NFLTR Review: Free Agency Grades

Things are starting to wind down in free agency, so we’re grading the moves team-by-team:

  • The controversial move that earned one team a D
  • Six A’s with plenty of teams swinging big
  • The latest on the top remaining FAs

Free Agency Grades For Every Team

49ers

Grade: C+

The 49ers don’t have much cap space because they haven’t been able to find a trade partner to unload Jimmy Garoppolo. They’ve been able to make a few moves, though. Their biggest need was cornerback and Ward is a solid signing there. The rest of their deals are primarily addressing special teams. Hard to give a much higher grade than this as a result. 

Bears

Grade: C

Bears GM Ryan Poles tempered expectations for Chicago’s free agency at the Combine, then seemed to toss those to the wind when signing Ogunjobi. That move fell through, though, and the rest of the Bears’ moves have been in the discount aisle. There might be some solid starters here but it doesn’t feel like there’s much upside. 

Bengals

Grade: A

Credit to the Bengals for attacking the obvious weakness on the offensive line. They’ve completely rebuilt the right side of the line with new starters in Karras, Cappa and Collins. They didn’t drastically overpay, either. Bringing back Hill is solid even if his deal is a little eye-popping given how his career was going before arriving in Cincinnati. One situation to monitor is Bates. The Bengals don’t seem motivated to get a deal done unless they get a team-friendly contract, while Bates hated being forced to play out his contract year in 2021. 

Bills

Grade: A

Buffalo is the place to be this offseason. The crown addition for the Bills was obviously Miller, and he specifically pinpointed them as a landing spot despite coming off a Super Bowl victory with the Rams. The Bills made plenty of other additions, revamping the interior of their defensive line almost completely, boosting the depth of their weapons on offense with Howard and Crowder and locking down the interior of their offensive line by reworking Morse and signing Saffold. It’s a terrific start to free agency. 

Broncos

Grade: B

Obviously trading for Russell Wilson was huge but Denver had some other moves up its sleeve. Jones was one of the league’s best run-stuffers for the 49ers last season and should help replace Shelby Harris following his trade to Seattle. Gregory gives them dangerous bookend pass rushers with him and Bradley Chubb, although the floor for that duo is potentially low. Jewell, Compton and Williams are glue guys who can be solid in specific roles. 

Browns 

Grade: B-

Real mixed bag here for Cleveland. Trading for Cooper was a strong move to take advantage of another team’s mismanagement of the cap and net a potential upper-tier starter at a position of need and value. Tagging Njoku given his limited production so far made less sense. Flipping Wilson for Winovich is a potential upside move but letting go of Tretter stings despite the cap savings. And of course, there’s the trade for Watson, a brilliant talent but with serious baggage — to put it mildly. 

Bucs

Grade: A

Keeping Godwin, Jensen, Davis and Fournette is excellent work for the Buccaneers, and they were able to add Mason, Gage and Ryan who should be key starters. Tampa Bay should be the favorite in a depleted NFC. 

Cardinals

Grade: C

It’s an awful lot of standing in place for Arizona. Ertz and Conner are key contributors on offense, but the Cardinals still need help on the offensive line and at No. 2 receiver. Gardeck is a strong No. 3 pass rusher but Arizona is missing that top-notch guy after the departure of Chandler Jones. There’s plenty of time left this offseason but the Cardinals haven’t gotten better so far. 

Chargers

Grade: A

Nice focused, aggressive approach to addressing needs. The Chargers landed a couple of potential impact players in Jackson and Mack, bolstered their biggest weakness with Joseph-Day and Johnson and added an intriguing pass-catcher. If I’m nitpicking, the deals for Hopkins and Everett are probably on the rich side. Then again, the market for tight ends was wild this offseason. 

Chiefs

Grade: D

Reid and Smith-Schuster are fine players. Smith-Schuster is a perfect fit for what the Chief’s offense needs from a third pass-catching option, while Reid is a young player who has put out some strong tape in the past. But even with those moves the Chiefs were treading water compared to the quantum leap the rest of the AFC West made — and then they traded Hill and took an enormous step backward. I understand the rationale of it being easier than ever to find productive receivers. Hill is a truly unique talent, though, who is the second-most important player on that offense. Valdes-Scantling is fast but he’s not a one-for-one replacement. Put simply, they’re no longer the Chiefs we’ve become accustomed to watching the past few seasons without Hill, even with Patrick Mahomes still in the fold. 

Colts

Grade: B+

The Colts had the most cap space in the league but for better or worse GM Chris Ballard was going to stay patient and not go hog-wild. It’s arguably why the Colts entered free agency in a sticky situation. Ballard’s patience paid off though when Ryan became available. He’s a big upgrade and much better fit than Wentz, and arguably gives Indianapolis the best quarterback in the division. Nabbing Ngakoue in a trade from the Raiders is also a nice move to add a proven pass rusher to their edge group. There was room to be more aggressive but the Colts absolutely got better. 

Commanders

Grade: C

The Commanders had one of the better cap situations in football before free agency began but nearly all of their budget was sucked up by dealing for Wentz. In hindsight, they probably moved a little too aggressively for fear of being left out. They had to make other cuts to free up the budget for moves but truthfully Ioannidis, Flowers and Collins were probably already in danger. Norwell should be perfectly fine as a replacement for Flowers. 

Cowboys

Grade: C

It’s hard to say the Cowboys have gotten better. They’ll point to the cap and throw out cliches like “you can’t pay everyone” and “there’s only so much of the pie to go around,” acting like this step back was inevitable. It didn’t have to be. Not having to cut Lawrence is a small win, though Dallas nearly messed that situation up too. 

Dolphins

Grade: A+

Miami has been busy with one of the highest notable transaction volumes of any team. They’ve been keeping their own with deals for Ogbah, Needham and pretty much their entire linebacking corps. They’ve also been targeted with outside additions to fit new HC Mike McDaniel’s offense. There are a couple of speedy running backs, a solid backup quarterback, a fullback, new starting guard and depth at receiver. The headliners though are Armstead and Hill, matchup-tilting players who are legitimately among the best of the best at their respective positions. The Dolphins didn’t get much of a discount with Hill but he still might be worth it. Paying just $15 million a year for Armstead is highway robbery. 

Eagles

Grade: B-

The Eagles got a coup with the deal for Reddick and he should be a big boost to their pass rush. They’ve been awfully quiet the rest of the time and it hasn’t been for lack of trying. Philadelphia is still rebuilding so there’s not the pressure other teams face but you get the sense GM Howie Roseman wanted more out of the past two weeks. There’s still the draft where the Eagles should be big players with three first-round picks. 

Falcons

Grade: C

Atlanta’s hands were once again tied to a degree because of their cap situation that they’re still cleaning up. Losing the ability to trade WR Calvin Ridley and recoup a high pick also stung. There are plenty of missed opportunities, though. Had the Falcons looked to trade Ryan earlier, they could have drummed up much more of a trade market than the third-round pick they took from the Colts. And they lost out on some potential mid-round comp picks in 2023 for the loss of Russell Gage, Hayden Hurst and Foyesade Oluokun by signing Hayward, Mariota and Carter. Mariota is understandable to a degree because you have to field a quarterback but this is something you have to be aware of if you’re a rebuilding team like the Falcons obviously are. They’ve messed up by trying to walk the line between competing and rebuilding for most of the past two offseasons.  

Giants

Grade: C+

The Giants are another team that has had their hands tied financially, so realistically it was always going to be tough for them to really make a ton of waves. 2022 is about taking their lumps to get their cap situation right to rebuild long-term. It seems new GM Joe Schoen erred by being so cavalier about trading CB James Bradberry. It’s hurt their ability to get value so far, though there’s still time. Glowinski and Feliciano are average vets who ideally will bring some competency and stability to the line as the Giants evaluate QB Daniel Jones. The bridge option for 2023 seems to already be in place with Taylor, though, so it’s an uphill battle. 

Jaguars

Grade: B-

The Jaguars spent money like the world was ending in free agency. Like we said last week, the issue wasn’t so much the players as it was the money paid for those players. Oluokun and Kirk were paid like high-level starters when both have been good, but not to that level yet. Jacksonville definitely got more talented but odds are only two or three of these players will make it through 2023, if that. 

Jets

Grade: B+

Jets GM Joe Douglas has a clearly defined approach by now. He’s not afraid to spend some money but he’s loath to go all-out for big splashes or huge contracts. The result is a lot of middle-tier deals again. Tomlinson locks down a starting guard spot for the Jets and New York could have a legitimately good offensive line if Mekhi Becton is healthy and ready to go. Tight end was a complete void and the Jets now have a pair of competent NFL players there in Uzomah and Conklin. Reed, Whitehead and Martin could also be valuable starters. This bunch lacks sizzle but it should be solid as the Jets hope to take a step forward. 

Lions

Grade: B

Detroit is in Year 2 of what everyone in the organization has been clear is a multi-year rebuild. They had some room to work with this offseason but not a ton, and that was reflected by them being in the mix for some big-name players and coming away with more mid-tier options. Chark is a solid gamble who has flashed big-time potential. Harris and Walker were bright spots and it reflects positively on what the Lions are building that they wanted to be back. 

Packers

Grade: B+

For the most part, the Packers have successfully kept the band together. Getting Rodgers back is obviously huge. They were able to keep Preston Smith, Douglas, Campbell and Tonyan. Losing a starting right tackle like Turner would matter a lot more for other teams besides Green Bay, which has had success moving parts around on the line and already has a couple of candidates in-house. The lone, albeit significant, exception is Adams. You can understand the Packers being hesitant to commit that much to a soon-to-be-30-year-old receiver. And it sounds like Adams himself was ready for a change of scenery. It’s hard to say this helps the Packers win a Super Bowl this year, though. 

Panthers

Grade: B-

The Panthers addressed a lot of needs this offseason. The interior of their offensive line got a big boost with Corbett and Bozeman. They filled a need at linebacker with Wilson and Littleton and brought back key pieces from the past few seasons with deals for Moore and Jackson. There were some value additions as well in Hekker, Ioannidis and Woods. There’s still a big question at quarterback, though, and in the end that matters far more than anything else. 

Patriots

Grade: C+

Expecting the Patriots to repeat last year’s free agency spending spree was always unrealistic. The team was going to face a challenge navigating a much tighter cap situation, even though they have QB Mac Jones on a rookie deal. New England elected to bring back a number of players from last year’s team. Their best deal was getting Brown on a minimal risk deal. The worst was probably having to trade Mason. They needed the cap space but Mason arguably would have had a bigger impact than a handful of the other signings they’ve made so far. 

Raiders

Grade: A-

The Raiders were already a playoff team and even though they have a new head coach in Josh McDaniels, they evidently haven’t felt like they needed to radically retool. Jones and Adams are the big names here and are two of the best at their respective positions. Las Vegas is paying them that way as well. There’s some inherent risk in that but that could be balanced by deals for guys like Nichols, Phillips, Averett, Kiser and Butler that have some degree of upside. 

Rams

Grade: B

Losing Von Miller stings, there’s no way around that. It’ll be interesting to see how the Rams respond. They lost a few other starters as well, including to free agency, retirement, release and trade, but should still be fine on offense. They kept Allen and Noteboom to maintain some continuity on the offensive line and Stafford to Robinson should be electric. There’s still work that needs to be done on defense, though. 

Ravens

Grade: B+

This would have been a home-run offseason if they’d been able to close the deal with Smith. As it is, they filled big needs with great players in Williams and Moses, the latter of whom was a tremendous deal. Pierce comes back to Baltimore to fill a need and the Ravens were able to keep Ricard after all even though his camp was eyeballing tight end money. The Ravens didn’t have much cap space to work with but they’ve done a good job of maximizing what they have. 

Saints

Grade: C

The Saints basically had to max out their restructures to get under the cap and haven’t had a ton of room to work with. They re-signed Winston, added Maye to replace Marcus Williams and tendered Harty (formerly Deonte Harris) at the second-round level. There might be some upside still with Winston but it wouldn’t be shocking to see New Orleans draft a quarterback. 

Seahawks

Grade: C

Seattle has rededicated to doing things Pete Carroll’s way, which means spending more on a blocking tight end and corner than all the cornerback additions combined. The Seahawks did need to revamp their pass rush, so swapping out Mayowa, Dunlap and Hyder while bringing back Jefferson and signing Nwosu is solid. There are still some big needs on the roster though, and oh yeah they currently are looking at starting Drew Lock.  

Steelers

Grade: B+

With more cap space than they’re used to having, the Steelers were active in free agency despite historically not being big spenders. They made some intriguing deals. Jack was not good last year in Jacksonville and frankly deserved to be cut. He had just three tackles for loss and no other splash plays like sacks, picks or forced fumbles. Still, Pittsburgh needed another linebacker with some range and getting Jack together with Brian Flores is tantalizing. Deals for Wallace, Witherspoon and Daniels have some upside as well, while Pittsburgh arguably overpaid for Okorafor and is gambling on Trubisky as well. 

Texans

Grade: C+

The Texans’ offseason has looked a lot like last offseason, with a high quantity of mid-range free agent deals, including for some of the same names as last year even. The big difference, though, is that the Texans finally have the Watson situation behind them and can move forward into the future with those picks. 2022 is still going to be a rebuilding season for the Texans and their free agency additions reflect that. But as opposed to last year which was basically a wasted season running out the clock on a few situations, we could soon start to see the team make some progress. 

Titans

Grade: B-

Most of the Titans’ available cap space has gone toward keeping key pieces like Landry and Jones in the fold. But they’ve had enough to make some targeted, opportunistic additions on offense, like trading for Woods and signing Hooper. The Titans are still a good team but it’s unclear if they’ve made the additions needed to take a step forward to being a great one, especially in the AFC. 

Vikings

Grade: C

This is a grade as much about the Vikings’ philosophical approach this offseason as it is their actual moves. From that standpoint, they’ve largely tread water. They kept Cousins, replaced Pierce with Phillips and added Smith in lieu of cornerback help so far to make for a solid pass-rushing duo, on paper, with Danielle Hunter, who also wasn’t traded and was instead restructured. The issue is the Vikings have been treading water for a few years now and that’s one of the factors that got the previous regime fired. They’re trying to rebuild and compete at the same time, which I don’t think ever really works. 

This Week In Football

  • I won’t rant too much more about the Tyreek Hill trade but it’s going to have some huge ripple effects on the league, starting with the Chiefs and the Dolphins. Hill’s arrival pushes DeVante Parker further down the depth chart in Miami and at this point, the team would be glad to shed his salary. Parker’s name has come up in trade discussions but it’s not clear how serious those talks are. The Eagles have been mentioned and they could use a big possession receiver. Parker has struggled the past couple of seasons but injuries have been a factor and Philadelphia might think he fits better with Jalen Hurts than Tua Tagovailoa. He’s due $5.65 million in 2022 which will be an obstacle for a trade, though. 
  • Hill’s departure means Kansas City is in need of help at wide receiver, even beyond their additions of Smith-Schuster and Valdes-Scantling. One name that has come up in rumors is Jaguars WR Laviska Shenault, as the former second-rounder is on the verge of falling out of favor in Jacksonville with all their additions this offseason. Shenault was billed as a versatile weapon coming out of college but he’s lacked explosiveness through two seasons. 
  • As things stand now, it seems like we’ll be waiting a while for Browns QB Baker Mayfield to find a new home. The potential landing spots have shrunk and at this point the only two teams who “need” to do something at quarterback are the Panthers and Seahawks. However, there is supposedly “mutual disinterest” between Carolina and Mayfield, which just leaves the Seahawks. There are a few more connections to the Seahawks front office as well, as exec Alonzo Highsmith was part of the Browns front office that took Mayfield No. 1 overall. The two sides still need to find a deal that makes sense but the Browns don’t have many other options. 
  • The free-agent market is picked pretty clean but there are a few big names left. Here’s where things stand with some of our top remaining free agents:
    • The Browns are working hard to keep DE Jadeveon Clowney, with the word being a two-year, $24 million deal is what’s on the table. 
    • The linebacker market is moving slowly but former Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner is taking a visit with the Rams. Los Angeles typically doesn’t put a lot of value on the linebacker spot but Wagner is a special player and they have some money to work with after not being able to bring back Miller. 
    • There’s been a lot of smoke between S Tyrann Mathieu and the Steelers but it’s not clear what the actual chances of a deal are. What is clear is that Mathieu has found a much leaner market than he anticipated. 
    • The Chiefs have been connected by a couple of reports to former Panthers CB Stephon Gilmore, and he’s one of the few big names left who would represent a much-needed splash for Kansas City. But it doesn’t sound like they’re ready to throw a blank check at Gilmore. 

Nickels & Dimes

Quick-hit thoughts and observations from around the NFL…

https://twitter.com/PSchrags/status/1506659480787898369

How do you have a front-row seat to plays like that and 13 seconds and still decide to cheap out on the guy?

Cc Brett Veach…

Makes you think!

The number of picks the Commanders gave up for Wentz did not look good at the time and has aged even worse…

There are so many layers to all of this and all of them make you question the NFL’s QB eval skills as a whole. That’s not the first time I’ve seen that report about the 49ers and Darnold, and the Jets missed out by not jumping on that deal because Wilson, not Fields or Lance, was the guy they had locked onto…

Speaking of Mayfield, some background on the beef here. Duke really bided his time for years…

Best reply we’ve gotten to one of our tweets in a long time…

I was intrigued by the hire of Adofo-Mensah, who comes from an analytics background. But I can’t recall a team successfully trying to compete and rebuild at the same time. Usually you end up mediocre, or worse…

We’re in a funky year when prospects are choosing to stand on their Combine times because they’re afraid of running slower on their home turf…

If you were looking for another indictment of the star power in this draft class, look no further…

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