How do I grade the first week of free agency when I am not a big believer in throwing money around to sign guys?
It's a tough dilemma. Do you give high grades to the teams that did nothing, the Steelers and the Packers, because they are so draft-centric? Or do you give high grades to the lesser teams who have filled some important roster spots?
Grading the first week of free agency was really tough. I can say this: Nobody received an "A" grade and I didn't give out any "F" grades. How can you give out those grades when some teams sit out because they don't believe in it and others have no cap room?
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But there was enough activity to pin a grade on all 32 teams. Some teams got an "I" grade because they did almost nothing.
When I arrived in Phoenix for the league meetings, I saw Redskins general manager Bruce Allen at the rental-car counter. I told him I was working on grading his team's free-agent haul on my flight out.
"What did you give us, an "I" grade?" he asked.
That's exactly what they got. How else can you grade them since they are so handcuffed by the cap?
When I evaluated free agents who were signed, I am looking for games not names. So the grades below reflect that.
Have at them, folks. No matter what grade your team got, you won't be happy.
That much I know.
They didn't go nuts in free agency, spending on big-ticket items, but they did add some quality players who will start and push for jobs. Corners Antoine Cason (Chargers) and Jerraud Powers (Colts), running back Rashard Mendenhall (Steelers) defensive end Matt Shaugnessy (Raiders) and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (Redskins) all have a chance to start. QB Drew Stanton (Colts) knows the offense of new coach Bruce Arians, so he should be the leader to start at quarterback. It was a solid haul, but they didn't get any help on the offensive line.
The Falcons' top priority was to keep their own free agents and they did a good job of that. Safety William Moore and left tackle Sam Baker are keys to their team, and both got new deals. The return of Tony Gonzalez at tight end is big. I am not a big fan of the signing of veteran running back Steven Jackson, because of his age, but he will be an upgrade. They did not address pass rush or corner, which are two areas of concern.
This team will get ripped for all that they lost, but the reality is they made their free-agent class by giving Joe Flacco a long-term deal. The other losses can be handled. Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe were part-time players heading into 2012. As far as adding players, they did sign two quality defensive lineman in Marcus Spears (Cowboys) and Chris Canty (Giants). This isn't as bad as many say it is for the Ravens.
They are taking the "we're-not-competing-soon-so-we're-not-spending" approach. Who can blame them? They are a ways away from competing for a playoff spot. The only signing they've made is linebacker Manny Lawson (Bengals). They did release quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to take his big salary off the books. But who is the quarterback?
They haven't done much of anything. The only signing is veteran corner Drayton Florence (Lions). Oh, boy. I am surprised that they have not been more active, but new general manager Dave Gettleman is probably waiting to see if some prices come down.
The Bears did a nice job early of addressing their needs by signing left tackle Jermon Bushrod (Saints) and tight end Martellus Bennett (Giants). Those were two much-needed pieces on the offense. They did take a hit by losing linebacker Nick Roach (Raiders).
The key to their free agency was keeping defensive end Michael Johnson, who they gave the franchise tag, which he signed. They also re-signed ends Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers, but lost backup defensive tackle Pat Sims. They need to bring back right tackle Andre Smith, who is still on the market.
They paid a lot to add linebacker Kruger and defensive end Desmond Bryant (Raiders), but they are going to a 3-4 and those players fill major holes. Kruger is solid, but they paid him a lot to be just solid. Quinton Groves (Cardinals) will also be in the mix. Where's the corner? They are talking to some.
They have cap issues, so they couldn't do much. The key thing was putting the franchise tag on defensive end Anthony Spencer to keep him on the roster. But they still have issues in the secondary and on the offensive line and they have done nothing to improve those areas.
Up until the Elvis Dumervil fiasco, they were having a great offseason. But when a snafu allowed him to become a free agent Friday, it put a damper on the happenings. They now either have to re-sign him or sign a veteran end. They did some good things before that, adding guard Louis Vasquez (Chargers), receiver Wes Welker (Patriots), defensive tackle Terrence Knighton (Jaguars) and corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Eagles). But now they have to find a pass rusher.
Grade: B (Had an A until Friday).
I love what the Lions have done. They add a perfect back for their offense in Reggie Bush. He will put up huge numbers in that pass-happy offense. And then on defense they kept corner Chris Houston and safety Louis Delmas and added safety Glover Quin (Texans). Defensive end/tackle Jason Jones (Seahawks) will also help. They did take some hits with right tackle Gosder Cherilus going to the Colts and end Cliff Avril going to the Seahawks. They have a big hole at defensive end.
The Packers aren't a team to get involved in free agency, and that didn't change. They lost receiver Greg Jennings to the Vikings and linebacker Erik Walden to the Colts. Those players are replaceable. The Packers are a team that builds through the draft. So it's hard to grade them.
They took some hits with the loss of Quin and outside linebacker Connor Barwin (Eagles), two starters who were key to their defense. They are trying to replace Quin with a veteran like Ed Reed, but so far they haven't done so.
Second-year general manager Ryan Grigson spent a lot of money trying to improve his roster. I like a lot of the moves, except for a couple. The addition of Cherilus fills a major need at right tackle. I also like corner Greg Toler (Cardinals) as a young, rising player who will start. Defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois (49ers) is ready to do more and guard Donald Thomas (Patriots) will start. I did not like the signing of safety LaRon Landry (Jets), but he is an upgrade. And Walden is just a solid player -- -nothing special.
This team's general manager Dave Caldwell, in his first year on the job, came out before free agency and said his team would not be active. They waited out the initial flurry, but landed a couple of players who could help. I like the signing of defensive tackle Roy Miller (Bucs) on a two-year deal and Alan Ball (Texans) is a big corner that Gus Bradley wants on his defense. Running back Justin Forsett (Texans) will spot Maurice Jones-Drew.
It's hard not to give them a good grade so far. They've been active. They've landed some quality players and Andy Reid is flexing his power with all these moves. They added two solid corners in Sean Smith (Dolphins) and Dunta Robinson (Falcons) to fill a big need. Tight end Anthony Fasano (Dolphins) will help the passing game and defensive tackle Mike DeVito (Jets) is a tough guy inside. This grade does not include the trade for quarterback Alex Smith. I don’t get spending money on backup quarterback Chase Daniel.
The Dolphins spent like they printed money. The biggest contract went to receiver Mike Wallace (Steelers). He will give the team a big-play threat outside. That was needed, even if the money was high. The Dolphins also got younger at linebacker with Dannell Ellerbe (Ravens) and Phillip Wheeler (Raiders) taking over and Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby going. But they spent a lot of money on what wasn't a priority position. Brandon Gibson (Rams) gives them another receiver option. With Jake Long signing with the Rams, the Dolphins still have issues at both left tackle and corner.
They did a nice job re-signing right tackle Phil Loadholt to keep their line intact. After trading Percy Harvin to Seattle, they went out and signed veteran Greg Jennings (Packers) to take his place. And they added a first-round pick for Harvin in the process. Rick Spielman has done a nice job.
The Patriots lost receiver Wes Welker, but quickly replaced him with Danny Amendola (Rams), a younger version. Welker's loss will be felt, but if Amendola can stay on the field it won't be much. They also added receiver Donald Jones (Bills), and he can run. They lost safety Patrick Chung to the Eagles, but replaced him with Adrian Wilson (Cardinals), which is an upgrade. The smartest thing they did was re-sign corner Aqib Talib to a one-year deal, basically a show-me contract.
They took a hit losing Bushrod, which leaves a big hole on their line. I do like the move to sign corner Keenan Lewis (Steelers). He will be a nice addition to a secondary that needed it. They have not addressed the pass rush, which is a surprise.
The Giants are another team that doesn't usually go wild in free agency, and this year is no different. They signed kicker Josh Brown (Bengals), corner Aaron Ross (Jaguars) and safety Ryan Mundy (Steelers). After taking the hit by losing Bennett to the Bears, the Giants made a nice move signing Brandon Myers (Raiders) to be their pass-catching tight end. They also signed linebacker Dan Connor (Cowboys).
The Jets are clearly in rebuilding mode, so they aren't going after big-ticket players. They signed running back Mike Goodson (Raiders), defensive tackle Antonio Garay (Chargers) and guard Willie Colon (Jets). All three are solid players, but why pay Goodson decent money? That's weird. The Jets suffered some hits, too, losing DeVito and Landry.
Second-year general manager Reggie McKenzie is trying to clean up the mess he was left with, so the Raiders are taking it easy on free agency. I like the signing of Sims as a defensive tackle and Roach as the middle linebacker. They also added defensive end Jason Hunter (Broncos) and linebacker Kaluka Maiava. They did take some hits, but I am not so sure the Raiders really care about the losses. Grade: C-
New coach Chip Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman weren't shy about spending. They added a lot of guys to a roster that needed help. Some of the moves I liked, some I didn't. The Eagles needed help at corner and added two solid players in Cary Williams (Ravens) and Bradley Fletcher (Rams). Both are long and can play man coverage. Barwin will help the pass rush, while Isaac Sopaga (49ers) is a load in the middle of the defense. I didn't like the signing of Chung. I just don't think he's much of an upgrade.
The Steelers are another one of those teams that doesn't believe in spending in free agency. They have done little so far. They've taken some hits, such as losing Wallace to Miami and Lewis to the Saints. They did re-sign veteran linebacker Larry Foote and tight end Matt Spaeth (Bears) helps fill a need with Heath Miller coming off ACL surgery.
The signings of Cook and Long fill two important needs on an offense that struggled in 2012. Quarterback Sam Bradford will be happy about both additions to the offense. Getting Long was a big step in improving an offensive line that wasn't very good last season. Another key move was the re-signing of defensive end William Hayes, an underrated player on their front. He can rush from the outside and move inside in passing situations.
Corner Derek Cox (Jaguars) is a good player, but he's had trouble staying on the field. I think the Chargers will like him if he can stay healthy. The signing of tackle King Dunlap (Eagles) was strange because he's not very good. Guard Chad Rinehart (Bills) is a nice signing. He was a good player when healthy for the Bills and will help offset the loss of Vasquez.
They're taken a few hits, losing safety Dashon Goldson to the Bucs, and tight end Delanie Walker to the Titans. They did sign defensive end/tackle Glenn Dorsey (Chiefs) and he will replace Jean-Francois in the rotation. They are still considering some veterans in the secondary and added safety Craig Dahl (Rams), but he shouldn't be starting.
They are going for it in 2013. They had pass-rush issues, so they signed ends Cliff Avril (Lions) and Michael Bennett (Seahawks). And they gave them small deals, which helps. Their offseason also includes trading for Percy Harvin, but that grade isn't included here.
Goldson was their big-ticket player. He is a good player, and will give them a nice tandem with Mark Barron, but don't they have major corner issues? Letting Bennett go means they need an end to add to the roster. The other signings do little to excite.
They've spent a lot of money on several big-ticket items, but are they that much better? Guard Andy Levitre (Bills) is a good player, and he will help, but they paid him a lot of money. Tight end Delanie Walker (49ers) is a nice pickup, but is he really an upgrade over Jared Cook, who signed with the Rams? I do like the pickup of Sammie Lee Hill (Lions), but why both paying running back Shonn Greene (Jets)?
They didn't have much cap room, so there was little activity, which is rare for the Redskins. The only signing so far is right tackle Jeremy Trueblood (Bucs) and that isn't much to rave about. They need to find a corner somewhere after releasing DeAngelo Hall.