Daily 2020 NFL Free-Agent Signings, Trades Grades
With the professional sports world essentially on an indefinite pause, all we can do is look forward. Fortunately, NFL free agency gives fans the ultimate opportunity to do exactly that.
You won't get to watch any live sports Monday, but as the NFL's legal tampering period launched, you were at least able to begin to imagine what the 2020 season might look like.
And we were all at least able to distract ourselves by analyzing, praising and/or criticizing the moves made or not made by our favorite teams.
From a team perspective, here's how we grade all of the significant transactions from Monday.
Buffalo Bills Acquire WR Stefon Diggs
Source: Jay Glazer of Fox Sports
Per Schefter, the Buffalo Bills will give the Minnesota Vikings first-, fifth- and sixth-round picks this year and a fourth-rounder next year for star wide receiver Stefon Diggs and a 2020 seventh-rounder.
That's a hell of a price, but Diggs will cost a reasonable $12 million per year, he's under contract through 2023, and his arrival finally gives young Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen a No. 1 receiver.
Diggs is only 26, he's coming off his best season in terms of yards, and in 2019 he was the only qualified receiver in the NFL to average at least 17 yards per catch and catch at least 67 percent of his targets.
Grouped with John Brown outside and Cole Beasley in the slot, Diggs should excel in his new home. The Bills traded one premium draft pick and a few lottery tickets for a sure thing.
Vikings Acquire 1st-Round Pick for Stefon Diggs
And yet, in this case, both teams made out well. That's because while the Bills have money to burn, the Vikings are trying to find cap space to remain a contender.
Trading Diggs doesn't help right now, but those draft picks will give GM Rick Spielman a chance to replenish quickly, and this draft is loaded with high-quality wide receiver prospects.
The Vikings will need to go that route in the draft, but they do at least have Adam Thielen, and they often failed to get the most out of both him and Diggs while operating with a run-first approach that featured Dalvin Cook.
You can't give a team an A for trading away a star receiver in his prime, but this still made plenty of sense from Minnesota's standpoint.
Arizona Cardinals Acquire DeAndre Hopkins from Houston Texans
Source: John McClain of the Houston Chronicle
This is a robbery. Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim is a thief, and Houston Texans GM Bill O’Brien is a victim. More on that in a moment, but first, let’s focus on the winner.
The Cardinals landed one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL for young franchise quarterback Kyler Murray, and all it cost them was a has-been, expensive running back, a second-round draft pick this year and a fourth-round pick next year.
To boot, they’re getting a fourth-round pick back from the Texans, who are also taking on David Johnson’s salary, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
It’s simply jaw-dropping, because the Cards were essentially stuck with Johnson, who hasn’t been effective since 2016 but was too expensive to release. He was basically supplanted by the younger Kenyan Drake in 2019, and he was just taking up space on the team’s roster and payroll.
Now, he and his bloated contract are gone, and the Cardinals have added a three-time All-Pro superstar receiver in DeAndre Hopkins. The 27-year-old is only slightly more expensive than Johnson, he’s coming off three consecutive massive seasons, and he’ll immediately become Murray’s top target.
If a move like this went down in your fantasy league, it’d probably be vetoed.
Texans Acquire David Johnson from Cardinals
O’Brien was recently promoted into the long-vacant GM role in Houston. And although he was the de facto general manager in 2019, this is a strong indication he’s in over his head.
Hopkins was quarterback Deshaun Watson’s top offensive weapon. Will Fuller V is a good player, but Hopkins is irreplaceable. Meanwhile, Johnson joins an offensive backfield that already contains the pricey Duke Johnson.
What does O’Brien see in David Johnson? His 3.6 yards-per-attempt average since 2017 ranks 42nd among 43 qualified running backs, and he's scored just 16 touchdowns since finding the end zone 20 times during that standout 2016 campaign. Now he’s 28 years old and will cost the Texans more than $11 million in 2020.
The whole thing feels like an early April Fools’ Day joke.
Chicago Bears Sign TE Jimmy Graham
Terms: Two years, $16 million ($9 million guaranteed)
Neither Trey Burton nor Adam Shaheen have panned out at tight end for the Chicago Bears, who with limited cap space missed out on Austin Hooper after the Los Angeles Chargers tagged Hunter Henry.
But an $8 million average annual salary for a washed-up Jimmy Graham might look silly if Eric Ebron signs a similar deal. Ebron remains on the open market, is seven years younger than Graham and is a year removed from a breakout campaign in which he led all tight ends with 13 touchdown catches.
Graham has only five touchdown grabs in his last two seasons combined. He hasn’t scored since October, and he looked to be running out of gas down the stretch in 2019.
This isn’t back-breaking money, but it could have been better spent elsewhere.
Las Vegas Raiders Sign LB Nick Kwiatkoski
Terms: Three years, $21 million ($13.5 million guaranteed)
Source: ESPN's Field Yates
That questionable deal the Packers gave Christian Kirksey? The Las Vegas Raiders should rub Nick Kwiatkoski's contract in Green Bay's face. For less money per year, the Raiders are getting a slightly younger, more durable player who hasn't missed a game the last two seasons.
The unheralded 26-year-old is coming off his best year yet despite playing less than half of the team's defensive snaps.
"He doesn't have a season of full-time work under his belt yet, but in his two most recent seasons as a partial starter (2017 and 2019), Kwiatkoski has earned overall grades of 80.5 and 72.6 with well-rounded efforts across run defense, tackling, pass-rushing and in coverage," Pro Football Focus' Ben Linsey wrote last month.
Kwiatkoski has a chance to become a strong every-down player, and in the right situation, he might even have Pro Bowl potential. With that in mind, this is tremendous value.
Miami Dolphins Sign LB Kyle Van Noy
Terms: Four years, $51 million
Dolphins head coach Brian Flores was bound to land a former member of the New England Patriots defense that he used to coach, which is why it wasn't surprising that Kyle Van Noy agreed to ink a deal with Miami on the opening day of the legal tampering period for free agents.
But the Dolphins essentially doubled Van Noy's salary from 2019 ($6.3 million) in average annual value. Considering he's on the verge of 29 and has never had a seven-sack season, that's pushing it.
He's never been to a Pro Bowler and is now the seventh-highest-paid inside linebacker in the league, and he's likely to decline by the time Miami is competitive. The Dolphins have a lot of money to spend, but this purchase was probably a mistake.
Philadelphia Eagles Sign DT Javon Hargrave
Terms: Three years, $39 million ($26 million guaranteed)
We all know the Philadelphia Eagles love collecting talented defensive linemen, but they only rank in the middle of the pack in terms of cap space and have other more pressing needs to address.
If agreeing to sign Javon Hargrave reduces their chances of signing one of the market's top wide receivers, it was an error.
He becomes the highest-paid nose tackle in the NFL, which is wild considering how much Philly had already invested in Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Malik Jackson. Besides, he has never been an All-Pro or even a Pro Bowler.
That said, Hargrave has a very high ceiling. He was PFF's eighth-highest-graded interior defensive lineman last season, and the 27-year-old should have plenty of tread on his tires considering his limited workload with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This one could go either way.
Dallas Cowboys Re-Sign TE Blake Jarwin
Terms: Four years, $22 million ($9.3 million guaranteed)
Blake Jarwin had eight 20-yard receptions in 2019, which was more than legendary veteran Jason Witten (two)—and as many as or more than JuJu Smith-Schuster (eight), Alshon Jeffery (six) and T.Y. Hilton (six). His playmaking ability shouldn't be overlooked, and the Dallas Cowboys smartly ensured he won't go anywhere.
Dallas couldn't afford any of the market's hot tight ends. But the 37-year-old Witten is, at a minimum, on the 18th hole, so they had to make sure Jarwin wouldn't get away as a restricted free agent.
Jarwin's $5.5 million average annual salary could look like a huge bargain by the end of the season.
Cleveland Browns Sign QB Case Keenum
Terms: Three years, $18 million ($10 million guaranteed)
Considering Baker Mayfield's issues as a sophomore, the Cleveland Browns entered 2020 in need of a better insurance policy at quarterback. And while Case Keenum is no longer a viable starting signal-caller, he is one of the most accomplished backups in the league.
A $6 million average annual salary is perfectly acceptable for a No. 2 quarterback these days—especially one who went 11-3 with a 98.3 passer rating a few years ago with the Minnesota Vikings.
Cleveland is trying to win now. In case Mayfield bombs or goes down with an injury, it needed a guy like Keenum.
Green Bay Packers Sign OT Rick Wagner
Terms: Two years, $11 million
Source: Albert Breer of The MMQB
The Green Bay Packers essentially traded longtime starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga for veteran Rick Wagner. And while we can't fully compare that trade-off without knowing what Bulaga will make on his next contract, the fact is they got a player with a lot less tread on his tires at a reasonable rate of $5.5 million per year.
Bulaga and Wagner are both 30, but the former has nine seasons under his belt whereas the latter has only seven.
That said, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has spent most of his career with Bulaga, who earned a much better PFF grade last season (77.1-59.0). Continuity is critical at this position, and the shakeup could come back to haunt the Packers.
For now, this pact is basically "to be determined."
Marcus Mariota Signs with the Las Vegas Raiders
We can grade this one without terms simply because it's safe to assume Marcus Mariota is making high-end backup money (between $6 and $8 million per year). So long as that's the case, this is a fantastic move by the Raiders, who can apply pressure to starting quarterback Derek Carr without capsizing the boat.
They can say they just want to bolster the quarterback room and add insurance, which will make it hard for Carr to question his circumstances. But at the same time, the leash will be shorter than ever on a good quarterback who just hasn't gotten it done as a playmaker in recent years.
Plus, Mariota still has a shot to become legit. He might have been benched in his crucial option year with the Titans, but he's only 26, there's no denying his talent, and his career statistics aren't atrocious.
His passer rating is just a couple of points worse than Jared Goff's (91.9-89.6); all of his rate-based stats are better than Cam Newton's since 2015; and Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Tannehill and Philip Rivers all have equal or higher interception rates during that same span.
This was a worthy flier.
San Francisco 49ers Acquire No. 13 Overall Pick in Exchange for DeForest Buckner
Source: ESPN's Adam Schefter
The 49ers presumably decided that they couldn’t justify paying both Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner along a defensive line that already features Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Solomon Thomas and D.J. Jones.
On Monday, general manager John Lynch thus worked his magic to perfection.
Just after re-signing Armstead to a long-term contract (more on that coming), the Niners landed the No. 13 overall pick in the draft in exchange for Buckner. And considering the deals both players ended up signing, San Francisco saved money in the process.
The 49ers might miss Buckner, but they have an embarrassment of riches up front. Considering their limited cap space, they’re better off with the extra first-round pick and more money with which to sign or extend tight end George Kittle, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and/or safety Jimmie Ward.
This wouldn’t look so hot if the Niners hadn’t re-signed Armstead. But with the 2015 first-round pick returning, it’s a stroke of genius.
Indianapolis Colts Acquire DL DeForest Buckner, Extend His Contract
DeForest Buckner is a hell of a player, but the price tag here might be too hefty for the Indianapolis Colts. Usually reserved Colts GM Chris Ballard loves building up in the trenches, and Buckner fills a hole for a talented team.
Still, he gave up the 13th overall pick and handed Buckner a new contract that will cost more than $20 million per year.
All of that for a guy who has never been a first-team All-Pro?
The Colts could have used that pick on a quarterback of the future. With Jacoby Brissett under center, even a greatly improved defense featuring Buckner might fall short of compensating for a lack of big-play ability on offense.
This is the type of trade that could wind up earning Indy an A+ down the road, but it’s far too risky to earn a positive grade right now.
Baltimore Ravens Sign DT Michael Brockers
Terms: Three years, $30 million
Not only does the addition of Michael Brockers further solidify an already jacked-up Baltimore Ravens defensive front, but his three-year, $30 million contract is actually somewhat of a bargain for a reliable, established player in his prime on the first day of free agency.
Brockers actually had a higher average annual salary on his last deal with the Los Angeles Rams, which spanned three seasons during which the 29-year-old didn’t miss a single game. He’s not a star, but he won’t have to be one in Baltimore. And his versatility should excite Baltimore defensive coordinator Don Martindale, who also has Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams to work with up front.
Kudos to the Ravens for not resting on their laurels in free agency. They had the NFL’s best record last season but suffered a disappointing playoff exit. Unsatisfied, they’ve worked the market by finding two solid deals for veterans who should play major roles in 2020.
Miami Dolphins Sign CB Byron Jones
Terms: Five years, $82.5 million ($57 million guaranteed)
This’ll make Byron Jones the highest-paid defensive back in football by a massive margin, which is ridiculous even when considering salary-cap inflation.
Yes, Jones is technically a “Pro Bowl cornerback,” but the 27-year-old has earned that honor just once in five seasons. He’s never been an All-Pro, and he has just two interceptions in 79 career games.
Sixteen corners ranked higher at PFF last season. He has room to grow after moving from safety earlier in his career and excels as a press-man outside presence, but there’s no Byron Island, and his lack of playmaking ability should have kept the price down more than it did (not at all, apparently).
Considering he has just two seasons left before his age-30 campaign, this deal is ludicrous for a Miami team still in the early stages of a rebuild.
New York Giants Sign CB James Bradberry
Terms: Three years, $45 million ($32 million guaranteed)
James Bradberry hasn’t totally lived up to expectations as a second-round pick from 2016, but it was always pretty obvious he was going to cash in this offseason.
After all, the dude’s 26, he’s missed just four games in his career, he’s got eight interceptions in four years, including a career-high three in 2019, and he’s got the size (6’1”, 212 lbs) and strength to become something special.
But he’s never even been to a Pro Bowl, and nobody would consider him a consistent shutdown corner. In fact, he ranked 62nd at that position in terms of PFF WAR in 2019. And yet, he’s now one of the three highest-paid corners in the game.
This is a substantial overpay by Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, who drafted Bradberry when he was running Carolina’s front office four years ago. And if it lessens New York’s chances of landing a difference-maker on the defensive edge, it might be a huge mistake.
Denver Broncos Sign OL Graham Glasgow
Terms: Four years, $44 million ($26 million guaranteed)
Is Graham Glasgow an upgrade over free-agent interior offensive lineman Connor McGovern? He was drafted two rounds earlier in 2016 and has more work under his belt, but he’s also likely more expensive than the still-unsigned McGovern.
With 30-year-old Ron Leary gone, the Broncos needed another body inside as they try to maximize their support of young quarterback Drew Lock. And Glasgow is a little more than another body—he’s versatile, and he still has upside at the age of 27.
So this isn’t a failing grade, but making Glasgow the eighth-highest-paid guard in the game is still questionable. Would they have had to spend a lot more to land a younger Pro Bowler like Andrus Peat?
Detroit Lions Sign OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai
Terms: Five years, $50 million
Halapoulivaati Vaitai has plenty of potential, six games of playoff experience and primo versatility, but is that worth an eight-figure average annual salary on a deep offensive tackle market?
After the Detroit Lions essentially admitted that they swung and missed on big-money 2017 free-agent addition Rick Wagner by releasing him last week, they took another expensive swing with Vaitai. But it might have been too much of a home run cut for a team that should be gearing up for another shot at the bullseye with quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Vaitai has started only four games the last two years, and he has struggled to be a consistently reliable pass protector for his entire career. The Lions could have had the much more steady Conklin for only a few million extra dollars annually, and proven tackles Bryan Bulaga and Daryl Williams remained available at the time of this signing.
Vaitai is intriguing, but this is more likely to backfire than to pay off.
Miami Dolphins Sign Edge Shaq Lawson
Terms: Three years, $30 million
Source: ESPN's Cameron Wolfe
The Miami Dolphins’ approach to free agency seems to be adding talented, young players who haven’t met high early-career expectations and still possess lots of upside after encouraging 2019 campaigns.
At least that’s how you’d describe both Flowers and Shaq Lawson, who is coming off his best season yet as a member of the Buffalo Bills and could flourish in a new setting in his age-26 campaign.
Lawson compiled 4.5 of his 6.5 sacks last year in the final six weeks of the regular season, which could suggest the 2016 first-round pick is about to finally take off. And yet even after signing on the first day of free agency with the salary cap nearly at $200 million, he still isn't one of the 25 highest-paid edge-defenders in the NFL.
That’s a shockingly good deal for a blossoming 25-year-old with a high ceiling.
Cleveland Browns Sign OT Jack Conklin
Terms: Three years, $42 million ($30 million guaranteed)
The Browns appear to be serious about bolstering the support surrounding young quarterback Baker Mayfield, and they're doing it right.
On the same day that Cleveland agreed to terms with Austin Hooper, the top tight end in this free-agent class, the Browns landed PFF's top-ranked 20-something-year-old offensive lineman on the open market.
Jack Conklin, who was PFF's sixth-highest-graded right tackle last season despite coming off a torn ACL, will immediately serve as an upgrade over the disappointing Chris Hubbard. He'll be highly paid, but he surprisingly didn't come close to resetting the market at right tackle. And the Browns can save nearly $5 million if they now decide to part ways with Hubbard, per Spotrac.
That would be smart, because the Browns offensive line was a mess in 2019. They need a complete refresh at the tackle positions in particular.
Conklin has star-level potential, is extremely steady and has an All-Pro nod on his resume. This is exactly what the Browns needed.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Re-Sign Edge Jason Pierre-Paul
Terms: Two years, $27 million
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers seem to realize how critical it is to have several high-quality edge-rushers, and you can’t fault them for bringing back Jason Pierre-Paul to complement franchise-tagged reigning sack king Shaquil Barrett in 2020.
After Pierre-Paul returned from a serious neck injury last year, he and Barrett combined for 15 sacks in the final six weeks of the regular season. Individually, they ranked first and second in the NFC in sacks during that stretch.
With loads of salary-cap space, bringing back both makes sense.
Still, considering that the Bucs will likely be spending big on a quarterback, the franchise tag for Barrett and the early-free-agency premium for Pierre-Paul will make it harder to re-sign fellow key defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Carl Nassib.
With that in mind, it’s hard to give the Bucs a top grade. There’s a risk associated with Pierre-Paul, who has only one double-digit-sack season since 2015 and is 31 years old. He's now one of the 30 highest-paid edge-defenders in the league.
There is some backfire potential here.
Atlanta Falcons Acquire TE Hayden Hurst from Baltimore Ravens
The Atlanta Falcons had to replace departed standout tight end Austin Hooper somehow, and this cost them practically nothing.
By trading second- and fifth-round picks to the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for tight end Hayden Hurst and a fourth-round pick, the Falcons surrendered a little draft capital but added a talented young tight end at a rate of just $3.5 million over the course of the next two seasons.
Hurst wasn’t getting enough playing time with a crowd at that position in Baltimore, but the 2018 first-round pick caught an impressive 77 percent of the passes thrown his way as a sophomore last year.
The 26-year-old is an athletic player with superb hands and an aggressive playing style. Quarterback Matt Ryan has the ability to take him to the next level at a cheap rate, making this a great move for a team with limited cap space.
Cleveland Browns Sign TE Austin Hooper
Terms: Four years, $44 million ($23 million guaranteed)
Source: ESPN's Vaughn McClure
You pay free agents for what they’ve done and/or what you believe they can do. Tight end Austin Hooper is high-ceiling 25-year-old who’s already done a lot but still can do even more.
Considering how badly the Cleveland Browns need to contend in 2020, you can’t blame them for deciding to make Hooper the highest-paid tight end in the NFL. The Browns have invested too deeply in this roster to miss the playoffs again, and they need to do everything they can to support young quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Hooper was one of the top prizes on the market after a second consecutive Pro Bowl season in which he caught 75 passes for 787 yards and six touchdowns (all career highs) despite missing three games because of a knee injury.
His numbers have improved in each of the last three seasons after a relatively quiet rookie campaign, so it’s hard to imagine this deal won’t look like a steal in a year or two.
San Francisco 49ers Sign DL Arik Armstead
Terms: Five years, $85 million
The San Francisco 49ers know they came painfully close to winning Super Bowl LIV mainly because of their stacked defensive front, which is why the man who led the team in sacks in 2019 will be back in 2020.
With that said, Arik Armstead won't be cheap.
His $17 million average annual salary is slightly terrifying considering he had only nine sacks over his first four NFL seasons. The team has practically no financial wiggle room and will soon have to deal with the expiring contracts of George Kittle, Jimmie Ward, Kyle Juszczyk and DeForest Buckner.
With Buckner, Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Solomon Thomas and D.J. Jones already in place along the defensive line, one could argue that the 49ers wouldn’t suffer significantly without Armstead.
Minnesota Vikings Sign QB Kirk Cousins to an Extension
Terms: Two years, $66 million
This was a no-brainer for the Minnesota Vikings, who were short on salary-cap space and had to free up as much room as possible. The best way to accomplish that was to extend quarterback Kirk Cousins, who otherwise would have counted $31 million against the cap in the final year of his blockbuster contract.
Now, that number will be reduced by $10 million, per Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk.
Cousins has often lacked consistency in his first two seasons with the Vikes, but the organization was already married to him for at least another year. A veteran team that is positioned to contend right now had to free up as much space as possible to avoid major losses in free agency, even if that meant mortgaging its future to an extent.
Plus, Cousins is coming off a career year in which he ranked in the top 10 in terms of passer rating, completion percentage and touchdown-to-interception ratio.
If that was an aberration and the 31-year-old regresses moving forward, the Vikes will hate this deal in a year or two. But for the time being, it’s the only approach that makes sense.
Green Bay Packers Sign LB Christian Kirksey
Terms: Two years, $16 million
This signing won’t break the Green Bay Packers’ back from a financial standpoint, but it’s a confusing deal for a team that is expected to take a conservative approach to free agency.
The Packers have limited cap space, and a healthy Christian Kirksey could help a bad run defense at a reasonable rate. But that’s only true if he stays healthy. Injuries have sidelined the 27-year-old for all but nine games over the past two seasons, and it isn't as though he was a superstar before that.
An $8 million average annual salary puts Kirksey in the range of much more accomplished off-ball linebackers like Eric Kendricks and Danny Trevathan. And while all bets are off considering the skyrocketing salary cap, that seems to be a bit too steep for a guy with major question marks.
The off-ball linebacker market is deep this year. The Packers might have been better off going down a different road at that position.
Miami Dolphins Sign G Ereck Flowers
Terms: Three years, $30 million ($19.95 million guaranteed)
Ereck Flowers has yet to earn the right to be considered a good NFL player, and he was flat-out horrible during his first four seasons with the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars. But he’s still just 25 years old, he was a top-10 pick five years ago, and he appeared to find a groove while excelling as an interior pass protector down the stretch for the Washington Redskins in 2019.
So while a $10 million average annual salary looks downright wacky considering that Flowers was a bust for the Giants, it makes some sense for a Miami Dolphins organization that is rebuilding and has plenty of money to spend on a flier.
If Flowers once again is a tremendous liability in Miami, the Dolphins can move on in a year or two, likely with limited (if any) long-term financial implications. And in the meantime, his poor play would just help them tank to bolster said rebuild. On the other hand, if he flourishes, this deal will look like a coup considering the growing cap.
I know it’s tough to come to grips with the idea that Ereck freakin’ Flowers is now one of the 12 highest-paid guards in the NFL, but that’s what talent and potential can do for a guy in free agency these days.