Assigning a Pass-Fail Grade to All 32 Teams' Free-Agency Performance so Far
In the frenetic and hyper-competitive NFL world, there is no middle ground. It's a bottom-line business, and teams either pass or fail based on their performance. With the free-agent period having reached its zenith, it's time to assign a pass-fail grade to each of the 32 teams based on their performance thus far.
Free agency isn't the be-all, end-all of roster construction; it's far from it. The draft is a significantly more useful tool in building a championship-quality roster.
But with that said, there's no denying the potential impact that can be made by an excellent free-agent class. Some teams have improved since the league's new year kicked off on March 11, and some have gotten worse.
Teams were assigned a passing grade because they either improved areas of need with quality signings or continued to improve upon an already-elite roster.
The franchises that received failing grades did so because they either lost a number of quality players or weren't aggressive enough in improving the on-field product.
It's time to find out if your favorite team was assigned either a "pass" or "fail" grade for their free-agency performance thus far.
Arizona Cardinals: Pass
The Arizona Cardinals came up aces in free agency with their Day 1 signing of former Oakland Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer.
The Cardinals have struggled in pass protection for years, and the addition of Veldheer should solidify the offensive line. His signing alone would earn the Cardinals a passing grade.
Atlanta Falcons: Pass
After suffering through a miserable 2013 campaign, Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff knew he had to improve the line play on both sides of the ball to return his team to the playoff hunt.
The Falcons also brought in one of the greatest return men in NFL history, Devin Hester.
Hester could be electric on the artificial turf in the Georgia Dome, and the trio of Asamoah, Jackson and Soliai will add much-needed grit and toughness to the line play.
That gives Dimitroff and the Falcons a passing grade.
Baltimore Ravens: Pass
As per usual, the Baltimore Ravens brain trust of general manager Ozzie Newsome and assistant general manager Eric DeCosta have knocked free agency out of the park.
The Ravens are one of the NFL's most stable and well-run organizations, and their moves thus far in the free-agent period once again proved that fact.
First came the re-signing of tight end Dennis Pitta. Pitta only played in four games last year, and if he can stay healthy moving forward, he'll be a major boon to quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense.
They desperately needed to retain left tackle Eugene Monroe, and did so on Day 1 of free agency.
The work of Newsome and DeCosta easily earns the Ravens a passing grade.
Buffalo Bills: Fail
While the Buffalo Bills haven't made a series of splashy signings, they have consummated a few solid deals, but in the end, it's not enough to earn them a passing grade.
But ultimately, the team's inability to re-sign safety Jairus Byrd (who signed with New Orleans) and bring in a quality wide receiver earns them a failing grade.
That doesn't mean the Bills can't fill those positions of need in the draft. It just means that the free-agent period hasn't gone as well as it could have in lovely Western New York.
Carolina Panthers: Fail
If I could give Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman an F-minus for his free-agent performance, I would. "Fail" isn't a strong enough word to describe it.
Gettleman released the greatest player in franchise history, receiver Steve Smith, in callous fashion, and ultimately replaced him with Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood. That would be like you dumping Kate Upton for the girl from Mike and Molly. The club also lost receiver Ted Ginn Jr. to the Cardinals.
And oh yeah, the Panthers also don't have a left tackle after Jordan Gross retired.
Other than that, things are just peachy for Gettleman and company.
They have failed the free-agent period in spectacular fashion.
Chicago Bears: Pass
The Chicago Bears and general manager Phil Emery earn a passing grade because they turned the defensive line from a weakness into a major strength.
Emery knew he had to remake the NFL's 30th-ranked defense, and has done so with a cavalcade of signings along the defensive line.
The Bears are now in the position of being able to select the best defensive player available with the 14th overall pick in May's draft.
That makes the free-agent period a wildly successful one for Emery and company.
Cincinnati Bengals: Fail
The Cincinnati Bengals have lost three quality players in the free-agent period, and even though all three were arguably overpaid by their new employer, the fact remains that the Bengals got worse, which means they receive a failing grade.
The Bengals did upgrade at backup quarterback with the signing of Jason Campbell, but that's not enough to save them from a failing grade.
Cleveland Browns: Fail
There's no question that new Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer has been active in the free-agent market, but that alone won't earn him a passing grade.
In fact, the quality of his signings (or lack thereof) means that the Browns receive a failing grade.
Farmer overpaid for safety Donte Whitner and then gave four years to inside linebacker Karlos Dansby. Safety T.J. Ward, who starred in Cleveland for four seasons, signed with the Denver Broncos for less money than the Browns paid Whitner, and one can certainly question the wisdom of doling out a four-year contract to a soon-to-be 33-year old linebacker.
But ultimately, the Browns gave poor contracts to Whitner and Dansby at the onset of free agency. They receive a failing grade.
Dallas Cowboys: Fail
Years of gross salary-cap mismanagement finally caught up to owner Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys, and the bill became due in a major way.
On Day 1 of free agency, the Cowboys released pass-rushing demon DeMarcus Ware, the team's best player in the last 15 years, in an effort to save $7 million in cap space.
Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher is also gone, having signed with rival Washington. Between Ware and Hatcher, the Cowboys lost half of their sack total from 2013 (17 out of 34).
And for reasons known only to him, Jones added former Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Jones and the Cowboys lost out on Ware and Hatcher because they cannot properly manage the salary cap.
You know what that means: A failing grade.
Denver Broncos: Pass
Denver Broncos general manager John Elway watched his team get utterly thrashed by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII and set out to reload in order get his club back to the big game.
And boy, has he done a phenomenal job thus far.
The Broncos need to go all-in to try to win a championship while Peyton Manning remains under center, and Elway has done just that. They easily earn a passing grade.
Detroit Lions: Pass
For years, it seems as if the Detroit Lions have been searching for a playmaking receiver to pair with All-Pro Calvin Johnson.
The club also re-signed tight end Brandon Pettigrew, giving Stafford a full complement of weapons in the passing attack.
The signings will allow general manager Martin Mayhew to focus on defense early in the draft, and that's good enough to earn a passing grade.
Green Bay Packers: Pass
This free-agent period, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson has performed his best impression of Smaug, the mythical dragon from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit.
While Thompson (like Smaug) is usually inert, when he does decide to spread his proverbial wings and make an impact, he does so.
Thompson made the shock signing of former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers in an effort to fortify the pass rush. It was an excellent signing by the normally-reserved Thompson.
Thompson and the Packers earn a passing grade for their efforts thus far in free agency.
Houston Texans: Fail
To be fair, while the Houston Texans have received a failing grade for free agency, they won't ultimately be judged on their transactions in this period, but rather for their haul from May's draft.
But with that said, this hasn't been a period of improvement for the NFL's worst team from 2013.
Houston can still rebound and greatly improve via the draft, but the free-agent period has been a major dud for coach Bill O'Brien and general manager Rick Smith, and that means they receive a failing grade.
Indianapolis Colts: Pass
The Indianapolis Colts have had an aggressive offseason thus far, bringing in a number of players in the free-agent period.
The spate of signings definitely improved the Colts, as they remain the class of the AFC South.
They earn a passing grade.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Pass
The Jacksonville Jaguars possessed one of the NFL's least-talented 53-man rosters in 2013, so coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell have had their work cut out for them.
With that said, Jaguars fans should be pleased to hear that they've done a nice job in improving the quality of the roster leading up to May's draft.
The club also re-signed quarterback Chad Henne, which gives them insurance at the position if they decide to go elsewhere with the draft's third overall pick.
The moves haven't fashioned the Jaguars into a playoff contender, but the team is better now than when the free-agent period opened.
That earns the Jaguars a passing grade.
Kansas City Chiefs: Fail
Much like the Cincinnati Bengals, the Kansas City Chiefs receive a failing grade because of the quality players they lost to other teams.
The team lost both starting guards, as Jon Asamoah signed with Atlanta and Geoff Schwartz with the New York Giants, and starting left tackle Branden Albert took his talents to South Beach and joined the Miami Dolphins.
While losing these players doesn't mean the Chiefs can't repeat their playoff performance from 2013, they are definitely a worse team now than when the free-agent period opened.
Miami Dolphins: Pass
Last season, the Miami Dolphins offensive line was a dumpster fire of historic proportions, both on and off the field.
They couldn't protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill, allowing a league-high 58 sacks, and suffered through the bullying scandal that rocked the NFL and left the team without three of its starting five linemen from a year ago (John Jerry, Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin).
So give new general manager Dennis Hickey credit for signing former Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert to a big-money deal on Day 1 of free agency. While Albert might be overpaid, it was a move that Hickey absolutely had to make.
Hickey also brought in guard Shelley Smith to further fortify the line.
The efforts earn Hickey and the Dolphins a passing grade.
Minnesota Vikings: Pass
The Minnesota Vikings finished last in the NFC North last season, and have watched as all three teams in the division have improved in the free-agent period.
The good news for Vikings fans is that your team has also gotten better, and have earned a passing grade.
The club re-signed defensive end Everson Griffen and quarterback Matt Cassel and brought in defensive tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn to help fortify new coach Mike Zimmer's defense.
Even though they lost star defensive end Jared Allen to the rival Bears, it's still been a positive free-agency performance for general manager Rick Spielman and the Vikings.
New England Patriots: Pass
The New England Patriots made perhaps the biggest splash of the free-agent period with the signing of All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis. That alone would earn them a passing grade.
The addition of Revis is one that could vault the Patriots back to the Super Bowl. Coach Bill Belichick and the team earn a passing grade.
New Orleans Saints: Pass
The New Orleans Saints made one of the most shocking signings of the free-agent period when they brought in former Bills safety Jairus Byrd on a big-money deal.
The move gives the Saints the best safety combination east of Seattle, and should give defensive coordinator Rob Ryan a ton of flexibility in his game plans.
Although Byrd represents the team's only noteworthy signing, his quality is enough to earn the team a passing grade.
New York Giants: Pass
The New York Giants entered the offseason needing to improve a number of areas on the roster, and general manager Jerry Reese has done just that.
Reese has made a cavalcade of signings, including a total remaking of the secondary. He's signed running back Rashad Jennings, guard Geoff Schwartz and center J.D. Walton along the offensive line, cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond and linebackers Jon Beason and Jameel McClain, among others.
All the moves have made the Giants a better team and put them in a better position to contend in the NFC East, and that earns a passing grade.
New York Jets: Fail
Even though the New York Jets have made a few quality signings, it's not enough to earn a passing grade.
But general manager John Idzik has missed out on a number of players, including cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Simply put, Idzik needed to do more this free-agent period, and that's why he receives a failing grade.
Oakland Raiders: Pass
Despite a rocky first few days that earned him a "loser" distinction in my free-agency columns, Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie has rebounded nicely and has dramatically upgraded the talent on what was the NFL's worst 53-man roster in 2013.
Trading for Texans quarterback Matt Schaub represented the biggest move, but was far from the only one.
McKenzie fortified the defense by signing defensive ends Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith, linebacker LaMarr Woodley, cornerback Tarell Brown and the latest, cornerback Carlos Rogers, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
On offense, running back Maurice Jones-Drew and wide receiver James Jones upgraded the skill positions, and running back Darren McFadden was re-signed. Austin Howard was also brought in to play guard.
Despite the flurry of moves, it's tough to envision the Raiders as a playoff-caliber team, but they definitely resemble a legitimate NFL franchise now, which is a marked improvement from the last few years.
That's enough to earn the Raiders a passing grade.
Philadelphia Eagles: Pass
The Philadelphia Eagles have made a number of transactions to ensure they repeat as NFC East champions, and on paper, they look to have done just that.
While the Eagles sent shock waves throughout the NFL by releasing talented receiver DeSean Jackson, that isn't enough to stop them from earning a passing grade.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Fail
While the Pittsburgh Steelers haven't made any horrendous signings, they were hamstrung by a few seasons of cap mismanagement, and that didn't allow general manager Kevin Colbert the opportunity to improve the team to the level needed to compete with Cincinnati and Baltimore atop the AFC North.
The team extended the contract of future Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu and placed the transition tag on linebacker Jason Worilds, which he signed. Polamalu had a bounce-back year in 2013, but it remains to be seen if extending his deal was the right move. Worilds is an ascending player, and that was a solid transaction.
The Steelers have had a decent free-agent performance, but not enough to earn a passing grade.
San Diego Chargers: Pass
The San Diego Chargers earn a passing grade for the free-agency period, but just barely.
I loved the re-signing of inside linebacker Donald Butler, who is an ascending player in coordinator John Pagano's defense.
And while some criticized the signing of running back Donald Brown, I liked it, as he'll form a punishing three-headed rushing attack along with Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead.
Still, the Chargers haven't done all that much to improve the team, but the signings of Butler and Brown are enough to earn a passing grade. They'll need a solid draft to once again compete in the ultra-tough AFC West with the likes of Denver and Kansas City.
San Francisco 49ers: Pass
The San Francisco 49ers came oh-so-close to earning a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII, where they likely would have crushed the Broncos much like the Seahawks did.
So in an effort to advance to a fourth straight NFC Championship Game and second Super Bowl in four seasons, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke made a number of signings, including bringing back two of their own players.
Bringing back Boldin was huge, and Dawson is one of the NFL's better kickers. Bethea is better in coverage than Whitner and came for less money.
The 49ers earn a passing grade because of these signings.
Seattle Seahawks: Pass
The Seahawks roster is absolutely loaded, and bringing back Bennett at a discounted rate makes it even better.
General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll earn a passing grade, and their run of victories continues.
St. Louis Rams: Pass
Ironically, the primary reason that the St. Louis Rams receive a passing grade for free agency is because of a failed physical.
And on Monday, the Rams signed former Titans receiver Kenny Britt, pairing him with Fisher, his old coach. The deal is for one year and $1.4 million, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Pass
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one of the most active teams in the free-agent period, with new coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht working to fashion the roster in their image.
The club signed big-name players like defensive end Michael Johnson, cornerback Alterraun Verner, tackle Anthony Collins and quarterback Josh McCown. Smith even went so far as to name McCown as his starting signal-caller.
Despite my reservations about McCown as a potential 16-game starter, I can't deny that the Buccaneers have dramatically improved heading into 2014, earning them a passing grade.
Tennessee Titans: Fail
The Tennessee Titans have had an extremely odd free-agent period, and in this case, that isn't a positive.
For some unknown reason, the team decided to overpay backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. General manager Ruston Webster also overpaid for tackle Michael Oher, who was dreadful last season in Baltimore.
The situation concerning running back Chris Johnson also remains unsettled, with Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reporting that the Titans will release the artist formerly known as "CJ2K" in the near future after failing to find a trade partner.
As of right now, the Titans look like one of the weaker teams in football, and they didn't do much to improve in the free-agent period. They receive a failing grade.
Washington Redskins: Pass
The Washington Redskins have earned a passing grade for free agency, and their biggest signing might still be yet to come.
Placing the franchise tag on pass-rushing demon Brian Orakpo was a significant and necessary move. They also signed receiver Andre Roberts, defensive tackle Jason Hatcher and cornerback Tracy Porter and re-signed receiver Santana Moss.
Plus, Tim McManus of 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia reported late Monday night that it's a "done deal" between the team and former Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson. While the signing hasn't been made official, it certainly appears to be moving in that direction.