NFL Free Agents 2019: Grades for Wednesday's Signings & Landing Spot Predictions

Derrik KlassenContributor IMarch 14, 2019

NFL Free Agents 2019: Grades for Wednesday's Signings & Landing Spot Predictions

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    The new NFL league year began Wednesday at 4 p.m ET, which enabled teams to begin officially signing free agents and consummating trades.

    From the Jacksonville Jaguars signing quarterback Nick Foles to a four-year, $88 million deal to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trading wide receiver DeSean Jackson to the Philadelphia Eagles for a late-round pick swap, a number of the previously reported moves are now official.

    Free agency is far from over, though.

    While many of the biggest deals were agreed upon during the legal tampering period Monday and Tuesday, teams continue to spend and retool their rosters as the league moves into the official free-agency period.

    Let's get up to speed with the newest signings, trades, cuts and rumors from Wednesday.

Jets Sign Le'Veon Bell

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    The Le'Veon Bell saga is finally over.

    After holding out for a long-term contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers last season, Bell has found a new home with the New York Jets.

    Early Wednesday morning, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the 27-year-old agreed to a four-year, $52.5 million contract. The deal could be worth up to $61 million with incentives and has $35 million in guarantees.

    That last part is especially critical. The Steelers offered Bell a five-year, $70 million contract last summer, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, but only around $10 million was fully guaranteed. 

    By meeting Bell's asking price, the Jets landed a top-five running back with elite pass-catching skills. He may need to adjust his patient running style behind the Jets' mediocre offensive line, but he'll serve as a security blanket for young quarterback Sam Darnold.

    Bell has averaged 4.5 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per reception since 2014. His 267 receptions over that span trail only Detroit Lions running back Theo Riddick, even though he sat out the entire 2018 season.

    The versatility and production Bell brings to the table for head coach Adam Gase will shape the Jets' offensive identity, even if the price is steep. 

    Grade: B+

Earl Thomas Signs with Ravens

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    One week after cutting veteran safety Eric Weddle, the Baltimore Ravens agreed to a deal with former Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas.

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Ravens gave Thomas a four-year, $55 million contract with $32 million in guarantees. That makes him the third-highest-paid safety on an annual basis, per Spotrac

    Thomas, who is coming off a season-ending leg injury, now has the most guaranteed salary of any safety.

    Though Thomas' stock is not as high as it was during the Legion of Boom's heyday, he is still an All-Pro-caliber player. His range as a deep safety is unmatched by anyone in the league. Thomas can play sideline-to-sideline versus the run and the quick passing game, and his man-coverage skills are quietly excellent.

    He will primarily be a center fielder like he always has been, but versatility is part of his value.

    Thomas' 28 interceptions are the third-most of any player since 2010, ranking behind his former teammate, cornerback Richard Sherman (32), and Raiders safety Reggie Nelson (31). He also snagged three interceptions last season despite playing only four games.

    Grade: A+

Ravens Add Mark Ingram

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    Bill Feig/Associated Press

    Earl Thomas wasn't the Ravens' only notable addition Wednesday. They also came to terms on a three-year, $15 million deal with former Saints running back Mark Ingram, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. 

    Baltimore's two leading running backs last year were Gus Edwards and Alex Collins, both of whom are strong downhill runners. Ingram is both an extension of that style of running and an upgrade.

    Over the past four seasons, Ingram quietly averaged 4.8 yards per carry while rushing for 3,581 yards and 30 touchdowns. He also provides value in the passing game, as evidenced by his 175 receptions and 1,310 receiving yards over that span.

    The Ravens lacked a reliable pass-catcher in their backfield last season. The addition of Ingram should help second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is fairly adept at checking down for a young passer.  

    Being able to rely on Ingram for easy yards through the air will ease Jackson's transition into a full NFL passing offense.

    Grade: B

Tyrod Taylor Joins Chargers

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Chargers have lacked a dependable backup quarterback since Charlie Whitehurst.

    Following Whitehurst's departure, Kellen Clemens held that spot for four seasons. Last year, the Chargers relied on the combination of Geno Smith and Cardale Jones.

    The Chargers added stability behind starting quarterback Philip Rivers on Wednesday, signing former Bills and Browns starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor to a two-year deal, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

    Taylor has regressed since his Pro Bowl days with the Bills, but he's still a safe passer who can do damage on the ground. Since he started his first game with the Bills in 2015, he holds the third-lowest interception percentage behind Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

    That number alone does not make Taylor an exceptional quarterback, but it does suggest he can take care of the ball the way a backup quarterback needs to.

    While the Chargers undoubtedly hope Rivers will make it through the 2019 season unscathed, it was wise to add capable insurance behind him.

    Grade: B

Pierre Desir Re-Signs with Colts

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    After signing a one-year prove-it deal with the Colts last offseason, cornerback Pierre Desir made the most of his opportunity.

    As a result, he cashed in this time around. 

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Colts re-signed Desir to a three-year, $25 million deal with $12 million guaranteed.

    Desir posted a slew of career highs in 2018, including tackles (79), passes defended (eight), tackles for loss (two) and forced fumbles (two). His efficiency stats were not quite as impressive, per Football Outsiders, as he allowed a 51 percent success rate and 8.5 yards per pass.

    Regardless, he was an upgrade from what the Colts have had on the outside in some time. 

    Last season was the first time Desir started more than six games, but his ability to be productive in a full-time role was a testament to a career's worth of hard work. 

    Moving forward, Desir will be a cornerstone of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' zone-coverage defense. 

    Grade: B-

Saints Extend Wil Lutz

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    Fear not, special teams lovers. Kickers are getting paid this offseason, too.

    The Saints signed 24-year-old kicker Will Lutz to a five-year extension, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    Since he joined the Saints in 2016, Lutz has hit 87 percent of his field-goal attempts. Lutz’s success rate has steadily climbed in each season, starting at 82.4 percent in 2016 and reaching 93.3 percent last season.

    Lutz is also 6-of-8 beyond 50 yards over the past two seasons, which is well above the 3-of-7 mark he posted as a rookie.

    Extending a kicker may not be all that exciting, but Lutz has improved each season. The Saints were wise to hold on to him.

    Grade: A-

Jason McCourty Stays in New England

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    Chris Cecere/Associated Press

    The McCourty twins are sticking together in New England.

    According to NFL Network's Mike Garofolo, cornerback Jason McCourty re-signed with the Patriots on a two-year deal.

    McCourty was a typical, savvy Bill Belichick signing last offseason. An up-and-down force in Cleveland and Tennessee, McCourty always had the raw talent to succeed in man coverage.

    Belichick provided him with the best possible environment for that. 

    Although McCourty snagged only one interception last season, his 14 passes defended (including playoffs) were critical. According to Football Outsiders, McCourty also posted a 56 percent success rate on 73 targets. 

    Just because the Pats kept McCourty, it doesn't necessarily mean they'll forgo grooming or investing in their future at cornerback. The 31-year-old is a great placeholder for developing youngsters such as J.C. Jackson or potentially an incoming rookie.  

    Grade: B+

Jason Myers Heads to Seattle

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks have lacked quality kicking since they allowed Stephen Hauschka to walk following the 2016 season. Since then, Blair Walsh and Sebastian Janikowski tried to cut it as Seattle's kicker, but neither could match Hauschka's effectiveness.  

    That's set to change with the Seahawks' acquisition of 27-year-old Pro Bowl kicker Jason Myers.

    According to ESPN's Field Yates, Myers will join the Seahawks in place of Janikowski. Myers' four-year deal is worth $15.5 million, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, including $7 million guaranteed.

    This past season, Myers lost a training camp battle to Janikowski in Seattle before he wound up on the New York Jets. He then went on to have a career year with the Jets, nailing 33 of his 36 field-goal attempts, including six of seven from beyond 50 yards.

    Keeping Janikowski last season instead of Myers ultimately proved costly to the Seahawks. While they needed an upgrade at kicker, they just spent a lot of money to bring one in, especially considering they had the chance to lock him up last year.  

    Grade: C+   

Tyrell Williams to Raiders

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    In 2016, Tyrell Williams led the Los Angeles Chargers with 1,059 receiving yards and seven touchdowns while anchoring an injury-ravaged pass-catching corps. 

    Over the past few seasons, Williams' role faded as L.A.'s other wideouts came back healthy. However, the 27-year-old could be due for a resurgence in 2019.

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Williams agreed to a four-year, $44 million contract with the Oakland Raiders, half of which is guaranteed.

    Williams figures to step into a slot role while newly acquired No. 1 receiver Antonio Brown and Jordy Nelson man the outside. He's best on crossing routes and vertical routes, where he can make the most of his impressive athleticism to beat his opponents. 

    Williams' average salary puts him right around Larry Fitzgerald and Keenan Allen, per Spotrac. While his production to this point doesn't warrant that type of money, the potential he's shown might make him a savvy investment down the line.

    Raiders head coach Jon Gruden is banking on getting that potential out of Williams in 2019 and beyond. 

    Grade: B-

Daryl Williams Re-Signs with Carolina

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    Daryl Williams is perhaps the NFL's most perplexing right tackle.

    In 2017, the Associated Press named him a second-team All-Pro, which seemed like a curious decision. Williams often received help from tight ends in pass protection, much like Tennessee Titans tackle Jack Conklin did early in his career.

    Williams then missed most of the 2018 season because of a knee injury, which prevented him from proving whether his 2017 campaign was a fluke or a sign of things to come. 

    That didn't stop the Carolina Panthers from agreeing to bring him back on a one-year, $7 million deal, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

    Unless the Panthers believe 2017 second-round pick Taylor Moton can play a position other than right tackle, bringing Williams back seems questionable. While he might bolster Carolina's offensive line in 2019, he doesn't appear likely to factor into the team's long-term plans.

    Grade: C-

Eric Berry Released

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Safety Eric Berry missed much of the past two seasons with injuries, which led the Kansas City Chiefs to release him Wednesday.

    Although Berry was a fantastic player prior to his injury issues, the Chiefs couldn't keep him around at his price point. They gave him a six-year, $78 million extension in February 2017, and he was set to count $16.5 million against the Chiefs' cap in 2019.

    It may hurt to let go of such a storied player, but it was the correct decision from a business standpoint.

    Grade: A-

Jaguars Keep A.J. Cann

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars appear to be hoping a quarterback change will revitalize right guard A.J. Cann.

    According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the Jaguars are bringing Cann back on a three-year deal worth slightly more than $15 million.

    This past season, Cann allowed 42 pressures in 15 games, according to Pro Football FocusOne player being directly responsible for that many pressures is concerning.

    With other premium guards such as Rodger Saffold off the market, the Jaguars may have felt as though the talent pool had dried up. Still, Cann is a below-average player who needs to prove himself moving forward. 

    Grade: C

Tevin Coleman to 49ers

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    While most of the NFL shifts toward wide-open formations and prioritizing the passing game, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan wants to keep it old-school.

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Niners signed former Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman to a two-year, $10 million dollar contract.

    Last year, the 49ers signed former Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon to a four-year, $30 million deal. However, McKinnon tore his ACL during a preseason practice, which caused him to miss the entire 2018 campaign.

    The 49ers now doubling down at running back proves how important it is to Shanahan.

    Shanahan served as Coleman's offensive coordinator in Atlanta in 2015 and 2016. During those two seasons, Coleman averaged 4.4 yards per carry on 205 rushes, and he added 33 receptions for 435 yards.

    Most of Coleman's receiving production came in 2016, when the Falcons offense opened up more to use him as a vertical and yards-after-the-catch threat.

    At only $5 million per year, the 49ers are getting good value on a player Shanahan knows well. If anyone can return Coleman to the peak of his playmaking potential, it's Shanahan.

    Grade: B

Adrian Peterson Stays in Washington

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    James Kenney/Associated Press

    In his first season with the Washington Redskins, Adrian Peterson crossed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time since 2015.

    The 33-year-old Peterson appeared to be on his last legs prior to the 2018 season, but the Redskins seem to think he still has some gas left in his tank. They're bringing him back on a two-year, $8 million contract, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

    The $4 million annual salary is a bargain for a 1,000-yard back, but it makes sense considering runners often hit a wall without warning after they turn 30.

    Peterson found new life in head coach Jay Gruden's offense, so retaining him for a relatively cheap price makes sense for Washington. The upside is another 1,000-yard campaign, while a disappointing season would not hurt all that much due to his low salary.

    Grade: B

Seahawks Re-Sign Mychal Kendricks

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    Linebacker Mychal Kendricks made more of a name for himself last year with an insider trading scandal than he ever did for his play. Nevertheless, he will remain with the Seattle Seahawks for another season.

    According to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, the 28-year-old linebacker signed a one-year deal worth roughly $4 million to stay with Seattle.

    Kendricks could help replace departing outside linebacker K.J. Wright. If nothing else, he provides capable depth and will be able to push a rookie for a starting job if the Seahawks draft a linebacker.

    Keeping Kendricks does not make Seattle's defense significantly better, but the Seahawks may value the roster continuity.

    Kendricks had one pass defended, two sacks and four tackles for loss in four games last season.

    Grade: C+

Cameron Fleming Remains in Dallas

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    According to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, the Cowboys will retain offensive tackle Cameron Fleming on a two-year deal worth up to $8.5 million. 

    It's no surprise that the Cowboys want to continue investing in their offensive line. That's been a bedrock of their team-building strategy for years, and ensuring they have adequate depth in case of an injury is smart.

    The 26-year-old Fleming is a plenty competent backup. In all five of his NFL seasons, he has started at least two games, including a seven-start season with the New England Patriots in 2015.

    He can play both left and right tackle, although his more natural position is on the right.

    Retaining Fleming on a short-term deal makes sense for the Cowboys. They could have done much worse with their offensive line depth this offseason. 

    Grade: B-

Andre Roberts Signs with Bills

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    In an otherwise exciting day of free-agency news, Andre Roberts is the only major kick/punt returner signing. 

    Per ESPN's Dianna Russini, Roberts will play for the Bills next season. 

    Roberts, 31, led the league in yards per punt return (14.1) and punt return touchdowns (one) last season. He also led the league with over 1,100 kick-return yards and one return touchdown.

    Roberts' return efforts landed him in the Pro Bowl, which was the first time he's received that honor.

    Unless Roberts hits a sudden wall, he should be able to provide similar kick- and punt-return value for the Bills next season. However, special teams is the only place Roberts has real value.

    He isn't nearly as successful at wide receiver as he is as a kick and punt returner. 

    Grade: B

Packers Re-Sign Marcedes Lewis

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    Marcedes Lewis is approaching retirement age, but he'll spend at least one more season with the Green Bay Packers before calling it a career. 

    The 34-year-old Lewis has signed a one-year deal to stay in Green Bay, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter

    Lewis caught only three passes last season, which is low for someone who played nearly 18 percent of the team's snaps. He played second fiddle to Jimmy Graham and served as more of a blocker than Graham, but his lack of production was still disappointing. 

    The main reason to keep Lewis is to have a veteran presence to help whichever rookie tight end the Packers draft. If they don't draft a tight end, pushing Lewis into a bigger role would not be wise at this point in his career. 

    Grade: D+

Bears Add Ted Larsen

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    The purge of the Miami Dolphins offensive line continues.

    Right tackle Ja'Wuan James and guard Josh Sitton are already gone, and center/guard Ted Larsen is following suit. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Larsen signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears.

    The Bears have a strong interior trio of James Daniels, Cody Whitehair and Kyle Long, so Larsen figures to serve as depth. He has experience at both guard and center, making him a possible replacement at all three interior spots.

    However, Larsen has never played particularly well when called upon.

    The Bears hopefully won't need to see Larsen on the field in 2019.

    Grade: C-

49ers Keep Jimmie Ward

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, cornerback Jimmie Ward will return to the 49ers on a one-year, $5 million deal.

    Re-signing Ward is a perplexing move. Although he played 36.2 percent of the team's defensive snaps last season, he recorded zero passes defended. Ward defended only one pass the season prior, when he played roughly the same amount of snaps.

    Ward is seldom near the ball and struggles to stick to middling wide receivers. The theoretical versatility that he offers as a cornerback/safety hybrid is nice, but it's tough to sell that as a positive when he provides no real value in either role.

    Grade: D