Instant grades for every NFL free agency signing and trade

Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

We’re weighing in on every major NFL deal and handing out grades on both a short-term and long-term basis.

The start of NFL free agency is proceeding on schedule. Despite the sports world being upended by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the new league year still began on March 18, days after the passing of a new collective bargaining agreement.

We’re going to run you through all the notable deals throughout the league, including both trades and free agent signings. We’ll be updating this list with grades as we move throughout the offseason. The latest moves will be first. You can also check out our top 100 free agents and find out where they’re all landing.

Most Recent Signings

Colts sign: CB Xavier Rhodes

Rhodes was a first-round pick and is a three-time Pro Bowler, but he was released by the Vikings after a down year in 2019. At 29 years old, he potentially has one more extension left after the one-year deal he signed with the Colts, so if he returns to form, he could be a steal and get a much bigger deal later on. Rhodes immediately fills the hole created by the release of starter Pierre Desir.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: C

Bills sign: OT Daryl Williams

Signing Williams will allow Buffalo to slide 2019 second-round pick Cody Ford to the interior of the line as he adjusts to the pro game — or vice versa. He also gives Josh Allen another reliable(ish) veteran to protect his edges. Williams is a better run blocker than pass protector, which is never great to hear about a tackle, but he’s also only 27 years old and was an invaluable piece of Carolina’s 11-win 2017 season.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: B-

Bengals sign: S Vonn Bell

Bell remains a good, not great safety who can hold down a starting role in an NFL secondary. He showed off a solid nose for the ball last season, batting down or breaking up five of his 31 targets while being used mostly as a downfield safety valve for his linebackers and tight ends. He also allowed completions on 25 of those targets, per SIS, so the potential for getting burned is very real. He’ll get the chance to team with Jessie Bates in an improved Cincinnati secondary.

Short-term grade: C
Long-term grade: C-

Buccaneers re-sign: DT Ndamukong Suh

Bringing Tom Brady to town may have helped convince Suh to stick around in Tampa, as he’ll return to the team on a one-year, $8 million deal. He’s no longer the singular force he was early in his NFL career, but still managed 14 QB hits and 34 pressures from his spot in the middle of the Buccaneers’ line. His presence up front helped create the space Shaquil Barrett needed for a breakout season, so it makes sense for Bruce Arians to keep him around.

Short-term grade: B-
Long-term grade: B-

Jaguars sign: TE Tyler Eifert

Poor Tyler Eifert. He played the first 16-game season of his career last fall, and it was for the worst team in the NFL. Now he’s headed to another rebuild in Jacksonville, where he should get plenty of reps if he can stay on the field. He probably won’t be a difference maker, but he could be a useful veteran for a team with a young receiving/tight end corps.

Short-term grade: C+
Long-term grade: C+

Jets sign: WR Breshad Perriman

Rather than pay Robby Anderson $10 million annually, New York opted for Perriman at one year for up to $8 million. Perriman is coming off the best year of his career and has averaged 18.9 yards per catch the past two years, but has never started more than four games in a season. There’s a chance his production doesn’t scale up the way coach Adam Gase hopes — and that the Jets are left wishing they’d retained Anderson instead.

Short-term grade: C+
Long-term grade: B-

Panthers sign: WR Robby Anderson

It took some time for Anderson’s market to materialize, but the Panthers swooped in with a two-year, $20 million deal that’s both less than he’d likely expected and more than his track record suggests he’s worth. Anderson’s speed and versatility were often wasted on bad Jets teams. Now he’ll head south to another franchise with major questions left to answer in the passing game, even with Teddy Bridgewater in tow. The Panthers can pair him with rising star D.J. Moore to give Carolina’s new QB a potent 1-2 punch at WR.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: A-

Seahawks sign: WR Phillip Dorsett

Dorsett was one of Tom Brady’s most dependable receivers in New England, but was largely phased out of the passing game late in the season despite a lack of targets on the roster. The former first-round pick will attempt to follow Jacob Hollister’s lead by departing for (neon) greener pastures in the Pacific Northwest. He’ll add depth and leadership to a WR corps in need of a boost, and he goes from playing with one perennial MVP candidate (Brady) to another (Russell Wilson)

Short-term grade: B-
Long-term grade: B-

Ravens sign: CB Jimmy Smith

When healthy, Smith is a solid cornerback who can be trusted on an island. He allowed a passer rating of 72.9 in 2018 and dropped that to 67.8 last season. But he hasn’t played more than 12 games in a season since 2015 and will turn 32 this summer. One year at $6 million is a solid, low-risk commitment for a Ravens’ defense whose strength is in its secondary — and it keeps a long-tenured veteran with the only team he’s ever known for at least one more season.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: C+

Panthers sign: QB PJ Walker

This is a tremendous opportunity for Walker, who will get the chance to play Tommy Maddox to Carolina’s 2001 Steelers next fall. Walker dazzled in the XFL’s brief re-debut, completing 65 percent of his passes and compiling a 15:4 TD:INT ratio in five games. Now he’ll compete with Kyle Allen and whomever the Panthers draft for snaps in 2020. This is a low-risk, headline-generating move for Carolina that could pay off (even if it probably won’t).

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: B+

Patriots sign: QB Brian Hoyer

With Tom Brady signing with the Buccaneers, the team’s quarterback depth chart was fairly depleted. He joins a depth chart that includes Jarrett Stidham and Cody Kessler. It’s unclear who will be starting, but Hoyer is a good insurance option if the team decides to roll with the young Stidham or a rookie next season. He’s not going to blow anyone away, but the Patriots are familiar with him and he has plenty of experience.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: C

Patriots sign: LB Brandon Copeland

New England lost some huge names at linebacker this season. Both Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins moved on, and the Patriots can only attempt to stop the bleeding from those losses. Copeland isn’t on that level, but he may be a bit underrated. He’s a good tackler with a nose for the ball and New England should be able to get the most out of him.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: TBD

Jets sign: CB Pierre Desir

Desir was recently released by the Colts, and he wasn’t a free agent for long. It didn’t take long for him to sign a one-year “prove-it” deal with the Jets, who bring him in for $5.5 million over one season. Desir is capable of being a starter and the Jets need the help.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: B-

The Biggest Stars

Buccaneers sign: QB Tom Brady

Well, this is an interesting one. Despite Brady not being any better than Jameis Winston a year ago, he was a coveted free agent. He struggled an awful lot last season, but he’s still a proven champion, the best to ever do it. So if he’s anywhere near that level again, he’ll have the Buccaneers in the playoffs.

Still, it’s a move that could easily blow up in their faces. It’s a two-year, $50 million deal that’s fully guaranteed. Tampa Bay could have tried to sign somebody younger and for a longer time, but they’re betting on the Brady magic.

Short-term grade: B
Longer-term grade: C+

Saints re-sign: QB Drew Brees

The move felt inevitable and finally happened just before the beginning of free agency. Brees has been the Saints’ unquestioned leader since 2006 and he’ll return on a two-year, $50 million deal that could very well span the rest of his NFL career. New Orleans needs to figure out its future after Brees, but the team has its immediate situation figured out.

Short-term grade: A+
Long-term grade: C-

49ers trade: DL DeForest Buckner
Colts trade: 2020 first-round pick (13th overall)

San Francisco traded away arguably its top defender moments after re-signing Armstead. Fortunately, GM John Lynch got a hefty return for his services. Indianapolis, who ranked 16th in the NFL in sack rate last fall, sent the 13th overall pick westward.

It’s a move that may weaken the 49ers’ NFC title defense, but also secures reasonable compensation for a player who may have left in free agency after 2020 anyway.

Short-term grade: 49ers B, Colts A-
Long-term grade: 49ers A-, Colts B

Cowboys sign: WR Amari Cooper

Dallas needed Cooper. Quarterback Dak Prescott — who the team retained via the exclusive franchise tag — levels up with the dynamic wideout on his team. His passer rating with Cooper in the lineup is 101.4. Without him, it’s 94.2. That’s enough to make him worth a top-of-the-market five-year, $100 million extension … even if it may only serve to push the Cowboys deeper into salary cap hell in 2021 and beyond.

Short-term grade: A
Long-term grade: B

Vikings trade: WR Stefon Diggs, 2020 7th-round pick
Bills trade: 2020 1st-, 5th-, and 6th-round picks, 2021 4th-round pick

Diggs has been unhappy in Minnesota for a long time, and it was only a matter of time before he was traded. The Bills just got Josh Allen some serious firepower on offense with the 26-year-old Diggs, and the Vikings got a first-round pick. The compensation is heavy — much more than the Texans managed for DeAndre Hopkins. It’s hard to give a team a good grade when they part with such a talented player, but if the two were headed for divorce anyway, you can’t do much better than the package of picks the Vikings got in return.

Short-term grade: Vikings D, Bills A
Long-term grade: Vikings B-, Bills B

Broncos sign: RB Melvin Gordon

Gordon turned down a contract extension with the Chargers that would have paid him $10 million annually. Then 2019 happened and, after a holdout and a mediocre year that saw him eclipsed by Austin Ekeler in his own backfield, he settled on a two-year, $16m deal with the Broncos. Denver already has an entrenched 1-2 punch with Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman under contract at tailback, but Gordon gives rising QB Drew Lock another solid option for a team whose potential outweighed its production last fall. It could also mean the end of the end of Freeman’s tenure in Colorado; he averaged only 3.8 yards per carry last season.

Short-term grade: B-
Long-term grade: B+

Falcons sign: RB Todd Gurley

Atlanta will be the spot for Gurley’s career rehabilitation. A one-year deal brings the Falcons a low-risk signing that could pay off in a big way for head coach Dan Quinn, who badly needs a strong performance to save his job. Cutting Devonta Freeman earlier in the week means Gurley should have every chance to prove he’s still a No.1 running back in the league — and perhaps just as importantly, his commitment means the Buccaneers won’t be pairing him with Tom Brady.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: B

Texans trade: WR DeAndre Hopkins, 2021 fourth-round pick
Cardinals trade: RB David Johnson, 2020 second-round pick, 2021 fourth-round pick

Hopkins continues to produce like a top-five wideout in the NFL, but his remaining contract paid him like a top 15 guy. This value was lost on the Texans, who had no interest in working out an extension with Hopkins and shipped him out of town in what may be an elaborate prank on quarterback Deshaun Watson. In exchange, they received a second round pick and running back David Johnson.

Johnson was an All-Pro in 2016. However, injuries have turned the 28-year-old back into a shell of his former self. He averaged just 3.7 yards per carry the past two seasons and seen his catches per game drop from 5.0 to 3.0.

Short-term grade: Cardinals A, Texans F
Long-term grade: Cardinals A-, Texans D

Dolphins sign: CB Byron Jones

The Dolphins’ rebuild has led it to a world where Miami is home to arguably the NFL’s top cornerback tandem. The club added 2020’s most coveted defensive back to its roster on a whopping five-year, $82.5 million contract — the kind of deal a team can make when it’s got more than $94 million in salary cap space.

Jones will help make up for Miami’s continued lack of pass rush thanks to his ability to shut down WR1 types in single coverage. Head coach Brian Flores saw that strategy work at his own home in New England, and now he’ll get the chance to run a similar defensive campaign in South Beach.

Short-term grade: A
Long-term grade: A

Raiders sign: LB Cory Littleton

Las Vegas inked arguably the best inside linebacker in this year’s free agent crop. but it wasn’t cheap. His three-year, $36 million contract is toward the top end of his position, but Littleton’s versatility could make this an underpay. The overlooked Ram earned sacks on more than five percent of his pass rushes and 16 percent of those plays last fall, all while adding solid coverage up the seam and in the middle of the field.

Short-term grade: A-
Long-term grade: A-

Colts sign: QB Philip Rivers

Rivers gets a big upgrade in protection by moving to Indianapolis, widely referred to as “the Philip Rivers of American cities.” Re-signing Anthony Castonzo gives the Colts one of the league’s most stable pockets, and that’s big for an aging quarterback whose mobility was never great to begin with. Rivers brings an immediate upgrade over Jacoby Brissett (or the post-injury 2019 version of himself) and provides an instant path back to the playoffs.

The move could wind up hindering the club’s search for a franchise quarterback in the future, however. Rivers isn’t a long-term answer, and he’ll be good enough to ensure Indianapolis will have trouble drafting its future cornerstone in 2021 (and possibly beyond). That’s a worthwhile risk if GM Chris Ballard sees a roster that was one QB away from contention.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: C

The high-level starters

49ers sign: DE Arik Armstead

Armstead lived up to his first-round pedigree in 2019, exploding for 10 sacks for the NFC champions after having only nine in his previous four NFL seasons. That made him one of 2020’s top free agents, and while his six-year contract worth up to $102 million is a big deal, it may wind up being an underpay for a pass rusher capable of generating double-digit sacks.

Short-term grade: A-
Long-term grade: B

Panthers re-sign: S Tre Boston

How and why Boston continues to be a player on the free agency market is a mystery. He’s been an above average starting safety for years, but has continuously played on one-year deals. Finally, Boston has a bit of security on a three-year, $18 million contract with the Panthers. That’s an affordable contract for Carolina and sets up their secondary with some stability for a while.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: A-

Jaguars trade: CB A.J. Bouye
Broncos trade: 2020 fourth-round pick

Trading Bouye away saved the cash-strapped Jaguars over $11.4 million in space and landed Jacksonville a mid-round draft pick in return. For a team that is clearly rebuilding, it’s a logical move.

For the Broncos, Bouye represents a perfect bridge with the impending departure of Chris Harris in free agency. They get an upper-echelon starter who’s a technician of his craft and especially thrived in 2017 when the Jaguars provided him with an elite pass rush up front. A roster with Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, and Derek Wolfe has a chance to give Bouye that same help. Bouye is due zero guaranteed money and is under contract through 2021.

Short-term grade: Jaguars C-, Broncos B
Long-term grade: Jaguars B-, Broncos C+

Giants sign: CB James Bradberry

The veteran Bradberry signed with the Giants on a three-year, $45 million deal that will make him one of the game’s highest-paid defensive backs. It makes sense; after a so-so 2018, he showed out in 2019 by allowing just one touchdown in 76 targets and a 63.5 passer rating in coverage. New York is betting that was just the start of Bradberry’s leap to the top tier of coverage guys in the NFL.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: B

Panthers sign: QB Teddy Bridgewater

An eventual trade of Cam Newton will truly determine the value that Carolina got out of their quarterback swap. Bridgewater was 5-0 as a starter for the Saints in 2019 with nine touchdowns and just two interceptions. But what really makes the move a steal for the Panthers is the three-year, $60 million contract that it took to sign Bridgewater. That’s an extremely affordable contract for a starting quarterback who could easily be an upper-echelon player.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: A-

Chargers sign: OT Bryan Bulaga

Los Angeles doesn’t yet know who its quarterback will be this fall, but the club’s making sure he’ll have some protection. Landing Bulaga at $10 million annually over three years could turn out to be a bargain for one of the league’s most consistent right tackles. He’ll join up with Trai Turner as the newest trusted starters for the Chargers’ rebuilt offensive line.

Short-term grade: A-
Long-term grade: A-

Jaguars trade: DE Calais Campbell
Ravens trade: 2020 fifth-round pick

Was the market on Campbell that depressed that the Ravens’ offer was the best Jacksonville could do? While Jason Mendoza’s favorite team was right to get something in return for an aging Campbell — who was headed toward the final year of his contract — there’s a chance he could have brought back a bigger return later in the offseason or near the trade deadline.

At any rate, it’s a great deal for Baltimore, who addressed a major pass-rushing need while adding one of the league’s most respected veterans. The two-year, $27 million extension the Ravens handed Campbell may not work out, but his 2019 performance suggests he’s got a lot left in the tank even in his mid-30s.

Short-term grade: Jaguars D+, Ravens A
Long-term grade: Jaguars C, Ravens B+

Cardinals sign: LB De’Vondre Campbell

Campbell led the Falcons in tackles last season with 129, and has a pair of sacks, two interceptions, and three forced fumbles. He joins Devon Kennard as a recent Cardinals signing, and together, the two make for a revamped group of linebackers that should bolster Arizona’s defense.

Short-term grade: A-
Long-term grade: B+

Titans trade: DL Jurrell Casey
Broncos trade: 2020 7th-round pick

Casey was a Pro Bowler in each of the last five seasons and a significant reason why the Titans were able to beat the Patriots and the Ravens in the playoffs this January. So if the Broncos snagging him for a seventh-round pick sounds too good to be true, well … it kind of is. The move was a salary dump for Tennessee, purging just over $10 million in salary cap space for the 2020 season. Denver is on the hook for just about $38 million over the next three years, but could cut ties with Casey at any time with zero dead space on their cap.

Short-term grade: Titans D+, Broncos A
Long-term grade: Titans B, Broncos B

Colts re-sign: LT Anthony Castonzo

Castonzo is a solid left tackle who only misses about two percent of his blocks every year and rarely commits penalties. He’s not a sexy signing, but he’s a vital one — especially if Indianapolis is in the market for a new franchise quarterback this offseason or next.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: B+

Cowboys sign: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

Clinton-Dix’s star faded when the Packers traded him to Washington in 2018, but he quietly rebounded with the Bears while we were all busy trying to figure out what was wrong with Mitchell Trubisky (the answer: bad at football). 2019 was, per SIS, his best season as a pro. He saved 46 points and allowed just 5.5 yards per target in coverage. This is a solid, underrated signing for Jerry Jones, who’s been very busy this week.

Short-term grade: A-
Long-term grade: A-

Browns sign: OT Jack Conklin

Cleveland continued its overhaul by adding one of the top offensive linemen on the market and addressing one of its biggest needs in 2020. Baker Mayfield’s regression was aided, in part, by cheesecloth blocking up front. Conklin hasn’t lived up to the All-Pro form he showed as a rookie in 2016, but he’s still a reliable edge presence who has missed just 1.6 percent of his blocks over a four-year career.

He didn’t move north cheaply, however. It cost the Browns $42 million to secure his services over three seasons.

Short-term grade: A-
Long-term grade: B

Falcons sign: EDGE Dante Fowler Jr.

Fowler had his best season as a pro with the Rams, feeding off the chaos Aaron Donald brought to the middle of the line for a career-high 11.5 sacks. While his QB hit numbers suggest he may not hit double-digits again, he’ll be tasked with punching up a Falcons’ defense in desperate need of athletes who can create havoc plays and slow opponents. Will he be as much of a force alongside a less effective supporting cast? He’s getting paid like he will.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: B-

Eagles sign: DT Javon Hargrave

Hargrave doesn’t have to move far, going from the Steelers to the Eagles. They’re paying him more than any other nose tackle in the league, and they’ll be using him as a 4-3 interior pass rusher, which represents a bit of a scheme change for him. It’s a gutsy move because there’s always a chance he doesn’t respond well to the change. He’s 27 years old though, which is a definite plus.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: B+

Chargers sign: CB Chris Harris, Jr.

Harris still has a lot to offer virtually any secondary in the league. He’s getting up there in years and may not have many high-level ones left, but he was still a great player last year, and the Chargers expect more of the same this time around.

Short-term grade: A
Long-term grade: C

Browns sign: TE Austin Hooper

Cleveland took the first big swing in the 2020 free agency cycle by making Hooper the highest-paid tight end in the game with a four-year, $42 million contract. That gives Baker Mayfield another dependable target alongside Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry as he attempts to reclaim his rookie magic in his first season under new head coach Kevin Stefanski.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: B

Ravens trade: TE Hayden Hurst, 2020 fourth-round pick
Falcons trade: 2020 second-round pick, 2020 fifth-round pick

Atlanta lost Austin Hooper to the Browns, then immediately responded by kicking the tires on Hurst. The former first-round pick had his role in the Ravens’ offense curtailed by the rise of Pro Bowler Mark Andrews, but was still a trusted presence in Lamar Jackson’s offense. His catch rate rose from 56.5 percent to 76.9 in his second season in the league, and his 8.95 yards per target were sixth-best among qualified tight ends. With an underwhelming crop of tight ends in this year’s draft, the Falcons decided to use their draft capital on Hurst instead.

Short-term grade: Ravens B-, Falcons B
Long-term grade: Ravens B, Falcons B

Seahawks sign: EDGE Bruce Irvin

Irvin is a productive edge rusher who should feel right at home in Seattle, his former team. He amassed 8.5 sacks last season, and should bolster a line that is likely to lose Jadeveon Clowney.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: B+

Chargers sign: DT Linval Joseph

Minnesota’s brief stop in salary cap hell meant the club was going to have to make some tough cuts this offseason. That meant Joseph and his $12.8 million cap hit had to go despite a typically-solid season up front. The Vikings’ loss is the Chargers’ gain, as he’ll now man the center of LA’s line and clog up running lanes in the AFC.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: B

Cardinals sign: LB Devon Kennard

Kennard was not on the open market for long, after being released by the Lions. He was a team captain and had seven sacks in each of the past two seasons. This is a great three-year pickup for the Cardinals.

Short-term grade: A
Long-term grade: B+

Patriots re-sign: S Devin McCourty

McCourty has been an invaluable presence for New England over his 10-year career. The rangy safety is coming off one of his best seasons as the linchpin of the NFL’s top secondary, notching five interceptions and seven passes defensed while allowing just a 41.7 passer rating when targeted.

That was enough to convince the Patriots to re-up with him for two years and $23 million. While his play could drop off in his age 33 and 34 seasons, he’s an important part of the Patriot Way™ and brings value beyond just what he brings on every play.

Short-term grade: A-
Long-term grade: B

Jets sign: C Connor McGovern

New York’s strategy this March is pretty obvious: They want to beef up their offensive line. After signing offensive tackle George Fant and guard Alex Lewis, they secured McGovern to a three-year, $27 million deal. That could wind up being a steal for a young offensive lineman who has improved each year he’s been in the NFL. McGovern allowed just one sack in 2019 and wasn’t called for a single penalty.

Short-term grade: A-
Long-term grade: A

Chargers trade: LT Russell Okung
Panthers trade: G Trai Turner

The Panthers traded away a young guard who has made five consecutive Pro Bowls. The Chargers traded away an aging tackle who missed 10 games last season. Both are high-level offensive line starters, but the long-term is more important than the short-term here.

While tackle is valued more highly than guard, it’s still hard to say this was a good move for the Panthers. The Chargers, on the other hand, need improvement all across their line and just landed a player who should be great for them for several years.

Short-term grade: Chargers A-, Panthers B-
Long-term grade: Chargers A, Panthers D

Vikings sign: DT Michael Pierce

Pierce is just 27, and is one of the league’s top run stuffers after entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2016. He’ll be a great fit on Minnesota’s already stellar defense, which had some issues stopping the run last season, notably in the playoffs against the 49ers.

Short-term grade: A
Long-term grade: B+

Patriots sign: S Adrian Phillips

Bill Belichick shipped clutch safety Duron Harmon to the Lions for a swap of Day 3 picks Wednesday, then turned around Thursday to sign an All-Pro replacement one day later. Phillips is a hard-hitting, physical defensive back who can fill a major role on special teams (which is where he earned that All-Pro bid)— a big deal, given Nate Ebner’s departure to New York earlier this week. He’s an important depth addition given the relative old age of Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty, and he’ll fill an immediate need for Bill Belichick

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: B+

Bills re-sign: S Jordan Poyer

One of the more underrated safeties in the league, Poyer is signing a two-year extension with the Bills. He’s made over 400 tackles with 11 interceptions in three seasons with the Bills. This is a smart deal, and he’s being paid right, in the $10 million per season range.

Short-term grade: A
Long-term grade: A

Broncos re-sign: NT Mike Purcell

One of the more underrated nose tackles in the league, Purcell is a force against the run and the fact that the Broncos are able to keep him on a second-round tender is a pretty big deal.

Short-term grade: A-
Long-term grade: B

Bears sign: DE Robert Quinn

The Chicago defense took a step backward in 2019 and it was mostly because the team struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Even with Khalil Mack wreaking havoc off the edge, the Bears still didn’t have a player finish the year with a double-digit sack total. Quinn represents an upgrade from Leonard Floyd and should help the Chicago defense get back to creating problems. The downside is that a five-year, $70 million deal is a significant investment for a team that already has limited space.

Short-term grade: A-
Long-term grade: B-

Bengals sign: DT D.J. Reader

A fifth-round pick in 2016, Reader has gone somewhat under the radar despite being one of the few dominant nose tackles in the league today. Reader is a great pickup for the Bengals, who haven’t been particularly active thus far in the offseason. He’ll be a starter in the center of the line where he’ll be a force for the next several years.

Reader’s four-year, $53 million deal makes him the highest-paid nose tackle in the league, and he’s worth every penny.

Short-term grade: A
Long-term grade: A

Texans re-sign: CB Bradley Roby

While a hamstring injury limited him to 10 games in 2019, Roby was still very effective when he was on the field. The 27-year-old picked off two passes and had eight passes defensed, to go with a 77.4 passer rating allowed when targeted, a career low.

Bringing him back was a smart move for the Texans, who signed him to a three-year, $36 million deal. They need that, too, as the rest of their corners were a huge liability last season.

Short-term grade: A
Long-term grade: B+

Saints sign: WR Emmanuel Sanders

Sanders isn’t a No. 1 receiver anymore, but he doesn’t have to be with the Saints, who signed him to a two-year deal. Michael Thomas finally has the partner in crime he’s needed for a couple seasons now. Sanders, who was a solid veteran option for the 49ers during their run to the Super Bowl, can be just that for Drew Brees. It’s clear New Orleans is making moves to surround Brees with the weapons for another championship before the quarterback calls it a career.

Short-term grade: A-
Long-term grade: B+

Jaguars sign: LB Joe Schobert

Five years. $53.75 million. That’s a lot of time and a lot of money for an inside linebacker, but Schobert is a steady middle of the field presence capable of shadowing tight ends and taking some pressure from the safeties behind him. That’s a big contract from a rebuilding team without much cap space. This says the Jags are trusting Schobert to be the veteran voice of their rebuild.

Short-term grade: C
Long-term grade: B

Detroit trades: CB Darius Slay
Eagles trade: 2020 third-round pick, fifth-round pick

The Lions decided to move on from Slay, despite the fact he was their top defensive back. Their loss is Philly’s gain. Philadelphia’s biggest weakness in 2019 was an injury-depleted secondary that allowed good quarterbacks to throw against them with impunity. Slay immediately plugs that drain, though at an expected extension of $50 million — the biggest salary ever for a CB — he doesn’t plug it cheaply.

Detroit signed Desmond Trufant earlier in free agency and brought in Duron Harmon to make plays from safety to ease the pain of losing Slay, so it’s not a total loss for the team. The Lions were smart to get some value back for a player they had no intention of extending, and the team’s tradition of being active in free agency means they probably weren’t going to get a third-round compensatory pick had he left in 2021. Still, this is a net loss for Matt Patricia’s secondary.

Short-term grade: Eagles B+, Lions C-
Long-term grade: Eagles B, Lions C+

Titans re-sign: QB Ryan Tannehill

Tannehill went 9-4 as a starter with the Titans in 2019, bringing his team to the AFC title game and, somehow, leading the NFL in passer rating. Allowing him to leave was not an option.

BUT! Tannehill’s previous seven years in Miami painted him as a low-yield, injury-prone quarterback. Last season’s performance is such a massive outlier — a breakthrough year at age 31?! — that it’s fair to be skeptical about whether the veteran QB can do it again. Giving him a four-year deal and $91 million guaranteed is one hell of a bet Tannehill can fit back into his glass slipper. Tennessee could have used its franchise tag to keep him in Nashville for 2020 to see if he could replicate his 2019 magic instead.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: C-

Lions sign: CB Desmond Trufant

It was a surprise when the Falcons let Trufant go. He spent all seven seasons of his career with the Falcons. There were injuries last season, but he still grabbed four interceptions. He’s a playmaker, and the Lions got a good one.

Dolphins sign: LB Kyle Van Noy

Brian Flores gets Van Noy in Miami, and that’s a big win for the Dolphins. Van Noy was one of the key components of a strong Patriots defense ever since the team acquired him from the Lions for a sixth-round pick in 2016. At that time, Van Noy was an underperforming draft bust, but he quickly transformed into a high-level do-it-all starter for New England.

Short-term grade: A
Long-term grade: B+

49ers sign: S Jimmie Ward

Ward, uh, rewarded the Niners’ patience with him by turning in his finest season as a pro last fall — 65 tackles, eight passes defensed, and a 38.9 percent completion rate when targeted. The big question is whether he’ll stay healthy enough to see through his three year, $28.5 million contract with San Francisco.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: B-

The other starters and “prove-its”

Raiders sign: CB Eli Apple

Despite Apple having a troubled start to his career, and some high-key lapses in coverage with the Saints in the back-end of last year, he’s still a reliable corner. Apple was solid in coverage for much of last season, and should shore up a Raiders secondary in need of help. Provided they didn’t overpay, Apple only improves the young core the Raiders have in the secondary.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: B

Vikings sign: K Dan Bailey

Bailey’s a good kicker and worth a three-year deal. The Vikings will pay him $10 million to have some great regular seasons marred by inexplicable playoff mistakes.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: C+

Titans sign: EDGE Vic Beasley

The Buccaneers struck gold by signing Shaquil Barrett to a one-year prove-it deal last spring. The Titans are hoping they can do the same with Beasley (one year, $9.5m). He had 15.5 sacks in an All-Pro 2016 and just 18 in the three years since. His QB hit numbers suggest that aberration won’t happen again — but if it does, this grade is going to look foolish.

Short-term grade: C+
Long-term grade: C+

Browns sign: DT Andrew Billings

Billings was one of Cincinnati’s more reliable interior lineman in recent years. He had 35 tackles and four tackles for loss in 14 starts last season. The Browns needed to add some beef on the defensive line, and Billings does that. It’s also more of a one-year “prove-it” deal.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: B

Rams re-sign: DE Michael Brockers

Brockers nearly went to the Ravens on a three-year, $30 million deal. When that fell through, he returned to Los Angeles. He’ll be a necessary component for the Rams, though just what the club’s future holds, especially as it ventures into salary cap hell, it unclear.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: C

Lions sign: LB Jamie Collins

The New England version of Collins was far superior to the version that failed to live up to expectations in two-plus seasons with Cleveland. Matt Patricia, who worked with Collins as an assistant from 2013-16, is hoping his experience with the Patriot Way will help keep the inside linebacker’s recent revival alive.

The Lions added him on a three-year, $30 million deal with $18 million in guarantees — a deal that could be a bargain or an overpay depending on which version of the Pro Bowl defender shows up in Michigan.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: B-

Falcons re-sign: DT Tyeler Davison

Davison became a run-stuffing force last season, and the Falcons are bringing him back under very reasonable terms. He’s coming back on a three-year deal with higher cap numbers in the final two years. He started 12 games last season, and could work into becoming a full-time starter.

Short-term grade: B-
Long-term grade: B-

Steelers sign: TE Eric Ebron

Loading up on targets makes sense for Pittsburgh as it eases into the twilight of Ben Roethlisberger’s career, but which Ebron will the Steelers be getting? He had 13 touchdowns in a Pro Bowl 2018, then battled injuries throughout 2019 and had only three. Will a more consistent QB situation be enough to bring back the best version of the former first rounder? Or will Pittsburgh soon be subject to the frustration Detroit and Indianapolis both grew accustomed to?

Short-term grade: B-
Long-term grade: C+

Giants sign: LB Kyler Fackrell

Fackrell was emerging as an up-and-coming edge rusher for the Packers, even finishing with 10.5 sacks in 2018. Then the team signed Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, leaving Fackrell as a rotational rusher who saw the field on less than 50 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps. That made him a cheap signing for the Giants, who got Fackrell on a one-year, $4.6 million prove-it deal. Best case scenario: He has a Shaquil Barrett-esque breakout year. Worst case: New York lost a few million on a roll of the dice.

Short-term grade: A
Long-term grade: A-

Jets sign: OT George Fant

New York needs to protect Sam Darnold. Whether or not Fant can be an upgrade for the Jets remains to be seen. The former undrafted free agent still brings untapped potential and athleticism to the edge, and he was only flagged for a single penalty across 452 snaps in 2019. Is that worth $30 million over three seasons? With only $13.7 million guaranteed, the Jets can afford to find out.

Short-term grade: C
Long-term grade: B

Rams sign: LB Leonard Floyd

Los Angeles moved quickly to fill a piece of the void left behind by Fowler’s departure. Floyd won’t bring the kind of sack numbers his predecessor did, but the former Bear only had four fewer QB hits despite making only three sacks last season. He could improve thanks to Donald’s presence — but if he wasn’t able to keep his role in Chicago while cleaning up Khalil Mack’s messes, he may underwhelm in a similar role with the Rams.

Short-term grade: B-
Long-term grade: B-

Broncos sign: OG Graham Glasgow

Denver is at risk of losing blockers this spring as both Ronald Leary and Connor McGovern head to free agency. Signing Glasgow for four years and $44 million will help offset those losses and keep the Broncos strong in the middle of their line. Glasgow is a young, versatile lineman who is useful in both the run and passing games, and he should help keep second-year QB Drew Lock’s jersey clean.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: B

Lions trade: late-round pick (likely a sixth)
Patriots trade: S Duron Harmon, late-round pick (likely a seventh)

Matt Patricia’s quest to open up his own Patriots franchise in Michigan continued Wednesday; hours after signing Danny Shelton and one day after inking Jamie Collins, he struck a deal to acquire Harmon from New England in exchange for a swap of Day 3 picks. Harmon fills an immediate need in the Lions’ secondary. The sometimes-starter found a way to come up big in clutch moments for the Pats, and he’ll be counted on to bring that leadership to Detroit.

Harmon was good, but the Patriots remain stacked with defensive backs. Trading him in 2020 may hurt in the short term, but it appears Bill Belichick had no intention of re-signing the versatile safety once his contract expired in 2021.

Short-term grade: Lions B, Patriots C-
Long-term grade: Lions C, Patriots B-

Dolphins sign: RB Jordan Howard

The Dolphins’ leading rusher in 2019 was a 36-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick. Signing anyone better than Patrick Laird would have been a step in the right direction. So, signing an active NFL player was a step in the right direction.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: B

Bills sign: DL Quinton Jefferson

Jefferson has the ability to play inside or outside, and the Bills will probably use him everywhere. With Jordan Phillips gone, Jefferson can come in and immediately fill his role on Buffalo’s line. He’s also better at getting the quarterback than Phillips is, so this is an upgrade for the Bills.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: B+

Browns sign: S Karl Joseph

Joseph is a former first-round pick who became a reliable starter for the Raiders over the years. He was injured for much of last season, and the Raiders declined his fifth-year option. The Browns were in need of multiple safeties this offseason, and Joseph can immediately step in and be the starter. It’s a one-year deal, but if he plays as well as they hope, it would be easy to see them giving him a big extension.

Short-term grade: A-
Long-term grade: B+

Dolphins sign: OL Ted Karras

Karras was solid after being pressed into a starting role through the 2019 season thanks to David Andrews’ blood clots. That led him to a prove-it deal in Miami: one year and $4 million. If he can maintain his level of play outside of New England, he’ll be a bargain for the Dolphins — and set himself up for a bigger, long-term deal next spring.

Short-term grade: B-
Long-term grade: B-

Packers sign: LB Christian Kirksey

Blake Martinez is a free agent, so the Packers picked up his replacement in the ultra productive, oft-injured former Brown. Kirksey signed a two-year, $13 million deal with another $3 million available in performance bonuses. Green Bay badly needed a sideline-to-sideline tackling presence who can get to the line of scrimmage in a hurry. Kirksey provides that … but he’s played only 10 games the last two seasons due to injury.

Still, if Green Bay needs a hard-working leader to set the example in the middle of the field, it could do a lot worse than Kirksey.

Short-term grade: B-
Long-term grade: C+

Giants sign: LB Blake Martinez

Martinez is a tackling machine (446 the past three seasons) but his average stop in 2019 came nearly five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Opposing QBs completed 82.5 percent of their passes when he was targeted in coverage. While he’s a good teammate and useful depth option, he might not be the do-it-all solution his three year, $30 million contract suggests the Giants would like him to be.

Short-term grade: C
Long-term grade: C

Panthers sign: G John Miller

Miller was a cap casualty by the Bengals, and their loss is Carolina’s gain. He’s not the best guard in the league, but he is very consistent and should shore up the team’s line after they traded away Trai Turner.

Short-term grade: A-
Long-term grade: C

Eagles sign: CB Jalen Mills

Mills has had injury concerns in recent season, but he was Philadelphia’s most consistent cornerback last season. He’ll reportedly be switching positions to safety, which should be a good fit for him. Don’t be surprised if Mills thrives there and becomes a bigger name next season. It’s a one-year deal.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: B

Raiders sign: EDGE Carl Nassib

This is a good fit for Nassib, but he’s been more of a situational player in the NFL. He’s able to get to the quarterback, and the Raiders sorely need that, but the $25 million ($17 million guaranteed) they’re paying him seems like an awful lot over the next three seasons. Still, he managed 12.5 sacks over the past two seasons and is just 26 years old.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: B-

Washington signs: LB Kevin Pierre-Louis

While Pierre-Louis’ playtime has been sporadic over the years, he was very good down the stretch in 2019. Washington is signing him to a one-year deal that could become something bigger if he can get onto the field and show he’s better than most think. This also fills a big need, as Washington has needed some help at multiple linebacker spots.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: B+

Jets re-sign: CB Brian Poole

Poole was a pleasant surprise in the New York secondary — a rising young corner who played better with the Jets than he had the previous three seasons with the Falcons. He may not have the high ceiling of other defensive backs on this year’s market, but he’s a steady starter and the kind of player needed to spur a turnaround in northern New Jersey. He’s back with New York on a low-risk one year, $5 million deal.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: B

Rams sign: DT A’Shawn Robinson

The Rams bring in Robinson on a two-year, $17 million deal, which is a lot for a role player but if the Rams hope he can be more than someone who only plays half the snaps, it makes sense. Robinson had a bit of a down year last season, but he’ll be joining a very talented defensive line. Still, the past two years haven’t given us much confidence in him.

Short-term grade: C+
Long-term grade: C

Lions sign: DT Danny Shelton

Shelton rebuilt some of his value in a two-year stint with the Patriots, most notably setting career highs in sacks (three) and tackles (61) last season. That made him the latest former Patriot to settle in Detroit, joining Trey Flowers, Justin Coleman, Danny Amendola, and Jamie Collins. Head coach Matt Patricia is really trying to import the Patriot Way ™ to Michigan. We’ll see how that works out for him.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: B

Bills re-sign: LG Quinton Spain

Spain signed a one-year “prove it” deal last season and he delivered. He was solid in protection in Buffalo’s rapidly changing offense with Josh Allen under center. He’s also being retained for a reasonable $5 million per season over the next three years. This is a smart deal for a good player.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: B+

Bengals sign: CB Trae Waynes

If there was any player who desperately needed a change of scenery this offseason, it was Waynes. He became the scapegoat for most of Minnesota’s issues in recent seasons, but still has the athleticism and pedigree to make a team — the Bengals, we now know — take a chance on him. At 27 years old, there’s still a chance for Waynes to turn his career around, but the massive $42 million contract is way too high for him.

Short-term grade: B-
Long-term grade: D

Backups and aging veterans

49ers sign: DE Ronald Blair

Blair is a favorite of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, and his depth is even more important with the loss of DeForest Buckner. A capable pass-rusher who was looking at a big free agency contract before tearing his ACL a year ago, Blair is a high-upside player who the 49ers think can be more than a role player.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: B

Lions sign: QB Chase Daniel

Daniel is one of the better backups, and he should be a good option to backup Matthew Stafford, who has dealt with injuries lately. Daniel could start if need be, and the contract includes voidable years.

Short-term grade: B-
Long-term grade: B-

Washington signs: LB Thomas Davis

Davis is still a high-level linebacker, even at 36 years old. He was contemplating retirement, but instead joins a Washington team that was starved for linebacker help going into this offseason. He joined the also recently-signed Kevin Pierre-Louis and should be a starter after compiling 112 tackles last season.

Short-term grade: A
Long-term grade: C-

Bears trade: 2020 fourth-round compensatory pick
Jaguars trade: QB Nick Foles

Chicago was in the market for a veteran passer to push Mitchell Trubisky for snaps. They got one of the most expensive ones available by adding Foles, who went 0-4 as a starter in 2019 and was replaced by a rookie sixth-round pick. It looked like Foles’ four-year, $88 million deal would hang like an albatross from the Jags’ salary sheet, but the Bears swooped in to rescue them …and then paid them a fourth-round pick for the honor of doing so.

There’s a chance this all works out for Chicago and that starting Foles off in a backup role is the way to unlock his powers. Based on last year’s results, it’s more likely the Bears just clogged up their 2021 cap space to host the league’s highest-paid understudy. Jacksonville won’t come out of this smelling like roses, either. Foles leaves nearly $19 million in dead cap money behind as he heads north.

Short-term grade: Jaguars B, Bears F
Long-term grade: Jaguars B, Bears D

Bears sign: TE Jimmy Graham

Graham was an occasional presence for the Packers the past two seasons, but had nowhere near the impact Green Bay hoped he’d have. He had just 93 catches and five touchdowns in 32 games, earning his release this offseason.

The Bears are hoping that was an anomaly. They signed the 33-year-old to a two-year, $16 million deal — with only $9 million guaranteed — in hopes he can stabilize a tight end rotation that’s more potential than production.

Short-term grade: C-
Long-term grade: D+

Texans sign: CB Vernon Hargreaves

A first-round pick in 2016, Hargreaves has been a liability in coverage more often than naught. But Houston likes what he brings to the table and he still has upside as a relatively young corner. They’re signing him to a one-year deal, so there’s not much risk here.

Short-term grade: C
Long-term grade: C+

Raiders sign: S Jeff Heath

Hot off signing Jason Witten, Jon Gruden brings in another guy who is an EXTREMELY Jon Gruden signing. Heath is a standout special teams player who has underwhelmed as a starter for the Cowboys over the years. That said, he could bounce back to the higher level of play he flashed earlier in his career, and if that happens, the Raiders will be in good shape.

Short-term grade: C+
Long-term grade: C+

Saints sign: S Malcolm Jenkins

Jenkins returns to the franchise where he started his career after being released by the Eagles. The heady veteran is a savvy player whose style of play is unlikely to decline sharply in his early 30s. He should be an upgrade over Vonn Bell, who is currently a free agent.

Short-term grade: A-
Long-term grade: B+

Browns sign: QB Case Keenum

Cleveland lands a high-value backup who can step into a starting role should anything happen to Baker Mayfield on a three-year, $18 million deal. More importantly, the move reunites him with head coach Kevin Stefanski, who was Minnesota’s quarterbacks coach for Keenum’s breakout 2017 season. There’s a lot of potential here, but yeah, that’s a lot of money for a backup.

Short-term grade: B+
Long-term grade: B-

Cowboys re-sign: LB Sean Lee

Lee was once a defensive leader and budding superstar in the NFL. But injuries took their toll and now the Cowboys have a young pair of linebackers, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, who have taken over as the defensive leaders for Dallas. Lee will probably never again be the player he was, but he’s a cheap depth addition on just a one-year, $4.5 million contract.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: B-

Raiders sign: QB Marcus Mariota

Mariota is a high-character guy who will improve any quarterback room, but for now, he’s not consistently better than Derek Carr. That said, he is the right kind of player to compete with Carr and push him to improve. Mariota immediately becomes one of the league’s best backups and could end doing to Carr what Ryan Tannehill did to Mariota last season.

Short-term grade: B
Long-term grade: TBD (pending terms)

Giants sign: QB Colt McCoy

McCoy remains one of the better backup quarterbacks, in that he has experience and generally doesn’t ruin everything he touches. He did throw one interception in his lone appearance last season. Still, this kind of signing isn’t going to move the needle for any team, especially one without a great starting quarterback like the Giants.

Short-term grade: C+
Long-term grade: C-

Cowboys sign: DT Gerald McCoy

McCoy is no longer a perennial Pro Bowler, but he’s the kind of big name signing Jerry Jones can point to should his critics suggest he’s painted himself into a corner with the Cowboys’ salary cap situation. His pressure rate fell in 2019 and he played in only 63 percent of the Panthers snaps last season, so any impact he makes in Dallas will likely be as a rotational presence.

Short-term grade: C
Long-term grade: C

Seahawks sign: OT Cedric Ogbuehi

Ogbuehi is a former first-round pick who hasn’t quite played up to his expectations. He signed a deal close to the veteran minimum last year, but the Seahawks are giving him a lot more, $3.3 million over one year. That means they see something in him, and will likely have him serving a prominent role, potentially as a swing tackle. Still, there’s not a ton of good tape on him so Seattle may have overpaid.

Short-term grade: C+
Long-term grade: C-

Raiders sign: TE Jason Witten

This is a strange one. The Raiders already have a strong group of tight ends. Darren Waller is one of the best in the game, while Derek Carrier and Fabian Moreau make up perhaps the deepest tight end bench in the league. Witten is 37 and went for 529 yards and four touchdowns last season. Then again, Jon Gruden loves his “gritty” players and of course those two are a perfect match, regardless of how little football sense it makes.

Short-term grade: C-
Long-term grade: D

Read more at SB Nation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *