2014 NFL free agency: Grading the moves from a wild first day

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency opened with a roar in the NFL as teams threw money at available players. Which additions made the most sense? Which ones will front offices end up regretting? SB Nation's Jason Chilton grades the first round of signings with an eye toward position value. SB Nation's GIF Tournament V

Wow.

NFL Free Agency

The first day of free agency is always lively, but few opening stanzas have contained as many big-name, big-impact and big-money signings as yesterday's. But not to fear; SB Nation has you covered with a comprehensive recap of all of yesterday's action.

We'll take it position by position, giving you the key data for each signing as well as some extra insight courtesy of our Dollar Value Performance (DVP) metric. For each signing, we'll compare the player's new Average Annual Value (AAV) with the average Dollar Value Performance he put up from 2011-2013 to give you an idea of just what kind of deal his new team may be getting.

There's a ton of stuff to get to, so let's hit it.

Offensive Tackles

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Branden Albert KC MIA 5 $46 $25 $9.2 $6.8 -$2.4
Rodger Saffold STL OAK 5 $42 $21 $8.4 $3.1 -$5.3
Eugene Monroe BAL BAL 5 $37.5 $19 $7.5 $8 $0.5
Jared Veldheer OAK ARI 5 $35 TBD $7 $5.4 -$1.6
Austin Howard NYJ OAK 5 $30 $15 $6 $3.5 -$2.5
Khalif Barnes OAK OAK 1 $0 $0 $0 $1.4 $1.4
Mike Johnson ATL ATL 1 $0 $0 $0 $0.2 $0.2
Sam Young JAC JAC 1 $0 $0 $0 $0.6 $0.6

(Contract numbers in millions)

Branden Albert was the bell cow of the offensive tackle bunch, landing a tremendous five-year, $46 million deal from a Dolphins team that was equally desperate to keep Ryan Tannehill upright and generate some O-line headlines that didn't contain the words "Martin", "Incognito", or "hazing."  Albert isn't elite at the position, but he's shown near-elite talent. If he continues to allow pressure on less than five percent of passing snaps over the next couple of years, the Dolphins won't mind the overpay and the so-so run blocking.

Roger Saffold may not have the best feet in the league, but his agent certainly pulled some fancy footwork to get him paid better than superior players like Eugene Monroe and Jared Veldheer (the latter of whom the Raiders might have noticed since he was PLAYING IN OAKLAND). Raider fans should be duly horrified by this deal. It now looks like 2013's mandatory spending halt was used by management not as a sober period of reflection on proper cap management, but rather as an ammo run to find more bullets to fire into their own feet. This first big contract of the Mark Davis era should also make Cowboys fans sweat the long term. Stephen Jones could be pulling this kind of stuff long after Jerry has been interred under the 50-yard line of JerryWorld, surrounded by the corpses of slain team functionaries who will serve him in the afterlife surrendered control of the team.

Landing the best tackle of the bunch in Eugene Monroe for a lower AAV and less guaranteed money than other inferior tackles reminds us that (crippling overpay of Joe Flacco aside) Ozzie Newsome is one of the best in the business. Considering how the market shook out, this looks like it could have been a shared-risk deal signed midway through the 2013 season. Getting Monroe inked to a deal this reasonable on the cusp of free agency is another feather in Newsome's cap.

With tackle deals happening fast and furious in the first hour of free agency, the Cardinals did well to sneak the wildly athletic Jared Veldheer out of Oakland and ink him to a reasonable AAV deal. Coming off a season where Arizona's protection made the 2013 Dolphins look like the 1992 Cowboys, Arizona could have been absolutely held hostage had things fallen differently. Kudos to them for getting their man. Veldheer doesn't have quite as many skins on the wall as a couple of the guys ahead of him, but his ceiling may exceed everyone's.

Oakland made a somewhat more sane deal in landing former Jet Austin Howard. Although he hasn't been a picture of consistency over the last couple of seasons, he put together some quality pass protection tape in 2013. Still, letting Veldheer walk for $5 million more than you paid Howard is just ... yeesh.

Guards

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Geoff Schwartz KC NYG TBD TBD TBD TBD 1.7 TBD
Zane Beadles DEN JAC 5 $30 $13 $6 3.5 -$2.5
Jon Asamoah KC ATL TBD TBD TBD TBD 5.1 #VALUE!
Shawn Lauvao CLE WAS 4 $17 $0 $4.3 3.2 -$1.1
Chad Rinehart SD SD 2 $6 $2 $3 2.9 -$0.1
Mike Pollak CIN CIN 3 $5 $0 $1.7 $1.5 -$0.2

While they weren't quite as ragamuffin as the Dolphins or Cardinals, few O-lines needed an injection of youth and talent quite as badly as the Giants. Geoff Schwartz should fit the bill if he keeps up the strong work that characterized his second half in KC. While his DVP average is deceiving due to limited playing time over the last there seasons, Schwartz was one of 2013's best guards on a per-snap basis.

It's hard to know what you're going to get from Zane Beadles, which isn't what you want when handing out $13 million guaranteed.

Another club desperate to shore up its offensive front, Jacksonville dropped some serious coin on Zane Beadles. While Beadles looked like a world-beater in 2012, that campaign was sandwiched between a pair of shoddy pass-blocking seasons. It's hard to know what you're going to get from Beadles at this stage, which isn't the sentiment you want when you're handing $13 million guaranteed to an interior lineman.

Jon Asamoah seemed to get set aside in favor of Geoff Schwartz down the stretch in Kansas City last season, but Asamoah's raw physicality has helped him grade out strongly in each of the last three seasons. He should be a good fit for an Atlanta bunch in need of serious punch in the run game.

Centers

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Joe Hawley ATL ATL 2 TBD TBD TBD 1.7 TBD
Joe Berger MIN MIN 1 TBD TBD TBD 1.3 TBD

The center market has yet to really develop, with the Falcons and Vikings re-upping guys who will ideally fill part-time or swing interior roles. The big fish like Evan Dietrich-Smith and Alex Mack have yet to bite.

Tight Ends

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Jimmy Graham NO NO 1 $7 $7 $7 9.8 $2.8
Dennis Pitta BAL BAL 5 $32 $16 $6.4 2 -$4.4
Jeff Cumberland NYJ NYJ 3 $3.7 $1 $1.2 1.6 $0.4
Brandon Myers NYG TB 2 $4 TBD $2 2.4 $0.4
Clay Harbor JAC JAC 2 $3 TBD $1.5 1.6 $0.1
Michael Hoomanawanui NE NE 2 TBD TBD TBD 1.4 TBD
Jake Ballard ARI ARI 1 TBD TBD TBD 1.9 TBD

The position's biggest name got slapped with the tag early, leading to debate about exactly which position he plays. Jimmy Graham is currently looking at a $7 million payday under the tight end designation, but his agent is arguing that Graham's frequently-flexed alignment is more in tune with the wide receiver position and that position's $12 million franchise tag figure.

Dennis Pitta showed enough in his return from surgery -- and the Ravens' passing game showed little enough in his absence -- that the Baltimore front office didn't hesitate to hand him $16 million guaranteed to keep him in purple and black.

Wide Receivers

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Riley Cooper PHI PHI 5 $25 $10 $5 $1.8 -$3.2
Anquan Boldin SF SF 2 $12 $5.5 $6 $6.3 $0.3
Dexter McCluster KC TEN 3 $12 $4.5 $4 $0.7 -$3.3
Andre Roberts ARI WAS 4 $16 TBD $4 $1 -$3
Jeremy Maclin PHI PHI 1 $5.5 TBD $5.5 $1.9 -$3.6
Andre Caldwell DEN DEN 2 $3.4 TBD $1.7 $0.4 -$1.3
Kevin Ogletree DET DET 1 TBD TBD TBD $0.8 TBD
Santana Moss WAS WAS 1 TBD TBD TBD $1.8 TBD

Riley Cooper exceeded many expectations just by staying on the Eagles in 2013 following his widely-reported concert gaffe, and he exceeded everyone's expectations from a production standpoint as he continually hooked up with Nick Foles for big gains en route to a 47/835/8 campaign. But is one pretty OK year the stuff of five year, $25 million deals? Maybe Chip Kelly just wanted to get his shopping done early at the position, as the Eagles also re-upped Jeremy Maclin on a one-year "prove it" deal. Again, $5.5 million is a tidy sum to pay someone while they're proving things. Philly could end up with one of the league's stoutest receiving groups in 2014, but they're paying a lot of coin for some question marks.

DVP darling Anquan Boldin re-upped for another $6 million bump n' grind season with the 49ers. He may see even fewer opportunities in 2014 with Michael Crabtree returning to full health, but if he's able to approach 2013's outstanding efficiency then he'll provide the 49ers with a solid return on their investment.

The cap went up by a surprising $10 million in 2014, but does that mean it's open season to drop $4 million per on so-so slot types? The Titans and Redskins certainly thought so as they showered riches on Dexter McCluster and Andre Roberts.

Running Backs

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Toby Gerhart MIN JAC 3 $10.5 $4.5 $3.5 $2.2 -$1.3
Joique Bell DET DET 3 $9.3 $4.3 $3.1 $4.3 $1.2
Donald Brown IND SD 3 $10.5 $4 $3.5 $4 $0.5
Darren McFadden OAK OAK 1 $2 TBD $2 $1.9 -$0.1
Rashad Jennings OAK NYG 2 TBD TBD TBD $1.5 TBD
Ahmad Bradshaw IND IND 1 TBD TBD TBD $3.7 TBD
Peyton Hillis NYG NYG 2 $1.8 TBD $0.9 $2.3 $1.4

A position that figured to have the coldest market in the league managed to generate some heat on day one, predictably led by ... Toby Gerhart??? In fairness, Gerhart did put up some eye-popping per-touch stats when stepping in for AP last season, and the Jags must figure he's a strong compliment to scatback types like Jordan Todman and Denard Robinson.

The Lions rewarded one of the league's quiet assassins in ponying up a three-year deal for Joique Bell. Though Bell has yet to seize a starring role, he's proven equally adept as a punishing runner and slick backfield receiver during his time in Detroit, and the duration and dollars on his new deal could mean Reggie Bush is unlikely to be calling Motown home in 2015.

What looked to be an effective one-two punch in Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead added ... a third punch? The Chargers obviously liked what they saw from Donald Brown's resurgent 2013, though like many they may have been overly impressed simply because they were comparing him to the Boris Karloff stylings of Trent Richardson. Brown showed some solid skills last season, but paying above-average money to make a guy part of a three-man rotation is seldom an efficient way to spend money.

The fortunes of the 2013 Raiders' backfield diverged, as Rashad Jennings heads cross-country to (presumably) lead the Giants backfield while Run HMO DMC gets one more shot at glory by the Bay. McFadden's deal apparently starts at $1.75 million with the potential to earn up to $4 million through playing time incentives ... so let's be generous and call it $2 million.

Quarterbacks

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Matt Cassel MIN MIN 2 $10 $0 $5 3.2 -$1.8

Here's another market that has yet to develop, and it may not end up developing at all due to the paucity of attractive options. Matt Cassel and his agent were not slow to recognize this dynamic, and their wager in voiding the last year of his deal with the Vikes paid off as Cassel bagged a new two year, $10 million contract.

Interior D-linemen

Old Team New Team Years TCA TGM AAV 2011-2013 DVP Past Performance Surplus
Paul Soliai MIA ATL 5 $32 $14 $6.4 $1.2 -$5.2
Linval Joseph NYG MIN 5 $31.5 $- $6.3 $2.5 -$3.8
Tyson Jackson KC ATL 5 $25 $- $5 $1.9 -$3.1
Earl Mitchell HOU MIA 4 $16 $9 $4 $1.2 -$2.8
Clinton McDonald SEA TB 4 $12 $- $3 $2.4 -$0.6
Jonathan Babineaux ATL ATL 3 $9 $- $3 $2.5 -$0.5
Chris Baker WAS WAS 3 $9 $4 $3 $0.6 -$2.4
Jay Ratliff CHI CHI 2 $4 $0.6 $2 $1.4 -$0.6
Corey Peters ATL ATL 1 $1 $- $1 $1.2 $0.2
Nate Collins CHI CHI 1 $- $- $- $0.6 $0.6
Fili Moala IND IND 1 $- $- $- $1.2 $1.2
Frostee Rucker ARI ARI 2 $- $- $- $2.5 $2.5

The central maxim that NFL success comes from how well you pass and how well you stop the pass seems as though it was lost on several teams, who fell all over themselves to drop major dollars on interior linemen with limited pass-rush chops. You'd think a season of getting completely savaged through the air would have had the Falcons yearning for pass rushers, but instead they dropped almost $60 million on a pair of Easter Island statues in Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson. Sure, they got beaten up by the run as well, but you have to be historically bad against the run before you start prioritizing that over pass defense.

You'd think the Falcons would be yearning for pass rushers, but instead they dropped almost $60 million on a pair of Easter Island statues

At least Linval Joseph, the Vikings' newest addition, offers the kind of athleticism required to get after the QB on the interior. That said, he just doesn't actually ACCOMPLISH it all that often. To be fair, he got double-teamed a good bit as other parts of the Giants' front declined, and he'll make a potentially dynamic duo with young Sharif Floyd. It would just be nice to get a little more tangible production for your $30 million, is all.

Earl Mitchell offers an athletic upgrade on the departing Soliai, but the Dolphins won't even tread water at the position once Randy Starks makes his expected departure. The Bucs hope they got a bargain in Clinton McDonald, and they will have if his production in Tampa equals what he put together during his stay in Seattle. Few environments encourage defensive production as effectively as Seattle under Pete Carroll, but hopefully teaming up with Gerald McCoy and the newly-acquired Michael Johnson will help McDonald thrive in his new digs.

Edge Defenders

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Greg Hardy CAR CAR 1 $13.1 $13.1 $13.1 $7.6 -$5.5
Michael D. Johnson CIN TB 5 $43.8 $24 $8.8 $4 -$4.8
Everson Griffen MIN MIN 5 $42.5 $20 $8.5 $3.5 -$5
Michael Bennett SEA SEA 4 $28.5 $16 $7.1 $7.6 $0.5
Lamarr Houston OAK 5 $35 $15 $7 $6.8 -$0.2
Brian Orakpo WAS WAS 1 $11.5 $11.5 $11.5 $4.7 -$6.8
Jason Worilds PIT PIT 1 $9.8 $9.8 $9.8 $3.4 -$6.4
Red Bryant SEA JAC 4 $17 $- $4.3 $2 -$2.3
O'Brien Schofield SEA 2 $8 $- $4 $1.1 -$2.9

Sure looks like that soft market for pass rushers in 2013 is a thing of the past, huh? The league watched savvy bargain shopping in a down D-line market make a major impact on the Seahawks' Super Bowl fortunes, and there seems to be a consensus not to let able pass rushers go cheaply this time around.

The Panthers didn't even want to consider how much a rush-hungry market might pony up for a guy of Greg Hardy's pedigree, so they promptly tagged him despite the eye-popping $13.1 million cap hit.

The Bengals' Michael Johnson was widely considered the top end on the board once Hardy got tagged, and it didn't take the rush-starved Buccaneers long to make him an offer he couldn't refuse. While Johnson has been an impressive all-around end over the last few seasons, it's hard to say that he's brought it at the level that typically commands $24 million in guaranteed dollars.

The Vikes' Everson Griffen may boast an even more tantalizing skill set, but he also carries a limited resume that makes you scratch your head at Minnesota's high-dollar offer. Griffen may well become one of the league's elite now that Jared Allen is departing, but that's lot of coin.

One discount year was all the Seahawks were going to get out of Michael Bennett, but they gladly cleared the cap space to re-up their most versatile up-front defender. A similarly-skilled big end in Lamarr Houston will get his shot to replace a legend in Julius Peppers, though his role may echo some of the inside-outside work that Israel Idonije did in 2011 and 2012 for the Bears.

On the 3-4 side of the street, the franchise tag was swiftly applied to prevent a potentially lucrative market from forming for young weakside rushers Brian Orakpo and Jason Worilds.

Linebackers

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Karlos Dansby ARI CLE 4 $24 $12 $6 TBD TBD
D'Qwell Jackson CLE IND 4 $22 $11 $5.5 TBD TBD
Donald Butler SD SD 3 $19.8 $11.1 $6.6 TBD TBD
Perry Riley WAS WAS TBD TBD TBD TBD TBD TBD
D.J. Williams CHI CHI 1 $- $- $- TBD TBD
Adam Hayward TB WAS 3 $3 $0.3 $1 TBD TBD

*Note - the linebacker DVP model is undergoing some revisions

The top of the linebacker market was a game of musical chairs, as D'Qwell Jackson departed Cleveland for Indianapolis and Karlos Dansby left the Cardinals to take his place. Considering the similarity of their deals, the Browns got the better end of this one. Dansby is a little older, but he's still a more athletic and far more versatile player than Jackson. The Browns' defense could be one to watch in 2014.

Re-ups were the order of the day for much of the linebacker group. Donald Butler will continue to anchor the interior of the Chargers' defense, while underwhelming but still-needed talents in Perry Riley and D.J. Williams proved more attractive to their clubs than rolling the dice on a newcomer.

Cornerbacks

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Aqib Talib NE DEN 6 $57 $25.5 $9.5
Vontae Davis IND IND 4 $39 $20 $9.8 $1.5 -$8.3
Alterraun Verner TEN TB 4 $26.5 $14 $6.6 $8.8 $2.2
Sam Shields GB GB 4 $39 $12.5 $9.8 $3.1 -$6.7
Eric Wright SF SF 1 $- $- $- $2.1 $2.1
Trumaine McBride NYG NYG 2 $3.1 $- $1.6 $1.8 $0.3
Will Blackmon JAC JAC 2 $1.9 $0.5 $1 $0.5 -$0.5
Danny Gorrer TB TB 1 $- $- $- $0.4 $0.4

It's a pass-happy league, and the market for guys who can slow down the aerial assault figures to contain some fireworks. The opening night of free agency didn't disappoint, as big deals came down to keep Vontae Davis and Sam Shields with their current clubs, while others lured Aqib Talib and Alterraun Verner to new digs..

Talib headlined the bunch, which is what tends to happen when you set an all-time record for guaranteed money at a position. There's no doubting Talib's physical skills, and he showed plenty of shutdown chops in the first half of 2013 before battling injuries down the stretch. He'll anchor the Broncos' secondary while they wait for Chris Harris to recover from ACL surgery, though the loss of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could mean that the net impact won't be tremendous.

Davis is an unquestioned talent, but his production has been spotty at best. DVP doesn't necessarily credit him for the hard work of matching up with opposing No. 1 wideouts on a frequent basis, but his production still seems to be lacking for a guy who's commanding nearly $10 million per annum. The less-heralded Verner can actually make a much stronger production case, and the Buccaneers may find that they don't miss the departing Darrelle Revis all that much with Verner in the fold. The Packers moved to lock up Shields before free agency got underway, and he joins Davis as a physically toolsy guy whose production comes and goes. At his new price tag, the Packers best hope that it stays and stays strong.

Safeties

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Jairus Byrd BUF NO 6 $54 $28 $9 TBD TBD
Donte Whitner SF CLE 4 $28 $- $7 TBD TBD
Antoine Bethea IND SF 4 $26 $- $6.5 TBD TBD
Michael Mitchell CAR PIT 5 $25 $- $5 TBD TBD
T.J. Ward CLE DEN 4 $23 $14 $5.8 TBD TBD
Malcolm Jenkins NO PHI 3 $16.3 $8.5 $5.4 TBD TBD
Stevie Brown NYG NYG 1 $- $- $- TBD TBD
Husain Abdullah KC KC 2 $- $- $- TBD TBD

*Note - The DVP model for safeties is currently undergoing revision

In some seasons, it's a market afterthought, but day one saw a ton of high-dollar action at the safety position. Jarius Byrd didn't quite hit his stated $10 million AAV target, but he came close enough as the Saints absolutely rained cash on him to lure him to the Big Easy. He could significantly enhance an already strong Saints' pass defense in tandem with Kenny Vaccaro. New Orleans just needs to hope that a guy who's always had compensation at the forefront of his mind stays motivated with $28 million in the bank.

Donte Whitner can afford name changes, fines or anything else that his heart desires after landing a big-league payday from the Browns. He'll add a hard-hitting and versatile component to the Browns' already-salty D, but he may struggle to equal what the departed T.J. Ward brought to the table. The Broncos' deal with Ward looked good based on his prior production, and it looked even better by days' end as wild dollars rained down on the safety position.

The 49ers dropped a good portion of those dollars in order to replace Whitner with ex-Colt Antoine Bethea. Bethea has been a steady and consistent presence. He hasn't shown the kind of top-end skills that you'd normally associate with close to $6 million per, but joining a top-notch defense can bring out the best in many players. The Steelers are betting on youth and speed in bringing Mike Mitchell aboard to replace the aging Ryan Clark. He'll join a terrific partner in Troy Polamalu, but the Steeler faithful may be wondering if they've purchased a one-year wonder.

That wraps it up for our recap of a tremendously active first day of 2014 free agency. While you've been reading this, it's likely that another dozen deals have gone down.

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