While the lockout hurt football in many ways, it did create an interesting dynamic with regard to the offseason. With the draft before free agency, teams sought more so than ever to fill immediate needs. Certain organizations did so better than others and, while it’s obviously too early to analyze the class as a whole, we can see which players are providing an immediate contribution and which might be better served acting as backups in their rookie year.
When free agency finally came around, we saw drastic variations in strategy. Teams like the Raiders and Bucs decided to keep as many incumbents as possible while other teams like the Eagles seemingly brought in about half of the available players. As with most cases, it was somewhere in between that provided the best results. You’ve seen our Race for Rookie of the Year and Top 10 Free Agents, now it’s time to take it all together for a look at which front offices are getting it right.
San Francisco 49ers – HC Jim Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke
Talent brought in – No one expected CB Carlos Rogers to do so well in San Francisco but our Khaled Elsayed recently had him atop the list of all free agent signings. Center Jonathan Goodwin improved on a down year in New Orleans and currently ranks 15th among centers. WR Braylon Edwards hasn’t featured much in SF’s offense so far (he’s run just 90 routes) but has performed well in a limited role.
Talent brought in (Draft) – First-round outside linebacker Aldon Smith now ranks eighth in our Rookie of the Year rakings. Third round HB Kendall Hunter has impressed, forcing 13 missed tackles on his way to a 65.7 Elusive Rating. There was more success in the later rounds with CB Chris Culliver (+5.6) and FB Bruce Miller (+4.9 run blocking).
Talent brought back – Alex Smith has been a perfect fit in Jim Harbaugh’s new offense, currently ranking eighth overall at his position. Re-signing DE Ray McDonald proved a masterstroke; he has 29 combined QB disruptions on the year. When you get solid play out of safety Dashon Goldson (+0.3) you know not much can go wrong.
Talent replaced – It seemed like failing to resign nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin might be a disaster, but the SF defense hasn’t missed a beat. The losses of CB Nate Clements and OLB Manny Lawson have been easily offset by the aforementioned Rogers and Smith. Although Takeo Spikes (25th among ILBs) got away, the 49ers knew what they had in NaVorro Bowman (currently our No.7 ILB).
Summary – The 49ers’ defensive turnaround has come because they were able to upgrade on some average players like Clements and Lawson and get improvement internally from McDonald and Goldson. The ball-control offense if finally functioning as it should with Smith playing at a high level.
Detroit Lions – HC Jim Schwartz and GM Martin Mayhew
Talent brought in – The star of Detroit’s free agent pool has to be MLB Stephen Tulloch (+15.8). That’s not to disparage Justin Durant, though, who’s 10th overall among 4-3 OLBs. CB Eric Wright has proven a little shaky in coverage (-1.9) but has made up for it with some good work in run defense (+2.4).
Talent brought in (Draft) – First-round defensive tackle Nick Fairley hasn’t played much because of injury and Detroit’s deep group of interior lineman (93 snaps) but has flashed when on the field (+4.7). WR Titus Young has committed too many penalties and struggled with his run blocking but has potential as a receiver (1.30 Yards Per Route Run).
Talent brought back – Detroit was able to retain their best cover man in cornerback Chris Houston (+4.2) and he’s only committed one penalty all year. Linebacker Bobby Carpenter has done a solid job in coverage on passing downs (+2.5).
Talent lost – None.
Summary – Detroit clearly needed to add some star players to a struggling defense and that’s exactly what they did with Tulloch and Durant. The secondary benefited from some consistency in Houston and then some versatility in Wright. The draft has thus far provided some solid role players with plenty of potential.
Houston Texans – HC Gary Kubiak and GM Rick Smith
Talent brought in – Cornerback Jonathan Joseph might feel a little aggrieved that he wasn’t named as the best free agent addition, especially considering quarterbacks have just a 66.3 passer rating when targeting him. Safety Daniel Manning has taken a little time to adjust in Houston (-2.9) but is a significant improvement over what they had before. One player the Texans will want better play out of is FB Lawrence Vickers (-2.1 blocking grade).
Talent brought in (Draft) - Defensive end JJ Watt is the star of the class, helping tighten-up Houston’s run defense (+8.1 run defense grade). With Mario Williams’ injury, Brooks Reed was given an opportunity (202 rushes) he’s taken with mixed success (19 QB disruptions).
Talent brought back – Continuity is key on the offensive line and right guard Mike Brisiel has missed just six snaps. WR Jacoby Jones continues to underwhelm in the passing game (he has just 21 receptions) but the Texans could do worse.
Talent lost – Losing fullback Vonta Leach was a blow; he’s now ranked second overall at his position. The Texans then got rid of a couple of players who don’t fit Wade Philips’ 3-4 scheme in DT Amobe Okoye and DE Mark Anderson.
Summary – It was a case of maintaining what they had on the offensive side for the Texans and then adding a host of much-needed talent to their defense. The secondary is a far cry from the pathetic unit that played last year and the front seven only got better with their first two draft picks.
Cincinnati Bengals – HC Marvin Lewis and GM Mike Brown
Talent added – The Bengals did a really good job in free agency of protecting themselves against injury with linebacker Thomas Howard. He’s been equally good against the pass (+3.3) and run (+2.5). Unsurprising, Manny Lawson has had some trouble in coverage (he was a 3-4 OLB before), but the Bengals have limited the impact by taking him out in the nickel (just 262 snaps). Former 49er corner Nate Clements might not be Jonathan Joseph but he’s prevented a massive drop off (+0.7).
Talent added (Draft) – Wide receiver AJ Green keeps hurting himself with penalties (seven) and poor run blocking but he’s already a stud of a receiver (2.23 YPRR). Second-round QB Andy Dalton has been a little inconsistent (five positive games and four negatively-graded) but looks like the Bengals’ QB of the future.
Talent retained – Cedric Benson may have missed time with a suspension but he’s performed well when on the field (eighth overall rushing grade). A large part of the success of Cincinnati’s ground game is because of the play of C Kyle Cook (fourth overall in the run game).
Talent lost – As mentioned the Bengals probably would have preferred to keep CB Jonathan Joseph but he still has durability issues. It’s a shame Cincinnati never realised that G Evan Mathis was better than Nate Livings, but that mistake is offset by their other moves.
Summary – Cincinnati did a pretty good job of covering up the losses of Joseph (to Houston) and Keith Rivers (to injury). When the core of your offense is essentially replaced by a pair of rookies you know you’re doing something right.
Seattle Seahawks – HC Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider
Talent brought in – I’m not sure anyone saw Alan Branch coming (+12.3, best overall rating vs the run), but he’s proven to be an absolute bargain. In contrast, Robert Gallery just doesn’t look like the same player he was in Oakland, struggling both in the running game (-1.9) and pass protection (-2.1). QB Tavaris Jackson gets more criticism than he deserves, but isn’t a bad player (70.1 Accuracy Percentage). The front office clearly expected more out of TE Zach Miller (13 receptions, two drops). Despite injuries, WR Sidney Rice has made plays and is clearly Seattle’s best option (1.94 YPRR).
Talent brought in (Draft) – Draftniks saw OT James Carpenter as a reach in the first round; his 91.4 pass blocking efficiency rating would agree. It’s worrying that OG John Moffitt has been just as bad (93.8). In better news, linebacker KJ Wright is coming along nicely (+5.8). Replacing Marcus Trufant, CB Richard Sherman has been simply sublime with QBs having just a 72.1 rating when targeting him. The ‘Hawks even found undrafted talent in WR Doug Baldwin despite limited reps (223 pass routes run).
Talent retained – Branch joins incumbent DT Brandon Mebane another dominant run defender (+6.9). Its remains to be seen why Pete Carroll uses LB Leroy Hill as a nickel pass rusher but he’s made positive contributions other than that (+3.6).
Talent lost – The only losses, G Chris Spencer and QB Matt Hasselbeck have hardly lit it up on their new teams. Jackson has only been slightly worse than Hasselbeck, who appears on his last legs.
Summary – The rebuilding of the offensive line has thus far failed dramatically but the defense was inundated with talent in Branch, Wright and Sherman. The Jackson-to-Rice connection will give Seattle enough offense to win some games going forward.