Steven Lourie

Apr 202014
 

Anquan Boldin should be on the decline. Even the average top-20 receiver (in terms of yardage all-time) has his last 1000 yard season at age 34-35, averages 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns for 2 more seasons after age 34-35, and is done playing by age 36-37. Anquan Boldin is now going into his age 34 season and is “only” 29th all-time in receiving yardage.

Instead, Boldin is coming off of his best season in terms of receiving yardage (1173) since 2006. And it wasn’t just the receiver-needy 49ers forcing him the ball every play. Boldin caught 69.1% of his targets, averaged 2.55 yards per route run (5th in the NFL), dropped just 6 passes, broke 13 tackles, averaged 5.2 yards after catch per catch, and grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked wide receiver, including 3rd ranked in terms of pure pass catching grade. Colin Kaepernick had a 118.6 QB rating when throwing to him, which was 6th in the NFL.

It’s uncommon for a receiver to have that kind of season at age 33, but you have to remember what kind of receiver Anquan Boldin is. He’s never been a great athlete, relying on superb hands and body control, as well as physicality and ability to shake tackles after the catch. He isn’t someone who gets a lot of separation, but he’s almost always open even when he’s not. That type of receiver can survive into his mid-30s in ways that receivers more dependent on athleticism in the prime of their careers can’t. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him continue to produce in 2014 and 2015.

This was a very good move for the receiver-needy 49ers to lock up Anquan Boldin on this short-term deal. Boldin will make 12 million over 2 years maximum and the 49ers could get out of it after 1-year and 6 million dollars guaranteed if they chose to do so. Most likely, they’ll keep him on into 2015 because he’ll continue to prove to be an asset in the passing game in 2014 opposite Michael Crabtree. This deal is very similar to the one the Broncos gave Wes Welker in a similar stage in his career last off-season and I think it makes a lot of sense.

Grade: A

Apr 202014
 

The Broncos needed a cheap replacement for Eric Decker and Emmanuel Sanders will see a boost in production by moving to the Broncos’ passing offense, but he’s really “just a guy” at the wide receiver position so 5 million annually is a little much for him (6 million over 1 season is guaranteed). They could have found a cheaper #3 receiver. In 2 years as a key contributor for the Steelers in 2012 and 2013, including a starting role in 2013, Sanders graded out very middle of the pack on Pro Football Focus, grading out 57th and 60th respectively among wide receivers, while averaging 1.48 and 1.34 yards per route run. He’s an upgrade over Andre Caldwell as the 3rd receiver in Denver after Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker, but this is an overpay.

Grade: C

Apr 202014
 

Golden Tate has never had a 1000 yard season, but there’s an argument to be made that he’s a better wide receiver than Eric Decker. His numbers have been kept down by a run heavy offense, but he’s averaged 1.80 and 2.01 yards per route run in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Compare that to 1.80 and 2.03 for Eric Decker and they’re much more comparable than you think. Golden Tate also had a better 2011 season, when he was a 2nd year receiver with problems at the quarterback position, than Decker did in 2011, when he also was a 2nd year receiver with problems at the quarterback position. Golden Tate averaged 1.33 yards per route run, as opposed to 1.28 yards per route run for Decker.

Now take into account that Eric Decker has 29 drops compared to 216 catches (1 drop every 7.45 catches), while Golden Tate has 5 drops compared to 144 catches (1 drop every 28.8 catches) and that, as good as Russell Wilson is, Golden Tate was playing with the inferior passing quarterback between the two. Eric Decker got 36.25 million over 5 years (with 15 million over 2 years guaranteed), while Golden Tate got 31 million over 5 years (with 13.25 million over 2 years guaranteed), which is more reasonable.

Tate moves from one of the run heaviest offenses in the NFL to one of the pass heaviest in Detroit and Matt Stafford isn’t really a downgrade from Russell Wilson as a pure passing quarterback. He’ll have an opportunity to run 600 pass routes opposite Calvin Johnson, see single coverage with regularity, and get his first 1000 yard season. The pass heavy Lions were incredibly thin at wide receiver after Calvin Johnson and were able to upgrade their passing attack tremendously with this move. It’s a reasonable value and a good use of the Lions’ limited cap space.

Grade: A-

Apr 202014
 

Eric Decker is going to get a massive downgrade at the quarterback position going from Peyton Manning to Michael Vick/Geno Smith. The last time he played with a quarterback other than Peyton Manning, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 82nd ranked wide receiver out of 115 eligible and averaged just 1.28 yards per route run, 65th out of 95 eligible. That was in 2011 with the combination of Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton, which is comparable to what Decker will be dealing with in New York.

That being said, it’s unfair to suggest that he’ll just go back to his 2011 level of production, when he caught 44 passes for 612 yards and 8 touchdowns. While much of his increased production since then is due to the arrival of Peyton Manning, he’s still an improved player over when he was in his 2nd year in the league in 2011, after being drafted in the 3rd round in 2010. He’s averaged 1.80 and 2.03 yards per route run over the past 2 seasons, grading out 36th and 11th in those two seasons respectively among wide receivers, peaking in his contract year.

He’s not a true coverage changing #1 receiver, he’s not overly explosive, and he drops too many passes (29 drops compared to 216 catches over the past 3 seasons). However, he is going to be easily the Jets’ best wide receiver this season, he’s the difference maker the Jets needed downfield, and he’s incredibly reliable around the goal line (32 touchdowns in the last 3 seasons, including 8 even in 2011).

After averaging 86 catches for 1176 yards and 11 touchdowns over the past 2 seasons, Decker will probably have between 60-70 catches for 800-900 yards and 6-8 touchdowns next season, which is a significant upgrade over anything the Jets had from the wide receiver position last year. He’ll get 36.25 million over 5 years, including 15 million over 2 seasons guaranteed. His 7.25 million dollar average annual salary is 17th in the NFL, which is a slight overpay. However, it’s not a bad move for the wide receiver needy Jets.

Grade: B-

Apr 202014
 

Robert Ayers was a bust as the 18th overall pick in 2009 because he never developed beyond being a solid rotational player, but he’s still a solid rotational player and a good pickup here for a Giants team that had big needs on the defensive line following some off-season losses. He had his best season in his contract year in 2013, when he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked 4-3 defensive end, excelling against the run, where he ranked 9th at his position. He only played 514 snaps, but it was still an impressive season from him.

At 6-3 275, he’s a better run stuffer than pass rusher, but he also has the ability to move inside and play some defensive tackle in sub packages as sort of a Justin Tuck-lite for the Giants. He also is younger and comes much cheaper. He’ll probably play about 400-600 snaps and compete for snaps with Jason Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka, Damontre Moore, and potentially a rookie. At 3.75 million over 2 years, with just 1.75 million over 1 year guaranteed, it’s a solid addition for the Giants.

Grade: A-

Apr 202014
 

Dominic Raiola is aging, going into his age 36 season, and he looked done as recently as 2010-2011, when he graded out below average on Pro Football Focus in both seasons, including 5th worst among centers in 2010. However, he’s put together back-to-back strong seasons on an overall strong Detroit offensive line over the past two seasons, grading out 13th and 2nd among centers in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

At his age, he doesn’t have much time left, but he could easily have another strong season left in the tank, so credit the Lions for keeping him at a very reasonable rate (1.5 million over 1 season) and ensuring that center not become a pressing need heading into the draft. They can now focus on other positions early and look for a developmental successor for Raiola in the mid to late rounds. This was a smart move for the Lions.

Grade: A

Apr 192014
 

The Redskins desperately needed safety help and secondary help in general. Brandon Meriweather was their best safety last year, but he’s a below average starter, while 2013 4th and 6th round picks Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo didn’t show anything as rookies last season. Thomas missed the entire season with injury, while Rambo graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 79th ranked safety out of 86 eligible on just 340 snaps.

Ryan Clark was still a solid starter last season, grading out middle of the pack on Pro Football Focus, but he was a far cry from his 2008-2012 form, a stretch in which he finished in the top-25 among safety on Pro Football Focus in all 5 seasons and maxed out at 9th in 2012. Considering his age, as he’s going into his age 35 season, that’s very understandable and it’s probably not going to get any better. However, on a deal worth nearly the veteran’s minimum (about 1.02 million over 1 year) with just a 65K signing bonus guaranteed, this is a cheap pickup that could help this football team if Clark proves he has another decent year in the tank.

Grade: A

Apr 192014
 

The common narrative is that Champ Bailey is done, after he struggled through just 333 snaps (193 regular season, 140 post-season) last season thanks to injury and with him going into his age 36 season. However, he had a great 2012 season, at least in the regular season, when he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 10th ranked cornerback and he has such an impressive history that it wouldn’t shock me if he had one more season in the tank provided he can stay healthy. He showed enough in the post-season last year to suggest that’s a decent possibility.

The Saints are risking very little with this deal. There’s only a 500K signing bonus and that’s all that’s guaranteed. He can earn another million dollars if he makes the final 53 man roster and another 250K if he plays at least 6 games this season. He can make up to 6.75 million over 2 seasons through incentives, but the total money on this deal is just 3.75 million over 2 seasons. They needed another cornerback after cutting Jabari Greer. Ideally, Champ Bailey would be one of the Saints’ top 3 cornerbacks this season with Keenan Lewis and Corey White, though they’ll probably add another cornerback through the draft, probably in the first couple of rounds. It’s a low risk deal that could pay off.

Grade: A-

Apr 182014
 

Chris Johnson hasn’t been the same player since 2009, his 2000 yard season, though few people are able to repeat that kind of season. He was still an above average starting running back and an incredibly durable one at that, not missing a game since his rookie year in 2008 and totaling over 250 carries in all 6 of his professional seasons. However, last year he significantly declined in efficiency, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, including just 1.8 yards per carry after contact and ranked 3rd worst in the NFL in elusive rating. He was Pro Football Focus’ 42nd ranked running back out of 55 eligible. That’s why the Titans cut him, instead of paying him a large salary.

He still was the highest paid running back on the open market this off-season, getting 4 million dollars yearly in this deal, while the 2nd highest paid running back got 3.5 million dollars yearly. This deal is worth a total of 8 million dollars (with an extra million dollars available through incentive) with 4 million over 1 year guaranteed (3 million dollars signing bonus and 1 million dollars base salary). I don’t think he’s quite worth that much money.

He should become more efficient this season as he’ll see a smaller workload, splitting carries with power back Chris Ivory (probably in the neighborhood of 180-220 carries). He could also be healthier after dealing with significant knee problems all last season. However, he’s also going into his age 29 season with 2014 career touches so he’s not getting any better any time soon. Injury problems could become commonplace for him and there’s already some concern about a potentially arthritic knee. He’s on the decline and this is an overpay.

Grade: C+

Apr 122014
 

This is one of the biggest bargains of free agency. Brian De La Puente has been a starter in New Orleans for 3 years since Jonathan Goodwin left following the 2010 season. In those 3 seasons, De La Puente has been an above average starting center, grading out 12th, 2nd, and 16th among centers on Pro Football Focus in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively. He’s also only going into his age 29 season. Despite that, the Bears are getting him for a dollar over the league minimum (which gives them to option to give him an extension at any time one can be agreed to). I have a hard time believing the Saints didn’t want to bring him back at this price.

The Bears don’t necessarily need a center because Roberto Garza is coming off of a solid season, but Garza has been inconsistent in the past, is going into his age 35 season, and has a salary that is fairly inexpensive. De La Puente also has an inexpensive salary so the Bears essentially have two starting centers for the price of one with the ability to use De La Puente to compete with Garza or to use Garza, a former guard, as an interior line reserve and 6th offensive lineman. De La Puente also reunites with talented and well respected Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who he worked with in New Orleans when he was the offensive line coach from 2009-2012. It’s a great move.

Grade: A

Apr 122014
 

This is another steal for the Broncos. I don’t know why Will Montgomery was cut by the Redskins, owed just 1.925 million dollars for the 2014 season. Since moving to be the Redskins’ starting center in 2011, Montgomery has started all 48 games and has graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 16th, 5th, and 15th ranked center in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively. He’s an above average starting center, even going into his age 31 season. I guess new Redskins’ head coach Jay Gruden was not a fan, but it’ll end up being his loss.

The Redskins’ loss is the Broncos’ gain as they add a much needed starter on the offensive line. Montgomery can slot in at center, his best position, and move Manny Ramirez, who broke out as the Broncos’ starting center last season, to guard. Montgomery can also move to guard himself. Either way, he helps replace the departed Zane Beadles at a much cheaper price. Beadles got 30 million over 5 years from the Jaguars. Montgomery’s deal is worth 1.575 million over 1 season. They got a bargain so late in free agency.

Grade: A

Apr 112014
 

This deal came about in a roundabout fashion. The Browns started the situation off by using the transition tag on Mack, which would have paid him roughly 10 million dollars for the 2014 season if he had signed it. That 10 million dollar sum was the average of the top-10 offensive linemen in the league. You almost never see an interior offensive lineman, especially a center, get any tag of any sort, transition, franchise etc. The reason for that is that interior offensive lineman are less valuable in the NFL than offensive tackles, but offensive tackles’ salaries are still taken into account when determining the value of the tag. A 10 million dollar salary, even if only for one year, would have made Mack, by the far highest paid center in the NFL in terms of average annual salary (Ryan Kalil at 8.186 million is 2nd)

Mack never signed the transition tag, but even an unsigned transition tag gave the Browns the benefit of being able to match any contract Mack got offered on the open market. As a result, Mack draw little to no interest for most of the off-season because the Browns seemed very serious about getting Mack no matter the cost and most teams don’t have the cap space to dish out the kind of money it would have taken for the Browns, who are loaded with cap space and in desperate need of difference makers, not to match.

That was until the Jaguars came along and gave him a 5 year deal worth 42 million maximum. The Jaguars, like the Browns, have a ton of cap space and a huge need for talent, so it made sense, but ultimately the Browns still matched and now have Mack under contract long-term. The Jaguars structured the contract very interestingly and the Browns are now bound to the structure by virtue of matching it. Mack will get 26 million guaranteed over the first 3 years of the deal, unless he opts out before the 3rd year. If he does opt out, it will just be a 2-year, 18 million dollar deal and the Browns won’t have the option to tag him again if he does that. At that point, he can choose to go anywhere.

The deal is still incredibly rich for a center as the 8.4 million dollar average annual salary of the deal is still the highest in the NFL among centers and he’ll make 10 million in the first year of the deal. However, it’s not a bad deal. Mack is arguably the best center in the NFL. He’s graded out as a top-10 center in each of his 5 seasons in the NFL since being drafted in the first round by the Browns in 2009. Only Chris Myers has also been in the top-10 in centers in all 5 of those seasons. Mack is also at the peak of his career, going into his age 29 season. Also, the Browns have a ton of cap space to burn and a desperate need for talent. This deal won’t prevent the Browns from signing guys like Joe Haden, Jordan Cameron, and Josh Gordon long-term.

Grade: B-

Apr 092014
 

There haven’t been any atrocious deals given out to running backs this off-season, but I have a feeling a lot of teams around the league who signed running backs this off-season are kicking themselves now that they see that the Texans got Andre Brown for the veteran’s minimum. Andre Brown has his share of issues. He’s bounced around the league and has a massive injury history so he’s played 21 games since being drafted in the 4th round in 2009 and has 246 touches going into his age 28 season. He also averaged just 3.5 yards per carry last season and has a career average of 4.1 yards per carry.

That being said, he’s strong on passing downs as both a protector and a pass catcher and he’s a bruising north-south back who always picks up some sort of yardage and who is great around the goal line. He doesn’t have much explosiveness, but he averaged 5.5 yards per carry in 2012. He doesn’t have that many more issues than running backs who signed multi-year deals worth multi-million dollars this off-season.

Donald Brown, Ben Tate, and Rashad Jennings have never been successful starting running backs. Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew have had their explosiveness sapped by injury over the past few seasons. Knowshon Moreno has the most recent productive season of the bunch, but that was largely due to the presence of the Broncos’ offensive supporting cast. Andre Brown will serve very well as a needed backup for Arian Foster, who is coming off of a major injury, and at a very reasonable rate.

Grade: A

Apr 092014
 

I don’t really have much of an issue with the money here. Brown is getting 10.5 million over 3 years with 4 million over 1 year guaranteed. That compares pretty well with other contracts given to running backs this off-season,  including Darren McFadden (1 year, 4 million), Joique Bell (3 years, 9.3 million), Maurice Jones-Drew (3 years, 7.5 million), Ben Tate (2 years, 7 million), Knowshon Moreno (1 year, 3 million), LeGarrette Blount (2 years, 3.85 million), and Rashad Jennings (4 years, 10 million) this off-season.

It’s a slight overpay. Donald Brown has never had more than 150 touches in a season since being drafted in the 1st round in 2009. He averages 4.3 yards per carry for his career and he’s a liability on passing downs as he doesn’t offer much as a pass catcher or pass protector. He had a strong contract year, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, catching 27 passes for 214 yards and scoring a total of 7 times. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 20th ranked running back and ranked 1st in elusive rating.

That being said, that was on only 102 carries and 379 total snaps and, given his history, it’s a major leap to suggest he could be a consistently successful lead back. 3.5 million dollars yearly doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but he’s the only running back to get that much money annually on a 3+ year deal this off-season. No running back got a bigger contract in terms of top maximum base salary. It’s a small overpay, but, again, the money isn’t really a big issue here.

The big issue is why the Chargers would sign him when they already have Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. I know Mathews is injury prone, but there are cheaper insurance policies. The Chargers entered this off-season with one of the worst defenses in the NFL and very little cap space. To spend a big chunk of that cap space adding an excess running back is just irresponsible. They couldn’t afford this kind of luxury. They would have been much better off signing someone like Andre Brown for much cheaper.

Grade: C

Apr 092014
 

Trade for Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert was awful in 3 seasons with the Jaguars since being taken with the 10th overall pick in 2011, proving to be one of the biggest draft busts over the past 5 or so years. He completed 53.3% of his passes for an average of 5.61 YPA, 22 touchdowns, and 24 interceptions in those 3 seasons, a quarterback rating of 66.4. He made 27 starts over those 3 seasons and won 5 of them, going 5-22. The Jaguars were not going to keep him around going into 2014 so credit them for somehow getting a 6th round pick for him.

Grade: A

Trade for 49ers: While it was a good deal for the Jaguars somehow getting something for Gabbert, it wasn’t necessarily a bad deal for the 49ers trading for him. If it made sense for any team trading for him, they are that team. They desperately needed a backup quarterback behind Colin Kaepernick with Colt McCoy gone and McLeod Bethel-Thompson being the only other quarterback on the roster besides Kaepernick before this trade.

If anyone can get the talent out of Gabbert that got him taken 10th overall, it’s Jim Harbaugh, a known quarterback whispered. Harbaugh is known for having a history with Gabbert, as he recruited him heavily when he was the head coach at Stanford (he eventually went to Missouri) and the 49ers heavily considered drafting him 7th overall in Harbaugh’s first draft in 2011, eventually opting to go with his Missouri teammate Aldon Smith (it was a much smarter move).

The 49ers also had so many picks coming into this draft so losing a 6th round pick, worst case scenario, won’t hurt them. As bad as Gabbert is, they were unlikely to find a better backup quarterback than him in the 6th round. His 2 million dollar salary is pretty expensive for him, but they can probably restructure his contract fairly easily if he does show enough to make their roster. It’s not a terrible deal.

Grade: B

Apr 092014
 

Maurice Jones-Drew has seen a steep fall from his 2011 season, in which he led the NFL with 1606 rushing yards. That season, he averaged 4.7 yards per carry on 343 carries, added 43 catches for 374 yards and scored 11 times. He did all of that on an otherwise abysmal offense during Blaine Gabbert’s rookie year, which makes it all the more impressive. That off-season, he demanded a contract that would have paid him among the best running backs in the NFL, holding out almost into the season when the Jaguars didn’t meet his demands.

It turns out that not paying him was one of the best moves the Jaguars have made over the past 5 years. After a 1084 touch workload from 2009-2011, MJD cracked in 2012, managing just 84 carries over 6 years, though he did average 4.8 yards per carry. 2013 was arguably worse as he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry on 234 carries, scored just 5 times on 277 touches, and had just 5 touches go for 20+ yards. One a candidate to be the highest paid running back in the NFL on his next contract, MJD was met with a frigid market as a free agent going into his age 29 season, signing this 3 year, 7.5 million dollar deal with the Raiders that has just 2.5 million over 1 year guaranteed.

MJD’s rough 2013 season could be largely the result of the complete lack of offensive talent, and thus running room, around him in Jacksonville. However, he averaged just 2.2 yards after contact, broke just 26 tackles, and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst running back in terms of pure running grade. Now going into his age 29 season with 2139 career touches, he’s unlikely to get more explosive going into 2014.

He’ll be an asset for the Raiders in passing downs because he still has strong pass catching and pass blocking skills, catching 43 passes and grading out above average on Pro Football Focus in both pass catching grade and pass blocking grade, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd best running back in pass blocking grade. He’s probably a worse pure runner than Darren McFadden, but he’ll still contribute for the Raiders in some form.

He’ll make up an underwhelming running back tandem with McFadden as both running backs have lost a great deal of explosiveness over the past 2 seasons due to injury, but this is a fairly inexpensive deal. It’s a solid value when you compare it to other deals received by running backs this off-season, including Darren McFadden (1 year, 4 million), Joique Bell (3 years, 9.3 million), Donald Brown (3 years, 10.5 million), Ben Tate (2 years, 7 million), Knowshon Moreno (1 year, 3 million), LeGarrette Blount (2 years, 3.85 million), and Rashad Jennings (4 years, 14 million) this off-season.

Grade: B+

Apr 072014
 

Trade for Ravens: The Ravens desperately needed a new center as Gino Gradkowski struggled mightily in his first season as a starter in place of the retired Matt Birk. The 2012 4th round pick graded out as Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked center last season. Jeremy Zuttah is not a great center, grading out 22nd ranked center out of 35 eligible last season and 24th out of 36 eligible in 2012, but he’s a massive upgrade over Gradkowski.

The issue worth discussing here is not in the compensation sent to the Buccaneers as a 5th round pick is not much. The Ravens would have had trouble finding a center even this good in the 5th round. The issue worth discussing is how much the Ravens are paying him. They’re not just getting a starting center for a 5th round pick as they had to sign him to a 5-year, 18 million dollar deal. Zuttah originally had 8.75 million over 2 years left on his deal, but none of that was guaranteed.

The Ravens have cut his salary over the next 2 seasons to a total of 7.5 million, but guaranteed 6.5 million of that so he’s essentially getting a 2-year, 7.5 million dollar deal (or a 1-year, 6.5 million dollar deal) guaranteed. The Ravens will then have “options” for him at 3.5 million dollars apiece for the 2016, 2017, and 2018 seasons. It’s a small overpay for a mediocre center, but it is a reasonable deal for the Ravens in their current situation.

Grade: B

Trade for Buccaneers: Zuttah was overpaid at 4.5 million for 2014 and 4.25 million for 2015, so I understand why the Buccaneers would want to move on from him and from that angle, credit them for getting a 5th round pick, rather than cutting him outright, which is easier said than done. However, this move would have made more sense earlier in free agency when there were still options to replace Zuttah on the open market. Now the Buccaneers seem stuck with a combination of Jamon Meredith and Patrick Omameh and maybe a rookie at right guard now. It’s still a decent move though. There’s no real winner in this trade.

Grade: B

Apr 072014
 

The Raiders let a number of good, young players go this off-season, letting LaMarr Houston, Vance Walker, and Jared Veldheer leave and replacing them with aging veterans like Antonio Smith, Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, and Donald Penn. It’s an odd strategy and use of cap space. That being said, they’re making a great move here bringing back Pat Sims on a cheap, one year deal after he, for some reason, generated very little interest on the open market.

Sims was a 3rd round pick by the Bengals in 2008 and was a largely irrelevant backup in Cincinnati for 5 years before last season, playing a combined 481 snaps in 2011 and 2012. He broke out in Oakland last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked defensive tackle last season on 694 snaps, excelling against the run and grading out above average as both a pass rusher and a run stopper. He’s still just a one year wonder at this point, which is part of the reason why he saw little interest on the open market, but this is still a steal for the Raiders, bringing him back for 2 million over 1 year. He’s only going into his age 29 season so he’s still relatively young, which is a positive contrast from most of the moves the Raiders have made this off-season.

Grade: A

Apr 072014
 

Last off-season, DeAngelo Hall was cut from his large contract by the Redskins and brought back on a cheap one-year deal worth about a million dollars. It made sense. He was going into his age 30 season and had graded out below average on Pro Football Focus in 4 of his last 5 seasons, dating back to 2008. The only season he graded out above average was 2010. In 2011, he was Pro Football Focus’ 66th ranked cornerback out of 109 eligible and in 2012 he was 70th out of 113 eligible. He struggled again in 2013, grading out 84th out of 110 eligible and, now going into his age 31 season, I thought he’d have to settle for another cheap one year deal on the open market.

I guess the Redskins had different idea, giving him this 4-year deal worth 17 million. I’m not entirely sure what he did to deserve that. He was part of the problem for the Redskins in their terrible secondary last season, not part of the solution, and they could have gotten a much better cornerback for this kind of money. The only good part of this deal is that there is just 4.5 million over 1 season guaranteed. The Redskins can cut him after one year, which they probably will after he predictably struggles again next season, and not owe him anything more. This could easily be just a 1-year, 4.5 million dollar deal with the cap hit split over 2 seasons. Even that’s about 4 times too much over a year for Hall though.

Grade: C-

Apr 062014
 

Jason Peters was Pro Football Focus’ #1 offensive tackle in 2011 and by a large margin, dominating as both a run and pass blocker. However, he tore his Achilles in 2012 and missed the entire season. He came back in 2013 and he wasn’t the same player, but it would have been hard to be as good as he was in 2011 regardless. His season was still very impressive, especially for someone coming off the kind of injury he was coming off of, as he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked offensive tackle. He was also Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked offensive tackle in 2010 and 21st ranked offensive tackle in 2009.

Peters already had one year worth 9.65 million dollars left on his deal and this deal adds 38.65 million dollars over 4 years to that original deal (with an extra 3 million available through Pro Bowl escalators). This deal is total 48.3 million over 5 years. Giving someone going into his age 32 season with this kind of injury history (he also missed 9 games from 2008-2011 and 2013 was his first 16 game season since before 2008) this kind of money might seem a little excessive, but he’s definitely more than deserving of this money at his best.

The average annual salary of 9.66 million is 6th in the NFL, right ahead of Branden Albert, who got 46 million over 5 years this off-season as the open market’s highest paid offensive tackle. Peters is a significantly better player than Albert. Albert also got 25 million guaranteed, while Peters’ guarantee is just 19.55 million guaranteed, significantly less than Albert’s. It’s even less guaranteed when you take into account that about half of that (9.65 million) is money he would have gotten regardless of this extension as they would not have cut Peters going into his contract year.

It’s really only 9.9 million in new guarantees and the Eagles can get out of this as a 2-year, 19.55 million dollar deal for his age 32 and 33 seasons if they want to. His cash salaries for his non-guaranteed years in 2016, 2017, and 2018 are 8.3 million, 10.2 million, and 10.25 million respectively. They would probably not have been able to re-sign him to a deal with just 9.9 million guaranteed next off-season. This was a low-risk, forward thinking, and team friendly deal for a team to keep their incredibly valuable and incredibly talented blindside protector during what still seem to be his peak years.

Grade: A

Apr 062014
 

I like the idea of the Eagles re-signing Jeremy Maclin and cutting DeSean Jackson and his 10.7 million dollar salary. Maclin is actually the more versatile play maker and I think he can be a strong fit in Chip Kelly’s offense, though he’s yet to play for Kelly in a regular season game after tearing his ACL before last season. Injuries have been the problem for Maclin throughout his career as the 2009 1st round pick has missed 21 games in 5 years in his career, including all of last season and has only once played all 16 games.

Injuries are a big part of the reason why he’s never had a 1000 yard season in his career despite frequently flashing top level ability. He’s come close with a 70/964/10 line in 2010 and a 63/859/5 line in 13 games in 2011, but he’s never crossed that threshold. I think he has a good chance to do so this year, should he stay healthy. When healthy, he’s a better receiver than Riley Cooper and I think he and a rookie receiver can replace DeSean Jackson for less money.

I like the idea of giving Jeremy Maclin a one year prove it deal and I think he could break out on this deal in 2014, but 5.5 million dollars is a lot of money on a prove it deal for an injury prone receiver who has never had more than 1000 yards in a season. He could definitely prove to be worth it, but I think they probably could have gotten him cheaper. Compare this to the 3.975 million dollars that Hakeem Nicks got from the Colts on a prove it deal and this seems like a small overpay. That’s slightly nitpicking though and he could definitely prove to be worth this.

Grade: A-

Apr 062014
 

This deal is part of the reason why the Eagles moved on from DeSean Jackson. They think they can replace DeSean Jackson with a healthy Jeremy Maclin and a rookie along with a bigger role for Riley Cooper. Cooper is getting 22.5 million over 5 years, though with only 9 million over 2 years guaranteed. I have a hard time seeing him getting that on the open market. A year ago, Cooper was the Eagles 4th receiver and had 46 catches for 679 catches and 5 touchdowns in his career in 3 years since being drafted in the 5th round by the Eagles in 2010.

He struggled to start the 2013 season as well, catching 8 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown in his first 5 games in a starting role, before breaking out down the stretch. Once Nick Foles came under center, it was a big boost to Cooper’s stats as the Eagles’ passing offense broke out and Foles liked to throw to Cooper more often than Michael Vick did. Cooper caught 45 passes for 810 yards and 8 touchdowns in his final 12 games including playoffs. The Eagles are paying a lot of money for a system player who, as of early October, was a non-factor as a receiver in the league.

I like the Eagles’ general direction at wide receiver this off-season, re-signing Jeremy Maclin, cutting DeSean Jackson and his large salary, and replacing him with a combination of a hopefully healthy Maclin and a rookie, but this is too much money for Cooper. This is the definition of buying high. The other angle here is that Cooper may have struggled to get as much money as he otherwise would have on the open market because of the comments he made last off-season and the potential locker room issues that signing him could cause. The Eagles’ locker room generally seemed to forgive and accept him, but it’s not clear if the rest of the league would feel the same way.

Grade: C

Apr 052014
 

Trade for Bills: Mike Williams is on a big contract, but only 1.8 million of the deal is left guaranteed so the Bills are essentially getting Williams on a 1-year, 1.8 million dollar deal with “options” for 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 at 6.8 million, 7.2 million, 7.5 million, and 8.75 million respectively. He’s unlikely to be back with the team in 2015 at that salary as the Bills will likely cut him or force him to restructure his deal following this season.

Considering Williams has shown he can be a very solid receiver when he has a fire lit under him, it’s a worthwhile gamble with little downside and potentially high upside. Williams had strong years in 2010 (65/964/11) and 2012 (63/996/9), grading out well above average on Pro Football Focus in each season. However, in 2011, he had just 65 catches for 771 yards and 3 touchdowns, grading out well below average, and reportedly displaying a very poor work ethic. In 2013, he had 22 catches for 216 yards and 2 touchdowns in just 6 games before going down with injury.

After his injury, he reportedly incurred 200K in fines for a variety of activity detrimental to the team, including missing meetings. He has a history of this type of behavior, not just in 2011 and 2013, but dating back to his collegiate days at the Syracuse University, when he was kicked off the team, ironically by head coach Doug Marrone, who is now head coach of the Bills. Williams also has a myriad of minor off the field incidents over the past calendar year, which are concerning when you put everything together.

All of that makes up why he was traded to the Bills for a 6th round pick, but this could serve as the wake-up call he needs to continue alternating bad years with strong years. This move will allow the Bills to likely cut Steve Johnson and save 5.675 million dollars in cash and immediately 75K in cap space and a combined 5.675 million dollars in cap space over the next two seasons. They are likely getting a comparable player for about a third of the price. In that scenario, they’d go into 2014 with Mike Williams, Robert Woods, TJ Graham, and Marquise Goodwin as their top receivers with the option to add another receiver through the draft.

The only concern is that Williams has a good enough season that he tricks the Bills into keeping him for 2015 at 6.8 million and then he coasts again. There are also minor concerns about Williams polluting the locker room or eventually doing something bad enough that he gets suspended. It’s still a worthwhile gamble with high upside and high potential dividends at the price of a 6th round pick.

Grade: A

Trade for Buccaneers: I guess the Buccaneers were just done with Williams after everything. The new regime coming in under Lovie Smith seems to be instituting a no tolerance policy for this type of behavior. Cutting him wasn’t a good option as they’d have to pay him 1.8 million dollars for this season either way, so I guess credit them for getting out of that and getting a 6th round pick. However, I would have just kept him at that salary and dealt with him after the season. This could easily become a case of one team’s trash becoming another team’s treasure in the Bills’ favor.

Grade: C

Apr 052014
 

The Eagles cut Jackson because he was owed 10.7 million dollars and they didn’t want to pay him that when they already had 5+ million yearly committed to Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin at the wide receiver position (not because of racism). There are also reports of disrespectful behavior on Jackson’s part and he even confirmed that he was late to some meetings.

Whether or not any potential gang affiliation played a role is unknown, but comments from some people who have known Jackson since his childhood, coupled with the heavy interest Jackson was met with on the open market suggests that any affiliations were blown out of proportion by shoddy journalism. It really seems like, plain and simple, the Eagles didn’t want to pay Jackson 10.7 million dollars and think they can replace his production with a combination of a rookie and a now healthy Jeremy Maclin to go with Riley Cooper.

That makes a lot of sense. Jackson was Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked wide receiver last year, but that’s not consistent with his history as he was actually about an average to slightly above average wide receiver on Pro Football Focus from 2008-2012. It’s possible that he was just a product of Chip Kelly’s offense last season. Even in his 1000 yard seasons in 2009 and 2010, Jackson was only catching about half of his targets as an inconsistent, one trick pony deep threat. Couple that with the fact that he can cause headaches to coaching staffs from time to time and I think the Eagles’ decision to move on from him makes a lot of sense, regardless of any gang affiliation.

The Redskins are getting him at a cheaper rate than the Eagles would have, giving him a 3-year, 24 million dollar deal with 16 million guaranteed, but they still might be overpaying for a system receiver. On top of that, the Redskins didn’t have a lot of cap space coming into this move, part of why they had to add a 4th “dummy year” to this deal to spread out the cap hit over 4 years instead of 3 years. This will be an expensive deal for the Redskins over the next few years and I don’t know if this is the right area for them to be allocating their cap space. They already have a #1 receiver in Pierre Garcon, but they have a large amount of holes on the defensive side of the balls, an amount that will grow next off-season if this deal makes the Redskins unable to retain Brian Orakpo long-term.

Jackson will make 8 million dollars per year in every season of this deal, including a non-guaranteed 8 million in the third year in 2016. This year, 5 million of that is the signing bonus so his cap hit will actually only be 4.25 million (3 million in salary, 1.25 million in prorated signing bonus). However, he’ll have a cap number of 9.25 million in 2015 and if he’s cut after the 2015 season, he’ll have a cap number of 2.5 million in 2016. If he stays on the roster in 2016, he’ll have a cap number of 9.25 million in 2016 and 1.25 million in 2017, his “dummy year.” It’s a lot to commit to a wide receiver when you already have a #1 receiver.

Grade: B-

Mar 312014
 

Shaun Phillips looked done after the 2013 season, going into his age 32 season after grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked 3-4 outside linebacker. He had to settle for a one year deal close to the veteran’s minimum with the Broncos, but he was able to rehab his value, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2013. He’s still no guarantee to continue being a starting caliber player going into his age 33 season in 2014, but the Titans protected themselves with this cheap deal.

This deal has a max value of 6 million dollars over 2 years, but the Titans can get out of it after 1-year and 2.5 million this off-season, if they so choose, as that’s all that is guaranteed. Phillips could be a bargain as an edge rusher if he continues to play like he did last season and if he doesn’t, there’s minimal downside. The Titans needed another edge rusher for their new 3-4, which Phillips has played almost his entire career in. Akeem Ayers will benefit from this new system and be one edge rusher, but Derrick Morgan is kind of in limbo moving to a 3-4. Phillips’ presence will allow Morgan to move around the formation.

Grade: A-