NFL Free Agency: Hits and Misses

Photo By: Daniel Mears, Detroit News

By: Peter Vandeventer

Hot take season is in full effect and everyone knows which teams certainly overpaid for their players. That last part was somewhat sarcastic.

But free agency is what separates good GMs and bad GMs. There’s a fine, ever-changing, line between having established veterans and young playmakers. Teams have attempted to improve their squad and set them up for the future...but which signings were the best for both parties involved?

Tom Brady to the Buccaneers

(2-year, $50 million)

Tom Brady puts the TB in the TB Bucs. It’s no lie that Bruce Arians likes his veteran QBs, he invested a lot of money in Carson Palmer when in Arizona and he did the same this year with Tom Brady.

The Goat left New England after 20 years and he went to a star-studded Bucs team that has weapons all over the place. The best possible situation for the 43-year-old is in Tampa and that’s why they’re perfect fits for each other. He is getting the money he wants and is given another chance to light up the league and prove once and for all that he isn’t a product of Belichick’s system.

Xavier Rhodes to the Colts

(1-year, $5 million)

Oh boy, Xavier Rhodes has had a bit of a rough stretch. He went from being a top-end, lockdown corner, to burnt toast over a few years. It’s hard to forget how dominant he was just a few years back and the possibility is there for him to return to that form.

Having lost Pierre Desir in free agency, the Colts needed an alternative and they found it cheap. Rhodes still has insane upside and this 1-year prove-it type of deal might work out well for both sides and may lead to a long term extension. A change of scenery could be what’s best for Xavier and that sure is in the Colts thought process when taking a chance on him.

Bryan Bulaga to the Chargers

(3-year, $30 million)

The Chargers sent Russell Okung to the Panthers for Trai Turner. That move left a hole at LT for the Chargers and adding Bulaga gave them a better, young, and cheaper replacement. I know Bulaga plays RT for the most part but he does have experience at LT in the NFL and should slide to the left in LA. The Panthers screw up by trading Trai for Okung but now that move looks even worse knowing that the Chargers find an all-around better option. Bulaga has a bit of a troublesome history with injuries but that’s a move the Chargers were willing to overlook is that they signed him to a 3-year deal that will pay him $10 million a year. With no clue who the QB is come September, adding Bulaga ensures that they’ll be protected no matter who.

Anthony Castonzo resigning with the Colts

(2-year, $33 million)

Castonzo is consistently one of the best linemen in the NFL and having him on board for a couple more years can help elevate the QB play whether it’s Philip Rivers or Jacoby Brissett with 2021 being up in the air as well. With a PFF grade of 81.3 for ‘19, Costanzo hasn’t dipped below a season grade of 75 since 2011. A true, consistent leader for the offensive line. Spending money on your lineman is always a win and the Colts have done a good job at that.

Darius Slay to the Eagles (via trade and extension)

(3-year, $50 million)

One of the biggest moves of free agency was Darius Slay being traded from the Lions to the Eagles. That move alone was good for the Eagles but they also signed Slay to a 3-year extension. Philly has had issues in their secondary for years and this was finally a huge step forward for them. They added one of the best corners in the NFL and was able to get Slay for a third and a fifth-round pick. It was time for both the Lions and Darius Slay to part ways and the Eagles swooped in and got their CB1 out of it.

Cristian Kirksey to the Packers

(2-year, $16 million)

Kirksey and his counterpart in Cleveland (Joe Schobert) left in free agency and Schobert got the money but Kirksey was placed in the right situation. Green Bay is an NFC contender and let Blake Martinez leave which left a hole at inside linebacker. But after adding Kirksey on a cheap deal, the Packers can now stick Kirksey with one of their other young LBs like Oren Burks for cheap. $8 million a year is a nice paycheck for Kirksey and the Packers found a cheaper replacement for Blake Martinez, It’s a win-win for both parties.

Calais Campbell extends with the Ravens (after the trade from Jacksonville)

(2-year, $27 million)

This could be one of the biggest steals that not many talked about. Giving up a 5th round pick for Calais Campbell is a straight robbery. And signing him to a 2-year extension is the icing on the cake. Still a sack machine, Campbell hasn’t shown all that many signs of regression and still grades well with PFF as a pass rusher and run defender (as he was named the PFF run defender of the year).

The Ravens had a great season but faltered in the playoffs. One of the few needs for the Ravens was to add pass rush help and they got it for only a 5th rounder. They also extended Calais and are paying him $13 million a year now. Campbell is a versatile, consistent, and establishment defensive lineman, and that’s a win in my books.

It's a hit-and-miss system, so you'll equally have free agents hits as well as free agent duds. Here are some 'head-scratching' free agency moves so far:

Joe Schobert signs with the Jaguars

(5-year, $53.75 million)

Schobert has steadily put up great numbers in Cleveland but that’s still a lot of money for him. The Jags are heading towards a rebuild by the way that they’ve trimmed and removed talent all over the board the past few seasons, so this move feels to contradict the direct that they are heading towards. A 5-year deal is showing commitment so we might also be seeing a new face for the Jaguars defense that has lost Telvin Smith, Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye, and likely Yannick Ngakoue.

DJ Humphries resigning with the Cardinals

(3-year, $45 million)

To be fair, I don’t think the Cardinals had any idea that, when signing DJ to an extension, they would trade for DeAndre Hopkins a month later. This move was likely done to try and stabilize the offensive line and at LT which pointed towards a receiver being taken with their 1st round pick. But now with Nuk on the squad, everything is thrown out the window and they should go after one of the top tackles. But for Humpheries specifically, a $45 million deal was eye-opening for many NFL fans and for obvious reasons which can be shown with his PFF grade of 64.5. Many (including myself), pointed towards this signing as a precursor of an insane tackle market that didn't live up to its hype.

Melvin Gordon to Denver

(2-year, $16 million)

This fit feels a little odd. This might be because I’m a believer in Melvin Gordon as a starter or my belief that Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman are a good enough combo for the Broncos. Whatever it may be, I think that both parties could be better off looking elsewhere. But as a 2-year deal, Gordon can recollect himself after an underwhelming season (and being overshadowed by Ekeler) and take another stab at a big payday when he is 28-years-old.

I think the market just didn't show up for Gordon and he took this deal before Denver withdrew their offer. The league has headed towards a running back by committee design so the move will certainly help the Broncos. But this is a bit of a head-scratcher for Gordon in attempts to cash in on a larger deal in two years.

Robert Quinn to Chicago

(5-year, $70 million)

Robert Quinn has been an underrated pass rusher for years but this more than makes up for it. He got his big payday and is more than deserving of it. But Quinn, who turns 30-years-old in May, will be getting paying him top dollar until he is 35. It’s no secret that pass rushers play starts to decline after they hit the 30-year mark and at the very least, are utilized only in obvious passing situations. For that, I don’t see a situation where he lives up to his pay and certainly not for the full 5-years.

The Bears needed to get some help for Kalil Mack up front but they overly splurged on Quinn. This signing threw off the rest of the pass-rusher market and already appears as an outlier.

Byron Jones to the Dolphins

(5-year, $82.5 million)

Byron Jones was deserving of a pay-raise and it was clear that it wouldn’t be from Dallas. But the money he got doesn’t correlate to his performance on the field. When getting top dollar, everyone will pick apart all sorts of stats and the most glaring issue with Byron is the lack of turnovers. Just a pair of interceptions in his 5-year career is a bit alarming but his versatility and consistency are a plus. $16.5 million a year is a lot but if he can work on those numbers then this deal wouldn’t be a problem at all.

Austin Hooper to the Browns

(4-year, $42 million)

This is honestly the craziest signings. The Browns didn't need to add another playmaker with key players like Njoku, Landry, OBJ, and Chubb. Adding Hooper should be considered a luxury but the Browns aren’t in the position to be throwing more at unnecessary need with holes elsewhere, such as LB where they lost both Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert. The issue with the Browns isn’t a lack of playmakers and it might cause more issues with the amount that they have now.

To be clear, Hooper does deserve this type of contract but it just isn’t a fit in my books unless this means they won't bring back Njoku. But with two years left on his contract, I feel that if that was there thought process then it’s too preemptive.

Jimmy Graham to the Bears

(2-year, $16 million)

Jimmy Graham has once again landed on his feet after a disappointing stint with the Packers. Graham had roughly 1000 receiving yards and 5 TDs over the past two seasons with Aaron Rodgers as his QB before getting cut. Over that time, he made $22 million off of bonuses, incentives, and his base salary. But here he is making $8 million for a team that will have either have Nick Foles or Mitch Trubitsky throwing to him. There wouldn’t be an issue with him making that money if he was able to produce the way he did in New Orleans, but he just hasn’t lived up to those expectations since he was traded to the Seahawks in 2015. But I feel TJ Lang said it best:

An inflated market with the increased salary caps meant that teams were more willing to spend. Especially with a larger increase scheduled for next year. But just because the money is there, doesn’t mean teams should be throwing money around. Teams with the most cap flexibility are going to separate themselves in the coming years by not spending too much on free agents. This isn’t the first time, and it won't be the last.

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