NFL Free Agency: Ranking the Top 10 Moves So Far

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IMarch 27, 2014

NFL Free Agency: Ranking the Top 10 Moves So Far

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    Quarterback Jay Cutler (6) and defensive end Jared Allen (69) will be teammates with the Chicago Bears in 2014.
    Quarterback Jay Cutler (6) and defensive end Jared Allen (69) will be teammates with the Chicago Bears in 2014.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Just over two weeks after it began, the free-agency market has slowed to a crawl.

    It’s not like we didn’t see a lot action. Well over 100 players have joined new teams since the start of the 2014 NFL fiscal year on March 11.

    So what have been the top 10 moves to date over the last 16 days of activity? Here are our rankings when it comes to those moves, one of which was made less than 24 hours ago.

    These ratings don’t include trades. And with the bevy of activity we have seen, pairing the list down to 10 wasn’t necessarily easy. As usual, these kinds of pieces remain subjective.

    That’s fine with us as long as the subject is the game of football. As far as the rankings’ criteria, they should be quite familiar. Combine value and team need with experience and production, and here’s a 10 that even Bo Derek would be impressed with.

    As usual, free-agency and salary-cap information, as well as contract terms, come courtesy of Spotrac (subscription required) and some statistical support from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

10. WR James Jones (to Oakland Raiders)

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    Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

    Contract terms: 3 years, $10 million

    The offseason got off to an odd start for the Silver and Black.

    Now the Oakland Raiders have seemingly found their stride.

    The team looking for its first winning season since 2002 is once again making a change behind center. The organization recently acquired quarterback Matt Schaub from the Houston Texans for a sixth-round draft choice in this May’s draft.

    Before that, the Raiders made sure that the former Pro Bowl quarterback had a very reliable target in veteran wide receiver James Jones, who leaves the Green Bay Packers after seven seasons, 310 receptions and 37 touchdown grabs.

    The combination of Schaub and Jones could be the ideal pairing for a team looking for a consistent passing tandem. Yes, the veteran signal-caller had his issues with the Texans the last year and change. But a change of scenery could be the key here.

    As for Jones, you’re getting a wideout who led the NFL with 14 touchdown receptions in 2012. Those numbers slipped this past season, but it’s also never easy when you have more starting quarterbacks (four) than touchdown catches (three), as was the case with the Pack in 2013.

9. T Anthony Collins (to Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Contract terms: 5 years, $30 million

    Take a look at the starting offensive line for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in last season’s Week 1 clash with the New York Jets.

    From left to right: tackle Donald Penn, guard Gabe Carimi, center Jeremy Zuttah, guard Davin Joseph and tackle Demar Dotson.

    Ironically, left is only Dotson. Penn, Carimi and Joseph were all released (Penn signed with the Oakland Raiders and Carimi with the Atlanta Falcons). Zuttah was recently traded to the Baltimore Ravens.

    So it will be a new-look offensive front protecting a new look at quarterback in Josh McCown. And Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht thinks he has the right guy in terms of McCown’s blindside in Anthony Collins, lately of the Cincinnati Bengals.

    “Anthony is a veteran who has played and started on the left side, on the right side, and he has some experience at guard,” said Licht last week via Roy Cummings of The Tampa Tribune. “But he's a natural left tackle, and we're excited to have him as our new starting left tackle.”

    Collins spent six seasons with the Bengals and never played all 16 games. But this past season, he started eight games for Marvin Lewis’ AFC North champions and graded out quite well according to Pro Football Focus.

8. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (to New York Giants)

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Contract terms: 5 years, $35 million

    The 2013 NFL season ended at MetLife Stadium for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. A 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII proved to be the final game for the talented cornerback in his lone season with the Denver Broncos. Now the six-year veteran will call that building home for the next few seasons…we think.

    It’s been an interesting pro career for the 16th overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. Rodgers-Cromartie was a first-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals and as a rookie was in the starting lineup for Super Bowl XLIII against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2011, he was dealt to the Philadelphia Eagles and suffered through a two-year nightmare with the now-infamous “Dream Team.”

    Now the one-time Pro Bowler joins his fourth team in just seven seasons. In six NFL campaigns, Rodgers-Cromartie has picked off 19 passes and returned five of those thefts for scores. A year ago for the Broncos, he totaled three interceptions and knocked down 15 passes.

    The talented cornerback joins a Giants secondary loaded with new faces such as cornerback Walter Thurmond (Seattle Seahawks) and safety Quintin Demps (Kansas City Chiefs), both picked up in free agency.

    Now let’s see if Rodgers-Cromartie ends his latest season where he began his NFL career. As we all know, Super Bowl XLIX is slated for Glendale, Arizona.

7. CB Darrelle Revis (to New England Patriots)

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    Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images

    Contract terms: 1 year, $12 million

    You tell me, millionaires and billionaires. How often can you pick up an island for a mere $12 million?

    That’s what the New England Patriots managed to do this offseason as the organization welcomed Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis back to the AFC East.

    Obviously, the seven-year defender certainly had his choice of employers once he was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason. But Revis, who spent his first six seasons in the league with the New York Jets, wound up in a very familiar place in Foxborough.

    “Here's a young man who really much had his choice of any team he wanted in the NFL and he came to us,” said New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft via Will Brinson of CBS Sports. “He could have gotten considerably more money going to other teams.”

    “He still came to us and I think he knows we're committed to winning as an organization,” added Kraft. “I really believe his priority is trying to win.”

    Committed would be an understatement. Five straight AFC East titles, 13 consecutive winning seasons and 11 straight campaigns of 10 or more wins means the Pats are always in the Super Bowl hunt.

    And while no man is an island, there’s always an exception to the rule.

6. DT Henry Melton (to Dallas Cowboys)

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Contract terms: 1 year, $3.5 million

    There’s a little reuniting going on in Dallas these days. But will it feel so good when the 2014 regular season rolls around?

    There were a number of reasons the Dallas Cowboys finished dead last this past season when it came to giving up the most total yards in the league. Jason Garrett’s club ranked 27th in rushing defense, and only two teams in the NFL surrendered more yards through the air.

    Enter Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys’ fourth defensive coordinator in five years.

    Now enter defensive tackle Henry Melton, a Pro Bowler for the Chicago Bears in 2012 and that club’s designated franchise player a year ago. But the four-year pro, who totaled 15.5 sacks in his first three seasons, saw 2013 cut short by injury after only three games.

    Minus Melton and numerous other performers, the Bears ranked 30th in the league in total yards allowed and dead last in the NFL versus the run. How bad was it for the Chicago defense? In the Bears' last 10 outings this past season, the team from the Windy City was blown off the ball to the tune of 197.1 yards per game on the ground.

    Melton, who played for Marinelli in Chicago when the latter was an assistant coach, figures to immediately aid a defensive line still stinging from the departures of DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher.

    However, the real beauty of this acquisition is the contract, which Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News breaks down in detail.

5. DT Linval Joseph (to Minnesota Vikings)

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Contract terms: 5 years, $31.25 million

    There have been more than a few moves made by the NFL team in the Twin Cities.

    And one thing is for sure. Those familiar with the recent version of the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive front had better get used to some changes.

    With defensive end Jared Allen now a member of the Chicago Bears (more on him in the next slide), veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams unsigned and defensive tackle Letroy Guion signing with the Green Bay Packers after being released, this version of the Purple Gang has a different hue to it.

    Or should we say HUGE?

    Roughly two weeks ago, the Vikings signed 6’4”, 328-pound defensive tackle Linval Joseph away from the New York Giants. The four-year pro has started all but two games the last three seasons and totaled nine sacks.

    Joseph will pair with 2013 first-round pick Sharrif Floyd on the inside of the club’s overhauled defensive line, joined by ends Brian Robison and Everson Griffen.

    And the former Giants defender hopes to immediately help head coach Mike Zimmer, the former defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals now at the helm of the team that gave up the most points in the league this past season.

4. DE Jared Allen (to Chicago Bears)

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    Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

    Contract terms: 4 years, $32 million

    Less than a week ago, all signs pointed to former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen joining the Seattle Seahawks.

    Well, as Bugs Bunny used to say, someone “took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.”

    Chicago Bears fans are hoping that the veteran defender, who signed a four-year contract with the team on Wednesday according to Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today Sports, puts the monster back in the “Monsters of the Midway.”

    Allen’s career resume speaks for itself. In 10 seasons, the former Kansas City Chiefs standout has totaled 128.5 sacks, including 11 or more sacks in eight of those campaigns.

    Even more imposing was the five-time Pro Bowler’s six seasons in the Twin Cities. Allen never missed a game over that span and in 96 regular-season contests with the Purple Gang notched 85.5 sacks.

    What’s the beauty of signing Allen if you’re the Bears? You keep him from terrorizing your own quarterback while he continues to get after Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Christian Ponder and/or Matt Cassel twice a season.

    The Bears will have four new faces at defensive end this season who were not part of the team in 2013. Allen joins Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Israel Idonije as Chicago looks to bounce back from a season that saw it total just 31 sacks, tied for the fewest in the league the past season.

3. ILB Karlos Dansby (to Cleveland Browns)

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    Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Contract terms: 4 years, $24 million

    The Cleveland Browns didn’t exactly break the bank to sign veteran inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, late of the Arizona Cardinals.

    But the organization certainly hopes the addition of the standout performer snaps the franchise’s current losing ways.

    The Browns finished 4-12 in 2013, the sixth consecutive season in which the club has lost at least 11 games. Dating back to 1999 and the team’s rebirth, Cleveland has been rocked to the tune of one playoff appearance and two winning campaigns in 15 seasons.

    Dansby had a banner year for the 10-6 Cardinals this past season. The team ranked sixth in the league in total defense, and no club gave up fewer yards rushing. The 10-year veteran piled up 122 tackles and 6.5 sacks, plus totaled four interceptions and knocked down 19 passes for Bruce Arians’ club. Arizona fell just short of a playoff appearance one season after losing 11 of its final 12 games.

    Now Dansby joins a unit under the guidance of new head coach Mike Pettine and new defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil that was ranked ninth in the league in 2013 in terms of fewest yards allowed.

    However, the Browns were a disappointing 18th in the NFL versus the run, and that hopes to be rectified with the addition of the productive defender.

2. CB Alterraun Verner (to Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    Contract terms: 4 years, $25.75 million

    The more you look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' addition of Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner, the more you may want to like it.

    No team in the league has been busier this offseason in terms of cleaning house and adding new furniture than the Bucs, now under the guidance of new general manager Jason Licht and veteran head coach Lovie Smith. They are part of a duo that looks to end the Bucs’ three-year stay in the NFC South basement.

    On defense alone, the team has added defensive end Michael Johnson, linebacker Dane Fletcher and cornerback Mike Jenkins.

    Of course, there’s also Verner, who spent his first four seasons in the league with the Tennessee Titans before signing a four-year deal with the Buccaneers earlier this month.

    This past season, the four-year pro amassed 57 tackles, knocked down 23 passes and totaled seven of Tennessee’s 25 takeaways, including a team-high five interceptions.

    The last time the Bucs reached the playoffs was 2007. In the six seasons since then, Tampa’s defense has totaled just 168 sacks and while giving up 164 touchdown passes. The Bucs have surrendered exactly 30 scores through the air each of the last three seasons.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Verner allowed just a pair of touchdown passes during all of 2013.

    That means there could be less passing on the Bucs this upcoming season.

1. SS T.J. Ward (to Denver Broncos)

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Contract terms: 4 years, $22.5 million

    We have already mentioned the Denver Broncos’ 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII once in this slideshow.

    We’re sure that the fans of the team from the state of Colorado and elsewhere do not need another reminder.

    What is worth mentioning are the players general manager John Elway has brought in to help a team that hasn’t won an NFL title since he led it there himself in Super Bowl XXXIII.

    New members of the Denver defense include pass-rushing force DeMarcus Ware and standout cornerback Aqib Talib.

    And then there is strong safety T.J. Ward, who may be the biggest addition of them all. While Ware is getting after opposing quarterbacks and Talib is locking up on wide receivers, the Pro Bowler and former Cleveland Browns defender will be doing a little (make that a lot) of everything.

    This past season, Ward was rated the league’s third-best safety according to Pro Football Focus (tied with Kansas City Chiefs defender Eric Berry). He was the NFL’s best performer at his position against the run and also ranked a very respectable 12th in pass coverage.

    It’s safe to say that Denver’s defensive unit, ranked 19th overall in the league in 2013, can use all the assistance it can get. John Fox’s club allowed 399 points during the regular season, a point somewhat ignored due to the fact that the Broncos set an NFL record with 606 points scored.

    Besides, it won’t be the first time a T.J. has had a major impact in the Mile High City.