Countdown to Free Agency: Live Blog, 3/7-3/8
Countdown to Free Agency: Live Blog, 3/7-3/8
It’s perhaps the most turbulent time in the NFL calendar, fear not for PFF is here to help you through. NFL free agency is rapidly approaching where deals will be signed and players will be cut as NFL front offices dance a graceful number that sees them work the cap to improve their future fortunes.
As ever at PFF we’re going to be commenting on all the transactions, the visits and much more as we give you the most comprehensive service you’ll see anywhere. Before the main event on Tuesday stick with us for the Pre-Free Agency blog that has us reacting to all the news the legal tampering period brings about.
(We’ll be updating every 30 minutes so keep coming back to see our take on the weekend developments)
23:00 RE-SIGNING! Mike Garafolo first reported that the Patriots have re-signed FS Devin McCourty while Ian Rapoport has chimed in with the terms. McCourty was a major offseason priority in New England, with only Darrelle Revis’ contract situation in contention. McCourty has been one of the league’s best free safeties since converting from cornerback in 2012, leading the league with a +14.1 coverage grade in 2013 and posting a +11.2 mark in 2014 including the Super Bowl run.
McCourty defines the name of the position as he rarely gives up big plays and he had the lowest percentage of negatively graded plays among safeties last season. His return to New England allows them to continue their single-high scheme that allows him to play center field while the cornerbacks play man coverage underneath. All eyes are now on Revis as New England takes care of their first offseason hurdle.
22:10: RE-STRUCTURE! According to Adam Caplan, the Chiefs have agreed to re-structure OLB Tamba Hali. With Jeremy Maclin on his way to Kansas City, the move was likely made to free up the necessary cap space. Hali took a step back from a production standpoint in 2014 though he still finished at a respectable +11.2 overall including a +5.8 grade as a pass rusher. While it’s not as flashy as the +22.0 overall and +16.0 pass rush marks of 2013, or his gaudy pass rush grades of +54.5 in 2010 and +27.4 in 2011, Hali is still a productive player and a nice complement to the recently re-signed Justin Houston who mans the opposite outside linebacker spot.
21:40 RE-SIGNING! The Colts have re-signed CB Darius Butler according to Kevin Bowen. Butler finished at -3.2 overall in 2014 including -2.2 in coverage. Despite the grade, Butler did rank seventh in yards/cover snap among slot cornerbacks at 1.18 while allowing a reception every 11.2 cover snaps to rank fifth. He showed similar production in 2013 as he finished at -0.1 in coverage while intercepting four passes and deflecting 10 others. The Colts will now return their top three cornerbacks as our No. 2 CB in coverage, Vontae Davis (+16.5), returns along with Greg Toler.
20:50 As Chris Mortensen reports, the Chiefs may be very close to adding former Philadelphia Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin to their WR corps as he’s expected to re-unite with Andy Reid. Maclin is coming off a strong season in which he caught 85 passes for 1318 yards and 10 touchdowns. He dropped only one pass to lead the league in drop rate, while adding nine catches for 356 yards on passes thrown at least 20 yards in the air.
The question now becomes, can the Chiefs actually take advantage of him as a deep threat as quarterback Alex Smith attempted only 5.2 percent of his passes beyond 20 yards, by far the lowest rate in the league. Maclin did pick up 511 yards after the catch, good for seventh among wide receivers, so that after-the-catch ability will be coveted in the Chiefs’ short passing game.
20:25 RE-SIGNING! It doesn’t look like there will be much special teams movement this off-season as another kicker re-signed with their old team. In this case it was Mike Nugent who is returning to the Bengals on a 2 year $4.0m deal according to Mike Garafolo. In 2014 Nugent was just average as a kickoff man. He completed 81.3% of his field goals, and didn’t make a kick beyond 50 yards. The move means 5 of the 7 unrestricted free agent kickers have re-signed with their own team leaving Jay Feely from Chicago and Ryan Succop of the Titans as the only available kickers who played last season.
19:20 RE-SIGNING! The Eagles have made today’s big unofficial signing if the reports are accurate but this one they can make official before Tuesday as Ian Rapoport reports that he will return to Philadelphia on a two year deal. The Eagles’ starter down the stretch Sanchez topped 300 yards four times in eight starts but tossed 11 interceptions and still displayed his old frailties in terms of decision making and accuracy. The split between Sanchez’s work with and without play action after entering the starting lineup in Week 10 was stark: With play action he went 56/85 with seven touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 113.9 (8th in the league), without play action he went 127/202 with five touchdowns, eight interceptions and a passer rating of 77.4 (t-12th worst in the league). Are we set for a Foles vs Sanchez QB battle or will the Eagles add a rookie QB to the mix?
19:15 There have been rumors linking Torrey Smith with a move to San Francisco and the Ravens’ WR has confirmed on his blog that he will not be returning to Baltimore in a heartfelt farewell post. A 1,000 yard receiver in 2013, Smith had a difficult 2014 season but his ability to stretch the field along with hints of a more rounded game were always likely to make him a free agent the cap strapped Ravens couldn’t afford to retain. Smith has been targeted 142 times on deep passes during his career in Baltimore collecting 42 receptions for more than 1,500 yards, converting 15 of those catches into touchdowns.
18:55 When the Jets acquired Brandon Marshall via a trade on Friday it was widely anticipated that the clock was ticking on Percy Harvin‘s brief stint in New York and Pro Football Talk has that clock set run out on Monday. Harvin played 373 snaps in eight games for the Jets and though a solid performer didn’t provide the spark the Jets were hoping for. At his best a dynamic receiver with ball in hand Harvin broke four tackles on 29 receptions averaging only 5.3 yards after the catch per reception, tied for 34th in the league among wide receivers during his brief stay in New York. Harvin’s 563 snaps for the Jets and Seahawks marked the fourth time in six years he has topped 500 snaps in a season but that he has never played more than 700 snaps in a season will once again be the over-riding question as to the lasting impact he can have for a team.
18:05 RE-SIGNING! According to Tom Pelissero, the Vikings have re-signed backup defensive tackle Tom Johnson to a three-year, $7-million deal, including about $3 million guaranteed. Johnson had somewhat of a breakout season in 2014 as he graded at +5.2 on 444 snaps. He rushed the passer 322 times, picking up an impressive six sacks, six QB Hits, and 18 hurries, good for a pass rush grade of +5.0. He spent 77.9% of his snaps at 3-technique, so expect him to provide valuable depth behind starter Sharrif Floyd, while making an impact as a situational pass rusher.
17:30 We’ve got some news that doesn’t center around the Eagles, instead it involves vengeance! A couple of years back the Denver Broncos stole away guard Louis Vasquez from the San Diego Chargers, and it’s taken two years for the Chargers to find their revenge with rumors (courtesy of Michael Gehlken) that Orlando Franklin to San Diego is unofficially done. He’d plug in at right guard on an offensive line that has allowed too much pressure too quickly, promising to add some stability in pass pro and some much needed push in the running game. A team burnt by line injuries last year let’s not forget Franklin is also a pretty capable right tackle and the versatility he offers there will provide extra flexibility if the team is beset by more injuries in 2014. After Bryan Bulaga he’s our top offensive lineman left in free agency and would represent a major coup, not least because they’ll be weakening a division rival in the process. Franklin was our top ranked guard in the AFC West in 2014 with the Chargers home to two of the worst three (Chad Rinehart and Johnnie Troutman).
17:15 More Philadelphia news and this time it’s from Josina Anderson who pretty much confirms what has been reported all along and that is Byron Maxwell is heading to Philadelphia. Our 29th ranked corner in 2014 Maxwell endured a tough end to the season (and rough postseason) where he was less than 100%, but standing at six feet and over 200 pounds has the kind of size teams crave right now. His 2013 season where he scored an impressive +10.5 grade is proof to how capable he is whilst he’s allowed just four career touchdowns (by comparison Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams allowed 14 combined in just 2014) so the Eagles will clearly be expecting a big upgrade.
17:00 It does feel like the Philadelphia Eagles are intent on owning the free agency headlines. They’re one of a number of teams heavily interesting in Devin McCourty, and Jim Wyatt reports that the Titans are joining them (as well as the Giants) in pursuit of him. The safety who can play center field is one of the hardest talents to pick up and Super Bowl winner McCourty has proven to be one of the most able in the league in this regard. His combination of range, reaction and angles make him superb in this regard with no safety coming close to his league low percentage level of negative plays. He’s our second ranked available talent on the free agent market so it’s no surprise teams crave him.
16:30 UPDATE! At 15.45 we talked about the rumor of Frank Gore to the Eagles. Well Adam Schefter reports that Gore has been telling those around him it’s a done deal. It remains an intriguing move and one that will really test the Chip Kelly offensive system. We’d be surprised if this were the only move the Eagles made at the running back position this year, especially with a draft deep on talent.
16:00 RE-SIGNING! The cornerback market took a big hit yesterday with Kareem Jackson staying in Houston and it has just taken another with Adam Schefter reporting that the Chargers and Brandon Flowers have inked terms on a 4-year deal (with Aaron Wilson saying it could be worth as much as $36m over the duration of the deal). Flowers had been superb in Kansas City before a disappointing 2013 season saw him unceremoniously dumped. His response? Go to an AFC West rival and rebuild, ending the year with a +7.1 coverage grade whilst allowing just 56% of passes completed into his coverage. We wait for the arrival of Darrelle Revis to the free agent market but the loss of top talent (as well as it looking increasingly likely that Byron Maxwell will head to the Eagles) mean guys like Chris Culliver could be about to strike it rich big time.
15:45 RUMOR! Consider this an interesting one courtesy of Sheil Kapadia. On the hunt for a running back the Eagles, formerly tied down to the elusive LeSean McCoy, are making a big push for 32 year old Frank Gore, offering the career long 49er a deal with $7m in guarantees. He’s certainly a more disciplined runner than McCoy but with so many miles on the clock and a diminishing talent as a runner (his rushing grade dropped to a +1.8 mark in 2014, down on the +3.1 a year earlier) we’ll begin to see just how much that system is responsible for rushing yardage. The big help being the imposing offensive line of the Eagles, that even with injuries throughout 2014 still finished second overall in our line rankings and led the way with their run blocking. If this deal goes down consider us surprised but with the ultra aggressive, play to win Eagles, who’s to tell?
15:30 Out with the old and all that jazz. The Green Bay Packers have, according to Tom Silverstein, no intention of bringing back Matt Flynn, hot on the heels of their re-signing of Scott Tolzien on a one-year $1.35m deal. Flynn made himself a lot of money on a small sample size filling in for Aaron Rodgers back in 2011, struggling to catch on in both Oakland and Seattle after guaranteed money was put his way. Returning to the green and gold saw him looking a lot sharper but the higher ceiling of Tolzien made the decision easier. The former undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin impressed in a cameo at starter between weeks 10 and 12 of the 2013 season, and was then particularly impressive during preseason (+6.6 grade on 118 snaps). He’s in pole position to be the clipboard holder in chief for Green Bay, an important position given the history Aaron Rodgers has with injury.
15:00 You can keep up to date with Free Agency here at PFF as your one stop shop for the news and instant analysis on the moves during the countdown and when the window opens on Tuesday. Keep up to date with all the free agents by team and by position using our Free Agent Tracker. Keep up to date with our Top 75 free agents which we’ll update as we go to give a picture of who the best guys remaining are as signings and re-signings are made. You’ll also find a selection of profiles on the top free agents such as Pernell McPhee who figures to be a hot commodity on Tuesday. You can also dig through our recent depth chart series to give an idea as to how you think signings and re-signings might upgrade the current state of rosters around the league.
14:30 We brought you a headline piece talking about a likely parting of the ways between Torrey Smith and the Baltimore Ravens and now Aaron Wilson gives us some detail on where Smith could be headed next; San Francisco. The 49ers have their own impending free agent at quarterback with Michael Crabtree’s contract up on Tuesday as well but Smith would add some real deep speed to the 49ers’ offensive for Colin Kaepernick. Adam Caplan also notes that the Colts and Texans are interested too but also sees the 49ers as front runners. An under productive 2014 was less than ideal timing for Smith as he hit the open market but he did still tie for fourth in the league among wide receivers with five touchdowns on deep passes last season.
14:00 There have been rumors circulating in the last day or so of the Eagles interest in Frank Gore and now Ian Rapoport reports that the 49ers are resigned to losing their long-time starting running back. Turning 32 in May, Gore is still an effective ball carrier and topped 1,000 yards for the fourth straight season and his eighth time in the last nine years, grading as a top 15 back in our overall rankings in both 2012 and 2013. Gore finished his 2014 season with back to back 100 yard games, earning a +4.1 rushing grade against Arizona in Week 17, breaking a season high seven tackles in a 20-17 49ers win.
13:30 We’re up and running for Day Two of our live blog counting down to the start of free agency and it’s time to get you caught up on some of the news to start the afternoon off right.
Suh Headed for South Beach? The biggest news to kick the day off comes from Chris Mortensen who reports that the Dolphins will snag the biggest free agent when the window opens on Tuesday. Mortensen quotes a headline figure of $116 million dollars with $60 million guaranteed for Ndamukong Suh with those figures beating off competition from seemingly half the league for Suh’s services. Suh has finished in the top 5 in our defensive tackle rankings for each of the last three years and seemingly won’t be hanging around long on the open market.
Jets and Texans in for Hoyer: In spite of the quarterback class being an underwhelming one there have still been plenty of reports about landing spots for Brian Hoyer with multiple reports suggesting that the Jets and the Texans are his two favored landing spots. They represent Hoyer’s best chance to compete for a starting gig with the Texans options wide open and the Jets looking for competition for Geno Smith. Before a disastrous second half of the season that saw him benched for Johnny Manziel, Hoyer had a +2.6 overall grade through Week 10 and was our 15th ranked quarterback at that time. That was Hoyer’s only full season as a starter and the Jets and Texans may yet believe that they can build upon Hoyer’s solid start to 2014.
New Deal Coming for McCoy: Though the trade went through last week we’re also not quite done with LeSean McCoy news apparently either with it widely reported that his representatives and the Bills have agreed on a new 5 year deal worth up to $40 million with at least $26 million guaranteed. It seems that everybody in this deal got what they were looking for; the Eagles got a key piece for their defense and offloaded a big cap number, the Bills got a marquee back and LeSean McCoy got a new contract.
Yesterday’s News: You can also catch up on our news from yesterday by clicking here. The big news of the day was re-signings in Houston and Green Bay that kept two of the bigger impending free agents off the market with Randall Cobb headed back to Green Bay on a 4 year deal and Kareem Jackson headed back to Houston for the same duration.