Free Agency’s First Days: Making Sense of All the Movement
After a hectic opening round of free-agent deals, trades, releases and re-signings, we go team-by-team to see who’s getting it right, and who’s not
The MMQB's Jenny Vrentas discusses the ideal scenario for the Cleveland Browns after NFL free agency.
Added: FB Patrick DiMarco (ATL), DB Micah Hyde (GB), FB Mike Tolbert (CAR), G Vlad Ducasse (BAL)
Lost: CB Stephon Gilmore (NE), WR Marquise Goodwin (SF), WR Robert Woods (LAR)
Re-signed: OLB Lorenzo Alexander, OT Jordan Mills
Gilmore wasn’t worth to the Bills what he’s worth to the Patriots because the Bills, under new head coach Sean McDermott, will employ a lot of traditional zone coverages. (The Patriots, on the other hand, play more man-to-man.) The more interesting move is adding not one, but two fullbacks—and probably the best two from the NFC last year. DiMarco will help on base downs; Tolbert will help on passing downs. QB Tyrod Taylor is not a fast field-reader and needs extra time in the pocket. Having a third-down back with Tolbert’s blocking prowess will help.
Added: S Nate Allen (OAK), LB Lawrence Timmons (PIT), DE William Hayes (LAR), TE Anthony Fasano (TEN), TE Julius Thomas (trade from JAX)
Lost: TE Dion Sims (CHI)
Re-signed: DE Andre Branch, S Reshad Jones, WR Kenny Stills, DT Earl Mitchell (SF), OT Branden Albert (trade to JAX)
Shoddy inside linebacker play was a big issue for this defense last season. Timmons gives them an attack-minded veteran. He’s a more instinctive player than intellectual one; it may take him some time to adjust to new surroundings. Fortunately, new D coordinator Matt Burke will run a traditional zone scheme, which any veteran, and especially one who still moves as well as Timmons, should pick up smoothly.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Added: CB Stephon Gilmore (BUF), TE Dwayne Allen (trade from IND), WR Brandin Cooks (trade from NO), DE Lawrence Guy (BAL), DE Kony Ealy (trade from CAR)
Lost: TE Martellus Bennett (GB), CB Logan Ryan (TEN), DE Jabaal Sheard (IND)
Re-signed: DT Alan Branch, S Duron Harmon
Adding the quick, speedy Cooks makes this a scarier offense than it was a year ago—especially when you consider that Rob Gronkowski (if healthy) will also be impacting safeties in the middle of the field. That said, you have to question paying Dwayne Allen $5 million over the next two years rather than choosing to pay Bennett, who signed with Green Bay for an average of $7 million a year. Allen is flexible as a move-blocker, but he isn’t a major receiving threat from the slot or especially out wide. He doesn’t provide as much formational diversity as Bennett would have.
NEW YORK JETS
Added: OT Kelvin Beachum (JAX)
Lost: WR Brandon Marshall (NYG), C Nick Mangold (released), OT Ryan Clady (released), CB Darrelle Revis (released)
The Jets still haven’t found someone to replace Revis. That’s a concern because Todd Bowles can’t run his full blitz-intensive system without a top-shelf cover corner.
Added: S Tony Jefferson (ARI), RB Danny Woodhead (SD/LAC)
Lost: FB Kyle Juszczyk (SF), RT Ricky Wagner (DET), FS Lardarius Webb (released), OLB Elvis Dumervil (released)
Re-signed: DT Brandon Williams
The addition of Jefferson is offset a little by the release of Webb. Yes, Webb’s release created $5.5 million in cap space, but he had blossomed into one of the rangier free safeties in the sport. His cornerbacking background also provided the unique flexibility to drop down and cover the slot. Having a safety trio of him, Jefferson and Eric Weddle would have allowed for a scheme with almost no boundaries on its flexibility and disguises. But money was limited, and adding Jefferson certainly makes for more schematic diversity. Overall, still not a bad move by the Ravens.
Lost: LB Karlos Dansby (ARI), LT Andrew Whitworth (LAR), G Kevin Zeitler (CLE), DT Domata Peko (DEN)
Re-signed: CB Dre Kirkpatrick, WR Brandon LaFell
On the dark side: yes, Whitworth and Zeitler were the only two consistent pieces on an offensive line that surprisingly struggled throughout 2016. If callow third-year tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher don’t take big steps forward, it will be difficult for Cincy’s entire offense to function. On the bright side: Kirkpatrick and LaFell were two players the Bengals needed to retain, and it wasn’t a sure thing that they would. Kirkpatrick is long and flexible. LaFell is not a dynamic weapon, but he’s revered as a leader and, within the context of Cincy’s scheme, can produce on in-breaking routes (like skinny posts and slants).
Added: WR Kenny Britt (LAR), C J.C. Tretter (GB), G Kevin Zeitler (CIN), QB Brock Osweiler (trade from Houston)
Lost: WR Terrelle Pryor (WAS)
So you essentially pay $16 million for what’s likely to be a late second-round pick in 2018 as part of the Osweiler trade, but you won’t pay half of that to retain an uber-athletic 27-year-old wide receiver whom you invested significant man hours and resources in developing? Unless the Browns know something about Pryor that we don’t, letting him walk to Washington for $8 million is as dumb as it gets. He has the raw talent to be a true No. 1. Maybe he’s still a ways off from that, but at the start of last season he was a guy who could only line up wide and run post patterns. By the end of the season he was lining up in the slot and running nearly a full route tree. Such swift, meaningful development over the course of a few months is extremely rare. Cleveland did the hard work for Washington.
Lost: LB Lawrence Timmons (MIA), WR Markus Wheaton (CHI)
Re-signed: QB Landry Jones, TE David Johnson
The Steelers have never been big players in free agency, which means that for the second straight year they’ll restock their defense by drafting guys and—this is the notable part—playing them right away. The positions of need: slot corner and edge rusher.
Lost: QB Brock Osweiler (trade to CLE), CB A.J. Bouye (JAX), S Quintin Demps (CHI), OLB John Simon (IND)
Bouye is gone, but third-year pro Kevin Johnson is expected back healthy. Johnson has outstanding transitional movement skills. Demps is gone, but undrafted third-year pro Corey Moore came on strong late last season, improving markedly in coverage. The unheralded Simon is gone, but this versatile front seven will get back a certain guy named J.J. Watt. Consider this one of the rare instances where a defense loses three quality starters, makes no additions and is still poised to maintain its standing near the top of the league.
Added: DE Jabaal Sheard (NE), OLB John Simon (HOU)
Lost: TE Dwayne Allen (trade to NE), S Mike Adams (CAR)
Re-signed: TE Jack Doyle
No team played with two tight ends as often as Indy last year. Rob Chudzinski has always been one of the most innovative offensive coordinators in football when it comes to multi-tight end sets. Allen was expendable because he’s basically a poor man’s Doyle. Which is to say, he’s more of an H-back than a receiver. Expect the Colts to draft a flexible pass-catching tight end.
Added: CB A.J. Bouye (HOU), DE Calais Campbell (ARI), SS Barry Church (DAL), G Earl Watford (ARI), LT Branden Albert (trade from MIA)
Lost: CB Prince Amukamara (CHI), OT Kelvin Beachum (NYJ), SS Jonathan Cyprien (TEN), G Luke Joeckel, TE Julius Thomas (trade to MIA)
It’s chic to facetiously declare the Jaguars back-to-back champions of the offseason, but boy, at some point the talent they’ve accumulated on defense (last year they signed DT Malik Jackson and S Tashaun Gipson and drafted CB Jalen Ramsey and LB Myles Jack) can’t help but translate into on-field success. This was already a better defense than people realized in 2016. With Bouye opposite Ramsey, it now has the ability to play press-man on the perimeter, which will give dimension to the zone foundation of D coordinator Todd Wash with Campbell paired with Jackson, there are two imposing defensive linemen who can line up anywhere and penetrate gaps or clog them.
Added: SS Johnathan Cyprien (JAX), CB Logan Ryan (TEN), DT Sylvester Williams (DEN)
Lost: G Chance Warmack (PHI), TE Anthony Fasano (MIA), WR Kendall Wright (CHI)
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has quietly shifted his philosophy in this, the eighth decade of his life. As last season progressed, LeBeau called more and more man coverage. The reason was twofold. One: The Titans were young at defensive back, and many of their players struggled to digest the complexity of the matchup coverage rules that come with LeBeau’s zone scheme. But two: LeBeau felt that his blitz packages, which featured five or six rushers who were almost always disguising their looks before the snap and criss-crossing paths to the quarterback after it, demanded more press-man on the back end. Adding Ryan will help in this department, but don’t be surprised if the Titans still draft one or two corners in the first few rounds.
Added: G Ronald Leary (DAL), OT Menelik Watson (OAK), DT Domata Peko (CIN), DT Zach Kerr (IND)
Lost: LT Russell Okung (LAC), DT Sylvester Williams (TEN)
New players do not mean a better offensive line. In fact, the Broncos might be worse up front than they were. Yes, Leary was outstanding last season, but his lack of athleticism was hidden by playing between super talents like LT Tyron Smith and C Travis Frederick along Dallas’s O-line. When he’s forced to make improvised reactions to defenders on the move, his limitations show. Watson is considerably less limited physically but was never able to corral his talent as a Raider. His best chance is at guard, not tackle.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Lost: RB Jamaal Charles (released)
As of this writing, Dontari Poe was unsigned. The same was true of several other quality defensive tackles across the league. There’s good value to be had here. Poe is an athletic big man on a market that’s overstocked with them. A team could probably get him on a cheap one-year deal.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Added: LT Russell Okung (DEN)
Lost: LB Danny Woodhead (BAL), OL D.J. Fluker (NYG)
Re-signed: SS Jahleel Addae, DE Damion Square
Perhaps no quarterback is better at getting to his checkdown than Philip Rivers. That may seem trivial, but it has led to a ton of passing yards and first downs over the years. The reason Rivers thrives here is the Chargers teach landmark checkdowns. The running back must get to a very specific spot when releasing late into a route. Few backs have a better feel for this than Woodhead. When you consider that he could also run some routes from the slot and even out wide (if it was a spread formation), his departure really hurts the passing game.
Added: OL Marshall Newhouse (NYG)
Lost: SS Nate Allen (MIA), CB D.J. Hayden (DET), DL Stacy McGee (WAS), ILB Malcolm Smith (SF), OT Menelik Watson (DEN)
All of these departing players were fringe starters at best (which is why they were allowed to leave). The only one who wasn’t was the underrated strongman McGee—and he wasn’t healthy often enough in 2016.
Added: CB Nolan Carroll (PHI), DE Damontre Moore (SEA), DT Stephen Paea (CLE)
Lost: S Barry Church (JAX), G Ronald Leary (DEN), DT Terrell McClain (WAS), S J.J. Wilcox (TB), DE Jack Crawford (ATL)
(Up in the air): QB Tony Romo, CB Brandon Carr (unsigned), CB Morris Claiborne (unsigned)
We add the special “up in the air” category here because the fate of these three players will carry big implications. Romo because of the history and, even more so, his cap number ($24.7 million). Carr and Claiborne because both were part of a secondary that overperformed last season and could potentially have to replace its best players save for Byron Jones and Orlando Scandrick. Stay tuned here, the makeup of Dallas’s defense is still to be determined.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Added: WR Brandon Marshall (NYJ), TE Rhett Ellison (MIN), OL D.J. Fluker (SD/LAC)
Lost: OL Marshall Newhouse (OAK), WR Victor Cruz (released), RB Rashad Jennings (released)
Instead of speculating (read: guessing) about what Marshall will mean for the locker room, let’s focus on something we’re actually privy to seeing: what he can mean on the field. It’s doubtful Marshall’s presence will impact New York’s incumbent superstar, Odell Beckham; it’s still a no-brainer for defenses to double Beckham. Marshall has a chance to be extremely productive. Not only will he see more single coverage downfield, but in New York’s system he’ll get to run a lot of slant patterns—something his body type and skill set is well-suited for.
Added: WR Alshon Jeffery (CHI), WR Torrey Smith (SF), G Chance Warmack (TEN)
Lost: CB Nolan Carroll (DAL), OLB Connor Barwin (released)
Smith is fast but too stiff to run anything other than straight go routes and the occasional slow-developing comebacker or dig. He’s little more than a No. 4. (Expect him to edge out Nelson Agholor for this role.) Jeffery is a different story. He’s a big body with speed and bendability. In other words, he’s a polished Dorial Green-Beckham. The question is how well can he fit a quick-strike game? The Eagles prefer to get the ball out on three-step dropbacks.
Added: DT Terrell McClain (DAL), DT Stacy McGee (OAK), WR Terrelle Pryor (CLE), S D.J. Swearinger (ARI)
Lost: DT Chris Baker (TB), WR Pierre Garçon (SF), WR DeSean Jackson (TB)
Jackson and Garçon, stylistically, were terrific fits for Jay Gruden’s system. Jackson could take the top off the D, Garçon was great on in-breaking routes. Gruden designed plays that featured these two in correlation. Pryor is up-and-coming, but in many ways, given the nature of Washington’s scheme, he’ll only be as effective as the guys lining up around him. Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder pose unique matchup problems inside. The real key, though, will be little-known second-year man Josh Doctson, who will often line up opposite Pryor.
Added: CB Prince Amukamara (JAX), S Quintin Demps (HOU), QB Mike Glennon (TB), TE Dion Sims (MIA), WR Markus Wheaton (PIT), WR Kendall Wright (TEN), DE Cornelius Washington (DET)
Lost: QB Matt Barkley (SF), QB Brian Hoyer (SF), QB Jay Cutler (released), WR Alshon Jeffery (PHI), TE Logan Paulsen (SF)
When we last saw Mike Glennon starting, in November 2014, he was a youngster who had at least shown an improved willingness to make throws with defenders in his face. That’s always a good sign for a QB’s development.
Added: TE Darren Fells (ARI), CB D.J. Hayden (OAK), DL Akeem Spence (TB), RT Ricky Wagner (DET), LB Paul Worrilow (ATL), DE Cornelius Washington (CHI)
Lost: RT Riley Reiff (MIN), RG Larry Warford (NO), LB DeAndre Levy (released)
It’s surprising that Reiff got $26.3 million guaranteed in his five-year, $58.75 million deal with Minnesota. (Then again, the Vikings last season learned the hard way just how painful offensive tackle problems can be.) Wagner, you could argue, is a stronger, more powerful run-blocker with similar traits as Reiff in pass protection. To get him for $17.5 million fully guaranteed on a five-year, $47.5 million deal is a nice transaction.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Added: TE Martellus Bennett (NE), TE Lance Kendricks (LAR)
Lost: DB Micah Hyde (BUF), OLB/DT Julius Peppers (CAR), C J.C. Tretter (CLE), TE Jared Cook (unsigned)
Re-signed: OLB Nick Perry
We’ve been beating the drum for Jared Cook to re-sign for one reason: his being a viable receiver anywhere on the field gave this offense flexibility in their formations and personnel packages, which was huge. What we didn’t consider: The Packers taking this a step further by signing an even more dynamic version of Cook. That’s what Bennett is. Great, great pickup.
Added: LT Riley Reiff (DET), RT Mike Remmers (CAR)
Lost: TE Rhett Ellison (NYG), WR Charles Johnson (CAR), LT Matt Kalil (CAR), slot CB Captain Munnerlyn (CAR), RB Adrian Peterson (released)
On the one hand, it’s surprising that Peterson remains available, because he’s one of the few running backs who can instantly change the makeup of your ground game. On the other hand, it’s not a surprise because Peterson is not someone who can change the makeup of your passing game.
Lost: FB Patrick DiMarco (BUF), WR Aldrick Robinson (SF), LB Paul Worrilow (DET)
It’s odd the Falcons weren’t willing to retain DiMarco—he’ll cost Buffalo less than $2.2 million in cap space each of the next three years. DiMarco was great at reading defenses as a zone lead-blocker. There wasn’t a better fullback in the NFL last year.
Added: S Mike Adams (IND), WR Charles Johnson (MIN), LT Matt Kalil (MIN), slot CB Captain Munnerlyn (MIN), DE Julius Peppers (GB), DE Kony Ealy (trade to NE)
Lost: WR Ted Ginn (NO), LB A.J. Klein (NO), RT Mike Remmers (MIN), FB Mike Tolbert (BUF)
You’d think the Panthers would have learned their lesson when it comes to high-profile left tackles who, when you look closely, really don’t pass-protect well. But nope, they shelled out $25 million guaranteed to the younger brother of their longtime center, Ryan Kalil. In Minnesota, before getting hurt last season, Kalil had continued to struggle with his pass-blocking technique. He’ll ultimately present the same problems that Michael Oher did, just at a higher price.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Added: WR Ted Ginn (CAR), LB A.J. Klein (CAR), G Larry Warford (DEN)
Lost: WR Brandin Cooks (trade to NE)
Re-signed: DT Nick Fairley
Kudos for bringing back Fairley. Few defensive tackles over the past two years have played with his kind of motor. He’s a light-footed power player who can split double-teams. Locking up the 29-year-old for four years at $14 million guaranteed was smart.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Added: DT Chris Baker (WAS), WR DeSean Jackson (WAS), S J.J. Wilcox (DAL)
Lost: QB Mike Glennon (CHI), DT Akeem Spence (DET)
Re-signed: DE William Gholston
This offense became hamstrung at times last season with the way opponents constantly rolled safeties to Mike Evans’s side. The addition of Jackson and his speed really complicates that for a defense. Anytime you have wide receivers who can threaten safeties, you limit the defense’s ability to take chances and disguise. That makes life markedly easier on a young QB like Jameis Winston.
Added: S Antoine Bethea (SF), LB Karlos Dansby (CIN)
Lost: DT Calais Campbell (JAX), TE Darren Fells (DET), S Tony Jefferson (BAL), S D.J. Swearinger (WAS), G Earl Watford (JAX), CB Marcus Cooper (CHI)
The losses of Jefferson and Swearinger hurt a lot. In Arizona’s scheme, safeties are relied upon heavily as blitzers and as pass defenders, where they’re often responsible for converting from zone to man coverage against seam routes. With Tyrann Mathieu as the only truly proven player remaining at the position, coordinator James Bettcher may have to amend his aggressive scheme in 2017.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Added: OT Andrew Whitworth (CIN), WR Robert Woods (BUF)
Lost: WR Kenny Britt (CLE), TE Lance Kendricks (GB), C Tim Barnes (released), DE Eugene Sims (released), DE William Hayes (MIA)
Woods is an upgrade over Britt. That may seem crazy—Woods had 613 yards receiving last year, Britt had 1,002—but in McVay’s scheme, where route-running precision and versatility are critical, Woods is a more valuable player. That said, the Rams aren’t done addressing their receiving corps. They still need at least two more weapons here.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Added: QB Matt Barkley (CHI), QB Brian Hoyer (CHI), WR Pierre Garçon (WAS), WR Marquise Goodwin (BUF), FB Kyle Juszczyk (BAL), TE Logan Paulsen (CHI), WR Aldrick Robinson (ATL), LB Malcolm Smith (OAK), DT Earl Mitchell (MIA)
Lost: S Antoine Bethea (ARI), WR Torrey Smith (PHI)
A lot of additions but not a lot of movement. Talentwise, this is still the same offense as a year ago, just with different players. At least many of these new players understand Kyle Shanahan’s system. That’s why they’re here; it’ll help smooth the transition with the new regime.
Added: G Luke Joeckel (JAX)
Lost: DE Damontre Moore (DAL)
Minimal activity all-around on the free agent front. Maybe this is why they’re a perennial playoff team.
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