NFL Free Agents 2019: Grades for Thursday's Signings & Landing Spot Predictions
Free agency in the NFL is at full boil.
In the second "official" day of free agency, we didn't see quite the flurry of massive contracts as the day before. But in some ways—at least for the teams signing players Thursday—that's a good thing.
If any one team won the day, it was the Seattle Seahawks—and they did so mainly by keeping their own free agents from departing. The New Orleans Saints got their backup quarterback for 2019—no, really. The Kansas City Chiefs and New York Giants addressed their pass-rushing needs, albeit with second-tier talent. The Pittsburgh Steelers tried to start life post-AB—again, with second-tier talent.
And the Chicago Bears filled the hole left by safety Adrian Amos with the bargain of the day.
Just as Derrik Klassen did so well Wednesday here at Bleacher Report, it's time to look back on the day that was in free agency by assigning grades to the day's personnel moves.
That bargain at safety is as good a place as any to start.
Bears Sign Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
There's been a lot of cheese thrown at safeties over the first few days of free agency. So much cheddar was tossed at the likes of Landon Collins and Earl Thomas that the whole state of Wisconsin was jealous.
Get it? Cheese? Wisconsin?
Well, now folks in America's Dairyland have another reason to be upset—a former first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers just gave the rival Bears a replacement for Adrian Amos (who left for the Packers in free agency).
On the cheap.
According to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, sixth-year veteran Ha Ha Clinton-Dix took less money from the Bears than was being offered elsewhere. But rather than re-upping with a Redskins team that traded for him last year, Clinton-Dix will play with former Alabama teammate Eddie Jackson at the back end of the Bears D.
His one-year pact is worth $3.5 million.
Clinton-Dix isn't the player that Collins or Thomas is—after tallying 100 tackles in 2015 and following that up with five picks (and a Pro Bowl trip) the following season, he hasn't made the same sort of impact the past two years.
There's a reason the Packers traded him to Washington.
But it's just about impossible to find fault with this signing. The Bears filled a position of need for peanuts. This isn't just the best move the Bears have made so far this year.
From a value standpoint, it might be the best signing of free agency, period.
Giants Guarantee over $20 Million to WR Golden Tate
If anyone out there has a clue what New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman is doing, do me a solid, hit me up on Twitter (@IDPSharks) and tell me.
Because danged if I can figure it out.
Just a few days after trading Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns in a move that looked geared toward a ground-up rebuild, Gettleman replaced Beckham with an even older veteran receiver.
Yes, Golden Tate's annual salary will be well south of Beckham's. But the four-year, $37.5 million pact (via NFL Network's Ian Rapoport) isn't exactly what one would call cost-cutting. Especially with $23 million of the deal guaranteed.
It's not that Tate's not worth that. His 2018 season was marred by injury and a midseason trade from Detroit to Philadelphia, but in three of the four seasons before that the 30-year-old eclipsed 90 catches and 1,000 yards.
But this makes no sense. It's yet another directionless move from Gettleman, who can't seem to decide whether the Giants are playing for today or tomorrow.
If Gettleman thought the Giants had any hope of making noise in 2019, then trading the team's best receiver (for a relatively paltry haul) makes no sense. If the team is embarking on that rebuild, then paying a receiver over 30 almost $10 million a season makes even less.
Maybe he was trying to appease a fanbase enraged by the Beckham trade.
It's not gonna work, Dave.
The fact that Tate is a good player is the only thing saving this boondoggle from a big, fat "F."
Giants Sign EDGE Markus Golden to 1-Year Deal
Time to dine on at least a little crow.
I will freely confess that a large portion of the last two offseasons for the New York Giants have made little sense to me. As I just mentioned in regard to Golden Tate, it seems at times that Dave Gettleman can't decide what direction his team is headed in.
However, in signing edge-rusher Markus Golden to a one-year deal (per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network), Gettleman appears to have gotten it right.
Granted, Golden only had 2.5 sacks for the Arizona Cardinals in 2018. But the 28-year-old was working his way back from the ACL tear that wiped out his 2017 campaign, and Golden was able to log a sack in his last game of the year.
The Giants are surely hoping that Golden recaptures his 2016 form. Playing as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 with the Cardinals, Golden piled up 51 tackles, 12.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. He looked the part of a young edge-rusher on the rise.
For a Giants team in desperate need of help on the edge, a "prove it" deal with Golden is more than worth it—and that's without even knowing how much it cost them.
Saints Come to Terms with DT Malcom Brown
As NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported, the first order of business for the New Orleans Saints on Thursday was a little creative accounting—the team restructured the contract of star quarterback Drew Brees in a move that freed up over $10 million in cap space.
By Thursday afternoon, the Saints had begun to work on spending some of that cash.
According to Sean Fazende of WVUE-TV, the Saints have agreed to terms on a three-year, $15 million contract with defensive tackle Malcom Brown. The 25-year-old Brown, who had 39 tackles last year, spent the first four seasons of his career with the New England Patriots.
Brown's fourth season was his worst—despite 8.5 sacks over the first three seasons of his career, the Pats passed on Brown's fifth-year option a year ago. And Brown's dip in production appeared to justify that decision.
Still, the Saints added a former first-round pick who has shown flashes of considerable talent and is just entering the prime of his career. Better yet, they did so for the reasonable sum of $5 million a season—a bargain for a defensive tackle with even a modicum of upside and/or potential.
Brown will slot next to Sheldon Rankins in the middle of the Saints line. If he and youngster Marcus Davenport come close to realizing their potential, a Cameron Jordan/Brown/Rankins/Davenport front four will be formidable.
Saints Re-Sign QB Teddy Bridgewater
The wandering saga of Teddy Bridgewater has finally concluded—at least for one more year.
After visiting with the Miami Dolphins with a Saints offer on the table, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, Bridgewater decided the original offer was best. Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the 26-year-old former starter for the Minnesota Vikings has agreed to a one-year, fully guaranteed deal to back up Drew Brees again in 2019.
That doesn't speak so well to the disaster-in-waiting that is this year's Dolphins team.
From the player's perspective, it's a somewhat curious decision. In Miami, Bridgewater would have been the presumptive favorite to start—at least in the short term. In the Big Easy, the only way Bridgewater is going to play is if catastrophe strikes—or he draws another meaningless start in Week 17 again this year. Then, next offseason, he'll be right back where he started—looking for work.
For the Saints, however, it's an easy call.
Yes, Bridgewater didn't look especially good in that one start against the Carolina Panthers last year. But Bridgewater led the Vikings to the postseason in 2015 before a horrific injury changed his career trajectory forever. If Brees misses a game or two with a minor injury, the Saints aren't going to do better than Bridgewater as a temporary fix under center who can keep the season from derailing completely.
Steelers Sign WR Donte Moncrief
After trading Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders, the Pittsburgh Steelers needed a wide receiver to pair with Juju Smith-Schuster.
They found that wideout early Thursday morning, agreeing to terms with Donte Moncrief on a two-year deal, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The 25-year-old spent last year with the Jacksonville Jaguars after playing his first four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. He finished with only 48 catches for 668 yards and three touchdowns, although he had his moments—including an 80-yard touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 10.
Moncrief's ability to burn opponents vertically got him almost $10 million from the Jaguars in 2018 and attracted the Steelers to him this year.
The last time Moncrief played with a capable quarterback (Andrew Luck), he reeled in 13 touchdowns across 2015 and 2016. He looked like a young player on the rise before injuries wrecked his 2016 season.
Moncrief isn't going to replace Brown—no one can—but catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger gives him the chance to get his career back on track.
Seahawks Re-Sign OLB K.J. Wright
Sometimes, the best move a team can make in free agency is not letting a player leave.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Seattle Seahawks retained veteran linebacker K.J. Wright on a two-year deal worth up to $15.5 million.
The 29-year-old suffered a knee injury just before the 2018 season that required surgery, and he missed 11 games as a result. He finished the season with only 23 total tackles, a career-low for the eight-year veteran.
But in each of the four preceding seasons, Wright topped 100 total tackles, adding seven sacks and eight forced fumbles. He was named to the Pro Bowl back in 2016 after amassing 126 total stops and four sacks.
Wright doesn't get the run that batterymate Bobby Wagner does, but he's one of the NFL's better 4-3 outside linebacker. Seattle retaining Wright after losing critical defensive personnel over the past few seasons is a huge win.
Doing so for a relatively modest cost (relative to the gonzo contracts other off-ball linebackers have gotten over the past few days) is even better.
Seattle Adds OG Mike Iupati
The Seahawks weren't done after signing K.J. Wright. They also took steps to address the loss of guard JR Sweezy, who inked a two-year pact with the Arizona Cardinals earlier in the week.
Veteran Mike Iupati, who started 10 games at left guard for the Cardinals in 2018, signed a one-year deal with Seattle, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network.
The 31-year-old played for Seahawks offensive line coach Mike Solari in San Francisco. He made it to four consecutive Pro Bowls from 2012 through 2015 and has started all 114 games in which he's played over nine seasons with the Niners and Cardinals.
But over the past two seasons, injuries have been an issue. Iupati missed all but one game two years ago with triceps and elbow injuries, and a knee injury cut his 2018 season short.
Iupati isn't a can't-miss answer at guard for Seattle, but he's a battle-tested vet who played the best football of his career under Solari.
Busy Seahawks Re-Sign OG D.J. Fluker
The Seahawks offensive line wasn't nearly as horrendous in 2018 as it was the year before. Once Sweezy bolted for Arizona, it was thus wise for Seattle to move quickly to staunch the bleeding.
While Sweezy may be gone, starting guard D.J. Fluker is returning on a two-year contract, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network.
Fluker's had an up-and-down career since the then-San Diego Chargers drafted him with the 11th overall pick in 2013. While he missed six games last year, he impressed Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll when healthy.
"He fit us just right. Attitude-wise, you couldn't imagine a guy having more of an impact," Carroll recently said, via Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News-Tribune. "His aggressiveness, his toughness his desire to keep getting better and pushing it and fighting through the hard things and the difficulties."
While terms of the deal have yet to be disclosed, retaining Fluker looks like another great move for the Seahawks.
Cardinals Continue OL Overhaul with OG Max Garcia
The Arizona Cardinals allowed 52 sacks this past season, tied for the fourth-most in the NFL. They've already been revamping their leaky offensive line this offseason, signing J.R. Sweezy and swinging a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers for veteran tackle Marcus Gilbert.
That overhaul continued Thursday.
According to Stadium's Adam Caplan, the Cardinals have agreed to terms on an undisclosed contract with 27-year-old guard Max Garcia, who started 41 games over his four seasons with the Denver Broncos.
On many levels, this is a difficult transaction to grade. For starters, the details of the deal have yet to made public. However, this is likely a relatively modest, low-risk signing.
Garcia temporarily lost his starting job last season and tore his ACL in a November practice. While he's no world-beater, he's in the prime of his career and did start every game for Denver in 2016 and 2017.
The Cardinals need all the offensive line help they can get. Garcia fits the bill.
Oft-Injured CB Jason Verrett Joins 49ers
When he's healthy, Jason Verrett has shown the ability to play cornerback at a Pro Bowl level.
The problem is that Verrett is rarely healthy. Over five seasons with the Chargers, Verrett missed a staggering 55 games with an assortment of injuries—including a ruptured Achilles tendon that cost the 27-year-old the 2018 season. Over the last two years, Verrett has played in all of one game.
In a way, it's been a tragic career—a gifted player whose body just won't let him play.
Verrett's next opportunity will come up the California coast a ways.
As ESPN's Adam Schefter reported, Verrett and the San Francisco 49ers have reached agreement on a deal that will pay him $3.6 million for the 2019 season.
The 49ers shouldn't depend on Verrett to play 16 games. But that doesn't mean this wasn't a great pickup by John Lynch.
Even after a flurry of player acquisitions that included a massive extension for edge-rusher Dee Ford, the Niners still have no shortage of wiggle room under the cap. This modest signing will have hardly any negative impact if Verrett can't stay on the field.
However, if Verrett can recapture the Pro Bowl form of his one full(ish) season (2015, when he played 14 games), then the 49ers will have secured the services of an excellent cover corner for pennies on the dollar.
It's a low-risk, high-reward move.
Chiefs Get Some Edge-Rushing Help with DE Alex Okafor
After releasing Justin Houston and trading Dee Ford, the Kansas City Chiefs were in dire need of pass-rushing help.
The team hopes it found some on Thursday—at a reasonable price.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, the Chiefs have come to terms with seventh-year defensive end Alex Okafor on a three-year deal. The contract is worth a maximum of $24 million.
The good news is that in Okafor, the team finally got some pass-rushing help for Chris Jones. Okafor has 22 career sacks, including a career-best eight for the Arizona Cardinals in 2014.
The bad news is that Okafor (and his suitors) have been chasing that big year ever since. In five of Okafor's six years in the NFL, the 28-year-old has missed time with injuries, and while he finally made it through a 16-game season unscathed with the Saints last year, Okafor managed just 36 tackles and four sacks in those 16 games.
The maximum value of Okafor's contract indicates there are incentives to be reached—incentives that are all but certainly tied to Okafor getting to the quarterback. And the Chiefs had to do something.
But Okafor's not a cure-all for Kansas City's defensive woes—by any means.
Eagles Sign Veteran ILB L.J. Fort
The Philadelphia Eagles had a hole in their linebacker corps after middle linebacker Jordan Hicks joined the Arizona Cardinals on a four-year, $36 million deal.
They filled that hole Thursday—sort of.
According to Mike Kaye of NJ.com, the Eagles signed L.J. Fort to a three-year deal that includes $1.9 million in guarantees and can be worth up to $10 million.
Fort, 29, saw the most extensive playing time of his career in 2018 with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He started a pair of games and finished the year with a career-best 48 total tackles and a sack.
This isn't a bad deal for the Eagles, as Fort has carved out a nice career for himself as a reserve linebacker and a special teams ace. When pressed into the starting lineup last year, the six-year veteran wasn't a complete liability.
However, the size of this deal and Philly's lack of cap space (around $15.4 million) suggest it may be less about depth and more about finding a potential starter on the cheap. And while Fort wasn't a complete liability in 2018, there's also a reason why he has all of three career starts.
As such, this is a hard acquisition to get excited about.
Thursday's Other Signings
Here's a quick look at some of Thursday's other signings.
OL Eric Kush to Cleveland Browns (undisclosed terms): The 29-year-old Kush started 11 games for the Chicago Bears over the last two seasons and can play all three spots on the interior of the line. He's a quality depth addition up front by Browns general manager John Dorsey.
WR Tavon Austin re-signs with the Dallas Cowboys (one-year deal for undisclosed terms): That Austin has gone from first-round pick to $42 million extension with the Rams to the "other signings" page says all you need to know about his six seasons in the NFL. He had only eight catches for the Cowboys in 2018, but he could be set for a larger role in 2019 with Cole Beasley now in Buffalo.
TE Luke Stocker to the Atlanta Falcons (two-year deal for undisclosed terms): A nine-year veteran, Stocker tied a career-high with 165 receiving yards last year with the Tennessee Titans. He'll be reunited with tight ends coach Mike Mularkey in Atlanta, where he'll battle for backup snaps behind Austin Hooper.
DL Christian Covington to the Dallas Cowboys (one-year deal for undisclosed terms): A 310-pound run-stuffer who spent his first four seasons in Houston, Covington had a career-high 3.5 sacks in 2018. Depending on the money, he could be one of the better low-key signings from the first few days of free agency.
DL Steve McLendon re-signs with New York Jets (undisclosed terms): In 14 starts as the Jets' nose tackle last year, McLendon piled up 34 tackles and four tackles for loss. With the team reportedly keeping its 3-4 base defense under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, according to Brian Costello of the New York Post, it makes a lot of sense to re-up the 6'3", 310-pounder.
WR Eli Rogers re-signs with the Pittsburgh Steelers (two-year deal for undisclosed terms): Rogers lost most of last season to a knee injury, but he hauled in 48 passes for 594 yards with three scores back in 2016. As things stand now, he'll serve as Pittsburgh's No. 5 receiver.
DL Daniel McCullers re-signs with the Pittsburgh Steelers (two-year deal for undisclosed terms): According to Rotoworld, McCullers has never seen even 200 snaps of action in his five years in the Steel City. But the 352-pound hole-clogger will be back with the Steelers for another two go-rounds after inking a two-year deal.
WR Maurice Harris to the New England Patriots (one-year deal for undisclosed terms): Pressed into action for the Washington Redskins last year by injuries at wide receiver, Harris made the first seven starts of his career—piling up 28 receptions for 304 yards. He's a classic Pats no-risk, middling upside signing. Knowing them, it will work.
WR Kevin White to the Arizona Cardinals (undisclosed terms): Yet another former first-round receiver that's become an NFL afterthought, White will attempt to re-start his career in the desert after four injury-decimated years in Chicago. Over those four years, White missed a jaw-dropping 50 of a possible 64 games. Guessing this ain't a multi-year contract.
Jordan Matthews to the San Francisco 49ers (one year for undisclosed terms): Back in 2015 with the Philadelphia Eagles, Matthews flirted with a 1,000-yard season and scored eight touchdowns. Since then, injuries have sapped his effectiveness. He's a worthwhile flier at this point though for a Niners team with plenty of cap space. He's also not much more than that.