With the excitement of the 2019 free agency period now almost over, fans and executives alike now only have one more pit stop left before they can turn all of their focus to the 2019 NFL season. On the other hand, for the players who have recently changed teams, the season starts now. Whether those players have been signed to a one-year prove-it deal as they search for long-term security, whether they’ve been assigned the tag, or whether they’ve inked a record deal that has reset the market for players at the position, each one of these players will have something to prove this year.
Here are our predictions for every NFL team’s best signing.
Top signing: Randall Cobb
While the Cowboys have been generally quiet in free agency, signing Cobb was a big step in the right direction. Cobb is coming off his worst-graded season (60.2) in his eight-year career, but his slot prowess matches up perfectly with quarterback Dak Prescott. Departing slot receiver Cole Beasley was the focal point of the Cowboys’ passing game with a team-leading 85 targets (70 from the slot), and Cobb should fill that void as a player who once saw more than 200 targets and 18 touchdowns from the slot from 2014-2015.
Top signing: Markus Golden
Golden is a low-risk, high-reward signing that makes a lot of sense for the Giants. At his best — his sophomore campaign in 2016 — Golden notched 53 pressures (24th among edge defenders) and an 8.7 run-stop percentage (19th among edge defenders). Unfortunately, at his worst last season, he managed less than 30 pressures and was a non-factor in the run game. With Olivier Vernon gone, the Giants will be able to give Golden a chance to rekindle his past success from the left edge on a friendly, one-year, $3.75M deal.
Top signing: Malik Jackson
Jackson was a stud from 2013 to 2017, never posting a grade below 70.0 and frequently placing in the top 10 in quarterback pressures among interior defenders. Then, in 2018, Jackson saw a dip in play — he had fewer snaps, fewer stops and the fewest pressures he’s had since 2014. But now, he joins an always-feared Eagles defensive front that harbors Fletcher Cox (92.5 grade in 2018), Brandon Graham (88.1 grade in 2018), Chris Long (75.4), among others. It’s the perfect fit for Jackson and gives him a clear shot at returning to his past form while competing alongside the NFL’s best.
Top signing: Landon Collins
The Redskins made their splash in free agency by giving Collins a massive contract, and while it’s easy to bash such a deal, Collins has proven that he can be destructive on the back end and in the box. Just a few months ago, the Redskins had one of the best safety duos in the league, and now both are gone. Collins was a much-needed addition — he did struggle in coverage in 2018, but he has previously had strong years in that facet. In the run game, Collins was again top five in run-stop percentage. His price was high, but his skill set is rare, and the Redskins should reap the rewards.
Top signing: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Goodbye Adrian Amos Jr., hello Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Not only did the Bears fill a void with the signing, but they brought on a top-10 safety for on a very cheap contract. It’s a clear bargain, and if Clinton-Dix comes even close to matching or besting his 8.1 yards per reception allowed (13th), he will have been easily worth the one-year investment. Last season, he also missed only three tackles, contributing to his 89.9 tackling grade that ranked sixth among safeties. There’s plenty of reasons to be thrilled with having Clinton-Dix roaming around in your secondary for just $3 million a year.
Top signing: Trey Flowers
A lucrative $18 million-per-year deal means Flowers has a lot to live up to, but if he performs at the level he did in 2018, the Lions’ pass rush is going to be getting to the quarterback quite frequently. Flowers was one of five edge defenders to eclipse a 90.0 overall grade last year, and with 64 (t-10th) pressures and 37 stops (9th) in a contract year, he earned his lucrative deal. The only players who graded higher than him were J.J. Watt and Calais Campbell — and Von Miller and Khalil Mack were just a hair behind him.
Top signing: Adrian Amos Jr.
Amos is another player who is low-risk, high-reward. In 2017, he emerged as a top-five safety. In 2018, showed up again with an 82.7 overall grade. His counterpart Josh Jones wasn’t all that effective this past season after replacing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, but Amos Jr. should be able to shore up a safety unit that was a real concern for the Packers heading into 2019. After having six pass-breakups and no picks in his first two years, Amos Jr. has racked up four interceptions and eight breakups in his past two campaigns.
Top signing: Anthony Barr
Two years ago, Barr was the Vikings’ lowest-graded player. Two years later, he’s their top-graded off-ball linebacker and a key cog in the defense. Fortunately for the Vikings, he returned after considering an offer from the New York Jets. He won’t have to build any new chemistry or try and find his spot in a new defense — Barr’s return means he can further build on the 71.2 overall grade in 2018 that continued his rise from a 50.5 mark in 2016.
Top signing: Luke Stocker
The Atlanta Falcons are notoriously quiet in free agency, and the signing of Luke Stocker probably doesn’t mean much for Falcons fans. But the 31-year old has established himself as a top blocking tight end. He ranked in the top 15 in both run-blocking and pass-blocking snaps in 2018, and his success on those snaps ultimately earned him a 78.6 pass-blocking grade (11th) and a 76.7 overall grade (7th). He’ll provide the Falcons both with more chances to find big gains on the ground and more time for Matt Ryan in the pocket.
Top signing: Matt Paradis
Paradis ranked fourth among centers with a 99.1 pass-blocking efficiency in 2018; in nine games, he surrendered just five quarterback pressures. The Panthers’ longtime center, Ryan Kalil, retired following the 2018 campaign, so a replacement was very much needed. Paradis will take those reins having allowed just six sacks on more than 4,000 career snaps.
Top signing: Latavius Murray
The Saints’ backfield is going to look a little odd without Mark Ingram in it, but such is the way of free agency, and the Saints did right by signing Murray, who has just one fumble in his career and will serve as a reliable No. 2 next to Alvin Kamara. While Murray ranked 27th in average yards after contact last year, it was still the best finish of his career. He will likely serve the New Orleans backfield well.
Top signing: Shaquil Barrett
Perhaps the steal of free agency, the Buccaneers scooped up Barrett at just $4 million. He ranked top 20 in run-stop percentage and finished with a 74.9 overall grade (24th) last year. Considering none of the Tampa Bay edge defenders had a grade higher than 70.0, Barrett will slot in nicely. He’ll also help replace Vinny Curry, who returned to the Eagles after a subpar year with the Buccaneers.
Top signing: Jordan Hicks
The linebacker who was once the NFL’s best in coverage has fallen off a bit in the past two years. After allowing just a 53.7 passer rating in coverage, Hicks has allowed a rating higher than 100.0 in each of the last two seasons. But with that dropoff has come an increase in run-defense production. Hicks’ 81.3 grade in run defense was a career-best and will help an Arizona defense that ranked 29th in the facet a season ago.
Top signing: Eric Weddle
Weddle still has it, despite his age. He’s among the NFL’s top safeties, and he’s more than capable of leading a defense. His tenure in Baltimore included 10 interceptions, nine pass breakups and just three touchdowns allowed. John Johnson III was accountable for five touchdowns alone last year, so Weddle can also serve as a mentor to the budding third-year safety.
Top signing: Dee Ford
How did the 49ers land Dee Ford for merely a second-round pick? The former first-round pick absolutely exploded onto the scene in his fifth year, racking the most regular-season pressures among edge defenders and missing just four tackles. He’ll now join the young-but-talented group of 49ers edge rushers who now appear far more dangerous and ready to compete with the relatively weak NFC West offensive lines.
Top signing: K.J. Wright
Wright knows nothing else but Seattle, and the Seahawks made the right decision to bring him back. Even though his 2018 campaign was injury-riddled, Wright has consistently held down the middle of the field in eight years with the Seahawks. Either he or star linebacker Bobby Wagner have topped the Seahawks in stops each year since 2012, and they’ve undoubtedly developed a chemistry that shouldn’t be messed with.
Top signing: Antonio Brown
Brown needs no introduction – especially to the Raiders fans who can recall his 17-catch, 284-yard performance against their team back in 2015. His career grades are absurd, with a career-low 79.3 grade coming last season to go with six seasons graded at 88.0 or higher. Brown will join a new-look receiver group, alongside offseason additions Tyrell Williams and J.J. Nelson, as a consistently elite, number-one option for Derek Carr. It remains to be seen if Brown can maintain his production pace with Carr, as PFF analyst Gordon McGuinness outlined here, but he will step in immediately as arguably the best all-around wide receiver in the NFL.
Top signing: Tyrann Mathieu
The Chiefs were sorely in need of a fortifying presence in the secondary after losing Steven Nelson and Eric Berry in an already thin group, and they got one in Mathieu. Though hampered by injuries early in his career, Mathieu has shown durability the last two seasons with over 1,000 defensive snaps in 2017 and 2018. He also brings positional versatility, able to play in the box, in the slot, or deep at free safety. Mathieu has been most effective as a slot cornerback in his career (90.2 grade since entering the league), but he has still been solid in his in-the-box roles (71.1 overall grade and 82.0 run-defense grade). With Kendall Fuller entrenched in the slot and Armani Watts likely slotting in at free safety, Mathieu should get the majority of his work near the line of scrimmage in 2019.
Top signing: Kareem Jackson
The No Fly Zone that had made its name as one of the stingiest pass defenses in the NFL was not the same last season. Specifically, the Broncos struggled to find answers at outside cornerback after Aqib Talib left and Bradley Roby saw a drop-off in play. That’s where Kareem Jackson should step in and help. He played 467 snaps out wide compared to 328 in the slot in 2018, and his overall grade of 79.5 ranked 14th among 112 qualifiers at the position. He is an immediate upgrade over the trio of Roby, Tramaine Brock, and Isaac Yiadom which handled most of the outside duties last season. Along with the addition of top slot cornerback, Bryce Callahan (81.4 grade in 2018), the No Fly Zone may be up and running once again next year.
Top signing: Thomas Davis
Linebacker stood out as one of the top needs for the Chargers heading into 2019, as injuries and ineffective play left them very thin towards the end of last season. The re-signing of Denzel Perryman helps, as he picked up a 70.1 overall grade across 386 defensive snaps in 2018 before his injury. Davis adds another quality, veteran starter to the position. Even at age 36, Davis can still provide a boost to their defense; his 74.2 overall grade last year ranked 19th among 92 qualifying linebackers. Part of what led to that grade was his effectiveness making plays on the ball, where his forced incompletion rate of 10.6% ranked sixth out of the 48 linebackers who saw at least 40 targets during the regular season.
Top signing: Jadeveon Clowney
This isn’t necessarily an acquisition — Clowney has spent the last five seasons as a member of the Texans’ defense — but the franchise tag that they placed on Clowney is undoubtedly the most impactful move for their team heading into 2019. From 2015-2017, Clowney picked up grades of 77.8, 78.8 and 75.4. Those are certainly not numbers to discredit, but they also aren’t what one would hope for from a former first-overall selection. Last year, Clowney took the leap towards elite territory with an 88.0 overall grade and a dominant season in run defense, where his 91.2 run-defense grade ranked second behind only Calais Campbell among edge defenders. With Clowney in Houston for at least one more year, he and J.J. Watt will continue to terrorize opposing offensive lines.
Top signing: Nick Foles
The Blake Bortles era is over in Jacksonville – an era that Jaguars fans will be eager to forget. Ushering in the new era is Philadelphia Eagles folk hero and Super Bowl champion, Nick Foles. Foles is coming off another relief campaign for the injured Carson Wentz, in which he picked up a 76.6 overall grade that ranked 19th among 35 quarterbacks with at least 400 snaps. One area where Foles has excelled over the past two years has been passing the ball under pressure. His 70.5 overall grade under pressure ranks sixth among 41 quarterbacks with 150 or more snaps under pressure over that span. With the Jaguars coming in at 28th in team pass-blocking efficiency last season (81.0), Foles may be called upon to work his magic under pressure again.
Top signing: Justin Houston
The Colts defense as a whole certainly took a leap forward last season, but heading into 2019, they were still in need of a reliable edge rusher opposite Jabaal Sheard. The two-year deal cut with Houston delivers not just a reliable edge rusher, but one of the best in the league. Since the PFF era began in 2006, Houston’s pressure rate of 15.3 percent ranks fourth among all edge defenders with 2500-plus pass-rushing snaps. At 30 years old, Houston isn’t slowing down, either; his pass-rush win rate of 20.3 percent last season ranked third among all edge defenders with at least 200 pass-rush snaps. With how valuable pressure off the edge is, this may end up being one of the best free-agent signings league-wide.
Top signing: Cameron Wake
Much of what could be said about the Colts and Houston can be echoed with the Titans and Wake. The Titans needed an edge defender that could bring consistent pressure, especially after the retirement of Brian Orakpo. Luckily, Wake is one of the very best at the position in getting after the quarterback. Since entering the league, he has generated pressure on 16.7 percent of his pass-rush snaps – the second-best rate since 2006 among all edge defenders with 2500-plus pass-rushing snaps. Last season, his pass-rush win rate of 21.7 percent trailed only Jerry Hughes at the position. He may be 37 years old, but Wake has not recorded a pass-rushing grade below 80.0 in the NFL and hasn’t shown any sign of regression.
Top signing: Steven Nelson
The Artie Burns experiment took a turn for the worse in Pittsburgh last season, leaving a hole at the cornerback position opposite Joe Haden. It was filled in the short term by Coty Sensabaugh (65.7 overall grade in 2018), but Nelson should step in and immediately offer a better solution. Nelson led all cornerbacks in snaps played last season, and turned in a career-high 72.1 overall grade. Quarterbacks weren’t shy targeting him – the 113 passes into his coverage led the NFL – but he held up well. Among 82 cornerbacks with at least 50 targets against them, Nelson ranked eighth in completion percentage allowed and 15th in passer rating allowed. His overall grade has improved each year of his career, a trend that the Steelers hope will continue in Year 5.
Top signing: Odell Beckham Jr.
The Browns have gone from the laughing stock of the NFL to having valid aspirations for the AFC North title and then some in a few short years. Adding one of the top wide receivers in the NFL, in Beckham Jr., only strengthens those aspirations. Since entering the league in 2014, OBJ ranks fifth among qualifying wide receivers in PFF grade, trailing only Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, and Michael Thomas. He’s especially dynamic after the catch; only Golden Tate and new/old teammate Jarvis Landry have more missed tackles forced since 2014. Most importantly for Odell, he will be playing with easily the best quarterback of his career in Baker Mayfield. In his rookie season, Mayfield recorded an 84.5 overall grade. Manning’s best grade since 2014? 70.9.
Top signing: John Miller
The right side of the Bengals offensive line was something to behold last season – a trainwreck that was hard to look away from. Half of that side will be returning, as the Bengals extended a contract to right tackle Bobby Hart, but they also signed the former Bills guard John Miller, who appears to be primed to slot in as the starting right guard. Miller finished 2018 with an overall grade of 64.2 at right guard that ranked 16th out of 40 qualifiers at the position. The Bengals’ starting right guard in 2018, Alex Redmond, meanwhile, earned a grade of 56.4 which ranked 30th at the position. Last season, Miller was beaten 21 fewer times by his pass-rushing assignment than Redmond, 10 of which became pressures. He’s not an elite option on the line by any means, but he is absolutely an upgrade at the position.
Top signing: Earl Thomas
The Ravens saw many of the more recognizable names on their defense leave via free agency, among which were C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, and Za’Darius Smith. Helping to alleviate those losses is the addition of one of the best safeties and defensive playmakers in the NFL – Earl Thomas. Over the last five years, Thomas’ overall grade of 93.6 paces all safeties, as does his coverage grade of 97.2. Over that same span, Thomas has forced incompletions on 27 of the 99 passes thrown into his coverage. That rate of 27.3 percent is tops among all safeties to see at least 50 targets over those five seasons. That elite playmaking ability will be roaming the free safety position in Baltimore now, making life easier on the rest of their secondary.
Top signing: Michael Bennett
Former Patriots edge defender Trey Flowers and his 89.7 overall grade from last season are headed to Detroit, leaving a hole at the position. That hole was quickly filled with the acquisition of the veteran edge rusher Bennett via trade. At the age of 33, Bennett was still effective at getting after the quarterback in 2018; his 68 regular season pressures last season ranked fifth among all edge defenders, and they were four more than Flower’s total of 64. Overall, Bennett ended the season with a grade of 75.9. For a team that lost over 100 pressures off the edge between Flowers and Adrian Clayborn, Bennett will step in immediately as a much-needed pass-rush specialist.
Top signing: Ty Nsekhe
Nsekhe making this list is interesting in that he is 33 years old, and yet, he has never played more than 403 snaps in a season. However, he has performed capably, and even well at times, in his relief duty for the Redskins over the last four seasons. In those four seasons, Nsekhe has picked up season grades of 72.6, 78.3, 60.3, and 67.8. Meanwhile, the Bills starting right tackle – Jordan Mills – picked up an overall grade of just 56.0 last season. Nsekhe allowed pressure on 4.8 percent of his pass-rushing snaps, whereas Mills allowed pressure on 6.2 percent. No matter which way you look at the situation Nsekhe is an upgrade and provides some stability at the tackle position heading into next season.
Top signing: Le’Veon Bell
The long, drawn-out saga over Bell’s impending free agency is over, and the star running back will be wearing green again – this time in New York. Going back to his last two seasons, 2016 and 2017, Bell led the NFL in regular-season rushing attempts (582) and receptions (160). He is a true every-down back that rarely comes off the field. It’s not just his versatility and volume that makes him valuable, though. His overall grade of 90.5 since entering the league ranks fourth among all running backs with at least 1,000 offensive snaps. He is the only qualifying running back with grades of at least 80.0 over that span in rushing, receiving and pass blocking. He’ll step in and immediately offer a versatile weapon for Sam Darnold.
Top signing: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick and his beard are headed to Miami for the 2019 season, his third AFC East team over the course of his career. The Dolphins decided it was time to part ways with Ryan Tannehill after he picked up an overall grade of 45.3 last season that was the lowest grade among all qualifying quarterbacks. His departure left the Dolphins in need of a starting option at quarterback, and Fitzpatrick – fresh off a career-high 84.4 overall grade with the Buccaneers – is that solution. In the first two weeks of last season, he recorded two of the five highest single-game grades of any quarterback in the league all year. Miami may be tanking in 2019, but with Fitzpatrick, it will at least be interesting.