21 Mar 19
The Denver Post
Even though this wasn’t considered a great NFL free agency class, it turned out to be the most expensive.
Free agent spending is on the verge of exceeding $2 billion in contract commitments, which is the highest amount ever. Guaranteed money at signing is crossing the $800 million mark. There were record-setting contracts at offensive tackle, inside linebacker and safety.
Who did the best in spending all of that money? With the biggest signings completed, we assigned a letter grade to each of the 32 NFL teams, based on how they performed at improving their rosters and setting themselves up for future success.
Dallas Cowboys: Grade: C+
Team owner Jerry Jones has too many players to re-sign in the coming months and years, so the Cowboys couldn’t be active in free agency this offseason. Still, getting Randall Cobb on a one-year deal at $5 million to replace slot receiver Cole Beasley was wise. They were able to hang onto DeMarcus Lawrence with the franchise tag.
New York Giants: Grade: C-
It’s hard to figure out their plan. The Giants said goodbye to three Pro Bowlers in Odell Beckham Jr., Olivier Vernon and Landon Collins, adding draft picks and freeing up future cap space in the process. But then they went and added some older replacements in wide receiver Golden Tate and safety Antoine Bethea. Are they rebuilding or reloading? And can guard Kevin Zeitler and safety Jabrill Peppers play well enough to offset the losses of Vernon and Collins?
Philadelphia Eagles: Grade: C
General manager Howie Roseman has had to redo contracts and let some quality players leave (including defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Tim Jernigan) to keep the core of the team together. But they managed to add two potential difference-makers in deep threat DeSean Jackson and interior pass rusher Malik Jackson.
Washington Redskins: Grade: C-
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The defense is thinner after cutting linebacker Zach Brown and losing safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and outside linebacker Preston Smith to free agency. Jamison Crowder‘s departure hurts an already thin receiver group. But safety Landon Collins was one of the better signings in the league, giving the Redskins a young impact player on defense.
Chicago Bears: Grade: B
After going heavy in free agency last year and trading for Khalil Mack (and then making him the highest-paid defender in NFL history), GM Ryan Pace had to be more restrained this year. He lost quality defensive backs Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos but got the best bargain in free agency, landing safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on a one-year, $3 million deal. Mike Davis is a good backup running back, and Cordarrelle Patterson adds excitement as a returner.
Detroit Lions: Grade: B+
General manager Bob Quinn spent $149.8 million in contracts for defensive end Trey Flowers, slot cornerback Justin Coleman, tight end Jesse James and guard Oday Aboushi. Flowers cost $18 million a year, but if he can be the disruptive edge presence Detroit’s defense has been missing, he’ll earn it.
Green Bay Packers: Grade: B+
It’s still hard to believe the Packers were free agency players, which they never were under former GM Ted Thompson. The Packers spent $183 million in contracts, adding two edge rushers (Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith) and a safety (Adrian Amos) to a defense that needed a talent infusion. It did seem too expensive to give offensive lineman Billy Turner a four-year, $28 million contract.
Minnesota Vikings: Grade: C
The defense is mostly sticking together, after linebacker Anthony Barr turned down the Jets. The Vikings also got defensive lineman Shamar Stephen to return. Problems remain on the offensive line, but they started to patch it by signing former Titans guard Josh Kline.
Atlanta Falcons: Grade: C
The Falcons were too tight against the cap to be big players in free agency. The biggest need was at guard, and they added James Carpenter as a starter and Jamon Brown for depth. Matt Ryan had to restructure his contract to free up cap room.
Carolina Panthers: Grade: B-
The Panthers weren’t going to spend a ton in free agency, but they did well by their offensive line, retaining right tackle Daryl Williams on a one-year $6 million contract and signing Matt Paradis to replace Ryan Kalil at center. Bruce Irvin could add some pass rush.
New Orleans Saints: Grade: B-
The Saints and Coach Sean Payton had to scramble. Max Unger retired, so they signed center Nick Easton. Alex Okafor left for Kansas City, so Payton grabbed Mario Edwards. Malcom Brown comes in at defensive tackle for $5 million a year. Latavius Murray is a more affordable replacement for Mark Ingram at running back.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Grade: C
There have been more losses than gains, as the offense is now down a slot receiver (Adam Humphries) and a deep threat (DeSean Jackson). The defense is down linebacker Kwon Alexander and defensive lineman Vinny Curry. In response, they grabbed low-cost options in linebackers Deone Bucannon ($2.5 million a year) and Shaquil Barrett ($4 million) and wide receiver Breshad Perriman ($4 million).
Arizona Cardinals: Grade: B
GM Steve Keim has been one of the most aggressive front office execs this offseason, signing seven unrestricted free agents, three street free agents and trading for right tackle Marcus Gilbert. He’s hoping to fix the offensive line with Gilbert, J.R. Sweezy and Max Garcia. Linebackers Terrell Suggs and Jordan Hicks should complete the linebacker corps as they switch back to a 3-4 defense. Robert Alford was signed to be the cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson.
Los Angeles Rams: Grade: C-
The Rams brought in a pair of veterans on defense in edge rusher Clay Matthews (32) and safety Eric Weddle (34), while retaining edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. on a one-year deal. Weddle will replace Lamarcus Joyner, while the team is down a pair of offensive line starters in guard Rodger Saffold and center John Sullivan.
San Francisco 49ers: Grade: B-
The 49ers are taking chances on players with injury issues. Dee Ford has had back problems. Kwon Alexander is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Jason Verrett has had several injuries. That’s a talented trio, but particularly at the price of Ford’s and Alexander’s deals, there’s risk involved.
Seattle Seahawks: Grade: B-
The Seahawks caught a break by getting Mike Iupati to replace J.R. Sweezy at guard, and did well to bring back linebackers K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks. They need to find a slot corner to replace Justin Coleman.
Buffalo Bills: Grade: A
GM Brandon Beane tried to build up the offense around second-year quarterback Josh Allen. He splurged on three receivers (John Brown, Andre Roberts and Cole Beasley), one tight end Tyler Kroft, and five offensive linemen (Mitch Morse, Spencer Long, Ty Nsekhe, Jon Feliciano and LaAdrian Waddle). Running back Frank Gore wasn’t a bad signing, either.
Miami Dolphins: Grade: D+
The Dolphins are tearing down their roster and rebuilding it, with an eye toward landing a quarterback at the top of the 2020 draft. They’ve lost Ryan Tannehill, Andre Branch, Danny Amendola, Joel Sitton, Ja’Wuan James and others. They signed Ryan Fitzpatrick as a stopgap at quarterback.
New England Patriots: Grade: C+
It was a typical Patriots start to free agency: lose two key starters (Trey Flowers and Trent Flowers), qualify for two third-round compensatory picks, and sign a bunch of role players. They made a good move trading for defensive lineman Michael Bennett.
New York Jets: Grade: B
For $175 million in contracts, the Jets added Le’Veon Bell, C.J. Mosley, Jamison Crowder and others. The trade with the Raiders for guard Kelechi Osemele will help the offensive line.
Baltimore Ravens: Grade: C-
Down four starters on defense after releasing Eric Weddle and losing edge rushers Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley in free agency, the Ravens jumped in late to lure free safety Earl Thomas away from a one-year, $12 million offer from the Chiefs.
Cincinnati Bengals: Grade: C
The Bengals had plenty of cap room but elected to stay quiet in free agency. They signed John Miller to start at guard, and B.W. Webb at cornerback.
Cleveland Browns: Grade: A
GM John Dorsey’s biggest success was adding defensive end Olivier Vernon and superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the trade with the New York Giants. Adding Sheldon Richardson at defensive tackle gives the Browns one of the most talented defensive lines in the game. All of a sudden, the Browns are being picked to win the AFC North.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Grade: C+
This roster will take a step back with the losses of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers added a much-needed cornerback in Steven Nelson and signed linebacker Mark Barron and wide receiver Donte Moncrief to smaller deals.
Houston Texans: Grade: D+
Bradley Roby will try to fill the void at cornerback following the losses of Kareem Jackson and Kevin Johnson, and A.J. McCarron will back up Deshaun Watson at quarterback. But the Texans haven’t done anything to address their biggest need: offensive line.
Indianapolis Colts: Grade: Incomplete
GM Chris Ballard prefers building through the draft, even though the Colts began free agency with more than $100 million of cap room. So far, the Colts have only signed wide receiver Devin Funchess — to a one-year, $10 million contract. Are more moves coming?
Jacksonville Jaguars: Grade: B+
The Jaguars’ most important signing this offseason was getting Nick Foles on a four-year, $88 million deal to replace Blake Bortles. The Jags released safety Tashaun Gipson and defensive tackle Malik Jackson, but they still have six Pro Bowl starters on defense. Wide receiver Chris Conley should improve the passing game. We’ll see how much tight end Geoff Swain and linebacker Jake Ryan can help after injury plagued seasons.
Tennessee Titans: Grade: B+
GM Jon Robinson worked on the offense, paying $11 million a year for guard Rodger Safford and $9 million per year for slot receiver Adam Humphries. It was also a nice move getting Ryan Tannehill in a trade with the Dolphins and only having to pay him $2 million to back up quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Denver Broncos: Grade: B-
The secondary improved with the addition of cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan. Ja’Wuan James was an upgrade at right tackle. But the key to the offseason was the trade for quarterback Joe Flacco. Grade: B-minus
Kansas City Chiefs: Grade: C-
To clear future cap space to re-sign the best young players on their roster — including Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Chris Jones — the Chiefs said goodbye to edge rushers Justin Houston and Dee Ford, who were two of the top performers on a defense that might have cost the Chiefs a trip to the Super Bowl. Tyrann Mathieu replaces Eric Berry at safety, and they added defensive end Alex Okafor, but the worries about the defense remain.
Los Angeles Chargers: Grade: B
Their biggest moves were re-signing linebacker Denzel Perryman and safety Adrian Phillips. Even though he’s older, Thomas Davis could help out at linebacker.
Oakland Raiders: Grade: B-
HBO needs to get the Raiders for “Hard Knocks.” Antonio Brown. Vontaze Burfict. Jon Gruden. Sure, the Raiders overspent on tackle Trent Brown and safety Lamarcus Joyner, but they made a nice signing with wide receiver Tyrell Williams at $11 million a year. And there’s no question there’s a lot more talent on this roster than before free agency began.