NFL Free Agency 2014: Grading Every Team's 1st Week
It's normally too early to grade three NFL-related things right after they happen.
The NFL draft, the combine and free agency.
But it's what we do as NFL fans—dissect events while they're fresh in our minds. Hey, the human race is nothing if not judgmental, right?
And frankly, there are some moves that are great on paper and some that look horrible on paper.
So here is our knee-jerk reaction to free agency's first week, much of which will be negated once the players hit the field.
*All signings are drawn from NFL.com's Free Agency Tracker.
Buffalo Bills: C
The Buffalo Bills didn’t do much in the first week of free agency. They retained a few people and added depth at several spots, though no sure-fire starters. That said, they did lose safety Jairus Byrd—one of the best safeties in the NFL and a guy you don’t easily replace.
They also didn't add any playmakers for EJ Manuel and appear to feel that the receivers they have are enough, though perhaps they'll add one more in the draft.
Overall, it was not a horrible week, despite losing Byrd, though you could argue that the Bills should have fought harder to keep him.
Miami Dolphins: C+
The Miami Dolphins got off to a hot start, adding much-needed help on the offensive line with Branden Albert and the talented, though often hurt, Louis Delmas at safety.
Unfortunately, things went downhill from there.
Losing Nolan Carroll isn’t a terrible hardship, but the Dolphins didn’t succeed in replacing him until they nabbed Cortland Finnegan late in the week, as reported by James Walker of ESPN. Finnegan is coming off an awful year, and the Dolphins seemed to overpay to downgrade from Carroll.
So, too, was the move from Paul Solai to Earl Mitchell.
Overall, the Dolphins lost momentum midweek, ending more with a “meh” after starting with a bang.
New England Patriots: A
When you lose Aqib Talib and replace him with Darrelle Revis, well, that’s an upgrade in most people’s books. Brandon Browner is a nice catch as well, after he serves his four-game suspension. However, there are questions about how he might perform outside of Seattle, so the jury is technically still out on that move.
Bringing back Julian Edelman was also key for an offense with very little stability last year.
There’s not a lot to dislike here and, on top of it all, the New England Patriots really didn’t overpay for anyone.
That is something we may regret saying that a year into Browner’s contract, though, especially if he ends up being suspended again.
New York Jets: C
I happen to like the potential that comes from signing Eric Decker, as I wrote last weekend. No, he won’t repeat his Denver Broncos numbers, but he will help second-year quarterback Geno Smith an awful lot. The New York Jets have a lot more work to do on the offensive side of things, but this was a good start.
The problem is, “start” was all they did. They replaced one decent tackle with another and missed out on most of the big-name cornerbacks who could have filled Antonio Cromartie’s shoes.
I like the idea that GM John Idzik is patient and won’t overpay, but the Jets sat most of the week and either missed on players or never moved on them in the first place.
It’s early, but so far the Jets made one great move and froze.
Baltimore Ravens: B
The Baltimore Ravens mostly just hung on to their own players, with the only significant addition being Steve Smith after he was cut by the Carolina Panthers.
After realizing how much they missed Anquan Boldin (hint: a lot), pulling in a veteran who could be a physical possession receiver opposite Torrey Smith was the right call. And Smith seems to be sold on playing second fiddle, as he told Ryan Mink of the team’s website.
None of this is exciting, but the Ravens made the moves they had to and held their ground.
Cincinnati Bengals: C
Losing Anthony Collins and Brandon Ghee stings a little, but it’s the departure of Michael Johnson that could really hurt. The Cincinnati Bengals held on to a few of their players, but nobody who was a big impact player.
This is a team that lost both its offensive and defensive coordinators and one of its key defensive pieces.
So this grade might be a tad kind.
Cleveland Browns: B-
The Cleveland Browns had an alright week in free agency, losing some important pieces like D’Qwell Jackson and T.J. Ward, but replacing them with Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby.
Of course, they aged by signing those guys, still need a quarterback and need at least one more wide receiver.
The Browns did add Ben Tate, which could be a difference-making move if he stays healthy.
Ultimately, they pretty much treaded water—they didn't get worse but only got slightly better. And for a that is rebuilding, getting a little older can be risky.
Having two picks in the first round of the NFL draft is going to help, though, and if these signings and the draft picks hit, the team could have a swift turnaround.
Pittsburgh Steelers: C+
The Pittsburgh Steelers retained a lot of their own guys, and the folks the did lose lost, like Jonathan Dwyer and Ziggy Hood, were guys who weren’t vital to the team.
The only player who might be missed could be Emmanuel Sanders, though Markus Wheaton could step up and replace him.
As it stands, the Steelers didn’t add much or lose much. It makes them break even, but what hurts is that this was a team with holes that could have gotten better by the end of the process.
Staying the same doesn't help.
Houston Texans: B
Aside from Ben Tate, the Houston Texans didn’t seem to lose anyone they’ll miss. Cutting Owen Daniels might have a little risk if Garrett Graham doesn’t replace him effectively, but while they didn’t add anyone, they didn’t really lose anyone either.
And, honestly, this is a team that was not nearly as bad as it played last year. While it has a few big holes, for the most part, it is a solid team in need of no real big moves.
A "B" seems like a fair “treading water” grade for a team that could have made some moves but wasn't in a desperate place and was served just as well standing pat.
Indianapolis Colts: B
The Indianapolis Colts definitely have some issues remaining, but they did a pretty good job of addressing some of them.
Nothing flashy, but the Colts got the job done.
Jacksonville Jaguars: B
You have to hand it to the Jacksonville Jaguars—they may still be a bit of a mess, but they are quietly having a nice offseason. Aside from a high draft pick, the Jags added three defensive ends, two of which could be very big impact players (Red Bryant and Chris Clemons). Toby Gerhart is a mystery as a featured running back and Dekoda Watson isn’t a big time linebacker, but that’s OK.
The Jaguars have added players at reasonable rates who can fit a role.
Plus, they managed to get rid of Blaine Gabbert and actually get a return for him. They should get bonus points for that, although they lose them for having drafted him in the first place.
Tennessee Titans: C+
The signing of Michael Oher was fine, though the amount was a bit much. Still, he should be fine on the right side of the line (if a little expensive for it). Adding Dexter McCluster is a nice way to open up the offense, but there are still some issues there. I have high hopes for Nate Washington and Kendall Wright, though, and not just because I own Wright on fantasy teams (and I do).
Still, the Tennessee Titans needed to do a little more for Jake Locker and didn’t.
Denver Broncos: A
It was close, grading the Patriots and Denver Broncos.
John Elway and John Fox aggressively attacked their flaws on the defensive side of the ball, toughening up in the secondary by adding Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward. Both guys are hard hitters who can set the tone on the defensive side of the ball, much like the Seattle Seahawks set the tone in the Super Bowl.
Adding DeMarcus Ware will help get the front seven a sharper bite, and replacing Eric Decker with Emmanuel Sanders was a sharp move as well.
Kansas City Chiefs: D
This is the price of success—everyone wants a piece of you. The Kansas City Chiefs lost Branden Albert, Geoff Schwartz, Dexter McCluster, Tyson Jackson and many more, replacing them with guys like Jeffrey Linkenbach and Vance Walker.
At least they have Eric Fisher ready to replace Albert. But otherwise, the team looked like a deer caught in the headlights.
Oakland Raiders: C+
I won’t lie—I don’t love seeing Lamarr Houston and Rashad Jennings walk when the Oakland Raiders had as much cap room as they do. Especially since all the Raiders did was add older players. A rebuilding team adding older players is odd.
That said, I love the signing of Justin Tuck, think James Jones will be an outstanding addition to the offense and like the addition of Antonio Smith and LaMarr Woodley as well.
I don’t like to see a rebuilding team get old, but if a team is going to do it, well, Tuck and Woodley are guys to get.
San Diego Chargers: B-
The San Diego Chargers didn’t do anything special, just added some backups, retained a lot of their own players and, in the case of Donald Brown, improved their situation.
The Chargers didn’t have a ton of cap space to work with, so small moves are all they had. They executed what they did very well and made the most of what they had at their disposal.
Dallas Cowboys: C
I’m not sure replacing DeMarcus Ware with Jeremy Mincey is going to make fans happy. You can understand that, financially, cutting Ware was a move the Dallas Cowboys had to make, but their defense was already Removing a key player won't make it better.
And yes, Ware was hurt, but it was the first time we saw that.
Adding Henry Melton was a nice move, though he is coming off an injury himself, so we’ll see how effective he is.
New York Giants: B+
Like the Cowboys, the New York Giants had a tough decision to make when it came to their defense, choosing not to meet what Tuck was offered in free agency and risking more issues along the defensive front.
However, they may have solved their backfield issues by adding Rashad Jennings, they improved their secondary by adding Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a very reasonable contract and brought back Mario Manningham.
But the best move the team made in free agency (and the most under-the-radar) was bringing in Geoff Schwartz to play guard. The Giants offensive line was a disaster last year, and Schwartz, while a journeyman, will be rock-solid at guard.
Philadelphia Eagles: B
The Philadelphia Eagles did a good job of both holding onto their players (like Jeremy Maclin) and adding some key pieces (like safety Malcolm Jenkins). They still have plenty of work to do, but defensively, they started to add some depth and talent.
They also traded for Darren Sproles, who will add some interesting spark to the offense. I wasn’t a huge fan of the move to start, but the more I looked at Chip Kelly’s Oregon offense, the more the trade made sense.
It may also allow the team to potentially move DeSean Jackson, whom CSNPhilly.com's Derrick Gunn (h/t Ryan Wilson of CBSSports.com) is a person of interest for both the Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers.
Washington Redskins: B
The Washington Redskins are another team that added a guy who has totally flown under the radar. Robert Griffin III needed someone other than Pierre Garcon to throw to, and now, with Andre Roberts, he might have his guy.
While teams were kicking the tires on Decker and Nicks, Washington went out and got a solid receiver with upside who had been buried behind a Hall of Fame wide receiver and that guy’s replacement.
The team also did a solid job of holding onto its own players and adding some depth. All with a so-so amount of cap room to work with.
Chicago Bears: B+
A team in transition, the Chicago Bears have a solid offense, but their defense was a mess last season.
In desperate need of a pass rush, they signed Lamarr Houston and Willie Young—two reasonably priced edge rushers who, while a bit unproven, can definitely bring the heat off the edge.
While losing Julius Peppers is a bit of a slap, Young and Houston will be a great help to this defense next season.
But while I’m high on those signings, I’m not as enthused with the addition of former Green Bay Packers safety M.D. Jennings or receiver Domenik Hixon. Jennings was underwhelming for Green Bay, and Hixon leaves me cold. He could help the return game, though he didn’t return punts or kicks last year in Carolina.
Overall, it was a mixed bag, but if Young and Houston hit, it will be a huge success.
Detroit Lions: B
The Detroit Lions made one huge signing—Golden Tate—and then seemed to sit back and say, “We’re done, right?”
They sort of had to be, as they were right up against the cap. Tate is a huge get, though, as he gives the Lions a legitimate threat across from Calvin Johnson—something they’ve been after for years.
Bringing Brandon Pettigrew back should help as well, though Pettigrew has never lived up to his potential.
Other than that, the Lions grabbed a little depth, but nothing worth getting excited about.
For the money they had, though, they did a fair job.
Green Bay Packers: B
Stop the presses! General manager Ted Thompson picked up a free agent who wasn’t a Packer already.
Which Julius Peppers will the Packers get, though? Probably a situational pass-rusher, but let’s face it—they can use the help. And with Clay Matthews on hand, Peppers is going to have more room to work than he did in Chicago last season.
The Packers signed B.J. Raji to a very team-friendly one-year contract, brought tight end Andrew Quarless back and locked down Mike Neal and Sam Shields, two key defensive pieces.
Would we like to see a more active Packers? Maybe, but they got the job done again.
Minnesota Vikings: B-
The jewel in this free-agency crown is definitely Captain Munnerlyn, who will be a great addition across from second-year corner Xavier Rhodes. Adding Jasper Brinkley should help plug the middle up, if only for a little while.
The Minnesota Vikings have a bunch of cap room, but they didn’t chase value.
They’ve been building slowly over the last few years and picked their shots. Like the Packers, I might have liked to see them a bit more in the thick of things, especially in terms of pass rush, but overall they did a solid job.
And, really, sometimes the moves you don't make are the ones that matter.
Atlanta Falcons: B-
Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai were both solid signings and a clear signal the Atlanta Falcons are going to a 3-4, as that’s where these guys fit. Both players will help plug the sieve that has been Atlanta’s run defense.
Jon Asamoah will help secure the offensive line’s interior, though the Falcons still need help at tackle—something I believe they will address in the draft.
Overall, the team did a nice job, as the Falcons addressed both sides of the ball at least a little bit.
Carolina Panthers: D–
The only thing saving this team from an “F” is that it kept Greg Hardy. If the Carolina Panthers had let the defensive end depart during free agency, the state of North Carolina might have rioted.
As it stands, cutting Smith almost caused that anyway.
What’s truly baffling isn’t that the Panthers cut Smith—it’s that they cut Smith with Ted Ginn, Brandon LaFell and Domenik Hixon leaving (though Hixon wasn’t exactly a powerhouse).
Now, sure, the Panthers can add players in the draft, but that doesn’t leave a lot of reliable experience for Newton to throw to.
Add in losing Munnerlyn and Mike Mitchell, and you could say this last week was a rough one for Panthers fans.
Hopefully the team can rebound, because like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina looked legit at the end of last season.
New Orleans Saints: B
I’m still not sure how they added Byrd with no cap space to speak of (Spotrac has them just under the cap), but the New Orleans Saints did, and it was one of the most surprising—and brilliant—moves of the week.
Byrd will give defensive coordinator Rob Ryan the option to do some great stuff on defense, which is scary for everyone else considering how well the team played without Byrd.
Other than that, keeping Zach Strief was key as well.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: B+
My one issue with the Buccaneers’ first week of free agency actually has little to do with free agency. Well, it does, because if they hadn’t gone and grabbed Josh McCown, head coach Lovie Smith wouldn’t have named him Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback, as relayed by SI.com's Chris Burke.
It’s not that I love Mike Glennon. It’s more that one decent season out of 10 doesn’t inspire me when it comes to McCown. On the other hand, this may set up the team to grab a quarterback in the draft as well.
But I didn’t ding Tampa Bay for that, because the actual signing of McCown was good—it needed a better veteran backup.
Plus, look at what Smith did on both sides of the line, adding offensive line talent like Evan Dietrich-Smith, Anthony Collins and Oniel Cousins, as well as Michael Johnson on the defensive line.
Also, we can’t forget Alterraun Verner, who will make up for cutting Darrelle Revis. Cutting Revis was somewhat of a cap-necessary move; however, as good as Verner is, he isn’t Revis.
But Verner is an outstanding corner, so while the Bucs downgrade, it’s more a slight step down than a sharp fall.
Overall a good job for the new crew in Tampa Bay, even if I think McCown will end up disappointing everyone as a starter, if he indeed keeps the job.
Arizona Cardinals: B-
A lot more players left Arizona than arrived, but the Cardinals did add two key pieces in Jared Veldheer and Ted Ginn Jr.
The Cardinals have had issues on the offensive line for quite a while, but they started to try and rebuild it (again) this past week in free agency with Veldheer. He is a tremendous pass protector and will be a huge help in keeping quarterback Carson Palmer alive and upright.
The team also added guard Ted Larsen who, while less of an upgrade than Veldheer, has versatility, which allows him to provide depth all along the offensive line.
Adding Ginn isn’t exactly sexy, but he should be able to help improve the team’s field position on offense by upgrading the punt and kick returns.
Losing Andre Roberts isn’t a huge problem, though it will be interesting to see how the team fares without Dansby.
San Francisco 49ers: B-
The Niners did a solid job of hanging on to most of their key free agents, save for Donte Whitner, which is a bit of a blow. Replacing him with Antoine Bethea should do for now, though Bethea has had injury issues and is not going to be a lockdown safety. His best seasons may be in his past as well.
Chris Cook is a decent cornerback who never really seemed to put it all together while with the Vikings.
Probably the 49ers' biggest signing was keeping Anquan Boldin. He’s not a long-term solution across from Michael Crabtree, but he carried a lot of offense he wasn’t meant to last season.
It’s good to see that San Francisco learned from the Baltimore Ravens' mistake and kept him around.
Seattle Seahawks: C+
The Seattle Seahawks lost a lot of talent this offseason, as is often the case when a team wins a Super Bowl. It’s what makes the feat so hard to repeat. The Seahawks get dinged for that, especially considering they still have just over $15 million in cap room, according to OverTheCap.com.
Bringing Michael Bennett back was good, though they had best hope he can play a full-time role rather than the rotational part he played last season.
The Seahawks had a lot of very good players, so, in theory, losing Red Bryant or Chris Clemons shouldn’t be the end of the world. But their wiggle room is a bit thin.
Golden Tate might be a bigger loss. The Seahawks finally have a healthy Percy Harvin, and now they’ve lost a very good No. 2. Can Doug Baldwin pick up the slack? Will they get a player somewhere in the draft?
How the team adjusts over the next few months will be what makes or breaks Seattle, as it hasn't done a whole lot in the first week of free agency.
St. Louis Rams: C
With just under $9 million in cap room, the St. Louis Rams were expected to take it a little easy in free agency, but they weren't expected to stand completely still.
Now, on paper, it’s not the end of the world to see Finnegan, Kellen Clemens and Chris Williams hit the door. However, the team didn’t address any of these losses, two of which (offensive line and secondary) were a need even before losing the players involved.
And now the Rams need a backup quarterback as well.
It’s one thing to stand pat. It’s another to lose ground.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him @andrew_garda on Twitter.
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