NFL Free Agent Grades: Brees deal an A+ for Saints and more big moves Tuesday

Long before the official open to the NFL's free-agency period on Wednesday, deals were getting done and money was being thrown around like teams printed it on Tuesday.

Good players got great money and average players got good money. That's what happens when teams have cap room to fill and the market isn't that great.

With many deals agreed upon on Tuesday, it's time to grade some of the bigger deals, including several for quarterbacks.

The money was flowing for that position because of the desperate nature of those trying to fill it. The Vikings made former Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins the highest-paid player in the league, even though he's not even one of the top 10 quarterbacks.

The Saints brought back Drew Brees for $25 million, which is a bargain compared to the around $29 million or so the Vikings are giving Cousins.

The official start to free agency comes on Wednesday, but with all the money being thrown around before it started it's hard to imagine it will be any wilder.

Now for the grades:

QB Kirk Cousins joins Vikings

Cousins is a good, solid quarterback, but is he one of the 10 best in the league? I don't think so. Yet the Vikings gave him a three-year deal for $86 million, with all of it guaranteed. That's nuts. If he doesn't win a Super Bowl in the three years, this is a major failure. He's good, but this money implies great. That isn't who he is right now -- nor will he ever be that. I get the Vikings move because they think they are close, but is Cousins $12 million a year better than Case Keenum?

Grade: C+

QB Drew Brees stays with Saints

This was by far the best deal of the day. Brees, at the age of 39, is still one of the top three or four quarterbacks in the game. For that, the Saints gave him a deal that was a bargain at $25 million. Brees clearly wanted to finish his career with the Saints, so it made sense.

Grade: A+

QB Case Keenum lands with Broncos

The Broncos had to get somebody in this free-agent class, and Keenum has been linked to them for a while. If he can give them the type of year he had in Minnesota last season, this will be a good move. But that's a big if. Even so, I like it as a bridge move to a long-term quarterback they should take with the fifth pick overall. Keenum has to prove last year wasn't a fluke, and I think he can. This is a solid move at $16 million a year.

Grade: B-

QB Teddy Bridgewater picks Jets 

The Jets signed the former Vikings quarterback to a one-year deal to compete with veteran Josh McCown, who they are bringing back. Bridgewater hasn't played meaningful snaps in two years after suffering a devastating knee injury in the summer of 2016. If he's healthy, he could be a good addition as a backup who could push to start.

Grade: B-

WR Sammy Watkins joins Chiefs

Watkins has the tools that teams love because he has good size and can run. But the productivity hasn't been there. He caught 39 passes last year after the Rams traded to get him, which isn't a lot. But he did have eight touchdown catches. Even so, the Chiefs paid a lot of money for potential rather than production. He is only 24, so there is time. This could be a boom-or-bust signing.  There might not be an in-between. Paying him $48 million for four years is a bit risky.

Grade: C+

WR Allen Robinson lands with Bears

The Jaguars opted not to put the franchise tag on Robinson, who suffered a torn ACL in Week 1 last season. So Robinson signed with the Bears for a reported $14 million a season. If Robinson can show he's recovered from the ACL, this will be a good signing. He will be their No. 1 receiver, which Mitch Trubisky has to love. Again, though, there is risk with the ACL recovery.

Grade: B

WR Paul Richardson goes to Washington

The Redskins needed a speed guy and they got one of the best on the market. He can fly, as evidenced by his 16 yards per catch last season. Richardson's best football is in front of him, and now that he's more than two years removed from a torn ACL I expect him to continue to be an improving deep threat. This is a good move.

Grade: A

WR Albert Wilson heads to Dolphins 

The Dolphins are giving him a deal that will average a reported $8 million per season. That might seem like a lot, especially since they let Jarvis Landry go in a trade, but Wilson can run. He averaged 13.2 yards per catch last season, much better than Landry's 8.8 per catch. Wilson is 25, so his best football is coming.

Grade: B

WR John Brown heads to Ravens 

This could be a sneaky good move. Brown can fly. His problem has been staying on the field because of injuries. But if he can, the Ravens have a legitimate deep threat. He averaged 15.8 per catch in 2015 and 14.2 on 21 receptions last season. He is a good route runner too, which will help. This could be a big-time move.

Grade: B+

TE Trey Burton lands with Bears

Burton was a sought-after player on the market, and the Bears locked him up early. He is one of the rising players in this class and should have a chance to blossom under new coach Matt Nagy. He will team with Adam Shaheen, last year's second-round pick, to give the Bears a nice 1-2 punch at the tight end spot. Giving Burton a deal that will pay him $32 million over four years is a good move.

Grade: B+

TE Jimmy Graham joins Packers

Graham isn't the same player he was a few years ago in New Orleans, but he can still be a threat in the middle of the field and should flourish with Aaron Rodgers. The Packers needed improvement inside in their passing game and Graham will help with that. He did have 10 touchdown catches last year, which showed he could still be a factor in the Red Zone.

Grade: B

G Andrew Norwell heads to Jaguars

Norwell is a good, self-made former undrafted player. He is especially good in the run game and improved in pass protection. But paying a guard $13 million-plus a year is a big move for the Jaguars. It tells me they are going to be a ground-and-pound team again. They needed to improve inside because Leonard Fournette needs space to operate. He isn't a guy who makes people miss. Norwell is a nice addition, but at that price it's a bit steep. Why not Josh Sitton on a lesser deal for two years?

Grade: B-

C Weston Richburg joins 49ers

Richburg was a good starting center -- he's also started at guard -- but he had some concussion issues last year with the Giants. If he's healthy, this is a nice signing in Kyle Shanahan's system. The 49ers also have Daniel Kilgore at center, and he signed a three-year extension last week. Both should be starting up front somewhere next season, and I would guess Richburg would play center.

Grade: B

DT Star Lotulelei picks Bills 

General manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott know Lotulelei well, having had him with the Panthers. But he hasn't played well the past few seasons, which is concerning. The Bills had trouble against the run last year, so they needed help inside. But this isn't a dominant inside player. He's an upgrade, but how much of one? If they can get him playing like he did earlier in his career, it will be a nice move. But the past two years haven't shown that productivity.

Grade: C

LB Anthony Hitchens heads to Chiefs 

Hitchens signed a five-year deal for a reported $9 million a season. He's a good player who can help against the run and the pass, which the Chiefs needed after struggling at linebacker last year. He's a productive player who can play both inside and outside. The Chiefs got too old with Derrick Johnson, so Hitchens's speed will be a nice pickup, even if the price is high.

Grade: B-

CB Trumaine Johnson picks Jets 

The Jets had to get an upgrade at corner and Johnson will provide that. With two young safeties, they now have a solid secondary that will be able to better match up better with Tom Brady in the AFC East. Johnson is a good player, and had a career year in 2015 for the Rams with seven interceptions, but he's had just three picks the past two years. The Jets are reportedly going to pay him $15 million per season, which is a good deal for the top corner on the market.

Grade: B+

CB Malcolm Butler lands with Titans

After his benching in the Super Bowl, this might seem like a strange move. It shouldn't. Butler had two good seasons before tailing off some in 2017. I think the Patriots trying to trade him last offseason added to that. Now that he's in Tennessee, playing for former Patriots player Mike Vrabel, I think Butler will get back to being a quality cover corner. The money is rich at a reported five-year, $61-million deal, but I like this move. Watch him bounce back in 2018.

Grade: B+

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories
    24/7 Scores, News, Highlights
    FREE ON ALL YOUR DEVICES