The start of the new NFL season is underway, meaning extensions and deals with unrestricted free agents are coming in fast.
The PFF Free Agency Live Deal Grader will break down all the news using PFF’s play-by-play grading system along with team situations and contract details, and we'll assign each deal one of six grades: Elite, Very Good, Above Average, Average, Below Average or Poor. Those ratings will be updated throughout the week as additional news comes in.
EDGE J.J. Watt: Two years, $28 million deal ($23 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
The Cardinals came out of nowhere to sign Watt, but it’s not difficult to see why they coveted him. Watt isn't the peerless force of his early-career days, but he is still very much one of the best defensive linemen in the league.
His 0.50 PFF wins above replacement in 2020 ranked third among all edge defenders, behind only Khalil Mack and T.J. Watt. Whether J.J. Watt lines up between the tackles or outside of them, there is every reason to expect him to cause disruption in a defensive front that also features Chandler Jones.
This deal makes him just the 10th-highest-paid interior defensive lineman, and he ranks even further down the list among edge defender contracts. It’s certainly not an overpay on Arizona's part.
EDGE Markus Golden: Two years, $5 million ($2.5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Following a brief stint with the New York Giants, Golden returned to Arizona via trade during the 2020 season and enjoyed a successful campaign. He picked up a 77.6 pass-rushing grade with an impressive 17.4% pressure rate in his nine games with the team. He now has consecutive seasons with at least 50 quarterback pressures, giving Arizona yet another legitimate pass-rushing option outside.
The Cardinals clearly made it a goal coming into the offseason to prioritize adding help for Chandler Jones off the edge. With J.J. Watt the first big domino to fall this offseason, the Cardinals now retain Golden, who was acquired for a sixth-round pick at the trade deadline. He’s much better suited as the third option in Arizona, with two potential future Hall of Famers commanding opposing offense linemen’s attention.
This deal shouldn’t preclude further moves necessarily, but with cornerback Patrick Peterson potentially on the way out of Arizona, the Cardinals now need to shift their attention to improving their secondary.
T Kelvin Beachum: Two years, $4 million ($2.1 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
Beachum has gone into each of the past seven seasons as a starting tackle, making stops in Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, New York and Arizona. He has proven consistent. Beachum’s lowest pass-blocking grade over that stretch was 72.7.
On the other hand, he hasn’t recorded a run-blocking grade higher than 60.0 since 2015. Of course, you would like to have the total package, but you simply aren’t going to find many tackles with Beachum’s experience and reliability in pass protection for this kind of price.
Beachum signed for the veteran minimum for the 2020 season and arguably provided the best value above his contract of any veteran player on the season. He spent time at both bookend spots, earning a 76.8 pass-blocking grade, and didn’t miss a single offensive snap on the season.
If left tackle D.J. Humphries were to miss time at any point going forward, Arizona should be comfortable sliding Beachum over to left tackle in a pinch. This is a really strong signing to keep Kyler Murray clean for the foreseeable future at a bargain price.
WR A.J. Green: One year, $6 million (Up to $8.5 million)
Grade: Below Average
The 32-year-old who took the field last season for Cincinnati was not the same player who dominated for much of the past decade. It quickly became clear in Green's return from a missed 2019 season that he couldn’t create separation as easily as before, meaning he would have to win at the catch point.
No stat encapsulates that more than 40.6% of Green’s targets in 2020 being contested — nearly five percentage points higher than any other receiver with at least 50 targets. Green brought in a respectable 19 of his 41 contested targets, and that’s how he will have to win in Arizona. All said, Green’s 66.3 PFF grade this past season was his first time with a sub-80.0 mark since his rookie season in 2011 (72.0).
The Cardinals needed to bring in another reliable threat at wide receiver to pair with DeAndre Hopkins, and Green figures to be their man for that job. Christian Kirk, KeeSean Johnson and Andy Isabella, all younger receivers, each have shown little to suggest they were capable of filling in as a quality WR2. To be fair, this version of Green probably doesn’t fit that bill, either.
The hope for the Cardinals will be that Green has a more triumphant showing in his second year back and inches closer to the player who earned an 85.2 grade before going down with injury in 2018. There were just more exciting options for Arizona to spend $6 million dollars on to improve the wide receiver position.
RB Mike Davis: Two years, $5.5 million ($3 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Davis was able to turn his success as a starter in Carolina last season for the injured Christian McCaffrey into a multi-year contract and a starting job in Atlanta. He deserves it after how he played in 2020. Davis' 580 offensive snaps and 75.1 PFF grade were both career-highs, and he showed himself to be one of the more elusive backs in the NFL as both a runner and receiver. He forced 43 missed tackles as a runner on just 165 carries, which was good for the second-best rate in the NFL — behind only Nick Chubb. He also led all players, regardless of position, in missed tackles forced as a receiver (22).
There may have been no better landing spot than Atlanta when it comes to opportunity. With Todd Gurley II and Brian Hill both being free agents, the remaining depth at running back for Atlanta included Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison and Tony Brooks-James. Davis projects as the starter in that group, meaning he’ll get the first shot at being the lead back in Arthur Smith’s offense that leaned so heavily on Derrick Henry in Tennessee. The average per year figure coming in under $3 million stands out as strong value for Atlanta.
G Kevin Zeitler: Three years, $22.5 million ($16 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
Zeitler instantly became one of the best guards on the market when he was released earlier this month by the Giants. He’s coming off a down season by his standards with New York in 2020, but his 65.9 overall grade was still the top mark of any member of that offensive line.
Zeitler has consistently been one of the best pass-protecting interior offensive linemen in the league, posting 75.0-plus pass-blocking grades in all but two seasons of his nine-year career. He figures to help solidify the right side of the Ravens' offensive line, which could be in flux with Orlando Brown Jr.’s trade request.
Zeitler was set to make $12.5 million in 2020 with the Giants, so this new deal qualifies as a sizable pay cut and good value for the Ravens. The average of $7.5 million per year slots him in below the top tier of guards across the NFL.
EDGE Tyus Bowser: Four years, $22 million ($12 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Bowser has gradually increased his role in Baltimore’s defense over the past two seasons up to 540 defensive snaps in 2020, rotating on the edge with Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue and Pernell McPhee. He has developed into a versatile option capable of holding up against the run, rushing the passer and dropping into coverage in Baltimore’s blitz-heavy scheme. Bowser earned PFF grades above 70.0 in 2019 and 2020.
The Ravens are in line to receive fourth-round compensatory picks for both Judon and Ngakoue following their signings with the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders, respectively. Now, the team retains Bowser at a lower number. No franchise has taken better advantage of the compensatory pick system since it was installed in 1994, with 53 compensatory draft picks earned — six more than the second-place Cowboys.
DI Derek Wolfe: Three years, $12 million ($8.5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
After spending the first eight years of his career as a consistent presence along the Broncos’ defensive line, Wolfe didn't skip a beat with the Ravens in 2020. He made little impact as a pass rusher, with just 11 pressures on 365 pass-rushing snaps, but that’s not what Baltimore brought him in to do. Wolfe is a run-stuffer, and he finished last season with an 82.8 run-defense grade (fifth at the position).
He has been one of the league’s better interior run defenders for the better part of a decade, dating back to his time with the Denver Broncos, where he put up the best season of his career during their 2015 Super Bowl campaign. He finished the 2015 regular season with a career-high 81.5 overall grade and followed that up with an 89.1 grade during the postseason, where he recorded at least one sack in each game on 20 total pressures.
A model of consistency at a grueling position, Wolfe has played at least 450 snaps for nine consecutive seasons, with no signs of slowing down now in his 30s. He logged over 600 snaps in a crowded defensive front in his first year as a Raven. Wolfe, Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell are primed to once again form a formidable trio along Baltimore's interior.
T Daryl Williams: Three years, $24 million ($13.8 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
Williams doesn’t have an extensive track record of success, but he has been a quality starting option at right tackle in each of his past two full seasons at the position. He ranked third among all qualifying right tackles in PFF grade back in 2017. That season was followed up by an early injury in the 2018 season and a down year across time at four different positions along the offensive line in 2019. Those two campaigns opened the door for the Bills to take a chance on him with a cheap, one-year deal last offseason. The result was a career-high 79.2 PFF grade from Williams as the team’s starting right tackle in 2020.
LB Matt Milano: Four years, $41.5 million ($23.5 million guaranteed)
The Bills will keep their linebacker duo of Tremaine Edmunds and Milano in place for at least one more season with this extension. Buffalo covets Milano for clear reasons. He’s developed into one of the better coverage linebackers in the NFL, ranking 11th among all qualifiers at the position in coverage grade over the past three seasons.
The question moving forward will be what this means for Edmunds as he nears the end of his rookie deal. The Bills will have to decide whether to pick up his fifth-year option in the coming months, one that would pay him over $12 million in 2022. Few teams have two off-ball linebackers under contract for $10 million-plus per year.
G Jon Feliciano: Three years, $14.4 million ($4.4 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
Sean McDermott and company have talked about their desire to run the football more effectively in 2021 following their postseason exit this past season. Re-signing Feliciano — the offensive line’s highest-graded run blocker in 2020 — is one way to work toward that goal.
On the other hand, Feliciano did struggle in pass protection, posting just a 46.4 pass-blocking grade in his second season as a full-time starter. He projects as a reasonable starting option at guard, but not necessarily one who can’t be upgraded over after earning sub-65.0 PFF grades in each of the past two seasons as a starter. Feliciano ranks 18th among qualifying right guards in PFF grade since 2019.
With a wave of cuts at the guard position across the NFL, retaining Feliciano at this price may not have been completely necessary for Buffalo. Nevertheless, the team-friendly value of right tackle Daryl Williams’ recent extension makes it more palatable if assessing the offensive line investments holistically.
WR Emmanuel Sanders: One year, $6 million (TBD guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
On the eve of his 34th birthday, Sanders agreed to a one-year deal to join his fifth NFL team. He will step in for the released John Brown to join a strong receiving corps that already has Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis in place.
Sanders may be on the downswing of his career, but he can still certainly provide value in a complementary role. He posted 726 receiving yards and five touchdowns to go along with a 74.4 PFF grade in 2020 with the Saints despite missing some time. He has now recorded an overall grade of at least 68.0 in all 11 of his NFL seasons.
Sanders gets to join a team with championship aspirations, while Buffalo adds another proven, veteran threat who gives their receiving corps some insurance in the case of injury. It’s a deal that makes sense for both sides.
QB Mitchell Trubisky: One year, $2.5 million
Grade: Above Average
Trubisky was one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL over his four-year stint in Chicago. His 66.0 PFF grade from 2017 through 2020 ranked 31st among 32 qualifying quarterbacks across the league. Clearly, the Bills didn’t bring him in to be a starting quarterback, though. Perhaps there would have been more of a competition brewing between Trubisky and Josh Allen had this move been made last offseason, but Allen squashed any questions pertaining to his starting status with a breakout 2020 campaign.
As NFL Network's Michael Giardi reported, general manager Brandon Beane views this as a reset for Trubisky. Things didn’t pan out for him in Chicago, but he is a former top-three pick with four years of starting experience, and he profiles as one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league.
Buffalo can take some solace in being able to put a four-year starter out there with some mobility should Allen go down with an injury for a stretch. The $2.5 million spent for Trubisky to step into that role is certainly reasonable when looking at other similar contracts across the league.
G Pat Elflein: Three years, $13.5 million ($6 million guaranteed)
Things started out well enough for Elflein as a rookie with the Minnesota Vikings back in 2017, but it’s been downhill since then. The former Ohio State Buckeye has been a revolving door in pass protection, failing to clear a 50.0 pass-blocking grade in any of the past three seasons. He is one of just three guards in the league allowing a pressure rate above 8.0% on at least 500 pass-blocking snaps since 2018. It’s difficult to project a major turnaround in 2021.
The Vikings were comfortable waiving Elflein during the 2020 season despite their guards combining for the worst pass-blocking grade in the NFL — a dreadful 37.2 mark across the roster. Carolina apparently values his ability to play multiple positions on the interior, but it’s fair to wonder if Minnesota kept moving him around just to see if he could play anywhere, not because he was solid at several spots.
T Cam Erving: Two years, $10 million ($8 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
The Panthers needed to add depth to their offensive line given the uncertainty throughout the unit heading into this offseason. Erving certainly provides plenty of experience both as a starter and as a reserve, with over 3,000 career offensive snaps to his name since being drafted in the first round back in 2015.
The problem is that Erving's experience has never come in the form of quality play. A 2020 season in which he started just five games for the Dallas Cowboys before going down with injury represented the best year of his career from a grading standpoint (58.0 overall grade). It was the first time in his NFL career with a PFF grade above 50.0, but it still would have ranked just 36th among qualifying left tackles had he played enough snaps to qualify. Even as a swing tackle, he’s not someone who Carolina should have much confidence in stepping into a starting role should an injury pop up.
With Russell Okung set to hit free agency, it makes sense that the Panthers would want to solidify the tackle position, but they shouldn’t have much faith in Erving providing more than mid-level depth. The signing in a vacuum is fine, but with a handful of superior tackles recently released — Eric Fisher and Riley Reiff among them — you have to wonder if it would have been wise for Carolina to let the market play out a bit before working out a deal with a player who would most likely still be available in the second or even third wave of free agency.
LB Denzel Perryman: Two years, $6 million ($2.9 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Perryman isn’t the flashiest name, but he’s a decent piece to add to this linebacking corps that unsuccessfully tried to replace Luke Kuechly with Tahir Whitehead in 2020. Perryman has played between 250 and 500 defensive snaps in all six of his NFL seasons. He’s not an every-down player, but he is coming off a career-best 83.3 PFF grade in 2020 that included an 86.3 run-defense grade and a career-high 74.1 grade in coverage. He projects more as an early-down, downhill run stuffer than a guy who will provide real value in coverage.
EDGE Haason Reddick: One year, $6 million (Up to $8 million)
Grade: Above Average
Reddick transitioned from a primary off-ball linebacker across the first three years of his career to a full-time edge defender in 2020. With that switch came a career year for the Temple product. His 82.6 pass-rushing grade and 56 quarterback pressures were both career-highs. In fact, those 56 pressures nearly matched his 57 career pressures coming into the 2020 season. He seemingly found his niche defensively.
The Cardinals’ addition of J.J. Watt and retention of Markus Golden signaled Reddick’s time in Arizona was likely over. Now, he joins his college coach Matt Rhule in Carolina to join forces with young pass rushers Brian Burns and Yetur Gross-Matos on the edge.
Reddick may have struggled to find a big-money, long-term deal this offseason given just how big of a leap he took late in the 2020 season. This one-year contract in Carolina allows him to bet on himself in his second season as a full-time edge rusher and re-enter free agency in 2022. For Carolina, it’s a solid mid-priced addition to an edge defender group that could use a little more depth in the hopes that Reddick’s 2020 season wasn’t a flash in the pan.
DI Morgan Fox: Two years, $8.1 million ($7 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
Fox played at least 350 defensive snaps in each of the past three seasons for the Rams after entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2016. He hasn’t been overly impressive from a grading standpoint, though. Discounting a rookie season in which he played only 75 defensive snaps, his career-high in overall grade came at just 58.7 this past season. Run defense has been an issue, with Fox posting grades in the 40s each of the past two years.
There's a silver lining for Panthers fans, though: 2020 was Fox’s best season as a pass rusher. Not only did he post a career-high six sacks, but he also saw highs in total quarterback pressures (25) and pass-rushing grade (68.3). That pressure count doesn’t include the eight that he racked up in two postseason games, either. Carolina will hope he continues to grow in that department, subsequently providing the team another capable pass rusher up front. Both Fox and earlier addition Haason Reddick came over to Carolina from base 3-4 defenses.
WR David Moore: Two years, $4.75 million ($1.25 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Moore is coming off three solid yet unspectacular seasons for the Seattle Seahawks, picking up PFF grades between 64.5 and 67.4 in each of the past three years. His campaigns haven't been devoid of spectacular moments, though. Moore was on the receiving end of several highlight-reel throws from Russell Wilson. The fourth-year wideout took on a different role in the offense this past season. His 9.5-yard average depth of target marked a steep drop from average depths of target of at least 15 yards in both 2018 and 2019.
He’ll transition from one WR3 role to another, stepping in behind D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson. It’s a longshot that he’ll be able to fully replace what Curtis Samuel provided the team in 2020, but Moore is also significantly cheaper. Getting a player of his caliber on this contract is good work by Carolina as it continues to fill out its roster for head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady.
DI Mario Edwards Jr.: Three years, $11.6 million (TBD guaranteed)
The Bears will be without Edwards for the first two weeks of the 2021 season as he finishes the remainder of his PED suspension, but the team ensured he will remain in Chicago for the foreseeable future with this three-year extension.
He has been a rotational piece along the defensive line at each of his four NFL stops and is coming off a career year this past season with the Bears. Edwards’ 90.1 PFF grade on just 278 defensive snaps marked the first time he cleared a 70.0 overall grade since his rookie 2015 season.
This deal may signal a departure for pending free agent interior defender Roy Robertson-Harris, a converted outside linebacker who has improved each season after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2016.
QB Andy Dalton: One year, $10 million ($7 million guaranteed)
With Russell Wilson rumors swirling, a signing like this was always going to feel like a letdown. However, Dalton does project as an upgrade over Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles. Dalton struggled out of the gate as Dak Prescott’s replacement, but he provided solid play later in the season after returning from his concussion. From Week 11 through the end of the regular season, Dalton’s 75.3 PFF grade ranked 16th among 32 qualifying quarterbacks across the league. He had a strong receiving corps to work with, but the Cowboys were without both starting tackles and All-pro guard Zack Martin for nearly that entire stretch.
This is still far from an exciting move. It’s hard to see Dalton being much more than a middling option on an offense that isn’t loaded with talent, especially with Allen Robinson II showing zero interest in signing his franchise tag any time soon.
With Seattle reportedly rebuffing a Wilson trade offer, the Bears were running out of feasible free agent options after Prescott, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick all inked deals. Any of those players on the contracts they signed would have likely a better option than Dalton on this deal. Add in that the Bears were unlikely to land a starting-caliber quarterback with their first-round selection, and you have a franchise with its back firmly against the wall.
This move represents general manager Ryan Pace trying to stay afloat. Dalton should be able to help the Bears do that, but he offers little hope of a high-end outcome. Chicago looks destined for another middle-of-the-pack season in 2021.
G Germain Ifedi: One year, $4.25 million ($2.25 million guaranteed)
The Seahawks selected Ifedi in the first round in 2016, and he never managed to live up to that hype, whether at his college position of right tackle or when he was kicked inside to play guard. After four straight season grades in the 50.0s, Seattle let him walk. There was a meager market for his services, with Chicago eventually bringing him in for the veteran minimum.
Ifedi was moved full-time to right guard and showed signs of improvement, with a 64.8 grade through Week 10. Bears right tackle Bobby Massie was lost to injury and Ifedi was moved back outside to tackle, but he held his own down the final stretch of the season, allowing just six total pressures on 242 pass-blocking snaps.
He’s probably not a player you want starting at either spot if it can be avoided, but there’s certainly value in a lineman who can provide at least above-replacement-level play at both spots. There’s also inherent value in durability along the offensive line, and Ifedi has logged at least 926 snaps in each of his five NFL seasons, topping 1,000 in four straight.
Sometimes, the lightbulb turns on later for offensive linemen, but Ifedi just doesn’t seem to have the requisite athleticism for the NFL level. He’s a superior player in pass protection because he doesn’t have much ability in space getting to the second level in the run game. Regardless, any team would probably take a player who has graded out at 63.3 or better in pass protection on 1,000-plus snaps four seasons in a row for less than $5 million.
EDGE Trey Hendrickson: Four years, $60 million (TBD guaranteed)
Hendrickson made himself a lot of money with his play this past season in New Orleans. The fourth-year edge defender out of Florida Atlantic set career-highs in pass-rushing grade (77.0), sacks (13.5), quarterback hits (11) and quarterback hurries (25) in the first season of his career with over 500 defensive snaps in a starting role.
Hendrickson’s first three years in the league certainly don’t qualify as reasons for the Bengals to sign him to this kind of deal, but his 2020 performance caught their attention. Hendrickson also brings multiple seasons with 90.0 pass-rushing grades at the collegiate level and strong athletic testing after declaring. The hope for Cincinnati is that he continues to improve after laying that foundation.
Cincinnati would have likely been better off working to retain Lawson, who signed a similar three-year, $45 million deal with the Jets. Lawson graded out as the better player in 2020 and has finished as the better pass rusher by far over the past four seasons.
CB Chidobe Awuzie: Three years, $21.75 million ($7.5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Awuzie played in just two games during the 2020 season before landing on injured reserve with a hamstring injury that cost him seven games. He struggled upon his return and ended the year with just a 52.0 coverage grade. That 2020 season looks like an outlier more than anything, though. Awuzie provided solid play across his first three years in the league, producing a 75.0 coverage grade (40th among qualifying cornerbacks) and a 14.3% forced incompletion rate (19th) from 2017 to 2019. He projects as an average to above-average starter outside in a zone-heavy scheme.
With Trae Waynes set to return from injury as the CB1 on the outside, the recently signed Mike Hilton manning the slot, and PFF’s highest-graded safety in Jessie Bates III patrolling the back end, Cincinnati has completely retooled its secondary into what could be a really solid unit.
Awuzie battled injuries throughout 2020, so the Bengals have to be hoping for better luck for both of their outside guys going forward. The former second-rounder may have benefited long-term from going the one-year flier route, with his 2019 season being much stronger than his 2020, but this is still a nice deal for him that gets him back on the market before he turns 29.
CB Mike Hilton: Four years, $24 million (TBD guaranteed)
The Steelers have lost Bud Dupree, Matt Feiler, Tyson Alualu and now Hilton. This one has some added sting within the division. Hilton stands out as one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league since latching on with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2017. He ranks as a top-30 cornerback overall in wins above replacement (PFF WAR) over the past four years. Slot cornerbacks are starters in today’s NFL, and Hilton is a good one. He’s also one of the best blitzing defensive backs in the league, racking up 43 quarterback pressures since 2017.
Hilton is a promising young player who just turned 27 despite being in the league since 2016, and this deal is a phenomenal value for him at a position that had been completely devalued in recent years. Prominent slot cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander and Nickell Robey-Coleman, among others, all signed one-year contracts for $4 million or less last offseason with a far healthier salary cap situation league-wide. Yet, Hilton was able to land a multi-year deal at a $6 million per year price point.
S Brandon Wilson: Two years, $4.125 million ($1.125 million guaranteed)
Wilson has managed to stick around in Cincinnati with a series of one-year deals after getting drafted in the sixth round in 2017 but ultimately being released and brought back for a minimum contract before his rookie season. Cincinnati has revamped its cornerback room but keeps a depth safety in the fold.
Wilson hasn’t played much thus far in his career on defense, but he also serves as the Bengals' kickoff returner. He had four returns go for over 40 yards in 2020, including a 103-yard touchdown in Week 12 against the Giants.
DI Larry Ogunjobi: One year, $6.2 million
Ogunjobi had an extremely promising rookie campaign but hasn’t been able to replicate his performance since. The run-stuffing nose tackle put up a 78.4 overall grade and an 83.8 run-defense grade out of the gate. However, Ogunjobi logged only 300 snaps in 2017, and an increase in playtime was followed by a massive decrease in quality of play.
See at least 747 snaps in each of the past three seasons, Ogunjobi’s grades have fallen to 60.6, 56.0 and, most recently, a pedestrian 51.4 in his contract year. Working alongside Myles Garrett, Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon on the defensive line, Ogunjobi had an opportunity to hit free agency coming off a strong campaign, but the opposite was true.
Cincinnati made a big splash in the 2020 offseason, signing former Texans interior defender D.J. Reader to a deal that made him the highest-paid nose tackle at the time. Perhaps Ogunjobi goes back to a bit more of a reserve role, keying against the run on early downs and improving his per-snap efficiency to get back to the heights of his rookie season.
S John Johnson III: Three years, $33.8 million ($24 million guaranteed)
Johnson entered free agency as one of several talented, young players in a deep free agent class. Franchise tags to Justin Simmons, Marcus Williams and Marcus Maye quickly thinned that group, leaving Johnson as a top target for teams eyeing reinforcements at the position.
There is a lot to like about what he brings to the table. An injury-plagued 2019 season lowered his stock a bit heading into this past year, but Johnson responded with a career-best 85.3 PFF grade in 2020. The 26-year-old now has three seasons with an overall grade above 80.0 in his four NFL seasons. He presents a good fit in Cleveland, but there are few teams where Johnson wouldn’t profile as a strong signing due to his versatility and well-rounded game.
There is plenty of value to be had in the free agent safety market. Three of the most valuable defenders in the NFL in 2020 by PFF WAR (including Johnson at No. 5) were safeties. Despite that, a top-tier safety is significantly cheaper than an elite pass rusher or an outside cornerback. This contract doesn’t even come all that close to testing the top of the safety market. Cleveland cashed in on one of the better value signings of the day so far.
EDGE Takkarist McKinley: One year, $4.25 million (Up to $6 million; $3.5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Things never worked out for McKinley in Atlanta after the team selected him in the first round back in 2017. He did earn pass-rushing grades above 65.0 in each of his first three seasons with the Falcons, but it’s a figure that has been trending in the wrong direction since his career-high 70.1 pass-rushing grade as a rookie in 2017. It’s not as if McKinley has shown next to nothing throughout his career, though. At worst, he’s a solid No. 3 option to rotate in on the edge with some upside to improve in a new situation.
A one-year agreement at this modest price carries little risk for Cleveland compared to some of the other big-money deals that have been thrown around for edge defenders in recent days. It’s the second notable move that the Browns have made to improve their defense as they look to contend in the AFC again in 2021.
WR Rashard Higgins: One year, $2.4 million ($2.4 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
Higgins’ career in Cleveland has been up and down. The Browns’ offense really struggled during his first two NFL seasons, with a collection of DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, Josh McCown, Robert Griffin III and Kevin Hogan at quarterback. Higgins jumped to a career-high 68.1 PFF grade in 2018 when Baker Mayfield took over, but injuries halted that potential progression the following year. That brings us to the 2020 season. Last year, Higgins posted career-highs in receiving yards per route run (2.04) and overall grade (73.4).
He finds ways to get open and looks to be a strong No. 3 option in the passing game at worst. Bringing him back for $2.4 million in 2021 qualifies as great value for Cleveland. That’s in line with what players such as Cedrick Wilson Jr., John Ross and Justin Hardee are making on a per-year basis. He’ll join forces once again with Jarvis Landry and a returning Odell Beckham Jr. to give Cleveland a strong receiving corps as the team looks to build on its momentum from last season.
CB Troy Hill: Two years, $9 million ($4.5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Hill becomes the second member of the 2020 Rams’ secondary to take his talents to Cleveland in what is beginning to become a deep and versatile unit. The sixth-year man out of Oregon is coming off the largest role in his NFL career with Los Angeles this past season, more than doubling his previous career-high in snaps played (1,107). Hill earned a solid 71.9 coverage grade in that time on the field across 350-plus snaps from each of in the slot and out wide. That performance isn’t out of line from what he had shown previously in smaller roles.
The $6 million average annual value is roughly in line with PFF’s projection for Hill and is also in line with the deal the Bengals recently gave to Mike Hilton. Cleveland could use Hill in the slot next season with Denzel Ward outside and Greedy Williams returning from injury. His and Johnson’s ability to wear multiple hats in the secondary should benefit the defense.
DI Malik Jackson: One year, $4.5 million
It's been several years since the peak of Jackson's career. After grading out at 75.0 or higher in every season from 2014 to 2017, he has maxed out at 64.7 (2020) over the past three seasons. The nine-year vet still showed he could get after the quarterback this past season, generating an 11.3% pressure rate and a 72.1 pass-rushing grade, but his run defense has taken a hit in recent years.
Jackson joins a Browns defensive line that also added Takkarist McKinley on a similar one-year deal earlier this offseason. Rather than going out and spending big money along the defensive line, Cleveland is opting to take one-year fliers to try to find somebody who can help take pressure off Myles Garrett up front.
It’s hard to see Jackson suddenly rediscovering his form from the loaded 2017 Jaguars’ defense. That doesn’t make this a bad acquisition at this price point, though. He's a defensive lineman who is two years removed from four straight seasons with at least 50 quarterback pressures.
QB Dak Prescott: Four years, $160 million ($126 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
This is a tremendous deal for Prescott. However, it’s also a win for Dallas to finally lock up its franchise quarterback to a multi-year extension. Prescott led one of the most efficient offenses in the NFL back in 2019, and he was on pace for an even better season in 2020 prior to his season-ending injury. His 85.2 PFF grade through the first five weeks of the season ranked seventh among 32 qualifying quarterbacks.
You can make the argument that this is an overpay for a quarterback who hasn’t yet joined the elite tier of NFL passers, but that is the nature of quarterback contracts. The Cowboys have the necessary talent on offense (when healthy) to be legitimate contenders in the NFC, but that’s only true with Prescott in the fold. Now, they know he will be for at least the next several seasons, barring unforeseen circumstances.
CB Jourdan Lewis: Three years, $13.5 million ($7.75 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
Lewis has recorded three seasons of solid play, but his poor 2020 campaign gives some pause. On a career-high 817 defensive snaps last season, Lewis earned just a 48.1 PFF grade — over 20 points worse than his prior career-low, a 68.7 mark in 2019. The down year stemmed from a combination of penalties (career-high eight in 2020) and a lack of plays on the ball, with just two forced incompletions on 77 targets.
The entire Cowboys’ defense struggled last season, so it could merely be an example of a down year within a struggling unit. However, even at his best, Lewis was little more than solid. Teams have typically been able to unearth value in the slot cornerback market, but this contract came in higher than expected. If Lewis is to remain in the slot, Dallas will still need to look to add another option outside to pair with Trevon Diggs.
T Ty Nsekhe: One year, $1.75 million ($500,000 guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
Now at 35 years old, Nsekhe has been an incredibly valuable swing tackle at both of his most recent stops in Washington and Buffalo. He’s played admirably when called upon, grading at 65.2 on 399 snaps in 2019 and 67.8 on 403 snaps in 2018. Perhaps most importantly for the NFL’s second $40 million per year man, Dak Prescott, Nsekhe’s pass blocking grades were 76.4 and 71.1 in those two seasons.
Considering both Cowboys starting tackles — Tyron Smith and La’el Collins — missed significant time in 2020, this seemingly minor move should not be written off as inconsequential. If either player were to miss time again in 2021, the offensive line will hold up much better in their absence.
S Keanu Neal: One year, $5 million
Grade: Above Average
Injuries have dominated Neal’s career after a strong start across his first two years in the league (2016 and 2017). The former Florida safety went on to play just over 200 total snaps combined in 2018 and 2019. Neal did return to the field for Atlanta this past season, and he was one of the more reliable presences in a struggling Falcons secondary.
Neal’s 68.2 PFF grade on the year ranked 33rd among 94 qualifiers at the safety position. However, that overall grade jumped to 77.0 when he lined up in the box. Per a report from Josina Anderson, Neal may be playing around the line of scrimmage more often with Dallas in 2021. Anderson indicated that Neal was deciding between playing weakside linebacker for the Cowboys or the Jets — not his typical strong safety position.
Neal opted to reunite with former head coach and current Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. It will be interesting to see what this move means for Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch moving forward. It gives the Dallas defense a little bit more flexibility heading into 2021 and comes at good value for the team.
DI Shelby Harris: Three years, $27 million ($15 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
Harris was a top-50 player in PFF’s free agent rankings before teams placed franchise tags or signed free agents. Since stepping into a larger role with Denver in 2017, he has earned four consecutive PFF grades of 75.0 or higher. He ranks 10th among qualifying interior defenders in overall grade during that stretch. Playing in the middle of Vic Fangio’s defense, Harris has been one of the NFL's more underrated defenders.
That makes this contract a strong deal from Denver’s perspective. A $9 million per year salary puts him outside the 20 highest-paid interior defenders in the league despite his play signaling that he should be making that kind of money. With uncertainty surrounding Von Miller’s future in Denver, there is a victory in keeping Harris in place next to Bradley Chubb along Denver’s defensive front.
CB Ronald Darby: Three years, $30 million ($19.5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Darby has graded out at 68.0 or higher in all but one of his six NFL seasons — the lone exception being a disastrous 2019 campaign with Philadelphia. He’s coming off an impressive bounce-back campaign in 2020 with Washington, leading all cornerbacks in pass breakups (15). The biggest concern with Darby is his health after he failed to clear 600 defensive snaps in each of the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons. That could be worrisome, as Denver’s other top cornerback, Bryce Callahan, has injury concerns of his own.
The three-year, $30 million deal is right in line with PFF’s prediction, with just $3 million more in guarantees. It’s a reasonable contract — one the 27-year-old Darby should be able to live up to if he can stay healthy in Vic Fangio’s defense. Denver addresses an area of need prior to the draft, leaving the team more options come April.
RB Mike Boone: Two years, $4.475 million ($2.6 million guaranteed)
Boone has yet to eclipse 82 offensive snaps thus far in his young career, but he has certainly made the most of his limited opportunities. In the two games of his career where he logged 20 snaps, he graded out at 79.5 and 81.8 overall with 77.6 and 83.7 rushing grades. On 30 total carries in those two games, Boone forced five missed tackles and averaged over four yards after contact per attempt, routinely getting to the second level even with defenders in his way.
A reunion with new Broncos general manager George Paton — who was the assistant general manager in Minnesota during Boone’s tenure there — along with the departure of running back Phillip Lindsay, likely signals an increased role for Boone going forward. There’s no guarantee of his efficiency remaining the same with more touches, but Boone has earned the right to find out.
S Justin Simmons: Four years, $61 million ($35 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
Simmons has been one of the best safeties in the NFL over the past two seasons, leading the position in cumulative PFF grade (90.5) and ranking third among all defensive players in PFF WAR generated. After receiving the franchise tag for the 2020 season, Simmons had another great year and was handed a second consecutive tag for $13.729 million.
What separates Simmons from some of the other top ball-hawking free safeties is that he’s a willing and aggressive run defender, excelling down in the box and enabling the Broncos to utilize him and Kareem Jackson all over the field. Simmons’ 86.3 run-defense grade since 2019 is tied for fifth among all safeties, supplementing his No. 1 overall coverage grade over the past two seasons (92.4).
Simmons deserved to reset the safety market, and he now does, with his $15.25 million per year average topping Cardinals safety Budda Baker’s at $14.75 million. His $35 million total guaranteed is also just above Baker’s $33.1 million.
CB Kyle Fuller: One year, $9.5 million
Grade: Very Good
The Bears’ salary cap woes have become Denver’s and Vic Fangio’s gain. Fuller was officially a free agent for less than an hour following his release from Chicago before the Broncos scooped him up on this one-year deal to reunite him with his former defensive coordinator.
Fuller was at his best with Fangio across the 2017 and 2018 seasons. His 84.6 overall grade across those two seasons was a top-15 mark at the position, and he has been one of the league’s better cornerbacks in single coverage throughout his career. His 59.5 passer rating allowed over the past five years in single coverage ranks second among 42 cornerbacks with at least 150 such targets over that span.
Fuller hasn’t been quite as productive in recent years, but he’s still the kind of CB1 who doesn’t typically hit free agency before turning 30 years old. His addition, along with Darby’s, has quickly turned the Broncos' cornerback room from a weakness heading into 2021 into an area where the team should feel somewhat comfortable. At under $10 million, it was a no-brainer to bring Fuller in and give the team more flexibility early in the 2021 NFL Draft.
WR Tyrell Williams: One year, $4 million ($4 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
It was just two years ago when Williams was signing a four-year contract with the Raiders for over $10 million per year, but persistent injuries led to his release this offseason and the opportunity for Detroit to pick him up on a cheap, one-year deal.
Williams has two things that teams covet at the wide receiver position: size and speed. He has translated that into downfield success, averaging over 15 yards per reception in every year of his career. He enjoyed a career year with the Chargers in 2016, racking up over 1,000 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, but he hasn’t met either of those marks since. Williams played in just 14 games across two seasons with the Raiders (66.5 overall grade) over the past two years.
With the Lions letting Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. walk in free agency, they bring in a new go-up-and-get-it guy right away. Williams suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder that knocked him out of the 2020 campaign — the same injury he dealt with in 2017 — but this time chose to get surgery and not risk playing through it. With a full season to rest and recover, this is a good upside bet for Detroit as it overhauls the entire offense under new general manager Brad Holmes.
EDGE Romeo Okwara: Three years, $37 million ($20 million guaranteed)
Okwara was heralded as one of the more underrated free agent edge rushers following a career year in Detroit in 2020. He cleared a 60.0 pass-rushing grade for the first time in his career by a wide margin, ending the campaign with an 84.5 mark. His 61 quarterback pressures were tied with Joey Bosa for the fifth-most of any edge defender in the league.
Detroit is taking the risk that his upward trajectory continues. If it does, this is good value for a young player at a valuable position. However, there is always danger associated with paying a player coming off an outlier season in a contract year.
Okwara’s deal may come in more above our projection than any other this offseason (we had him at three years, $24.75 million) because his sample size of great play is truly just the last six games of 2020. Okwara finished the year on an absolute tear, and a full season with Trey Flowers and him off the edge could help turn Detroit’s defense around in a hurry. Nevertheless, the Lions still need to overhaul their secondary for Okwara and Flowers to have time to get home.
RB Jamaal Williams: Two years, Up to $6 million ($3.25 million guaranteed)
D’Andre Swift figures to be the lead back in Detroit heading into the 2021 season, which means Williams will likely serve a similar complementary role to the one that he held in Green Bay alongside Aaron Jones. Williams has played well in that role these past two years, earning PFF grades of 74.9 and 76.9 in 2019 and 2020, respectively, on 400-500 offensive snaps. He’s picked up 80.0-plus grades as both a runner and a receiver over the course of his career, and only Jordan Howard has a higher pass-blocking grade than Williams since 2017. As far as No. 2 running backs go, Williams is one of the best.
That said, Williams does still project as a No. 2 running back on this team, and a potential payout of $3.75 million per year sits at the high end for that role. It remains to be seen what the details of the deal are, so that could end up being lower. It still will likely leave the Lions fairly heavily invested in the running back position when factoring in the early second-round pick spent on Swift last offseason and the second-round pick spent on Kerryon Johnson in 2018.
Breshad Perriman: One year, $2.5 million ($2 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
It looked like Perriman’s NFL career was back on track after positive contributions with the Cleveland Browns in 2018 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019. The former first-round pick took a step back in his 2020 season in New York, though. Perriman’s PFF grade dipped back below 70.0 for the first time since 2017, to 63.1, dropping two more passes (three) than he did in the prior two seasons combined (one). The hope is still there that the light switch turns on given what he can bring to the table athletically.
We’re just one offseason removed from Perriman signing a deal worth more than double this. His value dipped in part because the Jets’ offense had the lowest collective team passing grade in the NFL (53.1). As a receiver, it’s going to be tough to produce at a high level in those situations. And as a franchise, you want to identify buy-low situations like this one. It’s a similar idea to the earlier Tyrell Williams’ signing as the Lions look to rebuild their receiving corps.
RB Aaron Jones: Four years, $48 million ($13 million guaranteed)
With Green Bay drafting A.J. Dillon in the second round last season and then declining to use the franchise tag on Jones this year, many thought Jones' time with the Packers was up. That clearly wasn’t the case, as the two sides came to terms on a new four-year deal that keeps him under contract through 2024.
Jones has been the sixth-highest graded running back in the NFL since entering the league in 2017. He has shown himself to be capable of contributing in a three-down role, even adding value when lined up as a wide receiver in certain situations.
Of course, the value will always be questioned on a running back’s second contract given what recent deals with Todd Gurley II, Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott look like in hindsight. The relatively low guaranteed money in Jones’ deal leaves the Packers some wiggle room should things turn south, though.
CB Kevin King: One year, $6 million
Grade: Below Average
King disappointed over the course of his rookie contract with Green Bay. From injury troubles to inconsistent play when on the field, the first pick of the second round in the 2017 NFL Draft hasn’t been the reliable presence Green Bay needs across from Jaire Alexander.
King’s healthiest (and best) career season came in 2019, when he earned a 62.4 PFF coverage grade while intercepting five passes and breaking up another nine. However, the injuries returned this past season. A quad injury held him out for an extended stretch over the middle portion of the year. When on the field, King allowed a 105.8 passer rating into his coverage while picking up a career-low 45.6 grade in coverage. That wasn’t helped by a 29.2 coverage grade in Green Bay’s divisional-round loss to Tampa Bay.
The Packers weren’t flush with cap space to attack the top of the cornerback market in free agency, but it’s still hard to get overly excited about this move. The hope for Green Bay is that King can remain healthy and build on his 2019 campaign, but that’s hard to bank on given what he’s shown through the first four years of his career.
LB Christian Kirksey: One year, Up to $4.5 million (TBD guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
Kirksey showed some promise early in his career with the Cleveland Browns, but injuries and inconsistent play have led to poor results on the field of late. He has averaged fewer than 400 snaps per year since 2018 despite going into each of those seasons as a starter. And his PFF grades in those three seasons were 44.7, 48.2 and 48.3 — well below average.
It appears Houston is looking to replace Benardrick McKinney with a committee approach, but it will be tough to rely on Kirksey for quality play given his recent play.
Kirksey was released by the Packers with a “failed physical” designation, implying he may not have been 100% healthy. But at this point in his career, he may never be 100% healthy. Houston bringing him in potentially impacts Green Bay, as he can no longer qualify for the injury protection benefit if he was exploring that option.
He was beloved in Cleveland by all accounts, as new Texans general manager Nick Caserio appears to be doing his best to establish a new team culture with great locker room guys, such as Mark Ingram II. Whatever it takes to convince Deshaun Watson to change his mind.
RB Mark Ingram II: One year, $2.5 million ($0.5 million guaranteed)
Ingram joins a Texans backfield led by David Johnson. The two veterans figure to enter a timeshare following Duke Johnson Jr.‘s release earlier this offseason. Ingram is coming off an injury-impacted 2020 season, but he should still provide solid play for Houston in a complementary role. He earned at least a 66.0 PFF grade on 200-plus offensive snaps every season from 2011 through 2019. He isn’t a dynamic receiver at the position, but he is a capable one.
There isn’t much risk involved for Houston from a contract perspective. The team adds a veteran in the final stages of his career to the running back room for cheap. There just isn’t much upside, either.
WR Andre Roberts: Two years, $5.5 million ($2.5 million guaranteed)
Roberts’ primary contribution to Houston will come on special teams. He profiles as one of the best returners in the business, making three consecutive Pro Bowls for his contributions in that phase of the game. His PFF return grades indicate that is no fluke. Over the past three seasons, only Cordarrelle Patterson has a higher kickoff return grade than Roberts (92.1), and only Nyheim Hines has a higher punt return grade (86.0).
He’s getting up there in age at 33 years old, but there is still reason to believe Roberts can provide some juice in the return game. His deal with Houston is similar to the two-year, $4.6 million contract he signed with Buffalo prior to the 2019 offseason.
DI Maliek Collins: One year, $5 million ($2 million guaranteed)
Collins is coming off the lowest PFF grade of his career with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020. His 39.2 overall mark was tanked by a 32.2 run-defense grade — an area that has never been Collins' strong suit. His lack of impact as a pass rusher was surprising, though. Collins recorded at least 30 pressures in each of his first four seasons in the NFL, and he was coming off a career-high 77.6 pass-rushing grade with the Cowboys in 2019.
Houston will look for Collins to return to that form in Lovie Smith’s defense. The Texans could certainly use the pass-rushing help following J.J. Watt‘s departure. No one on the team recorded a pressure rate of 10.0% in 2020. This looks like a reasonable dart throw on the part of the Texans to bring in some pass-rushing help on a one-year deal.
LB Kevin Pierre-Louis: Two years, $7 million ($2.75 million guaranteed)
Throughout much of his career, Pierre-Louis primarily produced as a core special teamer. That wasn’t the case this past season in Washington, where the seven-year veteran played over 300 defensive snaps for the first time in his career. He ended up playing 506 total snaps before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Week 14.
Pierre-Louis graded out as one of the better coverage linebackers in the league across that 2020 season and just over 200 defensive snaps with the Bears in 2019. His 91.0 coverage grade over that two-year stretch ranks third at the position among qualifiers, behind only Eric Kendricks and Lavonte David.
With Houston recently trading Benardrick McKinney to the Dolphins for Shaq Lawson, this is a solid depth signing at the position behind Zach Cunningham. Pierre-Louis has shown that he can step in and start at linebacker on a good defense while also bringing plenty of special teams experience to the table.
QB Tyrod Taylor: One year, Up to $12.5 million (TBD guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Taylor is one of the more interesting free agent quarterbacks to hit the market this offseason. His last two stints as a starter in Cleveland and Los Angeles were short-lived. Oddly enough, both involved an injury early in the season, opening the door for a highly-drafted rookie quarterback — Baker Mayfield in 2018 and Justin Herbert in 2020 — to step in and never look back. Taylor's time as a starter this past season in Los Angeles came to an end following a punctured lung in a pregame accident.
Prior to that string of unfortunate circumstances, Taylor was coming off three solid seasons as the Bills' starting quarterback from 2015 to 2017. He earned PFF grades of at least 75.0 in each of those campaigns and led the Bills to their first postseason appearance since 1999 in his final year with the team.
The Texans likely won't be competitive in 2021, but they could do worse with Taylor as a bridge in a rebuilding year should Watson sit out and Houston not trade for another starter. The deal is reported to be similar in nature to the ones that Cam Newton and Jameis Winston recently signed, with a base value below $6 million that could go up to $12.5 million with incentives.
Many of Houston's deals this offseason involve the team simply bringing in veterans who can contribute on one-year contracts, allowing for a reset year that the franchise can use to build toward the future. Taylor's contract fits that mold, too.
CB Terrance Mitchell: Two years, Up to $7.5 million (TBD guaranteed)
As Mitchell's writeup on PFF’s free agency preview says, most teams wouldn’t view him as a starter, but he’s the type of player who can hold his own if injuries to other players crop up. The Texans may view him as a starter given the current state of their cornerback room. Beyond Bradley Roby, none of their cornerbacks were confidently starting material entering 2021.
Mitchell has started on occasion, but 2020 marked just his second career season with 500 defensive snaps. He came away with a solid 65.3 grade in coverage, which would have ranked second at the position for Houston in 2020, behind Roby (72.2).
Houston has been locked in on these fringe starters so far in free agency. Like the other signings, this isn’t all that exciting, but it also won’t set them back financially if things don’t pan out.
TE Pharoah Brown: One year, $2.2 million ($200,000 guaranteed)
Brown has just 16 career receptions in four NFL seasons, but 14 of those catches came last season for the Texans. Five of them came in Week 17 alone. Brown ran only a shade over 100 routes for Houston in 2020, but he was relatively effective as a receiver with those opportunities, bringing in 14 of 15 targets for 163 yards and two touchdowns. He also delivered as a run blocker, with a 75.5 run-blocking grade in just over 100 such snaps, and as a special teamer (78.9 special teams grade).
With this contract, Houston is banking on Brown’s strong play to close the 2020 season carrying over into next year, potentially in a larger role. Houston recently released veteran tight end Darren Fells, but the team also added former Patriots tight end Ryan Izzo via trade. Brown will compete with Izzo and returners Jordan Akins and Kahale Warring for offensive snaps in 2021.
CB Desmond King II: One year, $3 million ($0.5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
Even in his worst season this past year across time with both the Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans, King earned a 67.0 PFF grade, which ranked 40th out of 121 qualifiers at the cornerback position. At his best, he was arguably the top slot cornerback in the league. His 90.9 overall grade across his first two NFL seasons ranked second among cornerbacks — slot or otherwise — and behind only Stephon Gilmore. He was tremendous in his role with the Chargers.
That’s what makes it somewhat surprising that he’s now already moved on to his third team. There have been reports that off-field issues were a contributing factor to his midseason trade to the Titans last season, and King’s play did take a hit once he arrived in Tennessee.
Those external factors all contribute to a situation where King ended up signing for merely $3.5 million with a team that isn’t an attractive free agent destination right now. Purely from an on-field perspective, this is a steal for the Texans. They can use all the defensive help they can get their hands on.
RB Marlon Mack: One year, $2 million
Grade: Above Average
Mack led the Colts in carries in 2018 and 2019. Even with the addition of Jonathan Taylor in the 2020 NFL Draft, Mack figured to have a prominent role in Indianapolis’ running back rotation last season had he not torn his ACL in Week 1. He offers next to nothing as a receiver, but he did pick up rushing grades of at least 72.0 across his first three years in the league.
Taylor’s success as a rookie means he will be the lead back moving forward. Mack is more than capable of sparing Taylor on the ground with Nyheim Hines rotating in for receiving duties and the occasional carry. The Colts will hope that run game helps quarterback Carson Wentz transition to life in Indianapolis, and Mack will hope to show enough in his return from injury to earn a bigger, long-term deal next offseason.
CB Xavier Rhodes: One year, $6.5 million
Grade: Above Average
Rhodes got his career back on track in Indianapolis this past year after a rough 2019 season with the Vikings. That year, he gave up a catch on over 84% of the targets he faced, leading to a 127.8 passer rating allowed. Both were among the worst marks in the NFL at the position. This past season, those numbers improved to 50.7% and 79.2, respectively, in what became one of the best seasons of Rhodes’ career.
The Colts’ defense played to his strengths, allowing him to make plays on passes in front of him and taking advantage of his strong play in run support and tackling. This would have been a shaky group at cornerback had Rhodes moved on elsewhere, so the one-year, $6.5 million deal is good for the Colts to maintain their starting trio from a season ago. It puts him outside the top 25 highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL — solid value for Indianapolis assuming he maintains his level of play from 2020.
WR T.Y. Hilton: One year, $8 million ($8 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Hilton’s biggest obstacle over the past two seasons was injury. His 478 offensive snaps in 2019 and 744 snaps this past season for the Colts are the two lowest marks of his career since his rookie 2012 season (733). Even in 2020, many of those 744 snaps came while Hilton played through injury. That didn’t stop him from earning PFF grades of at least 75.0 in each of the past two years. Hilton may not quite be the same big-play threat he once was, but he’s still an important piece of what Indianapolis wants to do in the passing game.
Hilton reportedly turned down a team offering more money to return to Indianapolis in 2021. It’s a strong deal for Hilton given how we’ve seen some of the other wide receiver contracts go over the past few weeks. For comparison, it’s slightly more money than the one-year, $8 million contract JuJu Smith-Schuster signed for in Pittsburgh and it's in line with Will Fuller V’s contract with the Dolphins. It will also allow Hilton to test the market again in 2022 when teams should have more cap space to pursue free agents.
DI Roy Robertson-Harris: Three years, $24.4 million ($14 million guaranteed)
Robertson-Harris was one of several key rotational pieces along the Bears’ defensive line who was looking for a new deal this offseason. He’ll end up with the team that has more to spend than anyone else in the league.
Robertson-Harris entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2016, slowly increasing his role in each subsequent season before seeing his 2020 season cut short by a shoulder injury. He’s graded at 67.0 or better in each of the past three years, with his best play coming in the run game. He figures to be a favorite to earn a starting job along Joe Cullen’s new defensive front in Jacksonville. If the defense is modeled after the Baltimore Ravens’ defense that Cullen comes over from, it would be a similar base 3-4 defensive end role to the one he had in Chicago.
This isn’t a cheap deal by any means, but the Jaguars have money to spend. Robertson-Harris has shown signs of growth since entering the NFL, and he helps solidify an area of need for the Jaguars.
WR Jamal Agnew: Three years, $14.25 million ($4 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
Agnew made the switch from defensive back to wide receiver in 2020, but you have to imagine this signing was more so based on special teams. Agnew has ranked among the top 10 players in the NFL in both kick returns and punt returns since entering the league in 2017. He slots in at fourth in punt return grade (79.2) among players with at least 50 attempts and ninth among the same group in kick return grade (69.4).
The price tag is cause for some hesitation, though. NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported that it's a three-year deal that maxes out at $21 million with reachable incentives. If Agnew hits that full value, $7 million per year is all of a sudden a lot of money for a player who is unlikely to contribute much on offense. Agnew picked up just 89 receiving yards on 123 routes with Detroit last season.
EDGE Dawuane Smoot: Two years, $10 million ($5.25 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
The Jaguars came into the day in a good position to make a big splash in free agency, but they have instead stuck to middling deals like this one. Smoot is coming off a career-high 665 defensive snaps with Jacksonville in 2020. He lined up primarily on the edge but has spent some time inside the tackles over the course of his four years with the team. Smoot hasn’t been overly impressive, though, earning PFF grades of 45.1 and 57.3 in larger roles with the team over the past two years. A 41.0 run-defense grade over that span has been the primary culprit.
Smoot should compete for one of the starting jobs along the defensive line with the recently signed Robertson-Harris and in-house options Taven Bryan and Doug Costin. It gives former Ravens defensive line coach and current Jaguars defensive coordinator Joe Cullen another piece to work with. This two-year, $10 million deal just seems a bit rich given what Smoot has put on tape the past four years.
RB Carlos Hyde: Two years, $4.5 million ($1.4 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
Hyde is the quintessential early-down, journeyman running back who can provide quality play as a runner in that role but little else. The two highest-rushing grades of Hyde’s career have come in those committees over the past few seasons — a 77.2 grade with Houston in 2019 and a 72.4 mark in limited action with Seattle this past season around some injuries. Hyde has never cleared a 60.0 receiving grade in his career.
He was traded to the Jaguars back in 2018 for a fifth-round pick and was promptly cut after just eight games in Jacksonville. Urban Meyer brings the former Ohio State Buckeye back into the fold to provide depth behind 2020 undrafted free agent breakout James Robinson. While the deal is nothing more than a minor depth signing, and Jacksonville has ample cap space still, all of these small overpays do start to add up eventually. Hyde has now spent time with the Browns, Jaguars, Chiefs, Texans and Seahawks since 2018.
S Rayshawn Jenkins: Four years, $35 million ($16 million guaranteed)
Jenkins was the No. 13 safety in PFF’s free agent rankings, still barely cracking the top 10 after removing the franchise-tagged Justin Simmons, Marcus Maye and Marcus Williams. He’s a solid player coming off two decent seasons — grading out at 63.1 and 68.9 overall with coverage grades of 67.5 and 70.0, respectively — but it’s difficult to imagine there was a huge market for his services.
Most of the available safeties were free safeties who man the deep third, whereas Jenkins is in a smaller group of traditional box safeties. But even factoring in that aspect of scarcity, Jacksonville was seemingly negotiating against itself here. The safety spot was where teams could stand to benefit the most from a flooded market, and Cleveland did just that by inking John Johnson III to a similar three-year, $33.75 million deal earlier in the day.
At this point, with all of these competitive price points for mid-tier free agents, it seems as though Jacksonville is ignoring the reality of the free agency landscape across the league, where many teams aren’t really in the market for a lot of guys.
TE Chris Manhertz: Two years, $6.65 million ($4.25 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
The Jaguars have been linked to many of the top free agent tight ends this offseason, but their first signing of the group is a primary blocker. Manhertz played the largest role of his career with Carolina in 2020, with 502 offensive snaps played. Despite that, he ended the season with just 52 receiving yards on eight targets. On the bright side, his 69.0 run-blocking grade did rank 16th at the position. That’s where he will make an impact.
The latest in a series of strong deals for players who likely didn’t have robust markets in free agency, the Jaguars’ approach to utilizing the most cap space of any team in the NFL coming into this week appears to be quantity over quality. Urban Meyer’s spread offense isn’t typically known for utilizing blocking tight ends, so this is an interesting fit from that perspective, as well.
CB Shaquill Griffin: Three years, $40 million ($29 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
Griffin has started on the outside since the Seahawks drafted him in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but it wasn't until 2019 when he began to solidify his spot as a No. 1 cornerback in the NFL. That year, Griffin earned a 77.0 PFF grade — a top-10 mark at the position. His 19.7% forced incompletion rate ranked second among all cornerbacks who saw at least 50 targets in 2019. However, that year stands out as an outlier when looking at Griffin's other three NFL seasons following his regression in 2020 (64.1 overall grade).
Griffin will give the Jaguars some stability at outside cornerback along with C.J. Henderson, but this looks like a similar deal to the one Trae Waynes signed with Cincinnati last offseason — only with more guaranteed money. The Jaguars are paying a premium for a good, not great starting cornerback. Of course, they have the cap space to make moves like this, but even so, you still want to get value out of the contracts you’re handing out.
DI Tyson Alualu: Two years, $6 million (TBD guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
Things have come full circle for Alualu. The former top-10 pick in 2010 returns to Jacksonville after spending the past four years in Pittsburgh. He never came close to living up to that first-round billing across the first seven years of his career with Jacksonville, but he found his niche in a reduced role with the Steelers.
Alualu is coming off the best two years of his career, earning PFF grades of 80.1 in 2019 and 89.6 in 2020. That even comes after playing more nose tackle this past season following Javon Hargrave‘s departure.
At almost 34 years old, Alualu is entering the tail end of his career. However, his play has only gotten better of late. This is a small commitment to make for a player who has shown he can perform at a high level in a rotational capacity. The Jaguars have set out to add competition to their defensive line with the signings of Roy Robertson-Harris and Jihad Ward. Now, they add Alualu to that group. He stands out as the best addition thus far.
WR Marvin Jones Jr.: Two years, $12.5 million ($9.2 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
The Jaguars were rumored to be involved in the high-end wide receiver market due to the team's ample cap space, but they have instead opted for the mid-to-low tier thus far, signing Jones and Phillip Dorsett.
Jones has been a model of consistency for the Lions, earning PFF grades between 71.9 and 76.3 in all five seasons with the team on at least 500 offensive snaps each year. He and Kenny Golladay formed one of the better contested-catch duos at the position over the past several years. Jones' 59.1% contested catch rate since 2018 ranks fourth among 32 wide receivers with at least 50 such targets over that span. He now will likely get to play with quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who often gave his wide receivers opportunities on 50-50 balls at Clemson.
Jacksonville’s receiving group is talented but young, with the top two options in D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault Jr. being under 25 years old. Jones provides a solid veteran presence to help bring Lawrence along, and he's a big-bodied jump-ball receiver who thrives in the red zone. He’s the only wide receiver in the NFL with at least nine touchdowns in each of the past two seasons.
The value here is really solid for the Jaguars, who thus far have been in the business of overpaying a bit for mid-tier talent. With Golladay missing the majority of the 2020 season, Jones operated as the No. 1 weapon and put up over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns while commanding a lot of defensive attention. Now as a complementary piece in Jacksonville, he should have a very efficient end to his career.
EDGE Jihad Ward: One year, $2.5 million ($2.45 million guaranteed)
Jacksonville continues to absolutely load up along its defensive line, with Ward joining Dawuane Smoot, Tyson Alualu, and Roy Robertson-Harris as versatile additions who can generate pressure on the quarterback from the interior and the edge this offseason. Ward was a second-round pick of the Raiders in 2016, but he fell out of favor pretty quickly, getting traded to the Indianapolis Colts before his third season.
Ward landed with the Ravens in 2019 and stuck around for the 2020 season, the most consistent campaign of his career thus far, where he graded out at 66.7 overall with 17 total pressures on 169 pass-rush snaps. Ward figures to be a solid rotational piece who will play 250-400 snaps in a reloaded group up front.
G Joe Thuney: Five years, $80 Million ($48 million guaranteed)
The Chiefs entered the 2021 offseason in need of offensive line help, and the releases of Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz at tackle only solidified that sentiment. Thuney was PFF’s top free agent guard by a sizable margin, he and should help solidify things up front for Patrick Mahomes.
Since entering the league in 2016, Thuney ranks as the fifth-most valuable guard in the NFL, behind only Zack Martin, Quenton Nelson, Brandon Brooks and Shaq Mason. He’s been particularly strong as a pass protector, where he ranks in the 83rd percentile at the position across his five NFL seasons.
Given that Kansas City is one of the NFL's pass-happiest teams, Thuney is the type of player the team should be targeting. Add in his durability (980 snaps in every season of his career), and it’s not difficult to see why he was a top target for the Chiefs.
Still, this earns only an “Average” grade because it's a lot of money. Brandon Brooks was the only guard in the league to clear $14 million per year on a multi-year deal prior to this contract that nets $16 million per year for Thuney. For a team that wasn’t swimming in cap space, it will be interesting to see how the Chiefs fill out the rest of their roster. Regardless, this is a significant piece in an area of need.
G Kyle Long: One year, $1.5 million ($350,000 guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
The Chiefs now have their starting guard situation settled heading into the 2021 season, signing Long to pair with former New England Patriot Joe Thuney. Fresh off retirement, Long played just 250 snaps in 2019 before a hip injury ended his season. It capped off a string of injuries that limited him to fewer than 600 offensive snaps in each campaign from 2016 through 2019. Reportedly, Long is fully healthy and in great shape following his year away from the game.
That's good news for Kansas City. At his best, Long was an effective pass protector at guard, earning PFF pass-blocking grades above 80.0 in three separate seasons, and a solid run blocker. At 32 years old, Long can still help this offensive line after a year off to get healthy.
Kansas City had plenty of question marks along its offensive line entering the offseason, and they only grew more prominent after the team released starting tackle duo Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. They haven’t addressed that tackle position, but they have added two veteran guards now who should serve as upgrades inside.
T Mike Remmers: One year, $3.3 million ($3.05 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
The narrative surrounding Remmers entering free agency is not an accurate representation of his play last season. Yes, he struggled after switching over to left tackle in the Super Bowl, but he was solid for much of the year as the team’s starting right tackle in place of the injured Mitchell Schwartz. Remmers’ 75.9 overall grade at right tackle on the season ranked 13th among qualifiers across the league. It was a well-rounded effort, with him posting grades of at least 73.0 as both a pass protector and a run blocker.
Schwartz's release amid questions about his future opened up the possibility for Kansas City to bring Remmers back to man that starting job again in 2021. Early indications are that it’s his job to lose. If the Chiefs are able to get the same kind of play out of Remmers at that right tackle spot in 2021 that they saw in 2020, this stands out as a strong value in the tackle market.
It marks the third notable signing up front as the team continues to make a concerted effort to keep Patrick Mahomes upright moving forward.
EDGE Yannick Ngakoue: Two years, $26 million ($21 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
You know what you’re getting from Ngakoue at this stage of his career. He has been one of the highest-graded pass rushers in the league off the edge since 2017. His 88.7 pass-rushing grade over that four-year span ranks 12th among all players at the position. However, his work as a run defender falls on the opposite end of the spectrum. Ngakoue’s 50.5 run-defense grade since 2017 ranks fourth-worst among 108 edge defenders with at least 1,000 snaps.
Ngakoue came in 14 spots higher than Leonard Floyd and 29 spots higher than Matthew Judon in PFF’s free agent rankings, but the Raiders signed him for a cheaper average-per-year figure than both of them. His pass-rushing ability should help solve one of Las Vegas’ biggest needs in Gus Bradley’s defensive scheme, which relies on the front four to generate pressure.
LB Nicholas Morrow: One year, $4.5 million ($4.5 million guaranteed)
Morrow had by far the best year of his young career in 2020, picking up a 63.7 overall PFF grade and a 70.4 coverage grade. He had played a significant role in the three prior seasons with Las Vegas, seeing 400-plus snaps in each of the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons, but he maxed out at just a 53.5 overall grade as a rookie over that three-year stretch. That made it a surprise in 2020 when he outperformed high-profile free agent signing Cory Littleton at the position.
The biggest question mark is who will fill the strongside or Sam linebacker role in new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s 4-3 Under scheme. Las Vegas signed Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski to big free agent contracts in 2020, and both saw their deals get restructured this past week, so neither is going anywhere.
However, Kwiatkoski profiles as a Mike or middle linebacker and Littleton a Will or weakside backer. Morrow has positional versatility and logged snaps at all three spots in 2020, but he doesn’t profile as a guy you’d want in a full-time role playing close to the line of scrimmage.
Nevertheless, Morrow performed admirably in 2020. This is more of a backup deal with strong guarantees for him as he looks to have another career year and hit the market again in 2022.
WR John Brown: One year, $3.75 million (Up to $5.5 million)
The Raiders lost some speed at wide receiver this offseason after Tyrell Williams‘ release and Nelson Agholor‘s departure in free agency, but they add some back here with the soon-to-be 31-year old Brown. He cleared 1,000 receiving yards for just the second time in his career with Buffalo back in 2019, but his 2020 campaign was impacted by injury — something that has been a factor throughout his career.
Still, Brown was relatively effective when on the field, ending the year with a PFF grade north of 70.0. His ability to create separation in the intermediate and deep portions of the field will be welcome in Las Vegas’ offense as long as he stays healthy.
This is the type of move you’d have expected Bill Belichick and the Patriots to make — not signing Agholor to a two-year, $22 million deal after a bounceback 2020. While Agholor is several years younger and has more versatility in his game, operating mostly out of the slot and working underneath in past years, he was utilized primarily as a deep threat in Las Vegas last season.
In that role, Brown is still the better player, won’t factor into the compensatory pick formula after being cut by Buffalo and is markedly cheaper. Brown has just eight drops over the past two seasons to Agholor’s 12 on nearly identical target numbers.
DI Johnathan Hankins: One year, $3.5 million ($3.5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Hankins isn’t quite the dominant run-stuffing presence on the interior he was early in his career — with run-defense grades at or above 82.6 in four of his first five seasons — but he has three straight seasons in Las Vegas grading at 68.8 or above, providing a remarkably high floor against the run. He’s shown few signs of slowing down, playing at least 573 snaps each season for the Raiders.
Hankins offers little in the way of rushing the passer, but he’s the yin to 2018 fifth-round pick Maurice Hurst’s yang. Hurst has the inverse skill set, with back-to-back pass rush grades of 77.8 or better, but pedestrian run-defense contributions. New edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue offers more of the same, so keeping a guy who can key in on the run on a flier deal makes sense.
G Denzelle Good: Two years, $8.4 million ($3.2 million guaranteed)
Good has spent time at both tackle and guard in a reserve capacity since entering the league back in 2015, but this past season with the Raiders was the largest workload of his career. Good started two games at right tackle early in the season before moving over and starting another 12 games at left guard for the injured Richie Incognito.
Good recorded a 56.7 PFF grade last season — a below-average mark at the position. The 30-year-old topped out at a 69.6 PFF grade in his four starts at right tackle as a rookie in 2015, and he’s been bouncing between the 50s and 60s since.
For the Raiders, it’s a situation where they were looking to cut cost, and Good showed enough in reserve duty last season for them to give him a new deal to come in and start. His tackle-guard flexibility certainly helped his case, as well. Good likely steps in at right guard with Incognito slated to return at left guard, but the Raiders should expect a downgrade from Jackson.
DL Solomon Thomas: One year, $3.25 million ($2.74 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
Thomas will be hard-pressed to erase the word “bust” next to his name following his first four NFL seasons. The former No. 3 overall pick’s highest career grade was 62.5 in 2018. He’s never recorded a pass-rushing grade above 60.0 in a season, nor has he recorded more than 30 quarterback pressures in a single year. Thomas’ career-high in that department was 30 as a rookie in 2017. He also appeared in just two games in 2020 before going down with a serious knee injury in what was a make-or-break year.
Some team was likely to take a chance on a 25-year-old former top-five pick in free agency, but it remained to be seen who that would be following San Francisco’s decision to decline Thomas’ fifth-year option. As it turned out, Thomas landed in Gus Bradley’s Las Vegas defense. Thomas has played both inside and outside in his career and should be given a chance to earn a rotational role in that capacity this offseason.
The deal is reportedly worth up to $5 million, and assuming it ends up being in that ballpark, this is a pretty sizable contract for a guy who has been a below-replacement-level defensive lineman by PFF WAR standards to this point in his career.
DI Quinton Jefferson: One year, $3.25 million ($2 million guaranteed)
While new Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and Jefferson never crossed paths in Seattle, the Seahawks maintained the same defensive scheme following Bradley’s departure — a scheme that Jefferson eventually excelled in. In 2018-19 with Seattle, Jefferson graded out at 70.7 and 75.1 against the run, earning him a solid two-year, $13.5 million deal from the Buffalo Bills.
Jefferson ended up playing just one year of his two-year deal, but he managed to put up his best season from a pass-rushing standpoint in 2020, posting a 67.9 pass-rush grade thanks to 30 total pressures on 420 pass-rushing snaps. He and fellow signee interior defender Johnathan Hankins will join forces to fill the run-stuffing 3-technique role that is important to this defense, with both standing to benefit from a slight reduction in snaps to maximize efficiency.
RB Kenyan Drake: Two years, $11 million ($11 million guaranteed)
The Raiders have clearly been attempting to clear cap space with their moves along the offensive line over the past few days. This wasn’t how one might imagine they would make use of that cap space, though, with running backs Josh Jacobs and Jalen Richard already on the roster.
Drake endured a less-than-ideal 2020 campaign with the Cardinals. He ended the year with a career-low 60.9 PFF grade and really struggled to contribute in the passing game, putting up just 137 receiving yards on 251 routes. Drake averaged just 5.5 yards per reception and forced one missed tackle on his 25 catches.
This becomes problematic when you consider that Gruden sees Drake as a jack-of-all-trades who will figure prominently in the passing game, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The former Alabama running back has never earned a receiving grade higher than 65.1 in his career.
It’s a move that doesn’t make much sense, regardless of which angle you look at it from. Las Vegas already has an upper-tier running back in Jacobs and a change-of-pace back in Richard who has proven more than capable in his role. This contract, paying out $11 million guaranteed over two years, isn’t great value for the Raiders, even if they planned on bringing him in to start. Las Vegas still has plenty of needs elsewhere on this roster, making this an odd spot to spend money.
C Andre James: Three years, $12.5 million ($6 million guaranteed)
This contract shows that the Raiders have a whole lot of faith in James. Since joining the team as an undrafted free agent out of UCLA in 2019, he has played just 117 offensive snaps. And 116 of those came as a rookie, with James playing exclusively on special teams this past season. He earned a 23.4 PFF grade with a 1.9 pass-blocking grade in that 2019 campaign. He put forth a better effort at center in the 2019 preseason (62.2 overall grade with a 75.9 pass-blocking grade), but that’s still not much to lean on.
James was under contract in 2021 and would have been a restricted free agent in 2022. That’s what makes the contract such a big vote of confidence in his ability to come in and start following the trade of Rodney Hudson. The Raiders didn’t need to do anything other than place a tender on James next offseason to keep him under team control through 2022. He’ll compete with offseason acquisition Nick Martin for the starting center job next year.
It’s a lot of money for someone who has played just over 100 snaps on offense in his career while struggling performance-wise. For comparison, the deal isn’t all that far off from the one that David Andrews — a much more established starter — signed with New England this offseason. The only explanation is that James has provided confidence that he can step in and fill Hudson’s shoes with his play in practice.
C Corey Linsley: Five years, $62.5 million ($26 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
The top free agent center is off the board, and there is no team that could make better use of his services. The Chargers ended the 2020 season as PFF’s lowest-graded offensive line and could be looking to fill four starting positions. Center was one of those openings following Mike Pouncey’s retirement. PFF’s highest-graded center in 2020 isn't a bad replacement, and he reunites with former Packer Bryan Bulaga.
Linsley put together the best season of his NFL career in 2020, and he has been one of the better centers in the league since Green Bay took him in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Across that seven-year span, he ranks fifth in PFF grade among qualifying centers.
His $12.5 million per year average just edges out the deal that Ryan Kelly recently signed with Indianapolis, making Linsley the highest-paid center in the league. That is a deserved accolade, though. It is arguably the most impactful move the Chargers could have made in free agency short of signing Trent Williams, which would have also come with a higher price tag.
CB Michael Davis: Three years, $25.2 million ($15 million guaranteed)
Bigger names have overshadowed Michael Davis in Los Angeles’ secondary — Casey Hayward Jr., Derwin James and Chris Harris Jr., to name a few — but he has been a solid if unspectacular as a starter outside. Davis allowed just an 81.0 passer rating across his past three seasons as a starter, but he was called for 12 defensive holding/pass interference penalties over that span (tied for 12th-most in the league).
Davis has good size and projects to fit well in a Brandon Staley-led defense that already has talent in place. The Chargers’ surprise release of Hayward over the weekend led to a situation where Los Angeles either needed to re-sign Davis or add another starting-caliber outside cornerback this offseason.
This contract isn’t cheap for a player with Davis’ grading profile and track record of production, but re-signing him avoids opening up a glaring need at cornerback.
OL Matt Feiler: Three years, $21 million ($14.5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
The Chargers make their second significant addition to the offensive line today by signing Feiler. He has started at two positions — right tackle in 2019 and left guard in 2020 — during his past two years in Pittsburgh, and he’s finished each of those seasons among the top half of players at the positions in PFF grade. He could theoretically start at either tackle or guard for Los Angeles, but guard seems like the more likely of the two given the Chargers’ depth at both positions.
Even if Feiler does end up at guard, his average-per-year figure slots in below the top tier at the position. Plus, it comes with the added bonus of him being able to kick outside should an injury occur or pieces shuffle along the offensive line. This is the type of move that Los Angeles should be making: adding quality starters on mid-level deals to eliminate clear weaknesses up front.
TE Jared Cook: One year, Up to $6 million ($4.5 million guaranteed)
Cook is one of those players who has seemingly gotten better with age. Three of his past five seasons have come with PFF grades of 75.0 or better, also marking the first three times he’s reached that threshold in his 12-year career.
Listed at 6-foot-5, 254 pounds with a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash coming out of college, Cook can provide value in the passing game and take advantage of mismatches down the field. Over the past four years, across time with the Raiders and Saints, Cook has been the fifth-most valuable tight end in the league — behind only Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Zach Ertz and Rob Gronkowski.
The Chargers losing Hunter Henry to the Patriots made it likely that they would look to add a replacement in their efforts to build around Justin Herbert heading into 2021. They’ve put two solid pieces in place along the offensive line — Corey Linsley and Matt Feiler — and now replace Henry with another viable receiving threat to pair with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. It will be interesting to see if they take the savings gained after moving on from Henry and invest it right back into more offensive line help.
EDGE Leonard Floyd: Four years, $64 million ($32.5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
The Rams are stuck in one of the NFL's worst projected cap situations, but that didn’t stop them from securing Floyd after his career year with the team in 2020. He set career-high marks in sacks (10.5) and quarterback pressures (45) in his first year in Los Angeles, but his 69.5 PFF grade in 2020 was almost identical to the mark he posted in both the 2018 and 2019 seasons with Chicago (69.6). He still recorded a pressure rate below 10% during the 2020 season.
Floyd profiles as a solid outside linebacker. The Rams can rely on him for decent play against the run, as a pass rusher and in coverage, when needed. The thing is, it’s usually a mistake for a cap-strung team to pay “solid” players $16 million per year. The Rams lack premium draft capital, too. Floyd clearly benefited from the team’s all-in approach around new quarterback Matthew Stafford.
The contract details, once they are released, and how much of the money ends up being guaranteed will play a role in how we should view the signing.
QB Jacoby Brissett: One year, $5 million ($5 million guaranteed)
As one of the top names on the backup quarterback market, Brissett brings two seasons of starting experience with him from his time in Indianapolis — in 2017 while Andrew Luck missed time with injury and in 2019. Miami will hope he isn't needed as a long-term starter following just a 61.0 PFF grade across those two seasons, but he does provide some security should he be forced into duty for a game or two. The Dolphins may even opt to use Brissett as the designated quarterback sneak option after he went nine-for-nine on rushing conversions with two yards or fewer to go in 2020.
Brissett reunites with Brian Flores, who he crossed paths with during his one season in New England. This deal potentially signals confidence in Tua Tagovailoa even amid rumors of Miami exploring a trade for Deshaun Watson and contemplating what to do with the No. 3 overall pick in the upcoming draft.
The value is solid here, all things considered, as Brissett is the latest quarterback to sign an incentive-laden, one-year deal with a base value of around $5 million. Realistically, though, this is just the going rate for a quarterback who doesn’t guarantee you a loss as soon as he trots out to the huddle.
RB Malcolm Brown: One year, $1.75 million ($1.75 million guaranteed)
Miami adds a solid committee back who earned carries in Sean McVay’s Rams offense even after second-round picks were used in consecutive drafts on Darrell Henderson and Cam Akers. Brown forced 16 missed tackles in 2020 on 102 attempts, with his missed tackle per attempt rate of 15.7% ranking a respectable 29th among all running backs with at least 100 carries.
Brown doesn’t offer much in the passing game, with receiving grades in the 40.0s the past two seasons and a 40.1 pass-blocking grade in 2020 — the only season where he truly had enough snaps to consider.
The Dolphins made two ill-advised moves at the running back position in 2020, trading a fifth-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers for Matt Breida and signing Jordan Howard to a two-year, $9.75 million deal. Neither player eclipsed 60 carries on the season, as they were supplanted by seventh-rounder Myles Gaskin and undrafted free agent Salvon Ahmed. Miami is taking a more frugal approach to building out a committee this offseason, which is wise.
CB Justin Coleman: One year, $2.25 million ($1.75 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
At one point, Coleman looked like one of the better slot cornerbacks in the league coming off two seasons after 75.0-plus coverage grades with Seattle in 2017 and 2018. Then, Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions happened.
Coleman didn’t produce at nearly the same level in Detroit, earning coverage grades below 60.0 in each of the past two years and dealing with injuries in 2020. Another man-heavy scheme in Miami may not be the best fit given that Coleman’s two best years came with Seattle, but Flores does have familiarity with Coleman from his 2015-16 seasons in New England.
Coleman signed a three-year, $27 million deal with the Detroit Lions in 2019, which made him the league’s highest-paid slot cornerback. He was unable to live up to the contract in Detroit, but it won’t be quite as difficult to play at the level of these new salary figures. After starting his career with the Patriots, Coleman now joins his third variety of the Belichick coaching tree. Miami will be hoping this stop is more fruitful than the first two.
DI Adam Butler: Two years, $7.5 million ($3.75 million guaranteed)
The latest in a series of swaps between the Belichick coaching tree, Butler has been a pass-rushing specialist since landing in New England as an undrafted free agent back in 2017. While he has yet to clear 30 pressures in a season in that role, he has gradually improved his PFF pass-rushing grade each year — from 57.1 as a rookie to 64.3 this past season with the Patriots. He played a big role in many of the stunts that New England runs defensively.
Butler pairs that middling yet improving play as a pass rusher with less-than-ideal results against the run. His 49.3 run-defense grade in 2020 was a career-low, and he’s never graded above 60.5 in that regard.
With the loss of Davon Godchaux to New England, it makes sense that Brian Flores and company were looking to bring in another defender who could play nose tackle at a slightly cheaper price point. The hope for Miami is that Butler continues to develop heading into his fifth NFL season.
WR Will Fuller V: One year, $10.6 million ($10.6 million guaranteed)
The Dolphins needed some additional speed and another playmaker at wide receiver to provide some support for Tua Tagovailoa in his second NFL season. Fuller fits that bill.
Fuller's biggest issue throughout his NFL career is an inability to stay on the field, hampered by injuries in the majority of his five years in the league. He stayed relatively healthy in 2020, but his season ended prematurely with a six-game PED suspension that will carry over into the beginning of next year. With his injury and a suspension still in progress, a one-year, prove-it deal was always the most likely outcome for Fuller.
He showed in DeAndre Hopkins‘ absence that he could step up as a No. 1 receiver in 2020. Fuller finished the year with a career-high 86.2 PFF grade in his 11 games of action. He also set a career-high in yards per reception (16.6) despite seeing a career-low average depth of target of 13.3 yards. That big-play ability is what Miami is paying him for. Fuller’s 12 touchdown receptions on passes 20 or more yards downfield are a top-15 mark at the position since he entered the league in 2016, even with all the missed time.
The $10.625 million deal will come down to $10 million flat after the one-game suspension to start the season. It’s a very strong deal for Miami — coming in lower per year than what the Patriots paid Nelson Agholor, a lesser deep threat, earlier this week. He’ll add a different element to a receiving corps that already has several guys who can win in contested-catch situations in DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki.
Assuming Fuller can remain healthy in 2021, he’ll look to chase a long-term contract next offseason when more teams can get in on the action.
C Matt Skura: One year, $1.75 million
This deal would have looked better had it been signed last offseason when Skura was coming off a two-year grade of 65.1 that ranked 23rd among 44 qualifying centers. Things didn’t go quite so well for Skura in 2020. His 50.1 grade at center this past season ranked 35th out of 37 qualifiers, beating out only Dan Feeney and Lloyd Cushenberry III. Skura dealt with snapping issues, in particular.
This isn’t a bad move on the part of the Dolphins to try to buy low on what looked to be a league-average center just one to two years ago. With Karras’ return back to New England, the team had a need at the position. Skura should be the favorite to step in next to Ereck Flowers as two veteran presences in an otherwise young group.
DI Dalvin Tomlinson: Two years, $21 million ($20.8 million guaranteed)
Tomlinson profiled as one of the better interior defenders available on the market this offseason. He came in as the highest-ranked player at the position on PFF’s free agent rankings following the Giants’ decision to franchise tag his teammate Leonard Williams. Tomlinson is coming off a career-high 74.6 pass-rushing grade in 2020, but he has really shined as a run-stuffer in the middle of New York’s defensive line. His 70.3 run-defense grade this past season marked the first time in his career where he fell below 79.0 in that regard.
Minnesota will now have two big, run-first interior defensive linemen with 2020 free agent signing and opt-out Michael Pierce set to return to the defense. The Vikings should have little trouble controlling the line of scrimmage against the run with both of those players on the field, which allows for more freedom in coverage. However, there is also little pass-rushing threat up front for this current group beyond what Danielle Hunter brings.
The overlap of talents between Pierce and Tomlinson on a unit that could have used a disruptive, pass-rushing threat at 3-technique or edge defender opposite Hunter pushes what is otherwise solid value for a player of Tomlinson’s caliber to just an average deal.
CB Patrick Peterson: One year, $8 million ($8 million guaranteed)
Peterson grew into one of the game’s top cornerbacks since entering the league as the fifth overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, but he’s taken a clear step back over the past two seasons following a PED suspension to start the 2019 season.
From 2011 through 2018, Peterson earned a 90.4 coverage grade while allowing an 81.5 passer rating on throws into his coverage. Across the past two years, those numbers have moved to a 57.3 coverage grade and a 102.5 passer rating allowed. Peterson recently turned 31 years old, but it feels premature to say his dip in play is solely due to age. There is the chance that a talent like Peterson can pick things back up in Minnesota's system, which relies much more on zone coverages than Arizona’s.
Peterson will join a young cornerback group that features Mike Hughes along with 2020 draft selections Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney. This isn’t great value for Minnesota considering Peterson’s dip in play of late, but the hope will be that a change in scenery helps brings out the player who allowed fewer than 400 yards into his coverage in each of the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
QB Cam Newton: One year, $5 million (Up to $14 million; $3.5 million guaranteed)
Looking strictly at Newton's passing numbers in 2020 as the Patriots' starter will tell you a somewhat misleading story. Yes, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns on the year, but his supporting cast has to be a factor when evaluating his performance. Newton ended the season as PFF’s 22nd-ranked quarterback in PFF grade with Damiere Byrd, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry and Ryan Izzo leading the team in routes run. That overall grade was hurt by a poor finish to the season, as well. Newton’s 79.4 overall grade through Week 11 ranked 13th at the position.
Newton has had trouble staying healthy in recent years, but he’s certainly more talented than the backup quarterback money this contract represents. New England should remain focused on providing more weapons to work with for Newton or whoever else steps in to compete at quarterback — an option that remains on the table despite this signing.
There’s close to zero downside with this move, as a base value of $5 million for Newton is next to nothing. Even if New England makes looks for a starting quarterback via trade or the 2021 NFL Draft, Newton is making reasonable backup quarterback money.
TE Jonnu Smith: Four years, $50 million ($31.3 million guaranteed)
The first big splash of free agency belongs to the New England Patriots. That’s not a sentence we’re used to writing. New England has fielded one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL over the past two seasons, but signing Smith is a step toward correcting that for Cam Newton or whoever ends up starting at quarterback for the team in 2021.
Smith didn't play a featured role in Tennessee’s run-heavy offense since his 2017 third-round selection. However, he has been one of the more effective after-the-catch threats at the position in recent years. His 6.8 yards after the catch per reception over the past two seasons ranks third among all tight ends with at least 100 targets over that span. He ended both of those campaigns with receiving grades north of 77.0. From an athleticism standpoint, there are few tight ends in the league who can match what he brings to the table.
The Patriots have long valued the tight end position more than most franchises, and this deal further emphasizes that approach. New England traded up in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft for tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, and the team now adds Smith to the mix as the third-highest paid tight end in the NFL. Smith now trails only George Kittle ($15M per year) and Travis Kelce ($14.312M per year) in terms of per-year earnings. If the $31.3 million is fully guaranteed, as ESPN's Adam Schefter reported, and not “total guaranteed.” this deal is incredibly strong.
There’s still an edge to be exploited in the tight end market, as Smith’s $12.5 million per year average still wouldn’t rank in the top 20 at the wide receiver position. New England gets its guy potentially ahead of a further boost to the market with Hunter Henry set to test free agency coming off the franchise tag with the Chargers.
DI Davon Godchaux: Two years, $15 million ($9 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
The success of Raekwon Davis and Zach Sieler during the 2020 season in Godchaux’s absence made it easier for Miami to part ways with the nose tackle. Godchaux missed the majority of the 2020 season with a biceps injury, but he profiled as a reliable run defender in the three prior seasons as a starter — the kind of player who the Patriots tend to covet on the interior of their defensive line.
Godchaux earned 65.0-plus run-defense grades in each of his first three seasons in the NFL. Just don’t expect much in the way of pass-rushing contribution.
New England has a handful of run-stuffing defensive linemen set to test free agency, including Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler, who the team gave a second-round restricted free agent tender to in 2020. The Patriots continue overhauling the unit, with Godchaux set to command blockers’ attention in the middle while young edge rushers Chase Winovich, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings get after the passer.
EDGE Matthew Judon: Four years, $54.5 million ($32 million guaranteed)
Judon entered free agency as one of the more desirable edge rushers following three seasons of quality pass-rushing production in Baltimore. To that point, he ranks among the top 20 players at the position in both total pressures and sacks since 2018.
The concern with giving Judon this kind of contract is that he was a beneficiary of Baltimore’s blitz-heavy scheme, which provided plenty of unblocked and cleanup opportunities. In fact, over 50% of Judon’s pressures have been charted as unblocked or cleanup pressures over the past three seasons. The Patriots represent a strong schematic fit that can provide similar looks at the quarterback, but this is a hefty deal for a player who doesn’t project as an elite one-on-one pass rusher.
Teams across the league were probably happy to see Shaquil Barrett’s contract details come in right at the start of the legal tampering window, agreeing to a four-year, $68 million extension to stay in Tampa. Judon is only a few months younger than Barrett and is also coming off a season playing on the franchise tag. However, Judon did not have nearly the end to his season that Barrett did.
Edge rushers tend to get paid when they hit the market, but this offseason hasn’t followed that trend. It may be a result of the salary cap drop, but it may also signal the league is adjusting a bit after huge contracts have aged quite poorly, such as those for Frank Clark and Dee Ford. This deal comes in slightly under PFF’s projection for Judon (four years, $68 million), but it still sits a bit on the high end when looking at his grading profile.
S Jalen Mills: Four years, $24 million ($9 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
One year after re-signing with the Philadelphia Eagles on a one-year, $4 million deal, Mills cashes in on a long-term contract with the biggest buyers of the day thus far. He had his fair share of troubles at cornerback with Philadelphia, but he is coming off a career year after moving to safety in 2020. Mills ranked 29th among all safeties in PFF grade this past season.
However, this fit doesn’t make a whole lot of sense with some of the pieces already on New England’s roster. Mills brings the versatility to play at cornerback if needed, but even in 2020, he graded significantly worse on 200-plus snaps at outside cornerback than anywhere else on the field.
He fits best in a safety/slot role. However, the Patriots already have players Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips and the returning Patrick Chung in that area of the field. It’s a pretty big contract for a player who doesn’t profile as a significant upgrade to an already crowded positional group.
WR Nelson Agholor: Two years, $22 million (Up to $26 million; $16 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
It was clear that Agholor made himself some money following a strong 2020 campaign with the Raiders, but this contract comes as a bit of a surprise. He put together a career year during the Eagles’ Super Bowl run in 2017 (74.9 overall grade), but it was a downhill slide over the next two seasons before a rebirth of sorts with Las Vegas this past year.
Agholor’s 444 receiving yards on passes of 20-plus yards downfield last season ranked sixth among all receivers across the league. He'll likely take on a vertical role in New England, as well. It’s just tough to see him providing the kind of value that would make a $13 million per year average worth it. That figure places him among the top 20 highest-paid wide receivers as of now.
The details of the contract haven’t yet been released, so this could be an “up to” $26 million scenario, in which case the deal becomes easier to stomach. The one clear takeaway from today’s events is that the Patriots are intent on contending in 2021.
WR Kendrick Bourne: Three years, $15 million ($5.25 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Bourne is an interesting projection coming out of a unique San Francisco offense at 25 years old. He played at least 500 offensive snaps in each of the past four years for the 49ers, inching his overall PFF grade forward from 66.6 in 2018 to 69.8 the following year and 72.0 in 2020. He doesn’t necessarily fit into the YAC-monster mold that San Francisco prioritizes in its receiving corps, but he does project as a reliable chain-mover. That’s an archetype New England could use more of at the wide receiver position.
This is now the third free agent addition to the Patriots’ receiving corps, following the signings of Smith at tight end and Agholor at wide receiver. They haven’t added a true No. 1 threat yet, but they have raised the floor of this group with veteran talent. Bourne’s deal, in particular, stands out as a reasonable price to pay for what he could bring to the table in a complementary role.
DI Henry Anderson: Two years, $7 million (Up to $11 million; $3 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
New England’s run of free agent spending continues with another front-seven addition to join Davon Godchaux and Matthew Judon. Anderson has been a solid rotational piece across his six years with the Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets. He earned 64.0-plus PFF grades in five of those six seasons, profiling as a better run defender than pass rusher. Anderson has cleared 25 pressures just once in his career, but he has earned run-defense grades of 70.0 or higher in five seasons.
Bill Belichick values interior run defenders a great deal and has placed an emphasis on shoring up the middle of his defensive line after earlier agreeing to a two-year, $16 million deal with Godchaux. Anderson spent the past three seasons with the New York Jets, so Belichick has faced him six times over that span and is well aware of what he can do. This is a solid depth signing for a player who just recently became available, with Anderson likely to have a rotational role on early downs.
EDGE Deatrich Wise Jr.: Four years, $22 million ($10 million guaranteed)
Wise has played all over the defensive line as a rotational piece for New England since the team drafted him in the fourth round out of Arkansas in 2017. His value in recent years has stemmed largely from his ability to get after the quarterback. Wise’s 79.6 pass-rushing grade (18th) and 19.6% pass-rush win rate (fourth) both rank among the top 20 qualifying edge defenders in the league since 2019. On the other hand, he has been a below-average run defender over that same span, with just one run-defense grade north of 60.0 in his four-year career.
The Patriots’ defensive line additions thus far have been run-defense specialists in Godchaux and Anderson, so it makes sense that the team retains a pass rusher here with Wise. Once again, it’s a relatively large contract for a player who has cleared a 60.0 overall grade just once in his first four years in the league. Wise’s best play has been of late, so the hope for New England is that his progression continues into 2021 and beyond.
TE Hunter Henry: Three years, $37.5 million ($25 million guaranteed)
The Patriots added the No. 2 tight end in PFF’s free agent rankings yesterday in Jonnu Smith, and now, they’ve signed the top-ranked tight end on the list, as well.
Henry came out of the gates back in 2016 and 2017 looking like one of the best tight ends in the NFL. His 88.9 PFF grade over that two-year stretch ranked second in the league, behind only Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce — not bad company. But since his 2018 campaign, a season lost to injury, he hasn’t quite been the same player.
That’s not to say Henry still hasn’t been one of the best tight ends in the league over the past two seasons. His 72.7 overall grade since 2019 ranks 11th among 37 players at the position with at least 1,000 offensive snaps. He boasts a well-rounded game that should fit in nicely in New England. He becomes the fourth legitimate receiving threat the Patriots have added in the past two days.
New England made Smith and Henry the co-third-highest-paid tight ends in the NFL at $12.5 million per year, a year after the team traded up twice in the third round of the NFL draft for Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. The guarantees for Smith and Henry are strong, too, as New England looks to run what should be the most 12 personnel in the NFL in 2021.
C Ted Karras: One year, $3 million ($3 million guaranteed)
With the reports that David Andrews is exploring options elsewhere, Karras' return to New England following a one-year hiatus in Miami makes a lot of sense. He spent his first four years with the Patriots but didn’t step into a full-time starting role until 2019 after Andrews missed time with blood clots in his lungs. Karras earned a 66.5 overall grade that season (20th out of 38 qualifying centers), and he followed it up with a similar 65.3 mark as Miami's starting center in 2020. New England should expect something similar next season — a middle-of-the-pack option at the position on a reasonable contract.
His $4 million salary for next year puts him around the 15th to 20th range for average annual value at the position. It’s certainly not the biggest deal that the Patriots have handed out over the past several days.
*Update: Andrews did end up re-signing with the Patriots, which makes Karras a relatively expensive depth option next season behind a strong starting trio on the interior.
EDGE Kyle Van Noy: Two years, Up to $13.2 million (TBD guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
Van Noy was a surprise release this offseason after signing a four-year, $51 million contract with Miami last offseason that ended up paying only a shade over $15 million. The Patriots let another team spend big on Van Noy before bringing him back on the cheap. They also did something similar with tackle Trent Brown this offseason.
Van Noy failed to replicate his 2019 success in Brian Flores’ defense last season. He saw his PFF grade drop from 84.2 to 61.6. It is worth noting that while there are obviously similarities between Miami's defense and New England’s, Van Noy was asked to play a slightly different role for the Dolphins in 2020. He dropped into coverage more often last season (255 snaps) than he rushed the passer (245 snaps), compared to 464 pass-rushing snaps and 92 coverage snaps with New England in 2019.
There is no better landing spot for Van Noy than where he recorded his only two season grades above 70.0. The Patriots have been very willing spenders this offseason, and this stands out as one of their better value signings thus far.
If Van Noy is able to get anywhere close to his 2019 production, this will stand out as a steal at a max of $6.6 million per year. He just signed a contract last offseason with an average annual value nearly double that amount.
C David Andrews: Four years, $19.5 million ($6.5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
Behind Corey Linsley in PFF's free agent rankings, Andrews had a strong case for being the best center on the market this offseason. That makes this deal, which puts him outside the 15 highest-paid centers in the league on a per-year basis, one of the better values of free agency thus far for New England.
Injuries have played a factor in each of the past two seasons for Andrews. He missed the entire 2019 campaign with blood clots in his lungs before returning in 2020, only to be placed on injured reserve early in the year with a broken thumb. Andrews struggled in pass protection upon his return, but his body of work throughout his career suggests that shouldn’t be a concern moving forward. Andrews earned pass-blocking grades of at least 81.6 in each of the 2017 and 2018 seasons for the Patriots.
The Patriots now have Andrews and Karras back at the position, both of whom have multiple years of starting experience. It gives the team one of the stronger projected offensive lines in the league heading into 2021 despite the loss of Joe Thuney.
T James Hurst: Three years, $9 million ($5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
The Saints keep their top reserve offensive lineman in place with this modest three-year signing. Hurst spent time as a starter with the Baltimore Ravens at left tackle, right tackle and left guard across his six years with the team from 2014 to 2019. He played primarily left tackle in reserve duty last season with the Saints. Hurst has developed into a reliable pass protector when on the field, earning a 77.2 pass-blocking grade since 2017. He just won’t be opening too many lanes on the ground, evidenced by his 48.0 run-blocking grade over that same stretch.
Still, that isn’t bad production from a reserve offensive lineman with tackle-guard versatility. He gives the Saints some security should they be unable to keep the duo of Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk in place. This is the type of move around the margins that the Saints are confined to as they continue to work to get under the 2021 salary cap.
QB Jameis Winston: One year, Up to $12 million (TBD guaranteed)
Despite Winston being a free agent with several teams in need of quarterback help, he was expected to return to New Orleans. Those forecasts proved correct with this one-year deal. Winston saw just 54 offensive snaps this past season, with Taysom Hill drawing the starting opportunities while Drew Brees sat due to injury. Those two are poised to compete again this offseason for the starting job, with Winston the likely favorite to win it.
In five years as a starter for Tampa Bay, Winston consistently sat in the high 60s and low 70s in PFF grade. Don’t let that consistency fool you, though. He has one of the widest range of outcomes on a throw-for-throw basis in the league. In his last season as a starter with the Buccaneers in 2019, Winston’s 40 turnover-worthy plays led the league, but his 31 big-time throws were also a top-five mark among all passers. If he can cut down on the big mistakes, Winston’s downfield passing ability stands out as something an offense can build around.
The deal was characterized as similar in nature to the Cam Newton structure, with a maximum value of $12 million and $5.5 million in base salary. The difference is that we have a pretty solid idea of Newton’s ceiling at this point in his career. With Winston studying a year under Brees, the sky could theoretically be the limit in a Sean Payton offense catered to his strengths.
This deal certainly adds a little fuel to the conspiracy that New Orleans wanted to keep Winston on the shelf in 2020 so the team could bring him back for cheap in 2021, something it wasn't able to do with Teddy Bridgewater after his five-start stint in 2019 earned him a three-year, $63 million contract with the Carolina Panthers.
The Saints have shown again this offseason that the salary cap is just an abstract idea to them, but the one thing they couldn’t seem to get done was making a splash for a bona fide successor to Brees.
CB P.J. Williams: One year, $2.3 million ($2.3 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
It’s hard to fault the Saints for moves like this. It’s a cheap, one-year deal to bring back a player with five years of experience in the system during an offseason where the team has next to no money to do anything else.
The issue is that Williams has been a legitimate negative for the team over the past four seasons when on the field. His PFF grade dropped from 64.5 in 2017 to 55.0, 50.8 and 40.5 in the three subsequent seasons. Williams’ -0.25 wins above replacement over that four-year stretch is one of the worst marks of any defensive back in the league. Still, re-signing him, even on a modest deal, is the kind of move the Saints have to make with their backs up against the 2021 salary cap.
RB Devontae Booker: Two years, $5.5 million ($2 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
Booker should serve as an insurance policy for the Giants in case Saquon Barkley misses time again with injury. Booker’s largest role came as a rookie with Denver in 2016, when he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry on his 174 rushing attempts. His PFF grade has risen each year since, peaking at 68.7 with Las Vegas in 2020, but Booker stands out as merely decent on the ground and as an outlet in the passing game.
Those types of running backs tend to become available for cheaper, making this an interesting decision for a team that let Dalvin Tomlinson and Kevin Zeitler walk this offseason.
DI Leonard Williams: Three years, $63 million ($45 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
Williams becomes the third Giants defender to get paid big over the past two offseasons, following in the footsteps of James Bradberry and Blake Martinez from a year ago. He’s been just about as consistent as they come over the course of his six-year career, grading between 70.6 and 81.4 every season. Williams has also reliably performed better as a run defender than a pass rusher — including this past year, when he posted career-highs in pressures and sacks.
That’s the most concerning aspect of this extension that delivers $21 million per year annually with a high guaranteed figure. Big money along the defensive line is generally paid to players who affect the passing game at a high level. Williams has earned a 70.0-plus PFF pass-rushing grade just once in his career (71.4 in 2018). He’s a very good player, but this is a lot of money for a player who hasn’t quite earned a spot in the position's elite tier.
Williams and his camp knew they had every last bit of leverage in this negotiation, and it paid off big time. After New York elected to place a second consecutive franchise tag at a value of $19.35 million, that number became a floor for a per-year average in negotiations. Williams made the absolute most of his first franchise tag: After recording just a half-sack in 2019, he finished 2020 with 10.5 sacks and demonstrated some pass-rush ability to go along with his elite run-defending skills.
The former No. 6 overall pick of the Jets — whose draft status certainly played a role in this deal, as it does with all deals — was traded to the Giants for third- and fifth-round picks at the trade deadline in 2019. New York does not have a ton of talent on their roster, so the trade leverage coupled with that reality benefited Williams tremendously. Williams also profited from the presence of now-Vikings interior defender Dalvin Tomlinson, though 2019 first-round pick Dexter Lawrence is an ascending young player in his own right who may become part of a fierce tandem on the inside going forward.
It will be very hard for any player to sign a deal even close to as strong as this one for Williams. Not only did he match DeForest Buckner’s average per year at $21 million, his $45 million fully guaranteed number exceeds Buckner and trails only Aaron Donald’s $50 million fully guaranteed on his six-year extension by a measly $5 million. Moreover, by taking the shorter deal of just three years, Williams will be back on the market before he turns 30 years old. This is the defensive line equivalent of the Laremy Tunsil extension in Houston, and it's an absolute home run for Williams and his representation.
WR John Ross: One year, $2.5 million ($1 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
There is no way to classify this move as anything other than a flier on a former top-10 draft pick. And it’s not a bad deal at this price point. Every NFL offense could use more speed, and if nothing else, Ross has that. The former Washington Huskies wideout lit the NFL combine on fire with a 4.22-second 40-yard dash that remains the fastest in the event's history. That speed hasn’t come close to equaling production, though.
Ross has struggled with both injuries and drops across his four years in the league. He flashed potential during the 2019 season with 100-yard outings in each of the Bengals’ first two games that year, but that’s all there is to work with — flashes. The Giants still need a true No. 1 option in the passing game, but adding a 26-year-old Ross into the mix with Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton on a cheap one-year deal in the hopes he can remain healthy and put it all together isn’t a bad bet.
TE Kyle Rudolph: Two years, $12 million (Up to $14 million; $4.5 million guaranteed)
Rudolph has been one of the more steady tight ends in the league since the Vikings drafted him in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He’s graded between 63.2 and 78.3 on at least 400 offensive snaps in all 10 of those seasons. He’s not the most dynamic athlete at the position, but Rudolph boasts a well-rounded game and rarely drops passes. Over the past four seasons, he has dropped just two of his 233 targets.
There were reports of frustrations heading into this offseason about Rudolph’s 2020 role in Minnesota. For the first time in his career, he logged more run-blocking snaps than routes run, and he saw just 35 targets all year. That was his lowest mark since 2014.
Kenny Golladay is all the craze right now among Giants fans, but Rudolph ends up being the first addition to the receiving corps. It’s an interesting signing given that Evan Engram remains under contract with a $6.0 million cap hit in 2021. This is about where you would expect Rudolph’s contract to land as he enters next season at 31 years old.
WR Kenny Golladay: Four years, $72 million ($40 million guaranteed)
The Giants seemingly had the most traction for a potential Golladay deal for days. They went out and added John Ross and Kyle Rudolph over the first few days of free agency, but they were still missing a true X receiver. Golladay is that kind of player.
Golladay is coming off three straight seasons with a PFF grade of at least 79.9, combining for a 86.2 grade since 2018 that ranks 18th at the position among qualifiers. He appeared in just five games this past season, but despite that, Golladay still ranks fourth in receiving yards on passes 20-plus yards downfield over the past three seasons (1,072). His 53 contested catches over that same stretch are fewer than only Allen Robinson II. He’s one of the best “go up and get it” receivers in the league, which should help out Daniel Jones entering his third year.
After the wide receiver market started off at a glacial pace, Golladay began to draw significant interest from a handful of teams, including the Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens.
This is a strong deal for him coming off injury, but it doesn’t stand out as an egregious overpay on the part of the Giants, either. The $18 million average per year puts Golladay just outside the top five wide receivers in the league, and the $40 million guaranteed sits just outside the top 10 at the position.
CB Adoree’ Jackson: Three years, $39 million ($26.5 million guaranteed)
Since 2018, Jackson’s 85.6 coverage grade when lined up out wide is the fourth-best mark, trailing just Jaire Alexander, Richard Sherman and Stephon Gilmore. His forced incompletion rate of 40.0% on deep targets over the past two seasons ranks second among all cornerbacks who have faced at least 15 such targets. And he has the fourth-most wins above replacement generated at cornerback since being drafted in 2017.
One of the surprise cuts of the entire offseason, the 2017 first-rounder was set to play on the fifth-year option in 2021 at a value of $10.244 million. This is the last season where the fifth-year option will be guaranteed for injury only at signing, meaning Tennessee had no financial penalty as a result of this move. But going forward, a team would be on the hook for the entire amount were they to release a player in the same fashion.
Jackson missed almost the entirety of the 2020 season to injury, and perhaps that was the impetus for this move, but a precarious cap situation in Tennessee may have forced a release they will come to regret down the road.
Jackson is a physical, in-your-face corner, earning him the 10th-ranked grade in press coverage since 2017 (79.6, min. 200 snaps). His addition to a Giants secondary that already features James Bradberry, Logan Ryan, Jabrill Peppers and 2020 second-round pick Xavier McKinney could make the unit one of the NFL's best in 2021.
The deal is really strong for Jackson after he missed the first 14 weeks of the 2020 season with a knee injury that never seemed to fully heal, but he’s a good young player worthy of the risk. William Jackson III at three years, $40.25 million and Shaquill Griffin at three years, $40 million clearly provided the benchmark in negotiations following a surprise release by the Titans right before free agency officially began.
LB Jarrad Davis: One year, $5.5 million ($5.5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
It’s fair to say that Davis did not live up to his first-round billing in Detroit. 2020 marked his first NFL season where he recorded an overall grade above 60.0, but it came in a reduced role on just 329 defensive snaps. Prior to that, struggles as both a run defender and coverage defender led to underwhelming results.
The only reliable aspect to Davis' game was the impact he made as an occasional blitzer, tallying at least 10 quarterback pressures in each of his four seasons. In all, Davis has earned just over 0.1 PFF wins above replacement in his four years in the league — 78th at the position.
The Jets are reportedly shopping 2020 opt-out C.J. Mosley, which should open the door for Davis to see more playing time. The hope will be that a different role in Robert Saleh’s defense can bring out the best in a talented player, but there is little to take from Davis’ experience as a starter early in his career that would suggest this will be a successful experiment. That said, the one-year agreement ensures there isn’t much in the way of long-term risk for New York.
WR Corey Davis: Three years, $37.5 million ($27 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
With top free agent receivers Chris Godwin and Allen Robinson II getting franchise tags, Davis quickly became one of the best options at the position for wide receiver-needy teams. Davis will likely never live up to his top-five selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he has shown real signs of improvement over these past few seasons in Tennessee. He’s coming off a 2020 breakout in which his 85.3 PFF grade ranked 10th among 127 qualifying receivers across the league.
Contrary to recent history for the Jets in free agency, this doesn’t appear to be an overpay at first glance. PFF projected Davis for a four-year, $65 million deal this offseason, so this contract leaves plenty of room for value should Davis prove that his 2020 performance wasn’t an anomaly. At worst, he's a solid complementary option alongside Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder for whoever steps in at quarterback next season.
EDGE Carl Lawson: Three years, $45 million ($30 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
The Jets took a while to make a splash, but each of the Davis and Lawson additions certainly qualifies as such.
Lawson may have been the best pure pass rusher available in free agency this offseason. He ranks in the 96th percentile among all edge defenders in pass-rushing grade on true pass sets since entering the league in 2017, trailing only the likes of Joey Bosa, Cameron Wake, Myles Garrett and Von Miller. He’s coming off a 2020 season in which he saw played in the biggest role of his career. And Lawson delivered, posting 64 quarterback pressures (sixth in the NFL).
He won’t bring a whole lot to the table against the run, but that’s not why New York is paying him. He projects as someone who can provide a consistent pass-rushing presence alongside Quinnen Williams inside. Compared to some of the other edge rusher contracts signed on Day 1 of the legal tampering period, this stands out as one of the better values. It gives Robert Saleh another defensive cornerstone in his first year as a head coach.
WR Keelan Cole: One year, $5.5 million
The Jets had been linked to JuJu Smith-Schuster earlier in the day, but Cole ended up being their second free agent signing at the position after the team agreed to terms with Corey Davis on Monday. Cole doesn’t bring the same kind of name value as JuJu, but he still projects as a nice complementary piece within this offense.
Cole’s career-high 74.0 PFF grade came as a rookie during Jacksonville’s AFC Championship game run in 2017. He finished in the mid-60s in overall grade each of the past two years after transitioning to more of a slot role. Cole ran over 50% of his routes from the slot in those two campaigns, marking a change from the 2017 and 2018 seasons. That inside-outside versatility should suit him well in what will likely be a WR4 role behind Davis, Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder.
This move also opens the door for a potential Crowder release that could save the team over $10 million against the 2021 salary cap if they view Cole as a starting slot receiver — a role he is capable of filling.
S Lamarcus Joyner: One year, $3 million ($2.5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Just two years ago, Joyner was signing a four-year, $42 million deal with the Las Vegas Raiders. He was coming off the two best seasons of his career at free safety with the Los Angeles Rams, but upon arriving in Las Vegas, Joyner made the switch back to the slot. The results were less than ideal. He ended the past two years with a 48.1 overall grade and a 46.8 grade in coverage. The prior two seasons had netted him grades of 89.5 and 91.1, respectively, in a free safety role.
It’s pretty clear Joyner is best at that position, and early reports indicate that’s where the Jets want him to play. Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Joyner will play the Jimmie Ward role in Robert Saleh’s defense. If that means Joyner can find his way back to his 2017-18 form, this has the potential to be another strong deal for New York. Joyner will now join Marcus Maye and Ashtyn Davis to give the Jets several different options at the position.
DI Sheldon Rankins: Two years, Up to $17 million ($8.5 million guaranteed)
Rankins isn’t coming off the two best seasons of his career by any stretch, but injuries were a major factor in his recent decline. The Louisville product had a strong year with the Saints in 2018, earning a 78.8 PFF grade with a career-high 46 quarterback pressures. His career was trending in the right direction with big jumps in overall grade in each of his first three NFL seasons.
However, a torn Achilles in the 2018 playoffs, a preventative surgery on his other Achilles in 2019 and an MCL injury last season led to Rankins playing just under 800 snaps in the past two seasons combined. In a Sirius XM Radio interview back in February, Rankins said, “You can cut that 2018 tape on and see that’s the guy they’re getting.” If that’s the case, this is strong value for the Jets.
It’s just difficult to feel 100% confident that Rankins will remain healthy given his history of lower-body injuries. Still, it’s not a bad signing on the part of the Jets in the hopes that the 2018 version of Rankins lives up to his max of $8.5 million per year.
S Anthony Harris: One year, $5 million (TBD guaranteed)
Ladies and gentlemen, the Eagles are on the board.
Over the past three seasons, Harris has graded out as one of the best safeties in football. Let's amend that. Harris’ 90.6 PFF grade since then has been the best mark at the position — a title he shares with Adrian Amos, who also sits at 90.6. He was excellent in the split-safety looks that Mike Zimmer’s defenses like to run. One has to imagine Harris will be utilized in a similar manner with Eagles’ defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon coming over from Indianapolis.
This is a surprisingly cheap deal for Harris, who played on the franchise tag in 2020, even with a dip in play this past year. He’s the kind of player who Philadelphia wasn’t expected to be able to land due to its cap situation. Harris should provide immediate help at a position where the Eagles are losing Jalen Mills and hoping Rodney McLeod can recover from his second torn ACL in three seasons.
CB Cameron Sutton: Two years, $9 million ($3.5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
The Steelers had decisions to make when it came to Sutton and slot cornerback Mike Hilton. Hilton now departs, but Sutton will return to Pittsburgh as the more versatile secondary player of the two. He has spent time out wide, in the slot and even at safety over the past two seasons, posting strong PFF coverage grades of at least 73.0 in both seasons. Sutton took on a much larger role in 2020; his 619 defensive snaps nearly matched his snap count across his first three years in the league combined.
Outside corners Joe Haden and Steven Nelson are both entering their final seasons under contract, leaving the door open for Sutton to potentially transition into one of those jobs down the road. At the least, he has a path to playing time both in the slot and in the box in nickel and dime packages. He has earned an 84.2 PFF grade from the slot since 2019. This is a reasonable price for a young, versatile depth piece who has starting potential.
T Zach Banner: Two years, $9.5 million ($3.25 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
Banner remains a massive unknown as a potential starting option at tackle. The 2017 fourth-round draft pick played a career-high 216 offensive snaps during the 2019 season for Pittsburgh, but just two of them came as a sixth offensive lineman at “tight end.” Banner actually earned the starting job at right tackle for Pittsburgh leading up to the 2020 season. He lasted only 59 snaps in that job before a torn ACL ended his season. Chukwuma Okorafor finished the year at that spot for the Steelers.
There is a chance that Pittsburgh could see Banner as an option at left tackle next season should the team fail to bring back Alejandro Villanueva. In that scenario, he would at least be a favorite to earn one of the starting tackle jobs along with Okorafor, barring any early draft pick spent on the position.
This signing is purely based on practice reps and optimism going forward. Banner is a massive human at 6-foot-8, 360 pounds, and he has significantly better run-blocking grades than pass blocking grades on his limited reps. Ben Roethlisberger’s average depth of target in 2020 was 7.4 yards, which ranked 28th, so look for the Steelers to once again get the ball out quickly and not very far downfield before opposing pass rushers inevitably get home on an immobile 39-year-old quarterback.
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster: One year, $8 million
Grade: Very Good
JuJu’s stock wasn’t at an all-time high entering the 2021 offseason. Between off-the-field drama regarding his social media presence and pregame dance routine to a dip in play on the field since Antonio Brown’s departure from the team, these past two years haven’t followed the trajectory that Smith-Schuster appeared to be on early in his young NFL career. He’s not a true No. 1 option out wide, but he does still project as a valuable complementary piece who can win over the middle of the field with his toughness and after-the-catch ability.
Since entering the league in 2017, JuJu ranks second in the NFL in both receiving yards (2,393) and receiving touchdowns (19) from the slot. That’s where he should continue to work in 2021, with a combination of Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson and James Washington out wide. The Steelers’ roster has its concerns, but JuJu’s return maintains strength at the wide receiver position.
The expectation was that Smith-Schuster was going to be one of several Steelers starters who would be moving on this offseason due to the team being unable to make a competitive offer in free agency. As it turns out, a hometown discount was in order in what has turned out to be a weak free-agent market for wide receivers.
Smith-Schuster’s decision to return to Pittsburgh for one-year, $8 million with a superior offer on the table from Kansas City (one-year, $8 million plus $3 million in incentives) is a bold move. The slot receiver had an opportunity to contribute on one of the best offenses in NFL history, with Tyreek Hill taking the top off the defense while he could work underneath and feast on yards after the catch in an offense that stretches out opposing defenses to an extreme degree.
Ultimately, Smith-Schuster loves Pittsburgh and valued the opportunity to run it back with a one-year flier on the team that drafted him. The Steelers have a porous offensive line and Ben Roethlisberger struggled to throw the ball downfield with any sort of consistency, so ample targets should be headed his way as he works to boost his market.
FB Kyle Juszczyk: Five years, $27 million ($10 million guaranteed)
It's rare that we discuss a fullback cashing in during free agency, but Juszczyk is not your typical fullback. His 1,916 offensive snaps over the past four years in San Francisco are over 800 more than any other player at the position in the league.
Juszczyk also comes in as the highest-graded fullback with at least 500 snaps over that span. It may be a dying position, but Juszczyk is pushing against that shift and still provides value to the 49ers’ offense.
The next highest-paid fullback makes $3.25 million per year, and Juszczyk checks in at $5.4 million. While he's an integral part of the San Francisco offense, and it's understandable that the fullback position wouldn't have the most normal market considering not every team even carries one on their roster, it's always important to assess value from a league-wide perspective.
CB Jason Verrett: One year, $5.5 million ($4.5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
If Verrett can stay healthy — a big if considering his extensive injury history — this is tremendous value for the 49ers. He returned to the field as a starter for San Francisco in 2020 and looked reminiscent of the player who was on his way to becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the league before a slew of injuries derailed his career. Verrett ended last season with a 77.6 overall grade, ranking eighth among all qualifying players at the position.
This contract provides some stability for the 49ers in an area of need due to fellow cornerback starters Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams also hitting free agency. It allows for Verrett to set himself up for a larger deal next offseason with another healthy year of strong play while carrying little long-term risk for San Francisco.
EDGE Samson Ebukam: Two years, $12 million ($5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
We’ve seen the kind of boost Aaron Donald has provided to Los Angeles' free agent edge defenders in the past, but Ebukam hasn’t done a whole lot as a starter in that system over the past four seasons. The 2020 season marked a career-high 68.3 pass-rushing grade for Ebukam. It also came with an uncharacteristically poor showing against the run. His 48.9 grade versus the run was over 15 grading points worse than his previous career-low.
This stands out as an interesting move for a team with Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead already on the edge. Plus, the 49ers just restructured Dee Ford’s contract. Barring injuries, it’s difficult to see Ebukam cracking much more than a rotational role with the team. It looks to be a relatively expensive insurance policy for Ford, who is now making $12 million per year himself.
CB Emmanuel Moseley: Two years, $9.4 million ($4.4 million guaranteed)
With Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon and K’Waun Williams all testing the market, San Francisco locked up restricted free agent cornerback Emmanuel Moseley before free agency began. He logged more snaps over the past two seasons than everyone in the above group except Sherman, with a modest 65.5 overall grade and a 62.2 coverage grade.
Moseley's 14 forced incompletions over the past two seasons topped all 49ers defensive backs, and he is also reliable against the run, earning a 72.1 two-year grade in that facet. He's a solid all-around cornerback who stabilized the position group before San Francisco struck a deal with Jason Verrett a few days later.
Moseley was likely set to be tendered at the second-round level as a restricted free agent, which carries a value of $3.384 million. Both he and the team stand to benefit from buying out his RFA year and agreeing to terms on a two-year deal with more upfront assurances, and we expect San Francisco keeps his 2021 cap hit below that $3.384 million number if that was part of the impetus for the early extension.
T Trent Williams: Six years, $138 million ($45.1 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
After a cancer diagnosis and a 2019 season away from the game, Williams proved that he remains one of the NFL’s elite tackles in his first season with San Francisco. He was a natural fit in the 49ers’ offense in 2020, but that would have been true for nearly any offense in the league. As his PFF free agent profile said, Williams can move defenders at the point of attack or cut them off on the backside of zone plays. There just aren’t a lot of weaknesses to his game.
His 91.9 overall grade at left tackle ranked first at the position in 2020, and it marked his ninth straight season with a 75.0-plus PFF grade. Few tackles in the league can point to that kind of success and consistency over the past decade. The 49ers clearly prioritized keeping him in place at left tackle this offseason, and for good reason.
The average annual value of this contract is in line with the $23 million per year deal that David Bakhtiari signed, but the six-year total value is the highest in the league for an offensive lineman by a wide margin. Williams' $55.1 million fully guaranteed comes in below only Ronnie Stanley at tackle ($64.1 million). It’s a strong deal for the 32-year-old that should keep him in San Francisco through the end of his career.
C Alex Mack: Three years, $14.85 million ($5.1 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Mack’s career is winding down at 35 years old, but even in a career-worst 2020 season, he still graded out as a top-half-of-the-league center. The 2020 campaign marked the first time in Mack’s career where he didn’t pick up a 75.0-plus pass-blocking grade. He endured a sizable dip in that facet, all the way down to 56.4. Still, he graded out above 70.0 in the run game, and there is a good chance he is able to turn things around in a San Francisco offense that is well-suited to his talents.
Mack reunites with head coach Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco in what is a perfect fit for the longtime center, who lost a step in pass protection but can still excel in a zone-heavy run scheme. He’s graded above 70.0 in run blocking every season since 2015, and he will now line up in the middle of an offensive line featuring PFF’s No. 1 and No. 2 highest-graded run-blocking tackles in 2020 — the recently re-signed Trent Williams and Mike McGlinchey.
Shanahan and the 49ers made Weston Richburg one of the highest-paid centers in the NFL in 2018, and he struggled to live up to that deal even before a barrage of injuries caused him to miss the entire 2020 season. Richburg agreed to rework his contract and is apparently mulling retirement, paving the way for Mack.
DI Poona Ford: Two years, $14 million (TBD guaranteed)
Grade: Very good
Ford was a dominant presence at nose tackle in college, but he failed to check one box for scouts: height. At just 5-foot-11, he fell all the way out of the draft before signing with the Seattle Seahawks as a priority undrafted free agent. That deal paid immediate dividends, and every team frankly looks foolish for passing on him entirely.
In his first season in the NFL in 2018, Ford took no time adjusting to the next level. Albeit on a mere 231 total snaps, Ford’s 90.3 grade ranked eighth among all interior defenders.
While he was a consistent run-stuffing presence from Day 1, he lacked the ability to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks until this past season, when he elevated his game in that facet. In 2018-19 combined, Ford had 19 quarterback pressures. He racked up 28 pressures in 2020 alone. He’ll never be counted on to consistently get after the quarterback, but that added element to his game makes him all the more valuable as he continues to develop just three seasons into his career.
Seattle could have used a restricted free agent tender on Ford this offseason but elected to smartly forgo the one-year deal in exchange for a two-year extension that benefits both parties. Even in a suppressed market and when considering Seattle is “buying out” the RFA year, this is a bargain.
CB Ahkello Witherspoon: One year, $4 million ($4 million guaranteed)
Witherspoon has been in and out of the starting lineup the past few years with San Francisco thanks to inconsistent play. He hit a low in the 2019 postseason when he allowed 70 yards on three receptions to Stefon Diggs and the Minnesota Vikings on fewer than 10 coverage snaps. Witherspoon was promptly benched and didn’t win the job back heading into 2020. He sat firmly behind Jason Verrett, Richard Sherman and Emmanuel Moseley on the depth chart this past year.
Witherspoon did impress in three starts to close the 2020 campaign. He earned coverage grades of 88.8, 86.8 and 77.7 in Weeks 15 through 17, providing some reason for optimism heading into this offseason. If nothing else, this is a decent low-risk dart throw that could potentially lead to cheap, quality play at outside cornerback.
Seattle elected to let Shaquill Griffin walk in free agency, signing what will probably end up as the second-biggest contract of the offseason at the cornerback position — three years, $40 million — just $250,000 behind William Jackson III in base value over the same three years. The Seahawks also are set to lose Quinton Dunbar to free agency, though there’s a chance they’re working to bring him back on another one-year flier after an injury-marred 2020 campaign.
Seattle has prioritized the front seven on defense so far while going the cheaper route in the secondary, agreeing to a two-year extension worth up to $14 million with nose tackle Poona Ford and reportedly working hard to bring K.J. Wright back after he excelled following a move to the strongside linebacker position in 2020.
TE Gerald Everett: One year, $6 million (Up to $7 million)
Grade: Very good
Everett came in as one of two intriguing move tight ends in this free agent class, along with Jonnu Smith. The latter went on to agree to a four-year, $50 million dollar deal with New England that included $30 million in guarantees, making Everett’s contract look like a steal by comparison.
The former Ram does sit a notch below Smith when projecting forward, but he also has multiple highly graded seasons as a receiver on his resume. Everett finished each of 2018 and 2019 with PFF receiving grades of 74.5 or higher in a relatively low-volume role while splitting time with Tyler Higbee at tight end. He’ll add a nice after-the-catch element to a Seahawks’ receiving corps that includes D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Everett has averaged over five yards after the catch per reception over the course of his career.
This one-year deal puts him in line with Blake Jarwin and Eric Ebron from an average annual value standpoint. It’s good value for Seattle, and it will allow Everett to hit the market again next offseason following a year within a talented offense to showcase his skill set.
C Ethan Pocic: One year, $3 million ($3 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
The former second-round pick finally got a near-full season of action this past year for Seattle, starting 15 games at center through the regular season and postseason. Pocic had missed significant time in each of his first three years in the league due to injury. 2020 also marked the first year in which Pocic drew a start at center, and while 59.8 overall grade ranked 26th out of 37 qualifiers across the league, it was a career-high for him.
The interior offensive line stood out as an area where Seattle needed to be aggressive in free agency, especially following the recent rumors surrounding Russell Wilson’s discontent. Seattle did bring in Gabe Jackson via trade — presumably to replace Mike Iupati at left guard — but this signing means the team likely views Pocic as its center again in 2021.
There is potential room for growth in a new offensive scheme for a guy who has missed a number of games early in his NFL career. Pocic was an above-average pass protector in true pass sets last season, but he was a negative in the run game. It’s unlikely that he will make the leap toward becoming an above-average option at the position overall in 2021, but this contract also doesn’t set Seattle back much.
RB Chris Carson: Two years, $10.4 million (Up to $14.625 million; $5.5 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Carson has been one of the NFL's best runners in recent years, featuring in Seattle’s backfield over the past three seasons. His 87.6 PFF rushing grade over that span is a top-10 mark at the position, and he ranks fourth in both yards after contact (2,290) and missed tackles forced (134) as a runner. Carson runs angry, and he has shown that he can have success across a variety of schemes. He’s also shown himself to be a capable receiver, earning a grade north of 80.0 in 2020.
Second contracts for running backs are generally bad news, but this appears to be a reasonable deal for both sides. The former seventh-round pick Carson gets his payday, and Seattle retains one of the better running backs in the league for a deal that will pay a shade over $7 million per year at its max value.
EDGE Kerry Hyder: Three years, $16.5 million (TBD guaranteed)
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds, Hyder has played between the tackles in his NFL career. More recently, however, he’s served as an edge rusher in Robert Saleh’s 49ers defense. 2020 marked the second season in the former undrafted free agent’s career in which he played at least 500 defensive snaps, joining a 2016 campaign with the Lions. In that 2020 season, Hyder set career-highs in both total pressures (55) and overall grade (68.6).
Hyder’s overall grade this past season was actually buoyed by his run defense despite those 55 pressures. His 58.8 pass-rushing grade on the season is largely due to the fact that 31 of those 55 pressures were charted as either cleanup or unblocked opportunities (56%).
Still, this looks to be a reasonable deal to bring in some needed edge-rushing help. Hyder’s ability to slide inside makes him a strong candidate to challenge L.J. Collier for the strongside defensive end role. His $5.5 million average per year puts him well down the ranks of the highest-paid edge defenders in the NFL.
LB Lavonte David: Two years, $25 million ($20 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
As Tom Brady said in a recent Instagram post, the Buccaneers are keeping the band together. Retaining David was a big step in that process. Devin White received a majority of the praise for the Buccaneers last season, but David remains the leader of that group. The nine-year veteran has played some of the best football of his career in recent years.
Since 2017, David ranks third among qualifying linebackers in overall grade, behind only Bobby Wagner and Luke Kuechly, and first in coverage grade. This is certainly a reasonable price for that kind of top-of-the-position production.
EDGE Shaquil Barrett: Four years, $68 million ($36 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very good
After years of strong play without the opportunity to put up big-time numbers as a starter in Denver, Barrett has proven to be one of the more consistent edge defenders in the league across two seasons in Tampa Bay.
He has earned 78.0-plus pass-rushing grades in back-to-back years while also posting solid marks against the run. Additionally, Barrett leads all players at the position in total quarterback pressures since 2019 (157). Tampa Bay should feel confident that it will get strong play from him over the course of this deal.
The Buccaneers made it clear at their Super Bowl parade that they were going to do everything in their power to pay Barrett fair market value and keep intact a defense that dominated the postseason. With Lavonte David re-signed to a two-year, $25 million deal that contained three void years for salary cap purposes, and with Tom Brady signing an extension that had void years in it, Tampa Bay was able to make things work with Barrett after all.
Barrett arrived in Tampa on a one-year, $4 million deal in 2019 after getting his career underway as an undrafted free agent in Denver. He put up 19.5 sacks, and Tampa placed the franchise tag on him for 2020. Now, he signs for $17 million per year and finally gets his big payday. It still feels like he may have taken a tiny bit less money just to stick and chase a third Super Bowl ring.
TE Rob Gronkowski: One year, $8 million ($8 million guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Gronkowski was expected back in Tampa Bay for at least one more run with Tom Brady, and this one-year deal makes that official. He isn't the same dominant force that once helped propel the New England Patriots, but Gronkowski still ended 2020 with a top-10 receiving grade at the position (78.4). That’s in line with his performance in his final year with the Patriots back in 2018. He’s still a massive target who will win more contested-catch situations than he loses. To that point, Gronkowski hauled in an impressive 13 of 19 contested targets in 2020.
The deal was reported as up to $10 million, with incentives covering the final $2 million. It puts the Hall of Fame-bound tight end in line with the deal Jimmy Graham signed with Chicago last offseason. That’s not a bad value for a player of Gronkowski’s caliber. The Buccaneers continue to make all the moves necessary to run it back in 2021.
DI Ndamukong Suh: One year, $9 million ($9 million guaranteed)
Suh has truly been one of the NFL’s greatest iron men over the past decade. He has played at least 800 defensive snaps in all 11 of his NFL seasons to this point, and he is the only defensive lineman in the league to play at least 10,000 defensive snaps since 2010. That durability paired with strong play against the run would not have been easy for Tampa Bay to replace up front. Fortunately for the team, it won’t have to after this one-year deal.
Suh’s play took a step back in 2020, but he still racked up 50 quarterback pressures and put up a 62.4 overall grade. The Buccaneers continue to run things back, returning a strong defensive front that also features Shaquil Barrett, Vita Vea and Jason Pierre-Paul. This move isn’t cheap for a player likely on the decline at 34 years old, but Tampa Bay is clearly looking to keep their championship window open with Tom Brady, so the value for this individual move is less of a concern.
DL Denico Autry: Three years, $21.5 million ($9 million guaranteed)
Autry transitioned from an interior role earlier in his career to an edge role these past few seasons with the Colts. In 2020, 435 of his 675 defensive snaps came from outside the right tackle. A move back inside may be coming in Tennessee’s base 3-4 defense, but Autry has shown the ability to win both inside and outside.
He has been a solid starter in each of the past four seasons, grading between 63.7 and 71.0 in each campaign. Autry also fills a clear area of need for Tennessee after there was little clarity on who would contribute along the defensive front beyond Jeffery Simmons and Harold Landry III.
One had to assume that Tennessee was positioning itself to be active in the defensive free agent market after releasing Malcolm Butler and Kenny Vaccaro and declining to re-sign Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis. Signing Autry to this deal is a decent first step. Now, the Titans will likely look to make a splash and add a disruptive outside linebacker among the names still remaining in free agency.
EDGE Bud Dupree: Five years, $82.5 million ($35 million guaranteed)
Grade: Below Average
PFF has been lower on Dupree than the consensus over his past several seasons in Pittsburgh. He did earn a career-high 77.7 PFF grade back in 2019, but he has failed to top a 62.6 overall grade in any other campaign during his six-year career. The two things you don’t have to worry about Dupree bringing to the table are athleticism and motor. That shows up in his league-high 37 cleanup pressures over the past two seasons despite him missing time in 2020 due to injury.
Still, Dupree hasn’t shown the ability to win at a high level in one-on-one pass-rushing situations. He was helped immensely by T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, each of whom drew attention and flushed quarterbacks from the pocket to create additional opportunities for Dupree to pile up sack and pressure numbers. He likely won't see a similar situation in Tennessee.
The Titans did all they could to improve at edge rusher in 2020 opposite 2018 second-round pick Harold Landry III, signing Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year flier worth around $13 million and Vic Beasley to a one-year deal for about $9.5 million. Both were quite unsuccessful, with Beasley waived during the season and Clowney going down with an injury after eight games.
After missing out on J.J. Watt earlier this offseason, Tennessee locks up Dupree to the second-biggest contract at edge rusher — behind only Shaq Barrett’s deal with Tampa Bay. It’s not unlikely that Dupree’s deal looks just as bad in hindsight as Clowney's and Beasley’s do this offseason.
T Kendall Lamm: Two years, $6.8 million ($3 million guaranteed)
There are certainly worse free agent options for that role than Lamm. He started 14 games at right tackle for the Houston Texans in 2018, earning a 65.2 overall grade that was boosted significantly by a 76.0 pass-blocking grade. That has been the story of Lamm's NFL career: profiling as a better pass blocker than run blocker. He saw limited action these past two seasons as a reserve offensive lineman for the Browns, but he did grade reasonably well on his 200-plus offensive snaps.
This contract is in line with several other backup tackle deals across the league, and it’s a decent depth signing for the Titans as they continue to solidify the trenches.
*Update: The Titans released starting right tackle Dennis Kelly after the Lamm signing was announced, which could give Lamm the opportunity to compete for the starting right tackle job.
LB Jayon Brown: One year, $5.3 million ($3.25 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
Brown has been one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL over the past three seasons, earning the 10th-highest coverage grade of any player at the position since 2018 while picking up exactly one interception and five pass breakups in each year. Brown doesn’t stand out as an overly strong run defender, but his ability to patrol the middle of the field in zone would have been missed in Tennessee had he decided to head elsewhere.
This signing maintains some semblance of stability on a unit that will have a high rate of turnover entering 2021. It’s also good value for the Titans when looking at the comparable Matt Milano, who signed for $10 million-plus annually and over $20 million guaranteed earlier this week. On Brown’s end, he will now enter free agency again next season — hopefully off a fully healthy year — when the health of the salary cap across the league should be in a better spot.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick: One year, $10 million (Up to $12 million; $6 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
After Dak Prescott signed his extension with Dallas, Fitzpatrick became the top quarterback available on PFF’s free agent rankings, at 17th overall. Now, he joins his ninth NFL team as the favorite to win the starting job in a battle with Taylor Heinicke on a squad that made the postseason last year.
Fitzpatrick played the best football of his career in recent years with both Tampa Bay and Miami, posting PFF grades above 75.0 in each of 2018, 2019 and 2020 after failing to do so across the first 13 seasons of his career. He won’t be afraid to give Terry McLaurin, among others, an opportunity to make plays on 50/50 balls. Fitzpatrick employs one of the more aggressive and carefree playstyles at the position across the NFL.
He should represent an upgrade over the play Washington got from the quarterback position in 2020, and this relatively modest one-year deal that puts him outside the 20 highest-paid quarterbacks in the league will allow Washington to continue adding pieces in the coming days. It gives the Football Team a reasonable chance to contend again for a division championship in 2021.
CB William Jackson III: Three years, $40.5 million ($26 million guaranteed)
Grade: Very Good
In what will likely end up as the biggest cornerback signing of the offseason, Washington finds an immediate replacement for Ronald Darby. William Jackson III, a 2016 first-round pick, had a big year at the right time, bouncing back from career-lows across the board in 2019 to finish with a 71.4 overall grade and a 72.4 coverage grade in 2020.
Jackson was the best man cornerback available, a guy who can lock down one-third of the field by himself on an island. Since his rookie season in 2016, Jackson has produced a 77.5 coverage grade when lined up in press coverage, ranking 20th among all wide corners who played at least 200 snaps over that span.
With Jackson coming off a great season playing on a fifth-year option for just under $9.6 million, Washington got good value even if he ends up as the top earner at the position this offseason.
WR Curtis Samuel: Three years, $34.5 million (TBD guaranteed)
Grade: Above Average
Another wide receiver domino falls. It would have been a surprise had Washington not added another wideout in either the draft or free agency to give Terry McLaurin a little bit of help. As it turns out, that wide receiver is McLaurin’s former Ohio State teammate in Samuel.
Samuel initially struggled to find his footing early in his Panthers’ career, but 2020 was a different story under new offensive coordinator Joe Brady. No longer was he a deep threat who none of Cam Newton, Kyle Allen or Will Grier could hit downfield. The Panthers made a concerted effort to get the ball into his hands more underneath with a career-low 7.5-yard average depth of target. He even got 41 carries on the year — capable of handling the occasional traditional running back duties. All of that led to a career-high 77.0 PFF grade last season.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback and Samuel brought in to add another dynamic receiver to this group, things are looking up offensively for Washington. This is a strong offer for Samuel — coming in above PFF’s three-year, $27.5 million projection in a wide receiver market that has seemingly been down otherwise.
Check out more 2021 PFF free agency content: