Free-agency grades for 49ers, Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks
With the initial fury of NFL free agency beginning to quiet down, the PFF staff is taking a look at how each team fared through the first few weeks. Signings, re-signings, players lost to other franchises, and the dollar amounts for each of these transactions are taken into account when assigning a grade (“A” through “F”).
Grades for the NFC West and AFC West debut today.
Key additions: G Evan Mathis, S Tyvon Branch, DE Chandler Jones
Key retentions: TE Jermaine Gresham
Key losses: OLB Dwight Freeney, S Rashad Johnson, OT Bobby Massie, G Jonathan Cooper
The biggest move the Cardinals made was acquiring Chandler Jones in exchange for G Jonathan Cooper and a second-round pick, which bolsters their edge-rush opposite second-year player Markus Golden. Jones is a capable run-defender, and last season racked up 68 pressures (including playoffs), more than any player on Arizona’s defense has had since 2013.
Mathis replaces the outgoing Cooper and unsigned Ted Larsen at guard. It’s a short-term move, but an upgrade; he’s been PFF’s highest-graded guard over the last five seasons, and along with Mike Iupati, the Cardinals now have two of last season’s top three run-blockers at the position.
At safety, Tyvon Branch is a slightly younger, better player than Rashad Johnson, and provides above-average play in multiple facets on defense (+20.2 combined run and pass-rush grade for his career). However, Branch has had issues with durability; he’s logged less than 800 snaps over the last three seasons ,compared to more than 2,500 for Johnson.
Los Angeles Rams
Key additions: DE Quinton Coples, CB Coty Sensabaugh
Key retentions: DE William Hayes, CB Trumaine Johnson, S Mark Barron, C Tim Barnes
Key losses: S Rodney McLeod, DT Nick Fairley, CB Janoris Jenkins, DE Chris Long
The Rams are paying a steep price for potential over-production with Mark Barron. He was much improved in 2015, finishing the year as our 20th-ranked linebacker, but that was also the first season he’s produced an above-average overall grade.
Bringing back Hayes at defensive end for three years ($17.5 million) was a no-brainer after four straight seasons of solid play, while Quinton Coples could be a decent-upside signing. Coples hasn’t lived up to expectations as a top-20 draft pick (-7.1 career overall grade), mostly struggling in run defense, but he’s had stretches of above-average play in both facets, and his recent stint with the Dolphins looked promising.
In the secondary, they let safety Rodney McCleod and corner Janoris Jenkins walk for big money elsewhere. Both graded well last season, but neither has shown the consistency that you’d expect given the contracts they received. Instead, the team retained Trumaine Johnson at corner, who was the better player last season and is a year younger than Jenkins. However, we’re not as high on Sensabaugh, who brings experience playing both outside and in the slot from Tennessee, but was PFF’s 88th-graded corner last season and has graded positively in coverage just once in four years (2013).
San Francisco 49ers
Key additions: G Zane Beadles, QB Thaddeus Lewis
Key retentions: NT Ian Williams, TE Garrett Celek, K Phil Dawson
Key losses: WR Anquan Boldin, G Alex Boone
There’s not much to get excited about here, despite the 49ers having a sizable amount of cap space to work with. The team’s top unrestricted free agent, Ian Williams, returns after a breakout 2015 season, during which he played a career-high 677 snaps, finishing with the seventh-highest grade in run defense among 129 interior defenders.
At guard, Alex Boone never matched his breakout 2012 season, but still graded positively every season in San Francisco, while his replacement, Zane Beadles, lasted two seasons in Jacksonville after seeing a steep drop-off as a run-blocker and continued inconsistency in pass protection. This is somewhat of a downgrade based on their recent play, but perhaps Beadles will improve in Chip Kelly’s zone-heavy offense.
The 49ers still have a clear void at receiver (as noted yesterday by colleague John Breitenbach), where Anquan Boldin remains unsigned. Even at his age, Boldin would be a significant loss, given he was the only San Francisco receiver (or tight end, for that matter) with a positive receiving grade last season.
Key additions: DT Sealver Siliga, OL J’Marcus Webb
Key retentions: WR Jermaine Kerse, CB Jeremy Lane, DT Ahtya Rubin
Key losses: LB Bruce Irvin, OT Russell Okung, DT Brandon Mebane, G J.R. Sweezy
The Seahawks have mostly opted to re-sign their own unrestricted free agents, notably bringing back WR Jermaine Kearse, CB Jeremy Lane, and DT Ahtya Rubin. Kearse is a solid player with some big playoff moments under his belt, while Lane has graded decently in limited playing time. He’ll likely see a bigger role going forward, but giving double-digit guaranteed money to a player who’s never managed more than 356 defensive snaps in a season is interesting. Rubin is a two-down player who’s graded below-average overall over the last two seasons, but he comes relatively cheap and provides a needed body on the defensive line with Brandon Mebane gone.
Seattle allowed four starters to sign elsewhere, although each of them are players that the Seahawks can probably afford to lose. Sweezy graded negatively all four seasons on the offensive line in Seattle, with particular poor play in pass protection, while Okung has never managed to match his 2012 season and graded around average for most of 2015. On defense, Bruce Irvin is the more notable loss; his pass rushing production declined over the last two seasons after moving to a full-time role, but he’s played well in coverage and run defense.
Outside of the team, the Seahawks brought in DT Sealver Siliga alongside offensive linemen J’Marcus Webb and Bradley Sowell. Siligia is a good run-stopper, but like Rubin, won’t offer much on passing plays. And neither O-lineman does much to address the team’s weakness up front; Sowell last saw meaningful playing time with the Cardinals in 2013, and finished that season as PFF’s lowest-graded tackle. Webb offers experience at both tackle and guard, with decent grades as a run-blocker, but his pass protection has been a consistent issue over five seasons—not ideal, given that only one quarterback faced pressure more frequently than Russell Wilson did last season.
More free-agency grades by division:
– AFC East
– NFC East
– AFC West