We made it to Friday! In truth it’s seemed like one long day since this thing started Tuesday afternoon — likely because we haven’t stepped away from it. But who could blame us? There’s been a steady flow of free agent fun and we’d be crazy to leave when we’ve got all of these thoughts to share.
As the news of signings come in, we’ll be with you around the clock to share our unique stats and the grades that have helped a number of NFL teams with their preparation for free agency (as well as other things).
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Head over to our Day 5 reaction blog to keep up to date with the weekends going on.
23.10 SIGNING! AP’s John Wawrow says the Buffalo Bills have now got the deal done with inside linebacker Brandon Spikes and per Adam Schefter it’ll go on the books for one year at $3.25m. Sliding into the middle of the Bills’ D that may or may not end up leaning even more toward a 4-3 look with Jim Schwartz now at the helm, Spikes’ top-notch run-stopping skills will give balance to the young Kiko Alonso’s work in coverage. Spikes is the reigning run D champ among the league’s middle/inside linebackers, notching the top grade in that department in both 2012 and 2013.
22.35 UPDATE! The Cowboys are reportedly showing interest in Julius Peppers. The Cowboys are very much in need of some new linemen on the defense. Dallas went through 20 different defensive linemen in 2013 while plenty of teams don’t reach the double digits over a season. Currently the Cowboys projected starting lineup on the defensive line consists of George Selvie, Frank Kearse, Nick Hayden and Jeremy Mincey. While Peppers has been on the decline recently with a below average Run Stop Percentage (4.9%) and Pass Rushing Productivity (7.2), but he can still be an upgrade in the Cowboys rotation at the right price.
21.50 SIGNING! The Buffalo Bills have a new player in their backfield in Anthony Dixon. He reported it on his twitter account this evening. In 2013 with the 49ers he played the role of goal line running back, backup fullback, backup kick returner, and general special teamer. On 30 carries he averaged just 1.9 yards per carry which in large part was due to his role, and he had three touchdowns. With C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and other fullbacks on the roster, it’s unlikely Dixon will see too much playing time on offense unless there are injuries.
21.30 While a few of the free agent bargains have signed new contracts, there are still a number of players available that could be added at a cheap price. You can learn more about some of these players here.
21.00 While there is nothing to report in the past half hour around the league, it’s as good a time as any to say thank you to all of our subscribers, readers and twitter followers over the past few days. It’s been a fun week for the PFF team and we’ve all enjoyed the interactions on twitter. Looking forward to bringing you all plenty more unique content over the coming months as we head towards the 2014 season.
20.30 UPDATE! Things are looking good as far as the Pittsburgh Steelers adding defensive lineman Alex Carrington to their roster go. According to Ian Rapoport things have gone well on his visit, and he’s already passed a physical, with talks planned to continue tomorrow. He’d be a smart signing for a Steelers defense that has made the cost sensible signing of Cam Thomas on the defensive line. It wasn’t long ago that defensive line was manned by Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith, signing Carrington would likely result in the door being closed on a potential return for Keisel, ending an era in Pittsburgh.
20.00: It’s been a pretty quiet day but that was some hour. The Raiders, laughed at for much of free agency, have come out swinging as they makeover their defense while the Colts landed a potential big weapon at wide receiver. Something tells us that’s not the end of the free agency fun this Friday …
19.45: SIGNING! And another move for the Raiders. They’ve added to their pass rush this season with both Lamarr Woodley and Justin Tuck, but now they’ve brought in someone to get some penetration up the middle. That man is Antonio Smith (per ProFootballTalk), a versatile lineman who will likely occupy a number of roles for the team depending on the defensive package they have on the field. He was our fifth ranked pass rushing 3-4 defensive end last year and while his work against the run is hit and miss (emphasis on miss) you can’t deny he makes life a lot harder for quarterbacks. He’s averaged 48 quarterback disruptions over the past three years.
19.30: SIGNING! Somewhat out of the blue, the Raiders have landed former 49er cornerback Tarell Brown on a 1-year $3.5m deal per Adam Schefter. Oakland is in need of help at the position after their annual CB turnover had left them with just 2013 top draft pick D.J. Hayden plugged in. Out for a few games in 2013 with a rib injury, Brown returned to post a pair of strong efforts in the playoffs and had put up solid coverage grades before, most notably a +12.8 that had him in the league’s Top 5 CBs for 2012. He’s been locked in on San Francisco’s right side in the past, so it’ll be worth watching to see how the 29-year-old fits with Hayden also based on that side in his rookie year.
19.25: SIGNING! This one was reported early before being retracted, but now Josina Anderson confirms that Vance Walker has signed a three-year deal with the Chiefs with a max value of $13m and $3.75m guaranteed. Walker was forced to take a prove it type deal with the Raiders last year and responded with another useful effort. Chiefly a two down player capable of lining up at a variety of techniques his +4.0 grade was down on the +8.9 he managed in Atlanta but good enough to get him the longer term deal with guaranteed money he wanted. With Tyson Jackson out of town Walker will get a chance to fight for a starting spot in the teams base defense while serving as backup in their early downs dime package.
19.20: SIGNING! 15 minutes ago word was spreading that the Colts were close to landing Hakeem Nicks and now Albert Breer has confirmed it on a one-year deal. Nicks will have to prove his worth to the market in a way he failed to this year. The good news for him and Indy fans is he has the talent. In 2011 his work (including post season) earned him a +22.2 grade on the year. Can he get back to that level?
19.15: SIGNING! It seemed like this move was long on the cards and Brandon Browner has confirmed to Josina Anderson that he’s signed to play with New England for three years (minus of course a little league mandated suspension). Numbers from Schefter suggesting he’ll earn a ridiculous $17m max assuming he’s see it out. Browner is one of these cornerbacks you rarely don’t notice. He’s either making plays on the ball (29 pass break ups and 10 picks over three years) or getting played (28 penalties and 9 TDs allowed over that period). Buckle yourself in Patriots fans.
19.05: That man Rapoport is at it again. He’s earning some positive grades for his reporting this free agency that is for sure. He’s saying that it’s Indianapolis that is in pole position for the services of the once amazing Hakeem Nicks. Since winning a Super Bowl in 2011 (where his postseason play earned him a spot on our All Post Season team) things haven’t quite worked out for Nicks who had the look of a man this year who couldn’t wait for the season to end. Supremely talented, he’d add another dimension to the Colts offense if the last two years were the exception and not the rule. Despite his struggles he still ended the season with a healthy 1.7 yards per route run. That was more than Torrey Smith, Steve Smith and Wes Welker to name but a few.
19.00: Per Ian Rapoport the Redskins are likely to be hosting Donald Penn next (presuming he gets out of Oakland without a deal). It’s an interesting move with the Trent Williams (our top ranked tackle in 2013) in no danger of losing his job, but the team is clearly looking to get some power up front. Tyler Polumbus improved his play this year but his worth is in a zone blocking scheme that the team appears to be moving on from. Penn appeared to lose a bit last year in pass protection but had a fine year with his run blocking that saw him earn a +4.4 grade. It’s always risky switching a player from one side of the line to the other but you can’t question how aggressive Washington are being in changing their offensive identity.
18.40: SIGNING! Earlier today we relayed that Michael Oher was visiting with the Titans. Well fresh in the wake of releasing David Stewart the team has snapped him up according to Adam Schefter. That’s a four-year deal worth $20m to a player few Raven fans will be sad to see the back off after he ended the season our lowest ranked tackle in the run blocking department. Oher is a frustrating player because he’s clearly talented, but after his impressive rookie year it really has been all downhill for him after the team switched him from right to left and then back to right. On the plus side he’s a useful enough pass blocker that Jake Locker needn’t fear about immediate pressure coming his way. His pass blocking efficiency score placed him 46th out of 72 tackles.
18.35: If you’re in New York visiting the Jets, why not kill two birds with one stone and visit the Giants as well. Or at least say you will so you force Gang Green into making a decision. According to NY.com Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is planning to meet with the Giants after his visit with the Jets. Interesting, DRC is the top corner on the market and, as we documented earlier, if he has his head in the right place is the kind of talent that can repay a huge contract with some huge performances. He ended last year our third ranked starting cornerback in coverage.
18.15: An odd one from Todd Archer over at ESPN here. He reports the Cowboys are showing interest in Brandon Weeden, the former first round pick. Obviously they aren’t looking at him as anything more than a possible clipboard holder but given his age (30) and past performance (-36.8 in two years) even that would seem generous. Of course with the team unsure as to whether Kyle Orton will return perhaps they’re just running the rule over any potential backup quarterbacks on the market.
17.55: SIGNING! Schefter is breaking news again as the Dolphins make their second move in as many hours. They’ve snapped up guard Shelley Smith on a two-year, $5m contract. Smith was one of our bargain gets in free agency, doing a surprisingly effective job when filling in at guard this year for the Rams. He managed 371 snaps and earned a fantastic +12.3 grade with his run blocking. The downside? His pass blocking left you a little embarrassed at times, with a pass blocking efficiency score that was seventh worst of all guards. There’s upside and he helps the Dolphins remodel an offensive line in desperate need of a makeover.
17.45: Jim Wyatt has been talking to David Stewart and those hoping they might see their team land him as their right tackle may look away. Wyatt quotes Stewart as saying “it’s time to move on”. Stewart has certainly battled injuries the past two years, so much so that you understand his decision even if he was still holding up well enough in pass protection that he might have something left to offer. If this is the end for him he should be remembered for some fantastic seasons that truly never got the credit they deserved, like his 2011 season where he was our top ranked pass blocking right tackle, or in 2009 where he finished third overall at his position.
17.30: SIGNING! The 49ers have been looking for cornerback help with Carlos Rogers cut and Tarrell Brown still on the open market. Well they’ve found some in the shape of Chris Cook according to Matt Barrows, with the former Viking defensive back signing a one year deal. Cook has had some off the field issues and looked a poor fit for the Vikings coverage scheme, but as a big corner he was always likely to latch on somewhere. In 2013 he played 753 snaps and earned an underwhelming -7.3 coverage grade as his play down the stretch nose dived. He’s likely insurance depending on how Chris Culliver recovers after a season on injured reserve.
17.10: SIGNING! It’s been an afternoon for the cornerbacks, but they’re not having it all their own way. One day after the Panthers terminated his contract Adam Schefter reports that the Baltimore Ravens have signed Steve Smith. This seemed somewhat inevitable the moment he was released, with Joe Flacco in desperate need of a reliable go to receiver who can complement speedster Torrey Smith. While Smith will be 35 years of age by the end of the year he still put together an impressive enough 2013, earning a +8.3 grade (including the postseason). There comes a time when you question the Ravens policy of bringing in the more mature players, but this should represent a win for them.
16.55: SIGNING! You’ve seen three linemen retire, lost your face of the franchise receiver and lost two defensive starters in your secondary. But don’t you worry Panthers fans because you’ve just replaced the excellent blocking tight end Ben Hartsock with (drum roll please) … Mike McNeil. According to Steve Reed he’s joined with the team after a two-year stint with the Rams, playing 34 snaps last year and 155 the year before. In that limited action he’s never stood out on the field (which isn’t the worst thing in the world given how some tight ends look primarily blocking) but this isn’t going to stop kids crying about Steve Smith being fired.
16.45: CLAIMED! The Bengals aren’t going to give up on you yet Dontay Moch. Their former third round pick who they ditched at the end of preseason latched on with the Cardinals but failed to make any real impression before being cut this week. Well he gets a chance to show the team he’s worth a second chance but even with the team losing Michael Johnson and releasing James Harrison he’ll have to do a lot more than he did last year to claim a roster spot.
16.40: RE-SIGNING! Sean Jensen is the first man on the scene to let us know that Charles Tillman has re-signed in Chicago for a season. One of the better cornerbacks of his generation and with an incredible knack for forcing fumbles, it wasn’t so long ago he was our third ranked cornerback and one of the only men capable of slowing down Calvin Johnson. But that was 2012 and in 2013 he just couldn’t get healthy managing only 438 snaps that resulted in a -6.5 grade. Peanut turned 33 last month so he’s at that age now where there are a lot of questions being asked about. It’s a solid move for Chicago though who keep a veteran presence without being saddled with anything resembling a long term deal.
16.30: RELEASE! He was going to struggle for playing time in Philadelphia anyways but the team has announced they’ve parted ways with Joseph Anderson. He was with Chicago for most of the season seeing 13 snaps on offense and contributing on special teams. He had a bigger role in preseason with 73 snaps turning into a +1.2 grade as he caught 6-of-7 balls thrown his way for 91 yards and a touchdown. He’ll be fighting for his future if he can latch onto a camp this offseason.
16.20: SIGNING! After signing Anthony Collins to man the left tackle spot and releasing Donald Penn yesterday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made another move on their offensive line today, agreeing to a four year, $14.25m deal with former Green Bay Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith per Ian Rapoport. He was our eighth highest graded center in 2013, his first full year as a starter. Grading positively both as a run blocker and in pass protection, it was perhaps his lack of experience which scared some teams off. It’s a solid deal for Tampa Bay though, who upgrade at a position on the offensive line for the second time this week.
16.00: SIGNING! It’s not quite official yet but Albert Breer is reporting that the Dolphins are finalizing a 2-year deal with … Cortland Finnegan. It’s a gamble because after striking it rich in 2012 Finnegan has struggled to get his play anywhere close to the excellent 2011 season he had where his +17.4 grade saw him finish behind only Darrelle Revis in our grading. Since then he endured a tough first year in St Louis where his -2.0 coverage grade was far less than the team was hoping for, before an even worse 2013 where a thigh injury left him extremely exposed. Miami will be hoping he’s healthy and young enough to find his swagger, because if he is then he’s a guy who can play the slot and do a job outside.