Day one of NFL Free Agency was insane in the membrane. Free agents flew off the shelves without even needing to make a visit to their perspective clubs. Some teams improved dramatically (on paper) while others sat back and watched the 2014 market reveal itself. The following days weren’t as chaotic, but there were plenty of team-shifting moves made. Now we need to examine the aftermath of the week’s wheelings and dealings. Let’s get to it! I’ve wrangled all the notable deals and slapped them below in handy storyline-centric groupings.
*There are two sets of dollar numbers below. The initial “value” of the whole contract, and the the guaranteed number in parentheses. Most contracts see little more than the guaranteed dollar amount paid out. If someone signs for seven years and $100 million, they almost assuredly will not get that entire amount.
**If you’re looking for moves the Chicago Bears made, you should be looking at this post. Winky-face.
Tackles Off the Board Quick
Miami Dolphins sign LT Branden Albert: 5 years, $47M ($25M gtd.)
The ‘Phins’ o-line problems are well-documented at this point. Without Richie Incognito and the trade of Jonathan Martin, they had to move quickly on a high-character, high-talent left tackle. I feel this is a bit too much money for Albert, but this was a signing of sheer desperation and necessity. They Dolphins signed a starting-caliber left tackle that can cement their line.
Baltimore Ravens re-sign LT Eugene Monroe: 5 years, $37.5M ($19M gtd.)
The Ravens traded for Monroe during last season, trying to provoke the same kind of Super success they had as a result of their line-shuffling in 2012. It didn’t quite work out the way they hoped, but they couldn’t afford to lose their left tackle in free agency, especially if Michael Oher decided to take off. This is a market-level deal.
Arizona Cardinals sign LT Jared Veldheer: 5 years, $35 million ($17M gtd.)
The Cardinals were a surprise team in 2013, despite the sheer inadequacy displayed at left tackle. So it made sense that when free agency opened they’d be targeting one of the youngest and best tackles on the market. Veldheer will anchor that line for years on this deal. which is extremely affordable.
Oakland Raiders sign G Rodger Saffold: 5 years, $42.5M ($21M gtd.)
St. Louis Rams re-sign G Rodger Saffold: 5 years, $31.347M ($11M gtd.)
This is a weird story. First it was announced that Oakland had reached a deal with Saffold, giving him left tackle money when it’s been proven over the past few seasons that he’s better suited to play guard. But then a “failed physical” negated that deal, leaving him to re-sign with the Rams, who paid him a little more in line with the market for a guard. Reportedly the Raiders were apprehensive about Saffold’s shoulder injury, something he’s seemingly had since college. The Rams were well aware of his injury and felt like signing him anyway, which says a lot about Oakland’s front office. Leave it to them to balk at their own overpay after letting their top two free agents walk.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign LT Anthony Collins: 5 years, $30M ($15M gtd.)
This one took a few more days to resolve, but by then Collins was the only big name left on the tackle market. Tampa had money to spend and offensive line makes just as much sense as anywhere else. Smith knows first-hand what a sub-par offensive line can do to your quarterback.
Cleveland’s Spending Spree
Cleveland Browns sign Karlos Dansby: 4 years, $24 million ($14M gtd.)
This was the first of Cleveland’s dominoes to fall. After spending money last season on Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves, the Browns kept re-tooling their defense on Tuesday, inking the former Cardinal and Dolphin. Dansby is older (32) but has plenty left in the tank. He’ll cement their interior pass defense.
Cleveland Browns sign S Donte Whitner: 4 years, $28 million ($13M gtd.)
That wasn’t the only move the Brownies made. Whitner comes in and gives them another veteran presence, but at 28 years old he doesn’t have the upside of the departing T.J. Ward. Whitner is an above-average NFL safety with a penchant for big hits. But he doesn’t defend the run as well as you’d think.
Cleveland downgraded D’Qwell Jackson and T.J. Ward to Dansby and Whitner. While both are suitable replacements, these moves don’t build well toward the future. GO CLEVELAND!
Release, then Catch
Tampa Bay Buccaneers release CB Darrelle Revis
New England Patriots sign CB Darelle Revis: 2 years, $32M ($12M gtd.)
There were some loose talks had between the Bucs and the Raiders/Browns about Revis’s availability. They both seemingly bowed out of those discussions with Revis unwilling to restructure the deal that pays him $16M a year. (And with the money other corners were getting, I assume he thought he can do similarly on the open market and NOT go to a crappy team.) Revis was then cut by the Bucs, which means they only owe the Jets a fourth round pick in the 2014 draft. And like everyone seemed to think, the Patriots swooped in and picked up the corner, giving him what really amounts to a one year, $12M deal, as the second year (a whopping $20M) is voidable. But this move obviously replaces Aqib Talib for the Pats and gives Bill Belichick plenty of options for his defense. It also ensures we’ll get another offseason of Revis on the market in 2015. Ugh.
Carolina Panthers release WR Steve Smith
Baltimore Ravens sign WR Steve Smith: 3 years, $11M ($3.5M gtd.)
In another case of “what are you expecting to get out of us,” the Ravens asked the Panthers about trading for the disgruntled receiver. Smith was due around $3M from the Panthers, regardless of if they cut him or not. Trading him to another team was the only way they would have gotten out of the financial obligation. And like clockwork, no one took the bait and the Panthers were forced to cut him, leading to the crying kid video we’ve seen everywhere. An angry Smith then ended up signing with the Ravens, ready to prove he can be an anger-ball no matter what team he may be on. There’s a lot to consider here. I’m stunned that the Panthers, cap-strapped though they may be, elected to cut their best (and honestly only) wide receiver of note. Was Smith that much of a locker room cancer that he couldn’t stay and give Cam Newton at least ONE guy to throw to outside of Greg Olsen? And for the Ravens, they may be getting a 35-year old receiver, but Smith isn’t exactly a waste of a roster spot. He’ll help Joe Flacco avoid those pedestrian regular season stats.
New Orleans Saints trade: RB Darren Sproles
To: Philadelphia Eagles for 5th Round Pick (2014)
This just started as a cost-cutting maneuver for the Saints, who were just going to release Darren before realizing the running back had an actual market. Instead of letting him go wherever he wanted, they gauged the bids and squeezed a fifth round pick out of the Eagles. More power to them! That rarely happens anymore when teams know you’re going to be releasing someone anyway. Sproles went to the Eagles, who immediately extended his deal for two years, keeping him on the team through 2016. Who doesn’t want to see Chip Kelly get Darren Sproles the ball in that offense? I’m excited.
I hope Jimmy Graham is happy with all these moves designed to create more money to sign his butt. (And a safety too! Keep reading.)
Dallas Cowboys release LB/DE DeMarcus Ware
Denver Broncos sign LB/DE DeMarcus Ware: 3 years, $30M ($20M gtd.)
No accord was reached between Ware and Jerry Jones, who asked his stalwart defender to take a pay-cut. That wasn’t happening as far as Ware was concerned. While both publicly left the door open for a return, Ware bailed on Dallas as soon as Denver made their offer. He’ll make more this next year in Denver than he would have in Dallas, so he won betting on himself. Well played, Ware. You bested Jerry Jones in a money-duel. Ware is the one real question mark among the Broncos’ high profile acquisitions (which are coming up next), being that he’s a bit older and coming off his worst season as a pro. Can he rebound? Absolutely. Can we expect him to? I’m not so sure.
Re-Loading in Denver
Denver Broncos re-sign WR Andre Caldwell: 2-years, $3.5M
Caldwell is a solid receiver but didn’t see the field in a very deep Bronco wide-out rotation in 2013. He could just be roster-filler, but it’s more likely he’s going to step into a bigger role with Eric Decker moving on.
Denver Broncos sign S T.J. Ward: 4 years, $23M ($14 gtd.)
The first of Denver’s “big” moves on day one of free agency. Ward brings youth and explosiveness back to a secondary that showed plenty of flaws in the postseason. Ward is a stout run defender and earned second team All-Pro honors for 2013. But it was this next deal that really shows how hard Denver is pressing.
Denver Broncos sign CB Aqib Talib: 6 years, $57M ($26M gtd.)
This deal broke after 10PM central time on day one of free agency, but yours truly happened to be monitoring the tweet-wire for news. And boy is this news. Denver not only dramatically improves their secondary with a lock-down corner, but they pilfer a significant player from a main conference rival in New England. This move is genius. And Denver is the kind of place that Talib can’t get into much trouble… well, aside from the weed. Also, Talib is now teammates with Wes Welker, the dude that took him out of their playoff match-up. Just a side note.
Denver has just dropped the gauntlet in front of the rest of the AFC. On paper, this secondary is much improved. If Ware returns to form and Von Miller stays healthy, this defense has potential to be a top-ten unit. (I mean, run-stuffing might be a problem, but the pass defense should be better).
Bucs Spending Silly Money
Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign DE Michael Johnson: 5 years, $43.75M ($23M gtd.)
Johnson still has a lot of upside at only 27 years old, but this is a lot of money for just potential. He’s still inconsistent as a pass rusher, which will hamper Lovie’s cover-two scheme. I expect this to be one of those deals that ends in two or three years because Johnson’s cap hit is too high and his production doesn’t match it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign QB Josh McCown: 2 years, $10M
Man, Josh just made BANK off of like, five starts. It’s amazing. A 34-year old quarterback with no history of anything resembling greatness just earned himself millions because he showed well in a great offensive system with tremendous wide receivers. I’m not begrudging him the money, I just find it fascinating. Lovie Smith loves his veteran quarterbacks, so McCown is already stamped as the starter. So… Mike Glennon is…what?
OMG A DALLAS MOVE
Dallas Cowboys sign DT Henry Melton: 4 years, $29M ($14M gtd.)
Here are more of the specifics. This is really a one year, $5M deal. If Melton is on the roster as of the first day of the 2015 league year, the final three seasons kick in, with $9M guaranteed in 2015. Huh. Dallas actually crafted a smart contract. Whaddya know. This deal with Melton keeps them safe in case his ACL tear doesn’t heal properly or keeps him off the field. Melton is a Pro Bowl-level three-technique tackle on the defensive line. If he can bring that to Dallas, their defense will see drastic improvements.
Wait, the Packers Signed a Free Agent? WTF?
Green Bay Packers sign DE Julius Peppers: 3 years, $26M ($7.5M gtd.)
After being cut by the Bears, Peppers was sitting around with other veteran rushers like Chris Clemons and Jared Allen as guys looking for their “fair deal” with a legit contender. Well, the Packers stepped up to the plate, with only the first year of this deal guaranteed. If Peppers sucks, they’ll cut him after this season with no further repercussions. If he proves that 2013 was a fluke season, then he could be scary as hell opposite Clay Matthews. That would make the Pack’s rare free agent foray a success.
Bay Area Moves
San Francisco 49ers trade: sixth round pick
To: Jacksonville for QB Blaine Gabbert
The first trade of the new league year is a bit of a head-scratcher. Gabbert, taken in the same year as Kaepernick, has been a bad to terrible quarterback during his time in Jacksonville. But Jim Harbaugh probably thinks he can wring some production out of Gabbert because he’s like, a QB whisperer, or something. If Kaepernick’s negotiations go bad, I wouldn’t be surprised if Harbaugh feels strongly enough to roll out Gabbert as a starter some season in the near future. But as much as I think this is about Harbaugh’s offensive ego, I have to give him credit for this next move…
San Francisco 49ers trade: conditional 7th round pick in 2015
To: Miami for OT Jonathan Martin
Harbaugh was Martin’s college coach at Stanford and now he’s giving him his second chance in the NFL when everyone was questioning the kid’s “mental toughness.” (Which is total BS, by the way.) Now Martin has the opportunity to learn as part of the best offensive line in the game. He won’t start this season, but the risk is minimal for San Fran. If Martin is on their opening day 53-man roster, they send a seventh rounder (in 2015!) to Miami. If he’s not, they send nothing. Everyone wins here.
San Francisco 49ers sign S Antoine Bethea: 4 years, $26M
Not long after reports surfaced that the Niners would be losing Whitner to the Browns did they move on Bethea. The former Colt is another hard-hitting safety that is a bit overrated when it comes to pass coverage. But that’s quite similar to Whitner, so the downgrade isn’t all that steep. He’s a viable replacement.
Bolstering the Secondary
Indianapolis Colts re-sign CB Vontae Davis: 4 years, $39M ($20M gtd.)
If they want to get better this offseason, Indy’s defense couldn’t afford to lose its top corner in Davis. This is in the ballpark of a standard market-level contract for a good corner. I’m not a huge Davis fan, but the Colts didn’t have a choice.
New Orleans Saints sign S Jairus Byrd: 6 years, $54M ($28M gtd.)
Well sheyit. Someone got his $9M a year. Byrd gives the Saints a formidable safety duo along with Kenny Vaccaro that can both lay the wood and patrol the deep field. God knows how they’re going to fit all this money under the cap though. Oh wait, I know. They back-loaded Byrd’s cap hit. This deal could get ugly in years five and six.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign CB Alterraun Verner; 4 years, $26M ($14M gtd.)
We know Tampa would be in the cornerback market after they decided to unhitch their wagon from Darrelle Revis. Verner is young and physical, but more importantly he doesn’t cost $16M a season. He’ll fit perfectly in Smith’s cover-two scheme with his tackling ability on the outside, so the Bucs made a relatively smart football decision, even if this was mostly driven by money. (Still, giving up Revis is sorta dumb every time I think about it.)
A Slow Running Back Market
Jacksonville Jaguars sign RB Toby Gerhart: 3 years, $10.5M ($4.5 gtd.)
Shockingly, I LOVE this signing for the Jaguars. Gerhart is a veteran back with nearly no wear on his body from backing up Adrian Peterson his whole professional career. Now the Jaguars have a pounding back that can carry the load and replace (if not out-pace) the production that MJD was giving them. The team no longer has to spend a high pick on a running back if they don’t find one they like.
Tennessee Titans sign RB Dexter McCluster: 3 years, $9M ($7.35M gtd.)
Ken Whisenhunt loves players with “special talents.” McCluster is one of those guys, dynamic in special teams and in the open field. He’s essentially trading the few explosive plays Chris Johnson was giving them (for mega money) for those same explosive plays from McCluster at a lower price tag. Though that price still seems a bit steep.
This leads me into my next storyline…
Who the hell is trading for Chris Johnson?
Seriously. Apparently there’s a market for him, which is why the Titans haven’t dealt or released him yet. Who actually wants that contract?
The Jets Actually Do Something
NY Jets sign WR Eric Decker: 5 years, $36.2M ($15M gtd.)
Decker isn’t a number one receiver in this league. But that shouldn’t matter to the Jets, who didn’t have a number two, three, or four receiver on their roster. Decker is immediately their best pass catcher without having stepped onto the field. Another bargain-level receiver and a high draft pick on a running back/tight end could equip Geno Smith with at least some of the tools he needs to succeed.
The Patriots Nab a Receiver, Too (And a Corner, Take THAT Jets!)
NE Patriots sign WR Brandon LaFell: 3 years, $9M ($3M gtd.)
LaFell leaves the Panthers to upgrade the Patriots’ receiving corps, which needed to get more talented AND more experienced. LaFell provides both, even if he’s not a massive upgrade.
NE Patriots sign CB Brandon Browner: 3 years, $17M ($1M gtd.)
This one’s pretty simple. Browner gets an incentive-laden contract that protects the Patriots from his dumbassery. In return, they get a physical (if somewhat stiff and overrated) corner that can play opposite Revis and man-up on the opponent’s number two receiver. The Pats are clearly going to be playing Seahawk-ball in 2014. Anyone scared yet? I am.
Back-Up Quarterback Swap Meet (AKA: Shifting the Turd Sandwiches)
San Diego Chargers sign QB Kellen Clemens
Clemens made a small case for his not being dreadful in his stint filling in for Sam Bradford last season. The Chargers apparently liked the tape enough to make him the back-up to Philip Rivers. Woo.
Tennessee Titans sign QB Charlie Whitehurst
After releasing Ryan Fitzpatrick (who has yet to sign with any team), the Titans brought in Whitehurst from San Diego, where he spent last season under then-OC Ken Whisenhunt, who is now the head man in Tennessee. He’s less erratic than Fitzpatrick, but he’s way less talented.
Cincinnati Bengals sign QB Jason Campbell
And Campbell gets to stay in Ohio. This isn’t exactly the “young QB that would push Andy Dalton” for which Bengals fans may have been hoping. Meh. Sorry Cincy.
And that’s all I can write on week one of NFL free agency. I’m pooped.
Did I miss something? Is there a signing you want me to address? Let me know and I’ll get it in the next update. For now, I hope your team is winning the “On Paper Super Bowl.” I’m going to bed and giving my typing hands a rest.