There are two ways of looking at free agent signings in the NFL. If you’re a fan, it’s pretty exciting to see your team adding brand new players to the roster. The more name recognition those players have makes it even better. When another team does the same thing, they are clearly making a mistake, the second coming of the 2011 Eagles “Dream Team.”
If this spectrum of free agency reactions were represented on a line, there’d be a larger middle part where not every decision looks like it was made by Dan Snyder.
In 2016, the Giants defense thrived with the help of free agents Janoris Jenkins and Olivier Vernon. Atlanta made smart, targeted, and expensive moves last year to fill gaps, and that worked pretty well for them, except for blowing a 25-point lead at the worst possible time in the history of the sport.
Maybe this year’s moves will work. Maybe they won’t. In the meantime, all we can do is assign them letter grades.
Jets sign CB Morris Claiborne
The Cowboys are going to have to do some work to replenish the secondary after losing Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne in free agency. Claiborne is a solid addition for the Jets at a position of need, as long as he remains healthy. That hasn’t been his forte.
Raiders sign TE Jared Cook
Cook gives Derek Carr another big receiving target, and it’s a smart signing for Oakland. The Raiders have a dynamic receiving corps, but lacked a quality tight end. As long as Cook can stay healthy, he should be a great addition to the Raiders’ produtive offense.
Ravens sign CB Brandon Carr
His contributions may not always show up on the stat sheet, but Carr is a versatile defensive back who can play on either side of the field or in the slot. The Ravens needed to upgrade the secondary, and already did so when they brought in safety Tony Jefferson from the Cardinals. Carr isn’t a splashy playmaker, but he is a solid veteran addition.
Falcons sign DT Dontari Poe
During the Falcons’ Super Bowl run, the team’s young and speedy defense found a rhythm in the latter half of the year. Still, the team finished near the bottom of the NFL in total defense and bolstering the unit is top priority. Adding nearly 350 pounds to the middle of the defensive line is a great way to start and will benefit all aspects of the Atlanta defense.
Vikings sign RB Latavius Murray
Minnesota struggled to run the ball in Adrian Peterson’s absence during the 2016 season, so on the surface, the addition of another big, powerful running back makes sense. But even when Peterson was on the field, the team couldn’t run because the real problem was the offensive line.
A three-year, $15 million deal with Murray doesn’t break the bank, but it will go to waste if the Vikings don’t find players who can pave the way for their new addition.
Patriots re-sign LB Dont’a Hightower
The Patriots aren’t messing around this offseason. Hightower was key to New England’s defensive success last year, and he’ll return to the Patriots despite generating interest from the Jets and Steelers on the open market. Hightower returns to New England on a four-year, $43.5 million deal with $19 million in guaranteed money.
Seahawks sign RB Eddie Lacy
It’s a low risk move for Seattle on a one-year deal that pays Lacy $5.55 million. That’s a lot of “China food.” Minutes after Lacy signed there were reports about his weight circulating. It’s something to keep an eye, but not as big of a question as his ability to stay healthy. Seattle already has Thomas Rawls, but there’s reason to wonder about his health too. C.J. Prosise is another good runner on the roster and another one who struggles with durability. Between the three of them, they ought to get 16 good games.
Now, who’s going to block for them?
Raiders sign WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson
Patterson wants a role in the offense, and he’ll get it as a third or fourth receiver in a productive offense. Also, think about those trick plays the Raiders can run with him. More importantly, Oakland gets one of the best return men in the NFL.
Rams sign CB Kayvon Webster
There just wasn’t any room on the depth chart in Denver for Webster to get his snaps. He’ll get plenty of them with the Rams who are desperate for cornerback help. At two years, $8 million, it’s the kind of low key signing that can turn out to be the best kind in free agency.
Eagles sign QB Nick Foles
I’m guess this was purely a financially motivated move since he comes a lot cheaper than Chase Daniels, who they signed to a three-year deal worth $21 million last year. Foles gets $11 million over two years with just $7 million guaranteed. And the Eagles only get $1 million in cap savings.
Chiefs sign DT Bennie Logan
They lost Dontari Poe, but got a capable replacement for a one-year deal worth $8 million. That’s not a bad way to do free agency. The only quibble I have is why just one year, which is great for Logan, but could leave the Chiefs looking to replace that position again.
Lions sign G T.J. Lang
Detroit made a nice investment to upgrade its offensive line this month. Lang gives them a mauler on the inside who helps keep the pocket clean and gets push in the run game. It doesn’t hurt that they also stole him away from the Packers. The downside here is that they have $19 million guaranteed to a 30-year old who had foot and hip surgeries this year.
Patriots trade a first- and third-round pick to the Saints for WR Brandin Cooks
If you think about it, the Patriots average of 27.6 points per game was their lowest offensive output since 2009. Sure, they won a Super Bowl, again, but they could be better. Now, they’re better, A LOT better.
Cooks and Chris Hogan on the outside. Rob Gronkowski anywhere he wants to be. Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Dion Lewis, James White and the newly acquired Dwayne Allen. Good luck stopping that!
Packers sign TE Martellus Bennett
Why settle for Jared Cook when you can have Martellus Bennett? This is a great move for the Packers, a big upgrade at the position and a dynamic receiver who gives their offense more punch in the middle of the field. The Packers don’t sign a lot of free agents, but it seems like when they do, they make it count.
They’ll still have to do something about that defense.
Washington signs WR Terrelle Pryor
It’s a little surprising that Pryor has to settled for a one-year, $6 million deal to prove himself. He did manage to top 1,000 yards with the Browns last year, despite a rotation of bad quarterbacks. It could be a steal for Washington, looking to fill the void left by DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon’s departure ... assuming the organizational dysfunction doesn’t spill over to the field.
Patriots acquire DE Kony Ealy and a third-round pick from the Panthers in a trade for a second-round pick
Don’t judge the deal by the rounds, New England is only moving down eight spots. And in return, they get a former second-round pick who had a huge game in the Super Bowl last year. He’s been a disappointment other than that, but the Patriots have a knack for turning those players around.
Colts sign DL Jabaal Sheard
Indianapolis has a lot of work to do on defense. Signing a mid-level pass rusher like Sheard is a good move toward that. Three years, $25.5 million with $12.75 guaranteed for a guy who picked up 13 sacks in two years with the Patriots. He’s also a solid presence defending the run.
Vikings sign RT Mike Remmers
Everyone remembers Remmers for his struggles when he started at right tackle for the Panthers in the Super Bowl (it didn’t help that Carolina didn’t bother to send an extra blocker to assist), but he’s a solid right tackle. The Vikings scooped up Reiff and Remmers in 24 hours, not a bad haul. This was their biggest need.
Panthers sign FS Mike Adams and DE Julius Peppers
Peppers returns to Carolina where they can use some depth for their pass rushers. He had 7.5 sacks last season, so even at 37, he can be effective in a situational role.
Adams is another old-timer — he turns 36 this month — but he’s a good one. He had 12 picks over the last three seasons with the Colts. You probably didn’t notice because, lol, Colts defense. They needed veterans in the secondary.
Dolphins sign LB Lawrence Timmons
I’m not exactly sure what the 31-year old linebacker brings to the table at this point, other than a part-timer. But at two years, $12 million, with $11 million guaranteed, the Dolphins probably don’t intend for him to be a in part-time role.
Bears sign CB Prince Amukamara
Another season, another one-year deal for the former first-round pick who’s struggled with injuries his entire career. He’s a steady enough corner who can start, that’s not a bad thing for the Bears.
Titans sign CB Logan Ryan
The Titans lost out on the A.J. Bouye sweepstakes, but they were still able to land one of the top cornerbacks on the free agent market — and at a cheaper price (three years, $30 million).
Ryan earned his payday after developing into a starter in his final two years with the Patriots. The Titans needed secondary help, and even if Ryan wasn’t as highly coveted as Bouye or new Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore, this is still a solid pickup.
Chargers sign Russell Okung
Four years and $53 million seems expensive based on Okung’s performance in Denver last year, but if the Chargers can keep him on the field, he can be an effective blocker again.
Ravens re-sign DT Brandon Williams
We don’t usually include players re-signing with their team on this list, but Williams is a useful exception. It looked like he would for sure get away, but the Ravens kept the centerpiece of their defensive line in-house with a five-year$54 million deal with $27.5 million guaranteed. Dontari Poe can expect a similar deal.
Jaguars sign CB A.J. Bouye
It wasn’t cheap, but boy oh boy does the Jacksonville secondary look fun with Bouye paired with Jalen Ramsey. Bouye turns 26 in August and Ramsey turns 23 in October, so the Jaguars don’t look like they’ll be worried about the cornerback position for a long time.
Is Bouye worth the $67.5 million he’ll be making over the next five years? He looked like it in 2016, but that was his only year as a starter.
Seahawks sign OT Luke Joeckel
The former No. 2 overall pick didn’t live up to his draft status in four seasons with the Jaguars. He dealt with injuries, but mostly just didn’t play very well and was eventually kicked inside to guard when the team signed Kelvin Beachum.
But it’s a one-year deal that makes sense for the Seahawks and doesn’t break the bank. Even though he didn’t live up to his blind side protector promise in Jacksonville, he’s an upgrade for a Seattle offensive line that badly needs one.
Vikings sign OT Riley Reiff
Minnesota was desperate for offensive linemen, and they found one. He can play either side, and with Matt Kalil gone, he’ll probably start on the left.
Eagles sign WR Alshon Jeffery
The most notable thing about Jeffery signing with the Eagles is that he did so on a one-year deal. It’s worth $14 million so it’s not a cheap deal for Philadelphia, but it means Jeffery will be playing for what he hopes will be an even bigger contract in 2018.
Coupled with Torrey Smith, this is a deal the Eagles can definitely feel good about for the 2017 season and the development of Carson Wentz. The concern is whether or not Jeffrey will be able to stay healthy for an entire season.
Texans solve their Brock Osweiler problem by trading him to the Browns
Well, here’s one you didn’t see coming this week! Maybe we should have. The Texans made a huge mistake with the Osweiler deal last year, and by the end of the season it was pretty apparent that Bill O’Brien knew that too. They had to do something about it, but given that contract the Texans couldn’t just cut him without a massive cap hit.
A trade seemed unlikely because who else would want Osweiler after watching his film from 2016? Turns out the Browns did! And they might have been the perfect landing spot for him. They have the cap space — more than $100 million to start the offseason — to do it. Even if they do end up releasing him, which is now a possibility, they can still eat the cap space. Essentially, what they’re doing is buying a second-round pick by taking a big problem off the Texans’ hands.
Cleveland gets: Osweiler & his deal contract, a second-round pick in 2018 and a sixth-round pick this year.
Houston gets: A fourth-round pick this year and saves $10 million in salary-cap space and $16 million in cash.
More importantly, Houston gets the cap room to make a move for Tony Romo.
Grade: Give both teams an A for creativity. If Houston can’t land Romo for some reason, I’d drop them to a B, because at least they made Osweiler someone else’s problem.
Titans agree to terms with S Johnathan Cyprien
Cyprien is staying in the AFC South, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He’s fine, an upgrade at a position of need for the Titans, but not the kind of free agent that changes the shape of a team or anything.
Cardinals sign S Antoine Bethea
At 32, it’s legit to wonder if he can be effective, but going from the dumpster fire in San Francisco to talented outfit like this could be just what he needs. He replaces Tony Jefferson.
Browns sign C J.C. Tretter
The Browns could’ve had a good interior line had they just hung onto Alex Mack, but they didn’t. Tretter helps paste over that mistakes and gives them a real tough center who should do wonders for the run game. Combine this with the decision to re-sign guard Joel Bitonio (who got a $51 million deal despite injury concerns), and the Browns have reason to be optimistic about their line this year and beyond.
Broncos agreed to terms with G Ronald Leary
You can make a pretty good case that the Broncos trash offensive line was the reason they didn’t make it back to the playoffs this year. This is a good first step toward fixing that. And, hey, maybe he’ll be reunited with his old pal Tony Romo from Dallas.
Washington agreed to terms with DT Terrell McClain
McClain is being rewarded for this healthiest season in a long time. But he’s more of solid starter than a game-changer, and Washington defense needs game-changers. The most interesting part of this deal will be to see what kind of money he’s getting now that front office infighting has made Bruce Allen the de facto GM again.
Saints agree to terms with Ted Ginn, Jr.
If the team does end up trading Brandin Cooks, and it sounds like they will, Ginn gives them another deep threat, though probably not a guy who can pull out a 1,000-yard season like Cooks.
Rams sign WR Robert Woods
Woods is getting $39 million for a five-year deal with the Rams, with just $15 million guaranteed. If you consider that deal alongside the $42 million contract, with a stunning $28.5 million guaranteed, the Rams gave Tavon Austin last year, the team now has more than $80 million committed to a pair of role playing receivers, neither one of whom has topped 700 yards in a season.
Woods will see his share of work in the passing game, but the Rams need a true No. 1 receiver, especially after letting Kenny Britt walk.
Eagles and WR Torrey Smith agree to terms
It’s a three-year, $15 million deal, which could end up being one of the biggest steals in free agency this year. It gives Carson Wentz a veteran speedster at a fraction of the cost it would’ve taken to land DeSean Jackson.
Patriots agree to terms with CB Stephon Gilmore
Gilmore’s deal with the Patriots is expected to be in the neighborhood of $14 million per season, which is about on par with what the market’s top cornerback was expected to get. We’ve seen the Patriots make a play for the market’s top corner before when they signed Darrelle Revis to a two-year deal for $32 million. That one was effectively a one-year deal with $12 million the first season and a $20 million option for the second that the team declined.
Anyway, this makes their secondary one of the best in the AFC, enough to rival Denver. The thing to keep an eye on now are the reports of a potential trade brewing with the Saints that would send their other starting corner, Malcolm Butler, to New Orleans in exchange for WR Brandin Cooks.
Rams will sign LT Andrew Whitworth
The Rams needed o-line help bad enough to sign a 35-year old left tackle to a three-year, $36 million contract with $15 million guaranteed. Whitworth did make two All-Pro teams in his last two seasons, and has only missed two starts in his last eight years. He was the best left tackle available this year.
Draft bust Greg Robinson will likely move inside to guard. The right tackle job can go to either Rodger Saffold or Rob Havenstein. The Rams have been trying to build a viable offensive line since Orland Pace left a decade ago. This gets them a competent option for protecting their investment in Jared Goff.
Buccaneers agree to terms with WR DeSean Jackson
To compete in the NFC South right now, you have to be able to keep pace with the Falcons offense. Adding Jackson helps the Bucs accomplish that by giving them a dynamic speedster to pair with Mike Evans.
Browns will sign WR Kenny Britt
Four years, $32.5 million for Britt, who posted his first 1,000-yard season at age 29. The good news for the Browns is that he did that with Case Keenum and Jared Goff throwing him the ball, so he should get better QB play even with the Browns’ relatively low standards in that department.
What makes this deal a bad one is that it likely means the Browns are moving on from Terrelle Pryor. They reportedly balked at a rate starting at $10 million per season, but they also spurned one of the few players who expressed a desire to play in Cleveland, not to mention a 27-year-old talented receiver who posted his own first 1,000-yard season with the Browns rotating cast of signal callers.
This is how the Browns stay the Browns.
Bears expected to sign QB Mike Glennon
A three-year deal averaging almost $15 million per season for an immobile pocket passer with limited upside really isn’t as bad as it sounds. That’s at the low end of the pay scale for starting quarterbacks, at least the ones who aren’t still playing on a rookie deal. And it’s clear that this is just a temporary solution. Chicago still plans to draft a quarterback.
Maybe they’ll save enough money to re-sign Alshon Jeffery.
Free agency doesn’t start until 4 p.m. ET on March 9, but you can be forgiven for any confusion you had watching the free agency scoops drop from morning until night the day before that.
Most of the deals struck prior to the official start of the league year are of the “agreed in principle” variety, i.e. teams and players have the details all worked out, they just can’t sign any dotted lines until the league blows the whistle.
Giants sign WR Brandon Marshall
The Giants had a really good run through free agency last year, picking up players like Jenkins and Vernon to round out their defensive needs, versus, say, trying to make over the roster entirely in free agency. This is a similar move.
Odell Beckham Jr. is clearly the No. 1 guy still. Marshall gives them a really good No. 2 who helps create more mismatches for Odell, he’s an upgrade over Victor Cruz, and he gives Eli Manning another big target.
It was a two-year deal worth reportedly just $12 million. I would have assumed Marshall, even at 32, could’ve had more money.
49ers agree to terms with QB Brian Hoyer, WR Marquise Goodwin, and FB Kyle Juszczyk. They’re expected to sign WR Pierre Garcon on Thursday afternoon too.
The 49ers were scheduled to start the league year with no quarterbacks on the roster and no real offensive playmaking talent either. So it’s not surprising to see them sweep up four players right off the bat, especially the two players — Hoyer and Garcon — that coach Kyle Shanahan already knows well.
At least they seem to have realistic expectations about who Hoyer is: a backup. Kyle Shanahan reportedly suggested as much. It’s a two-year deal, which supports that. Now, the Niners can draft a quarterback and develop him on the bench behind Hoyer, if they so choose. Or, perhaps more likely, use Hoyer to keep Kirk Cousins’s seat warm until 2018.
Contract values for Garcon and Goodwin haven’t been reported as of press time. It’s likely the team views Goodwin as a role-playing fourth receiver/speed guy. Garcon isn’t a No. 1 receiver in the traditional sense of the position, but he’s a reliable pass catcher who led Washington in receptions and yards last season.
The one I don’t get is Juszczyk. Sure, he catches more passes than your average fullback, but they just made him the highest-paid fullback in the NFL at four years, $21 million, with $10.5 million guaranteed. An average of $5.25 million per year for a position that’s all but eliminated in the modern game.
Grade: B ... and a D for the fullback signing
There was a time when Allen looked like he could be one of those rare tight ends who could block and be a matchup threat, but he’s mostly been a disappointment since his rookie season. In New England, he’ll be a role player, replacing the departing Martellus Bennett as the second tight end on the roster, behind Gronk.
The Bills signed TWO fullbacks: Mike Tolbert and Patrick DiMarco.
Whoever said fullbacks were irrelevant would be really confused by all the road graders getting scooped up on Wednesday. DiMarco is the blocker, and the Bills committed $8.5 million for a four-year deal with him. Tolbert’s deal is a one-year, $1 million flyer, so it’s not like they’ve tied up a bunch of money in two hulking backs.
Buffalo’s running game has LeSean McCoy to be the speedy home run threat. Now, they have some hosses for the short-yardage power side of the equation.
On the other hand, the Bills could have used this money to help address other needs and find fullback help somewhere else.
Jaguars agree to terms with S Barry Church and DE Calais Campbell.
Jacksonville won the offseason championship last year. The Jags are off to another strong start this year, and they won’t have Gus Bradley coaching the team, which should do wonders.
Church replaces departing free agent Johnathan Cyprien, and will be an upgrade at strong safety. Church signed a four-year deal reportedly worth more than $6 million per season.
Campbell was one of the better defensive linemen on the market this year. He’s a great addition to the Jaguars’ already loaded defensive line. Sure, he’ll be coming from a 3-4 to a 4-3, but he can play all over the line and should transcend the scheme. He’s a great addition, but almost feels like more of a luxury than a pure need for the Jags. I’d be more pumped as a fan than as an armchair general manager.
Lions agree in principle with RT Ricky Wagner.
There’s a new price point for right tackles this year, and it starts north of $9 million per season. Nobody else on the market is likely to get that kind of deal — a deal like the one Wagner got with the Lions. He was the best right tackle available. He’s an upgrade over departing Riley Reiff, especially as a pass blocker, and is a great bookend with second-year left tackle Taylor Decker.
Ravens agree to terms with S Tony Jefferson
Two years in a row now that the Ravens have scored a big free agent safety. Last year it was Eric Weddle. That move paid off, but inconsistent play from Lardarius Webb undercut the secondary. And with Matt Elam’s injuries and legal troubles, the Ravens had a major need here. This is the kind of safety tandem that can make a defense fearsome for opponents.
Panthers expected to sign LT Matt Kalil
It’s nice that he’ll get to play on the same line as his brother, Ryan, but the Panthers better hope the family reunion can get him to play better than he ever has since being drafted fourth overall by the Vikings in 2012.
A hip injury kept him sidelined for all but two games last year. He’s reportedly back to 100 percent.
Carolina is committed to reclamation projects for the left tackle spot. Michael Oher didn’t cut it after signing there in 2015. He still has two years left on his deal. Now, with Kalil, the Panthers are banking on an other first-round pick turning around his disappointing career.
Ravens agree to terms with RB Danny Woodhead
Woodhead and Joe Flacco on the same team? Is it possible to win 10 games with the league’s leader in grit and an #elite quarterback? I guess we’ll find out.