Yesterday we put out or grades on the AFC teams for their work in free agency. Naturally, the NFC deserves equal time to have their moves examined. In a fit of originality, I’m going to use the exact same intro to break it down:
It’s true, paper teams don’t win championships, but the right free agency moves can turn a team into a serious contender. A few bad decisions, on the other hand, can leave them behind the pack.
Like so many, I’m now turning my attention to handing out grades for each team. I’ll look at the big signing, an under-the-radar one, and point out a guy they’ve struggled to replace before summarizing.
So there. NFC, here we go …
Big Signing: Doug Free. Ultimately right tackle may be his best fit, but he’s still an above average pass protector who can dominate the run game.
Under the Radar: Jason Hatcher. They lost Stephen Bowen, so Hatcher will get the chance to step up and fill the inside pressure role that Bowen excelled at.
Big Loss: Stephen Bowen. It was hardly going to be Alex Barron, Marc Colombo or even Roy Williams. Bowen was superb last season, finishing third in our 3-4 DE rankings. Despite this, he may not suit the base scheme that Rob Ryan likes to use.
Grade: B-. They cut some dead weight and held onto the players they really needed to. The truth is the Cowboys are a talented roster who just didn’t play up to their hype in 2010. They didn’t need to be overly aggressive.
New York Giants
Big Signing: Ahmad Bradshaw. They played the game of chicken and won. Bradshaw is a do- it-all back (even if that does include fumbling) who can contribute on every down. He was our fourth ranked HB last year.
Under the Radar: Mathias Kiwanuka. Maybe not so under the radar, but Kiwanuka does bring pressure and gives them plenty of depth at outside linebacker.
Big Loss: Barry Cofield. They have Chris Canty, but are now left counting on rookies and sophomores to fill the void of our 12th ranked DT from last year.
Grade: B-. An extra mark for getting Ahmad Bradshaw resigned and their field position should improve with the arrival of Steve Weatherford. They just haven’t done enough depth to replace some of the aging veteran that they got rid of.
Big Signing: Nnamdi Asomugha. Need I say any more?
Under the Radar: Evan Mathis. The left guard was our fourth rated LG in 2009 despite only playing 610 snaps.
Big Loss: Quintin Mikell. Possibly the most dependable safety in the league. He’s the kind of player who teams won’t realize what he brought to the table until he’s gone.
Grade: A+. They picked up top talents like Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, DRC, Mathis and even Vince Young.
Big Signing: Santana Moss. Last year was a real comeback year for Moss as Shanahan decided to get the ball into his hands on a consistent basis.
Under the Radar: Josh Wilson. Ranked fifth in our corner rankings in 2010, he can make big plays, and doesn’t give too many of them up (46.9% of passes allowed).
Big Loss: Albert Haynesworth. A big loss in many ways. I only included it to be literal, and because there aren’t too many other guys worth mentioning in this column.
Grade: B+. They’ve made a lot of positive moves without going crazy and spending a lot of money on one guy – the kind of free agency that could really help come 2012.
Big Signing: Nick Roach. This is stretching the definition of ‘big signing’. Roach is the best guy they brought in/ brought back and has constantly delivered.
Under the Radar: Corey Graham. Graham led the league in special teams tackles last season.
Big Loss: Danieal Manning. Something finally clicked in his final year with Chicago, but was never going to get the money from the Bears that he got from Houston. Our seventh ranked safety in 2010.
Grade: D. They failed to significantly upgrade any spot and brought in a host of underachieving players.
Big Signing: Stephen Tulloch. Tulloch can handle an every down role without being a star in coverage. When teams decide to run, he sheds and flows to the ball like very few can. He also makes their defensive line look better.
Under the Radar: Justin Durant. Another linebacker who can defend against the run. If they want a defensive line that consistently gets up field, they need linebackers like this.
Big Loss: Turk McBride. The biggest loss is a player who was maybe fourth on the DE depth chart? Nice.
Grade: A-. If they’d addressed the secondary a bit more aggressively they’d get even higher but as it is, they much improved their linebackers. Giant leap forward on what was there last year.
Green Bay Packers
Big Signing: John Kuhn. Great in short yardage situations, good out of the backfield and great with his blitz pick up. Contributes in every phase of the game.
Under the Radar: Mason Crosby. Rarely lets the Pack down.
Big Loss: Cullen Jenkins. The loss of a productive pass rusher leaves the Packers needing someone to step up. No guarantees who will replace that production.
Grade: B. They were so good they didn’t really have to do too much. They managed to re-sign a few of their own and they’re a young team that is only getting better. They were pretty set before free agency and remain one of the league’s top teams.
Big Signing: Donovan McNabb. It works out exceptionally well for them not having to put Christian Ponder in a situation where failure looks likely.
Under the Radar: Michael Jenkins. He’s a big guy with good hands who can make big time catches. He was a part of Matt Ryan’s development and eventually could do the same with Ponder. He also had no drops last year.
Big Loss: Ray Edwards. They won’t realize what they had until this season. Edwards was a consistent pass rusher and players like them don’t come around often.
Grade: C-. They’ve lost how many starters? Potentially four on defense and another three on offense. McKinnie may have eaten his way out of Minnesota, but losing an elite talent like Sidney Rice hurts.
Big Signing: Ray Edwards. He’s the only defender on the roster who can play the run and pass equally well. Edwards threatens to dominate at times and offers Atlanta more versatility in nickel packages than they’ve ever had.
Under the Radar: Justin Blalock and Tyson Clabo. Continuity is key for the offensive line and they’ve brought back two guys who combined for a +19.9 rating in 2010.
Big Loss: Harvey Dahl. Despite keeping Clabo and Blalock, the Falcons lost the player who had a +13.6 rating. Someone will have some nasty shoes to fill.
Grade: B. The pass rush will improve, but the biggest problem remains with their coverage unit. Can the young players step up in sub packages?
Big Signing: Charles Johnson. Some people think they overpaid on the back of one year of production. If you have ever watched Johnson on the field, you would know that he produces. An outstanding player no matter what an offense does, he’s our second ranked DE in 2010.
Under the Radar: James Anderson. Anderson is an impact player at the linebacker spot, more than just a highlight reel. Our third ranked 4-3 OLB in 2010.
Big Loss: Richard Marshall. Has more talent than he’s ever been able to consistently show, but does leave them a bit empty at CB.
Grade: A-. They made a lot of good moves, and even some bad ones (the money they paid DeAngelo Williams, bringing in Derek Anderson, getting Sean Considine on the roster). Now they just need their QB to play like a first overall pick and they’ll be back in business.
New Orleans Saints
Big Signing: Aubrayo Franklin. The Saints pursued penetrators like Brandon Mebane and Cullen Jenkins before signing Franklin. He’ll keep blockers off their linebackers, which is huge for them.
Under the Radar: Lance Moore. Catches most of what is thrown his way, making him the most dependable target for Drew Brees. If you don’t believe me, look here.
Big Loss: Reggie Bush. I’ll say Bush because there’s no other obvious candidate. He offered them something different (though they may have found that same thing in Darren Sproles).
Grade: A. They added the DT they needed (as opposed to the one they wanted), addressed the problematic linebacker spot with plenty of bodies to compete, and kept Drew Brees happy with an old weapon and a new one. They were already pretty good and now they’re better.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Big Signing: Quincy Black. They overpaid for him, but Black is the kind of linebacker you can rely on to do what he’s meant to do. Not overly flashy but you don’t always need to be.
Under the Radar: Adam Hayward. He’ll help out on special teams.
Big Loss: Stylez White. He was the only defensive end generating pressure for them last year. They’re going to need their rookies to be NFL ready on a shortened off season program.
Grade: D. Yes they want to build through the draft, but that doesn’t mean they need to overpay for free agents. How Davin Joseph’s agent wangled him that much money given his performance the past three years is beyond any one at PFF. 10-6 on a soft schedule could quite easily become sub .500 with the improvements in their division
Big Signing: Todd Heap. Life will be hard for Kevin Kolb given the protection he can expect. Todd Heap is that safe target that will get him out of trouble.
Under the Radar: Lyle Sendlein. It was important they brought back their most capable lineman from 2010.
Big Loss: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He may have a bad attitude and is coming off a terrible year, but he has elite talent.
Grade: C-. Kolb was the priority and they made that move. Will that work out? Consider us in the camp that is unconvinced. They also failed to address their offensive tackle problems, add an impact pass rusher or replace DRC. This grade is a tad generous.
St. Louis Rams
Big Signing: Quintin Mikell. The safety Spagnulo wanted O.J. Atogwe to be. He’ll make some plays and improve their run defense. Our top ranked safety in 2010.
Under the Radar: Justin Bannan. It didn’t really work out for him in Denver, but he’s only a year removed from a 2009 where he ended the year with a +6.4 run defense rating.
Big Loss: O.J. Atogwe. The pairing of Mikell and Atogwe would have been better than Dahl and Mikell. It would have allowed Atogwe to play deeper (something that suits him better).
Grade: B+. They got better at safety, wide receiver and on the offensive line without downgrading anywhere.
San Francisco 49ers
Big Signing: Carlos Rogers. He may have hands of stone, but he’s a useful cover corner who can replace Nate Clements without too much of a drop off.
Under the Radar: Ray McDonald. Don’t be fooled by the lack of sacks, McDonald got plenty of pressure in sub packages.
Big Loss: Aubrayo Franklin. It hurts to lose Takeo Spikes, but at least they have Navorro Bowman. It seems a long shot to think that Isaac Sopoaga (who struggled at DE) could play on the nose.
Grade: D. On defense they downgraded on the line, with the linebackers and in the secondary. On offense they lost their starting center. This hasn’t gone so well.
Big Signing: Sidney Rice. Our top ranked receiver in 2009 has the kind of vertical ability that will scare teams and open things up for their more physical receivers.
Under the Radar: Leroy Hill. People may forget, but Hill was one of the best linebackers in the league before off the field issues and injuries slowed him down. The Seahawks improved by promoting him to the starting lineup, and dumping Lofa Tatupu.
Big Loss: Raheem Brock. If they don’t bring him back that’s an awful lot of third down production to replace.
Grade: A+. They brought in an elite receiver, complete tight end and a good left guard. They resigned a force at defensive tackle, a serviceable corner and a potential stud linebacker. There wasn’t any vale in the QB market so credit them for ignoring that. This free agent class is one for the future.
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