10 most puzzling free-agent moves of Day 1
Ben Stockwell reviews the action from the first day of NFL free agency.
10 most puzzling free-agent moves of Day 1
The opening day of free agency is always short now that the NFL kicks it off at 4pm ET, and when the dust settles these early moves are never a universal success.
With that in mind, here’s a look at 10 head-scratching moves from the opening day of free agency, with a nod to a couple of puzzling re-signings as well.
1. Janoris Jenkins to the Giants
The Deal: Five years, $62.5 million with $29 million guaranteed
The Giants were extremely aggressive on the opening day of free agency and they kicked it off by making Janoris Jenkins one of the highest paid cornerbacks in the league, with a deal worth an average of $12.5 million per year. Now Jenkins fits the mould of the aggressive defense the Giants were setting out to build yesterday so this could work, but the price tag is far in excess of what Jenkins is worth. While Jenkins’ interceptions (10) and pass defenses (34) give the Giants a ballhawking pair of cornerbacks with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, his propensity for allowing big play (22 touchdowns, 39 plays of 20+ yards allowed) will ensure that the Giants are in plenty of shootouts again this year.
2. J.R. Sweezy to the Bucs
The Deal: Five years, $32.5 million with $14.5 million guaranteed
For an offensive line that is rightly panned by the team’s fans and the media, Seattle’s offensive linemen have been popular in free agency and on the trade block over the last few years and Sweezy is the latest to cash in. A converted college defensive lineman Sweezy was on a good development path after the 2013 season but that positive development did not continue in 2014 or 2015. Sweezy is capable of some of the best run blocks you will see from any guard in the NFL but his consistency simply is not there and he will give away big plays for the opposing defense to balance his impact blocks. Sweezy has also allowed 99 pressures in the last four seasons, tied with Mike Iupati for the ninth-most by any guard.
3. Mark Barron to the Rams
The Deal: Five years, $45 million with $20 million guaranteed
Barron reinvigorated his career after a position change to weakside linebacker this season with the Rams. After entering the starting lineup in Week 5 Barron racked up 49 defensive stops, a mark topped by only NaVorro Bowman (59) and Luke Kuechly (57) in the same spell. However Barron was still a safety playing linebacker, and though he made incisive plays he was out of control at times getting cut off by linemen and failing to shine in coverage as you might expect a converted safety to do at linebacker (only two pass defensives, 407 yards allowed; 10th-most among linebackers). To pay Barron $9 million per year (sixth-highest paid linebacker, fourth-highest paid safety) is a puzzling point to set the linebacker/safety hybrid market.
4. Sam Bradford & Chase Daniel to the Eagles
The Deal: Combined (two years for Bradford, three years for Daniel) $56 million with $34 million guaranteed
Some eyebrows were raised at the deal Sam Bradford got before free agency opened and those eyebrows will now be raised even further when paired with the deal handed to Chase Daniel. Fresh off playing only 186 snaps to earn $10 million in three years as a Chief, Daniel muddies the waters at the quarterback position for the Eagles. Philadelphia is now paying quality starter money for two quarterbacks, with no guarantee that either will actually turn into a quality starter. The old adage is that if you have two quarterbacks you have no quarterback — can Doug Pedersen confound that and deliver a QB from this overpriced competition?
5. Damon Harrison to the Giants
The Deal: Five years, $46.25 million with $24 million guaranteed
The Giants added some quality defensive talent yesterday but they paid beyond a premium for that talent. Harrison is the league’s best run defender — we awarded him our inaugural Ted Washington Award back in January — but the Giants have paid him like the three-down impact defensive lineman that he has never been. Harrison’s $9 million per year average places him along side Tyrone Crawford of the Cowboys and while Harrison is a markedly better run defender his value on passing downs is far more limited. In a league that is becoming ever more pass-oriented the Giants have paid premium money for a run defense specialist.
6. Chris Ivory to the Jaguars
The Deal: Five years, $32 million with $10 million guaranteed
The head-scratching aspect of this signing is what this deal says about the Jaguars’ second-round pick from last year’s draft, T.J. Yeldon. Ivory has graded consistently well since he entered the league in 2010 with the Saints and he got better with an expanded role with the Jets over the last few seasons, but Yeldon was extremely impressive as a rookie last year. Yeldon earned a higher grade than Ivory and had no fumbles compared to Ivory’s three. Ivory and Yeldon do not offer the contrast of a thunder-and-lightning combination in the Jags backfield, so have the Jags overpaid a player to be their redzone specialist? Or have they unnecessarily marginalized a talented young running back for a veteran entering his seventh season at a higher price?
7. Dwayne Allen to the Colts
The Deal: Four years, $29.4 million with $16 million guaranteed
This is a boom-or-bust deal depending upon which Dwayne Allen the Colts get over the course of this contract. As a rookie in 2012 Allen was exceptional, contributing positively as a receiver while excelling as one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. Then came a hip injury and after an encouraging 2014 season, Allen had an extremely poor 2015, finishing as our 62nd-ranked tight end. If 2015 was an aberration and the Colts get the 2012 and 2014 Allen then this deal can work out for Indianapolis, but 2015 should have driven down the value of this contract.
8. Matt Cassel to the Titans
The Deal: One-year deal
If Cassel’s recent career form doesn’t see the end to his NFL career then apparently nothing will. In the last two years Cassel has both started the season as a starter and come in midway through for a team with low expectations and Cassel has been quickly hooked in both cases. That Cassel was signed at some point is not a massive surprise but that the Titans felt the need to go out and snag him in the opening hours of free agency, even on a one year deal, is staggering.
9. Brian Quick to the Rams
The Deal: One year, $3.75 million with $1.5 million guaranteed
In his first four years with the Rams, Quick has never played more than 375 snaps in a single season and only earned a positive receiving grade once, in 2014. As a developmental player the Rams clearly like him and wanted to keep him around, but the total contract value — and in particular, the guaranteed money for one year — is puzzling. Quick has 130 career targets, catching less than 50 percent of those targets while dropping 12 passes. This contract pays him to be the solid contributor in a single season that he’s never been before.
10. Donald Stephenson to the Broncos
The Deal: Three years, $14 million with $10 million guaranteed
Stephenson started at left tackle for the Chiefs in 2015 for the first six weeks of the season, and for the first two weeks that went well with strong games against the Texans and the Broncos. There after things unraveled for Stephenson, who looked like the subpar tackle he has been throughout his career with the Chiefs. In his two seasons with extensive playing time Stephenson has finished as our 54th- (2015) and 66th- (2013) ranked offensive tackle. The Broncos were clearly eager to bring in a swing tackle who could start at right tackle but perhaps Stephenson was not the right man for the job.
Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.