2017 NFL Free Agency Grades: Give Saints and Jaguars an 'A,' but Jets get an 'F'
The Jaguars win another offseason, while the Saints set themselves up well as we hand out 32 grades
The first wave of free agency is in the books, and with so many teams flush with cap room, it was as wild as expected.
“Teams are out of control,” one NFL personnel man said. “Bad players are getting good money.”
That’s what happens when there is so much money to spend and so few players to spend it on. Teams acted like they printed money, and players got deals that will make stars who were under contract cringe as they ready for this season.
It’s no wonder Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers took notice the Chicago Bears give quarterback Mike Glennon a deal that averages $15 million per season.
Free agency can often be fool’s gold. A year ago, many thought the Houston Texans had solved their quarterback position by signing Brock Osweiler , the top quarterback on the market. They gave him a deal that paid him a guaranteed $37 million last season, then they benched him during the season. Last week, they traded him to Cleveland to unload his contract.
That should be a warning to all that what happens in the first week of free agency might not be what you or I or the teams think it might be. Most of the time, these deals don’t work out.
With that, here are the grades for each team’s early action in free agency:
The Skinny: The Arizona Cardinals locked up pass rusher Chandler Jones to a long-term deal, which was a smart move. But they also suffered some hits, losing defensive end Calais Campbell ( Jacksonville Jaguars ) and safeties Tony Jefferson ( Baltimore Ravens ) and D.J. Swearinger ( Washington Redskins ). They replaced Jefferson with veteran Antione Bethea, who might be a stopgap for a year or two. They also re-signed center A.Q. Shipley and added kicker Phil Dawson .
Grade: C+. They suffered a lot of hits that might be tough to overcome.
The Skinny: The Atlanta Falcons didn’t do much, aside from adding Dallas Cowboys edge player Jack Crawford to help the pass rush. They also re-signed linebacker Courtney Upshaw and put a second-round tender on receiver Taylor Gabriel to keep him. Good teams usually don’t have to be active in free agency, and they weren’t.
Grade: C. They didn’t do a lot, which was to be expected. Crawford could help.
The Skinny: The Ravens added a nice piece to their defense by signing Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson. He will team with Eric Weddle to give them a nice combo in the deep middle. They also re-signed nose tackle Brandon Williams , which was a priority, and added running back Danny Woodhead from the San Diego Chargers . Losing right tackle Ricky Wagner will hurt.
Grade: B-. They always seem to lose good players, but getting Williams back was big. So was signing Jefferson.
The Skinny: The smartest move the Buffalo Bills made was to bring back quarterback Tyrod Taylor on a new deal. They must have looked around and saw the quarterback market, as well as the quarterbacks in the draft, and realized he was their best option. They also brought back pass rusher Lorenzo Alexander , which made sense. But they signed two fullbacks in Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert , which I don’t get, although they say Tolbert will be a backup running back, not a fullback. I like the additions of Green Bay Packers safety Micah Hyde and Cleveland Browns safety Jordan Poyer .
Grade: B+. Taylor is the big move. They had to bring him back.
The Skinny: The Carolina Panthers were active in helping to bolster both lines and the deep middle. They put the franchise tag on defensive tackle Kawann Short , which was wise. They re-signed edge rushers Wes Horton , Charles Johnson and Mario Addison and added former Panthers star Julius Peppers . They added veteran safety Mike Adams and also signed Minnesota Vikings tackle Matt Kalil to start on the left side. The knock on these moves is they added age, which is never a good thing. Kalil has to be better than what he was in Minnesota Golden Gophers .
Grade: C+. They kept their own, which is a good move, but they also seemed to get older.
The Skinny: Chicago’s biggest decision came at the most important position on the field when the Bears cut Jay Cutler after signing Tampa Bay backup Mike Glennon to be their starter. That’s risky. Glennon flashed in his starts with Tampa Bay, but he is raw. The Bears have already said he will start. They then helped him by signing Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton , Tennessee Titans receiver Kendall Wright and Miami Dolphins tight end Dion Sims . On defense, they added corner Prince Amukamara from the Jaguars and safety Quintin Demps from the Texans. This will all hinge on whether Glennon can become a quality starter.
Grade: C. Is Glennon the guy? That’s a major risk.
The Skinny: The Cincinnati Bengals re-signed three players, corner Dre Kirkpatrick, receiver Brandon LaFell and backup tackle Eric Winston . But they suffered two big hits on their offensive line, losing left tackle Andrew Whitworth to the Los Angeles Rams and guard Kevin Zeitler to the Browns. That will sting. They needed to keep at least one of them.
Grade: C-. Losing the two starting offensive lineman will hurt them in a big way.
The Skinny: The Browns did a nice job of solidifying their offensive line by signing Packers center JC Tretter and Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler. They also extended their own guard, Joel Bitonio . That means a team weakness is now a strong point for the Browns offense. They added a second-round pick by trading to get quarterback Brock Osweiler from the Texans. They will likely dump him, which means they traded cap room for the pick. They also added receiver Kenny Britt from the Rams.
Grade: B. The Browns are building this team slowly. Now if they could only find a quarterback.
The Skinny: The Cowboys didn’t make many moves, but they did re-sign receivers Terrance Williams and Brice Butler . They were limited by cap room and were unable to land any pass rushers. They did lose guard Ronald Leary to the Denver Broncos and tackle Doug Free announced his retirement. They also lost safeties Barry Church (Jaguars) and J.J. Wilcox (Bucs) and likely will lose corner Morris Claiborne . They did sign corner Nolan Carroll from the Philadelphia Eagles but also lost defensive lineman Jack Crawford and Terrell McClain . The Cowboys are also of course expected to release Tony Romo .
Grade: D. The lack of cap room showed up in a big way. They have to address pass rush in the draft.
The Skinny: The Broncos needed help on their offensive line, so they gave Cowboys guard Ronald Leary a big deal. They also signed tackle Menelik Watson away from the Oakland Raiders while letting left tackle Russell Okung go to the Chargers. They signed former Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko to help the run defense, but they lost nose tackle Sylvester Williams to the Titans. They could still land Tony Romo when he’s released.
Grade: C. They got better on the offensive line, and that was a priority.
The Skinny: Their big-ticket player was Ravens tackle Ricky Wagner, who should upgrade the right tackle spot. The Detroit Lions then signed guard T.J. Lang to play next to him. That’s because they lost tackle Riley Reiff to the Vikings and guard Larry Warford to the New Orleans Saints . So give them credit for replacing those two. They also signed Cardinals tight end Darren Fells . On defense, they signed Tampa Bay defensive tackle Akeem Spence to a three-year deal and gave Oakland corner D.J. Hayden , a former first-round pick, a one-year deal. They did the same with Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow .
Grade: B-. Wagner and Lang will help in a big way, and Spence will be a sneaky-good signing.
Green Bay Packers
The Skinny: General manager Ted Thompson usually isn’t active and free agency, and this year was no different. He did re-sign edge rusher Nick Perry, which was the smart thing to do on a team that has had pass-rush issues. Then the Packers signed Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett, which will be an upgrade from Jared Cook, who is leaving in free agency. They also added Rams tight end Lance Kendricks, giving them a nice 1-2 combination. They lost center/guard J.C. Tretter to the Browns and guard T.J. Lang to the Lions.
Grade: B-. Thompson always sits idle for most of free agency, but he did just enough this year to help his football team.
The Skinny: The Texans didn’t do much at all because of cap limitations. They lost a good corner in A.J. Bouye to the Jaguars, which will hurt. They did trade Brock Osweiler to the Browns to free up cap room, but it cost them a second-round pick. Their entire free-agency grade will hinge on getting Tony Romo. If they don’t, this will be an F. If they do, it could be an A.
Grade: Incomplete. It’s too early to grade. The Romo situation will decide this grade. They better get him.
The Skinny: The Indianapolis Colts started slowly, but new general manager Chris Ballard was patient and landed two nice pass rushers in John Simon from the Texans and Jabaal Sheard from the Patriots. Improving the edge rush was a priority, and I like those two moves. They will both be immediate starters.
Grade: B-. They didn’t do anything on the first day, but they won the second day getting two edge rushers.
The Skinny: This is a team that came in with a lot of cap room, and the Jaguars decided to use it. They landed three new defensive starters in end Calais Campbell, corner A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church. They also traded to get starting tackle Branden Albert from Miami. They spent a lot, but they could be downright nasty on defense next season. They also added some special teams help in linebacker Lerentee McCray and Audie Cole .
Grade: A. They hate to hear it, but they won free agency again. Someday, it will translate to on-field success.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Skinny: The Kansas City Chiefs ’ biggest move of the period came when they gave safety Eric Berry a long-term extension, which was the right move. He is a playmaker in their secondary. They also gave guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and safety/linebacker Daniel Sorensen contract extensions. Other than that they didn’t do much, since they were up against the cap, which is why they will lose Dontari Poe .
Grade: C. Keeping Berry was the No. 1 priority. That keeps this grade a C.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Skinny: Their best move was putting the franchise tag on pass rusher Melvin Ingram to prevent him from leaving. The Chargers also re-signed safety Jahleel Addae . They gave Broncos tackle Russell Okung a big contract, which is a questionable move based on the way he played last season.
Grade: C-. The Ingram move makes this free agency class. They had to keep the elite edge rusher.
Los Angeles Rams
The Skinny: The Rams put the franchise tag on corner Trumaine Johnson with the idea that he could still be traded. If not, he will be a quality starter. They then helped the offense by signing Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and Bills receiver Robert Woods . Whitworth is a quality left tackle, while Woods is a young receiver who can grow with Jared Goff .
Grade: B-. Getting a nice veteran like Whitworth will help this young team and Goff.
The Skinny: The Dolphins made keeping their own a major priority. They re-signed receiver Kenny Stills and defensive end Andre Branch and also gave safety Reshad Jones a contract extension. I like teams that take care of their own. They also traded to get tight end Julius Thomas from the Jaguars. Thomas played his best football in Denver when Dolphins coach Adam Gase was the team’s offensive coordinator. They signed Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons and also added Titans tight end Anthony Fasano , one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. Timmons has slowed some, but he will be an upgrade in Miami. They also traded a sixth-round pick to get pass rusher William Hayes (and a seventh-round pick) from the Rams. They had a nice start to free agency.
Grade: B+. They have improved their team, but are they good enough to dethrone the Patriots?
The Skinny: The Vikings had to upgrade the offensive line, and they did. They signed Lions tackle Riley Reiff and Panthers tackle Mike Remmers . While they may have overpaid for both, they are an upgrade over what they had the past few years. The line is no longer an issue.
Grade: B+. If you watched them play offense last year, you knew they had to do something up front. Reiff and Remmers aren’t Pro Bowl players, but getting them was the right move.
New England Patriots
The Skinny: The Patriots, with a ton of cap room, were active to start the period, which surprised some. They made their biggest move by signing Bills corner Stephon Gilmore to a major deal. That could lead to a trade of Malcolm Butler down the road. Then they re-signed defensive tackle Alan Branch and safety Duron Harmon. They also made three trades. They traded to get pass rusher Kony Ealy from the Panthers by dropping down eight spots in the draft, then traded to get Colts tight end Dwayne Allen and finally sent their first-round pick this year to get Saints receiver Brandin Cooks . That’s a major haul for the Patriots if they all play to expectations, but they don’t have a pick in the draft until the third round now.
Grade: B+. They were bold and aggressive, which they deserve credit for being. Bill Belichick knows what he’s doing.
New Orleans Saints
The Skinny: The Saints were very active and landed a starting guard in Larry Warford from the Lions, a starting middle linebacker in A.J. Klein from the Panthers and re-signed defensive tackle Nick Fairley . Then, after signing away receiver Ted Ginn Jr. from the Panthers, they shipped receiver Brandin Cooks to the New England Patriots for a first-round pick. They will almost certainly use both of their first-round picks on defense. It was a good first few days for the Saints.
Grade: A. This grade goes up because they got an extra first-round pick to play with in the draft.
New York Giants
The Skinny: A year after spending big in free agency to help their defense, the New York Giants weren’t as big spenders this time around but they still landed a few players who can help. It started with veteran receiver Brandon Marshall , who will be a nice addition outside with Odell Beckham Jr. They also added Vikings tight end/fullback Rhett Ellison . Their best move was to put the franchise tag on Jason Pierre-Paul .
Grade: C. They didn’t address the offensive line, which is why this grade is what is right now.
New York Jets
The Skinny: The New York Jets mostly spent the first few days watching. Their only signings of note were re-signing guard/tackle Ben Ijalana and special-teams player Josh Martin and signing Jaguars left tackle Kelvin Beachum to replace Ryan Clady . That’s not much. This is a team that is going in the wrong direction and clearly is ready for a major rebuild. They let go of Brandon Marshall, Nick Mangold , Darrelle Revis and others. It’s going to be a long year if you are a Jets fan.
Grade: F. They are clearly not interested in short-term players. They did little to help their team.
The Skinny: After being big players a year ago, the Raiders didn’t do much this time around in free agency. They did sign tackle Marshall Newhouse from the Giants, but he is likely a backup at right tackle. They lost defensive tackle Stacy McGee , which is a bit of a hit, and it appears they will let running back Latavius Murray walk.
Grade: D. They sat back and watched the early part of free agency, which was expected after last year.
The Skinny: The Eagles made landing help for Carson Wentz a priority, which is why they signed receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith . They will help the passing game, and Jeffery only got a one-year deal (while Smith’s deal is for so little guaranteed money it’s essentially a year-to-year commitment). They also re-signed guard Stefan Wisniewski and added Titans guard Chance Warmack . They lost corner Nolan Carroll and nose tackle Bennie Logan .
Grade: C+. Getting help for Wentz made sense. And Jeffery should be hungry playing on a one-year deal.
The Skinny: The Steelers are another team that rarely jumps into the free-agency pool. They did put the franchise tag on running back Le’Veon Bell, which will keep him from moving. That was smart. They also extended star receiver Antonio Brown . That’s what they do. They also re-signed veteran James Harrison to a two-year deal. As far as adding outside players, they didn’t. That’s OK -- if you can keep the core group and continue to win.
Grade: B-. Keeping Bell was priority No. 1, and they did it.
San Francisco 49ers
The Skinny: New general manager John Lynch had a clear plan to help upgrade the roster by signing a slew of offensive players. The San Francisco 49ers added receiver Pierre Garcon (Redskins) and Marquise Goodwin (Bills) to go with quarterbacks Brian Hoyer (Bears) and Matt Barkley (Bears). They also paid fullback Kyle Juszczyk $5 million a year to be their fullback, which is insane. They spent a lot on that side of the ball, but did they really get much better? They added linebacker Malcolm Smith and tackle Earl Mitchell to the defense.
Grade: C-. They had room and they needed players, but do these signings really make them that much better?
The Skinny: The Seattle Seahawks didn’t do a lot. But they usually don’t. They might jump in on some lesser guys, but the only addition of note so far is guard/tackle Luke Joeckel , and he is coming off a major knee injury in Jacksonville. They need to get some more line help.
Grade: D. They did little to help their team. But they have a ton of talent already.
Tampa Bay Buccaners
The Skinny: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted to get bigger up front on defense and faster outside on offense. Adding Redskins defensive tackle Chris Baker will help with the first part, while DeSean Jackson , another Redskins player, will give them a deep threat outside in the passing game. They also brought back end William Gholston , a good run player, and running back Jacquizz Rodgers , which they needed to do with the uncertainty surrounding Doug Martin .
Grade: B-. I love adding the speed of Jackson, if he doesn’t slow down at 30. Baker was an underrated signing.
The Skinny: The Titans had to try and upgrade their secondary, so they signed Patriots corner Logan Ryan and Jaguars safety Johnathan Cyprien , who is coming off his best season. They will help the back end, which needed it. They also added nose tackle Sylvester Williams from the Broncos, but lost tight end Anthony Fasano to the Dolphins.
Grade: B-. The secondary was a priority, and they got two starters. Williams will help inside.
The Skinny: With the firing of general manager Scot McCloughan, there is so much uncertainty surrounding this team. The Redskins did get quarterback Kirk Cousins to sign his franchise tag deal, so he will be back for a year. They lost receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, which will hurt, but they brought back tight end Vernon Davis . They also signed Browns receiver Terrelle Pryor . They let defensive lineman Chris Baker leave and replaced him with Stacy McGee from the Raiders and Terrell McClain from the Cowboys. They also added safety D.J. Swearinger from the Cardinals.
Grade: B-. They are a mess and suffered some hits, but they rallied some the second day, despite the problems. Cousins was the key.
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