Tennessee Titans sign OLB Shaun Phillips

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-

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San Diego Chargers re-sign MLB Donald Butler

This deal has a max value of 51.8 million over 7 seasons, but Butler is highly unlikely to see all that money. Only the 11.15 million dollar signing bonus is guaranteed so the Chargers could conceivably get out of this after 1-year and 11.9 million. However, the Chargers are highly unlikely to give up on him that quickly. That’s a lot of money for one year anyway. More likely, the Chargers will get out of this deal (or attempt to restructure it) after the 3rd year following 2016. That’s when a 12 million dollar roster bonus kicks in. They can get through the first 3 years paying just 19.8 million (base salaries of 3.25 million in 2015 and 4.65 million in 2016), before owing him 32 million over 4 years, including the 12 million dollar roster bonus, from 2017-2020.

All that being said, I think it’s all an overpay. Donald Butler was a solid starter in 2011 and 2012, grading out 15th on Pro Football Focus among middle linebackers in 2011 and 16th in 2012, but he fell all the way to 45th out of 55 eligible in 2013. He’s also missed 23 games in 4 seasons. Meanwhile, the 6.6 million dollar average he’ll make over the next 3 seasons would be the 12th highest average annual salary among middle linebackers and the 7.4 million dollar average salary over the life of the contract would be 10th. They probably didn’t need to give him this much money. I doubt he would have gotten this much money on the open market. A short-term prove it deal would have been much more appropriate for him.

Grade: C

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San Francisco 49ers sign S Antoine Bethea

The 49ers needed another safety after losing Donte Whitner to the Browns this off-season. Whitner is a better football player than Bethea, but Bethea came cheaper in terms of max base salary. Whitner got 28 million over 4 years, while Bethea gets 21 million over 4 years. Bethea is actually a boring player to write about. He hasn’t missed a game since 2007 and he hasn’t so much as been on an injury report at all over the past 4 seasons. He graded out above average on Pro Football Focus from 2008-2011, but he was never a top level safety, maxing out as Pro Football Focus’ 16th ranked safety in 2010.

He’s graded out below average in both 2012 and 2013 now that he’s getting older and he’s going into his age 30 season so he probably won’t be getting much better any time soon. He’s not really worth a 5.25 million dollar annual salary as he goes into his 30s, though he probably has two more seasons of being an average starter. The good part of this deal is that only 6.25 million is guaranteed so the 49ers can cut Bethea at any point and avoid base salaries of 3.5 million, 5 million, and 5.75 million in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively. It can essentially be a 1-year, 6.25 million dollar deal with 3 year options. It’s still an overpay though.

Grade: C+

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New York Jets re-sign G Willie Colon

There was a time when Willie Colon was one of the best right tackles in the game, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked offensive tackle in 2008 and 3rd ranked offensive tackle in 2009, but he missed every game but one in 2010 and 2011 combined. He returned as a guard in 2012 and played solid in 11 games and then signed a one-year deal with the Jets for the 2013 season. He played all 16 games for the first time since 2009 and he was a decent starter at right guard.

He’s definitely not the player he once was and he’s going into his age 31 season, with an extensive injury history, missing 36 games from 2010-2012, but he’s still a starting caliber player. He’s still a solid investment on this one-year deal (1 year, 2 million dollars) for the guard needy Jets. Brian Winters, their other starting guard, was Pro Football Focus’ 5th worst ranked guard in 2013 as a 3rd round rookie. If they didn’t re-sign Colon, William Campbell would have been their other starting guard. The 2013 6th round pick didn’t play a snap last season as a rookie. Colon at least locks in one starter at guard at a very reasonable rate.

Grade: A-

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Minnesota Vikings sign DT Linval Joseph

Linval Joseph, a 2nd round pick, has been a 3-year starter with the Giants from 2011-2013, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 21st ranked defensive tackle in each of the last 2 seasons. Only 5 other players have graded out higher than him in both seasons (Gerald McCoy, Ndamukong Suh, Jurrell Casey, Geno Atkins, Marcell Dareus). Joseph is better against the run than he is rushing the passer, but he graded out above average in both facets of the game in each of the past two seasons. He’s also one of the youngest players hitting free agency this off-season, going into only his age 26 season.

This contract (5 years, 31.5 million) has an average annual salary of 6.3 million, which puts him 9th among defensive tackles in terms of annual salary. That seems a little rich, but it’s certainly better than the 5 year, 33 million dollar deal the Falcons gave Paul Soliai this off-season. Soliai is an inferior and significantly older player and his deal has more guaranteed money as well (14 million to 12.5 million). Joseph’s deal doesn’t have any guaranteed money after the 2nd season so it could just end up being a 2 year, 13 million dollar deal if he doesn’t work out. There’s also a chance he continues to improve as a player as he goes into his age 26 season. He’s not even really in his prime yet. For a Vikings team in need of defensive tackle help next to Sharrif Floyd, this was a decent move.

Grade: B

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Pittsburgh Steelers sign RB LeGarrette Blount

LeGarrette Blount is a big name after what he did to the Colts in the playoffs, rushing for 166 yards and 4 touchdowns. However, people forget he had just 6 yards on 5 carries the following week in a loss in Denver. He averaged 5.19 yards per carry last season, including playoffs, on a combined 182 carries, but he was also available for a late round pick and a minimal salary the off-season prior, after averaging 4.14 yards per carry on 225 carries in 2011 and 2012 combined.

His career average of 4.68 yards per carry is pretty solid, but he offers nothing as a pass catcher (23 career catches), pass protector, has minimal special teams experience (17 career returns), fumbles often (9 fumbles on 579 career carries) and has a history of discipline problems. That being said, the Steelers are signing him purely as insurance and a backup to 2nd year running back Le’Veon Bell and he’s easily their 2nd best running back. Now they won’t have to rely on bums like Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones, and Isaac Redman if Bell gets hurt again. At 3.85 million over 2 years, he’s being paid very reasonably.

Grade: A-

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New England Patriots re-sign DT Vince Wilfork

The Patriots are ceding a lot in this extension. Rather than getting Vince Wilfork to take a pay cut, or outright cutting him, saving 8 million dollars and getting a comparable replacement like Kevin Williams for half that price, the Patriots have guaranteed 3 million dollars of Wilfork’s 2014 salary, essentially locking them into paying him 8 million dollars for next season. In return, they get the ability to spread his cap hit out over multiple years and the option to keep him for 2015 and 2016 at a combined salary of 14.5 million (an option they almost definitely won’t use, or at least shouldn’t use).

Vince Wilfork is not worth that 8 million dollar salary. He’s going into his age 33 season and coming off of a significant injury. He was Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked defensive tackle in 2012 and 23rd ranked defensive tackle in 2011, but those days are probably gone. He’s unlikely to provide the Patriots with 8 million dollars in value this season, even if you take into account the intangible value of having him around. The Patriots usually do a good job of moving on from veterans at the right time, but I think they messed up this time.

Grade: C+

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