2021 NFL Free-Agent Signings, Trades Grades

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystMarch 15, 2021

2021 NFL Free-Agent Signings, Trades Grades

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The NFL offseason kicked into high gear with the start of Monday's legal tampering period.

    Really, organizations and the representation for pending free agents have been talking for weeks. Monday is just the starting point of actually reaching deals before they become official at the start of the new league year Wednesday.

    Over the last couple of weeks, numerous squads scrambled to reset thanks to the league's lowered salary cap ($182.5 million) after a pandemic-stricken season. A slew of cuts and contract restructures were the direct result of each team losing over $15 million in salary-cap flexibility.

    "This is a year when we, as agents, have to be brutally honest with our clients," superagent Drew Rosenhaus told NBC Sports' Peter King.

    The landscape has been significantly altered with a flurry of movement happening even before the tampering period began. The signings and trades occurring Monday only add to the activity.

    Free agency creates a massive impact every year, though this year is unlike any other, and we broke down and graded each of the moves as they were reported.

Cincinnati Bengals Sign DE Trey Hendrickson

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    Kevin Sabitus/Associated Press

    Terms: Four years, $60 million ($32 million in first two years)

    Source: NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero

    Sometimes a little patience is necessary for a draft pick to realize his full potential. Trey Hendrickson is an ideal example. 

    The New Orleans Saints selected him in the third round of the 2017 draft. During his first two seasons, the edge-rusher managed two sacks. The number climbed to 4.5 in 2019, and he exploded onto the scene during last year’s campaign, tying for second with 13.5 sacks. 

    “He’s a tremendous worker. He’s a smart player. One of his great traits is his energy and effort,” Saints head coach Sean Payton told reporters during the season. “… He’s strong.”

    According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the 26-year-old defensive end posted a 16.3 percent pressure rate and a 4.1 percent sack rate. 

    Once the Cincinnati Bengals weren’t able to retain Carl Lawson, Hendrickson became the focus. He’ll man right defensive end while Sam Hubbard handles the left side. 

    Grade: B

Los Angeles Chargers Sign OL Matt Feiler

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    Terms: Three years, $21 million

    Source: ESPN’s Adam Schefter

    The great Los Angeles Chargers offensive line rebuild continues. 

    Earlier, the organization made Corey Linsley the NFL’s highest-paid center. It followed its big splash signing with the smaller, albeit equally important, acquisition of Matt Feiler. 

    Guard is a disaster. Forrest Lamp, Dan Feeney, Ryan Groy and Cole Toner are free agents. Tyree St. Louis is all that remains until Feiler puts pen to paper. 

    The thought of Feiler being the solution at guard may be surprising since his best work with the Pittsburgh Steelers came at right tackle. Obviously, the Chargers are already set there after signing Bryan Bulaga last offseason. 

    With Feiler in the fold, three of the five spots are now adequately filled. The Chargers should double back and try to sign another guard, and the 13th overall pick appears earmarked for a left tackle. 

    Grade: C+

New Orleans Saints Re-Sign QB Jameis Winston

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, $12 million

    Source: ESPN’s Adam Schefter

    Jameis Winston is the right person to lead the New Orleans Saints offense considering the team’s current setup. 

    The Saints are masters at manipulating the salary cap. If someone doesn’t believe that, just show them the contract “extension” fellow quarterback Taysom Hill signed with four voidable years worth approximately $140 million. 

    In reality, the deal is nothing but funny money to cook the books. Hill’s actual salary-cap charge this season is $8.4 million

    The previous number should indicate which way the team is leaning when it comes to the quarterback position. Winston is simply a better option. He’s a proven passer who spent all of last season learning the system and getting ready to replace the now-retired Drew Brees

    Sure, the Saints could find a more permanent solution to the problem in the draft, but the odds of that actually happening with the 28th overall pick aren’t likely. 

    Another short-term, prove-it deal is best for both parties. Winston gets to cash in next offseason if he plays well. If he doesn’t, the Saints can renew their quarterback search.

    Grade: A-

New York Jets Sign DE Carl Lawson

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    Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

    Terms: Three years, $45 million ($30 million guaranteed)

    Source: NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport

    Certain guys just know how to get to the quarterback. Carl Lawson falls into this category even though he’s never been a full-time starter. 

    Still, the pass-rush specialist created 64 total pressures last season, which ranked fourth among edge defenders, per Pro Football Focus

    The New York Jets haven’t had an edge-rusher eclipse 10 sacks since Calvin Pace did so eight years ago. Technically, Lawson hasn’t reached that plateau, either. However, he has never started more than 11 games in any season. He should be expected to grow in an expansive role with the Jets under new head coach Robert Saleh. 

    Saleh’s defensive approach requires defensive linemen to win matchups up front so the team isn’t forced to manufacture pressure through blitzing situations. Lawson will immediately step in as the centerpiece of the Jets’ defensive front. 

    Financially, he’s a solid signing, too, since his reported annual salary is lower than the deals signed by Shaquil Barrett, Leonard Floyd and Bud Dupree. 


    Grade: A

New York Jets Sign Wide Receiver Corey Davis

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Terms: Three years, $37.5 million ($27 million guaranteed)

    Source
    : ESPN’s Adam Schefter

    The New York Jets didn’t have a true outside threat on the roster last season. Jamison Crowder is a fantastic slot receiver, but they lacked the ability to consistently threaten opposing offenses outside the numbers and down the field. 

    Sam Darnold’s lack of development is partially due to an inferior supporting cast. A true No.1  receiver will go a long way in his or the next quarterback’s maturation (depending on what the Jets do with this year’s second overall draft pick). 

    Corey Davis continually improved throughout his time with the Tennessee Titans after being the fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft. Last season, the 26-year-old ranked eighth among wide receivers with a 126.3 quarterback rating when targeted and 10th in overall PFF grade

    His 6’3” frame coupled with excellent yards-after-catch capabilities will make him the No. 1 option in the Jets’ passing attack. He should be, considering the deal he’s set to sign. He’ll rank 20th in average annual salary among wide receivers. 

    Davis, sophomore Denzel Mims and Crowder have the potential to be an excellent trio for whoever takes the snaps this fall. 

    Grade: B+

Titans Add Pair of Pass Rushers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Bud Dupree

    Terms: 16.5 million annually

    Sources:
    NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport

    Denico Autry

    Terms: Three years, $21.5 million ($9 million guaranteed)

    Source: Indianapolis Star’s Jim Ayello

    The Tennessee Titans couldn’t generate any pressure last season. Harold Landry III led the team with 5.5 sacks. Last year’s top free-agent signings—Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley Jr.—didn’t register a single sack. Neither is currently with the team. So the Titans had to address their pass rush in some manner. 

    Initially, they addressed their interior pass rush.

    Denico Autry managed 7.5 sacks last season while primarily working inside. Technically, Autry is listed as a defensive end. But he does his most damage working as a 3-technique. 

    As ESPN’s Turron Davenport noted, Autry faced double-teams on 57.8 percent of his interior pass-rush snaps yet still managed an 11.6 percent pass-rush win rate.

    General manager Jon Robinson didn’t stop there. He then entered the ultra-competitive edge market and landed Bud Dupree. Dupree emerged the last two seasons with 19.5 sacks. He’s highly athletic and capable of playing in space if needed. Pittsburgh’s franchise player last season will help. However, the 28-year-old is coming off a torn ACL, and his average annual salary is now on par with the Arizona Cardinals’ Chandler Jones and Green Bay Packers’ Za’Darius Smith. 

    The Titans now have three productive pass-rushers. Landry and Dupree can bend the edge while Autry works against guards.  

    Tennessee gets the added bonus of stealing one of its newest defenders from a division rival and another from a fellow AFC playoff contender. 

    Grade: C+

Los Angeles Rams Re-Sign OLB Leonard Floyd

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    Scott Eklund/Associated Press

    Terms: Four years, $64 million

    Source: ESPN’s Adam Schefter

    At this point last year, Leonard Floyd was still a member of the Chicago Bears. He didn’t know what the future held. The Bears cut Floyd on March 17. He didn’t sign with the Los Angeles Rams until a month later. In doing so, he found the perfect match between situation and skill set. 

    Floyd struggled throughout his time in Chicago after being the ninth overall pick in the 2016 class. But he flourished in Brandon Staley’s system as part of the Rams. 

    Staley left to become the Los Angeles Chargers head coach, though. Floyd had to wonder if the Rams were still the right fit after posting a career-high 10.5 sacks. New defensive coordinator Raheem Morris plans to take a familiar approach. 

    "You kind of formulate the things that you do around your players," Morris said, per ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry. "Staley did a great job of doing things that his really good players could do. He did a great job of doing the things that the guys are capable of doing here. There'll be a lot of things that'll be similar.

    In this market, Floyd made the right decision, especially since his average annual salary sits between Matt Judon’s and Shaquil Barrett’s reported deals. 

    Grade: A

New England Patriots Double Dip at Wide Receiver

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Nelson Agholor

    Terms: Two years, $26 million
    Source: ESPN’s Adam Schefter

    Kendrick Bourne

    Terms: Three years, $22.5 million
    Source: NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport

    Nothing can stop the New England Patriots’ current spending spree. Wide receiver became the team’s target as afternoon turned to evening. 

    Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne will infuse the receiving corps with completely different skill sets. 

    A good set of wide receivers should look like a basketball team with multiple different sizes and abilities. New England’s targets struggled to separate with any consistency. N’Keal Harry, whom the team selected 32nd overall in the 2019 draft, is a big-bodied target to work outside the numbers. However, the group lacked speed and quickness. 

    Agholor is an instant vertical threat. In fact, he led the NFL last season with 2.8 yards per vertical attempt, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Bourne is much quicker working in small areas. He could be an ideal slot receiver in Josh McDaniels’ offense. 

    The money New England spent on these two is eye-popping considering their previous mediocre production. But there appears to be a plan in place.

    Grade: C+

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Re-Sign TE Rob Gronkowski

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, $10 million

    Source: NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport

    Rob Gronkowski’s first taste of free agency played out sooner than expected. 

    “I definitely want to be back with the Buccaneers. That’s where my eyesight is. That’s where I’m leaning toward, big-time,” Gronkowski said during an interview on Kyle Brandt’s 10 Questions. “... There’s some other teams interested out there, too. I’ve also never been a part of the free-agency process, so I actually want to dip my toes in, just to see what’s out there.”

    He re-signed with the Buccaneers five hours later. 

    Tampa Bay hasn’t made a bad move in a full calendar year. Gronkowski adds to an already impressive list of returning veterans in linebacker Lavonte David, wide receiver Chris Godwin and outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett. 

    In this case, no one actually expected Gronk to leave Tampa Bay, specifically quarterback Tom Brady. 

    Grade: A

Las Vegas Raiders Sign Edge-Rusher Yannick Ngakoue

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    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    Terms: Two years, $26 million

    Source: ESPN’s Adam Schefter

    The Las Vegas Raiders desperately needed a better pass rush. Their defensive unit hasn’t been able to generate pressure on a consistent basis since they traded Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears. 

    They used the 2019 fourth overall pick on Clelin Ferrell, who has been disappointing, and drafted Maxx Crosby later in the same class. They signed Vic Beasley Jr. and Takkarist McKinley during the 2020 campaign. Though Crosby has been productive, overall the pass rush has struggled.

    Yannick Ngakoue is the next great hope. 

    One thing is certain: Ngakoue can get after opposing quarterbacks. The 25-year-old defender has already racked up 45.5 career sacks in five seasons. He’s smooth and fluid around the edge, which makes him difficult for offensive tackles to handle. 

    But the Raiders can’t overlook the fact that Ngakoue is now on his fourth team in seven months. He forced his way out of Jacksonville. Something didn’t click with the Minnesota Vikings. The Baltimore Ravens didn’t re-sign him. Las Vegas better hope Ngakoue is the right fit. Otherwise, the franchise will be right back where it started. 

    Grade: B-

Pittsburgh Steelers Re-Sign CB Cameron Sutton

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Terms: Two years, $9 million

    Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac

    The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t employ an active free-agent approach. They are built on the premise of drafting well, developing talent and re-signing their best players. This year will be no different since the franchise is tight against the 2021 salary cap. 

    Even so, they’ll want to retain some of their non-top-tier free agents. The Steelers started with cornerback Cameron Sutton. Sutton’s return is important even if it won’t capture many headlines, as it prevents a hole from being created. 

    Both Sutton and nickel corner Mike Hilton entered free agency at the same time. While Hilton continues to explore his options, Sutton chose to return and take over slot responsibilities. 

    Considering the Steelers finished last season with a top-three defense, Sutton’s inclusion will help ensure consistency.

    Grade: B

Los Angeles Chargers Re-Sign CB Michael Davis

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Terms: Three years ($15 million guaranteed)

    Source: NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo

    New Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley understands and emphasizes the importance of pass defense in today’s NFL.

    “When he asked me, philosophically, as you’re getting into an interview, ‘OK, what’s important to you on defense,’ just from a schematic standpoint, my big belief system is 1-on-1s in the run game and 2-on-1s in the passing game,” Staley told The Athletic’s Robert Mays. “It all starts there.”

    Clearly, he emphasizes secondary play, which should come as no surprise since last year’s Rams defense finished first in pass defense. 

    The Chargers released veteran cornerback Casey Hayward earlier in the week. Michael Davis now returns as the team’s top outside corner. He’s not Jalen Ramsey, of course. Still, Staley can build his coverage plans with Davis in mind. 

    Grade: B

San Francisco 49ers Sign Edge Samson Ebukam

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Terms: Two years, $12 million

    Source: NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport

    Visions of the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive front dominating for years flitted through everyone’s mind when watching the team’s run to Super Bowl LIV. But that didn’t materialize in 2020.

    Nick Bosa (who missed 14 games last year) and Arik Armstead are still in place. General manager John Lynch traded DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts last March, while 2017 third overall pick Solomon Thomas never lived up to expectations. Thomas is a free agent. 

    Dee Ford did restructure his contract after it looked like he could be dumped for salary-cap purposes. 

    Samson Ebukam now enters the rotation and adds more pass-rushing punch off the edge. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the 25-year-old veteran generated a career-high 12.7 percent pressure rate last season. 

    Ebukam isn't a front-line starter. However, his presence will help the 49ers come at opposing quarterbacks in waves. Plus, he's excellent on special teams. 

    Grade: C+

New York Jets Sign LB Jarrad Davis

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, $7 million

    Source: NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport

    It’s rare that former first-round picks have no free-agent market, even if they struggled with their drafted team. Case in point, the New York Jets decided they can get more out of Jarrad Davis than the Detroit Lions did after making him the 21st overall selection in the 2017 draft. 

    Proper utilization could be the key to unlocking Davis’ potential. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported the buzz around the linebacker as he entered free agency centered on Detroit not properly deploying him. 

    The Jets must see something in Davis to agree to terms so quickly. Part of the reason is the team’s lack of quality linebackers. Also, the organization is open to trading veteran middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, according to ESPN’s Rich Cimini

    Whatever the case, the Jets essentially invested in a $7 million lottery ticket. Davis may never realize his potential even in a different situation. But New York is willing to take that risk.

    Grade: C

Kansas City Chiefs Sign OG Joe Thuney

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Terms: Five years, $80 million

    Source: NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport

    The Kansas City Chiefs’ braintrust of head coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach saw the same thing everyone else did during Super Bowl LV. The greatness of quarterback Patrick Mahomes can be offset by poor protection and a relentless pass rush. 

    The Chiefs could have rolled the dice on key members of their offensive line returning to full health. Instead, they cut both starting tackles—Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz—while letting center Austin Reiter test the free-agent market. 

    No one will question the Chiefs’ investment in the offensive front after they agreed to a massive deal with the top available interior blocker, Joe Thuney. He will be the league’s second-highest-paid guard on an annual basis (Washington’s Brandon Scherff has the highest salary on his second straight franchise tag). 

    Thuney is arguably the league’s most consistent and reliable blocker. The 28-year-old plays every game. He’s rarely called for penalties. Plus, he can play guard or tackle if need be. 

    With Laurent Duvernay-Tardif expected back, Kansas City is much stronger up the middle. We’ll see what happens at center. 

    Grade: A

Cleveland Browns Sign S John Johnson III

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Terms: Three years, $33.75 million

    Source: NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo

    Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry knew exactly what he had to do this offseason: address the defense. 

    Berry concentrated on the offensive side of the ball a year ago. He signed the top available tight end in Austin Hooper and offensive tackle in Jack Conklin. Now, the league’s youngest GM landed arguably the best available safety. 

    John Johnson III is a highly instinctive and well-rounded defensive back. As Pro Football Focus noted, the Browns’ safeties had the worst cumulative overall grade last season, whereas Johnson finished third in individual safety grade. 

    The lack of talent found on that side of the ball, particularly at safety, hampered what defensive coordinator Joe Woods wanted to do on that side of the ball. The Browns weren’t particularly aggressive in their approach. They were often in quarters coverage trying to bend and not break.

    With Johnson in the fold and last year’s second-round pick, Grant Delpit, expected back from a torn Achilles tendon, Cleveland should utilize plenty of big nickel with Ronnie Harrison as the third safety on the field. 

    Grade: A

New England Patriots Sign DB Jalen Mills

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    Kirk Irwin/Associated Press

    Terms: Four years, $24 million ($9 million guaranteed)

    Source: ESPN’s Adam Schefter

    The New England Patriots don’t appear to be slowing down when it comes to addressing team needs through free agency. 

    With tight end Jonnu Smith, defensive lineman Davon Godchaux and outside linebacker Matt Judon already on the board, they turned their attention to the secondary. 

    Technically, Mills is listed as a corner. But he brings the type of versatility that’s a perfect fit for Bill Belichick’s constantly evolving scheme. According to Pro Football Focus, the 26-year-old Mills played at least 182 snaps out wide, over the slot, in the box and at free safety. 

    Milles provides the necessary flexibility to thrive in Belichick’s pattern-matching system. He’ll be moved all around the field as a chess piece. 

    With Dont’a Hightower’s and Patrick Chung’s expected returns coupled with the Patriots’ free-agent additions and the continued development of Chase Winovich, Josh Uche and J.C. Jackson, New England’s defense could turn around quickly and once again become one of the league’s best units.

    Grade: B

Los Angeles Chargers Sign C Corey Linsley

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Terms: Five years, $62.5 million

    Source: NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo and Tom Pelissero

    The Los Angeles Chargers’ approach to building their offensive line bordered on befuddling with free agency looming. After Mike Pouncey’s retirement, they released right guard Trai Turner. Dan Feeney, Forrest Lamp and Sam Tevi are free agents as well. 

    General manager Tom Telesco needed to make a statement. He did so by making Corey Linsley the NFL’s highest-paid center. 

    Linsley, 29, is a proven pivot with 99 career starts. He anchored the Green Bay Packers offensive line since entering the league in 2014. Now, he’ll help with quarterback Justin Herbert’s development and give the Chargers a leader along a rebuilding front. 

    He’ll also reunite with former Packers teammate Bryan Bulaga. 

    The Chargers clearly overpaid, but they did so to get the best available center who can help stabilize their weakest unit.

    Grade: B

New England Patriots Sign Edge Matt Judon

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    Bryan Woolston/Associated Press

    Terms: Four years, $56 million

    Source: NFL Network's Tom Pelissero

    The New England Patriots entered the new league year with the most available salary-cap space, and they were prepared to spend. 

    A year after falling out of the playoff picture and seeing former quarterback Tom Brady win a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Patriots are ready to bounce back with the additions of tight end Jonnu Smith, defensive lineman Davon Godchaux and outside linebacker Matt Judon. 

    No one on the Patriots roster managed more than 5.5 sacks this past season. Judon led the Ravens in that category each of the last two seasons with 9.5 and 6.0, respectively.

    The 28-year-old edge-defender has posted at least six sacks in each of the last four seasons. The Ravens thought highly enough of him to place the franchise tag on him a year ago. 

    Belichick now has Godchaux to control the middle of the line of scrimmage and Judon to set the edge and get after opposing quarterbacks. 

    The Patriots were disappointing in 2020. Their free-agent acquisitions are splashy, but each makes sense to address need areas. 

    New England is well on its way to earning this year's distinction of "winning the offseason." 

    Grade: A 

San Francisco 49ers Re-Sign CB Jason Verrett

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, $5.5 million

    Source: NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport

    Once upon a time, Jason Verrett looked like one of the league’s best young cover corners. Unfortunately, multiple injuries derailed his career until last season. 

    After playing in only six games from 2016 through 2019, Verrett played in 13 games for the San Francisco 49ers in 2020. He finished with two interceptions, seven passes defensed and allowed a passer rating of only 76.2.

    According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Verrett rebuked a multiyear offer this offseason to bet on himself again. If the seven-year veteran stays healthy for a second straight season, he could cash in next offseason when the salary cap expands. 

    Until then, the 49ers have their two starting corners sewn up after re-signing Emmanuel Moseley last week. 

    San Francisco’s secondary is less of a concern now despite Richard Sherman, K’Waun Williams, Akhello Witherspoon, Jamar Taylor and Dontae Johnson being available in free agency. 

    Grade: B

New England Patriots Sign TE Jonnu Smith

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    Sam Craft/Associated Press

    Terms: Four years, $50 million ($31.25 guaranteed)

    Source: ESPN's Adam Schefter

    The lack of weapons in the New England Patriots offense last season was disturbing. The team's quarterback play didn't help, but those signal-callers didn't have anyone to throw to, particularly at tight end.

    New England placed a priority on pass-catchers this offseason and started by investing in Jonnu Smith.

    Last season, Patriots tight ends combined for 18 receptions and a laughable 254 yards. This franchise once featured Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski as its primary offensive threat. Yet the position room fell apart after premature retirement and eventual trade to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Smith may not be Gronkowski, but he's an ascending offensive weapon who can be a focal point in the passing game.

    The 25-year-old set career highs in 2020 with 41 receptions for 448 yards and eight touchdowns. He graded first among tight ends in red-zone receiving, according to Pro Football Focus. Smith also ranks third among tight ends in yards after catch over the last two seasons, per the Boston Globe's Ben Volin.

    New England paid a hefty price to land Smith. He will be the NFL's third-highest paid tight end on average. But he is exactly what the Patriots needed after last year's pathetic offensive performance.

    Grade: A

New England Patriots Sign DL Davon Godchaux

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Terms: Two years, $16 million ($9 million guaranteed)

    Source: ESPN's Adam Schefter

    After years of competing for championships and being forced to massage the salary cap, the New England Patriots are in a different position this year. Bill Belichick and Co. splurged with the additions of tight end Jonnu Smith and defensive lineman Davon Godchaux.

    Previous Belichick defenses were always tough at the point of attack. Even as the rest of the league evolved toward smaller and more athletic defenders, the six-time Super Bowl-winning head coach prioritized bigger and more physical defensive linemen to control the point of attack.

    The unit failed in that regard last season.

    New England ranked 20th and 26th in yards per carry allowed and run defense, respectively. While the Patriots tend to build their defense from back to front, those in the trenches still have to win at the line of scrimmage.

    Two seasons ago, Godchaux led interior defenders with 32 run stops, per Pro Football Focus. He'll be the anchor along a rebuilt defense.

    Familiarity helps in this case after the 26-year-old defensive lineman played for Brian Flores the last two years. Flores spent 11 seasons on Belichick's staff before becoming the Miami Dolphins head coach. 

    Grade: B

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Re-Sign Edge Shaquil Barrett

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    Terms: Four years, $72 million ($36 million guaranteed)

    Source: ESPN's Adam Schefter

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are keeping the band together. When quarterback Tom Brady made that comment on Instagram after agreeing to a contract extension, outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett responded with a simple "Yessir."

    Barrett hasn't been shy about his intentions. He wanted to stay in Tampa Bay.

    "I want to be here. I think we got a great team here, a great organization here. So we will definitely go on just to see how it works out and shake up. But I'm looking forward to trying to get something done here," Barrett said on SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio (via ProFootballTalk).

    He may have taken a slight discount on his new deal, but he's now the league's third-highest-paid outside linebacker on an annual basis behind Khalil Mack and Von Miller, the latter of whom could restructure his deal or be released in the coming days.

    Barrett blossomed in Tampa Bay with 27.5 regular-season sacks over the last two years, as well as a dominant performance in a Super Bowl LV victory against the Kansas City Chiefs.

    The Buccaneers put together an offseason of dreams last year, and the organization is off to a phenomenal start this year by retaining its biggest offseason priority.

    Grade: A+

Detroit Lions Re-Sign Edge Romeo Okwara

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Terms: Three years, $39 million

    Source: NFL Network's Ian Rapoport

    The Detroit Lions have struggled to create consistent pressure over the last few seasons. Ziggy Ansah was the last real threat along the team's front before injuries derailed his career.

    That made retaining a breakout star like Romeo Okwara a top priority. 

    After tallying 10 sacks across his first four seasons with the Lions and New York Giants, Okwara exploded with 10 sacks in 2020 alone. His pass-rush productivity percentage was higher this past season than free-agent defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who tied for second in the league with 13.5 sacks. 

    The 25-year-old Okwara is also capable of holding the point of attack, setting the edge as a run defender and making stops. 

    The disappointment of signing Trey Flowers to a massive free-agent deal two years ago should be offset somewhat by the Lions developing and retaining their top sack artist this offseason. New defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn now has a starting point for his pressure packages with Okwara back in the fold. 

    Grade: A

Packers Re-Sign RB Aaron Jones

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    Terms: Four years, $48 million ($13 million signing bonus)

    Source: ESPN's Adam Schefter

    The Packers retained one of their primary offensive weapons, but in doing so, they arguably created more questions than answers. Why do that after drafting AJ Dillon in the second round in 2020?

    Jones is an excellent player. He earned his first Pro Bowl nod in 2020 after posting a career-high 1,104 rushing yards. The 26-year-old is also a vital target out of the backfield with 96 combined receptions over the past two seasons. 

    However, sinking significant money in the running back position with the team hovering near the salary-cap threshold is head-scratching. At least Green Bay seemingly got a better deal than expected when Jones took a hometown discount.

    "We anticipated bigger offers in free agency, but Aaron wanted to stay with the Packers," agent Drew Rosenhaus told ESPN's Rob Demovsky.

    Jones' new annual average salary still ranks fourth among running backs, and Green Bay could have made investments elsewhere and been fine at the position. Although, the idea of keeping the offense primarily intact after Aaron Rodgers' MVP campaign can't be entirely dismissed.

    The Packers should be applauded for retaining a top free agent, yet excitement over the move should be tempered based on positional value and what the team could have done with that money elsewhere.

    Grade: C+

Baltimore Ravens Sign OG Kevin Zeitler

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Terms: Three years, $22.5 million ($16 million guaranteed)

    Source: Schefter

    The Ravens immediately prioritized their offensive line at the start of free agency—as they should have. Right guard was never settled last season with Tyre Phillips, Ben Powers and Patrick Mekari all starting games. Plus, right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. requested a trade last month so he can play left tackle elsewhere. Center remains a question mark as well.

    The Giants released Kevin Zeitler last week in a cost-cutting move to get under the 2021 salary cap. The guard's play did dip slightly in his ninth season, but his expected $14.5 million salary-cap charge was the driving force behind the decision. New York saved $12 million by moving on from him.

    Zeitler will immediately provide stability along the Ravens' offensive interior, as he started all but one game since the beginning of the 2015 campaign. 

    Normally, the signing of a quality and proven blocker to fill an obvious area of need would earn a solid "A." In this particular case, Zeitler is already 31 years old, and his play didn't quite live up to expectations a year ago. Still, the Ravens added a rock in the middle of their offensive line at a reasonable price to help stabilize a unit in flux.

    Grade: B+

Arizona Cardinals Re-Sign Edge Markus Golden

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    Brad Penner/Associated Press

    Terms: Two years, $9 million

    Source: NFL Network's Ian Rapoport

    Markus Golden never had an opportunity to financially capitalize his pair of 10-sack seasons, though he seems to have finally found a home with the Arizona Cardinals. 

    After spending his first four seasons in the desert, the edge-defender signed consecutive one-year deals with the New York Giants. However, the Giants traded him back to the Cardinals last October. 

    Golden gives Arizona a little more pass-rushing punch with Chandler Jones and the recently acquired J.J. Watt already on the roster. He can also help offset Haason Reddick's expected free-agent departure. 

    From a personal standpoint, Golden's latest contract has the potential to bring him the most reward.

    He never demanded a ton of interest the last time he tested the free-agent waters. But he's clearly comfortable in Arizona as part of what looks like a formidable front if everyone stays healthy and produces to expected levels. 

    Grade: C+

Carolina Panthers Sign OL Pat Elflein

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    Stew Milne/Associated Press

    Terms: Three years, 13.5 million ($6 million guaranteed)

    SourceSchefter

    Raise your hand if you thought Pat Elflein would be the first offensive lineman signed once the legal tampering period started.

    Nobody? Yeah.

    To be fair, Elflein should have rushed to sign with the Panthers after being offered a generous deal. The Minnesota Vikings cut the 2017 third-round pick in mid-November after he lost his starting job due to maddening inconsistency. Elflein continued to struggle after being picked up by the New York Jets.

    Despite that inconsistency, Elflein is only 26 years old and has made 49 career starts. The Panthers required help along their offensive line, particularly at guard.

    However, the free-agent class is littered with proven veteran guards capable of making Carolina's offensive front better. Agreeing to terms with Elflein appears to be an overreaction to addressing an area of need.

    Grade: D

Carolina Panthers Sign OL Cameron Erving

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    David Berding/Associated Press

    Terms: Two years, $10 million ($8 million guaranteed)

    Source: ESPN's Jeremy Fowler

    What are the Carolina Panthers doing?

    Pat Elflein's signing is head-scratching, and the Panthers doubled down on securing underperforming blockers by adding Cameron Erving as well.

    Again, the Panthers wanted and needed to address guard. They've done so. Sort of. Maybe. Not really.

    Erving brings position versatility. He can play all five spots up front. The problem is he doesn't play any of them at a high level. He's been a disappointment since the Cleveland Browns drafted him 19th overall in 2015. He's since bounced around the league with the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys.

    The possibility exists that Erving is a utility lineman, but the contract numbers, particularly the guaranteed portion, indicate he'll get a shot to start.

    At this juncture, everyone should be worried about whatever quarterback these offensive linemen are supposed to protect this fall.

    Grade: F

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