The Week that Was: 2017 NFL Free Agency

This past Thursday marked one week since the start of this year’s free agency period in the NFL.  While the debate over whether building through the draft or free agency is the better move, teams across the country dropped hundreds of millions of dollars on players that they hope will make their teams better in the coming seasons.  Whether the signings pan out or not, of course, remains to be seen; here, I attempt to bring some semblance of organization to a week filled with transactions and unexpected drama while analyzing some of the most impactful moves so far this off-season.

 

CB AJ Bouye to Jaguars- 5 years, $67.5 million, $26 million guaranteed

CB Stephon Gilmore to Patriots- 5 years, $65million, $40 million guaranteed

The two biggest contracts that have been shelled out this week both went to cornerbacks, showing how valuable teams feel that potential number one cornerbacks can be.  Both Bouye and Gilmore come with some decent-sized question marks—Bouye has really only been a sure-fire starter for a year, and Gilmore has never quite lived up to his considerable physical gifts—but in the end, I think that the Jaguars and Patriots both got good value here.  The Jags have no real direction on the offensive side of the ball, so building a strong defense is the best way to get in the play-off hunt, and sticking Bouye across from Jalen Ramsey gives the team a terrific cornerback pair.  As for Gilmore, having him around to team up with Malcolm Butler at corner gives the Pats a deeper secondary—Gilmore, at 6’0″, would allow the smaller Butler to shift into the slot whenever it is required, and the new signing’s speed makes him a slot candidate, as well. Gilmore’s presence also gives Bill Belichick a nice “back-up plan” if the former Super Bowl hero leaves New England due to his current contract stalemate.

 

DL Calais Campbell to Jaguars- 4 years, $60 million, $30 million guaranteed

RG Kevin Zeitler to Browns- 5 years, $60 million, $31.5 million guaranteed

Both of these guys are really exceptional players that are opting to go from contenders (Cardinals, Bengals) to rebuilders (Jaguars, Browns).  Of course, the money certainly helps a little bit—considering the lack of depth along both lines in this year’s draft class, linemen were going at a premium, and these guys are probably the best of the best.  Even though he is almost 31 and is being paid more in base salary than the majority of players in this post, I think that Campbell is one of the better signings in this free agency.  He is extraordinarily versatile, able to shift back and forth between playing end and tackle, and doesn’t rely on any one particular move to beat his blocker, so I think he’ll be able to make an impact along the Jags’ defensive line for the duration of his contract.  As for Zeitler, how good of a signing this is for the Browns determine how well they build up their offense around their newly re-built offensive line, which also has stalwart Joe Thomas and new center JC Tretter.  They’re following an approach similar to Oakland’s—making a great offensive line and allowing the skill players around them to develop—but if Cleveland can’t get the right players to develop, they’ll be sinking a lot of money into a vicious, but ultimately useless, blocker.

 

LT Riley Reiff to Vikings- 5 years, $58.75 million, $26.3 million guaranteed

LT Matt Kalil to Panthers- 5 years, $55 million, $25 million guaranteed

LT Russell Okung to Chargers- 4 years, $53 million, $25 million guaranteed

Like I said earlier, linemen are really at a premium in this draft.  The contracts for these three men really prove that.  Don’t get me wrong—every one of these players is extraordinarily talented, all of them having been first round picks, and would be elite tackles if they were able to play to their potential—but the thing is, they have never really proven that they are capable of doing so.  We’ll start with Reiff, whose deal is probably the best of the aforementioned players, simply because the guaranteed money that Reiff was afforded is somewhat commensurate with how Reiff performed during his career in Detroit.  Because of that, the former Lion is effectively only on a two-year deal with Minnesota, which makes the huge contract a little bit more palatable, but the fact that he’s even getting that much money, considering his inconsistencies at both tackle positions, is a little but baffling.  That being said, his better days have been significantly better than those of the man of who he is basically replacing, Kalil, who is headed to Carolina to team up with his brother, center Matt, among concerns about Michael Oher’s concussion issues.  Kalil has had injury issues of his own, which have, admittedly, played a role in his up-and-down performances for Minnesota, but the fact of the matter is that the former Viking has never really learned to leverage his incredible physical gifts to turn into a competent blocker.  His contract will most likely end up as some type of disaster for the Panthers, which is certainly not a good thing, especially considering how cap struggles have negatively affected the team in recent years.  Okung’s deal falls somewhere in the middle of his two fellow tackles.  On one hand, he has shown that his ceiling is far higher than almost any tackle in the league, having performed at an elite level for the team that drafted him, Seattle.  On the other, though, he signed a disastrous contract with Denver last year that saw him released to the open market this year after what was an incredibly steep drop in performance.  Okung should bounce back, but he’ll never be able to reach the heights that he did with the Seahawks, even though the Chargers are paying him like he’s already there.

 

WR Pierre Garcon to 49ers- 5 years, $47.5 million, $17 million guaranteed

WR Robert Woods to Rams- 5 years, $39 million, $15 million guaranteed

The funny thing about these two deals is that they were both handed out to guys who were de-facto #2 receivers with their old teams– Garçon with Washington and Woods with Buffalo, respectively.  On account of that, both of these contracts strike me as slightly more expensive than they needed to be, but in the long run, I think that San Fran is getting a far better deal here.  I recognize that Garçon is 6 years older than his new NFC West rival, but the former Redskin very much fits the mold of an Anquan Boldin-type receiver, a veteran that is a great route runner with good hands, and Boldin was a key cog in the 49er offense the last time the team was good.  Woods, on the other hand, has struggled with consistency, despite getting a lot of single coverage opposite Sammy Watkins in Buffalo.  Rumor has it that the team wanted Woods because he’s both fast and strong, allowing him to be an exceptional edge blocker for what figures to be an offense predicated on running the ball with Todd Gurley, but a receiver’s main job is catching the ball, and if the Rams were looking for a good blocker, they surely could have found a player that they could have committed less money, and time, to than the former Bill.

 

QB Mike Glennon to Bears- 3 years, $45 million, $18.5 million guaranteed

There have been some very divided opinions about this signing for my hometown Bears.  Those that view this deal as a good one note Glennon’s decent performances as a starter with limited options in Tampa Bay, the former Buccaneer’s arm strength, and the fact that this contract is basically a one year one that is paying Glennon what is essentially league average for a starting quarterback.  Those that critique it wonder why a man that hasn’t started a game in over 2 years is suddenly worth market-value for Chicago, and question who else was bidding up the QB’s price that he deserved to get so much money.  In general, I think this is a decent signing for Chicago—yes, the deal is a bit pricy, but as I said, based on his guarantees, it’s basically a one year deal, and his presence will allow the team to develop whoever they (should) pick up in the draft to come along slowly instead of being thrown right into the fire.

 

Other Big Signings:

S Tony Jefferson to Ravens- 4 years, $36 million, $14 million guaranteed

My Grade: B-

RG Ronald Leary to Broncos- 4 years, $36 million, $24 million guaranteed

My Grade: B+

G Larry Warford to Saints- 4 years, $34 million, $17 million guaranteed

My Grade: C

LT Andrew Whitworth to Rams- 3 years, $33.75 million, $15 million guaranteed

My Grade: A

WR DeSean Jackson to Buccaneers- 3 years, $33.5 million, $20 million guaranteed

My Grade: A

 

Underrated Signings:

CB Captain Munnerlyn to Panthers- 4 years, $21 million, $10.5 million guaranteed

A somewhat-redeeming signing for Carolina.  It’s well-known that the Panthers were a bit of a mess at cornerback last year—their decision to call former star Josh Norman’s bluff backfired, and the lack of consistency in the defensive backfield was a big reason why they struggled on defense last year (and that, in turn, was probably the biggest reason why they missed the play-offs).  Enter Munnerlyn, who is return to the team that drafted him after spending the last 3 seasons in Minnesota.  He isn’t a very tall cornerback—he’s only 5’9”—but he’s used his speed and improved ball skills to cause problems for receivers, and he provides a veteran presence at a position that was devoid of it after Norman’s departure.  He’s a solid pick-up for Dave Gettleman, especially at an AAV of just over $5 million a year.

 

QB Brian Hoyer to 49ers- 2 years, $12 million, $10 million guaranteed

Brian Hoyer has had an up-and-down career—one that started with him being part of the revolving door of back-ups behind Tom Brady New England and has seen him undergo multiple renaissances after stepping in for injured starters (Houston, Chicago).  During times when he’s gotten extended playing time—and has had halfway decent weapons to work with—he has proven himself to be, at the very least, an average quarterback.  In today’s market, as showcased by Mike Glennon’s deal, an average quarterback might get anywhere from $10-15 million a year.  That he is only getting $6 million a year in a QB-friendly system that will surely enhance his what talent he already has makes him a good deal for San Fran.

 

FB Patrick DiMarco to Bills- 4 years, $8.4 million, $4.8 million guaranteed

DiMarco was a largely unnoticeable, but extremely crucial component to one of best offenses in recent memory.  He’s always been known as a fairly solid run blocker, but he improved his blitz recognition to become an adequate pass protector, and he’s also capable of being a weapon out of the backfield, having shown some decent speed and field awareness after catching passes.  That the Bills were able to get him for the price of a decent kicker is pretty impressive, considering how valuable he will be to LeSean McCoy and how little money he got in comparison to the other top fullback on the market (there’ll be more on him later).

 

WR Terrelle Pryor to Redskins- 1 year, $6 million, $6 million guaranteed

I recognize that another receiver that signed a similar deal to this one, Alshon Jeffery, got a contract that was just as good, if not better, than the one that Pryor got.  But the need for a receiver in Washington was much more pressing after the ‘Skins lost their top two targets from last season, seeing both DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon get big contracts elsewhere.  Getting Pryor on what is essentially #2 receiver money, on a “prove-it” length deal, was greatly beneficial for the team and the player, especially since the former Ohio State star will (probably) be hauling in passes from a far better quarterback than anyone he had in Cleveland while offering the team an explosive option as a pass-catcher.

 

Overrated Signings:

WR Kenny Stills, Dolphins- 4 years, $31.9 million, $19.95 million guaranteed

Yes, I recognize that this is technically a re-signing, but we’re going to roll with it anyway.  I’m a big Stills fan—I think that New Orleans made a big mistake in trading him to Miami—but inking the receiver to a deal that will see him get paid like a low-end #1 is an even larger error from Miami.  The large touchdown numbers that he put up last season were largely a fluke (that’s probably what propelled him to such a large deal in the first place), and on top of that, he isn’t even the third best receiver on the team.  His presence, both on the field and on the salary cap, will almost certainly hamper DeVante Parker’s future with the team, which isn’t a great thing for the franchise.  A real questionable move here.

 

ILB Malcolm Smith to 49ers- 5 years, $26.5 million, $11.5 million guaranteed

Smith had his moment in the sun with the Seahawks after intercepting Peyton Manning and returning the pick for a touchdown back in Super Bowl .  Even then, though, teams recognized his limitations, and the Raiders gave him a two-year deal worth about $3.5 million a year.  He didn’t impress during his time in Oakland, being poor against the run and not flashing the coverage skills that earned him a role in Seattle.  Now, though?  Smith gets a deal worth over $5 million a year for a position that’s already fairly solidified due to the presence of NaVarro Bowman.  Another iffy decision by the new regime in San Fran.

 

FB Kyle Juszczyk to 49ers- 4 years, $21 million, $10.5 million guaranteed

Look, I get that there probably aren’t that many players that are going to want to sign for a team that’s been a doormat over the past couple seasons, no matter how much money you throw at them.  I get the there’s a reason that the former Raven fullback is considered an elite player at his position.  But let’s be real here—a rebuilding team dropping almost $11 million in guarantees on a fullback?  There had to be some other way that John Lynch could have put this money to better use in restocking the Niners.  I just don’t understand this one at all.

 

TE Dion Sims to Bears- 3 years, $18 million, $10 million guaranteed

Don’t get me wrong here—the Bears need a tight end or two.  Outside of incumbent starter Zach Miller, there isn’t really much depth.  But if you’re going to give a tight end this much money in guarantees, they better be pretty versatile.  Unfortunately, the Michigan State product has not proven himself to be anything of the sort so far.  In fact, he’s barely managed to start a third of his professional games, being held back by the oft-injured, and recently retired, Jordan Cameron.  That isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for a player that Chicago is paying like a bona-fide starter.

 

Key Re-Signings:

S Eric Berry, Chiefs- 6 years, $78 million, $38.7 million guaranteed

Kansas City made it clear that, when it came to whether Berry or Dontari Poe was more important to the performance of their defense, that the former Tennessee safety was “the man.”  The contract length itself may be a bit long, even for a guy with as much spring in his step as Berry—it’s increasingly rare to see anything beyond one or two years being guaranteed in the NFL anymore, unless you’re an elite quarterback— but making an exception for Berry was a smart move by KC.  It was essential that the Chiefs keep the face of their franchise around as long as they could.  So, in that sense, this a great deal for both sides, and a great story for Berry, who is getting rewarded handsomely after his phenomenal comeback from Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

 

ILB Dont’a Hightower, Patriots- 4 years, $43.5 million, $19 million guaranteed

Hightower’s status as the “unsung hero” of New England’s Super Bowl victory—his strip sack of Matt Ryan got the momentum going the Pats’ way—devalues the massive impact he had in Matt Petricia’s defense during the regular season, especially after fellow ‘backer Jaime Collins was shipped to Cleveland.  Without the tackle machine wreaking havoc in both the run and pass defenses, the Patriots wouldn’t have had anywhere near the defense required to make the run that they did to the Super Bowl.  The former Alabama linebacker was probably slightly disappointed in his market—in all honesty, I was surprised that the Chiefs didn’t try to find a way to move Jeremy Maclin and go after Hightower—so for him, this deal isn’t exactly ideal.  But he’s playing on a team where he has the best chance to succeed, and for an organization that values him.  Solid deal all-around.

 

RB Le’Veon Bell, Steelers- 1 year, $12.12 million (franchise tag)

As far as running backs go, this deal is a little bit on the expensive side.  But this isn’t just any running back we’re talking about; this is Bell, who, along with Antonio Brown, forms the most explosive 1-2 punch in all of football.  Tagging Bell allowed them to work out a long-term extension for Brown, who re-upped with the Steelers for another four years.  As the team works its way out of financial hardship, this is sure to be a simple segway to some big bucks for Bell in Pittsburgh.  His deal might be a little but below value for the back for this year, though it should work out for him and the team in the long run, which, if anyone has seen how explosive the Bell-Brown combination can be, is most certainly a great thing for Mike Tomlin and company.

 

DT Brandon Williams, Ravens- 5 years, $54 million, $27.5 million guaranteed

When you think of great Ravens defenses, you probably think of the vicious tackling machine Ray Lewis, or the ball-hawking safety Ed Reed.  However, a big man up front, Haloti Ngata, was pretty important to the best Ravens’ defenses of the past decade or so.  The similarities between those defenses and Baltimore’s defense this year, which finished 7th in yards allowed per game, are fairly obvious, then—most of the attention goes to CJ Mosley and Eric Weddle, and rightfully so.  But Williams played a crucial part in making the Ravens virtually impossible to run on in the second half of the season, and his ability to manage two blockers was crucial to the team’s pass rush.  The extension is a little steep, considering the deal that a player in a very similar mold, Damon Harrison, got in free agency last year, but if he can keep up his run-stuffing ways, GM Ozzie Newsome won’t have to worry about building up the defensive line anytime soon.

 

Other Important Re-Signings/Franchise Tags

OLB Chandler Jones, Cardinals- 5 years, $83 million, $53 million guaranteed

QB Kirk Cousins, Redskins- 1 year, $23.943 million (franchise tag)

WR Terrence Williams, Cowbots- 4 years, $17 million, $9.5 million guaranteed

DT Kawann Short, Panthers- 1 year, $13.648 million (franchise tag)

 

Best Still Available:

Jonathan Hankins, DT

Possible Suitors: Giants, Eagles, Dolphins

Hankins is a pretty versatile player—he’s good against the run, as all defensive tackles need to be in today’s game, and was one of the Giants’ better pass rushers last year.  That being said, he’s not at an elite level, even though he wants to be paid like he is.  That’s why he has yet to return to New York, where he is very much coveted, just at a lower price.  If the two sides can’t come to terms, there’s a threat that the rival Eagles, who lost Bennie Logan to the Chiefs, and Dolphins, who have been linked with Hankins for a while now, might be able to steal him away.  There’s no real frontrunner in his race so long as Hankins maintains his demands, so we’ll just have to wait and see how this one turns out.

 

Adrian Peterson, RB

Possible Suitors: Raiders, Packers, Cowboys

It’s somewhat understandable that the best back of his generation is still on the open market—he turns 32 in 2 days, he’s coming off a major knee injury, and is also coming off a huge contract with Minnesota that may give him and his agent an inflated sense of his value.  Again though: this guy is the best back of his generation, and produced for years behind iffy offensive lines.  Age is a major concern for the Raiders to take into account with Peterson, considering the youth of their core, but would otherwise be a great fit behind their excellent linemen.  The rival Packers would also be an interesting fit for his services, considering their inconsistencies in the running game since Ahman Green’s departure, and the Cowboys have also kicked the tires on using Peterson as a complement to their incredible second year man, Ezekiel Elliott.  In the end, though, expect the former Viking to wind up in Oakland.

 

Darrelle Revis, CB

Possible Suitors: Steelers, Patriots, Cowboys

The veteran corner struggled mightily in New York last season, and at 31, it looks like age might be catching up to the “Revis Island.”  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any teams that might be interested in eking out whatever Revis has left in the tank.  At the top of the list are the Steelers, who always seem to be interested in secondary help.  A reunion with the Patriots, especially considering the uncertainty around Malcolm Butler, and a contract with Dallas, who lost both Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr to free agency, are also possible.  The most likely outcome at this point seems to be retirement for Revis, but until he makes a definitive decision, there will be teams interested in his services.

 

Jay Cutler, QB

Possible Suitors: Jets, Browns

The strong-armed slinger, who was recently released by the Bears after spending 8 up-and-down years in Chicago, is the best veteran quarterback that’s still on the market.  The Jets really look like an idea fit for him, considering that the only two QB’s currently on their roster are still incredibly raw, but the team has yet to strike a balance on a deal that has good enough terms, especially duration wise, to please Cutler.  Meanwhile, the Browns could also be an option, but they would probably have to move on from the recently-acquired Brock Osweiler for that to become reality.

 

Other Transactions:

Browns trade for Brock Osweiler

The trade: Texans trade 2nd round pick in 2018 and Brock Osweiler to Browns for 4th round pick

This deal looked a lot like one that an NBA team would make—trading a somewhat valuable asset along with a player with a huge salary in what can effectively be termed a salary dump.  A lot of people are, for some reason, questioning Cleveland’s logic on this one, saying that the draft pick they got for the former Texan isn’t valuable enough to warrant taking on the QB’s exorbitant salary.  From a strictly present value standpoint, they’re entirely correct—paying Osweiler $16 million a season just to get a pick is very steep—but considering how much cap space the Browns had before this move, it makes total sense to me.  Cleveland gets a 2nd rounder and a quarterback that can compete with Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler for the starter’s job and a player that they can move on from with little repercussions in 2018, while Houston gets a 4th rounder that’s slightly higher than what they had before.  This is a huge W for the Browns, and if the Texans are able to get Tony Romo, it might be for them, too.

 

Patriots trade for Brandin Cooks

The trade: Saints trade 4th round pick and Brandin Cooks to Patriots for 1st and 3rd round picks

It was no secret that the former Oregon State receiver was upset with his role in the New Orleans offense last season, and that New England was an interested party.  That didn’t mean I thought this deal was going to happen—Cooks is still cost-controlled for another season, and even though rookie Mike Thomas seemed to emerge as Drew Brees’s top target, having a player as explosive as Cooks certainly couldn’t hurt; I’m also a lot higher on Danny Amendola, the man that Cooks will (probably) effectively replacing, than most.  That being said, though, this is a pretty good deal for both sides.  The Saints get the first round pick that they were craving, even though it is low, and upgraded the 4th that the gave to New England to a 3rd.  Bill Belichick’s team gets a speed threat that they haven’t had since Deion Branch was in his prime, and allows the Patriots to have the most dynamic, and possibly most dangerous, set in the whole league (Cooks and Julian Edelman at receiver, Rob Gronkowski and the newly-acquired Dwayne Allen at tight end, and either James White or Dion Lewis at running back), certainly giving Tom Brady a shot at another championship without giving up too much for a player that could effectively be a #1 receiver.  This is a deal that really benefits both teams.

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