Free Agency 2012: The Deal Grader! (updated 03/24/12)

| 5 years ago

Free Agency 2012: The Deal Grader! (updated 03/24/12)

There’s an awful lot of NFL players getting an awful lot of money right now.

That’s good for them, but what about the teams handing it over? Have they found themselves a shrewd deal? Have they let their desperation get the better of them? Has their scouting department just got it horribly wrong?

In addition to our live reaction blog that is kicking all sorts of backside right now, we’re going to issue feedback on all the deals with a pretty simple objective in mind; letting you know which teams got the best deals using our own grading methodology.

Let’s do this. (Last updated 09:30 Saturday 24th March)



+2.0: You just signed Peyton Manning!

Peyton Manning to DEN: The deal of free agency is finally done, and Manning chooses Denver.  This move gets bonus points because it gives the Broncos the cover they need to move on from the Tim Tebow circus.



+1.5: That’s just great value!

Brandon Lloyd to NE: New England needed a receiver who can offer something different, and Lloyd is exactly that. A reasonable $4m per year is tremendous work, and our top ranked receiver in 2010 gives Tom Brady the kind of receiver he’s been crying out for in big games.

Eric Winston to KC: At just under $6m per year you wonder how the Chiefs picked up the best tackle on the market. Winston turns their weakest position on the roster, to one of the strongest.

Evan Mathis to PHI: We’ve championed Mathis since his breakout season in 2009, but it took a stint in Philadelphia where he really got to show the league how good a player he is. Our top ranked guard in 2011 will earn $4m less than Carl Nicks, and $2m less than Ben Grubbs per year. Great work by the Eagles.

Mario Williams to BUF: What a huge move for Buffalo. They went old school and didn’t let Williams visit anywhere until he signed on the dotted line. Putting him on a line with Marcell Dareus and our top ranked DT from 2010, Kyle Williams, is almost unfair.

Martellus Bennett to NYG: Bennett has graded as a top five blocking tight end the past three years, while having opportunities limited as the number two TE in a Dallas offense with plenty of receiving options. This move comes with little risk and a lot of reward.

Sione Pouha to NYJ: You pick up maybe the best nose tackle on the market for $5m a year? Pouha may be 33 but his limited snaps earlier in his career means you don’t worry so much about him slowing down. Our top ranked DT in 2011.

Chris Myers to HOU: After losing two of five starting linemen already this was a move the Texans had to make.  Myers is the best zone blocking center in football.

Stephen Tulloch to DET: The Lions needed to get Tulloch back in place for the success of that defense.  Given the aggressive nature of the D-line, they need a strong linebacker behind them to be able to take on blockers and still make plays.  There are few better at this than Tulloch.



+1.0: That move could work out very nicely!

Jeff Backus to DET: You only need to see the troubles Matthew Stafford has when he’s pressured to know how big this signing is. When healthy, Backus is an above average tackle, no doubt about that.

Jason Jones to SEA: We wonder if this is the best move possible for Jones who figures to see action in sub packages and backing up Red Bryant. But it’s a great move for Seattle who have to the depth of an already underrated defensive line.

Juqua Parker to CLE: Parker may not play a full set of snaps, but he’s proven over the past two years that he can handle a decent amount of work and still produce. Even though he found opportunities limited in Philadelphia, he still responded with 22 combined sacks, hits and pressures on 138 pass rushes.

Jeremy Mincey to JAX: With the Bears being interested you figured the price could really fly up for Mincey, but he returns on a reasonable deal for $27m over four years. Our 12th ranked DE in 2011, Mincey has always done well when given an opportunity to get on the field.

Cory Redding to IND: Great to see the Colts making moves, and this one makes a lot of sense. Redding excelled in Chuck Pagano’s hybrid defense and should ease the transition in Indy.

Marques Colston to NO: Considering the money the other receivers got, the Saints must be happy they acted just before the start of free agency. A perfect fit in NO, Colston has the 10th highest receiving grade of all wideouts over the past three years.

Jared Gaither to SD: It was imperative for the Chargers to re-sign Gaither who makes a big difference to Philip Rivers’ ability to go deep. A true frachise left tackle even if there are some red flags regarding past behavior and durability.

Robert Meachem to SD: Limited because of the nature of the Saints offense, Meachem never really had a chance to be a number one guy in New Orleans. Makes up, to a degree, for the loss of Vincent Jackson.

Peyton Hillis to KC: A low risk deal for the Chiefs, Hillis can act as a complement to Jamaal Charles or fill in if he’s not healthy. Excellent in all three phases, he’s not without his issues but did finish second in our combined 2010 RB rankings.

Brodney Pool to DAL: Brodney Pool has had his best seasons in a Rob Ryan defense, ranking 5th in our safety rankings in 2009 when the pair were both in Cleveland.

John Abraham to ATL: The terms of the contract will really dictate how good this deal was, but Abraham is the main pass-rush threat for the Falcons and integral to what they want to do on D.

Ron Bartell to OAK: If he passes medically and can show anything like the form he did before his neck injury, the Raiders have just signed a better corner than anyone on their roster.

Scott Wells to STL: Wells was one of the top players available and he has the ability to play multiple schemes.  Should anchor the line in St Louis.

Matt Flynn to SEA: To get Matt Flynn for that kind of contract is about the best the Seahawks could have managed in their quest for a legit quarterback this season.

Brodrick Bunkley to NO: Bunkley is one of the better run defending defensive tackles in the NFL and the Saints needed a clear out of their interior line as they move on with a new defensive scheme.   It’s a costly move, but a good one.

Mark Anderson to BUF: The Bills were able to secure the fourth member of what looks like a fearsome defensive line.  Anderson earned a +13.2 grade last season rushing the passer, and should get the most favorable looks in the NFL with those other three on the line.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis to CIN: Adding a running back that simply never fumbles has to be a good move.  Makes more happen than he’s ever given credit for.  Our own Khaled Elsayed guarantees he will grade in the top 10 amongst running backs next season with a 1000+ yard effort.

Geoff Schwartz to MIN: The Vikings are re-tooling their O-line and Schwartz is a versatile lineman who could excel at RG if given the position and time.  Minnesota might regret the 1-year deal this time next year.

Joel Dreessen to DEN: The Broncos were widely linked with the Colts’ receiving tight ends but Dreessen, an in state collegiate player, gives them some much needed quality as a “true” tight end. Our sixth ranked run blocker last season and a capable receiver.




+0.5: Common sense shines through

Mario Manningham to SF: The 49ers have realized their passing attack just isn’t getting the job done, and Manningham represents another way it’s just got better. Now if only they can land a certain former four time league MVP quarterback …

Kendall Langford to STL: Don’t be fooled by the sack numbers of Langford. He’s a player that always gets pressure.

Steve Hutchinson to TEN: It will be interesting to see what it means for the rest of the line, but Hutchinson is a better run blocker than anything they had last year. For that alone we like this move.

Ben Grubbs to NO: The Saints picked up a pretty decent consolation prize in the shape of Grubbs after losing Carl Nicks. He doesn’t have the talent of Nicks, but he’s been a consistent performer at left guard for the Ravens these past three years and comes $2m per year cheaper.

Chad Henne to JAX: We haven’t seen as bad a quarterback as we did with Blaine Gabbert in 2011. So now the Jags have a viable option behind him that can step it if he doesn’t take a huge leap forward.

Kyle Orton to DAL: The Cowboys have been hurt in recent years by injuries to Romo affecting his performance and ability to stay on the field.

Reggie Wayne to IND: Wayne may have lost a step, but our 6th ranked receiver over the past three years has a lot to offer a potential new starting QB. Always where he should be and rarely drops balls.

Desean Jackson to PHI: A move that carries little risk the way it’s structured, Jackson is one of the premier game changers in the NFL. We don’t like his consistency, but you can’t deny the impact he has on defenses.

Nick Hardwick to SD: Not one of the more dominant centers in the league, Hardwick is still solid technically and doesn’t let much pressure up the gut. Another in a series of move to make life easier for Philip Rivers.

Carlos Rogers to SF: It’s a bit pricey given how Rogers hasn’t always been the most consistent cornerback in the league, but the 49ers now return their entire starting defense from 2011. That’s tremendous work when you consider they were our top ranked unit by some distance.

Cortland Finnegan to STL: The money is a little rich, but at the same time Finnegan is a true number one cornerback who can track receivers, play in the slot and come up and help in run support. Now let’s just hope he can control his ‘fesity-ness’ as well as he did in 2011.

Vincent Jackson to TB: Jackson may be walking a disciplinary tight rope, but is one of the leagues most dominant deep threats. He automatically gives Josh Freeman the consistent down field target he’s needed to raise his game.

Jason Campbell to CHI: Given how the Bears line has played over the past few years, it doesn’t hurt to have a backup who can play to a decent level. Campbell was our 15th ranked QB in 2011.

Eric Weems to CHI: A move that allows Devin Hester to focus on punt returns and playing receiver, while making up for the loss of Corey Graham. Weems was a top five ranked returner over the past three years.

Tim Jennings to CHI: The perfect type of corner for the Bears cover two defense, Jennings was one of only two cornerbacks who didn’t give up a touchdown the entire year.

Perrish Cox to SF: The rich keep getting richer. Cox had his problems off the field, but he was actually pretty impressive in his rookie year on the field. 49ers have plenty of depth at cornerback but you can never have too much, so this move represents all upside.

Dimitri Patterson to CLE: Solid slot cornerback who didn’t give up a touchdown last season while getting his hands to 11 passes.  Just don’t expect him to hold up on the outside.

Dan Connor to DAL: Connor is the perfect fit for a Dallas defense needing a 2-down thumper to slot next to Sean Lee. Gives the Cowboys a pair of Nittany Lions in the middle at linebacker.

Mike Adams to DEN: A solid cover guy for the Browns, Adams allowed only a single touchdown last year but hauled in three picks and broke up another three passes.

Kevin Boss to KC: Boss had a very good year in 2009, but has struggled to match that since.  For a complementary TE he is a nice pickup and it didn’t cost much.  Should be a big upgrade over Leonard Pope.

Cedric Griffin to WAS: A Redskins move we like!  Griffin wasn’t nearly as bad last season as some want to suggest, and a year further removed from back to back ACL injuries makes it an interesting signing.

Matt Birk to BAL: Birk was shown up against the Patriots in the playoffs, but that game aside he had a decent season and still has good play left.  This made sense for both sides.

Craig Steltz to CHI: Not a gifted athlete but Steltz is a smart player who makes more plays than he has any right to.  Chicago have done well to keep him on board.

Atari Bigby to SD: Replaces Bob Sanders in a similar role, except far less likely to wind up on I.R. after a particularly harsh gust of wind.

Travelle Wharton to CIN: He’s a better fit for Cincinnati than Nate Livings ever was. Not the best in pass protection but this will be somewhat negated by how quickly Andy Dalton gets rid of the ball. A big upgrade with his run blocking.

Reggie Nelson to CIN: Nelson showed perhaps the best form of his career last season in Cincinnati and while he was still some way shy of his talent, he represents a solid move by the Bengals.

Joe Mays to DEN: $4m a year is at the high end of the value for a player that is at his best in a two-down role and struggles in coverage, but Mays is important to Denver’s run defense.

David Garrard to MIA: This deal looks a little silly because the Dolphins first flirted with Manning, Matt Flynn and finally Alex Smith, but David Garrard is a very good and underrated QB in his own right, and could be a nice move in isolation if healthy.

LaRon Landry to NYJ: Rex Ryan for all his faults is usually pretty good at playing to the strengths of his personnel. Landry can be an excellent box safety.  If he can stay healthy, this is a nice move, but that is a big if.

Stanford Routt to KC: The Chiefs saved money by picking up Routt who should look better in a less suicidal coverage scheme, but it did come at the cost of losing Brandon Carr, who was younger and arguably more talented.

Samson Satele to IND: The Colts needed to add some core young players to the team and Samson Satete is a decent run blocking center, occasionally overwhelmed by bigger nose tackles.

Will Allen to NE: Allen is a solid corner who can play the slot well but has struggled with injuries in recent years.  The Patriots needed help in the secondary and Allen is well worth the look.

Adam Jones to CIN: Jones allowed just 50% of targets to be complete last year and gave up only a single TD in the regular season (the less said about that playoff game the better).  He is still a talented player.

Josh Johnson to SF: Harbaugh was Johnson’s coach at San Diego when the Torero posted 43 TDs to just a single pick as a senior.  He has serious athletic talent and is worth a look reunited with his old coach.

Corey Graham to BAL: One of the better special teamers in the league arrives to help bolster the Ravens’ coverage units. The Ravens have a platoon of young corners but Graham offers solid cover as well if and when injuries stretch the unit.

Brendon Ayanbadejo to BAL: A quality special teamer and a solid nickel linebacker as well. The Ravens made a clear statement of intent on the 23rd of March that they want more from their special teams in 2012.

Jeff Saturday to GB: Six years the senior of departed GB starter Scott Wells but Saturday was a match for Wells in 2011 in our grading. Still solid as a run blocker and pass protector, the Packers have snagged a strong stop gap allowing them to a groom a long term successor behind Saturday.

Jameel McClain to BAL: The 23rd March was a day of shrewd moves from the Ravens after a quiet start to free agency. McClain is proven in Baltimore and in the end couldn’t get a pay day away from Baltimore. The Ravens will welcome back his quality run defense and blitzing to their defense next to Ray Lewis.

Anthony Collins to CIN: Considering the lack of quality in the tackle market it is stunning that Collins couldn’t find a market as a starting tackle. The Bengals have got back a known tackle and Collins provides real quality and insurance at both tackle spots. Teams in search of a starting right tackle dropped the ball allowing Collins to re-sign with Cincinnati.

Jacob Tamme to DEN: One of the expected acquisitions for Peyton Manning’s new team is the signing of Tamme who emerged in 2010 out of the shadow of Dallas Clark. Tamme was our fourth ranked receiving tight end that season. If he is a product of Peyton Manning he’s made a smart move reuniting with him in the Mile High City.

Erin Henderson to MIN: What is the deal with the lack of market for Henderson? More years and this has the potential to be a +1.5 move for the Vikings but they have lowballed a three down linebacker who wants to be in Minnesota by all accounts. If Henderson gets more playing time in 2012 his value is only going up next off-season, a baffling move by Minnesota.

Jamaal Anderson to CIN: The Bengals have replaced one run defending end, Frostee Rucker, with another, Anderson, and have saved money in the process. An all round smart move by the Bengals filling that void in their defense.

Chris Chamberlain to NO: After a dreadful week the Saints have some good news at least as they make the first move to upgrade their linebacker corps with the under the radar signing of Chamberlain. The Rams highest graded run defending LB last season and ranked amongst the top 20 in the league in stops amongst 4-3 OLBs.



0.0:  Indifference

Carl Nicks to TB: Not a reflection on Nicks’ talent (he was our second ranked guard on the year), but making him the highest paid guard when you’ve already got $7.5m per annum invested in another guard? The move seems unnecessary; you just don’t need to spend that much money on an offensive line. Nicks ability saves the move.

Brandon Carr to DAL: Carr is a good cornerback, but the Cowboys have spent an awful lot of money on potential as opposed to production. He is an upgrade for their secondary, but one that may struggle to live up to the price tag.

Dwight Lowery to JAX: A solid safety, the move makes sense for the Jaguars but is a little on the pricey side given the relative lack of upside he possesses. Our 35th ranked safety on the year, he at least offers stability at a spot that has been extremely problematic for Jacksonville.

Jonathan Fanene to NE: A Patriots type of player, Fanene can play all along the line and so has the requisite versatility New England seems to covet. It’s hard to imagine him making a big impression, but there’s little risk attached.

Red Bryant to SEA: We love what Bryant brings to the table as a run stuffing defensive end who allows the Seahawks to play something of a hybrid. We just don’t love giving a guy who is at most a two down player that amount of money. Otherwise it would be a lot higher.

Richard Marshall to MIA: Verging on negative, Marshall brings with him an ability to play every spot in the secondary as he has done over the past year in Arizona. Needs to show more consistency.

Paul Soliai to MIA: Soliai is a big time talent at nose tackle, but for him to justify $6m per year he needs to start seeing more of the field. We looked at this issue earlier in the week.

Israel Idonije to CHI: A one year deal to see if he has anything left in the tank, this move only makes sense for the Bears if they bring somebody else in, either in FA or the draft.

Steve Weatherford to NYG: Weatherford had a fantastic performance in the Super Bowl but that is a lot of money to pay for a punter, even with the importance of field position.

Mike Brisiel to OAK: The money is market value for a starting guard, but while Brisiel knows the system he hasn’t excelled in it.

Eddie Royal to SD: Maybe the Chargers remember what Royal was able to do to them on special teams a few years back – it’s an interesting fit when you consider San Diego have a solid array of receiving options already.

Mike Tolbert to CAR: This move makes little sense for either side.  Carolina already have a loaded backfield, and Tolbert is taking a pittance to play out of position for the off-chance he gets a bigger role next season.

Alex Smith to SF: Jim Harbaugh’s offense was constructed around Alex Smith to give him an out on every play.  He showed he was able to manage the game in that offense and took them to a Championship Game.

Kamerion Wimbley to TEN: Wimbley is easily the best pass-rusher on the market at the time of the signing, but they’re paying him $7m a year to be an every down defensive end – something he has never had to do before – which makes this an expensive gamble.

Jason Allen to CIN: $8m over two years isn’t too much for a corner with starting potential but we’ve seen too much of Jason Allen to get too excited.  Tends to do well for stretches then get beaten badly for a big play.

Michael Bush to CHI: This move is less about Bush than it is about the Bears incumbent, Matt Forte, who took to twitter in an angry fashion after still not being rewarded with a new contract.  Bush is a major upgrade over Barber for the Bears, but at what cost?

Ted Ginn to SF: Ginn hasn’t really panned out as a receiver but he is still a valuable return man and in the end, that’s the difference between the 49ers being in the Super Bowl and watching from home last season.

Tracy Porter to DEN: A one-year deal for a player of Porter’s talent seems like a bargain, but he hasn’t played up to that talent in a while, and allowed 71.3% of passes into his coverage to be complete last season.



-0.5: Did you really need to make that move?

Jarret Johnson to SD: There isn’t a linebacker in the league who sets the edge as well as Johnson. But the Chargers didn’t need a guy to do that, they needed an outside linebacker who could get to the passer. Johnson is not the guy and struggled so much to get pressure the Ravens got him off the field in obvious passing situations. Great player, but this one doesn’t match up.

Frostee Rucker to CLE: Rucker is the kind of two down defensive end the Browns didn’t need. They needed (and still need) more pass rush from their base defensive look. Rucker isn’t that guy.

Terrell Thomas to NYG: The deal is back loaded so the Giants appear to have an exit strategy. Nonetheless we’re just not sure that coming off a second ACL injury, and after a poor 2010, Thomas has what it takes to improve the Giants secondary.

Josh Morgan to WAS: There is some upside to Morgan who makes a lot happen after the catch. But he falls into that projection category of receiver, so is something of an expensive risk.

Steve Gregory to NE: The Patriots desperately needed to upgrade the secondary after rolling through special teams players and wide outs there last year, but Gregory hasn’t graded positively for two seasons now.

Dan Connolly to NE: Dan Koppen is the superior player, but Connolly is much younger.  He was 33rd ranked in 2011 amongst centers in pass-protection, allowing 19 QB disruptions.

Randy McMichael to SD: McMichael is something of an asset in the passing game, but a number two tight end in San Diego should be able to run block to a decent standard. The former Miami Dolphin doesn’t fall into that category.

Aaron Ross to JAX: Ross is a talented player – there’s a reason he was such a high draft pick – but he has only ever shown it for flashes, and games at a time.  $5m a year is expensive for that kind of inconsistency.

Cooper Carlisle to OAK: The Raiders did well ridding themselves of Carlisle’s salary, but re-signing him wasn’t the way to follow that up, especially after signing Mike Brisiel to take over his RG spot.

Jarrett Bush to GB: A three year deal for a player who is the very embodiment of replaceable seems like frivolous spending from an organization that is usually very disciplined with the purse strings.

Khalif Barnes to OAK: The Raiders brought back another of their underachieving offensive linemen.  Barnes coughed up 11 penalties and earned a -16.1 grade for the season.



-1.0: That’s an awful lot of money you’ve just gambled away

Laurent Robinson to JAX: People forget that Robinson actually played more in St Louis in 2010, than he did in Dallas in 2011 when he was a starter in their offense. How did that work out? Robinson has talent, but it’s only really come through when he played in a Cowboy offense loaded with receiving options. The move would have been better with less guaranteed money.

Adam Carriker to WAS: A lot of money for an average starter who struggled to make much of an impact last year. Hard to see him holding onto a starting job for long if Jarvis Jenkins is as good as advertised.

Pierre Garcon to WAS: Garcon is a physical receiver who can make a lot happen after the catch, and does offer upside. But he’s a little bit streaky and not the kind of versatile option that should get paid more than Marques Colston.

Levi Brown to ARZ: Not content with signing Adam Snyder the Cardinals decided to try and form one of potentially the worst right sides of the OL in living memory.

Brandon Meriweather to WAS: Washington need a safety to play the deep middle, and Meriweather is not that guy.  Prone to headless chicken syndrome far too often.

Nate Livings to DAL: Livings has the size that Dallas covets on the O-line, but little else positive to bring to the table.  -24.0 since he took over as starter for the Bengals in 2009.

Daniel Fells to NE: This signing does give the Patriots more flexibility with Aaron Hernandez, but Fells has graded consistently poor across the board for us, especially in his blocking.  That won’t fly in New England.



-1.5: I don’t care how much you’ve spent, that guy just isn’t very good

Eric Wright to TB: Wright earned every bit of his -14.1 grade in Detroit, so how he turned that into such a massive deal a year after he was forced into a ‘prove it deal’ is quite incredible. He does have talent, but he also has the ability to give up an awful lot of plays. This could go very badly.

Adam Snyder to ARZ: Among Snyders’ strengths is his ability to play multiple positions. The problem is what good is that when you’re equally bad at all of them? Has always struggled when he found his way onto the field in San Francisco.

John Carlson to MIN: He may be a good athlete, but Carlson is a poor blocker and has failed to make a consistent impact as a receiver. The Seahawks brought in Zach Miller to replace him for a reason. A truly baffling move.

Ronde Barber to TB: If ever a season showed that somebody has nothing left in the tank it was Ronde Barber in 2011.  He has been a great servant to Tampa Bay over the years, but he’s running on fumes and being badly exposed more often than not.



-2.0: You’re bringing Brett Favre back?

Nobody has yet made a move that qualifies as Favreian.



  • TexasHeadHunter

    Struggling to understand how Carr was “indifference” because of his price tag while Finnegan was given a “common sense” rating. Dallas needed a big CB to man the outside and play press-man coverage (Carr). Not another undersized slot guy who has more swagger than brains (Finnegan). Carr was Top 10 in QBRA and Comp%A by your metrics and faced the opposing #1 approximately 50% of the time considering Flowers played a side and he played a side and didn’t follow WR’s around.

    Did the Cowboys pay for potential? Yup – did they pay market value? Absolutely… Carlos (over the hill) Rogers got $8m, Eric (can you cover a 5th grader?) Wright got $7.5m, and Cortland (I threw down with AJ) Finnegan got $10m.

    Consider we were about to pay Newman $8m after paying him $10m last season, and the guy required a 15yd cushion and couldn’t press to save his life, I think it was a huge move for the positive.

  • uppercut

    The spin we’re hearing in SD is that we’ll likely still look for a young pass-rusher early in the draft (especially since Phillips is a FA soon, & older) and that JJ’s run-stopping ability will help us better create “obvious passing” situations (and also give our specialists like Barnes more rest to do what they do best). Given our division rivals are very run-oriented I can see what they were thinking, but I’m still a little wary. Buuuuut, getting Mario is a virtual impossibility and the other top pass-rushers were tagged or re-signed so I’m not going to complain about getting a quality lunch-pail type player in Johnson.

  • ollie490

    The Terrel Thomas signing is really just a one year, two million guarantee. There is an option bonus after year one that The Giants can choose to not pick up if he doesn’t perform well/recover from the ACL. It is a no risk move in reality.

  • Ferguson1015

    Is there a reason SD signing of Eddie Royal isn’t on here?

    • Neil Hornsby

      Apologies – It is now.

  • Fanatics

    What about players that were signed before the FA period, but were technically FA’s or at least resigned…Randy Moss? Ahmad Brooks?…