Daily 2021 NFL Free-Agent Signings, Trades Grades for Thursday's Action

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMarch 18, 2021

Daily 2021 NFL Free-Agent Signings, Trades Grades for Thursday's Action

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Welcome to the first full official day of NFL free agency.

    Now's about the time that discounts can be found, especially considering the depressed salary cap, and there are plenty of high-quality, starting-caliber players lingering on the open market. 

    We're here to grade all of Thursday's significant additions.

New England Patriots Re-Sign C David Andrews

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Terms: Four years

    Source: ESPN's Field Yates

    After losing stalwart guard Joe Thuney in free agency, the New England Patriots desperately needed to get incumbent starting center David Andrews back under contract. 

    This is a run-oriented offense that needs to improve for the Pats to become contenders again in 2020, and now that'll be a little easier with Andrews back at center, veteran Ted Karras essentially replacing Thuney after a one-year stint with the Miami Dolphins, and Trent Brown joining Isaiah Wynn at tackle. Throw in 2020 rookie sensation Michael Onwenu and veteran guard Shaq Mason, and New England is stacked along the line despite losing Thuney. 

    If they're going to make the Cam Newton experiment work in 2021, that's critical. They've certainly pulled out all the stops for Newton this week, and they've still got money to spend.

    It's all part of a pretty impressive offseason of redemption in New England. 

    Grade: A

New York Jets Sign S Lamarcus Joyner

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Terms: One year

    Source: NFL Network's Ian Rapoport

    Lamarcus Joyner was a solid starter during his last two seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and was forced into a nickel coverage role for much of his two-year run with the Las Vegas Raiders, so it's entirely possible he'll excel as he returns to a traditional free safety job with the New York Jets. 

    Plus, by all appearances, this is a cheap, prove-it deal, and the cap-rich Jets can certainly afford it. 

    Still, this is an odd move considering that the Jets have already used the franchise tag on Marcus Maye, who is also at his best in a similar role. 

    Surely new head coach Robert Saleh has a vision for Maye and Joyner together (or the team has another move up its sleeve), but 2020 third-round pick Ashtyn Davis also appears to be best-suited for a deep safety role (despite playing in the box quite frequently as a rookie), so it feels like the Jets are loading up on one particular spot while holes continue to exist elsewhere on the roster. 

    Grade: C

Houston Texans Sign CB Desmond King II

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    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, $3.5 million 

    Source: ESPN's Adam Schefter

    With Vernon Hargreaves III, Bradley Roby, Eric Murray, Terrance Mitchell, Lonnie Johnson Jr. and Justin Reid already on the roster, the Houston Texans certainly weren't desperate for another defensive back before signing versatile slot specialist Desmond King II on Thursday. 

    The Texans might have been better off spending that money to keep center Nick Martin or replace him with Kansas City Chiefs free-agent center Austin Reiter, especially because they're trying to convince quarterback Deshaun Watson to reconsider a trade request.

    The King signing is odd, too, because Murray, Johnson and Hargreaves are perfectly capable of providing solid coverage in the slot. 

    That said, I'm not going to crush the Texans here because it's not a lot of money for a former All-Pro who can do a little bit of everything and could serve as a key cog in a defense that needs to improve under the tutelage of new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith. He's only 26, and he should be inspired on a prove-it deal. 

    Grade: B-

Kansas City Chiefs Re-Sign OT Mike Remmers

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, $3.5 million (up to $7 million in incentives)

    Source: NFL Network's Ian Rapoport

    This one felt pretty inevitable as soon as the Kansas City Chiefs parted ways with starting offensive tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, and especially with how much they spent on new guard Joe Thuney. It was always going to be tough for a team with limited cap space to bring in another big fish at the tackle position, and at least quarterback Patrick Mahomes is familiar with Remmers. 

    Continuity is important and a full offensive line rebuild is always risky. This way, Kansas City retains an experienced player who has performed well at times in the system. He actually had some nice performances in place of an injured Schwartz down the stretch last year. 

    Yes, Remmers was a mess in the Super Bowl. And no, he shouldn't be viewed by the Chiefs as a lock to start on the blind side come September. But he's not a bad insurance policy and is a good swing tackle to have around in the best-case scenario. 

    It's a cheap deal anyway, and if it leads to Kansas City using a high draft pick on a tackle, it's not a horrible move. 

    Grade: B

Detroit Lions Sign WR Breshad Perriman

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, $3 million

    Source: ESPN's Adam Schefter

    If indeed Kenny Golladay joins Marvin Jones Jr. as an ex-Detroit Lions wide receiver, there's little doubt that Detroit will be a lot worse off at that position than it was in 2020. That said, this year's draft is stacked with high-quality receiver prospects, and the Lions have done an impressive job maintaining salary-cap space by getting great deals on the receiver market. 

    That started with landing the well-accomplished Tyrell Williams on a mere one-year, $4 million deal, and it continued Thursday with the addition of talented 27-year-old Breshad Perriman on a one-year, $3 million contract. 

    Perriman didn't pan out as a Baltimore Ravens first-round pick in 2015, but he quietly averaged a tremendous 13.6 yards per target in a limited sample with the Cleveland Browns in 2018, he put up 419 yards and five touchdowns in the final four weeks of his 2019 campaign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he may have been just another victim of Adam Gase's New York Jets offense in 2020. 

    Perriman has the ability to explode in the right environment, and now he should be inspired to deliver with the new-look Lions. 

    Detroit can and should still spend some draft capital on that position, and if that pans out, Perriman and Williams have high potential as complementary weapons. The ceiling is higher than that, though, and the financial risk is quite low. 

    Grade: A

Tennessee Titans Sign CB Kevin Johnson

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Terms: One year

    Source: ESPN's Adam Schefter

    The Tennessee Titans continued to rebuild their secondary Thursday with the addition of cornerback Kevin Johnson, who is pretty clearly their replacement for the recently departed Desmond King II in the slot. 

    And while that would make a lot of sense if King had fetched a blockbuster deal elsewhere, the downgrade is tougher to grasp when you consider the former All-Pro signed a mere $3.5 million deal with the division-rival Texans. 

    And to be clear, this is indeed a downgrade. Maybe Tennessee is saving a bit of money, and Johnson is a former first-round pick who shined as a rookie in 2015, but he's 28 now and hasn't been the same since that season. Now, he's essentially a journeyman. 

    The Titans are trying to get over a hump and make a Super Bowl run in the AFC, and trading in a player like King for a player like Johnson won't help with that.  

    Grade: D

Cleveland Browns Sign CB Troy Hill

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Terms: Four years, $24 million 

    Source: NFL Network's Ian Rapoport

    Troy Hill might have been overshadowed by fellow cornerback Jalen Ramsey on the Los Angeles Rams roster in 2020, but the versatile 29-year-old intercepted three passes, scored three touchdowns and allowed just 6.8 yards per target as a strong presence outside and in the slot.

    There's also some evidence that wasn't a fluke as he ranked eighth in football among qualified corners when he allowed a passer rating of just 61.3 on throws into his coverage in 2019. He also intercepted a combined four passes in 2018 and 2019.

    And yet the Cleveland Browns were able to add him to their secondary on a deal that will cost them just $6 million per season over the course of four years.

    That makes Hill just the 30th-highest-paid cornerback in the sport, according to Spotrac, which represents a steal for a Browns team that desperately needed to add support for top cover man Denzel Ward. This is one of the top deals of the week thus far. 

    Grade: A+

New York Jets Sign WR Keelan Cole Sr.

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, $5.5 million

    Source: ESPN's Adam Schefter

    Schefter also reported that Keelan Cole Sr. "drew as much, if not more interest, than some of the bigger-name free-agent WRs on the open market," but I think that had to do with the fact nobody seems to want to pay top dollar for receivers right now. The now-former Jacksonville Jaguar also isn't a No. 1 guy and thus should come cheaper. 

    Still, this seems a little high considering the much more accomplished Marvin Jones Jr. signed a deal earlier this week with the Jags that is barely worth more dough than Cole's contract. 

    The soon-to-be 28-year-old flashed as an undrafted rookie in 2017 and again to an extent in 2019. But his yards-per-target mark dropped from 10.3 in 2019 to 7.3 in 2020, and he followed up a one-drop '19 campaign with six dropped passes this past season. 

    There just isn't a lot to get excited about here. With Corey Davis already on board and the draft loaded with highly touted receivers, the rebuilding Jets would have been better off spending this cash elsewhere. 

    Grade: C

Miami Dolphins Sign WR Will Fuller V

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Terms: One year

    Source: NFL Network's Ian Rapoport

    The Miami Dolphins have finally taken advantage of the fact another deep wide receiver draft class appears to be depressing the free-agent receiver market. A team in need of another weapon out wide has found exactly that in Will Fuller V, who is coming off a breakout, albeit abbreviated, season with the Houston Texans. 

    The blazing-fast Fuller is an ideal partner for DeVante Parker, who had used his size and strength to become a standout starter at the position. He can stretch the field for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, which should create plenty of opportunities for Parker and emerging tight end Mike Gesicki. 

    Fuller's late-season suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances is arguably a red flag, but for what it's worth, he has said that stemmed from a prescription medication he was using that he thought was permitted. And it's a one-year deal anyway, so the Dolphins aren't risking much. 

    Kenny Golladay and JuJu Smith-Schuster are getting more attention on the open market, but Fuller quietly led the league with 11.7 yards per target in 2020 and is a perfect fit in Miami. 

    Grade: A

Buffalo Bills Sign QB Mitchell Trubisky

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    Tyler Kaufman/Associated Press

    Terms: One year

    Source: ESPN's Adam Schefter

    Mitchell Trubisky has been the subject of a lot of derision the last few years. But a ridiculed starting quarterback often makes a top-flight backup quarterback, and that's exactly what Trubisky becomes on the Buffalo Bills roster. 

    The Bills shouldn't be under any delusions that Trubisky can carry the team on another deep playoff run in the event something happens to 2020 MVP runner-up Josh Allen, but he is absolutely talented enough to keep them afloat for a multi-week stretch if Allen goes down. 

    We've seen the 2017 No. 2 overall pick excel for short spurts on several occasions thus far in his career (most recently when he posted a 108.5 passer rating as the Bears averaged 35.0 points per game in December). 

    As long as we're not looking at eight figures here, this is a smart insurance policy for the Bills. 

    Grade: A

New York Giants Sign TE Kyle Rudolph

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Terms: Two years, $16 million 

    Source: SNY's Ralph Vacchiano

    On one hand, the New York Giants just secured an accomplished, reliable veteran and gave young quarterback Daniel Jones another weapon and security blanket. 

    On the other hand, the Giants have a lot of weaknesses to address, and signing Kyle Rudolph seems quite luxurious for a team that already has Evan Engram on the payroll at tight end. And it's not as though Rudolph is coming cheap. That $8 million average annual salary is silly considering they have Engram and rank in the bottom 10 in the league in projected salary-cap space, per Spotrac.

    Rudolph is also gearing up for his age-32 season, and he peaked statistically way back in 2016 and 2017. He's been held to fewer than 400 yards the last two seasons and was limited to a career-low one touchdown with the Minnesota Vikings in 2020. 

    Unless there's an Engram trade in the works, this is a weird move that isn't likely to pay off. 

    Grade: D

Las Vegas Raiders Sign RB Kenyan Drake and C Nick Martin

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Terms: Two years, $11 million (up to $14.5 million with incentives) for Drake; still unknown for Martin

    Source: ESPN's Adam Schefter for Drake; NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport for Martin

    You won't find many articles with "Brad Gagnon" in the byline that support lucrative or even semi-lucrative contracts for veteran running backs, and this is not an exception. 

    The Las Vegas Raiders already possess a Pro Bowl back in Josh Jacobs and a high-end backup in Jalen Richard, who averaged a superb 5.6 yards per carry working behind Jacobs and Devontae Booker last year.

    They shouldn't have felt the need to replace Booker when he signed with the New York Giants. Instead, they committed more than $5 million per year to a zero-time 1,000-yard rusher who was essentially dethroned as the Arizona Cardinals starter while averaging just 4.0 yards per carry in 2020.

    It's a baffling move, especially after Las Vegas gutted its offensive line earlier in the week. 

    Speaking of that line, the Raiders did at least sign Nick Martin to replace the departed Rodney Hudson at center. They get four years younger at that key position, but they’re paying Hudson $12.1 million to play for the Arizona Cardinals and the soon-to-be 28-year-old Martin isn’t a particularly special player. It’s a “meh” move and it doesn’t make up for the Drake mistake. 

    Grade for Drake: F

    Grade for Martin: C+

Los Angeles Charges Sign TE Jared Cook

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, $6 million

    Source: ESPN's Adam Schefter

    A soon-to-be 34-year-old Jared Cook may not be Hunter Henry at this point in his career, but the Los Angeles Chargers just landed him for half the price of Henry on a deal with no strings attached beyond the 2021 season. 

    In a down year for the cap, that's a sweet deal. 

    Reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert might miss Henry, but the departed tight end lacked durability anyway, and Cook has missed only three games over the last four years. The two-time Pro Bowler just scored 16 touchdowns in a two-season run with the New Orleans Saints, and he dropped just two of the 60 passes thrown his way in 2020. 

    The savings created by shifting from Henry to Cook free up L.A. to keep adding reinforcements for its young quarterback, and that's clearly the goal based on the team's decisions to add Corey Linsley and Matt Feiler to the offensive line. 

    In this case, the Bolts are getting a highly accomplished player at a position of need who still appears to have gas in the tank, and they're getting him at a solid price. That's how you win at the game of free agency. 

    Grade: A

Baltimore Ravens Sign C Matt Skura

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    Brett Carlsen/Associated Press

    Terms: One year

    Source: NFL Network's Mike Garafolo

    When incumbent Miami Dolphins starting center Ted Karras hit the open market and returned to the New England Patriots, there was a feeling the cap-comfortable Dolphins might land yet another former Patriot in David Andrews. 

    But Andrews remains a free agent as Miami appears to be headed in another direction with former Baltimore Ravens starter Matt Skura. 

    Skura was a key cog during Lamar Jackson's emergence in Baltimore, but this is a weird move because he was also essentially benched in favor of Patrick Mekari after a mistake-plagued start to the 2020 season. 

    His grades at Pro Football Focus were ugly, and it's possible the undrafted 28-year-old's strong 2019 campaign was an aberration. He at least likely comes cheap, but this is an underwhelming move for a team looking to take off with its young franchise quarterback in 2021. 

    Grade: C

Atlanta Falcons Sign S Erik Harris

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Terms: Unknown

    Source: The Athletic's Vic Tafur

    The Atlanta Falcons could still bring back 2020 starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen. But the organization is extremely low on salary-cap space, and newcomer Erik Harris at least gives them another option at a presumably cheap rate. 

    The 30-year-old free safety started 26 games over the last two seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders. He intercepted three passes and scored two touchdowns in 2019, but that playmaking ability disappeared in 2020. It's possible he's a one-year wonder because he didn't accomplish much before that 2019 campaign either. But he brings something fresh to a position of need, and it's important to note he's not a box guy like Neal. 

    In other words, this doesn't necessarily mean the Falcons are moving on from the 25-year-old former Pro Bowler. 

    So long as this isn't surprisingly costly, it's not a bad depth move for a team in need of several jolts on defense.

    Grade: B