Follow along below as PFF reacts to all of the latest and biggest 2020 NFL free agency news, including re-signings, franchise tag designations, trades, new blockbuster signings and more.
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[Editor's Note: PFF's last update to this article for 2020 NFL Free Agency was Sunday, March 22.]
New York Jets sign former Carolina Panthers guard Greg Van Roten
Van Roten has been a good pass-protector in his two seasons with significant snaps in Carolina. Van Roten produced a pass-block grade right around the 50th percentile in 2018 before improving his grade rank among guards in 2019 to 21st. His run-blocking though needs a lot of work – in both seasons he owned below-average grades as a run-blocker. Before missing the last handful of weeks in 2019 due to injury, Van Roten was among the top 25 guards in the NFL.
Las Vegas Raiders sign former Philadelphia Eagles receiver Nelson Agholor to a one-year deal
Since coming into the league in 2015, Agholor has ranked among the bottom third in percentage of catchable passes caught and been one of the least productive on a per-route basis. His 1.06 yards per route run in that timespan ranked 86th of 91 receivers. Agholor is coming off a season in which he produced a 54.9 receiving grade, ranking 92nd of 98 wide receivers. Even more concerning, his 2019 grade was the third-best mark he’s had in a single season in his five-year NFL career. He was last in receiving grade at his position in 2015 and second to last in 2016.
New Orleans Saints sign veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders to two-year, $16 million deal
Returning from a significant injury, Sanders has been a better player late in his career than he was at the start of it. He has transformed the 49ers’ passing attack since arriving and is one of the savviest route runners in the league. In addition to all of that route-running skill, Sanders had just one drop this past season and has some of the best hands in the game. This is a fantastic move a Saints team well within reach of a Super Bowl run in 2020.
Pittsburgh Steelers sign veteran tight end Eric Ebron
The Steelers needed some reinforcements at the tight end position after Vance McDonald battled injuries in 2019 and struggled to make an impact when he was on the field with just 0.69 receiving yards per route run. Ebron gives another receiving option to the returning Ben Roethlisberger. He is coming off five seasons of solid grading, recording overall grades of 65.0 or higher each year since 2015. When you consider that he actually landed above Austin Hooper on the PFF Free Agency Rankings coming into the week, this deal looks even better. Pittsburgh was able to land Ebron for a similar average value to guys such as Nick Boyle and former Steeler Jesse James.
New Orleans Saints re-sign Andrus Peat to a multi-year deal with $33 million guaranteed
This might be the worst deal of free agency so far. Peat had a fairly strong start to his career, but after switching to the starting left guard spot in a full-time capacity in 2018, things have gone off the rails. Over the last two seasons, he ranks 41st out of 41 qualifying left guards in overall grade. That is the worst player at the position over the past two seasons making over $10 million dollars per year on a five-year deal with over $30 million guaranteed. The Saints had been having a pretty nice free agency period to this point, but this move stops that momentum.
Denver Broncos sign Melvin Gordon to two-year, $16 million deal with $13.5 million guaranteed
After reportedly turning down an offer worth $10 million per year last offseason and holding out for more, Gordon settled for less money on average one year later to play for the AFC West rival Denver Broncos. From the Broncos’ perspective, this one came out of left field. They already have Philip Lindsay and Royce Freeman who were handling the rushing duties fine by themselves, and Gordon simply adds another decent runner to that group. Over the last two seasons, he sits outside the top-40 at the running back position in PFF receiving grade. The Broncos have more pressing needs. That cap space could have been spent elsewhere heading into 2020.
Atlanta Falcons sign former Los Angeles Rams Todd Gurley
Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Falcons are signing Gurley to a one-year deal.
In many ways, Gurley is the poster child for the debate centered around running back value. After a 2017 season in which he earned a top-five PFF grade at the running back position, performing at a high level both as a runner and receiver out of the backfield, the Los Angeles Rams extended Gurley a four-year, $57.5 million offer with $45 million guaranteed. It looked as if things were going well again in 2018 as Gurley ran for 17 touchdowns and caught another four in one of the league's most efficient offenses. However, towards the end of the season and into the playoffs, chronic knee injuries began to limit Gurley. That carried over to 2019 behind a significantly worse offensive line. He didn't put up nearly the same production as a runner, and he managed just a 34.8 grade as a receiver. That resulted in the Rams releasing Gurley on Friday prior to a deadline that would have triggered an additional $10.5 million in guarantees in his contract. Still, they must eat over $20 million in dead cap, signaling the dangers of paying big money to the position.
Dallas Cowboys sign veteran safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to one-year, $4 million deal
Now heading on to his third team in fewer seasons, Ha Ha Clinton Dix took a short-term ‘prove-it’ deal with the Chicago Bears to try and hit the open market again with improved interest. As a former first-round pick, expectations for his play are high but may need to be adjusted to simply ‘solid’ given what he has shown so far in his NFL career. Clinton-Dix makes plays on the football in coverage, which is the most important aspect of safety play, but he can come up lightweight against power and misses too many tackles to be happy with (eight in each of the last three seasons).
Pittsburgh Steelers sign veteran offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski
Per NFL Media's Tom Pelissero, the Steelers are signing Wisniewski to a two-year deal.
Wisniewski was once one of the league’s most reliable pass-blocking centers with the Raiders and Jaguars from 2012-2015, owning an above-average pass-block grade in all four years with multiple seasons in the top 10. He kicked over to left guard with the Eagles in 2016 and posted back-to-back to years in the top 25 among guards in overall grade before struggling in a limited role in 2018 ranking just 61st in grade. Wisniewski joined forces with the Chiefs in 2019 and performed considerably well in his limited turned starter role by ranking 16th among guards in overall grade.
New England Patriots sign veteran safety Adrian Phillips
Per Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports, the Patriots are signing Phillips to a two-year deal.
Phillips was great when on the field in 2019 for the Chargers. He was limited to only 180 coverage snaps due to injury and allowed just 75 yards — he came away owning a coverage grade of 86.9. Phillips plays a pretty invaluable role on the defense as a box safety and has given up the second-most explosive plays at that alignment over the last three years, which is concerning. But, at the same time, he’s also made more plays on the ball among those who played that role in that same period with 14.
Los Angeles Rams release Clay Matthews
The Rams signed Matthews to a two-year, $9.25 million deal last offseason to start opposite Dante Fowler Jr. at edge, and that is what he did. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, the result was the worst season in Matthews' career. He earned just a 54.2 overall grade on the year, struggling in run defense and missing 12 tackles in 44 tackling opportunities. The pass-rushing numbers don't look bad at first glance — 40 pressures in 280 pass-rushing snaps — but he benefitted from attention placed on his teammates, namely Aaron Donald. 24 of those 40 pressures for Matthews were designated as cleanup or unblocked opportunities. All of that led to Matthews being expendable. The Rams will look to fill his snaps with someone else in 2020.
Los Angeles Rams release Todd Gurley
In many ways, Gurley is the poster child for the debate centered around running back value. After a 2017 season in which he earned a top-5 PFF grade at the running back position, performing at a high level both as a runner and receiver out of the backfield, the Los Angeles Rams extended Gurley a four-year, $57.5 million offer with $45 million guaranteed. It looked as if things were going well again in 2018 as Gurley ran for 17 touchdowns and caught another four in one of the league's most efficient offenses. However, towards the end of the season and into the playoffs, chronic knee injuries began to limit Gurley. That carried over to 2019 behind a significantly worse offensive line. He didn't put up nearly the same production as a runner, and he managed just a 34.8 grade as a receiver. That resulted in the Rams releasing Gurley on Friday prior to a deadline that would have triggered an additional $10.5 million in guarantees in his contract. Still, they must eat over $20 million in dead cap, signaling the dangers of paying big money to the position.
Denver Broncos release veteran quarterback Joe Flacco
As the number of teams in need of a starting quarterback dwindles, Joe Flacco joins Andy Dalton, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston in the pool of available options with extensive starting experience following his release from the Denver Broncos. Flacco's career revival in Denver didn't quite go as planned, starting the first eight weeks before suffering a neck injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season. In recent years, he has seen a sharp divide in his play from a clean pocket vs. under pressure, posting an 87.4 clean-pocket passing grade since 2017 compared to a grade of just 33.2 when under pressure. If he were to get back to full health, Flacco could serve as an above-average backup or a competent starter behind a good offensive line, but teams can't expect much more than that at this point in his career.
Arizona Cardinals sign former Atlanta Falcons off-ball linebacker De'Vondre Campbell to a one-year deal
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Cardinals are signing Campbell to a one-year deal worth up $8.5 million.
The highlight of Campbell’s career came in 2016 when he produced the 24th highest-grade. Since then, he has been a poor performer in every facet of play. In coverage specifically, Campbell has produced the fifth-worst grade at his position since 2018. He has allowed a whopping 117.0 coverage grade in that span and third-most yards per coverage snap at 1.27. On the bright side, Campbell has been one of the best tacklers at his position by missing only 23 tackles on 374 career tackling attempts.
Cleveland Browns are signing former Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Andrew Billings
Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Browns are signing Billings to a contract.
Billings has played the sixth-most snaps at nose tackle the last couple of seasons and sat right around the 50th percentile in two-year grade. When at 3-tech, his pass-rushing was below-average, but at nose Billings owned one of the 10 highest grades and win rates. In fact, his win rate at nose tackle was actually two percentage points higher than his win rate at 3-tech, which is fairly uncommon to see.
Cincinnati Bengals sign former Minnesota Vikings slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander to one-year deal
Per NFL Media's Tom Pelissero, the Bengals are signing Alexander to a one-year, $4 million deal.
Alexander wasn’t that bad in his rotational slot role with Minnesota the last couple of years — among 41 slot corners, Alexander ranked 19th in two-year coverage grade and produced the fourth-highest forced incompletion rate. Slot corner is perhaps the most valuable position on the defensive side of the ball, and Alexander was projected to receive just a three-year deal worth $4 million per year by OTC. This is a low-risk signing for Cincinnati.
Philadelphia Eagles trade third- and fifth-round pick for veteran cornerback Darius Slay
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Eagles are trading a third- and fifth-round pick in exchange for Slay's services. Philly also signed Slay to a three-year, $50 million deal as part of the trade, making him the highest-paid cornerback in football.
At his best, Slay is one of the best cover guys in the league, and while his PFF grades haven't been as good the past couple of seasons (75.0 in 2018 and down to 56.4 in 2019), he has still been in tight coverage for much of that time, just losing out at the catch point to some impressive receivers. Coverage is a very volatile area of play, however, and the traits that Slay has shown on tape give good reason for the Eagles to expect him to bounce back in 2020 and beyond.
Detroit Lions sign former Minnesota Vikings safety Jayron Kearse to a one-year deal
Per NFL Media's Tom Pelissero, the Lions are signing Kearse a one-year, $2.75 million deal.
Kearse has never been heavily relied on in his four-year career with the Minnesota Vikings. He’s played just 581 snaps in that span and was average on the filed until the 2019 season. This past year, the Vikings played Kearse more than any of the other seasons (271 snaps) and he was great by recording an 89.0 overall grade. He allowed just two plays of 10 or more yards on his 168 coverage snaps while totaling five combined pass breakups and interceptions.
Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, former Oakland Raiders safety Karl Joseph has signed a one-year deal with the Cleveland Browns
A player who has always earned consistently solid grades, Karl Joseph just hasn’t made enough splash plays in his time in the NFL to convince his own team to buy-in long-term or even keep his starting spot secure. Joseph has just four interceptions in four seasons with the Raiders and has forced just a single fumble, but he has hit double-digit defensive stops every season and shown the ability to be a solid force on defense. Joseph has talent, particularly in a coverage scheme that plays with split safeties.
Detroit Lions sign former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant
The Lions have put some serious work into reshaping their defense the past few days, and unlike some of their prior moves, this one does not involve a former member of the New England Patriots. Trufant should fit nicely into a Lions’ secondary that runs a lot of press man coverage. He has picked up a 70.0 overall grade in six of his seven NFL seasons, just missing the mark in the other campaign. With uncertainty hanging around standout cornerback Darius Slay’s future, Trufant provides some insurance on a nice deal for Detroit.
Los Angeles Rams sign former Detroit Lions second-round pick A'Shawn Robinson
Per NFL Media's Tom Pelissero, the Rams are signing Robinson to a two-year, $17 million deal.
In 2018, Robinson was a fringe-elite player, owning an 89.7 overall grade, which ranked 11th among all interior defensive linemen. His play that year was carried by his stout run-defense as he had a 91.3 grade in defending the run. In 2019, Robinson took a big step back and produced a 56.0 grade that ranked 95th. Robinson’s pass-rushing has been far from good in his four-year career, generating only 65 pressures on 1,163 career pass-rush reps. For perspective, Aaron Donald, Kenny Clark and DeForest Buckner all generated more pressures in 2019 alone.
Per ESPN's Josina Anderson, the Minnesota Vikings are nearing a deal with former Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce
Despite a down year by his lofty standards, Pierce has been one of the best run stoppers in the NFL since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2016. He peaked in 2018 with a 92.0 grade against the run, and that was also his best year as a pass-rusher, as he notched 21 pressures on 247 rushes. Pierce is a role player, but he’s proven to be capable of putting together a valuable 400-500 snaps as an early-down run stopper.
Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Rams are re-signing Andrew Whitworth to a three-year deal
With a position rank almost the same as his age, there's no doubt Andrew Whitworth has finally started to decline. But given that he was arguably the best left tackle in the game when he was at his best, he still has a lot to offer a team willing to take a short-term rental while they figure out their long-term future on the offensive line. Whitworth just posted his lowest overall PFF grade since the 2008 season (72.8) but still had a pass-blocking grade of 84.7 that was still good enough to rank seventh among tackles. He also gave up just one sack all season.
The Las Vegas Raiders are signing veteran cornerback Eli Apple
According to Jerry McDonald of the Oakland Tribune, the Raiders have agreed to terms with Apple.
Apple has never quite lived up to expectations — his highest PFF coverage grade in his four-year career sits at just 64.2. He has vast experience playing press-man coverage, though, and he wasn’t bad in that role this past season. Apple’s 0.87 yards allowed per coverage snap in press at outside corner ranked 13th in the NFL in 2019.
Los Angeles Rams sign former Chicago Bears first-rounder Leonard Floyd
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Rams are signing Floyd to a one-year, $10 million deal that can jump to $13 million with incentives.
Floyd never came close to living up to his ninth overall selection in 2016. He has never produced a pass-rush grade above 65.0 nor has he ever cracked the 50th percentile in that metric in any given season. Floyd did, however, show he can drop into coverage and perform at a reasonable level in 2018 when he allowed 68 yards on his 119 coverage snaps while tacking on four plays made on the ball.
Chicago Bears trade fourth-round pick for Nick Foles and his bloated contract
After his first season with the Jacksonville Jaguars — a year in which he lost the starting job to sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew not once, but twice — there was no positive spin on the contract that Jacksonville gave Foles last offseason. With all signs pointing to the Jaguars heading towards a tanking season in 2020, getting off Foles’ contract long term and cutting ties with the sunk cost seemed inevitable. The initial contract was a mistake, but getting a fourth-round pick to clear the books in 2021 and beyond is a reasonable outcome for Jacksonville.
From the Bears’ side, it has become clear that Mitchell Trubisky has worn out his welcome. Over the last three seasons, he ranks just 29th out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks in PFF passing grade. Foles has shown high-level play at times, namely the 2017 postseason run with the Philadelphia Eagles where he recorded 90.0-plus grades in the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl. That’s what the Bears will be trying to capture in Matt Nagy’s system. It’s a relatively low-risk move should it not work out, but it’s unlikely that this is when Foles becomes an above-average starter. At any rate, he should be an upgrade over Trubisky.
Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero, Dante Fowler Jr. is signing with the Atlanta Falcons
Fowler had the best season of his four-year career in 2019, producing a 73.4 pass-rush grade that ranks 31st among qualifying edge defenders. Fowler has gathered the sixth-most sacks (15) while ranking 38th in win rate and 20th in pressure rate. Not to mention, he had the second-most pressures that were cleanups or pursuits. His pressure rate this year was over three percentage points higher than we have seen from him in a single season. Fowler is likely going to get overpaid based on the 2019 sack numbers, but that’s not to say he isn’t a good player — he’ll be a good addition to the Falcons' pass-rushing unit.
Los Angeles Chargers sign former Minnesota Vikings defensive interior Linval Joseph to two-year, $17 million deal
Joseph was once one of the best all-around nose tackles in the league, but he's coming off his worst PFF grade (69.5) since 2011. He's only totaled 18 pressures in each of the last two seasons despite rushing 347 times last year and 363 times in 2018. That low-pressure rate will limit his future opportunities. Still, Joseph could play a role as a one-down run-stopper, though that part of his game has also regressed, as his 66.3 grade in 2019 was his worst since 2012.
Former Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins signing with the New Orleans Saints
Per NFL Media, Jenkins will sign with the Saints after the Eagles opted to not pick up his 2020 option on Tuesday.
Jenkins earned the lowest single-season PFF coverage grade he’s recorded six years this past season at 70.0. He, however, has still been a durable, high-floor producer for the Eagles in each of the past six seasons in Philadelphia. He’s played 1,000 or more defensive snaps in each of the past six seasons and has yet to earn a PFF overall grade above 70.5 in said span. At 32 years old, Jenkins is a bit long in the tooth, but he’s still a durable short-term option the Saints were smart to jump on to fill a need at safety. He’s also very versatile, as he played over 100 defensive snaps along the defensive line, in the box, at slot cornerback and at free safety in 2019.
Denver Broncos trade seventh-round pick for Jurrell Casey
Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Titans are trading Casey to the Broncos for a seventh-round pick.
Casey was a solid interior defensive lineman in 2019 but didn't have a great season compared to his previous years. He finished the year owning a 74.3 overall grade which ranked 23rd at his position but was also his second-lowest graded season since 2012. Casey's pass-rushing, in particular, was the biggest reason for his performance dip – he posted a 64.4 pass-rush ranking 37th and was his lowest over the last seven seasons. That said, Casey was still the 16th most valuable player at his position in 2019 in his down year and will form a ferocious line in 2020 with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
Gerald McCoy signs three-year deal with the Cowboys
Outside of their three big free agents that were set to hit the market, one of the Cowboys’ biggest needs heading into 2020 was help inside on their defensive line. Maliek Collins, the interior defender that played the most snaps for the team and easily their best interior pass rusher last season, is signing with the Las Vegas Raiders, leaving the group even more thin. McCoy is certainly not the same pass rusher that he was in his prime with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he can still get after the quarterback. He’s been playing as well as ever in run support too. His 77.1 run-defense grade in 2019 was the third-highest mark of his career. McCoy should provide some stability on that Cowboys’ defensive line as they look to return to the postseason next year.
Tom Brady has agreed to terms with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Brady has an agreement in principle to join the Buccaneers on a deal worth roughly $30 million per year.
What seemed unthinkable weeks ago has now become a reality – not only has Tom Brady left the New England Patriots, but he has agreed to join Tampa Bay. The fit with Brady and the Buccaneers makes some sense on a lot of levels. In Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Brady will have two of the top-10 highest graded receivers in 2019 to throw to, and their defense looked very much in the ascendancy last year. But Brady does not seem like a natural fit within that offensive scheme given how much Bruce Arians likes to attack downfield, and the meeting of those two minds will be fascinating to watch unfold.
The Cincinnati Bengals are signing former Minnesota Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes, per NFL Media
Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, The Bengals are signing Waynes to a three-year, $42 million deal. He'll receive $20 million in his first year and averaged $14 million over the course of the deal.
As a former first-round draft pick, Trae Waynes hasn’t become the star that the Minnesota Vikings would have been hoping for, but he has developed into a consistently viable starter who excels in the run game while showing enough glimpses of coverage ability to keep teams buying into his overall potential. Waynes has impressive speed, but he has never been able to consistently avoid getting beaten enough to rank among the better corners in the game. He's given up 16 touchdowns over the last four seasons.
Former Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard is signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars
Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Dennard is headed to the Jaguars.
Dennard has devoted his time to the slot and has thrived in that role. Over the last three years, he owns the 12th best slot coverage grade among 42 qualifying cornerbacks and has had two of those three seasons end with a top-30 finish among all cornerbacks in PFF WAR. On targets of 10-plus yards from the slot in that timespan, Dennard has allowed the lowest catch rate in the NFL. The Cincinnati Bengals were clearly bad in 2019, but Dennard was one of the positives of their season as the third-most valuable player on the team despite playing just 495 snaps.
Cincinnati Bengals sign former Houston Texans defensive tackle D.J. Reader
Per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, the Bengals are signing Reader to a four-year, $53 million contract.
Nose tackles upwards of 330 pounds aren’t as desirable as they used to be, so the good news is that D.J. Reader has been able to show that he is more than just a two-down run stuffer. Reader has played more snaps with each season of his NFL career and answered that increased workload with more pressures as a pass-rusher. This year he posted career-best marks in overall PFF grade (85.5), total pressures (36) and defensive stops (35), and he played over 600 snaps for the Texans. Reader will draw interest as a run stuffer, but he has proved that he can push the pocket and play on passing downs too, which is vital for his value.
Philadelphia Eagles re-sign Rodney McLeod
In his first year starting in the NFL in 2013, Rodney McLeod struggled in coverage, but ever since he has been a consistently above-average safety. In each season from 2014 to 2019, McLeod had a coverage grade above 70.0 and combined to be the seventh most valuable safety in the league in that span. He isn’t an elite player, but McLeod is a cheap, reliable option at deep safety.
Los Angeles Chargers sign former Green Bay Packers offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga
Bulaga has routinely been one of the best right tackles in pass protection in his career. In each of his full seasons since 2014, Bulaga has ranked among the 10 best right tackles in PFF pass-blocking grade, with three seasons ranking in the top three. He’s projected to receive a four-year deal at $9 million per year with nearly half of that guaranteed, and while he’s getting up there in age and has had a couple of injuries in the past, he’s a safe player to target.
Indianapolis Colts agree to terms with veteran quarterback Philip Rivers
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Colts and Rivers have agreed to a one-year, $25 million contract.
Despite periods in Rivers' career where it looks like his arm is shot and the shotput motion no longer throws with zip, he's still been one of the league's most productive quarterbacks over the last few years. He did post the fifth-highest percentage of turnover-worthy plays this year while dropping to 18th in positives, but there's enough left in the tank to remain productive, especially if he can play behind an offensive line that will provide pass protection that ranks better than the bottom-five units he's had in each of the last three seasons. Look for Rivers to land in a win-now situation, where he's capable of attacking the short and intermediate level effectively.
Philadelphia Eagles will not pick up the option on veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins for 2020
Jenkins earned the lowest single-season PFF coverage grade he’s recorded six years this past season at 70.0. He, however, has still been a durable, high-floor producer for the Eagles in each of the past six seasons in Philadelphia. He’s played 1,000 or more defensive snaps in each of the past six seasons and has yet to earn a PFF overall grade above 70.5 in said span. At 32 years old, Jenkins is a bit long in the tooth, but he’s still a durable short-term option teams should jump on to fill a need at safety. He’s also very versatile, as he played over 100 defensive snaps along the defensive line, in the box, at slot cornerback and at free safety in 2019.
Las Vegas Raiders sign former Los Angeles Rams linebacker Cory Littleton to three-year, $36 million deal
Over the last two seasons, Littleton has been one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL. His two-year coverage grade across the 2018 and 2019 seasons of 90.6 ranks second at the position to only Lavonte David. That is the type of player that the Raiders could use more of. As a team, their linebackers recorded a coverage grade of just 38.4 last season (fifth-lowest in the NFL). Adding a player that can cover and tackle like Littleton, who had just one missed tackle in the entire 2019 season, is a win for Las Vegas. Pairing him with fellow free agent signing Nick Kwiatkoski will give them a new look at the linebacker position next season.
Teddy Bridgewater is finalizing a deal with the Carolina Panthers, per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport
Bridgewater started the 2014 and 2015 seasons for the Minnesota Vikings and put up average numbers compared to his counterparts (but good considering his age), ranking 13th and 17th in PFF passing grade. But a horrible knee injury prior to the 2016 season almost ended Bridgewater's career, leading him to take only 30 dropbacks from 2016 through 2018, during which time he bounced around from the Vikings, Jets and Saints.
Last year, Bridgewater defied the odds and got an opportunity to fill in for Drew Brees, starting from Weeks 3-7 and posting a respectable 78.9 passing grade in that stretch. But, considering he owned the lowest average depth of target (6.1), had the lowest rate of pass attempts travel 10 or more yards (21%, lowest by 4 percentage points) and the highest percentage of completions coming from underneath targets (49%), how much of his success was the scheme and the playmakers around him?
Carolina Panthers give Cam Newton permission to seek trade
Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Panthers have given Newton and his agency to seek out a trade. Newton posted to Instagram soon after that he never requested a trade from Carolina.
Over his nine-year career, Newton has had an ankle sprain, an ankle ligament tear, a chest rib fracture, a back vertebral fracture (non-football), a concussion, a knee strain and a torn rotator cuff on his throwing side that was later reinjured. His latest setback, a foot sprain, ultimately sidelined him for most of the 2019 season. He turns 31 in April and accounts for over 10% of Carolina's cap space in 2020.
Without the injuries, Newton is very much a mid-tier quarterback who can bust off an elite year with the right supporting cast and play-calling. He proved as much back in 2015 when he won honors of being the NFL’s Most Valuable Player and posted an 86.3 passing grade which ranked fifth. Newton proved it once again back in 2018 when he started out the season healthy through the first nine weeks and was 11th in passing grade.
Chicago Bears sign former Dallas Cowboys edge defender Robert Quinn to monster deal
Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Bears are signing Quinn to a five-year, $70 million deal with $30 million in guarantees.
Per Over the Cap on PFF’s Free Agency Rankings Page, Quinn was expected to sign a three-year, $30 million contract with $12.5 million guaranteed. It’s safe to say that he did much better for himself than that. Quinn did have a strong year in 2019 as a pass rusher, finishing the season with a 78.3 pass-rushing grade that was among the top-20 edge defenders in the NFL. It was the latest stage in a career revival that is building on several poor seasons to end his stint with the Rams. Quinn hasn’t played close to a level that would warrant this kind of contract, though. He has not performed like he did back in 2013 (91 quarterback pressures) in a long time, and there were plenty of better uses for the Bears’ limited cap space.
New Orleans Saints re-sign Drew Brees
The Saints make it official with Drew Brees, bringing back their star quarterback for one last run at a Super Bowl…again. Brees re-signed on a two-year, $50 million deal, though the second year may be as much about salary cap management as anything else. Brees can still play at a high level, earning an overall PFF grade of 91.2 last season, but we have now seen him visibly decline in performance late in the season in each of the past two years. Brees is still the best chance New Orleans has of winning games, but he may need more help now than he ever has before.
Tom Brady will NOT play for the New England Patriots in 2020
Tom Brady posted an official farewell on his Instagram on Tuesday, finally bringing some clarity to the dynamic between him and the New England Patriots. Until now, the prospect that Brady could be playing somewhere else in 2020 was a possibility, but now it's definitely going to happen. Reports are that multiple teams are interested, with the Bucs and Chargers the two most obvious destinations. As bad as Brady's box score numbers were in 2019, his PFF grade wasn't nearly as bad (80.4), and he was the 10th ranked quarterback during the regular season. Brady still has juice if he lands in the right situation.
New York Giants sign former Green Bay Packers linebacker Blake Martinez
Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Giants are signing Martinez to a three-year, $30 million deal.
After having two poor seasons in coverage his first couple years in the NFL back in 2016 and 2017 that resulted in him posting grades in that facet below 48.0 each year, Martinez broke out in 2018. He finished owning the ninth highest coverage grade for an off-ball linebacker at 82.6. Martinez lost a step in 2019 dropping his grade rank in that facet to 37th, but he is a tackling machine – PFF’s Lead Fantasy Analyst Jeff Ratcliffe tweeted out an interesting nugget that he recorded a tackle on 15.5% of his snaps last year which was the highest rate in the league. Now, is he worth the $10 million per year he got? It might be a bit of a stretch considering he was just the 77th most valuable off-ball linebacker in 2019.
San Francisco 49ers re-sign Jimmie Ward
Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the 49ers are re-signing Ward to a three-year, $28.5 million deal.
Ward had an exceptional 2019 season — he finished as the sixth-highest graded safety in the NFL and was also among the 10 most valuable players at the position. He has, however, missed over half of his career games as a 49er, and he produced a coverage grade below 70.0 in all five of his seasons prior to 2019. Robert Saleh was vocal about focusing on playing Ward to his strengths in 2019. Ward had bounced all over the place prior to the year, spending some time primarily at outside corner, then some time primarily in the slot before finding the perfect balance in 2019 between deep safety, the box and the slot. When fully healthy this season, Ward has allowed minimal big plays in a single game. There's some risk given his past, but if healthy, he is very well a great option in his role in Saleh's defense.
Amari Cooper re-signs with Cowboys on five-year, $100 million deal
Cooper has been a game-changer for the Dallas Cowboys’ offense. Since taking the field for the first time with the infamous Cowboy star on his helmet back in Week 9 of 2018, Cooper has produced a receiving grade among the 10 best at his position and also has since gathered 2.25 yards per route run, ranking seventh. As said in PFF’s free agency rankings page, when Cooper has been on the field for Dallas, they’ve totaled up 122.0 expected points added (907 plays) while without him on the field have produced only 2.95 (425 plays). He can cook defensive backs on vertical routes and get open for a deep target and explosive play. In fact, since coming to Dallas, Cooper has seen 58% of his 20-plus targets with a step or more of separation, which leads the NFL and is nearly 20% above the average.
Buffalo Bills trade for Minnesota Vikings star receiver Stefon Diggs
The Buffalo Bills shipped their first-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for want-away wide receiver Stefon Diggs, and all of a sudden Buffalo may have assembled the best wide receiver group in the league. Diggs has earned an overall PFF grade between 78 and 83 every season of his career, and over the past three seasons leads the league in contested catch rate. He is a receiver that can win with speed, route running, after the catch and when contesting at the catch point with defenders, and gives the Bills a true star to put alongside John Brown and Cole Beasley.
Las Vegas Raiders agree to terms with former Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota
Last season, we saw the Tennessee Titans sign Ryan Tannehill as Marcus Mariota insurance, and after Tannehill took Mariota's starting job and spun it into an AFC Championship and a new contract, it seemed inevitable that Mariota would find himself trying to do the same thing somewhere else. He heads to Las Vegas to back up Derek Carr who has been solid as a starter, but Jon Gruden has never shied away from competition in his quarterback room. Mariota's 64.3 overall grade last season was the worst of his career, but he has two 76.0-plus grades as a starter and he can produce if given another opportunity. It's a strong hedge by the Raiders who instantly have the best backup quarterback in the league.
Detroit Lions sign off-ball linebacker Jamie Collins
Per ESPN's Field Yates, the Lions are signing Collings to a three-year, $30 million contract with $18 million in guarantees.
Collins signs with a familiar face in Detroit head coach Matt Patricia, former Patriots defensive coordinator. Collins struggled with the Browns in his only venture outside of New England during his career, but familiarity with Patricia's scheme should help this transition. Expect Collins to be used as a mismatch weapon as a blitzer where he tallied 33 pressures, including eight sacks, a year ago. Collins is coming off his best season since 2015 as he was solid in coverage and around the ball with three forced fumbles, three interceptions, and two pass breakups.
Seattle Seahawks re-sign defensive tackle Jarran Reed
Per NFL Media's Tom Pelissero, Seattle is re-signing Reed to a two-year, $23 million deal.
Reed did not enter free agency at an opportune time after serving a six-game suspension in 2019 and then struggling to reproduce his 2018 results when he returned to the field. He ended the year with a 61.8 overall grade and just a 53.9 grade as a pass rusher, tallying 26 pressures in 349 pass-rushing snaps. Many have referenced his 2018 season and the double-digit sacks that he reached that year as the form that he needs to return to, but even his production in that 2018 campaign was overstated. Reed’s pass-rushing grade of 66.4 that year ranked 35th among 112 qualifying interior defenders — a solid showing but not one representative of his sack production. To this point, Reed has not earned a contract north of $10 million per year.
Houston Texans sign former Browns defensive back Eric Murray
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Texans are signing former Browns defensive back Eric Murray to a three-year deal worth up to $20.25 million.
Bill O’Brien and the Houston Texans continue to make head-scratching moves, the latest of which was this Murray deal. After playing primarily safety through the first three seasons of his career, Murray made the switch to slot cornerback for the Browns in 2019, playing 272 of his 360 defensive snaps there. He managed just a 60.9 coverage grade on the season in that role, following a 66.9 coverage grade in 2018 and a 46.7 mark the year prior in 2017. Coverage is the biggest need on this Texans’ team, but throwing nearly $7 million a year at players like Murray doesn’t seem all that likely to fix their issues.
Javon Hargrave signs three-year, $39 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Eagles are signing former Pittsburgh Steelers interior defensive lineman Javon Hargrave to a three-year, $39 million deal with $26 million in guarantees.
Hargrave may not be a household name, but that is going to change soon. He has spent time as a rotational player on a talented Steelers’ defensive line, improving each year to this point in his career. He ended the 2019 season with an 83.4 overall grade that ranked among the top-10 interior defenders in the entire NFL, and he excelled as a pass rusher, generating a 14.2% pressure rate that ranked third at the position behind Aaron Donald and Chris Jones. By pairing Hargrave with Cox on the middle of that defensive line, the Eagles have created a whole lot of headaches for opposing interior offensive lines in 2020.
Chicago Bears sign veteran tight end Jimmy Graham to two-year, $16 million deal
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Bears are signing Graham to a two-year, $16 million deal with $9 million guaranteed.
The Bears had an obvious need at the tight end position after a season in which only the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots recorded fewer receiving yards from their tight ends than Chicago did, but giving this kind of a deal to the current form of Graham is not the way to go about filling that need. Injuries have taken their toll on the former star. The last two seasons he has failed to record an overall grade of even 60.0, and the last time he was a legitimate high-end threat was back in 2016 with the Seahawks. That is not the profile of a player who should be getting paid like one of the 10 best players at the position.
Miami Dolphins sign former Patriots pass-rusher Kyle Van Noy
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Dolphins are signing Van Noy to a four-year, $51 million contract.
Van Noy had 24 more total pressures in 2019 than anybody that was playing for the Miami Dolphins. In fact, the amount he was clear of any Miami pass rusher would have ranked second on the team in total pressures, and that was only Van Noy's first season as a full-time edge rusher. His overall PFF grade was 14 points higher than his previous career best, and now he goes to Florida to reunite with the coach that was part of his beginning transition to full-time pass rusher. Van Noy should provide an immediate upgrade to the Dolphins pass rush, and gets to stay within the New England coaching family tree.
New York Giants sign former Carolina Panthers cornerback James Bradberry
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Giants are signing Bradberry to a three-year, $45 million deal.
Bradberry has had one of the toughest jobs in football over the past few years – often tracking some of the best receivers in the game in the NFC South – and it has taken its toll on his PFF grade. Those receivers have usually won the wars with Bradberry and while he is capable of excellent play, he has never been able to hold up over a full season and has yet to top his rookie-year mark of 70.2 when it comes to coverage. At his best, he can plan within man and zone coverage shells, and at being under 27 years old represents an interesting gamble for the Giants. With easier assignments, there is surely better play to come, but past experience has shown he needs a little more protection to play to his best.
Miami Dolphins sign star cornerback Byron Jones to monster deal
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Dolphins are signing Jones to a five-year, $82.5 million contract with $57 million in guaranteed money.
Jones doesn't get the respect he deserves from many, because he doesn't get interceptions – just one over the past two seasons and two in his entire NFL career – but few corners make it tougher to complete passes on them, particularly in man coverage. The Dolphins, coming from the Patriots defensive coaching tree, play a lot of man coverage, so Jones is a natural fit within that defense. Over the past two seasons, Jones has the eighth-best PFF coverage grade among all corners and has allowed a completion rate of just 50% when targeted
Baltimore Ravens sign former Los Angeles Rams interior defensive lineman Michael Brockers
Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Ravens are signing Brockers to a three-year, $30 million contract.
Brockers perhaps never developed into the star he was supposed to be when he was drafted in the first round back in 2012, but he has developed into a disruptive and versatile run stuffer. In three of the past four seasons his PFF run-defense grade has been above 80, and along with Calais Campbell that gives the Ravens a pair of new interior run defenders that have some length and the ability to move around the defensive front a little more than Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams did a season ago. The money is significant enough, but Brockers should be a natural fit in Baltimore.
Denver Broncos sign former Detroit Lions guard Graham Glasgow to four-year, $44 million deal
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Broncos are signing Glasgow to a four-year, $44 million deal with $26 million in guarantees.
Glasgow has played 800 or more snaps in each of the past three seasons for the Lions and he’s done it by starting at three different positions — primarily left guard in 2017, center in 2018 and right guard in 2019. That versatility could end up coming in handy for a Broncos’ team that may be looking to fill holes at both right guard and center if Connor McGovern leaves in free agency. More impressive is the fact that Glasgow recorded a grade of 70.0 or higher in all three of those seasons. He hasn’t shown the high-end play of someone like Joe Thuney or Brandon Scherff, but the Broncos can feel comfortable with Glasgow stepping in as a solid starter on the interior of their offensive line under offensive line coach Mike Munchak.
Detroit Lions sign former Eagles offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai to five-year, $50 million contract
This deal is still waiting on the guaranteed money to drop, but on the surface it’s hard to justify this as anything other than a poor signing for the Lions. Including the postseason, Vaitai started just four games in 2019, and in the only season that Vaitai was a full-time starter (for the most part), he earned a 59.4 overall grade in 2017. Even his career-high 74.4 grade this past season was largely driven by his run blocking. There just isn’t a big enough sample of even average play from Vaitai that would justify a five-year, $50 million deal.
Cleveland Browns sign quarterback Case Keenum to three-year, $18 million deal
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, former Washington Redskins quarterback Case Keenum is joining the Browns on a three-year, $18 million deal with $10 million guaranteed.
The Cleveland Browns look to be trying to eliminate variables as they evaluate QB Baker Mayfield in 2020, but they've also smartly invested in an insurance policy just in case Mayfield can't respond. Case Keenum wasn't good in spot duty in Washington last season (55 PFF grade), but his previous two years starting had been much better (70.0 an 81.4), and he represents one of the best backup quarterback options in the league.
Cleveland Browns sign former Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Jack Conklin
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Browns are signing former Titans offensive tackle Jack Conklin to a three-year, $42 million contract with $30 million guaranteed.
Conklin was the top offensive tackle on the free agent board and he fills an immediate need for the Browns. The No. 10 graded tackle in the league a year ago, Conklin is one of the best run blockers at the position, though there is some concern that he ranks around the league average when pass blocking on “true pass sets.” Still, using PFF”s wins above replacement metric, Conklin has ranked among the top-10 tackles in two of the last three years and he's an immediate upgrade for the Browns.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers re-sign Jason Pierre Paul
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Bucs re-signed Jason Pierre Paul to a two-year, $27 million contract on Monday.
Pierre-Paul’s average annual salary of $13.5 million on this new deal puts him among the top-20 highest-paid edge defenders in the NFL. Despite the decent sack production in recent seasons, the last time that Pierre-Paul graded out as a top-20 edge defender in the league was the 2014 season. Since joining the Buccaneers in 2018, he has recorded a pressure rate of only 10.1%. After making the correct move in tagging Barrett early in the day, the Buccaneers overpaid for their second starting edge defender, giving more weight to Pierre-Paul’s name than his recent performance on the field.
Miami Dolphins sign Shaq Lawson to three-year deal
Shaq Lawson got a massive payday by receiving a three-year, $30 million deal, which was far more than anyone expected. In fact, he was really projected to receive only a one-year, $5 million deal. Lawson has progressed nicely as a pass-rusher, raising his pass-rush grade in each season played to the 41st best at his position in 2019. He was productive on a rep-to-rep basis as he generated pressure at a rate that ranked 21st. Lawson is a good pass-rusher, but the price is a smidge high.
Ravens trade Hayden Hurst, fourth-round pick to Falcons for second-round pick, fifth-round pick
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Ravens are sending Hayden Hurst and a fourth-round pick to the Falcons in exchange for a second- and fifth-round pick.
Hurst had a reasonable sophomore campaign with the Ravens in 2019 – he finished at a PFF receiving grade of 77.3 which ranked 11th among tight ends and caught 94.4% of his catchable targets which ranked sixth. He wasn’t a marquee piece in Baltimore’s passing attack as he saw only 44 targets in his 17 game appearances, but he was one of the most reliable. Moving on from Austin Hooper was a must for Atlanta, partially because of his massive, overpriced contract, but mostly because he never really showed he could win in single coverage. Hurst, on the other hand, has shown that. He posted the sixth-best receiving grade on such targets in 2019, eleven spots ahead of Hooper.
Cardinals trade David Johnson, second-round pick for Texans' DeAndre Hopkins
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Cardinals are trading David Johnson and a second-round pick for Texans star receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-round pick.
Wow. Just wow. There was a report this morning regarding the possibility of the Houston Texans trading DeAndre Hopkins, but no one thought they’d actually pull the trigger – especially for David Johnson and a second-round pick. Since coming into the league, Hopkins has been the third-most valuable wide receiver in the NFL behind only Antonio Brown and Julio Jones. Heck, just this past year he was one of the five most valuable non-quarterbacks in the entire NFL. The Arizona Cardinals robbed the Houston Texans like John Dillinger did with the banks.
Miami Dolphins sign Ereck Flowers to three-year, $30 million deal
According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Dolphins are signing former Washington Redskins and New York Giants guard Ereck Flowers to a three-year, $30 million deal.
As a team, the Dolphins’ offensive line had the lowest overall grade in the NFL by over five points. They were the only team in the NFL to be below 50.0 (47.3). Getting Flowers at $10 million per year with nearly $20 million guaranteed is not the way to go about fixing that offensive line. He has yet to record an overall grade of 70.0 in five years in the NFL, and though he did show signs of improvement at guard for the Washington Redskins last season (finishing the season ranked 19th out of 39 qualifying left guards in PFF grade), Flowers has simply not shown anything that would warrant him getting paid like a top-10 guard in the NFL.
Cleveland Browns agree to terms with TE Austin Hooper
Former Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper is headed to the Browns, per multiple NFL Media reporters.
Hooper has developed into a solid receiving option, but he’s more of a dependable, complementary piece rather than a mismatch creator. Since 2016, Hooper has gained 75.5% of his receiving production on targets defined as holes in zones or underneath the defense (think drag routes, flat routes) — by far the highest percentage in the league. Add to it that Hooper has just a 58.9 receiving grade against single coverage since 2016, and it’s clear that his production has largely been a product of the situation in Atlanta. All that said, Hooper is a mid-tier run blocker who can take advantage of being surrounded by good playmakers on the outside, and he has value as a complementary piece in the passing game.
THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS HAVE TAGGED SAFETY ANTHONY HARRIS
A surprise: the #Vikings have franchise tagged S Anthony Harris, either keeping him in Minnesota or allowing them to trade him. Maybe the top FA safety won’t be free.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 16, 2020
It would be an incredibly smart move for Minnesota to keep Anthony Harris. There hasn't been a better deep safety in the NFL over the last couple of seasons than Harris. He's played 980 coverage snaps in that span and was responsible for only 216 yards; he didn't allow a single touchdown, and he also added 17 combined pass breakups and interceptions. He isn't limited to only free safety, though, as he played over 41% of his snaps either in the box or in the slot in 2019, and he remained a high-level player at those alignments.
The Vikings could have very well done this with the intention of trading him. Given what I just mentioned about his elite play, there wouldn't be a shortage of interest across the league.
New England Patriots tag OL Joe Thuney
This one is a huge surprise – not because Thuney is bad, in fact, he’s one of the best at his position, but rather because this makes improves the odds that Brady isn’t in a New England uniform in 2020 given their cap situation, assuming they don't trade Thuney on the tag.
Over the last three seasons, Thuney has been the fifth most valuable guard in the entire league in regard to PFF WAR. In the last two seasons particularly, Thuney’s pass-blocking has been as good as anyone – his grade in pass-pro each season was second among left guards and his pressure rate was fifth among all guards. Of the 59 guards to register at least 250 true pass sets since 2018, Thuney is the only one to not allow a single sack.
THE ARIZONA CARDINALS HAVE PLACED THE TRANSITION TAG ON KENYAN DRAKE
Cardinals placing Transition Tag on Kenyan Drake, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 16, 2020
Kenyan Drake has been an up-and-down performer as a runner over the last three years, posting rushing grade ranks of fourth, 33rd and 20th. He has been one of the more elusive backs in that stretch by ranking fourth in broken tackles per attempt and fifth in yards after contact per attempt. The best thing Drake brings to the table is his receiving ability and it’s vital whoever picks him up uses that to their advantage like the Arizona Cardinals did. From Week 9 and on with the Cardinals, Drake recorded a 76.3 receiving grade, which ranked among the 10 best at the position and averaged 9.3 yards after catch per reception on his 34 targets.
Tennessee Titans tag running back Derrick Henry
Titans placed franchise tag on RB Derrick Henry, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 16, 2020
Henry is an absolute tank and difficult to bring down — he owns the most broken tackles (71), yards after contact per attempt average (4.16) and runs of 10-plus yards (52 — 13 more than any other running back). However, he has seen 85 more carries than any other back and has benefited from having the sixth best offensive line run-blocking for him. The most important part of running back performance is how the player fares in the receiving game, an area that Henry has been poor in. He saw only 28 targets this year and dropped three while producing just one yard per route run, which ranks 37th of 48 qualifying running backs.
Considering the lack of positional value and having to put up over $10 million in capital for a running back that takes cap space away from positions that matter more, this is not a good move.
Minnesota Vikings agree to a two-year extension with Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins is the GOAT when it comes to maximizing his contract values in the NFL. He and the Minnesota Vikings agreed to a two-year contract extension, giving him a chance to hit the open market again when he is just 34 years old. Cousins is coming off a career year for the Vikings where his overall PFF grade of 84.1 was the highest in his career by almost four grading points.
Green Bay Packers agree to terms with right tackle Rick Wagner
Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Packers have agreed to terms with former Detroit Lions right tackle Rick Wagner.
Prior to 2019, Rick Wagner was routinely an above-average right tackle in the NFL. In four of the five seasons from 2014 to 2018, Wagner ranked among the 15 best right tackles in PFF grade with three being in the top 10. Though, as hinted at, things went south for Wagner in 2019 as he failed to crack the 25th percentile among right tackles in grade, leading to his release as he was owed over $9 million for next year if on the team. Assuming the asking price is a lot lower than that, the 30-year-old tackle is a solid option.
Dallas Cowboys assign exclusive franchise tag to Dak Prescott
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Cowboys have placed the exclusive franchise tag on Prescott.
Prescott's contract status was one of the biggest questions of the offseason, and he paired with new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore to produce his most efficient season as a passer and one of the league's best passing attacks. He finished with the No. 11 overall grade in the league at 80.3, his best mark since his rookie season, and Prescott ranked sixth in the league in positively graded throws. It's not hindsight to ask if the increase in production should be attributed more to Prescott or Moore, as it's a question I posed at the start of the season. Given Prescott's PFF rankings of eighth, 18th, 19th, and now 11th, it's fair to place him in the middle tier of NFL quarterbacks who can have valuable seasons in the right ecosystem (playmakers, play calling, and some luck). That's exactly where Prescott landed this season and with a strong supporting cast, Prescott is capable of leading a high-end offense.
Falcons plan to release veteran running back Devonta Freeman
Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Falcons releasing veteran running back Devonta Freeman. The move will save the team more than $3 million against the salary cap.
Freeman produced the worst PFF grade among running backs in 2019 while on the fifth-largest contract. Freeman was just 29th in WAR this past year while playing the 10th most snaps among running backs. In simplest terms, he got more opportunities to produce a higher amount and failed to match.
Green Bay Packers sign Christian Kirksey to two-year, $16 million deal
Per Mike Garafolo of NFL Media, the Packers are signing former Cleveland Browns off-ball linebacker Christian Kirksey to a two-year, $16 million deal.
Kirksey seemed to be a sought after commodity following his release from the Cleveland Browns, but the last time he graded above 65.0 was 2016. The last time Kirksey recorded a coverage grade above 60.0 was in 2015. With coverage being at the forefront of the value that an off-ball linebacker provides in today’s NFL, the interest in Kirksey doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Add in his recent injury history and this doesn’t look like a strong move for Green Bay despite their need at linebacker. The money would have been better spent elsewhere.
Bud Dupree receives franchise tag from Pittsburgh Steelers
Bud Dupree was one of the many who came through in his contract year, and just like everyone else, he likely earned himself a big payday as a result. Dupree's career-high pass-rush grade was just 61.0 prior to last year, but he posted a 76.3 pass-rush grade in 2019 and racked up the most sacks (13) as well as the most forced fumbles (four) of his career.
However, those two particular stats aren't stable from year to year, and they're certainly not predictive of future performance. What is stable, however, is an edge rusher's pressure and pass-rush win rate, and, unfortunately for those who want to believe that Dupree has turned the corner, he didn't crack the top 40 in either win rate or pressure rate in 2019.
Atlanta Falcons plan to release Desmond Trufant
According to NFL Media's Tom Pelissero, the Falcons plan to release Trufant this week. His release will clear roughly $5 million in cap space and leave another $10 million in dead money on the books.
After earning an 82.5 PFF coverage grade as a rookie, Trufant has yet to eclipse the mark in his seven-year NFL career. He has maintained a PFF coverage grade above 65.0 all seven years but has never ranked among the league’s best at the position in terms of PFF coverage grade. At 28 years old, Trufant still offers high-floor production at outside cornerback, but don’t expect him to develop into one of the league’s most productive cornerbacks with just a change of scenery.
New York Giants tag Leonard Williams
The New York Giants made a pretty surprising trade in the middle of the 2019 season by trading a 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 fifth-round pick to the New York Jets for interior defensive lineman Leonard Williams. After placing the franchise tag on Williams, that 2021 fifth-round pick becomes a fourth-round pick.
Williams has always been an above-average run-defender and pass-rusher. He’s never ranked in the top 10 in pass-rush grade or run-defense grade in any one of his five seasons in the NFL and in the last three seasons specifically he’s cracked the top 25 in both of those facets just one time each. Now, he’ll be paid like an elite interior defensive lineman.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tag edge defender Shaquil Barrett
Shaquil Barrett presents an interesting case, as he went from being one of the league's most underrated edge defenders to perhaps one of the league's most overrated in the space of one, albeit impressive, year. Barrett was a top 25 edge defender in every single season he spent in Denver, and while he maintained that status in 2019, he still only ranked 25th in PFF grade.
As we touched on earlier, sacks and forced fumbles aren't indicative of future performance. And while Barrett may have led the league in sacks with 20, eight of those were either unblocked or a cleanup, and he was just 20th among edge defenders in pass-rush win rate. Make no mistake, Barrett is a very good pass-rusher, he just shouldn't be overvalued because of his lofty sack total from 2019.
Kansas City Chiefs expected to tag star defensive interior Chris Jones
Chris Jones has been one of the league's most impactful players ever since he first stepped foot on the NFL gridiron as a second-round rookie in 2016. Over the last couple of years, there hasn't been a better 3-technique pass-rusher not named Aaron Donald than Chris Jones. Over that stretch, Jones has produced a pass-rush grade, a pass-rush win rate and a pressure rate at 3-tech that trails only Donald over that span.
Devin McCourty re-signs with the New England Patriots
The Patriots have agreed to a two-year contract extension with the soon-to-be 33-year-old veteran safety Devin McCourty ahead of the new league year. He's earned 80.0-plus overall grades in three of the past four seasons and has played at least 1,000 defensive snaps in all 10 years of his NFL career.
McCourty exemplifies what you want in a “safe” safety, as he's rarely out of position in the passing game and is a sure tackler in space with just 71 career misses on 890 tackle attempts. While McCourty has dabbled in multiple roles playing closer to the line of scrimmage or covering tight ends, he's at his best as a deep free safety where he will rarely bust coverages and frequently take advantage of quarterback mistakes when presented.
Bradley Roby re-signs with the Houston Texans
The Texans have agreed to a three-year, $36 million contract extension to retain Roby’s services in 2020 and beyond. In his first year with Houston in 2019, Roby played 249 defensive snaps at slot cornerback and 462 defensive snaps at outside cornerback. He earned a 65.2 PFF coverage grade in the process. He earned a career-high 77.5 PFF coverage grade in 2017 but has earned 70.0-plus PFF coverage grades in just two of his six seasons in the NFL.
Tennessee Titans re-sign quarterback Ryan Tannehill to monster deal
The Titans are officially buying into Tannehill. After earning a career-high 90.2 overall grade in 2019, Tannehill has agreed to a new four-year deal with the Titans worth $118 million. He is due $91 million in total guarantees and $62M in fully guaranteed money.
In one of the biggest outlier seasons in the PFF era, Tannehill finished with the top overall grade during the regular season after taking over as the Titans starter in Week 6. He more than doubled his percentage of positively graded throws on his way to leading the league in that category, a sign that the scheme and supporting cast meshed well with Tannehill in 2019. The question is duplication, as Tannehill had never graded above 80.4 in a season, generally hovering in the high 60s or low 70s (2018 was an outlier as well as he graded at a miserable 45.3).
Indianapolis Colts re-sign Anthony Castonzo to two-year, $33 million extension
The Colts were smart to keep the best unrestricted free agent offensive tackle expected to test the market in house. Per NFL's Tom Pelissero, Indianapolis is signing Castonzo to a two-year, $33 million contract extension. The big man has been one of the better pass-blocking offensive tackles in the NFL over the past two seasons and should turn in similar production as long as he's healthy in 2020 and 2021.
Baltimore Ravens deal fifth-round pick to Jacksonville Jaguars for Calais Campbell
This was an incredibly smart move by the Ravens' front office. Campbell has ranked inside the top-five at his position in PFF grade in each of. the past three seasons. The soon-to-be 34-year-old veteran defensive lineman is more than capable of producing at a high end against the run and offers pocket-push ability as a pass-rusher. Going the extra mile and handing Campbell a two-year, $27 million contract extension is money well spent for Baltimore. The 6-foot-8, 300-pounder can fill in for unrestricted free agent Michael Pierce if he indeed walks this offseason and allows Baltimore to continue to focus on speed and athleticism with the back end of their defense.
Washington Redskins tag Brandon Scherff
Brandon Scherff is the highest-ranked guard on the market, per PFF's Free Agency Rankings Page, so it comes as no surprise to see the Redskins secure his services ahead of the 2020 NFL season. Scherff has battled injury over the last few years, but he is one of the best guards in the league when he's healthy. In his five seasons in the league, Scherff has never ranked lower than 21st among guards in PFF overall grade.
Los Angeles Chargers tag Hunter Henry
It’s unclear whether or not Hunter Henry wanted to be tagged, but it’s a good move on the Los Angeles Chargers’ part considering Henry was getting close to elite status prior to his injuries the last couple of seasons.
In his first two seasons — 2016 and 2017 — Henry produced a receiving grade that trailed only Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski. He missed the entire regular season in 2018 and missed a handful of weeks at the start of 2019, but he still managed to overcome that to rank 14th in receiving grade while generating a seventh-ranked 117.6 passer rating when targeted. It’s a low-risk, high-reward transaction for the rebuilding Chargers.
Denver Broncos tag Justin Simmons
It's understandable why the Broncos don't want to part ways with Justin Simmons after just one year in Vic Fangio's defense. In 2018, Simmons ranked 85th among 91 qualifying safeties in PFF coverage grade, but in 2019, Fangio's first year at the helm, Simmons earned the second-best coverage grade among safeties and was most valuable safety in the NFL, per PFF WAR. He went from allowing the same number of touchdowns as interceptions plus pass breakups (four) in 2018 to not allowing a single touchdown while gathering 15 interceptions plus pass breakups in 2019.
Jacksonville Jaguars tag Yannick Ngakoue
Yannick Ngakoue has already flat-out said that he is not going to be in a Jaguar uniform Week 1, so it's likely that Jacksonville did this just so they can get assets back in a trade, which is a smart move on their end.
Ngakoue has been a fairly solid pass-rusher throughout his career with the Jaguars, and he has ranked among the top 20 edge defenders in PFF pass-rush grade in each of the last three seasons. However, the team that does trade for Ngakoue is going to have to pay a good chunk of change. He’s projected to receive around $19.5 million per year, which would make him one of the five highest-paid edge defenders in the NFL — that’s a pretty steep price for a non-elite pass-rusher who is a below-average tackler and run-defender.
Baltimore Ravens tag Matt Judon
Matthew Judon receives the first tag of the 2020 offseason, and it’s up in the air whether or not he’ll be a Raven Week 1 or if he will be traded to another team. Considering his past play and projected contact of $13.5 million per year over four years — with $22 million guaranteed — it’s hard to imagine another team willing to cough up the assets for him.
Judon has never been great in any one facet of play, but he has developed into a solid yet unspectacular pass-rusher over the last couple of years. He's produced a two-year pass-rush grade that ranks among the 25 best at his position along with a pressure rate that rings in at 11th. However, no edge rusher had more unblocked pressures in that stretch than Judon, meaning that his pressure totals are somewhat deceiving. In fact, he actually ranks only 45th in pass-rush win rate since 2018.