Daily 2021 NFL Free-Agent Signings, Trade Grades for Friday's Action

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMarch 19, 2021

Daily 2021 NFL Free-Agent Signings, Trade Grades for Friday's Action

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    David Berding/Associated Press

    The first week of free agency in the NFL may be winding down, but there's still plenty going on across the league.

    Dozens of players have found new homes or inked contracts that will keep them in their old ones. Hundreds of millions have been spent as teams look to prevent departures and improve the roster.

    But as Friday dawned, there was meat left on the bone.

    Two of the top free-agent wideouts (Kenny Golladay and JuJu Smith-Schuster) began the day without a contract...although one didn't last long So did veteran edge-rushers Justin Houston and Melvin Ingram III. And some talented defensive backs in cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Anthony Harris.

    As has been the case all week long, we'll be tracking all the signings across the NFL as Friday unfolds—offering our take on whether teams got a steal or potentially set money on fire.

    Looking for a recap of the signings that have already taken place? Click on the links below.

Seattle Seahawks Re-Sign RB Chris Carson

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Terms: Three years, $24.6 million

    Before we go any further, it's worth pointing out that the numbers Schefter reported for Chris Carson's extension have a bit of Taysom Hill to them. Per Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, the contract is actually a two-year pact worth "up to" $14.6 million. The third year is voidable and simply intended to help the Seahawks spread the money out.

    Welcome to salary cap shenanigans 101.

    On the surface, it appears to be a solid re-up for the Seahawks. Carson is an important contributor for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. In two of his four seasons, the 26-year-old running back has topped 1,100 rushing yards, and Carson has averaged 4.6 yards per carry over his career.

    But durability has been a concern—he's yet to play 16 games, and he's missed 19 games in his career.

    Giving a running back with injury issues top-10 money at his position in terms of average annual salary is a bit surprising for a team that isn't exactly rolling in cap space.

    Grade: B-

Houston Texans Sign RB Phillip Lindsay

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, $3.25 million

    In each of his first two seasons in the NFL, running back Phillip Lindsay topped 1,000 yards, going from undrafted free agent to the Pro Bowl. But with the arrival of Melvin Gordon in Denver last year, Lindsay was relegated to a secondary role, and earlier this week player and team parted ways.

    Well, Lindsay has a new home now—though once again it appears he could be part of a timeshare.

    And then some.

    That's the problem with this signing, which is something of a metaphor for Nick Caserio's first offseason as general manager of the Texans.

    On the surface, this is a reasonable amount for a proven, hard-running young player. But the Texans already have David Johnson, and they just signed veteran bruiser Mark Ingram. Once it's clear how cloudy Lindsay's role is, the signing doesn't look so good.

    Houston's offseason has been...confusing.

    Grade: C

Philadelphia Eagles Sign S Anthony Harris

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, $5 million

    Thanks to the massive dead cap hit that came with the Carson Wentz trade, the Philadelphia Eagles aren't positioned to be players in free agency.

    However, on Friday the Eagles secured an upgrade on the back end at a reasonable amount.

    In his sixth season in 2020, Anthony Harris posted a career-high 104 total tackles for the Minnesota Vikings. The season before, Harris piled up six interceptions (tied for the league lead) and posted a passer rating against of just 44.2—though it's worth noting his coverage numbers took a huge hit in 2020.

    In Philly, Harris will be reunited with new Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who coached him in the Twin Cities. And with Jalen Mills gone and Rodney McLeod nursing a torn ACL, the path to a starting job is wide-open.

    It's a good use of the limited salary cap resources Howie Roseman has in 2021.

    Grade: A-

Cleveland Browns Sign DT Malik Jackson

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    Derik Hamilton/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, amount undisclosed

    Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry isn't playing around when it comes to upgrading the defense.

    To be fair, the one-year deal given to veteran defensive tackle Malik Jackson is part upgrade and part replacement. The departure of Larry Ogunjobi to Cincinnati opened a hole on the line. At 31, Jackson also isn't the player who tallied eight sacks and made the Pro Bowl with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017. He has just six sacks in the last three years combined.

    However, the 6'5", 290-pounder is stout against the run, can rush the passer and is capable of playing any spot on the line.

    With more and more teams choosing quickness and push upfield over size even at the 1-technique tackle spot, Jackson should be a welcome addition on the shores of Lake Erie.

    And on paper at least, the Cleveland defense looks substantially better this season than it did last.

    Grade: A-

Chicago Bears Sign CB Desmond Trufant

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, amount undisclosed

    When the Chicago Bears surprisingly released veteran cornerback Kyle Fuller, it created a sizable hole in the team's secondary. There was a time when adding fellow vet Desmond Trufant would have filled most of that void.

    That time is not 2021.

    Over his seven-year career with the Atlanta Falcons, Trufant was a very good cover man who made the Pro Bowl in 2015. But age and injuries have caught up to the 30-year-old. His lone season in the Motor City last year was an injury-marred mess in which Trufant played in six games, allowed 68.8 percent of the passes targeted at him to be completed and posted a passer rating against of 111.3.

    The Bears were a fringe playoff team with a .500 record in 2020. Given how the offseason has proceeded in the Windy City, Chicago may be hard-pressed to hit that eight-win mark in 2021.

    Grade: C

Buffalo Bills Sign TE Jacob Hollister

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    Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, amount undisclosed

    There's been more than a little speculation that the TE-needy Bills could make a play for Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles, but Ertz wasn't the tight end the team acquired Friday.

    In four NFL seasons with the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, Jacob Hollister has never been more than a role player. His best season came in 2019 when he hauled in 41 of 59 targets for 349 yards and three touchdowns. But in 2016, Hollister caught seven scoring passes at the University of Wyoming—from Bills quarterback Josh Allen.

    It is far from a sure thing that Hollister blossoms into the No. 1 tight end the Bills have sought for several years. But he has shown enough when targeted to merit a "prove it" deal in the hopes that playing with a familiar face will provide a boost.

    Grade: B

Cleveland Browns Sign ILB Anthony Walker

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, $3.5 million

    The Cleveland Browns are coming off their best season since rejoining the NFL in 1999, and the team has made moves to bolster the secondary with the additions of safety John Johnson and cornerback Troy Hill.

    However, the linebacker position remained an area of weakness—one the Browns addressed Friday.

    Anthony Walker doesn't possess the range or coverage ability of former Colts teammate Darius Leonard. But Walker is an excellent run defender and capable "Mike" linebacker who has started 46 games over the past three seasons and averaged 107 total tackles a season over that span.

    The 25-year-old will be the Browns' best linebacker from the moment he gets off the plane in Cleveland. While he wasn't the best off-ball linebacker available, this signing is one of the top values at the position in free agency.

    The level of competence in Cleveland is a little unsettling.

    Grade: A-

Pittsburgh Steelers Re-Sign WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, $8 million

    The 2021 offseason hasn't been kind to the Pittsburgh Steelers. In part due to a salary-cap crunch, the team has lost edge-rusher Bud Dupree and cornerback Mike Hilton. Running back James Conner and tackle Alejandro Villanueva are free agents, and the team has reportedly granted corner Steven Nelson permission to seek a trade.

    On Friday, however, Pittsburgh fans got some good news.

    In no small part due to the reduced salary cap in 2021, the market for free-agent wide receivers has been ice-cold. That has forced some to look at short-term "prove-it" deals—and it opened the door for the Steelers to retain JuJu Smith-Schuster.

    Smith-Schuster hasn't been able to replicate the success he had in 2018 when he reeled in 111 catches and topped 1,400 yards. But the 24-year-old posted a 97/831/9 stat line last year and was second on the team with 128 targets.

    Getting the fifth-year pro back on a one-year, $8 million deal is a best-case scenario for Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

    Let's hear it for ice cubes.

    Grade: A

Cincinnati Bengals Sign OT Riley Reiff

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    David Berding/Associated Press

    Terms: Undisclosed

    It's no secret the Bengals badly needed to improve the offensive line. Cincinnati's leaky line allowed 48 sacks in 2020 and ranked 30th in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.

    After watching most of the big-name free agents up front find homes over the first few days of free agency, on Friday the team finally got around to adding some help for Joe Burrow.

    At 32 years old, Riley Reiff's best football is likely behind him, and the Bengals will mark the 2012 first-round pick's third team.

    But in 1,003 snaps last year, Reiff allowed just one sack with the Minnesota Vikings, and the 10th-year veteran provides Cincinnati with a substantial upgrade over Bobby Hart at right tackle.

    The move doesn't preclude Cincinnati from drafting a lineman like Oregon's Penei Sewell with the fifth overall pick. But the signing needed to be made.

    Grade: B+

Indianapolis Colts Sign DL Isaac Rochell

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    Peter Joneleit/Associated Press

    Terms: One year, $2.5 million

    At first glance, a defensive lineman who has started nine games in four years might not move the needle. But with Denico Autry gone and Justin Houston also a free agent, it's possible the Indianapolis Colts will need Isaac Rochell to play a substantial role in 2021.

    Rochell has seen the field quite a bit in two of his four professional seasons. In 2018, he played 536 snaps, racking up five sacks for the Los Angeles Chargers. With Melvin Ingram III on the shelf much of last year, Rochell played 437 snaps, though his sack production dropped to 2.5.

    For what it's worth, per Jim Ayello of the Indianapolis Star, Rochell's first four pro seasons looked like Autry's first four years in Oakland before he blossomed in Indianapolis.

    Counting on lightning to strike twice is leaning hard on the ol' optimism, but it's difficult to find much fault with any reasonable one-year deal. If Rochell doesn't improve in his new home, the Colts aren't out much.

    Grade: B-

Denver Broncos Re-Sign S Justin Simmons

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Terms: Four years, $61 million ($35 million guaranteed)

    Over five seasons in the NFL, Justin Simmons has developed into one of the league's better safeties. In each of the past three seasons, he has topped 90 total tackles in Denver. And fresh off being named a Pro Bowler for the first time, Simmons is getting paid.

    The Broncos applied the franchise tag to Simmons for the second consecutive season in 2021, but on Friday the team locked up the 27-year-old for the long term. He got a four-year deal averaging over $15 million a season that includes $35 million in guarantees.

    It's good work if you can get it.

    That Simmons is an excellent young safety is undeniable. But he struggled in coverage a year ago, allowing 77.8 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed with a passer rating against of 102.2. It's the second time in the last three seasons he allowed a completion percentage against over 70.

    If those coverage struggles continue moving forward, then making Simmons the highest-paid safety in the game in terms of average annual salary could become a boondoggle.

    Grade: B-

Other Signings

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    Doug Murray/Associated Press

    Miami Dolphins Sign OLB Brennan Scarlett

    As Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reported, Scarlett is joining the Dolphins after five years as a rotational player and reserve for Houston. Scarlett has never been on the field for even half of his team's defensive snaps in a season, although the 27-year-old did manage 31 total tackles and 3.5 sacks for Houston back in 2019. He'll be a role player one again with the Dolphins.

    Grade: C


    New York Jets Sign TE Tyler Kroft

    Per agent Mike McCartney, veteran tight end Tyler Kroft will be moving across the AFC East, joining the New York Jets on a one-year deal after two years in Buffalo. The seventh-year pro posted a 42/404/7 stat line with the Cincinnati Bengals back in 2017, but he caught just 18 passes on 30 targets in two years in Buffalo. The 28-year-old is a decent blocker and OK depth option, but when the Bills (who badly need help at tight end) are willing to let a TE walk that's not a good sign.

    Grade: C+


    Houston Texans Acquire QB Ryan Finley from Cincinnati Bengals

    Who needs Deshaun Watson? Kidding aside, the 26-year-old Finley is a low-end backup who has won one of four starts over two seasons, completing 48.7 percent of his passes with a career passer rating under 60. Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, rather than releasing him, Cincinnati shipped Finley to the Houston Texans for undisclosed compensation. A bag of Funyuns and two cans of Twisted Tea would be an overpay.

    Grade: F (Texans); A (Bengals)


    Atlanta Falcons Sign Edge Brandon Copeland

    Copeland is hardly a difference-maker. The 29-year-old has tallied seven sacks in eight professional seasons, and five of those sacks came in 2018 with the New York Jets. Still, Copeland did have that one decent year, and the Atlanta Falcons are as desperate as any team to improve the pass rush. Per Copeland's agent, that desperation landed the edge-rusher a one-year deal in Atlanta.

    Grade: C


    Cleveland Browns Re-Sign K Cody Parkey

    Cody Parkey will probably never live down his status as the king of the "double-doink," but the 29-year-old was decent with the Browns a year ago, hitting on 19 of 22 field-goal attempts. Per Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, that performance got Parkey re-upped by Cleveland on a one-year deal. It doesn't make a big impact on Cleveland's playoff chances, but it's not a head-scratcher either.

    Grade: C+


    Houston Texans Sign P Cameron Johnston

    Per Mike Kaye of NJ.com, the Texans signed Johnston on Friday to a three-year, $8 million pact that includes a $1 million signing bonus and $3 million in guarantees. The 29-year-old is best-known to most fans for body-slamming Alvin Kamara in 2018, but Johnston is coming off a season in which the fourth-year pro posted a career-low 41.2-yard net average with the Philadelphia Eagles. It's a lot of money for any punter and the latest puzzling signing by new Houston GM Nick Caserio.

    Grade: D


    New England Patriots Re-Sign K Nick Folk

    Apparently, Friday is kicker-inking day in the NFL. Per Mike Reiss of ESPN, the Patriots have re-signed veteran kicker Nick Folk to a one-year deal with $1.2 million in guarantees. A 36-year-old journeyman who has kicked for four teams, Folk was effective for the Pats in 2020, missing two of 28 field-goal attempts and hitting all 13 attempts inside 40 yards. He's a solid veteran kicker and a good signing.

    Grade: B


    Houston Texans Sign OL Cole Toner

    According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with fourth-year offensive lineman Cole Toner, who made the first three starts of his career last year with the Los Angeles Chargers. Toner isn't a star, but he can play both guard and tackle, and he didn't allow a sack or commit a penalty in 295 snaps with the Bolts in 2020. You can never have too much depth up front.

    Grade: B+


    New England Patriots Sign ILB Raekwon McMillan

    McMillan has never lived up to the potential he showed at Ohio State over his three-year professional career, and in 2020 with the Las Vegas Raiders, McMillan was relegated to a special teams role. But the 25-year-old has shown some aptitude at stuffing the run, and McMillan posted 105 total tackles with the Miami Dolphins as a rookie. Inking him to a one-year deal (per Ben Standig of The Athletic) is a low-risk flier for a Pats team that has been incredibly active in free agency.

    Grade: B

    Carolina Panthers Sign TE Dan Arnold

    As Peter Schrager reported for Fox Sports, the Carolina Panthers have agreed to terms on a two-year, $6 million contract with tight end Dan Arnold, who set career highs in receptions (31), yards (438) and touchdowns last year with the Arizona Cardinals. The fourth-year pro is just a middling talent at the position, but after watching Ian Thomas lumber around last year Panthers head coach Matt Rhule would likely be thankful for a middling talent.

    Grade: B