Week 2 of free agency is just about in the books and the dust is starting to settle on the changes around the league. We’ve crammed a ton into this issue of NFLTR Review, including:
- Free agency grades for all 32 teams
- 10 second-wave impact players still out there to be signed
- Updated recap sheet of major moves so far
Free Agency Grades
The offseason is a time of hope for NFL teams but the reality is in an intensely competitive league, there are more losers than winners. There are breakouts and busts in free agency just like the draft but having seen the vast majority of these players for an extended period in the NFL, there’s usually a greater degree of certainty in assessing which teams did well and which ones did not.
Here’s a quick, team-by-team look recapping the first two weeks of free agency. The offseason is only halfway over and there will still be free agent signings into the summer. At this point, though, the bulk of the money has been spent and we have a pretty good idea of what organizations were hoping to accomplish versus what actually materialized.
Best move: Re-signing OL Germain Ifedi
Worst move: Cutting CB Kyle Fuller
This was a pivotal offseason for the Bears and it’s hard to be anything but underwhelmed by what they’ve done so far. The quarterback position was always going to be a challenge and they gave the good old college try at trying to pry Russell Wilson from the Seahawks. Ending up with Andy Dalton just isn’t good no matter how you try to spin it. Having to let go of Fuller to get under the cap was also a significant blow to a defense that’s slipped each of the past two seasons since being the league’s best in 2018. At the very least, Chicago’s made a couple of under-the-radar moves that should pay off. Getting Ifedi back was nice, as he helped kick start the offensive line’s late-season success in 2020.
Best move: Re-signing DE Romeo Okwara
Worst move: None
Through the perspective of where the Lions are as a team, this has been a solid offseason so far. Detroit is clearly a team in transition and one that could take some time. They got a good haul for having to move on from QB Matthew Stafford but bringing back Okwara at $13 million a year was also a coup for the Lions. He’s young enough to be a building block as the team moves forward. No moves really stick out as awful given the stage they’re at in team building. Williams is a terrific No. 2 back and is being paid like it. He should complement D’Andre Swift well but you just hope the coaching staff recognizes what they have in Swift and gets him the ball enough.
Best move: Re-signing RB Aaron Jones
Worst move: Re-signing CB Kevin King
It’s been a quiet offseason for the Packers as they navigate a tough financial situation that’s not going to get any easier next year. Being able to bring back Jones was massive, though, and keeps a key piece of the offense in the fold for 2021. Jones absolutely deserved to make at least $12 million a year with the rest of the top backs and even though this free agent market was tough on backs, it’s hard not to think he could have gotten more than the $9.5 million or so a year he got from Green Bay. Re-signing King is the only other real move the Packers have made this offseason, and while they didn’t pay much, it’s hard to put aside his performance in the NFC title game.
Best move: Adding CB Patrick Peterson
Worst move: Prioritizing DT Dalvin Tomlinson
Improving the defense was a clear priority for Vikings HC Mike Zimmer after 2020’s struggles in that arena. Signing Tomlinson was the big move, and it’s a curious one, as he’s a clear nose tackle and the Vikings splurged last offseason on nose tackle Michael Pierce. Tomlinson is a good player but it’s hard not to see someone like Geno Atkins, Kawann Short or Jurrell Casey being a better fit for far less money. Peterson doesn’t come without risk but Zimmer has a strong history with cornerbacks and Peterson’s pedigree should merit some benefit of the doubt.
Best move: Landing OT Riley Reiff
It’s hard to look at who the Bengals have lost versus who they’ve gained this offseason so far and come away with the impression that they’re treading water instead of making the gains they hoped for. Lawson and Jackson were big pieces on defense and the Bengals spent about as much on as it would have cost to keep them on their replacements. Are DE Trey Hendrickson, CB Chidobe Awuzie and CB Mike Hilton as good or better? Maybe, maybe not. Reiff wasn’t one of the top free agents on the offensive line but he should be a massive improvement at right tackle and has some valuable positional flexibility. He won’t stop the Bengals from drafting an offensive lineman but he gives them the flexibility to go elsewhere.
Worst move: Signing DE Takkarist McKinley
I expected the Browns to be much bigger players in free agency than what ended up unfolding. Cleveland still addressed its biggest weakness from last season by signing two rock-solid starters in Johnson and Hill, and it didn’t have to break the bank for either. However, coming away with McKinley in a deep edge-rushing market, even if they didn’t have to spend more than a few million to close a deal, is underwhelming. There are still some strong edge rushers available and time to sign them, though.
Best move: Signing G Kevin Zeitler
Worst move: Not signing a pass rusher
Zeitler had a strong market so for the Ravens to come away with him was a really nice coup, especially because he doesn’t affect them in the compensatory pick formula. The Ravens are slated to do well yet again next year when those picks are calculated in part due to losing edge rushers Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue to big deals. However, the Ravens have done little to replace them besides re-sign OLB Tyus Bowser, who’s a nice player but has a career-high of five sacks. Baltimore struck out on DE Carlos Dunlap and LB Kyle Van Noy, both of who would have been really nice additions.
Best move: Re-signing CB Cameron Sutton
Worst move: Cutting CB Steven Nelson
Retaining WR JuJu Smith-Schuster defied the expectations of just about everyone on the Steelers beat, though it took the young wideout’s market bottoming out and him being willing to take a discount to stay in Pittsburgh. It appeared to lead to the departure of Nelson, however, which overall is a net negative. There might be more to the situation, as due to void years Smith-Schuster is due to count far less against the cap than the $8 million and change releasing Nelson frees up. Regardless, that makes re-signing Sutton look like even more of a steal, as he’s now their No. 2 corner.
Best move: Getting a discount on OLB Shaquil Barrett at $18M/year max
Worst move: Missing out on RB James White
Keeping the team together was Tampa Bay’s clear mission this offseason, and they’ve done a marvelous job of swimming upstream against the currents of change in the Not For Long league. Keeping Godwin, David, Gronkowski and Suh are all terrific moves but getting Barrett for less than $20 million per year stands out. He clearly wanted to stay and was willing to sacrifice a few million to do it. The only hiccup so far has been missing on White who would have added a pass-catching element out of the backfield that Tom Brady sorely missed last season. White elected to go back to the Patriots, which is the first small victory for New England post-Brady. But there are plenty of other pass-catching backs the team could turn to, including former Texans RB Duke Johnson.
Best move: Signing RB Mike Davis
Worst move: Signing S Erik Harris
Those are just about the only two moves of consequence the Falcons have been able to make because of their cap situation. Atlanta has the most top-heavy roster in the league and will need to hit the undrafted free agent market hard to fill out the roster later this spring. Getting Davis was a solid move, though, as he proved himself a competent starter for Carolina last season. Harris has starting experience as well and the Falcons are starting completely over at safety. He’s not someone who ideally would be a starter, however.
Best move: Bargain deal for OLB Haason Reddick
Worst move: Giving OL Cam Erving and Pat Elflein $14 million guaranteed
Relative to where they started, the Panthers were fairly aggressive in clearing out cap space for free agency. The connection with trade rumors to a prominent quarterback was an obvious connection but with that on pause the team remained pretty selective with who they targeted. Some of those targets were excellent, like landing Reddick for just $6 million and adding another flexible pass rusher to the defense. Others were more curious, like the decision to throw cash at mediocre-at-best linemen like Erving and Elflein. It’s hard to imagine either were in high demand and frankly the team probably got a better player for far cheaper when it re-signed G John Miller to a veteran salary benefit deal.
Best move: Franchise-tagging S Marcus Williams
Worst move: Cutting WR Emmanuel Sanders
Once again, the Saints defied expectations with regards to their cap situation. They were able to tag Wiliams and keep him in the fold which no one saw coming. They had to virtually max out their restructures and tack on a bushel of void years but in the end the only players they had to outright cut were Sanders, Janoris Jenkins, Malcom Brown, Nick Easton, Kwon Alexander and Thomas Morstead. Sanders is a big loss considering there isn’t really anyone else on the roster to replace him right now but all told losing a No. 2 receiver, No. 2 corner, two backup interior linemen, an injured linebacker and a punter isn’t that bad.
Best move: Re-signing CB Xavier Rhodes
Worst move: Re-signing WR T.Y. Hilton
To put a positive spin on the Colts’ offseason so far, GM Chris Ballard typically likes to wait until the second wave and there are still some players to be found there this year. A decent chunk of the Colts’ cap space is being earmarked toward future extensions as well, making their high total somewhat of a misnomer. Getting Rhodes to come back was also a coup for Indianapolis and gives them one less hole to worry about. That said, the Colts have big holes at offensive tackle and edge rusher that have gone unaddressed, and those are critical positions. The one splurge Indianapolis has made was giving Hilton $8 million guaranteed, which has the potential to look rough in a year. They obviously feel differently, but Hilton’s production has declined in a major way the past two seasons.
Best move: Signing CB Shaquill Griffin
Worst move: Giving $7 million a year to return man Jamal Agnew
The Jaguars had the most cap space in the NFL entering free agency and in the end were able to put it to good use. Landing Griffin to go across from C.J. Henderson is a strong move. While Griffin isn’t necessarily an elite corner, he’s still very good and that duo should be tough for opposing teams. There were some other nice moves Urban Meyer oversaw in his first offseason, like landing WR Marvin Jones and DL Roy Robertson-Harris. There seemed to be just as many head-scratchers, though, chiefly giving up an ungodly amount of money for Agnew, even if some of that is in incentives.
Best move: Signing CB Desmond King
Worst move: Trading for RT Marcus Cannon
It’s hard to sugarcoat things for the Texans right now. There’s just not much going on with the team to be hopeful about right now. The entire situation with Watson casts a pall over the franchise. Houston has seemingly taken the approach of trying to turn over the entire bottom half of their roster and has made a higher quantity of transactions than just about every other team. Some of those look potentially promising, like adding a former All-Pro slot corner in King who’s still young. I like the trade to add DE Shaq Lawson as well. Others are curious, like swapping draft position in three rounds for a starting right tackle in Cannon when there’s already a first-round pick in his third season at the position in RT Tytus Howard.
Worst move: ^^^
The Titans were soft on defense last year and these moves are clearly aimed at rectifying that. Tennessee jettisoned three projected starters from last season’s secondary and added Jenkins and Johnson to replace them. Both are known for playing with a chip on their shoulder. Dupree and Autry arrive to reinforce a front seven that could not pressure the quarterback for their life. Both also have a hard-nosed reputation. However, there’s a strong risk factor with Dupree’s ACL, Jackson’s age, Autry’s track record and Johnson’s injury history. It’s a very boom-bust free-agent class for the Titans.
Best move: Signing DB Damontae Kazee
Worst move: Re-signing CB Jourdan Lewis
Dak Prescott’s deal didn’t leave a ton of wiggle room for the Cowboys. They pinpointed the defense as needing the most help this offseason, which is probably true given how superb the offense was before Prescott went down. New DC Dan Quinn brought two of his former Falcons players with him in Kazee and S Keanu Neal. The latter will apparently play more of a linebacker role in the box but Kazee is a super interesting player if he’s healthy who could start at multiple spots. Lewis is a familiar face but doesn’t bring much more, and his contract is arguably player-friendly.
Best move: Signing S Anthony Harris
Worst move: N/A
The Eagles haven’t had the cap space to do much of anything this offseason but took advantage of some unique circumstances to land a player in Harris who would have been one of the top free agents available had he hit the open market in either of the past two seasons. Philadelphia took advantage of a down year and Harris’ age (29) to land him for just $5 million. There’s not much else of note to comment on for Philadelphia, good or bad.
Best move: Signing WR Kenny Golladay
Worst move: Handing out too many player-friendly deals
Outside of the Patriots, the Giants may have been the splashiest team in free agency this year. Golladay was the big prize — and landing him after a visit was a huge coup to give QB Daniel Jones what should be a No. 1 receiver — but New York also handed out huge deals for DL Leonard Williams, CB Adoree’ Jackson and, relatively speaking, TE Kyle Rudolph. Williams was terrific for the Giants last year, Jackson fills a major need and Rudolph is a reliable player who gives the team more options in a number of ways. But once again, Giants GM Dave Gettleman appeared to be outfoxed too often. He had to hand Williams a massive deal worth $21 million a year to complete the process he boxed himself into when he traded a pick for the final eight games or so of Williams’ rookie contract. He gave Jackson several million more than he was scheduled to make on the fifth-year option the Titans declined. And he didn’t add any team protections to Rudolph’s deal after an issue with his foot was discovered during the veteran’s entry physical that will require surgery.
Best move: Poaching CB William Jackson away from the Bengals
Worst move: Backing themselves into a corner with G Brandon Scherff
Washington HC Ron Rivera has overseen a far more successful offseason so far than his first year, marking another step in what’s shaping up to be an impressive turnaround for the franchise. Jackson has real No. 1 corner potential and makes a good defense even better. Adding Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries to the receiving corps is a major boost to a group that outside of Terry McLaurin was one of the worst in the NFL. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a decent bridge option at quarterback who could keep the team competitive. The only real bone to pick is with franchise tagging Scherff a second time, as it sets the floor for negotiations on a long-term deal at $18 million a year, $2 million higher than what the Chiefs reset the market to with Joe Thuney, and opens the door for Scherff to walk next offseason given the impracticalities of a third tag.
Best move: Bringing back their top free agents
Worst move: Striking out at tight end
The biggest coup for the Bills happened before the start of free agency when they agreed to deals to bring back LB Matt Milano and RT Daryl Williams, two key starters who proved their value last year. Milano signed for $11 million a year and Williams got a bit over $9 million on his average. The free-agent market was weird this offseason but both were expected to sign for a good bit more if they had tested the open market. Buffalo stacked more wins by re-signing OL Jon Feliciano and adding WR Emmanuel Sanders after he was released by the Saints to boost an already potent passing attack. The biggest thing the Bills haven’t found yet that they were looking for is a tight end. Division-rival New England snared both the top options on the market, Rob Gronkowski never really seemed serious about coming up north to Buffalo and the Bills have yet to meet the Eagles’ asking price for Zach Ertz.
Best move: Signing CB Justin Coleman
Worst move: Dumping LB Kyle Van Noy
Compared to last offseason, the Dolphins have been far more restrained when it comes to their free-agent spending. Miami has agreed to mostly one-year deals and actually have a few intriguing names coming in like WR Will Fuller and C Matt Skura. But the addition of Coleman has the highest risk-reward level given how cheap Miami got him for and how well he’s played in the past. The Dolphins have a potential case for the best cornerback trio in the league between Coleman, Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. However, the Dolphins’ decision to release Van Noy after just a season remains curious. He landed with the Patriots and that move has a chance to bite Miami in the tailfin two times a year for a few years.
Best move: Making a good bet on DE Carl Lawson
Worst move: Splurging on LB Jarrad Davis
Jets GM Joe Douglas opened up his wallet a little more this offseason. He spent big, relatively speaking on WR Corey Davis and Lawson but it’s the latter that really sticks out. Lawson has just 20 sacks in his first four seasons but his advanced metrics like pressure rate are terrific, and at just 25 this has the potential to be a home run signing for the Jets, which they desperately need. Davis’ athleticism has the NFL still interested in the former first-round pick but it was a mirage for the Lions and likely will be one for the Jets, too. Douglas’ other signings like DT Sheldon Rankins, S Lamarcus Joyner, WR Keelan Cole and OL Dan Feeney have potential as well.
Best move: Trading for RT Trent Brown
Worst move: Potentially continuing a streak of mis-evaluating receivers
No team has ever handed out more guaranteed money in free agency than the Patriots did these past two weeks, which is especially notable considering the cap dropped. Owner Robert Kraft acknowledged that they’re used to laughing at the teams who “win” free agency but it’s indisputable that New England got better — a lot better. There’s a lot to love, from landing both top tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith to reinforcing the defense with perfect scheme fits like Matt Judon, Van Noy and Raekwon McMillan. The move I think has the highest potential reward, though, is flipping a fifth-round pick to get back Brown, one of the top tackles in the league if he’s healthy and motivated. What I didn’t love as much was giving so much money to WRs Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. $11 million a year for Agholor could be one of the worst deals this year, while $7.5 million a year for Bourne isn’t good either.
Best move: Swiping CB Malcolm Butler
Worst move: Signing WR A.J. Green
Part of what held the Cardinals back in 2020 from reaching the potential that made them a trendy sleeper pick was less-than-stellar play on both the offensive and defensive lines. Arizona has made several moves to rectify that this offseason, most notably landing DE J.J. Watt and trading for C Rodney Hudson. The Cardinals had a huge hole at cornerback following the departure of Patrick Peterson but getting Butler as a replacement is a huge steal at just $6 million. For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus had Butler 15th and Peterson 83rd in 2020. Those moves outweigh the perplexing decision to sign Green, who looked like he was just about done last year. Someone like Marvin Jones wouldn’t have cost dramatically more and would have been a much better addition.
Best move: Fending off competitors to keep LT Trent Williams
Worst move: Not doing more to address the pass rush
San Francisco is following a similar playbook to contending teams like the Buccaneers and Bills this offseason by trying to keep as much of the team together as possible. It’s an interesting strategy considering the 49ers were 6-10 but they feel like injuries are chiefly to blame for that. Re-signing their own players has been the top priority and the 49ers got a major win by being able to keep Williams on the blindside. As a nice bonus, Williams’ astronomical $23.1 million average annual salary actually is closer to $20 million a year when factoring in an option the team has after three years. Most of the team’s cap flexibility went toward keeping Williams but it’s still disappointing not to see the team address defensive end more than just signing former Rams DE Samson Ebukam to a middle-tier deal.
Best move: ?
Worst move: Re-signing OLB Leonard Floyd
The big splash for the Rams this offseason was the trade to bring in QB Matthew Stafford. That’s going to define their 2020 season one way or another. The move left them saddled with a fair amount of dead money from trading QB Jared Goff and that affected the team’s cap flexibility. They elected to stay top-heavy and spend most of that space on re-signing Floyd, who was the team’s top pass rusher last year. It’s a little interesting they didn’t try to find an upgrade in a bumper crop of free-agent pass rushers but the familiarity with Floyd went a long way. There aren’t many other major moves the Rams have made so far. They dealt away DL Michael Brockers in a cap-saving move. He’s a nice player but not someone who’s irreplaceable. They elected to pay WR DeSean Jackson a little over $4 million to be a deep threat instead of spending half that or less on WR John Ross. Time will tell if that’s a mistake or not but it probably won’t be egregious if it is.
Best move: Releasing and re-catching DE Carlos Dunlap
Worst move: Not doing enough on the offensive line?
For as much turmoil as there’s been surrounding the Seahawks in the headlines, they’ve quietly put together a nice offseason. The best move has been bringing back Dunlap after he looked like a highly-motivated force after arriving in Seattle via trade but the Seahawks have put together a number of other nice moves. Trading for G Gabe Jackson adds a major piece to the offensive line. Before re-signing Dunlap, they added Kerry Hyder and Benson Mayowa to stock up at what was a weak spot. Chris Carson is back to lead the run game and Gerald Everett could be a breakout candidate at tight end for Russell Wilson. The only question is whether the Seahawks have done enough to address one of Wilson’s big gripes surrounding the offensive line, as besides trading for Jackson the Seahawks’ only other move has been to re-sign C Ethan Pocic.
Best move: Capitalizing on the Bears’ misfortune to add CB Kyle Fuller
Worst move: Still having Drew Lock penciled in as the starter
You can make a legitimate case for the Broncos as the potential No. 1 defense in the NFL in 2021. On paper, a secondary that starts Fuller, Ronald Darby, Kareem Jackson, Justin Simmons and Bryce Callahan is front-to-back arguably the best in the league. Callahan has to be healthy which is far from a given, but still, that’s a tough unit to throw on. It could be even tougher with both OLBs Von Miller and Bradley Chubb fully healthy and rushing from either side. There are enough other pieces at linebacker and defensive line, plus of course an architect in HC Vic Fangio with a long history of top defensive units. The biggest question with the Broncos is once again the quarterback position, as Lock remains the starter as of now. Hindsight is 20/20 but it’s looking more and more like the Broncos should have been bigger players for Stafford than they were.
Best move: Nabbing All-Pro C Corey Linsley
Worst move: Secondary is springing leaks and the Chargers haven’t plugged them all
Top priority for the Chargers this offseason was to rebuild the offensive line around star QB Justin Herbert. Los Angeles took a major step in that direction by adding Linsley and G Matt Feiler to Herbert’s protection detail. Linsley in particular will be an invaluable resource to a young passer. There’s still work to be done at left tackle and the other guard spot but it’s a good start. The same is true in the secondary, where the Chargers have re-signed No. 2 CB Michael Davis. But they still need a replacement for Casey Hayward who was a cap casualty, as well as for starting free safety Rayshawn Jenkins who left for a big deal with the Jaguars. The secondary used to be the strength of the team and with Derwin James and Chris Harris it still should be good. But it’s not in the same state top to bottom that it used to be.
Best move: Adding Joe Thuney to an offensive line that needed a lot of help
Worst move: Having to pay $16 million for a guard when the rest of the league was slashing salary at the position
Patrick Mahomes will cover a lot of flaws for the Chiefs over the course of his career. He might be asked to do so this season, as the Chiefs haven’t had as successful of an offseason as they might have hoped. They made a huge splash by signing Thuney, who is a terrific player. But unless they plan to play him at tackle — and it’s a position he has experience and success playing — $16 million a year is a lot of resources to dedicate to a guard. Beyond Thuney, the Chiefs have failed to recruit a number of other notable free agents, most notably Trent Williams but also including a handful of receivers, which is curious given you’d think most receivers would be thrilled to catch passes from Mahomes. Kansas City should still be one of the top teams in the AFC but this offseason so far hasn’t gone that well. Then again, they could be the Raiders.
Best move: Reeling in DE Yannick Ngakoue
Worst move: Blowing up the offensive line
We covered last week some of Las Vegas’ inexplicable decision to light the strength of their team on fire. It still remains baffling. The Raiders added a third-round pick, two fifths, $25 million of cap space and were still able to keep Richie Incognito and Denzelle Good. Right tackle is a void, though, and they’re banking an awful lot on C Andre James who has a grand total of 100 snaps and change. It hasn’t been all bad for the Raiders, though. Ngakoue is a steal for $13 million a year, especially if some stability helps him get back to his peak when he was with the Jaguars. Solomon Thomas and Quinton Jefferson are some other under-the-radar additions that actually have the Raiders’ defensive line — a big weakness last year — looking like a potential strong point in 2021.
This Week In Football
- The saga with Texans QB Deshaun Watson continued to take a sordid turn as even more lawsuits with allegations have been filed. Watson’s camp has yet to respond in detail and the best thing to do is probably to wait until this plays out in the legal system. But the sheer number of accusers and the disturbing details that fall into a consistent pattern is alarming. Any football movement with Watson has obviously halted but it was reported that the Eagles have thrown their hat in the ring as suitors for Watson, which makes sense.
- There are plenty of other trade rumors, though with a much lower profile. The Bears were mulling a deal to trade DT Akiem Hicks, primarily to clear cap space, but now appear to be leaning toward keeping him. Patriots WR N’Keal Harry is still firmly on the block, apparently for the price of a fourth-round pick, and Washington is one of the teams monitoring to see if the price goes down. The Bengals have received trade inquiries for RB Giovani Bernard, which is interesting given the stagnant market for backs and the fact that Bernard’s contract makes him a potential cap cut candidate, though he is a strong receiving back and underrated backup. And there’s more buzz around Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew as potentially being on the move. The 49ers joined the Bears as teams linked to potentially having interest, while the Jaguars signed QB C.J. Beathard who would provide another backup option should they pull the trigger on a trade.
- Then there’s the situation that cropped up with Seahawks DT Jarran Reed on Thursday night. Reed tweeted he was moving on and reports indicated Seattle would try to trade him before releasing him after talks on a restructure went sour due to Reed’s desire for a new deal. He had just one year left on his contract, so to lower his cap hit without an extension, which Seattle apparently didn’t want to do, he would have had to agree to add void years or take a pay cut. Perhaps by the time you read this, the situation will have been resolved, but keep an eye on the Panthers. They need a defensive tackle and new GM Scott Fitterer was part of the front office that made Reed a second-round pick in 2016.
- Broncos S Justin Simmons finally got his well-deserved long-term deal from the team, inking a four-year, $61 million extension. His $15.25 million APY makes him the league’s highest-paid safety and inches the market up another tick.
- The Buccaneers were also handing out deals this week. In addition to wrapping up deals for most of their remaining key free agents, Tampa Bay signed LT Donovan Smith to a two-year, $31.8 million extension. The deal is a nice win-win for both sides. It frees up significant cap space for the Buccaneers to keep making moves to try and win a second-straight Super Bowl. And it further solidifies Smith’s standing with the team after some rocky moments in past seasons and even in 2020, paying him a nice chunk of guaranteed cash.
- If I had to bet, I would think OLB Jadeveon Clowney has gotten used to not having to go to training camp after skipping the bulk of it for the past two seasons. So I wouldn’t bet on him being in a rush to sign even after visiting the Browns this week. Then again, he’s needed a huge season to cash in each of the past two years and come up short both times, so maybe someone gets in his ear and he changes it up.
- Here’s a nice illustration of the way teams can exert their leverage. The Raiders had trade talks for QB Marcus Mariota at one point that were described as “legitimate.” What ultimately stopped a deal, though, was Mariota’s contract, which thanks to certain incentives would have raised his 2021 compensation from around $10 million to $20 million as the starter for a new team. One way or another, the Raiders weren’t going to pay Mariota $10 million this year. Instead of releasing him after trade talks broke down, though, they held onto him until all the other free agent quarterbacks found jobs and took up the landing spots. With that leverage, they approached Mariota about a pay cut, essentially saying: you can take $3.5 million from us or take your chances on getting that in free agency.
- Could Mariota have gotten that number or more in free agency? Possibly. The Eagles gave something similar to Joe Flacco and they were linked to Mariota at one point earlier this offseason. He would have faced learning a new offense and landing in a different situation, however, which is part of the calculus Las Vegas’ front office employed with this move. Moral of the story: players are justified in leveraging everything they can to get the best deal they can, because the team won’t hesitate to do the same.
- Isaiah Wilson cemented himself in the pantheon of all-time draft busts this week, as he was released by the Dolphins after epically flunking his second chance at a football career. Wilson’s transgressions include showing up late for his physical and his first team meeting and skipping two workouts he pledged to attend. Additional run-ins with the law have also come to light. His guarantees apparently already voided after his disaster of a rookie season when he was suspended by the Titans, so all the Dolphins are on the hook for is the draft compensation, which was a swap of seventh-round picks.
- Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder is reportedly buying out the remaining 40 percent of the team from the minority owners he’s been at war with over the past year or so. The deal should be approved at the upcoming NFL owners meeting. The investigation into Snyder for a culture of sexual harassment inside the team offices remains ongoing and is a separate issue, per the NFL. However, it’s unlikely Snyder is forced to sell the team and this news wouldn’t appear to change that.
Free Agency Recap
Here’s an updated big-picture look at most of the major moves so far, including additions and subtractions by team:
Second Wave Bargains
These 10 players are still available as of Thursday night and could be real difference-makers for a team in 2021.
1.CB Steven Nelson
Cut by the Steelers after not finding a trade, Nelson is a very good No. 2 corner who had some of the best years of his career the past two seasons. In a league that’s always starved for quality corners, having someone like Nelson available at this point is a godsend.
2.CB A.J. Bouye
We could legitimately make a top-ten list of just cornerbacks who are available and could be nice signings for a team. There are a couple that have the resume to stand out, however, and Bouye is in that group. Like Nelson, he’s a solid No. 2 corner that was released more due to cap than performance, though he is turning 30 in August. He’s also suspended for the first two games of the season but a patient team could be rewarded.
3.LT Russell Okung
Staying on the field has been a challenge for Okung. He’s played just one 16-game season in his career and he’s been limited to 13 games the past two years. A pulmonary embolism jeopardized his career in 2019, though he ultimately played six games. A much less scary calf injury limited him to seven games for the Panthers last year. Okung isn’t someone you’d want to bet on long term but he could be a nice bridge option and insurance for a tackle-needy team ahead of the draft.
4.G Trai Turner
Once one of the best young guards in the NFL, Turner’s career has taken a weird turn. He was traded by the Panthers to the Chargers last year for Okung in a straight swap. His 2020 season in Los Angeles went horrendously, as Turner was injured for much of the year and ineffective once he got on the field. The Chargers made him a cap cut and he hasn’t had much of a market to this point. Perhaps there’s something teams are privy to that we’re not, but it’s strange that a 27-year-old former All-Pro would be just sitting on the market this time of year.
5.DE Justin Houston
At 32, Houston remains productive, with 19 sacks the past two seasons for the Colts. He’s probably not someone you want to overwork too much but he can still be a key piece of the rotation for a team.
6.S Malik Hooker
Injuries really derailed Hooker’s career with the Colts, as he was once seen as an uber-promising safety prospect with elite range and ball skills. That skillset is always in demand but especially for teams that run heavy Cover 3 defenses from the Seahawks defensive coaching tree, and there are a number of those.
7.OLB Aldon Smith
Returning from a five-year absence, Smith was one of the most unique stories of the 2020 season. He got off to a hot start with four sacks in his first three games before tailing off, especially in the second half of the season. That prompted Dallas to move on but it also makes sense for Smith given his extended time out of football. He’s still only 31 and showed he still had enough of his freakish talent to make an impact in the NFL for somebody.
8.RB James Conner
Being a running back in the NFL is not getting easier, as more and more teams are appearing to subscribe to the philosophy that the position is among the least important, at least when it comes to cap space and draft picks. That hurts guys like Conner, who is a solid back as both a runner and a passer but who comes with some durability questions. He’s a starting-level back, the hard part is there don’t appear to be any starting vacancies for him right now.
9.CB Richard Sherman
It appears Sherman is holding out for the right landing spot. Even though he’s days away from his 33rd birthday, Sherman has shown he can still play at a starter level in a zone scheme for a team. He also provides invaluable leadership and experience. Teams without a real shot at a Super Bowl likely shouldn’t bother calling but others with a need at corner should absolutely make sure to prioritize Sherman above some of the other options out there right now, which are plentiful.
10.DT Jurrell Casey
Casey is part of a trifecta of aging defensive tackles who were cut by their original teams this offseason, with Geno Atkins and Kawann Short the other two. In their primes, all three of these players were fearsome interior pass rushers who could wreck gameplans. However, Short is coming off back-to-back shoulder injuries that knocked him out each of the past two years, one on each side. Atkins has also been injured and both of their PFF charts show a clear drop in effectiveness recently.
Casey played in just three games before tearing a bicep and going on IR for the Broncos in 2020. But in those three games, he was a solid player and showed that he still has more left in the tank than some of the other veterans available. Given how weak the incoming defensive tackle class is looking, teams with a need at the position should prioritize landing Casey.
Nickels & Dimes
Quick-hit thoughts and observations from around the NFL…
It’s hard to tell a ton from Texans GM Nick Caserio’s first free agency in charge, as Houston has predominantly focused on signing tons and tons of depth players. It is interesting that he’s made multiple moves and the biggest investments so far at linebacker and running back, two positions generally seen as more replaceable than not outside of special talents…
Caserio signed Christian Kirksey, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Joe Thomas to deals that could have a total value of $17.75 million, while adding Mark Ingram ($3 million max) and Phillip Lindsay ($3.25 million max) to a backfield that already included David Johnson and his reworked deal that guaranteed him $4.25 million…
NBC Sports’ Peter King had a super interesting anecdote about how the Cowboys found QB Dak Prescott back in 2016. He retold how they essentially fell backward into the pick, with several quarterbacks they tried to get before settling for Dak. But the new tidbit he offered was that Dallas’ QB coach at the time, the late Wade Wilson, was head over heels for Prescott, to the point where he made sure to give him all the right answers for his visit to the team facility so he would ace his interview with HC Jason Garrett. Crazy stuff…
After Donovan McNabb trade to Wash, Philly media made trek down for his intro news conference.
Wash PR did mic thing and would only hand it to area reporters. But a few Philly reporters – ahem – just barked out questions.
Was almost an altercation btw 2 Wash-Philly reporters. https://t.co/dPV7OxKwH5
— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) March 17, 2021
There were some logistical reasons rather than conspiracy ones for this, but it was still a bad look to give the appearance of needing to protect Carson from the big bad Philly media hundreds of miles away in Indy…
I see some saying JuJu is immature and that's why teams are balking at him. He's not immature. He is a pretty damn good showman is what he is and is making cash off of it. Good for him. Just maybe 'showman' JuJu isn't the same person as 'real' JuJu? Ya think?
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) March 18, 2021
One of the rumors floating around for why Smith-Schuster had such a tepid free-agent market centered around “maturity concerns,” chiefly related to his social media activity that led to some high-profile bulletin board material for teams last season. Hope that felt as silly to read as it did to type. Smith-Schuster’s not a No. 1 receiver, he’s more Jarvis Landry than Odell Beckham. But he gets nitpicked like Beckham does for the small stuff…
Food for the “Joe Thuney is a tackle” conspiracy. Kansas City listed him as an OL in their first official release as well…
Guards have had it rough this year. Zeitler and Turner were cut outright. Andrew Norwell, Justin Pugh and Richie Incognito were forced into pay cuts. Gabe Jackson was traded. Outside of Thuney and Scherff, it’s a brutal year to be a guard…
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) March 17, 2021
Any time we cover long snapper news, we usually get a wave of sardonic “Super Bowl time” themed comments. Which makes some sense. Pat McAfee goes into superb detail here about why having an elite long snapper actually makes a difference…
The best work on compensatory picks out there is done by Nick Korte at Over The Cap — bar none. Korte’s gotten such a good read on the NFL’s proprietary formula that despite changes from the new CBA this year his initial projections were literally more accurate than what the NFL put out in its official release…
Just about every team in the NFL is making use of void years now to take advantage of being able to spread signing bonus money over five years. Even proud cash to cap teams like the Packers and Buccaneers are compromising. It’s a sign of the times. The real question is, once the cap starts going up, how many of these teams will go back?