleveland Browns
Zeitler: Five years, $60 million with $31.5 guaranteed [Schefter]
Tretter: Three years, $16.8 million with $10 million guaranteed [Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports]
Whitworth wasn't the only Bengals offensive lineman to jump ship on Thursday. And frankly, losing Kevin Zeitler might actually hurt more than losing Whitworth. Not only is the 27-year-old nearly a decade younger and coming off arguably his best season, but he's staying within the division as the new right guard for the Cleveland Browns.
Hard not to love this move for the Browns, who are doing their best to build a strong line for whoever has the next shot at being their quarterback. Zeitler was graded by PFF as the third-best regular right guard in the league in 2016, and he was just as effective in 2015. He's been a starter from the get-go, and it's a crime he's never made a Pro Bowl.
He immediately becomes the highest-paid guard in the game, but that makes sense considering his age and production. And did I mention the Browns have a lot of salary-cap space?
In fact, they didn't stop there. Not only did Cleveland—who of course already has perennial Pro Bowler Joe Thomas at left tackle—spend big bucks on Zeitler and give a massive extension to talented young left guard Joel Bitonio, but the Browns also signed center JC Tretter away from the Green Bay Packers.
The 2013 fourth-round pick impressed in place of Corey Linsley early in 2016 before suffering a season-ending knee injury. And yes, a $10 million commitment is quite strong for a guy with just 10 career starts under his belt, but a $5.6 million annual salary is reasonable for any starter these days, especially if you've got money like the Browns and the addition means moving Cameron Erving out of the center position. Erving, a second-year first-round pick, was abysmal in that spot in 2016.
Grade for Zeitler: A
Grade for Tretter: B+
Nick Perry Re-Signs with the Green Bay Packers
Five years, $60 million with $18.5 million guaranteed [Rapoport]
The franchise tag worked to water down the free-agent market for pass-rushers, making former first-round pick Nick Perry one of the best young edge defenders slated to hit the open market on Thursday. But Perry never got there, because the Green Bay Packers locked him up before anyone had a chance to poach.
And it's a good thing they did, because not a lot else went well for the Packers on Thursday. They certainly couldn't afford to take a hit up front on defense. Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews are both on the wrong side of 30, and Peppers might not be back in 2017. Perry isn't just the reigning team leader in sacks; he's also the only guy currently on the roster who had more than five sacks in 2016.
He had 11, shattering his previous career high of four. He also had a strong season against the run. It was an indication that the 26-year-old is finally ready to start living up to the expectations Green Bay had when drafting him 28th overall in 2012.
Nice timing, too, because that's one hell of a contract for a guy who had never started more than six games in a season before starting 12 in 2016.
The money makes sense for an emerging player at a premium position, especially considering the contract year Perry put together and the lack of pass-rushers available. Green Bay had no choice here, but the Packers are usually so smart with their money that this has little chance of backfiring.
Mike Glennon to the Chicago Bears
Three years, $45 million with $19 million guaranteed [Schefter]
My favorite cliche is that there are 32 teams in this league and fewer than 32 franchise-caliber quarterbacks, and you simply can't win consistently nowadays without a franchise quarterback.
Those supply-and-demand dynamics explain why Brock Osweiler leveraged his seven half-decent career starts into a four-year, $72 million deal with the Houston Texans last offseason, and why Mike Glennon—who hasn't started a game since 2014—is suddenly the Chicago Bears' starting quarterback with $19 million guaranteed in his pocket.
Glennon at least has more upside than 33-year-old signal-caller Jay Cutler, and Cutler's release essentially paid for much of Glennon's guarantee. The Bears entered free agency with over $50 million in salary-cap space, so this isn't necessarily crippling.
Still, you're not a contender, you've got the No. 3 overall pick in next month's draft, you've just lost your top receiver, and your offensive tackles are horrible. So why throw all that money at a dude with a 5-13 record as a starter and a sub-60 completion percentage? A guy who by all indications is a career backup?
It's really hard to see this signing paying dividends.
Matt Kalil to the Carolina Panthers
Five years, $55.5 million with $25 million guaranteed [USA Today's Tom Pelissero]
The Carolina Panthers needed a better left tackle. Cam Newton deserved a better left tackle. It's a damn important position these days, and Mike Remmers and Michael Oher didn't cut it the last couple of years.
But Matt Kalil?
At $11 million a year with $25 million guaranteed over the next half-decade?
Wouldn't a team like the Panthers—a contender with a franchise quarterback who was the league MVP in 2015—be better off paying an extra couple million dollars a year and less guaranteed cash to an older yet more accomplished left tackle like Andrew Whitworth?
Carolina committed $25 million to Kalil, while Whitworth signed elsewhere for $10 million less in guaranteed money. Whitworth may be eight years older, but he's coming off a second consecutive Pro Bowl season.
Meanwhile, Kalil is by all indications a bust. The 2012 No. 4 overall pick surrendered 18 sacks and took 22 penalties as one of the lowest-graded offensive tackles in the league in 2014 and 2015, before missing most of the 2016 campaign due to a hip injury.
But hey, his brother's on the team! Cool!
Robert Woods to the Los Angeles Rams
Five years, $39 million with $15 million guaranteed [Schefter]
Robert Woods certainly has his moments. He had a 10-catch, 162-yard performance in Seattle in prime time this past season, and he was a second-round pick just four years ago because of the damage he did during his three years at USC. There are times when he looks like a future star, but there are also many times—a lot of 'em—when you forget he's on the field.
Maybe that'll change in Los Angeles. The Rams are certainly paying him as though they believe it will. They could have brought back the more accomplished and arguably more talented Kenny Britt at a similar price, or chased Pierre Garcon for only a few extra bucks, per Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post.
They lose marks for that, but there's nothing wrong with a rebuilding team gambling a touch on potentially untapped talent.
Dre Kirkpatrick Re-Signs with the Cincinnati Bengals
Five years, $52 million [Jim Owczarski and Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer]
The Bengals had to stop the bleeding. The defense lost Reggie Nelson and Leon Hall last year, and Adam Jones' future is up in the air this offseason. The offense lost Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler on Thursday, and a team with more than $40 million to spend appeared to be getting a lot worse on paper.
Cincinnati saved some face by re-signing its top cornerback, Dre Kirkpatrick, but in order to do so, it's paying superstar money to a solid starter.
The 2012 first-round pick has been relatively consistent the last two years in a starting role, and he has room to improve at the age of 27. He also has nine picks in his last four seasons. Still, he just became the 10th-highest-paid corner in the game.
That's aggressive. It's easy to understand why the Bengals felt the need to do it, but it's still aggressive.
Chris Baker to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Three years, $15.8 million with $9 million guaranteed (Peter Schrager of FoxSports.com)
Chris Baker can make a lot more money if he reaches certain incentives with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the Bucs would be just fine with that. What matters is a rapidly improving defense just got better at a more than reasonable rate, adding a versatile veteran to team up inside with Gerald McCoy.
The 29-year-old Baker posted 10.5 sacks the last two years as a starting 3-4 end in Washington. In 2016, he was graded by PFF as the sixth-best player in football at that position. Now he'll likely move inside to rush and stop the run as part of a talented defensive line.
The Buccaneers have a lot of money to spend, but they didn't have to break the bank at all here. They got an above-average defensive lineman with plenty of experience and lots of gas left in the tank for the price of a Terrell McClain or a Stacy McGee (more on them later).
Larry Warford to the New Orleans Saints
Terms not available [Rapoport]
The New Orleans Saints knew they had to find a long-term replacement for Jahri Evans. Whether they tried or not, they missed out on Zeitler. But they probably saved a bunch of cash and wound up with Larry Warford, a 25-year-old guard who has posted positive PFF grades in three of his four seasons.
Warford has started 57 of a possible 64 games in his four-year career, and PFF graded him 19th among 77 qualified guards in 2016.
Not a bad silver medal. And while we don't have financial terms yet, a team with a lot of holes might be better off without the highest-paid guard in the game.
Riley Reiff to the Minnesota Vikings
Terms not available [Pelissero]
Without knowing the exact figures, Pelissero notes that the Minnesota Vikings "paid up" for offensive tackle Riley Reiff with a contract that will "stack up well" in comparison to the other big offensive line deals from Thursday.
Reiff will either replace Kalil on the left side or Andre Smith on the right side. He has experience on both, but he's coming off a pretty terrible season playing right tackle for the Lions, and he failed to turn into the cornerstone left tackle they hoped he'd become when they drafted him in the first round in 2012.
If he is indeed going to be paid as well as Whitworth and within range of Kalil or Russell Okung, there's a good chance the Vikings will regret it.
As for the deals of the non-blockbuster variety...
DB Micah Hyde to the Bills: Five years, $30 million with $14 million guaranteed [John Wawrow of the Associated Press] — He was probably signed for his versatility, which is great, but Hyde is sort of a jack of all trades, master of none. That's T.J. Ward/Eric Weddle money. Think the Bills will regret it. Grade: C-
DT Nick Fairley re-signs with the Saints: Four years, "almost" $30 million [Rapoport] — He had a strong season, and that's not an overpay for a starting defensive tackle these days. The Saints can't let guys like that go. Grade: A
S D.J. Swearinger to the Redskins: Three years, $13.5 million [Rapoport] — The 2013 second-round pick is only 25 and coming off a breakout season. I think he'll only get better. At that price, this is one of the most underrated signings of the day. Grade: A+
WR Torrey Smith to the Eagles: Three years, $15 million [Rapoport] — They can go year to year for $5 million a season, which is great for a 28-year-old former 1,000-yard receiver who brings experience and depth to a receiving corps that needed it. Grade: A
LB A.J. Klein to the Saints: Four years, $24 million with $9.4 million guaranteed [Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com] — He flashed here and there as a backup and occasional injury replacement in Carolina, but that's a lot of money for a guy who hasn't shown us he can be a consistent, productive starter. Grade: C-
DT Alan Branch re-signs with the Patriots: Two years, "up to" $12 million [Rapoport] — It's a big raise for an aging, close to replacement-level defensive lineman, but Branch was a steady presence in 2016, and the Pats can't afford to lose more front-seven defenders. They also have a lot of money to spend. Grade: B+
WR Ted Ginn Jr. to the Saints: No terms available [ESPN's Dianna Russini] — An obvious potential replacement for Brandin Cooks, he's quietly gone over 700 yards in each of the last two seasons with a combined 14 touchdowns. Ginn would have a chance to shine with Drew Brees in that dome. Grade: B+
S Quintin Demps to the Bears: Three years, $13.5 million [Wilson] — That's fantastic value on a dude who had six interceptions last season, even if he is going on 32. Demps is a late bloomer. Grade: A
LB Paul Worrilow to the Lions: One-year contract [Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press] — The 26-year-old had 151 solo tackles, two interceptions, two sacks and three forced fumbles as a full-time starter in 2014 and 2015. He could take over for free agent Joshua Bynes or the recently released DeAndre Levy, or compete inside with Tahir Whitehead. Grade: B-
G Ronald Leary to the Broncos: Four years, $35 million with $20 million guaranteed [NFL Media's Mike Garafolo] — He'll probably provide an upgrade at left guard, but that's a lot of moola for a fifth-year former undrafted free agent who was good but not great the last two years despite a ton of support in Dallas. Not sure Leary should be one of the five highest-paid guards in the NFL, but he is. Grade: D
DT Stacy McGee to the Redskins: Five years, $25 million [Garafolo] — Eighteen career starts, three career sacks. A sixth-round pick in 2013. Only one decent season (2016), and even that was derailed by injuries. Is there something I'm missing? Grade: F
LB Malcolm Smith to the 49ers: Five years, $26.5 million with $13 million guaranteed [Garafolo] — Dude continues to live off a decent 2013 season and the Super Bowl MVP award he won at the end of it. He was terrible the last two years in Oakland, especially when trying to do anything except plug holes. Grade: F
S Antoine Bethea to the Cardinals: Three-year contract [Kent Somers of AZ Central] — The Cards have fallen on hard times. With Jefferson and Swearinger gone, they'll now have to plug in a 33-year-old who was recently cut by the 49ers next to Tyrann Mathieu. Couldn't they have gotten him on a one-year deal? Grade: D
DT Terrell McClain to the Redskins: Four years, "north of $21 million" [Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post] — Why do they always chase former Cowboys? Even those who aren't very good? McClain shouldn't be a starter and shouldn't be getting starter money. Grade: D
Steven Hauschka to the Bills: Four years, $12.4 million [Schefter] — Buffalo had kicker issues last year, so something like this had to be done. Hauschka has had some problems with extra points, but at least he nailed 89.2 percent of his field goals last season. Grade: A
OT Russell Okung to the Chargers: Four years, $53 million with $25 million guaranteed [ESPN's Josina Anderson] — I'll believe it when it's announced, because Okung negotiated this himself and he signed a big-money deal last year that turned out to be fool's gold. Still, if this is legit, it's way too much money for a soon-to-be 30-year-old who hasn't had a good year since 2012. Grade: F