2013 Free Agency: Deal Grader
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 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: 10.30am ET)
+2.0: A move that is guaranteed to take your franchise to another level
We’re not expecting any of these …
+1.5: That’s just great value!
Wes Welker (WR) to DEN: 2-year, $12m
Incredible. We all assumed Welker would be back with the Patriots yet he’s gone and signed with the Broncos and for just $6m per season. Are you kidding me? That Broncos offense already had one of the most prolific passing attacks and now it adds a guy who had 1,040 slot yards, while turning his receptions into 72 combined first downs and touchdowns. That was the fifth most in the league. This is a stunning move for the aggressive Broncos.
+1.0: That move could work out very nicely!
Martellus Bennett (TE) to CHI: 4-year, $21m deal
That’s two free agency periods in a row now that a team signing Bennett has got themselves high marks from us. The top tight end on the market (in our eyes), Bennett is one of those rare breed at the position who can truly do it all. In fact he graded positively in every facet of the game last year as he emerged from the shadow of Jason Witten to show he could clearly be a number one tight end. The Bears were stuck with Kellen Davis and his penchant for dropping passes last year ( missing on 29.6% of all catchable balls), so this is a massive upgrade.
Mike Wallace (WR) to MIA: 5-year, $60m deal
There’s some dispute in PFF Towers on this one. On one hand Wallace is coming off a disappointing year, even if his drop numbers were stupidly overplayed (he only had six of them for goodness sake). He just didn’t play like a guy who should command $12m per year. alternatively you only need to look at his 2011 and 2010 tape to see this guy scares defenses rigid. He gets in behind them, forces adjustments they don’t want to make and can flat out beat anyone on his day. Miami desperately needed that guy, the one that has the potential to redefine their offense and push Ryan Tannehill onto the next level.
Danny Amendola (WR) to NE: 5-year, $31m deal
Once the Patriots were unable to work out a deal for Wes Welker they went immediately in search of the most obvious replacement – Amendola. The former Ram is in essence a like-for-like swap for Welker, but the main question mark is his durability. He has proven to be relatively fragile in his pro career, completing 16 games just once in four years, and missing significant time twice, the most recent two seasons. That being said, he has arguably better hands than Welker and can operate in all of the same areas in that New England offense.
Michael Bennett (DE) to SEA: 1-year, $5m deal
Seattle likely didn’t set out with the intention of adding Michael Bennett to their roster once they had already added Cliff Avril, but they ended up securing the services of our top available edge defender for a season for just $5m. Bennett is a prototypical DLE who is strong against the run, but also no slouch as a rusher either with 71 total pressures last season ranking 9th in the NFL at any position. He has the kind of size and strength to be able to kick inside and could likely assume the Jason Jones interior role when the Seahawks break out their nickel rush line.
+0.5: Common sense shines through
Desmond Bryant (DT) to CLE: 5-year, $34m deal
If it weren’t for the money involved this would get a higher grade because Bryant is a guy who can really play. He was our sixth ranked defensive tackle last year with the sixth highest pass rushing productivity of all his peers. But he’s more than just a one dimensional pass rusher and held up against the run well too. It’s that all round ability and versatility (he spent most of 2011 at defensive end for the Raiders) which makes him an excellent fit for a Cleveland defense needing someone who can make an impact up front.
Chris Canty (DT) to BAL: 3-year, $8m deal
When we did our Performance Based Value figures for 2012 we worked out that even though Canty was limited to just 300 snaps, he was still worth he was still worth a cool $2.9m. That made him overvalued to a Giants team that had him with an $8m cap hit, but makes him a bargain for a Ravens team that, health permitting, will surely get more snaps out of him than that and at a cost of just $2.7m per year. Canty earned a +6.6 grade in 2012 and will bring some additional pass rush and scheme versatility to the Ravens hybrid defense.
Phillip Adams (CB) stays in OAK: 1-year, $630k
Smart business by the Raiders who opted to let Adams briefly hit the open market by not tendering him, then got him back on the roster for considerably less. What’s more he was their most impressive cornerback in his 178 snaps, earning a +4.7 grade and flashing some real talent. Of course with Adams you have to worry about his injury history as he has suffered multiple concussions. That’s always a concern so while this move could pay off nicely, it could also amount to nothing. Still nothing ventured, nothing gained with this one.
Gosder Cherilus (OT) to IND: 5-year, $34m
While Cherilus was never a favorite of the Lions faithful, he had developed into a useful starting right tackle. After a tough rookie year he’s graded positively every season since and held up well in the Lions heavy pass based offense. In fact it was his pass blocking that saw him end up our second ranked right tackle last year, with his pass blocking efficiency grade the 12th best of all offensive tackles as he gave up just 38 quarterback disruptions on 787 Stafford drop-backs. For a Colts team that saw it’s offensive line give up a league leading 244 combined sacks, hits and hurries, that’s a big improvement.
Louis Vasquez (OG) to DEN: 4-year, $23.5m
It never hurts to steal away a player from your divisional rivals, especially when that player is the only serviceable starter they have on their offensive line. People’s trendy infatuations with offensive linemen aside, Vasquez is a good player. However he’s not considerably more than that and won’t be a huge asset to their run game. What he will do though is strengthen an already impressive pass blocking line. After watching the nightmare game the perennially overrated Chris Kuper had against the Ravens in their playoff exit, this makes a lot of sense.
Paul Kruger (LB) to CLE: 5-year, $41m deal
You could argue that this is too much for a player who has yet to prove himself a top level pass rusher. But what the Browns have done is get themselves a good player, and more so they’ve got him from a divisional rival. Considering how impotent their pass rush was last year (and they lost their most prolific guy in Juqua Parker) this was a need pick up, and they were always going to have to overpay a little for it. Kruger now needs to demonstrate he can produce pressure consistently, and as a teams top pass rusher. He’s building from a solid base after leading the 2012 pass rushing productivity ratings for 3-4 outside linebackers.
Jerome Felton (FB) stays in MIN: 3-year, $7.5m deal
Another deal that caused some contention between the PFF staff. For all Felton brings as an impressive blocker, it’s an awful lot of money to pay for a full back, especially when they’ve got a handy one on the roster in Rhett “Little Jimmy K” Ellison. In less snaps than Felton, Ellison had our second highest run blocking grade among fullbacks. Still Minnesota has the cap room to make the move and if it pleases Adrian Peterson, it pleases us. The Vikings averaged 6.3 yards when Felton was in at fullback. Highest in the league.
Erin Henderson (LB) stays in MIN: 2-years, $4m
Smart move by the Vikings. Henderson wasn’t able to follow up his impressive 2011 campaign with something that would see him worthy of a big time deal, with his ceiling seemingly found as a two-down player going forward. That’s not necessarily a massive criticism, with Henderson exceptional against the run, picking up a defensive stop on 9.8% of the running plays he was in on. That was sixth best of all 4-3 outside linebackers.
Jason Jones (DT) to DET: 3-year, $9.5m
The Lions have lost all of their interior defensive line depth, so it made a lot of sense for Head Coach Jim Schwartz to re-unite with the hugely talented, but often injured, Jason Jones. Way back in 2010 Jones was one of the league’s most exciting players, but a failed switch to defensive end saw him drop off the radar to a degree. While he bounced back in a situational role with the Seahawks last year, injuries again reared it’s ugly head, making this an ideal move for all. He won’t be expected to play a starters workload, and the Lions get an explosive talent when either Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley need a break.
Kaluka Maiava (LB) to OAK: 3-year, $6m
The Raiders need to be clever with the moves they make so good work on this one. Maiava was our seventh ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2012 despite only playing a two-down role. He may find a more testing role for him in Oakland, but after allowing just 0.5 yards per snap in coverage (lowest of all his peers), he might just surprise a few.
Sammie Lee Hill (DT) to TEN: 3-year, $11.4m
Hill has come a long way since starting as a rookie and looking completely overmatched. He thrived as part of the Lions defensive line rotation and this notched an impressive 19 quarterback disruptions on 219 pass rushes. We like his chances of developing into a starter who makes the Titans forget about those dark days where they started Sen’Derrick Marks.
Glover Quin (S) to DET: 5-year, $25m
There isn’t one thing you look to about Quin that makes you think this guy is an elite safety. But he does a lot of things well and his versatility means he opens up a lot of options on defense. The former cornerback took naturally to a role of covering tight ends in the Texans aggressive man coverage scheme in their nickel package, and had a knack for working his way through traffic to make plays in the run game. At a position of need this was a nice move by the Lions.
Geno Hayes (LB) to JAX: 2-year, $2m
If you go back to the 2010 season, Geno Hayes was a very good linebacker. He ended that year with a +5.0 grade having been even more impressive the season before, but a disastrous 2011 campaign saw him relegated to a backup role after his last adventure in free agency. The Jaguars picked up a linebacker who has certainly got talent, and did so to the tune of just $2m over two seasons. At the very least they have added some quality depth and experience for not much money.
Terrance Knighton (DT) to DEN: 2-year, $4.5m
On talent alone you might have expected a much bigger bounty for Knighton, but his inconsistency has left the market for the big man softer than it might have been. He had six games last year graded in the green, but balanced those with three red games and seven total games with a negative grade. For the price the Broncos paid however they have added a talented big man to their defense and could reap the rewards if they get the good Knighton turning up for the right games.
Cliff Avril (DE) to SEA: 2-year, $15m
This wasn’t a year with a great crop of pass-rushers, but Avril is probably the most gifted pure-pass rusher of the class (certainly of those still in their prime). He isn’t a great run defender, to put it mildly, but shouldn’t be asked to be in Seattle. Given the price the Seahawks paid they have added a potentially premier pass-rush threat to a defense already stacked, and haven’t tied themselves long-term in case Avril’s 2012 season wasn’t a fluke.
Rashard Mendenhall (RB) to ARZ: 1-year, $2.5m
This is a move that works out for all parties. On one hand you have a talented running back getting a deal that doesn’t break the back. On the other, said back gets a chance to show he’s healthy and earn himself a bigger pay day at the end of the year. Mendenhall only managed 104 offensive snaps last year as he recovered from injury, but if you go back to 2011 you see a guy who earned a +6.1 rushing grade.
Steven Jackson (RB) to ATL: 3-year, $12m
The Falcons didn’t need to just get better at running back, they needed to get a top option who added another dimension to the offense. Check and check with the signing of Jackson. He’s not getting any younger but our 13th ranked running back from last year still averaged a healthy 2.7 yards after contact per carry, didn’t fumble at all and even caught some passes. For just $4m in guaranteed money it’s shrewd business.
Yeremiah Bell (S) to ARZ: 1-year, $900k
This isn’t a move that will suddenly turn the Cardinals into a contender, but is a good piece of business. They’ve essentially kept the on field production they saw from Adrian Wilson in 2012 and got a whole lot cheaper in the process. Bell spent last year with the Jets and earned a not too shabby -1.9 grade as an every down defender.
Chris Clemons (S) stays in MIA: 1-year, $2.75m
The Dolphins have been flush with cap space and prepared to spend, so they did well not to overspend in this regard. Clemons formed a nice partnership with Reshad Jones last year and finished the year our 25th ranked safety. He gets a chance to show he’s worth a longer term deal, and the Dolphins get to see that 2012 was no fluke.
Chris Houston (CB) stays in DET: 5-year, $25m
The Lions have had a lot of problems opposite Chris Houston at the cornerback spot, so it was vital that they didn’t lose their top cornerback this offseason. The former Falcon was our 23rd ranked cornerback last year with positive grades for his coverage (allowing 56.4% of throws into his coverage) and for his run defense.
Keenan Lewis (CB) to NO: 5-year, $26m
If rumors are to be believed Lewis actually gave the Saints something of a discount so he could return to his home state team. That must hurt for the Steelers. Despite not intercepting a ball, he did deflect a league high 16 passes and looks set to replace the disappointing Patrick Robinson, the man who surrendered more yards into his coverage than any other defender in 2012.
Mike Devito (DE) to KC: 3-year, $12.6m deal
We love Devito. He’s a quality defensive linemen who can line up anywhere on the Chiefs defensive line. But there’s a reason he was so quick to sign the deal that the Chiefs presented. It’s in all likelihood more than he’s worth as a two down player who offers next to nothing in the passing game. It’s only how good a player Devito is on those early downs that keeps this grade in the black, because we’d have preferred to see KC add someone who adds a bit of penetration when the quarterback passes.
Kedric Gholston (DE) stays in WAS: 3-year, $5.2m deal
Harmless. That’s how we’d describe this move. The Redskin need depth and they have little money to spend, so bringing back a player like Gholston makes sense. With Adam Carriker healthy we don’t foresee him seeing the 374 snaps he saw in the 2012 regular season, but he provides reliable cover if something goes amiss.
Greg Toler (CB) to IND: 3-year, $15m deal
On one hand we really like this deal. Toler has a lot of untapped potential and has demonstrated it when he’s been healthy in Arizona. Quarterbacks only had a 51.5 rating throwing into his coverage on the 190 snaps he spent in coverage last year. The downside is he’s missed a lot of time hurt and only managed 308 snaps since the 2010 season. It’s a big leap of faith the Colts are making in seeing him turn his excellent 2012 cameo into a season’s worth of above average play.
Delanie Walker (TE) to TEN: 4-year, $17.5m deal
You don’t always know what you’re going to get with Walker which is why the hefty guaranteed figures ($8.6m) scare us a little. This year he developed a big case of the dropsies, leading all tight ends with a horrible 30% of all catchable balls dropped in the regular season. That needs to be rectified, and if he can improve on that, his signing could prove to be very astute business. His blocking was fantastic this year (earning our highest grade of all tight ends) and his 16.4 yards per catch isn’t too be sniffed at either. A possible boom or bust deal.
Anthony Fasano (TE) to KC: 4-year, $16m deal
A favorite of many of the PFF staff, the question is, is Fasano really worth $4m per year? It’s questionable because while he’s always been a productive blocker, he’s not exactly the league’s most dynamic receiver. He should act as a complementary tight end to Tony Moeaki, and he has a knack for finding the end zone (five touchdowns last year). But overall it’s a decent move for the Chiefs, but not without it’s drawbacks.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (CB) to DEN: 1-year, $5m
Summing up a market full of players with big talent but major question marks is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. On talent alone is one of the most impressive players around, but can’t be convinced to show it for any extended length of time and is now taking a one-year deal in which he will need to prove it for most of a season to get a pay day this time next year. He allowed 56.8% of targets to be complete last season in Philadelphia and QBs had a rating of 87.7 when throwing in his direction. He did however intercept three passes and break up another 13.
LaRon Landry (S) to IND: 4-year, $24m
Landry ends up with the $6m per year deal he wanted, but had to move to Indianapolis to get it done. This move isn’t terrible for either side, but Landry is a player that hasn’t been at his very best for a while now, and $6m per season is a lot of money to pay a player who may never reach 100% of his ability again. On the other hand Landry does bring an ability to hit big and act as something of an enforcer in a defense looking for an attitude like his, and is capable of the big play at any time.
Derek Cox (CB) to SD: 4-year, $20m
Cox is another player that has big talent, but has also had stretches of poor play to go along with those stretches of very good play. He has also shown a tendency to miss time through injury, and when we look at this deal in a few years time it has almost equal chance of being a great signing or a terrible signing, or even one that balances out to about right. At his best in 2011, Cox allowed an NFL low QB rating of 44.5 into his coverage, better than even Darrelle Revis that year.
Reggie Bush (RB) to DET: 4-year, $16m
A lot of people are very happy with this move, sighting what Bush can do as part of the Detroit passing attack. And getting a player with his kind of speed certainly fits in with how Detroit like to play offense. But did they really need to spend money on Bush? We remain unconvinced, partly because they’ve proven they can get a lot of success out of Joique Bell who was our second ranked running back in the pass game last year, and partly because the Lions still need to run between the tackles.
Jerraud Powers (CB) to ARZ: 3-year, $10.5m
Powers has developed into a solid (and no more) NFL cornerback. After giving up on William Gay and losing Greg Toler, the Cardinals had a hole at the cornerback spot and it makes a lot of sense for Bruce Arians to bring in his old starter from Indianapolis. He played 514 snaps in 2012 and earned a -4.4 grade.
Sean Smith (CB) to KC: 3-year, $18m
On talent alone this is a deal Smith is worth and then some. But you don’t just want talented players on your roster, you want productive ones and all too often Smith has struggled to produce consistent tape. It’s why he allowed more combined first downs and touchdowns than any other cornerback last year. The odds are that when this deal is done we’ll either look at this as a stroke of genius, or a waste of money. The direction we’re pushed in depends on what Smith shows up for KC.
Cary Williams (CB) to PHI: 3-year, $17m
Williams was right behind Smith in terms of the number of first downs and touchdowns he gave up, and was all too often picked on in Baltimore (especially in the first half of the year). But he has a knack for making plays and got better, while his reliable tackling is a god send to an Eagles faithful used to watching their guys miss.
Ricky Jean-Francois (DT) to IND: 4-year, $22m
The Colts certainly needed defensive help on the interior, but that is a lot of money to pay for a guy who has never really been a starter before, and is gambling with his projected performance in that new role. In 2012 Francois had a net overall grade of +1.1 but that came from a significant positive grade for his run defense (making as many defensive stops as starter Isaac Sopoaga despite 67 fewer snaps), and a significant negative for his pass rush (just four total pressures from 164 rushes). It might turn into a good move, but it might prove to be money gambled away.
-0.5: Did you really need to make that move?
Isaac Sopoaga (DT) to PHI: 3-year, $12m deal
Sopoaga is one of these guys who has benefited from the talent around him. Massively. Hidden amongst all the gems of the 49ers defensive line has been his inability to make much of an impact. He doesn’t eat up blocks, get off them, or get up field. He’s just a body, and personally we wouldn’t spend $4m per year on a guy who is always going to be replaceable. He was our fourth lowest ranked defensive tackle last year.
Philip Wheeler (LB) to MIA: 5-year, $26m deal
A big deal for the Dolphins but is it one they needed to make? They obviously wanted to get younger and more explosive at the position and Wheeler definitely does that. He’s an extremely effective blitzing linebacker who turned his 126 pass rushes into 30 combined sacks, hits and hurries. But there were plenty of times the ultra aggressive former Colt got manoeuvred out of position. As a talented but flawed player, it’s the cost that we have an issue with.
James Casey (FB) to PHI: 3-year, $14.5m deal
Nearly five million a year for James Casey? No thanks. Sometimes teams might want to think to themselves why is a player so quick to accept a deal. With Casey it’s simply because no other team was going to get close to paying him that amount of money. Despite being on the field at full back for 17 of the Texans rushing touchdowns he’s not a strong lead blocker, and most of his good work comes in the passing game. You’d hope for $5m per year the Eagles are going to get more than 330 yards and three touchdowns out of him.
Jermon Bushrod (OT) to CHI: 5-year, $36m deal
The extent to which Bushrod is an upgrade on J’Marcus Webb can be argued. But for our money it’s not such a significant upgrade that you’d give a decent (but far from great) left tackle over $7m per year. Bushrod has problems anchoring against the bullrush and could find life is a lot easier when Drew Brees is the man behind center. Ben Stockwell broke this move down in detail here.
Dannell Ellerbe (LB) to MIA: 5-year, $35m deal
The Dolphins are clearly making a virtue out of youth and dynamism. They want to be able to attack relentlessly and in that regard Ellerbe is a good fit. He knifes through gaps to make the kind of play that gets you spotted but, much like Philip Wheeler, he can be a little too aggressive at times. The real question here though is how much better are Miami in 2013 in swapping Karlos Dansby for him. For us it remains to be seen, and with Ellerbe having less than a season as a full time starter under the belt, it’s a risky move.
Chase Daniel (QB) to KC: 3-year, $10m deal
It’s a hard move to evaluate because Daniel has 70 career snaps to his name. Obviously the Chiefs must have seen something in preseason, or hope that by sheer proximity to Drew Brees he’s absorbed some of his greatness. It might only be about 2.5% of their cap their spending on their backup quarterback but is he worth that given what he’s shown holding a clipboard?
Andy Levitre (OG) to TEN: 6-year, $46.8m deal
We like Levitre. He was our ninth ranked guard and can really hold up in the pass blocking game. But is he a player that is going to be the difference between the Titans winning and losing games? In all honesty no. He’s not a difference maker in the run game, and while good in space, he’s getting considerably more money than guards like Evan Mathis and Ben Grubbs who are just far better players. The Titans got their man, but at the end of the day, they’ve spent a lot of money without pushing their team on.
Jared Cook (TE) to SL: 5-year, $35.1m deal
A huge projection for the Rams here. We all know about the tools Cook possesses and how he was misused in Tennessee, but it always scares us when a player hasn’t been extremely productive in this league and then gets paid an awful lot of money on potential alone. Now Cook could be the mismatch threat that Sam Bradford needs to progress as a quarterback. Or he might be an athletic tight end who makes a few plays here and there without ever putting it together. We’d just like to see him deliver before paying him that big time money.
Dashon Goldson (S) to TB: 5-year, $41.25m
Goldson has long shown a playmaking ability but this was the season he really put it all together, finishing 10th in our coverage safety rankings. So a good player, but worth over $8m per year? In our eyes the answer is most definitely not. The Bucs, who have a habit of investing big money in positions you wouldn’t normally invest big money in, have done it again.
Sam Baker (LT) stays in ATL: 6-year, $41.5m
There’s just too much tape and too much injury history with Baker where you could ever consider giving him nearly $7m per annum (with $20m guaranteed) a good deal. The myth of a franchise left tackle is that you need one above all costs, but paying guys who have proven to be above average starters (in just one season to boot) like superstars is dangerous. Baker is coming off a good year, the first good year of his career, but even then he was only our 18th ranked left tackle on the year. Perhaps the Falcons really value the fact he only gave up one penalty, but we’d much rather see him giving up less than six sacks.
Donnie Avery (WR) to KC: 3-year, $8.5m
Avery finished 2012 having dropped 16.7% of all catchable balls. That was the third worst drop rate of any wide receiver. His biggest attribute is that he can get in behind defenses, and now you’re partnering him with Alex Smith for whom his biggest flaw is that he is reluctant to challenge teams deep. Oh well.
Connor Barwin (OLB) to PHI: 6-year, $36m
The initial contract numbers look frightening, but in reality the guaranteed money is very low (just $8m) and the contract looks more like a three year deal with an option for three more (at a higher price) that he may never see. Regardless, Barwin just isn’t a particularly effective player, generating a far smaller amount of pressure than even his high sack figure of 2011 would have suggested. He is also far from a stud in the run game, where he graded at just -0.6 this season. The Eagles may like his skill set to fill a particular role in their new defense, but given what we have seen so far in his career it is a stretch to project him as a capable starter rather than an underperforming piece in a defense.
-1.0: That’s an awfully big gamble there
Shonn Greene (RB) to TEN: 3-year, $10m
The happiest people upon hearing this news? Jets fans who quietly laughed at the prospect of any team paying Greene that amount of money. Despite being handed some excellent blocking, Greene just couldn’t capitalize. The supposed power back struggled to break tackles and pick up yards during contact and left him with an elusive rating of just 11.7. The second lowest in the league. You’ve got money to burn Tennessee which is great, but you could have spent it wisely at least.
-1.5: Now why would you go and do that?
Erik Walden (LB) to IND: 4-year, $16m deal
To finish last in our 3-4 outside linebacker rankings once is bad. To do it twice indicates a player who just isn’t ever going to get it. Walden, in comparison to his peers, isn’t a good player. He doesn’t do a great job setting the edge, he’s extremely unproductive rushing the passer, and he’s now getting paid $4m a year. We give the Colts a -1.5 for this deal but his agent deserves a +2.0 for pulling it off. The Colts have fallen into the trap of watching a player have a career game against them (his +4.1 was the highest he ever managed by far) and assuming that is close to the status quo. It’s not and they’re going to be very disappointed with what they get out of him.
-2.0: You’re bringing Brett Favre back?
Hoorah, it’s all quiet on this front. For now …