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Free Agent Report Card : AFC South

By George Haraktsis

Jacksonville Jaguars

Grade : B+

Notable Re-signings:

(WR) Marqise Lee (Four years, $34 million)

(LB/ST) Lerentee McCray (Two years, $5.5 million)

Notable Acquisitions:

(G) Andrew Norwell (Five years, $66.5 million)

(WR) Donte Moncrief (One Year, $7 million)

(TE) Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Two years, $10 million)

(TE) Niles Paul (Two years, $4.75 million)

(CB) D.J. Hayden (Three years, $19 million)

(S/ST) Cody Davis (Two years, $5 million)

(S/ST) Don Carey (Two years, $2.5 million)

Notable Losses:

(LB) Paul Posluszny (Retirement)

(RB) Chris Ivory (Bills)

(QB) Chad Henne (Chiefs)

(G) Patrick Omaheh (Giants)

(CB) Aaron Colvin (Texans)

(WR) Allen Robinson (Bears)

Best Move(s):

It seems the Jags were saving money to spend in Free Agency! Andrew Norwell is a 26-year-old coming off a first-team All-Pro appearance, and with this move, the Jacksonville Jaguars are confirming their commitment to the ground game. The Jaguars are paying Norwell a lot of money — the most for any offensive lineman in the NFL in fact — but there’s no arguing that he’s a massive upgrade. While big-ticket guards haven’t always panned out in their new homes, Norwell is a welcoming presence to a team whose interior offensive line play on both sides of Brandon Linder has been subpar at best.

I like the addition of Austin Seferian-Jenkins as well. Tom Coughlin has given Blake Bortles, or whoever is under center next year, a large athletic red zone threat that was lacking last year. ASJ has seemingly turned his life around and did his best on a terrible offense last year to prove that he has the talent to be a force in this league. On a two year deal and at only 25 years old, the signing is great for both sides.

Worst Move(s):

Signing Marqise Lee instead of the much more talented, albeit injured, Allen Robinson to a long-term deal is mind-boggling. But to then give Donte Moncrief $10 million guaranteed… what are you doing Jacksonville? Lee has shown flashes, but will never be an elite receiver in this league and Moncrief has been injury prone his entire career. Maybe Jacksonville is trying to make a point of committing to their run game by not signing Robinson to a long-term deal and bringing these other two in on shorter contracts? I don’t see the value.

While these aren’t particularly “bad” moves, I think the signing of three predominantly special teamers is odd. I liked the resigning of McCray, but the addition of both Davis and Carey seem redundant due to having the same position and their presumed use coming mostly on special teams.

Summary :

While not as active as prior years, the Jaguars were still movers and shakers this off-season. Norwell’s contract is a large one, but it seems like this move they are firmly committed to a run-first approach. The All-Pro guard along with ASJ, Moncrief, and the re-signing of Marqise Lee are all calculated decision to help protect Bortles’ as well as mask his deficiencies.

The loss of Allen Robinson was already felt last year in the passing game, but he’s not the only player the team will miss. Longtime defensive leader Paul Posluszny has retired, and backup cornerback Aaron Colvin has left for the Texans. Fortunately for the Jaguars, Myles Jack will slide into Posluzny’s role, and free agent D.J. Hayden will assume Colvin’s as well. Overall, I think Coughlin and company handled this off-season well and had undoubtedly improved their team.

Houston Texans

Grade : A

Notable Re-signings:

(CB) Johnathan Joseph (Two years, $10 million)

(WR) Bruce Ellington (One year, $1.25 million)

Notable Acquisitions:

(G) Senio Kelemete (Three years, $12 million)

(DE) Angelo Blackson (One year, $1.24 million)

(ILB) Josh Keyes (One year, $900,000)

(CB) Johnson Bademosi (Two years, $6.25 million)

(FS) Tyrann Mathieu (One year, $7 million)

Notable Losses:

(OT) Breno Giacomini (Raiders)

(S) Marcus Gilchrist (Raiders)

(LB) Brian Cushing (FA)

(QB) Tom Savage (Saints)

(RB) Alfred Blue (FA)

Best Move(s):

The best move of the Houston Texan’s off-season is merely the signing of Tyrann Mathieu to a one year $7 million deal. The Honey Badger is one of only three players in the NFL with 300 tackles, 10 picks, and 15 quarterback hits. He adds a playmaking ability in the defensive backfield in Houston that they were having been sorely lacking. Mathieu can play anywhere, defend almost anyone, and locate the ball. Mathieu does come with his own set of question marks though. He has ended three of his first five seasons on the injured reserve, including tearing his left and right ACL and LCL in a three-year span. Last year, Mathieu played in all 16 games for the first time since entering the NFL in 2013; he finished with two interceptions, 78 combined tackles and seven passes defended. While he does come with a slight risk, the Texans to get an elite safety on a prove it deal.

While not as big of a signing as Mathieu, the signing of Aaron Colvin should not go unnoticed. The Texans had a need at cornerback since losing A.J. Bouye last year to the Jaguars. So they decided to repay the favor and sign Colvin away from Jacksonville after he played a crucial role in the slot last year – an area the Texans were struggling in – for the league’s best defense. While some might think his four year, $34 million dollar contract might be steep, that’s just the going price for quality defensive backs in this pass-happy league.

Worst Move(s):

The Texans did not have any moves this off-season that stood out as “bad,” but if I had to be picky the signing of Johnathan Joseph seems a bit odd. The obvious risk with Joseph is his age and apparently declining ability; he was ranked as the 65th best corner in football last year by PFF. Although, he does provide locker room leadership and relative stability that the position would be lacking otherwise especially with former first-round pick Kevin Johnson ranking 121 out of 121 CBs by PFF last year. The move does make sense, but exploring other younger options may have been the right move.

Summary :

Houston was not the most active team in free agency, but they seemed to make the most of each signing. They re-tooled their secondary with the one year splash signing of Tyrann Mathieu, arguably the league’s most dynamic safety, while also acquiring their slot corner of the future in Aaron Colvin. They threw money at an area of need with the signing of Seantrel Henderson, Zach Fulton, and Senio Kelemete. These signings are significant because they show they are committed to protecting Watson, and at worst have great depth for a few years.

The team solidified their special teams and added depth to the defensive side of the ball with Johnson Bademosi and Josh Keyes. While they did lose significant contributors to free agency, Houston more than made up for it with their prudent and thought-out signings, the main reason behind their high grade.

Indianapolis Colts

Grade : C

Notable Re-signings:

(G) Jack Mewhort (One year, $1.5 million)

(RB) Christine Michael (One year, $1.25 million)

(CB) Pierre Desir (One year, $1.5 million)

Notable Acquisitions:

(WR) Ryan Grant (One year, $5 million)

(TE) Eric Ebron (Two years, $15 million)

(G) Matt Slauson (One year, $3 million)

(DL) Denico Autry (Three years, $17.8 million)

Notable Losses:

(LB) Jon Bostic (Steelers)

(LB) Barkevious Mingo (Seahawks)

(CB) Rashaan Melvin (Raiders)

(S) Darius Butler (FA)

(RB) Frank Gore (Miami)

(WR) Kamar Aiken (FA)

(WR) Donte Moncrief (Jaguars)

Best Move(s):

Bringing back Jack Mewhort, despite the evident and risky injury history, put the Colts in a position to have one of the major steals in free agency. After re-signing the guard to a minimal contract Indianapolis won’t be paying Mewhort much, and if he can stay healthy there’s a chance he returns to his prior form, adding a much-needed infusion of talent to the middle of their offensive line.

The details of the Desir re-signing have yet to come out, but under the assumption that it is a team friendly deal, this is another excellent move for the Colts. He is coming off of the best season of his career after becoming a starter post-release of Vontae Davis. He was a more than solid contributor for Indianapolis, before tearing his pectoral muscle and ending his season prematurely. The Colts likely got a potential starter for cheap, who could easily slide in as a plus third corner if they choose to add through the draft.

Worst Move(s):

With no apparent replacement on the current roster, letting Jon Bostic go was a bad move for the Colts. He signed a cheap, 2-year $4 million dollar deal to play in Pittsburgh, leaving a large void in the middle of the Colt’s defense. With 97 total tackles last year and no replacement on the current roster, the Bostic move is just puzzling. I hope the Colts have a plan for the linebacker group in the draft, seeing as it is a deep one, but if not I can’t see the bright side of this move.

Why sign Christine Michael? While the details of the contract aren’t out, it just seems like an odd move. Maybe the Colts are trying to recapture some of that magic he had back in 2016? He didn’t even get a chance to really show what he had before he was taken off the field by an injury this year. With the depth at the running back position in this year’s NFL draft, this makes no real sense unless this deal has VERY limited guaranteed money.

Summary :

The Colts receiving a C might be the most accurate grade in this entire article. The team did not bite on overpaying such players like Rashaad Melvin, but let players like Jon Bostic go. They made head-scratching moves like signing the often injured Eric Ebron to a relatively large deal and the currently injured Ryan Grant, who failed his physical with the Ravens, but signed smart contracts with the likes of Jack Mewhort, Matt Slauson, and Denico Autry to fill positions of need and add depth. They appropriately let some go whose time had come to an end with the team like Frank Gore and Barkevious Mingo, but either signed head scratching replacements like Christine Michael or didn’t sign anyone to replace them at all. Overall, the team had an average off-season, and their C grade reflects that.

Tennessee Titans

Grade : B-

Notable Re-signings:

(G) Josh Kline (Four years, $26 million)

(DE) DaQuan Jones (Three years, $21 million)

(DL) David King (One year, $790,000)

(G) Quinton Spain (One year, $1.58 million)

Notable Acquisitions:

(RB) Dion Lewis (Four years, $19.8 million)

(G) Kevin Pamphile (?)

(CB) Malcolm Butler (Five years, $61.25 million)

Notable Losses:

(RB) DeMarco Murray (FA)

(WR) Eric Decker (FA)

(LB) Erik Walden (FA)

(LB) Avery Williamson (Three years, $22.5 million)

Best Move(s):

Josh Kline benefitted from the shortage of reliable starting interior linemen in the NFL this year to the tune of $28 million for four years, but he is more than deserving of this contract. The entire Titan’s offensive in 2017 was a slight disappointment in comparison to the 2016 squad. Kline specifically was №9 in pass blocking, but the 46th-rated run blocker. Kline was ranked 22 out of 77 qualifying guards last season by PFF, and this current contract makes him the 21st-highest-paid guard in the NFL. Pro Football Focus’ numbers for Kline indicate that under new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur’s zone blocking scheme he is a better fit and could flourish in the new system. If he does improve on his play from last year, this contract could end up being more than fair.

Dion Lewis fits like a glove in the Titans backfield. Starting running back, Derrick Henry will take the majority of the snaps as the Team’s bell-cow. Tennessee lacked a pass-catching option in the backfield that offered a changeup from Henry’s bruising style. While Lewis will rely on most for his receiving abilities in Tennessee, he can still create yardage both inside and outside the tackles. After signing his deal, his contract ranks №11 among the league’s running backs in terms of AAV (average annual value) which isn’t the greatest contract for a running back, but considering how vital he’ll be to the Titans offense this is a great signing.

Worst Move(s):

The amount of money given to Malcolm Butler was a mistake, plain and simple. He will be starting across from promising second-year player Adoree’ Jackson after signing a 5 year, $61.25 million contract. This move by the Titans for a number two cornerback is a gross reach by a team in need. Butler was not even the best corner on the Patriots last year, and the years that he was the “best” corner he was heavily protected by the Patriots by only covering the opposing team’s №2 wide receivers. Butler had a down year last year being ranked as the #51 corner in the league according to PFF but is getting paid like the tenth best corner in the league on an AAV basis. If Butler bounces back and has a great year in 2018 this contract will be worth it, but I have my doubts.

Summary :

A B minus for this squad feels a little dirty, but hear me out. I do love the guys the team let walk this off-season. No need for underperformers like Eric Decker and Erik Walden on the squad, and cutting DeMarco Murray was a great play due to his contract and similar running style. Why let Avery Williamson go you may ask? He was ranked the #10 linebacker by PFF last year and is only 26 years old, but paying a linebacker over $7 Million a year who can just play two downs seems ridiculous. Especially with a guy like Todd Davis in the wings.

The Butler signing was way too much money to pay a player of his skill, and some could argue the Lewis signing is just too much money in general for a running back. The team took a swing on DaQuon Jones, who was having a career year last year before a biceps injury in Week 13 cut his season short. The versatile defensive lineman showed flashes in these 12 games in 2017, but his $7 million AAV will be the 10th-highest in the league among 3–4 defensive linemen. If he picks up where he left off last season this will be a good signing, but if he doesn’t, it’ll be a massive financial burden to bear until 2020.

The team made some right moves like signing Kline, but as mentioned above made some definite head-scratchers. If these signings all pan out the team’s grade would easily shoot up to an A, but with all the financial risk the Titans have taken on with a lot of these contracts a B minus feels right.



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