Free Agency Grades, so far

We’re now more or less a week in to the start of the new NFL year and we’ve had the first round of big splash trades (and then some!) and free agent acquisitions with the odd retirement and release thrown in for good measure.  We’ll be releasing a podcast later this week where we’ll delve in to free agency so far but for now – here are my grades!

Arizona Cardinals: C

A bad team to begin with with mystery over who will be QB1 come the start of the season may be putting off all but the money hungry free agents out there!  The Cardinals have at least started to fix the offensive line with the acquisition of Marcus Gilbert from the Steelers for a 6th round pick but it’s hardy something to write home about!  Tight end Charles Clay has a one year prove it deal following his dire career in Buffalo and veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs has been bought in to provide some leadership.

Atlanta Falcons: C+

There’s not a whole lot to fix on the Falcons roster aside from improving the amount of injuries they suffer through the season.  They have though added depth on the offensive line with guards Jamon Brown and James Carpenter joining for multi year deals.   Resigning Grady Jarrett on the franchise tag was the key move in the offseason and getting him on a long term deal will be the priority in the run up to the draft.

Baltimore Ravens: B-

A lot of talent left this year but the Ravens have started to fill the roster with good replacements.  There’s an instant upgrade at safety where Eric Weddle left leading the Ravens to enter the race for Earl Thomas late and snag him on a four year $55m deal.  Running back Mark Ingram will also be an upgrade to their running game.  

Buffalo Bills: B-

The Bills have bought in a whole host of players as the franchise builds the team around last years first round pick, Josh Allen.  Just on the offensive line, the Bills have added five new players including centre Mitch Morse and guard Ty Nsekhe.  The receiving corps has also been overhauled with the additions of John Brown, Cole Beasley and Andre Roberts.  Last but not least, the everlasting running back Frank Gore will continue his storied career in Buffalo next year.

Carolina Panthers: C+

The Panthers side one of the best offensive lineman in free agency when they acquired centre Matt Paradis on a three year $27m deal.  The offensive line has been a constant source of distress and I expect it to continually be built through the draft.  Speaking of which, tackle Matt Kalil was released as well after an ill feted term in Carolina.

Chicago Bears: C+

Letting Andre Amos leave the building wasn’t great.  Seeing him sign with the Packers was even worse but the Bears got their own back with the signing of safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on a one year prove it deal.  Buster Skrine will supply further depth in the backfield and Cordarelle Patterson is a useful special teams player who’s great at running in straight lines really quickly.

Cincinnati Bengals: D

Tackle Bobby Hart.  Cornerback BW Webb.  Guard John Miller.  I may not be the most knowledgable of people when it comes to all NFL players but those names are hardly very inspiring.  

Cleveland Browns: A

From the ridiculous to the sublime in Cleveland.   John Dorsey has turned this team into a Super Bowl contender if all the hype is to believed.  Trading for Odell Beckham Jr and getting him for what he did was amazing.  You won’t get a better player with the 17th pick in the draft than that.  He also had. The audacity to strengthen the Browns defensive line with Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson.   What’s not to like ?

Dallas Cowboys: C-

They didn’t lose many players, but equally they haven’t really added much talent either.  Jason Witten returns from the commentary box after a year and Demarcus Lawrence has the franchise tag applied to him for the second straight year.  The Cowboys need to figure out how to pay him or risk him doing what Lev Bell did and not playing in 2019.

Denver Broncos: B-

Is Joe Flacco an upgrade over Case Keenum?  I dunno to be honest.  Flacco started last year playing quite well before an injury put Lamar Jackson into the starting role, a role he never relinquished.  Flacco will likely be out to prove the doubters wrong.  What I did like about Denver’s first week in free agency was the move to bring in former Dolphins tackle JaWaun James on a four year $52m contract.  The Bronco’s offensive line still needs more work but that’s a step in the right direction.

Detroit Lions: C+

Matt Patricia continues to build the Detroit Patriots with the signing of two familiar faces in defensive end Trey Flowers and wide receiver Danny Amendola.  Seeing as the Lions are in one of the toughest divisions in the league, it’s debatable as to whether we’ll see the best of Amendola as the chances of getting to the playoffs are low!   The big question is whether Flowers will blossom in a different environment, his best chance is with his former mentor so there’s that at least.

Green Bay Packers: B

A solid first week for the Packers in free agency where they’ve answered several needs which will open up how they can approach the draft in April.  Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith will provide the edge rush that the Packers certainly need, this could be supplemented with a pass rusher selected with one of their two first round picks to make it a powerful rotational pass rush.  As above, safety Adrian Amos also came in to help shore up a young, talented backfield.  

Houston Texans: C

The backfield in Houston has taken somewhat of a hammering with the departures of safety Tyrann Mathieu and cornerbacks Kevin Johnson and Kareem Jackson.  In their stead, the Texans signed safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Briean Bobby-Calhoun.  Whether that is an upgrade at all remains to be seen.  Tagging edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney was the key move here, though it’s debatable that the former first overall pick will sign a long term deal.

Indianapolis Colts: C

They had the most cap space in the league and many expected them to make a splash or two but it never materialised.  They re-signed cornerback Pierre Desir to a three year $25m deal following a good year in 2018.  The one addition general manager Chris Ballard did make was to bring in wide receiver Devin Funchess on a one year $13m deal.  If he can catch the ball, he’ll be a nice addition alongside TY Hilton.

Jacksonville Jaguars: B-

The Jags got rid of a fair amount of highly paid average players including running back Carlos Hyde, defensive tackle Malik Jackson and wide receiver Dante Moncrief.  But the most important cut was made at the most important position with the decision to let quarterback Blake Bortles go.  Will be interesting to see if anyone picks him up, he has experience at least!  To replace Bortles, the Jags signed former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles on a four year $88m deal.  Foles will be the starter from day one. and time will tell if this time, he can live up to that status.

Kansas City Chiefs: C

I’m a little worried about the Chiefs defence.   It’s now lost both of it’s premier pass rushers with Justin Houston a cap casualty and Dee Ford tagged and then traded away to the 49ers for a second round pick in 2020.  They did add Tyrann Mathieu as a replacement for Eric Berry which I like.  Carlos Hyde comes in to try out for the hole in the roster left by Kareem Hunt.  A lot will be asked of new edge rusher Alex Okafor who’s signed for three years unless the Chiefs can also address the position in the draft.

LA Chargers: C+

The Chargers didn’t really need to do much but what they’ve done has been sensible.   Re-signing linebacker Denzel Perryman and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane are good moves.   Veteran linebacker Thomas Davis comes in to add depth to that position and will certainly be a plus.   Losing wide receiver Tyrell Williams wasn’t great but his production can likely be made up from elsewhere in the squad.

LA Rams: C

The Rams were always going to have a difficult off-season with the roster ‘built to win’ last year and many highly paid players coming off one year deals.  Defensive tackle Suh, linebacker Mark Barron, centre John Sullivan, safety Lamarcus Joyner and running back CJ Anderson are all gone.  Dante Fowler has been given a one year contract so it’s not the end of the world and bringing in Eric Weddle to replace Joyner means they can focus on other positions in the. Draft.

Miami Dolphins: D

This is a team that’s tanking.  It’s the only way you can explain trading their starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill and letting three offensive lineman walk in free agency.  Defensive tackle Andre Branch and veteran edge rusher Cameron Wake have also gone.  Surprisingly, wide receiver DeVante Parker was re-signed after the general consensus was that he would leave.  The legend that is Ryan Fitzpatrick comes in to start at QB as a bit of veteran leadership but there’s still very little talent on this roster.

Minnesota Vikings: C-

Having Anthony Barr do a last minute U-Turn and return to Minnesota is the highlight for the Vikings thus far.  The Vikings really should have been targeting the few quality offensive lineman that were available but failed to do that, probably because they little cap space following Kirk Cousin’s signing last year.  Lot’s left to do to solidify that offensive line.

New England Patriots:  C

The Patriots are doing Patriot things and letting good players leave for which they’ll get compensatory picks in next years draft.  Defensive end Trey Flowers, tackle Trent Brown and defensive tackle Malcom Brown have all left.  Re-signing Jason McCourty was a nice move.   They keep some depth at receiver with the re-signing of Matthew Slater and Phillip Dorsett who will be joined by Bruce Ellington.  Don’t be surprised though if this team is still as good as it has been in recent years.  Should probably just give them an A.

New Orleans Saints: C+

The Saints acted quickly when veteran centre Max Unger retired when they signed Nick Easton to a four year deal.  Easton is listed as a guard but will shift inside to start at centre.  Latavius Murray is an adequate and cheaper alternative to Mark Ingram and Malcom Brown will provide pressure up the middle against opposing quarterbacks.

New York Giants: D+

That grade may be a bit generous to be honest.  I don’t know what the plan is for the Giants, and I’m not sure anyone does.  Odell Beckham is replaced by Golden Tate, who isn’t bad, but he’s not Beckham.  The pass rush is now null and void with the trade that saw Olivier Vernon also head to Cleveland.  Landon Collins is gone and replaced by mediocre (at best) safety Jabrill Peppers who came over as part of the Beckham trade.  

New York Jets: A

The move to bring in guard Kelechi Osemele from the Raiders could be the most underrated signing of the year with the most impact.  Osemele’s performance had tailed off in Oakland but if a move to the Big Apple rejuvenates him then it could pave ways for this franchise to have a good season.   First and foremost, it’ll open holes for new star running back Le’Veon Bell to run through.  The former consensus number one running back joined the Jets for $52.5 over four years.  It could also give Sam Darnold more time to find new receivers Josh Bellamy and Jamison Crowder.  Sure, they’re not star talent but they do add much needed quality to this receiver corps.  Many thought CJ Mosley the former Ravens linebacker, would head back to Baltimore but the Jets were also able to lull him to New York with a five year $85m deal.  Mosley will immediately form a leadership quorum with safety Jamal Adams and with some select picks in the draft, maybe, just maybe, this team could challenge the Patriots.

Oakland Raiders: B

The Raiders swung for the fences and negotiated a good deal to secure wide receiver Antonio Brown from the Steelers.  The lack of a first round pick as part of the deal shocked many.  Much will be asked of Trent Brown who will need to show that last years performance wasn’t a one off after signing the richest deal for an offensive lineman with the Raiders paying him $66m over four years.  To complete the wide receiver corps, the Raiders also snagged Tyrell Williams and JJ Nelson.  

Philadelphia Eagles: C+

They managed to keep cornerback Ronald Darby, edge rusher Brandon Graham and tackle Jason Peters.  That in itself is a good bit of business.  They added Malik Jackson who didn’t excel in Jacksonville but may do better with Jim Schwartz as his defensive coordinator.

Pittsburgh Steelers: C

Antonio Brown and Lev Bell are no more in Pittsburgh.  Luckily for the Steelers, they’re decent at drafting wide receivers and have James Conner ready to fully embrace the RB1 position.  Centre Maurkice Pouncey was retained and they added linebacker depth with the signing of Mark Barron – a rare furore into free agency for the Steelers who focus on the draft more.

San Francisco 49ers: B-

For a team that have suffered from so many injuries, the 49ers sure have signed a lot of good players with bad injury records.  But, if they’re fit then this could be a good crop of additions.  Dee Ford will provide the pass rush that the 49ers desperately needed last year.  He’ll team up with linebacker Kwon Alexander who will play alongside Fred Warner at linebacker.  Lastly, Jason Verrett is a former pro-bowl cornerback who will likely play opposite Richard Sherman.  All those defensive players have significant injury records but all of their contracts are built to allow for get outs if the worst happens.  The 49ers also added more running back depth with receiving back Tevin Coleman who Shanahan coached in Atlanta.  Lastly, they get a much needed big bodied receiver in Jordan Matthews, he’s bounced around the league a bit but fills a need the. 49ers have.  If they all stay fit, it could be fun.

Seattle Seahawks: B-

The grade is not so much for the additions that they Seahawks made, more for two players that they’ve managed to keep on the roster.  KJ Wright is underrated as he plays alongside pro-bowl linebacker Bobby Wagner, but is a great player who now has a new two year deal.  Tagging edge rusher Frank Clark was also a a sensible move and I expect him to sign a long term deal before the start of the season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: C

Not made any splash signings but bought in a couple of quality players, specifically linebacker Deone Bucannon who replaces Kwon Alexander and edge rusher Shaq Barrett in place of Vinny Curry.  Both of them on one year deals.  Losing Adam Humphries would have hurt as he was a very underrated wide receiver.  He’s replaced by Breshad Perriman who has failed to live up to his potential when he was a first round pick in the 2015 draft

Tennessee Titans: B-

I really like the signings of guard Roger Saffold and receiver Adam Humphries.  They’re immediate upgrades on a roster that is starting to develop under Mike Vrabel.  Re-signing Kenny Vaccaro at safety is another sensible move.  Bringing in Ryan Tannehill to back up Marcus Mariota isn’t the worst idea as well as Mariota has failed to have a season where he’s not missed games due to injury.

Washington Redskins: C+

They bought in Case Keenum so probably lose points for that!  They got him cheaply so gain a point back but realistically I don’t expect the Redskins to win many games with him under centre!  Re-signing Adrien Peterson to a two year deal is a plus though and he can be on hand whilst last years second round pick Derrius Guice gets back to full fitness and then starts his NFL career.  The jewel in the crown though is signing Landon Collins the former Giants safety.  They paid a lot for him though – $84m over six years

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