2019 NFL Free Agency: Dee Ford to 49ers, Packers' signings among the most underrated early moves
The Cardinals, Browns, and Steelers also made solid defensive acquisitions
The early days of the 2019 NFL free agency period have been pretty wild. Le'Veon Bell is on the Jets. Odell Beckham is on the Browns. Antonio Brown is on the Raiders. Trent Brown got the largest-ever contract for a free-agent offensive lineman. Pretty much every safety got P-A-I-D. So much has gone on, and so quickly, that some important maneuvers have slipped through the cracks.
We're here to detail some of the more overlooked trades and signings of the legal tampering portion of free agency.
This move went down as everybody and their mother was freaking out about the Beckham trade. San Francisco sent a 2020 second-round pick to the Chiefs Dee Ford, and promptly signed Ford to a five-year, $87.5 million contract that reportedly contains around $45 million in guaranteed money.
The 49ers had a massive need on the edge and entered free agency with Kwon Alexander. After scuffling early in his career, Ford really came on over the past few seasons, racking up 10 sacks in 2016 and 13 last year. He also totaled 46 quarterback hits and 25 tackles for loss during those two campaigns. (He played only six games in 2017 due to injuries.) The Niners will get Ford for his age-28 through 32 seasons, prime years for a prime pass rusher.in cap room, which they have now used to lock up two key defensive pieces in Ford and
The signing also opens up multiple avenues for them with the No. 2 pick in the draft, where they can pursue a best player available strategy now that one of their biggest needs has been filled.
Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Adrian Amos to the Packers
The Packers largely sat out free agency every year under former general manager Ted Thompson. To put it lightly, that strategy has been completely blown up under Brian Gutekunst. Last year, the Packers sprung for deals on Jimmy Graham and Muhammad Wilkerson, while also trying to snake Kyle Fuller away from the Bears, who ultimately matched the deal.
This time, Gutekunst went out and signed two 26-year-old edge rushers (the Smiths) to matching four-year contracts worth a total of $118 million and managed to get a defensive back from the Bears (Amos) with another four-year deal, worth $36 million. The three signings nearly complete Gutenkunst's remodel of a defense that had gotten extremely stale under former defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Now, Mike Pettine has a strong defensive front of the Smiths, Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels, and Dean Lowry to work with, plus Blake Martinez, Oren Burks, and Josh Jones working in the middle to go with last year's first and second-round picks, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, plus Amos, Kentrell Brice (if he returns), and Kevin King on the back end. That's a whole lot of talent and a whole lot of athleticism and gives the defense a very different look than it had even last year.
Jordan Hicks to the Cardinals
Hicks has been a fantastic middle linebacker during his two healthy seasons, and brings a lot of talent to a Cardinals defense desperately needing some help up the middle. The contract they signed him to is affordable (four years and $34 million, $20 million of which is guaranteed) and along with Terrell Suggs and pre-free agency signing Robert Alford, upgrades the talent on Vance Joseph's defense in a big way.
Hicks is a strong player both against the run and in coverage, and should provide help to an Arizona defense that ranked 31st in DVOA on throws over the middle of the field and 32nd in opponent's conversion rate on third and fourth-down runs with two or fewer yards go last season.
Sheldon Richardson to the Browns
Lost in the shuffle of the Browns' two trades with the Giants was the signing of Richardson, who is coming off a very nice season in Minnesota. This signing gives Cleveland a defensive front of Richardson, Olivier Vernon, Myles Garrett, and Larry Ogunjobi, with Emmanuel Ogbah also available to rush the passer. That's a heck of a group for defensive coordinator Steve Wilks to work with.
The Richardson deal is a three-year pact worth $39 million, just $21.5 million of which is guaranteed. That's the kind of deal you can hand out to take advantage of the remaining years of Baker Mayfield's (and to a lesser extent, Garrett's) cheap rookie contract, stacking talent at a position of strength to make a quality unit into an elite one. The Browns now have multiple players who can play the run and the pass from multiple positions along the defensive line, and they can play them in several different combinations and rotate in and out to keep everybody fresh.
Steven Nelson to the Steelers
The Steelers badly needed another body in the secondary to go with Joe Haden and Mike Hilton, because the Artie Burns experiment was not working out very well. They found a good one in Nelson, who was one of the lone bright spots in a Kansas City defensive backfield that was torn up for much of the season. His three-year, $25.5 million deal in Pittsburgh is very affordable for a No. 2 corner.
Among the 120 corners who played at least 300 snaps last season, per Pro Football Focus, Nelson ranked 18th in passer rating on throws in his direction, allowing 60 catches for 825 yards and five scores while intercepting four passes and deflecting nine more on 113 targets.
Cameron Wake to the Titans
The Titans ranked just 22nd in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate last season, and adding Wake -- even at his advanced age -- should help them get some more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Working as a part-time player for the Dolphins last season (he played 54 percent of Miami's defensive snaps) he managed six sacks and 17 quarterback hits. If he can play a similar role for the Titans, they can fill the hole left by Derrick Morgan's presumed departure.
Matt Paradis to the Panthers
It's about time the Panthers got Cam Newton some help on the offensive line. Paradis was the best center on the market and finally gives Carolina a replacement for Ryan Kalil. The fact that he signed a cheaper deal than what Mitch Morse got from the Bills is just icing on the cake.
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