Barnwell's NFL free agency and trade grades
We’ll be grading the most notable NFL offseason moves — signings and trades — right here in March, so check this file for updates as the deals come in. Grades go all the way back to the Alex Smith deal before Super Bowl LII.
The most recent grades and write-ups are at the top.
Tuesday, March 13
Let’s take a minute and bow our heads for the folks who owned Derrick Henry in dynasty leagues. Henry looked to have a clear path to the No. 1 job in Tennessee after the Titans cut DeMarco Murray, but his time in the sun lasted all of five days. Mike Vrabel & Co. added another ex-Patriots running back to the fold in signing Lewis to a four-year, $20 million deal with $11.5 million in guarantees.
This is a logical 1A-1B punch at running back. Henry is a bruising power back, but he’s not much of a receiver. Lewis can do just about everything, but he can’t stay healthy. Give Henry and Lewis a 50-50 split of the snaps on early downs to keep Lewis fresh, give the former Eagles draftee most of the third-down reps, stick Henry in near the goal line, and you’ve got a functional rotation at halfback.
It does seem bizarre, though, that coaches and personnel men leave the Patriots and fail to notice how Bill Belichick rarely commits serious resources to running backs. The only running back to ever get a contract this big (after adjusting for cap inflation) with the Patriots was Corey Dillon, and even his five-year deal ended up turning into a mess and lasted two seasons. I wouldn’t doubt Lewis’ talent, but it’s telling that Belichick is confident he can always find another useful running back and his personnel tree doesn’t feel the same way.
You would be forgiven after reading about Lewis and Stewart linking up with prior bosses if you thought that the NFL was essentially a classmate reunion site masquerading as a football league. Pressed with the need to find a running back after Andre Brown, David Wilson, Peyton Hillis, Andre Williams, Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Orleans Darkwa, Paul Perkins, and Wayne Gallman failed to make the job their own for various reasons, general manager Dave Gettleman shockingly found that the best candidate happened to be a guy he knew from his old job.
Enter the longtime Panthers back Stewart, who averaged 3.4 yards per carry and had just one run over 20 yards (a 60-yard touchdown against the Vikings) last season. He did this behind an offensive line with arguably the best guard duo in football in Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell. The Giants’ have exactly one guard — John Jerry — who has taken an NFL snap on offense before. Stewart’s also a non-factor as a receiver and isn’t getting better there with age.
It’s possible that the soon-to-be-31-year-old Stewart has something left in the tank, but it’s difficult to believe that the league was beating down his door to the point where the Giants needed to guarantee him nearly $3 million on a two-year, $6.9 million pact. It would be more surprising for him to return to his old form than it would be for Darkwa or Gallman to outperform him with a fair shot in 2018.
If you were wondering whether Butler’s stock was going to be impacted by whatever happened during Super Bowl week, the answer is quite comfortably no. The former Super Bowl hero left New England for one of the many Patriots outposts around the league, as coach Mike Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson shelled out a mammoth deal to bring their second former Patriots cornerback to Tennessee. Butler will join Logan Ryan by virtue of a five-year, $61 million deal with about $30 million in guarantees.
It’s about where Butler would have come in even without the Super Bowl controversy, given that this is the ninth-largest maximum value in any five-year deal for any cornerback. Maybe Butler would have hit $65 million without anything notable happening in Minnesota, but it wouldn’t have been $70 million. The 5-foot-11 Butler lacks ideal height in a league in which every team wants their cornerbacks to be tall. He also struggled through a brutal 2017 campaign even before the Super Bowl, as the West Alabama product was the only Patriots defensive back who didn’t get better as the season went along.
I’m not surprised by the money, but the landing spot does seem strange. The Titans gave a three-year, $30 million deal to Ryan last year and then used a first-round pick on Adoree’ Jackson, who had a promising rookie season given how bad debuting cornerbacks usually perform. The Butler deal arguably leaves them overinvested at cornerback, and while the three-cornerback nickel package is essentially a base defense these days, nickel corners come far cheaper than Ryan or Butler (or require less draft capital than Jackson). Given that Ryan’s deal has less than $700,000 in dead money waiting in 2019, it seems plausible that this will be his last season in Tennessee.
Life is about compromises. If you’re willing to forego a couple of games per year and accept an almost pathological aversion to interceptions, Amukamara is an excellent cornerback. The former Giants first-round pick was an above-average starter for the Jags on a one-year deal in 2016, but his market failed to develop and he took a one-year deal to go play with the Bears. Amukamara then repeated the feat across from Kyle Fuller, but he was able to find a long-term home this time.
The Bears gave the 28-year-old Amukamara a three-year, $27 million deal to stick around in Chicago and play alongside Fuller for at least one more season, given that the Bears stuck their own former first-rounder with the transition tag. Injuries are the only real concern. Amukamara has missed 29 games as a pro with various maladies and has played just one full 16-game season (2013). It’s an identical max contract to the one Joe Haden received from the Steelers, but that was in August as opposed to the rush of free agency in February. Haden is the better player of the two, but Amukamara is a solid cornerback and source of on-field stability for a young secondary and a defense which could be about to rise up.
After the Jaguars stole away the Texans’ nickel cornerback by handing out a massive deal to A.J. Bouye last year, Houston has managed to return the favor. With Bouye and Jalen Ramsey forming the best one-two punch at cornerback in football, the Texans have stolen away a guy who played more than two-thirds of Jacksonville’s defensive snaps in 2017 by signing Colvin to a four-year, $34 million deal with $18 million guaranteed.
It’s not as big of a deal as the contract the Jags gave to Bouye, but I also think there’s less upside here. Colvin was a starter for the Jaguars in 2015, but struggled enough for Jacksonville to draft Ramsey and sign Prince Amukamara to take over as starting corners. When Amukamara left after 2016, the Jags signed Bouye as opposed to promoting Colvin back into the starting lineup.
The Texans sorely needed the help at cornerback, given that Johnathan Joseph is a free agent and Johnson has been alternately injured and ineffective over the last two seasons. He might profile best as a slot corner, but Colvin has the size (6-foot) to play on the outside, and teams have found some of the best free-agent signings in recent memory by promoting cornerbacks into bigger roles, with Bouye and Casey Hayward as two of the most recent examples. The Texans still need to address their offensive line, and Colvin could fail, but he’s a high-risk, high-reward addition at this price tag.
For the second year in a row, the Browns will attempt to improve their offensive line by stealing from an AFC North rival. After signing Kevin Zeitler last year, the Browns plugged the last remaining hole on their line by picking up Hubbard, who has served ably as a utility lineman for the Steelers while starting 14 games over the last two seasons. Hubbard’s five-year, $37.5 million deal guarantees him $18 million, which would be upper-echelon money for a right tackle, if not quite at the tier of Lane Johnson and Rick Wagner.
Ideally, Hubbard would replace Shon Coleman on the right side and form a pair of bookends with future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas on the left side. Things might not work out that way, given that the Browns are still waiting to hear from Thomas on whether he intends to retire. (Cleveland also added former Broncos tackle Donald Stephenson on a one-year deal, but Stephenson might not make the roster if Thomas comes back.) If Thomas does retire, Hubbard will likely move over to play left tackle, where his professional experience is limited to fill-in duty. The Browns could also draft a left tackle in April, but Hubbard should be a useful starter somewhere on this line in 2018.
There’s no quitting Bradford. The 2010 first overall pick has intoxicated organizations for nearly a decade with his alluring mix of checkdowns, flashes of brilliance, and knee injuries, and the latest stop on his run will be Arizona. It seems reasonable to note that Bradford still has to pass a physical, which might be more than nominal given that the Oklahoma star has what Mike Zimmer called a “degenerative” knee condition. At the same time, given the way the quarterback market appears to be shaking out, it seems to be Bradford or Bust for Arizona.
The last time we saw Bradford for any length of time was in 2016, when he had his best season as a pro behind a horrific offensive line in Minnesota. It was also a season in which he averaged 6.24 air yards per pass, which was last in the league and the second-lowest mark for any starting quarterback of the past decade. He looked excellent against the Saints in Week 1 of 2017, only to hit the shelf with a mysterious knee injury that limited him to one ugly half against the Bears a month later. Case Keenum picked up the slack and subsequently played like a Pro Bowler in Bradford’s absence.
Bradford will be joining an offense changing its stripes in Arizona, given that the downfield attack of Bruce Arians will presumably be replaced by a shorter scheme under new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. McCoy helped rebuild Philip Rivers‘ career by making a similar scheme change, and the Cardinals do have a series of useful underneath targets in Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson. He also has an offensive line which might remind Bradford of those 2016 Vikings.
Ideally, though, you don’t want to pay a guy who is going to throw the ball 6.5 yards down the field every play $20 million per year, which is what the Cardinals are doing with this two-year, $40 million contract. It seems incredible that Drew Brees is making only $5 million per year more than Bradford, but here we are. Arizona will be right up against the salary cap before having addressed its offensive line or signing Johnson and Markus Golden to extensions, which doesn’t seem ideal.
The most likely scenario is that the Cardinals draft a quarterback in the first round and use Bradford as a bridge quarterback to stay competitive while they develop him. Maybe that works out, but it’s also fair to wonder whether they would have been better off signing someone like Josh McCown for far less and using the savings to help out the line. Arizona is paying Bradford as if he provides a level of security when few quarterbacks in the league are less certain.
The highlight of Breeland’s career is still that Monday Night Football game against the Cowboys in 2014, when the then-rookie cornerback matched up against prime Dez Bryant and held him to three catches and 30 yards (with a touchdown, admittedly) on seven targets.
It looked like Breeland might blossom into a top-tier cornerback, especially after Washington made his life easier by signing Josh Norman before the 2016 season, but he never seemed to take that next step on a more consistent basis. By the end of his final year in Washington, Breeland was comfortably the team’s third-best cornerback behind Norman and Kendall Fuller, who is now in Kansas City.
The talent is certainly there with Breeland, and he has a reputation of being dedicated to the game of football, but it seemed by the end of his time in Washington that a change of scenery might suit all parties. The Panthers had a hole at cornerback after trading away Daryl Worley, and Breeland won’t be expected to serve as the No. 1 guy with James Bradberry on the opposite side of the field. For a guy who just turned 26 and has started 57 NFL games, the Panthers have to be happy they needed to guarantee only Breeland $11 million as part of a three-year, $24 million pact.
It seemed foolish for the Jets to turn their quarterback position over to McCown last year, given that he was turning 38 and the Jets were going nowhere, but he stayed healthy until December and delivered his best season since that incredible half-year with the Bears in 2012. New York promptly fired offensive coordinator John Morton after the season and promoted quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates to the job, so it’s perhaps no surprise that Gang Green was interested in bringing back McCown for another season after the Jets missed out on Kirk Cousins.
At one year and $10 million, McCown is a stopgap until the Jets figure out their long-term solution under center. If he plays the way he did last season, the Jets won’t regret the money, but McCown’s advancing age makes it reasonably dangerous that he’ll fall off a cliff and be unplayable. I’d be more concerned about the injuries, given that McCown has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career; it’s telling that McCown’s ability to make it through 13 games last season appeared to surpass the Jets’ expectations. It’s far more likely we’ll look back on this move and conclude the Jets overpaid McCown.
Now, let’s see what the Jets do next. Do they continue to go after Teddy Bridgewater and bring both Bridgewater and McCown to camp? Do they draft a quarterback with the sixth pick and develop him behind McCown? The move to bring back McCown is reasonable enough, but if this is the end of the offseason shopping list for the Jets under center, it’s a waste of time.
A former Jaguars rotation lineman, Smith was traded by the Jaguars last year and was quietly productive as a backup defensive end for the Bengals. He has a total of 7.5 sacks and 15 quarterback knockdowns across what amounts to a full season’s worth of snaps (669) for a rotation lineman, which is the role he should fill in Cleveland. The Browns have a promising set of pass-rushers in Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah, but nobody else on their roster has picked up more than three sacks in either 2016 or 2017. Smith isn’t about to turn into a superstar, but he should spell them both on the edge and could finally break the three-sack mark as a secondary rusher for Cleveland. His three-year, $14 million deal isn’t onerous in a market with precious few pass-rushers available.
The problem isn’t in signing Amendola, who proved during the postseason (as he seemingly does on an annual basis) that he can be an effective weapon for stretches of time. The Dolphins will spin the Amendola signing as bringing a veteran into their locker room with proven playoff experience who will improve their team culture, and in a vacuum, that’s a logical solution.
Everything else about this, though, is wrong. The Dolphins just spent significant money to bring in Albert Wilson, who profiled best as a replacement for Jarvis Landry in the slot. They’re in desperate salary-cap straits and are about to cut Ndamukong Suh to create room to get underneath the cap. The other move they’ll make is to trade or cut Ja’Wuan James, which will leave them bereft at three different starting spots along the offensive line. Miami is the guy who went to the repair shop because his car won’t start but just spent his last 35 bucks on air fresheners.
In the process, Miami is guaranteeing Amendola — who turns 33 in November, completed just one full season in five years with the Patriots, and had his pay cut below $2 million for each of his last three years with New England — $8.3 million as part of a two-year, $12 million pact. Last year, the Dolphins gave significant second-year guarantees to guys like Andre Branch and Lawrence Timmons with disastrous results; Branch is guaranteed $8 million and might be fourth on the defensive end depth chart, while the only reason the Dolphins will be able to get out of Timmons’ deal is because the former Steelers standout went missing in Week 1 and voided his guarantees.
Good organizations establish their own culture and draft and develop solutions at positions like slot receiver. Sometimes, as the Patriots did with Wes Welker, they find a talented young player lurking on the back of a team’s roster and acquire him as he’s on the upswing. Bad organizations are unable to trust their development abilities and pay premiums to go after players on the downside of their careers out of the hope that they can bring some magic success dust from their old homes.
In reality, the Dolphins should be looking at what the Patriots do instead of who they are. How often do the Patriots pay $6 million to the fourth wideout on their depth chart? How often do you hear New England leaking stories to the media about how their culture’s a mess to justify bad financial decisions? Amendola is a talented player, and maybe we’ll be sitting here in 12 months remarking on how the Dolphins changed their culture, mustered up most of an offensive line out of thin air, and managed to overcome giving away their best offensive and defensive player to add Robert Quinn and a bunch of wide receivers. It’s more likely we’ll be sitting here watching them burn through another pile of money.
The former USC product was drafted ahead of Jaguars teammate Allen Robinson, but Robinson and undrafted free agent Allen Hurns moved ahead of Lee on the depth chart. He looked like a wasted pick by 2016, but the second-rounder took advantage of an injury to Hurns to re-emerge as a useful possession receiver for Blake Bortles. Lee moved back into the starting lineup in 2017 and kept up his level of play, only to be slowed by a pair of high ankle sprains at the beginning and end of the season.
Few wideouts who work as far downfield as Lee do more after the catch. Twelve starting receivers averaged more than 5 yards after the catch over the past two years, and of those 12, only Julio Jones and Tyrell Williams caught their average pass farther downfield than Lee. The 26-year-old was also an effective return man in college and was excellent on 18 returns for the Jags in 2016, averaging 30.3 yards per attempt with a touchdown.
With Robinson leaving, Lee takes over as Jacksonville’s No. 1 wideout and will now be paid as such. The Jags re-signed him for four years and $36 million with $18 million guaranteed, which is a discount on what Robinson got but for a player with a much lower ceiling. As part of a receiving corps alongside Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole, Lee fills a logical piece of the receiving puzzle for Jacksonville, but it feels like it could have found a similarly productive wideout in June for a fraction of the cost.
Never let it be said that Cousins isn’t thinking about his fellow man. Minnesota’s new quarterback might have attempted to set a new precedent for top-tier players by planning to sign a three-year, $84 million deal that is fully guaranteed, the first top-tier, multiyear contract to be fully guaranteed in recent memory. If the league ends up moving to a structure in which players get smaller, more lucrative deals, we’ll look back on Cousins as a trailblazer.
It’s certainly a surprise given that Cousins’ issue in Washington was that the organization never wanted to commit to him on a long-term contract. When he had the opportunity to sign a five- or six-year offer, Cousins instead took a shorter-term deal that will have him either negotiating a new extension with the Vikings after the 2019 season or hitting free agency after the 2020 campaign. He also didn’t move the average annual salary needle significantly forward, given that his deal won’t reach $30 million per year. At $28 million per year, Cousins’ deal will narrowly top Jimmy Garoppolo‘s per-year average ($27.5 million), although both Garoppolo and Matthew Stafford will make more over the first three years of their new pacts.
Curiously, though, veteran quarterbacks with significant leverage like Cousins have less to gain from fully guaranteed short-term deals than players at just about any other position. He could have called his shot in free agency, signed with the Vikings, and come away with something like a five-year, $150 million deal with $80 million in guarantees. Cousins’ representation could have structured the deal in such a way to virtually ensure that he saw at least four years of that money, given that top-tier quarterbacks almost always make it to the next-to-last year in their deal. The Vikings wouldn’t have blinked.
It’s fair to say that most free-agent contracts are really one- or two-year deals with various team options tacked on the end, and that the Cousins contract is about sacrificing money to wipe away those unguaranteed team options at the end of the deal. It will be difficult for other players to follow this path, if only because they don’t have the sort of leverage Cousins did. The pocket quarterback attrition rate and career path makes it far friendlier to go year-to-year, as Cousins did, than it is at other positions.
It might become the new norm for quarterbacks, but think about a truly transcendent franchise player at another position: J.J. Watt. After making $9.3 million over the first three years of his rookie deal, Watt signed a six-year extension for $100 million to secure his future with the Texans. He’ll see at least $62.8 million of that extension before the Texans even consider parting ways with Watt, which would be after this season, bringing his earnings through the end of 2018 to $72.1 million.
If he had played out his rookie deal and then gone year-to-year in the hopes of maximizing his eventual free-agent deal with a fully guaranteed contract, Watt would have made just under $18 million over the first five years of his rookie deal. Even with two franchise tags in 2016 and 2017, Watt would have only come away with about $52.3 million through the end of 2017, at which point he likely would be hitting free agency having missed the last two seasons with serious injuries. Unless a team gave Watt $20 million up front for the 2018 season, the star defensive end would have looked back longingly at that long-term deal he passed up after 2013.
None of that is to say that what Cousins is doing is wrong, or that players should take the first guaranteed deal they’re offered by any team. The multiple-team-option structure is particularly friendly to teams and shouldn’t be the way things are in a league in which the attrition rate for players is impossibly high. Just as the Cousins scenario was the best possible outcome for a player betting on himself, though, the Watt contract was the best possible outcome for a player taking early guaranteed security.
Until we see otherwise, Cousins is less likely to change the market for players than he is to change it for veteran quarterbacks who have already made life-changing sums of money. After his first franchise tag, Cousins had made more than $22.5 million in the NFL. He might very well have taken a reasonable extension if Washington had offered one. Just as Tom Brady chose the privilege of taking below-market deals after making a fortune over his first three NFL contracts, quarterbacks like Cousins are likely to be the only ones who will have the leverage and the slow aging curve required to bet on themselves and wait to make this sort of deal.
As for the on-field fit, Cousins might not be an enormous upgrade on what Minnesota unexpectedly got out of Case Keenum last season. His numbers over the past three seasons are certainly in the same ballpark as Keenum’s 2017:
The difference, of course, is that Keenum had been an anonymous backup quarterback for most of his career before breaking out in an offense that had a solid running game, rarely forced him to throw while down multiple scores, and had two of the best wide receivers in football. There was nothing about Keenum’s performance that suggested an element of his play was a fluke, but the former Houston star was placed in a great situation to succeed and did so.
Cousins should offer a much higher floor, given that he’s been playing at this level for nearly three full seasons since the famous “You Like That?!” game against the Buccaneers. He has played with a solid offensive line in Washington and had useful receivers from Jamison Crowder to Chris Thompson alongside him, but the running game was a mess most of the time under Jay Gruden, ranking 32nd in DVOA in 2015 and 28th last season. (To be fair, they were fourth in 2016.)
Just as Keenum got a boost from playing in Minnesota, it would hardly be a surprise to see Cousins reach new heights, too. The coaching infrastructure should be sound, given that Minnesota blocked quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski from leaving and replaced Pat Shurmur with highly regarded Philadelphia quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. The receivers aren’t going anywhere. Running back Dalvin Cook will be back in the fold. For the first time in years, the Vikings had a solid offensive line in pass protection. This is a stacked team, and Cousins locks in the Vikings as one of the three favorites to come out of the NFC.
The only downside is that the Cousins deal might not allow them to keep everyone from that team around. The Vikings have a bevy of budding young stars entering the final years of their respective deals, with Anthony Barr, Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks all in line to become free agents at the end of the 2019 season. Cousins almost surely left money on the table, but the structure of this deal doesn’t allow the Vikings to be flexible and push some of the cap hits into the future, when the cap will be higher and Cousins would likely be negotiating his next deal.
As a result, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Minnesota had to let one or two of those difference-makers leave in free agency. Given that the Vikings had no quarterbacks on the roster and should be locking in above-average play at the game’s most important position for years to come, though, it’s a trade-off general manager Rick Spielman simply had to make.
It was a bit of a surprise to see Kennard come off the board before free agency began — at a meaningful price — but the former Giants linebacker agreed to a three-year, $18.8 million deal to join the Lions. It’s possible that Detroit sees more projection in Kennard than the rest of the league, and this might end up as a one-year deal after we see the salary structure, but it’s difficult to believe that there was a huge market for the 26-year-old at the rate of more than $6 million per season.
Given the emphasis the Patriots put on versatility, it should be no surprise that a team run by former New Englanders Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn would want a player who at least has the range in his skill set Kennard exhibited during stretches with the Giants. Playing as a strongside linebacker in New York, Kennard did enough as a blitzer to rack up 9.5 sacks over his four seasons with the Giants. He wasn’t a particularly active run defender, although the Giants were an excellent run defense after importing Damon Harrison in 2016. The USC product’s rookie season — when he generated 4.5 sacks and five tackles for loss despite starting just six games — might have been his most productive campaign.
It’s possible that Kennard projects better as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but as Patricia noted earlier this month, the Lions will be spending the vast majority of their time in their sub packages anyway. More likely, Detroit will send Kennard after the quarterback more frequently than the Giants did and will expect him to contribute on early downs.
The issue with the New England comparison is that Bill Belichick really doesn’t value players at this position all that much. He usually trades for veterans who haven’t lived up to expectations in their old locations and either extends them for relatively cheap or lets them leave in free agency and uses the resulting compensatory pick to trade for the next guy. Recent Pats history is littered with players like Barkevious Mingo and Kyle Van Noy, and when New England developed Jamie Collins, they traded him away in lieu of handing him a new deal. It’s possible Kennard could prove to be more than what we saw in New York, but the Lions are paying a lot for the privilege of finding out.
Injuries kept Richardson buried on Seattle’s depth chart for the first three years of his rookie deal, but the departure of Jermaine Kearse and the broken leg suffered by Tyler Lockett helped push Richardson up the depth chart last season. He responded by delivering on the big-play potential we saw when Seattle took him in the second round of the 2014 draft, averaging 16 yards per catch while scoring six times on just 44 receptions.
The touchdown rate will regress toward the mean, though, and Richardson might very well be built to excel within the never-ending plays and scrambling of the Russell Wilson universe. Of his six touchdowns, four came after Wilson held onto the ball for four seconds or more. Nobody else in the league had more than two such touchdowns, and that was only true for four other receivers. Injuries are also a concern, given that Richardson’s left knee has been through a torn MCL and two torn ACLs.
In a market in which teams seem desperate to overpay midtier wide receivers, though, Washington is giving the 25-year-old Richardson a five-year, $40 million deal with $20 million in guarantees. It’s a remarkable leap and seems to be a bizarre fit for an offense with Alex Smith under center, given that even the 2017 version of Smith wasn’t exactly chucking it downfield on a frequent basis. Washington’s offense is littered with injury risks, and while players like Jordan Reed and Chris Thompson offer significant upside when healthy, it’s not clear that’s the case with Richardson.
Last seen famously throwing a touchdown pass to Nick Foles, Burton has been too useful of a player to stick around as a secondary tight end behind Zach Ertz in Philadelphia. Ertz has missed four games over the past two years, and in those four games, Burton has produced 14 catches for 180 yards and four touchdowns. Burton is not going to score 16 touchdowns as a starter, and he’s not the blocker Ertz is, but the 26-year-old’s upside is as a legitimate No. 1 tight end up and down the field.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace made a pair of investments at tight end last year in signing blocking tight end Dion Sims and drafting freak athlete Adam Shaheen in the second round, so it’s a bit of a surprise that he’s making a third foray into the market, but Burton is a more complete player than either of those two. This is likely more of a referendum on Shaheen, given that Burton will probably occupy two-tight-end sets alongside Sims to start the season.
The four-year, $32 million deal Burton signed is hardly insignificant; he now holds the third-largest average annual salary for a tight end in the league behind Jordan Reed and Travis Kelce, each of whom had much more impressive campaigns before signing their deals. (With four years and $31.25 million left on his deal, it’s perhaps notable that Ertz is in line to make less money than his former backup.)
If Burton hits that upside, he’ll be worth the money he’s getting as part of this contract, but a lot of teams pay for the best-case scenario in free agency and end up getting something significantly less. Unless the specific contract terms make this a friendlier deal for the Bears, this looks like a very aggressive deal from Pace.
There was never any realistic likelihood of Brees leaving the Saints, given that the 39-year-old and his family have been settled in Louisiana for more than a decade, and he finally got some defensive help last season. The Saints’ second-half leads and excellent defense allowed them to run the ball more frequently last season, taking some of the workload off Brees, who averaged fewer attempts per game than he has since 2005.
His rate statistics remained strong, including an NFL-record completion percentage of 72.0, but they masked some on-field slippage. From 2012 to ’16, Brees’ average pass traveled 7.8 yards in the air and resulted in 5.1 yards after the catch. In 2017, Brees threw much shorter passes, averaging 6.4 yards in the air, with those throws generating 6.2 yards after the catch.
Going back through 2005, the only starting quarterback to average more yards after the catch than air yards in a single season is Alex Smith, who did it in 2014 and 2015. Brees is probably closer to Smith than it might have seemed a few years ago, and while the Saints didn’t need him to throw the ball downfield very frequently last season, it will be interesting to see what happens if the defense doesn’t play as effectively as it did in 2017.
Brees should remain effective in 2018. It’s also fair to say that there’s significantly more risk in Brees’ profile than there was even a year ago. But the two-year, $50 million deal the Saints gave Brees was a no-brainer, and given that Brees could have forced the Saints to eat up $18 million in dead cap space from his old deal by hitting free agency, he did his longtime club a favor.
We found what the Jags were saving money to add! If you’re going to sign a free agent, it might as well be a 26-year-old coming off a first-team All-Pro appearance, as is the case with Norwell. The Panthers made the decision to retain guard Trai Turner before the season, and while they might have thought at the time about making a move to re-sign Norwell later on, the subsequent season he produced likely priced the Panthers out of retaining the Ohio State product.
In return, Norwell gets the biggest deal for an interior lineman in league history. His five-year, $66.5 million pact reportedly fully guarantees $30 million, which would be a hefty increase on the record set last offseason, when Kevin Zeitler got a five-year, $60 million deal with $23 million guaranteed from the Browns. It’s a reflection on how good Norwell’s 2017 campaign was, given that the Panthers tendered him at a second-round level last season as a restricted free agent and no team made a run at him.
It’s interesting and probably fair to think about this as another move by the Jaguars to shift toward a run-first attack, given that Norwell is an absolute mauler on the ground. Norwell will slot right in for free agent Patrick Omameh at left guard and should be a considerable upgrade. The Jags have generally structured their free-agent deals with two years of significant money up front and flexibility after, so this is probably a two-year, $30 million deal with subsequent team options for Jacksonville. Big-ticket guards haven’t always translated well to their new locations, but Norwell’s a worthy risk for a team whose interior offensive line play on either side of Brandon Linder hasn’t been very good.
We’re two years removed from the monster season (1,400 yards, 14 touchdowns) of Robinson’s career, when he single-handedly convinced people that Blake Bortles was a promising quarterback. As was the case with Bortles, though, it’s fair to wonder whether Robinson benefited from spending much of that year in garbage time. Robinson racked up 556 yards and six touchdowns on drives that began with the Jags having no more than a 20 percent chance of winning; that yardage mark ranked third in the league behind DeAndre Hopkins and Jarvis Landry. The only other receiver with six touchdowns in those situations? Teammate Allen Hurns.
At the same time, though, Robinson was brilliant while playing with a quarterback who needed him to shoulder much of the workload. The talent is clearly there, and while Robinson struggled in 2016 before missing virtually all of 2017 with a torn ACL, I’d chalk up the subpar year to quarterback issues. The Penn State product saw his catch rate drop to 48.3 percent in 2016, but he was thrown 50 “deep” passes (throws 16-plus yards downfield). He caught just 24 percent of those throws despite dropping only one of them.
Receivers with a season like Robinson’s 2015 campaign in their back pocket don’t hit the market in their prime. The only guy in recent memory who produced a better season during his rookie deal before leaving in free agency was David Boston, who had significant off-field concerns (and subsequently bombed with the Chargers). Robinson doesn’t appear to have similar issues. Alshon Jeffery left after one franchise tag, and Robinson’s situation is complicated by the ACL tear, but it was a surprise the Jaguars didn’t franchise their star wideout, let alone sign him to an extension.
Maybe the Jaguars know something we don’t, and the Bears will regret their decision, but Robinson is one of the highest-upside players in free agency in recent memory. For a team that let Jeffery pursue new pastures and replaced him with the combo of Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright and Dontrelle Inman, Robinson is a legitimate No. 1 wideout as a simultaneous safety valve and deep target for Mitchell Trubisky.
Robinson’s contract calls for him to make $42 million over three years, which is an excellent deal. He gets to make serious money coming off a lost season — his $14 million average is just below the $14.5 million Davante Adams got from the Packers in December — and he gets to hit free agency again at age 27, which could keep Robinson in line for two more upper-echelon contracts if he continues to play at a high level into his late-20s. With $25 million in guarantees, this is likely a two-year deal for the Bears before they have to worry about renegotiating or if Robinson flames out. This is a win-win.
The problem in evaluating Watkins is that every analysis starts with the reference point of 2014, when the Bills used two first-round picks and passed on Odell Beckham Jr. to move up and grab Watkins at No. 4 overall. Since then, Watkins has only shown flashes of the guy whose ceiling seemed to be Julio Jones-esque at Clemson. In 2015, Watkins finished the year by generating 679 yards and six touchdowns over the final six weeks of the year, which seemed to portend superstardom to come.
In April 2016, though, Watkins suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot, which required surgery. The Bills rushed him back onto the field, but after Watkins limped through two games, he underwent a second surgery, went back on injured reserve and missed half the year. The Bills traded him to the Rams before the 2017 season, and it’s fair to wonder whether concerns about the foot made the Rams wonder whether a long-term deal was in their best interests.
Watkins was an absolute terror in the red zone and little more during his lone season in Los Angeles. He was thrown the ball nine times in the red zone and came away with seven touchdowns, which was second among wideouts behind Jarvis Landry. Nobody else came close to that touchdown rate, and while Watkins has the size and talent to excel in the red zone, he needed 19 targets to score five red zone touchdowns during his time in Buffalo.
The Jones fracture is going to end up dictating Watkins’ long-term success, and wideouts haven’t always been able to get past their foot issues. Julian Edelman and Julio Jones were both able to recover from a broken foot and return to their previous level of play. On the flip side, though, Hakeem Nicks suffered a Jones fracture after a breakout season in 2011 and never really returned to that level of form; after back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at ages 22 and 23, Nicks was out of football by 27. Likewise, Dez Bryant hasn’t looked the same since breaking his foot in 2015.
Watkins’ chances of turning back into the guy who looked like a budding superstar at the end of 2015 will depend on that foot, and while the upside is still theoretically there, he comes with an enormous amount of risk. Teams employ doctors and have players take physicals for a reason, but the Chiefs are making an enormous bet by giving Watkins more money than Robinson, who has a less terrifying injury history and has been more productive than Watkins on a game-by-game basis. The Chiefs needed some help at wide receiver alongside Tyreek Hill, but with initial reports suggesting this is a three-year, $48 million deal with $30 million guaranteed, this seems like a team betting that their scouting report from four years ago was more accurate than what they’ve seen since.
Wilson’s final game as a member of the Chiefs was comfortably his best as a pro. The 25-year-old averaged just 26 receiving yards per game before Week 17 of the 2017 season, but with Patrick Mahomes under center and both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce on the sidelines, Wilson went off for 10 catches and 147 yards against the Broncos. It was the first time Wilson had produced a 100-yard game since his final season at Georgia State back in 2013.
Before that game, though, Wilson had struggled to emerge as the second wideout the Chiefs have sought behind Jeremy Maclin and then Hill. Take out screens, and there have been 108 wideouts who have been targeted 100 or more times since the start of 2014, when Wilson entered the lineup. Of those 108, Wilson is 101st in targets per routes run, 94th in receptions per routes run, and 98th in receiving yards per route run. Wilson has also dropped 4.6 percent of the passes thrown in his direction, worse than the league average of 3.6 percent over that timeframe.
The rosiest scenario for Wilson was that some team would see him as this year’s Robert Woods, a wideout with solid blocking skills whose talents would play up in a better offense. Come on down, Miami Dolphins! Miami was already $3 million over the salary cap after trading Landry, but as part of the Dolphins’ move to fix the team culture, they’re going to cut Ndamukong Suh and use some of the savings to lock up Wilson on a three-year, $24 million deal that truly seems beyond any possible expectations of what Wilson might have been offered elsewhere.
Teams obviously can have positive or negative cultures, but I’m skeptical the Dolphins are going to turn it around by spending $8 million per year on a decent third wideout. Remember that Miami spent big last year in free agency to bring back their core and add players like Julius Thomas and Lawrence Timmons to fill out the weak spots in a playoff team. Virtually all of those moves were disasters. They traded Jay Ajayi in midseason under the pretense of fixing their team culture and subsequently went 2-7 while Ajayi went on to win the Super Bowl with the Eagles.
If you want to improve the team’s culture, go nuts. There are plenty of veterans with impeccable practice habits and the will to win who would have helped improve things in Miami. Most of them don’t cost $8 million per year. It also would have been nice to improve the team’s culture by adding an offensive lineman, given that the Dolphins already have Kenny Stills and 2015 first-round pick DeVante Parker at wideout and desperately need to fix their line.
Monday, March 12
Trade: Bills deal LT Cordy Glenn to Bengals
Grade for Bills: B+
Grade for Bengals: B
Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane refuses to stop in his attempt to hoard as many draft picks as possible, presumably to trade up for a new quarterback. Now he might not need to make a deal at all. By unloading a player he didn’t want in Glenn and swapping a fifth-round pick for one in the sixth, Beane was able to move his top draft pick up from the 21st selection to the 12th pick.
The quarterback Beane wants might still be on the board at 12. He also can hold on to a fair amount of his pick haul; if Beane wants to move up for the third pick, as an example, the Jimmy Johnson chart says the Bills would only need to deal their two first-round picks and the third-rounder they just got from the Browns.
At the same time, it’s fair to wonder whether the Bills should have been this aggressive to move on from an above-average left tackle in the prime of his career. Glenn’s extension was massive at the time, but the Bengals are acquiring Glenn with three years and $30 million left on his deal. That’s not an awful contract by any means, and while the Bills were impressed with rookie Dion Dawkins last season, Buffalo could have kept Glenn on the left side and installed Dawkins as an upgrade over Jordan Mills at right tackle. Their new quarterback might have appreciated having Glenn around.
As for the Bengals, their offense was sunk by a dismal offensive line last season. The move to push overmatched right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi to the left side as a replacement for Andrew Whitworth was disastrous, and they couldn’t run behind that line in 2018. Glenn should be a massive upgrade at a major position of need.
By the Johnson chart, the draft picks cancel out to essentially value Glenn as worth the 51st overall pick in the draft, a pick in the middle of the second round. In making this move, though, the Bengals are essentially saying they don’t trust their ability to develop a left tackle, given that they could easily have drafted a tackle at 12 themselves. After last year, it would be difficult to disagree with them.
When Tampa Bay drafted O.J. Howard with the 19th selection in last year’s draft, it seemed likely that the Bucs would be moving on from their incumbent tight end, given that Brate was due to become a restricted free agent after the 2017 season. Instead, after Brate’s 591-yard, six-touchdown season, the Buccaneers made a major investment and signed him to a six-year, $41 million extension with $18 million guaranteed.
The Bucs have plenty of cap room, and their deals are almost always two-year contracts with what amounts to team options tacked on, but it’s hard to believe they’ll use Brate frequently enough to justify this sort of outlay. The Harvard product finished his first full season in 2017 and still played only about 55 percent of Tampa Bay’s snaps in 2017. The Bucs will point to his success in the red zone with Jameis Winston under center, but red zone performance is wildly inconsistent from year to year.
We’re still waiting to see the exact structure of this deal, but it’s entirely possible we’re looking at a top-five tight end contract over two and three years for a player who might not even be the best tight end on his own roster. This feels a lot like Tampa Bay paying for the player it wants Brate to be as opposed to a realistic evaluation of his play.
It’s hard to find much fault, on the other hand, with the contract Tampa Bay handed its star wide receiver. Evans was entering the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, and the obvious reference point for a contract was the five-year, $81 million extension DeAndre Hopkins picked up in August before playing out his own fifth-year option.
The difference between the two was their draft position. Hopkins was drafted with the 27th pick, making his fifth-year option a relatively team-friendly $7.9 million. As a top-10 pick, Evans was entitled to a far bigger fifth-year option, as the Bucs were on the hook for $13.3 million before signing him to an extension.
With that in mind, it’s a surprise that Evans was able to make only a modest leap over the maximum value of Hopkins’ deal, with his contract coming in at five years and $82.5 million. The trade-off is in the money early in the deal. Spotrac reports that Evans will make $54 million over the first three years of the deal, which would be the most of any wideout in history. Hopkins’ new pact came in at $49 million over three years.
The difference between the three-year money and the difference between those fifth-year options is essentially identical, but even so, it’s a surprise that Evans and his representation weren’t able to get more given the 6.1 percent rise in the salary cap over last season. There’s every reason to think the 24-year-old will continue to rank among the league’s top wideouts, and while he just became the highest-paid wide receiver in football by the three-year money, the Buccaneers appear to have gotten off pretty easily with this extension.
Saturday, March 10
The recent track record of superstar cornerbacks leaving their old homes for new digs is mixed, at best. Nnamdi Asomugha went from being a true side eraser for the Raiders to being borderline unplayable for the Eagles at age 31. Darrelle Revis was a major disappointment after leaving the Jets for the Buccaneers; and while Revis produced an above-average season in winning a Super Bowl with the Patriots, age caught up to him during the second year of his second run with Gang Green. Revis was essentially finished at 31. Things went better for Aqib Talib in Denver, but after Talib’s age-31 season, the Broncos decided they were better off going with Bradley Roby and shipped Talib off to the Rams.
Sherman will turn 30 later this month and will be coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in November, so the odds are against him returning to his perennial All-Pro form for a significant length of time. The good news is that he landed in a welcoming location with the 49ers. The Seahawks were more diverse in their coverages than some might suggest, but Sherman’s size, instincts and spatial awareness made him a perfect fit for the Cover-3 that Seattle ran as its base coverage. Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was an assistant with the Seahawks and Jaguars under Gus Bradley, so he should have no difficulty finding a familiar spot for Sherman along the sidelines.
The future Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate was able to sign a three-year, $39.2 million deal one day after being released by the Seahawks, who didn’t want to pay him an $11 million base salary in 2018. The contract, according to reports, is really a one-year, $9 million deal with incentives. If Sherman makes the Pro Bowl in 2018, the Niners will pay him $3 million and trigger $16 million in guarantees over the next two seasons. General manager John Lynch & Co. would be assuming some risk by paying Sherman through his age-32 campaign, but the structure of the deal allows the Niners to stay out of danger if Sherman doesn’t return to form. It’s a fair deal for both sides, and that first Seahawks-49ers game can’t get here soon enough.
Trade: Browns deal DT Danny Shelton to Patriots
Another former University of Washington star defender goes on the move this offseason, but unlike Marcus Peters, Shelton hadn’t quite hit the heights his prior team had hoped. Cleveland’s 2015 first-round pick was drafted with the idea of being a nose tackle in Mike Pettine’s 3-4 alignment. But after spending two years in that 3-4 under Pettine and replacement Ray Horton, the Browns moved to a 4-3 under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams last season.
Shelton is never going to rack up big stats, but he was an effective piece in a Browns run defense that quietly finished fourth against the run in DVOA in 2017. Splitting out individual pieces of a run defense is nearly impossible, but during Shelton’s career in Cleveland, the Browns were far stouter with him on the field. Cleveland allowed 3.9 yards per carry and 20.6 percent of rushes to turn into a first down or a touchdown with Shelton on the field. With the former 12th overall pick off the field, the Browns allowed 4.7 yards per rush and a conversion 26.2 percent of the time.
The 24-year-old Shelton should slot in as a replacement for the departing Alan Branch up front for the Patriots. New England was 30th in the league against the run, and while Branch had been impressive in previous seasons, he had fallen so far out of favor that the Pats scratched him for Super Bowl LII in favor of keeping Malcolm Butler inexplicably active. New England will probably decline Shelton’s fifth-year option, given that run-stuffing defensive linemen just aren’t making eight-figure salaries often in free agency; but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Pats offer Shelton a contract extension if he starts his career in Foxborough well.
The return isn’t much for the Browns. Cleveland sends a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft to the Patriots, although it’s unclear whether it’ll be the pick the Browns acquired from the Packers on Friday or the fifth-rounder the Browns picked up from the Chiefs for another former first-round pick, Cam Erving. In return, Cleveland will get a 2019 third-rounder, but given the Patriots’ nearly unprecedented run of success, it seems extremely likely that pick will fall into the 90s next year.
Friday, March 9
Grade for Packers: C+
Grade for Browns: B+
Kizer needed a change of scenery after his disastrous rookie season, and Browns general manager John Dorsey might have found a new free safety by trading for a struggling cornerback in Randall. Read the full analysis here.
Trade: Bills deal QB Tyrod Taylor to Browns
Grade for Bills: B+
Grade for Browns: B-
Trade: Dolphins deal QR Jarvis Landry to Browns
Grade for Dolphins: B-
Grade for Browns: C+
Grade for Eagles: A-
Grade for Panthers: C
It’s difficult to believe that the Panthers sent an actual asset to the Eagles for Smith, given that Philadelphia was virtually guaranteed to decline the former Ravens star’s $5 million option for 2018. Smith’s impact was underrated by his final numbers (36 catches for 420 yards and two touchdowns) — he got open downfield far more frequently than it seemed, but was let down by some subpar deep throws by Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. Smith also chipped in with a few drops, which didn’t help matters.
The Panthers needed wideout help alongside Devin Funchess, but it’s hard to figure that they were really bidding against other teams who wanted to assume Smith’s contact for 2018 and trade an asset in the process. Smith probably would have struggled to get the two years and $10 million left on his deal as a free agent.
In lieu of possibly netting a compensatory pick for Smith, the Eagles instead take home another cheap cornerback in Worley, who started 25 games over his two seasons in Carolina. Worley hasn’t developed as much as fellow 2016 draftee James Bradberry and fell into a rotation at times with Kevon Seymour, who should now have a clear path to a starting role. The Eagles want to spend money at just about every position besides running back and cornerback, and Worley gives them another low-cost option as they try to replace Patrick Robinson, who will likely leave in free agency this offseason.
Thursday, March 8
Trade: Broncos deal CB Aqib Talib to the Rams
Grade for Broncos: B
Grade for Rams: B-
The Rams appeared to enter the offseason with serious question marks at cornerback, but in a matter of two weeks, they’ve pieced together what might be the best cornerback duo in football. After trading for Marcus Peters, the Rams added another playmaking veteran on the outside by dealing a fifth-round pick to the Broncos for Talib, whose departure from Denver had been rumored since the end of the regular season.
Denver had clearly made the decision to promote fifth-year corner Bradley Roby into an every-down role at the expense of Talib, who failed to pick off more than one pass for the first time in his professional career last season. Given that decision, John Elway did well to create a market and pick up a fifth-round pick for a player the Broncos seemed likely to release. With Roby and Chris Harris Jr., the Broncos should still be set at cornerback for years to come, and Denver can put the $11 million they owed Talib toward a new deal for Roby and/or their bid for Kirk Cousins.
Wade Phillips must be excited to reunite with his former star pupil. There are certainly signs of decline from Talib, who had a particularly rough game against Alshon Jeffery when the Broncos played the Eagles last season, but he’s still an above-average cornerback as he enters his age-32 campaign. That lone pick was a Dak Prescott throw he took 103 yards back to the house, so the wheels are still there.
At two years and $19 million, the Rams aren’t paying an exorbitant amount for Talib at his current level of play, since the going rate for solid 1A cornerbacks in free agency these days is $10 million per season. If Les Snead restructures Talib’s deal and adds guaranteed money after this season, I would be a little concerned, but this is a logical acquisition for the Rams. Throw in the low-cost addition of cornerback Sam Shields, who sat out in 2017 as he recovered from a concussion, and the Rams probably have the best set of corners in the game.
Watching the Los Angeles defense is going to be fun next year. Peters and Talib are absolute ball hawks who fool quarterbacks into throws they regret from the moment the ball leaves their hand, but they also take risks and get beat by double-moves more than most cornerbacks of their ilk. It will be on franchised free safety Lamarcus Joyner to clean up when his cornerbacks get beat, and on the Aaron Donald-led pass rush to get home quickly and allow L.A.’s two star cornerbacks to break on the football.
Wednesday, March 7
Last year went disastrously for Baker, who left Washington to sign a three-year, $15.8 million deal with Tampa Bay. Baker got $6 million guaranteed but did little during his season in Tampa, racking up just a half-sack, five quarterback knockdowns and two tackles for loss across 437 defensive snaps. Baker didn’t win the locker room over, either, with teammates having to stop quarterback Jameis Winston from getting in Baker’s face after a critical encroachment penalty on fourth down late against the Panthers.
The Bengals have a long history of taking on reclamation projects with some success under Marvin Lewis, and at one year, $3 million, Baker doesn’t come with much risk. The 30-year-old is down to 300 pounds, a noticeable drop given that he was listed at 320 and likely played at a larger weight last season. The Hampton product racked up 9.5 sacks and 27 knockdowns between 2015 and 2016, so if Lewis can turn Baker back into a useful interior pass-rusher, the Bengals will have a steal on their hands.
Trade: Rams deal LB Alec Ogletree to Giants
Grade for Rams: C+
Grade for Giants: C
The Giants were loath to spend money on coverage linebackers under the reign of general manager Jerry Reese, who never adequately replaced Antonio Pierce in the middle of the field after the playoff hero finished his career in 2009. Draft picks like Jonathan Goff and a bevy of free agents — everyone from Jon Beason to J.T. Thomas — couldn’t stay healthy or play effective football. With new GM Dave Gettleman coming over from a Panthers organization that built its defense around Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, it’s no surprise that he might want to address inside linebacker this offseason.
Of the candidates the Giants have brought in since Pierce, Ogletree is certainly the most likely to succeed, but it’s hard to argue that the former Georgia star is likely to return value. The 26-year-old is a stud athlete, but he hasn’t been able to turn those measurables into significant production since 2014. Ogletree forced 10 fumbles over his first two seasons, but he has been responsible for only two strips in the three years since. He made tackles on 16.1 percent of Los Angeles’ run plays last season, a rate that ranked 60th in the league among players with 200 run snaps or more.
The problem is that Ogletree plays a position the league really doesn’t seem to value with significant contracts. The Rams signed Ogletree to a four-year, $42.8 million extension last October, and the Giants will essentially have Ogletree on a four-year, $38 million deal with $10 million guaranteed, all coming this season. That’s not in line with what better players have gotten in free agency; Dont’a Hightower, for one, got four years and $35.5 million to stay with the Patriots last offseason. Useful players such as Zach Brown, who is back in the market this year, had to settle for a one-year pact. It’s difficult to believe Ogletree would have received this much if he were a free agent.
The Rams free up cap space as part of this deal, which marks the second expensive defender they’ve dealt away in a week after trading Robert Quinn to the Dolphins. It now seems more likely that they’ll hang on to fellow linebacker Mark Barron, who seemed like a plausible cap casualty. L.A. will have $6.5 million in dead money on its cap for Ogletree this year, but with $47.3 million in space, the Rams can use the savings to bring back receiver Sammy Watkins, who would otherwise be an unrestricted free agent. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has helped develop unheralded inside linebackers such as Todd Davis and Brandon Marshall in years past, so the Rams might be able to get by without big-money players on the interior.
Gettleman gives up fourth- and sixth-round picks to the Rams, who send a 2019 seventh-rounder back as part of the deal. The Giants managed to avoid sending the 102nd pick and instead sent their later fourth-rounder, the 135th selection, but they’re not in a position to trade away draft picks given how bereft the back of their roster is at the moment. This is a better swap for the Rams.
Trade: Seahawks deal DE Michael Bennett to Eagles
Grade for Seahawks: C
Grade for Eagles: B+
The Eagles are one of the most aggressive trading teams in the league and built their Super Bowl success around a deep, dominant defensive line, so it’s no surprise that they acquired Michael Bennett from the Seahawks today. Bennett will slot in as a replacement for Vinny Curry, and with three years and $22.1 million left on his deal, Bennett won’t break the bank as part of one of the league’s best defensive lines. It seems pretty clear that Seattle wanted to move on from Bennett, who might be the first part of a painful defensive rebuild over the days to come. The Seahawks would likely have cut Bennett, given that the return — a fifth-round pick and flyer WR Marcus Johnson, with a seventh-rounder going back to Philadelphia — won’t move the needle.
Tuesday, March 6
Chris Ivory has been one of the worst running backs in football over the last two years, averaging 3.6 yards per carry while producing more fumbles (seven) than touchdowns (five). It’s no surprise he was cut by the Jaguars, but it’s more difficult to see why the Bills prioritized him on a two-year, $5.5-million deal when backs of his ilk are free to acquire in the market. Remember that LeGarrette Blount, a more effective power back, languished in free agency for months after an 18-touchdown season before settling for a one-year, $1.3-million deal with the Eagles last offseason. The Bills just guaranteed Ivory $3.3 million, which seems inexplicable for a team which already has the league’s most expensive running back in LeSean McCoy.
Friday, March 3
Trade: Rams deal DE Robert Quinn to Dolphins
Grade for Rams: C+
Grade for Dolphins: C+
The Rams decision to trade Robert Quinn is a reflection on what the 27-year-old has looked like since undergoing back surgery in January of 2016. Quinn has just 12.5 sacks and 18 knockdowns over the past two years. That would be an upgrade for the Dolphins, who foolishly gave Andre Branch a three-year deal last offseason with $8 million fully guaranteed for 2018 to play across from Cameron Wake. Quinn will be a massive upgrade at defensive end on Branch, but the Dolphins will likely need to perform cap gymnastics to either fit Quinn in on his current cap hit of $11.4 million or as part of a new contract. It seems likely that Quinn could serve as a replacement for Ndamukong Suh, whose departure would free up $17 million in cap room for a Dolphins team which is nearly $16 million over the salary cap at the moment.
Monday, Feb. 26
The one-year, $5-million deal the Bills inked with Vontae Davis is a good short-term risk for a team who probably would have had to pay more to bring back the oft-injured E.J. Gaines next season. Davis slipped badly in 2016 and was impacted by injuries in 2017, but the former Colts standout won’t turn 30 until May and was a legitimate number-one cornerback up to that point. In a free-agent pool where mid-market starting corners are likely to approach $10 million per season with two years of guaranteed money, getting Davis on a short-term pact for half that is a win for Bills general manager Brandon Beane.
Friday, Feb. 23
Trade: Chiefs deal CB Marcus Peters to Rams
Grade for Chiefs: C
Grade for Rams: B+
Grades for the Marcus Peters trade: The Chiefs get a C for their end of the swap, in which they sent Peters and the 196th pick to the Rams for the 124th selection and a 2019 second-rounder. If the Rams finish 20th in the draft order next year and we don’t depreciate the pick’s value for time (both of which are perhaps conservative estimates), the Chase Stuart suggests the Chiefs picked up the 33rd selection in a typical draft for a 25-year-old former All-Pro cornerback on a below-market deal for the next two seasons. While Kansas City clearly wanted to trade Peters, this is a price point at which the Chiefs probably needed to trust their ability to rehabilitate Peters and bring him back into the fold. The Rams, meanwhile, get a B+ for their end of the bargain. They probably need to start holding onto their draft picks after sending high selections out in the trades for Peters, Jared Goff, and Sammy Watkins, but they’re not incurring an enormous amount of risk in trading for Peters. They can go year-to-year and pay the Washington product just $27.5 million over the next three seasons, which is less than inferior cornerbacks like Dre Kirkpatrick and Logan Ryan got in their free-agent deals last offseason.
Tuesday, Jan. 30
Trade: Chiefs deal QB Alex Smith to Washington
Grade for Chiefs: B
Grade for Washington: B
Plenty of people figured the Chiefs were going to trade Alex Smith this offseason to free up their starting job for 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes. They were half-right. The Chiefs didn’t wait until the offseason to make their move, agreeing to a deal to trade Smith to Washington for a third-round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller.
Washington’s stunning trade for a new quarterback should reverberate around the league; a half-dozen teams that weren’t involved with the deal suddenly saw their offseason plans change or come into focus. The deal (and Smith’s subsequent extension) obviously suggest Washington will be moving on from incumbent quarterback Kirk Cousins, who will hit unrestricted free agency.
Source: Espn News