Now that receiver DeSean Jackson has signed with Washington, it's a good time to evaluate how all 32 teams did during NFL free agency.
There are still some potential contributors left on the market, like Asante Samuel, Champ Bailey, Anthony Spencer, Jermichael Finley and Josh Freeman, but Jackson was the last real impact player available. Every fan base wanted their team to buy up every big name possible, but only the Broncos had that plan going in.
Keeping in mind that a "C" grade means your team did an average job over the past few weeks in free agency, here's the grade for each of the teams, reflecting how well or poorly they did in adding to their team.
When you lose one of the top free agents on the market (safety Jairus Byrd), it’s tough to recover. But some solid signings at linebacker in Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers help. Giving below-average guard Chris Williams $13.5 million over four years was a bit confusing, however.
Re-signing cornerback Brent Grimes was huge, as was retaining defensive tackle Randy Starks. Tackle Branden Albert was the big addition, defensive backs Louis Delmas and Cortland Finnegan can help if healthy, defensive lineman Earl Mitchell replaces Paul Soliai and running back Knowshon Moreno fills a need. All in all, pretty nice work.
New England Patriots
The best player to switch teams in free agency was cornerback Darrelle Revis, and New England got him. Anything else was a bonus. They did re-sign receiver Julian Edelman, which was needed, and grabbed receiver Brandon LaFell and cornerback Brandon Browner. Getting Vince Wilfork back on a re-worked deal was good, as well. Go back to Revis, though. They got him. That makes them a free-agency winner.
New York Jets
Breno Giacomini replaces Austin Howard at right tackle, Dimitri Patterson replaces Antonio Cromartie at cornerback and Michael Vick replaces Mark Sanchez at quarterback. Seems like a couple lateral moves (at best) and maybe one upgrade if Vick stays healthy. It comes down to how you feel about receiver Eric Decker’s five-year, $36.25 million deal. Considering what the Jets have had at receiver for years, it’s not that bad.
It’s hard to understate how important it was to get offensive tackle Eugene Monroe re-signed, which seemed unlikely for most of the offseason. Re-signing tight end Dennis Pitta and linebacker Daryl Smith helps too, and lessens the sting of losing defensive end Arthur Jones. Receiver Steve Smith was the major outside addition, and there are questions about him considering his numbers dipped badly in 2013 and how quick the receiver-poor Panthers were to cut him. But it’s tough to count out a ticked-off Smith.
Well, they lost a good tackle in Anthony Collins, a slot receiver in Andrew Hawkins and an impact defensive end in Michael Johnson. The best signing was probably offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse, who couldn’t win a starting job for the Packers, or safety Danieal Manning, who was cut by Houston. Add in losing both coordinators, and it has been quite a bad offseason for the Bengals.
People got excited about the signings of safety Donte Whitner and linebacker Karlos Dansby, but are they that much better than the players they replace, T.J. Ward and D’Qwell Jackson? They signed receiver Andrew Hawkins but significantly overpaid him at $13.6 million over four years. Making the predictable signing of running back Ben Tate at a very reasonable two-year deal for less than $7 million pushes them up a bit, although Tate needs to show he can be healthy with a full-time role.
The list of players they lost is deep – safety Ryan Clark, receiver Jerricho Cotchery, running back Jonathan Dwyer, defensive lineman Ziggy Hood, receiver Emmanuel Sanders and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley – but many of those players were disappointing or aging. Sanders’ loss hurts the most but he was coming off a fairly disappointing year. So it’s hard to criticize any of those decisions. The signings were decent. LeGarrette Blount offers running back depth, Lance Moore is a solid receiver and safety Mike Mitchell had a good year in Carolina, although the five-year, $25 million deal for him seemed high. Overall, nothing to get excited or upset about.
The Texans want to build through the draft, so they were eerily quiet in free agency, other than signing a couple of safeties (Chris Clemons and Kendrick Lewis) and backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. They ushered quarterback Matt Schaub to Oakland so they better be right about whoever they draft to start. There were a few notable losses (DT Earl Mitchell, LB Darryl Sharpton, DE Antonio Smith, RB Ben Tate) so the free agency grade is bad … but they don’t seem too concerned about that.
Once again the Colts spent liberally in free agency, and it doesn’t seem there was a ton of value in the signings. But they did add some good pieces. Defensive end Arthur Jones (five years, $30 million) and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (four years, $22 million) weren’t cheap, but they’ll help the defense. Getting cornerback Vontae Davis re-signed was big, though it took a $39 million deal with $20 million guaranteed. Retaining kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter Pat McAfee was smart. The wild card is receiver Hakeem Nicks and his very cheap one-year, $3.5 million deal. That could pay off in a big way.
I still don’t get the five-year, $30 million contract to guard Zane Beadles, but it is what it is. Former Seahawks ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons will help, and maybe old Steelers bust Ziggy Hood can resurrect his career and contribute on the defensive line as well. Running back Toby Gerhart doesn’t have many miles on him, so he’ll replace Maurice Jones-Drew. Not sure why anyone would be too excited, but they added a few contributors.
The four-year, $20 million to offensive tackle Michael Oher was a bit much, as was $16 million over four years for former Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard, considering Woodyard’s role is unclear. But they added to the pass rush with Shaun Phillips and got an interesting offensive weapon in Dexter McCluster too. Oh, but they lost Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner without signing anyone to replace him.
Credit John Elway for being aggressive in the Broncos’ championship window with Peyton Manning. No team signed a better top four free agents than Denver: receiver Emmanuel Sanders, cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward, defensive end DeMarcus Ware. Wow. There were some losses, like receiver Eric Decker, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive end Shaun Phillips and running back Knowshon Moreno, but Denver either replaced them or had replacements in house. This team has been the top seed in the AFC in consecutive years and it won free agency. Impressive.
Kansas City Chiefs
In the first couple hours of free agency, the Chiefs lost offensive tackle Branden Albert, guards Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz, defensive end Tyson Jackson and receiver Dexter McCluster. Their best move was what, signing defensive tackle Vance Walker? Bringing outside linebacker Frank Zombo back? For a team that had to wonder how much its encouraging 2013 was propped up by a really easy schedule, this offseason has been a nightmare.
This is a really tough team to grade. If a team on the verge of contention added veterans like defensive linemen Antonio Smith, Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, receiver James Jones and tackle Donald Penn, it would be just fine. But the Raiders aren’t on the verge of contention and every one of those players just listed has logged at least seven NFL seasons already. Of those players, Jones is the only one that is signed for more than two years (Jones got three). Matt Schaub, acquired in a trade with Houston, is a huge upgrade at quarterback but is 32 and coming off a bad season. The only move that seems to help Oakland in 2016 and beyond is signing right tackle Austin Howard from the Jets, and that’s not a major addition. Offensive lineman Rodger Saffold might have been another good long-term addition but the Raiders failed him on his physical. They’ll always wonder if they should have tagged younger players like offensive tackle Jared Veldheer or defensive end Lamarr Houston, who left. So for this free-agency period to be a good one, the Raiders have to make the playoffs either this season or next, because it didn’t help their long-term rebuilding. Can Oakland pull that off? I’m skeptical, but certainly they’re a better team today with all those signings.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers needed defensive help … and their big signing was running back Donald Brown, who slots in behind Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. San Diego added nobody to the defense who can make a huge impact (unless you’re a fan of linebacker Kavell Conner), although the Chargers can say their big move was re-signing linebacker Donald Butler. Still, it was a strange free-agency period for the Chargers. Hard to see how they’re any better.
Well, we knew it would be ugly for the cap-strapped Cowboys. They replaced future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware with Jeremy Mincey, so there’s that. The addition of defensive tackle Henry Melton was actually pretty good; he’s a competent replacement for Jason Hatcher. Still, not much was expected and not much was delivered.
New York Giants
Defensive end Robert Ayers was the 14th free agent the team signed, and most are from the same mold: Good, solid veterans who came at a fairly reasonable price. Cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond, running back Rashad Jennings and guard Geoff Schwartz were the top additions, but there were plenty of other good moves. This is the kind of smart use of free agency that could get the Giants right back in contention.
You have to include the trade for running back Darren Sproles, which is a really interesting acquisition for that offense. Safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback Nolan Carroll were good additions, but a pass rusher would have been nice and that hasn’t happened yet. Cutting receiver DeSean Jackson and getting nothing in return hurts the roster, but apparently the Eagles had their reasons for that.
The Redskins’ late addition of receiver DeSean Jackson was surprising, and it makes the offense a lot better. Franchise-tagging pass rusher Brian Orakpo and re-signing linebacker Perry Riley were also nice moves. Getting defensive tackle Jason Hatcher helps the defense, but four years and $27.5 million is a hefty price for a player who will be 32 this season and had never been a big factor before his 2013 breakout season. Landing Jackson helps their grade a lot.
The Bears wanted to rebuild their line, and they loaded up like a Vegas tourist at a buffet. Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen, Israel Idonije and Willie Young were added at end. They lost defensive end Julius Peppers and defensive tackle Henry Melton, but Peppers wasn’t more effective than Allen last year and Melton was out almost all last year with an injury. The Bears signed three safeties and hope at least one (best bet is probably Ryan Mundy) sticks to improve the defense there. Chicago understood its deficiencies and did a nice job to improve them.
The big move was to sign receiver Golden Tate, finally getting Calvin Johnson a competent running mate. Signing safety James Ihedigbo was the big move on the defense. Detroit lost linemen Israel Idonije and Willie Young to Chicago but should be able to withstand that.
Green Bay Packers
General manager Ted Thompson, as usual, didn’t do much in free agency early on, but then signed Julius Peppers, who will rush the passer. Peppers looked like he was near the end last year, but obviously Thompson doesn’t think so. Nobody is asking the Packers to spend like Daniel Snyder likes to, but adding a few free-agent pieces while Aaron Rodgers is in his prime couldn’t hurt. Put it this way: If Rodgers doesn’t win another Super Bowl, it’s doubtful Packers fans will be saying “Well, thankfully we can celebrate all that extra cap room we had in the mid 2010s!”
The Vikings are betting big on two young defensive linemen, re-signing end Everson Griffen to a deal with $20 million guaranteed despite just one NFL start, and grabbing 25-year-old tackle Linval Joseph from the Giants for $12.5 million guaranteed. It makes sense to invest the extra money in players just reaching their prime. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, from Carolina, can fit in that category too, as can former Bears defensive lineman Corey Wootton. Jared Allen, Toby Gerhart and Chris Cook departed, but the Vikings have to feel OK about their free-agent haul … as long as Griffen and Joseph play up to their potential.
The Falcons needed to get tougher on the lines so they signed defensive linemen Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai and offensive guard Jon Asamoah. They spent a good amount of money on those three (and probably overpaid Jackson, a draft bust in Kansas City who got $25 million) but at least they spent on players who can fill gaping holes. Grabbing kick returner extraordinaire Devin Hester can’t hurt either. Atlanta lost nobody of note in free agency, so it’s hard to find fault with their plan.
When Cam Newton is dropping back and looking at free-agent additions Jerricho Cotchery, Tiquan Underwood and a holdover like Marvin McNutt or Tavarres King to throw to, you’ll know that Carolina didn’t meet all its objectives in free agency. The big move was sticking the franchise tag on defensive end Greg Hardy, and it’s never bad to retain an elite player. But the extreme desire to stay out of a salary-cap mess in the future meant the 2014 Panthers will take a step back, especially in the passing game.
New Orleans Saints
The approach was interesting, for sure. New Orleans had to make numerous cuts to get under the cap, then spent all the precious room they had on safety Jairus Byrd, who got a six-year, $56 million deal. That won’t help the roster depth, but at least the Saints spent money on a very good player. Does that make up for losing running back Darren Sproles, receiver Lance Moore, outside linebacker Will Smith and safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins, among others? Probably not.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I don’t agree with cutting quarterback Mike Glennon’s legs out from under him to sign Josh McCown, just because new coach Lovie Smith has an odd need for a veteran quarterback. And they did lose Darrelle Revis, one of the best players in football. Still, there’s a lot to like here. Defensive end Michael Johnson is a difference maker. Anthony Collins will slide in nicely at left tackle, as will Evan Dietrich-Smith at center. Tight end Brandon Myers was a good value and fills a need. Oh, and they replaced Revis with Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner. Well done.
Signing Jared Veldheer fixes the long-standing left tackle problem. Antonio Cromartie will be a solid cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson. Guys like running back Jonathan Dwyer and receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn fill a role. The Cardinals lost players like linebacker Karlos Dansby and receiver Andre Roberts, but simply getting a competent left tackle makes this free-agency period a win for Arizona.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers’ two big signings, safety Antoine Bethea and cornerback Chris Cook, just replace players they lost (safety Donte Whitner and cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers), and it’s probably a downgrade at both spots. Re-signing receiver Anquan Boldin was a good move. It’s not like San Francisco, with one of the two best rosters in the NFL, needed to do much.
When you’re the champ, people want to pick apart your squad. So, while Seattle didn’t make any big additions, it lost Brandon Browner, Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Breno Giacomini, Chris Maragos, Clinton McDonald, Golden Tate and Walter Thurmond, among others. The Seahawks did re-sign defensive end Michael Bennett, defensive tackle Tony McDaniel and kicker Steven Hauschka so it wasn’t all bad, there just weren’t any new gifts under the tree. And there were a lot of good players who left.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams somehow got guard Rodger Saffold back after the Raiders failed him on his physical, but that was their only interesting move. Unless you think receiver Kenny Britt finally comes alive in his second stop. It was a little disappointing for an up-and-coming team, especially after they were linked to so many of the top free agents, but it’s hard to blame them too much for relying on their two top 13 picks to improve the roster.
- - - - - - -
- Sports & Recreation
- Asante Samuel
- Jermichael Finley
- DeSean Jackson
- Josh Freeman
- Anthony Spencer
- Champ Bailey