Chicago Bears re-sign G Matt Slauson

Matt Slauson, a 6th round pick in 2009, made 48 starts for the Jets from 2010-2012, grading out slightly above average in each of those 3 seasons. The Bears were able to get him on a cheap one year deal last off-season and what started as a smart move paid off even more, as he broke out in his age 27 season in 2013, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked guard. He also once again started all 16 games, actually playing every single snap. He might not ever have a season that good again, but he’s definitely an above average starting guard with a very high floor.

The Bears are once again getting a bargain here, giving him 12.8 million over 4 years. Only 4.9 million of that is guaranteed, though I don’t imagine that ever mattering because he’s well worth an average annual salary of 3.2 million even at his worst. The Bears’ offensive line was one of the best in the NFL last season, after struggling mightily in the previous years, and Slauson’s addition was a big part of the reason why. This was a very good move keeping him.

Grade: A

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Chicago Bears sign DE Jared Allen

I thought the Bears were going to be set at defensive end after signing LaMarr Houston and Willie Young, to go with Shea McClellin as an outside linebacker who rushes off the edge in sub packages. However, I guess they decided they needed to add another starting defensive end. I don’t necessarily disagree. Maybe they think McClellin won’t be able to contribute much. Maybe they are planning on having LaMarr Houston play even more defensive tackle now that Henry Melton is gone. Maybe they aren’t completely sold on Willie Young as an every down defensive end.

My disagreement here is with the price. They are paying extra here for name value and past production. Age 30+ pass rushers are being overpaid this off-season. First DeMarcus Ware gets 30 million over 3 years, with 20 million over 2 years guaranteed. Then Julius Peppers got 30 million over 3 years, though with only 8.5 million over the first season guaranteed. This deal (4 years, 32 million with 15.5 million over 2 years guaranteed) is actually even worse than those two deals, as bad as those two deals were. Jared Allen is not as good as DeMarcus Ware and the guaranteed money is much more than Julius Peppers got.

Jared Allen is going into his age 32 season and on the decline. He graded out below average on Pro Football Focus last season, after grading out positive in 2008-2013 (Pro Football Focus doesn’t have data before 2008), and he’s probably not getting any better any time soon. Sure, he had 13 sacks last season, but you can’t rely on pure on sack numbers. He had 18 quarterback hits and 34 quarterback hurries, but he did that on 677 pass rush snaps. His pass rush productivity (sacks + .75 hits + .75 hurries divided by pass rush snaps played) was 36th out of 52 eligible 4-3 defensive ends last season.

As he ages, he won’t be able to play nearly every snap as he usually does and his sack numbers will go down significantly. He’ll also probably become less efficient. I’d be shocked if he had double digit sacks in either of the next two seasons, rotating with Houston, Young, and McClellin. Given that they’re going to be paying him 15.5 million over the next 2 seasons (3 million in 2014 and 12.5 million in 2015), this deal is a big overpay. The Bears had been having a very solid off-season to this point, but I think they jumped the gun here on this signing.

Grade: C-

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Miami Dolphins sign RB Knowshon Moreno

Knowshon Moreno had over 1500 yards from scrimmage last season (1038 rushing and 548 receiving), but was still available about 3 weeks into free agency. However, there were reasons for that. The running back position has been strongly devalued in the NFL. We’re in an off-season where no running back has gotten more than 4 million dollars yearly and going into a draft where no running back is expected to go in the first round (after none went in the first round last year either).

Also, as much production as Moreno had last year, much of it was the product of Peyton Manning. Moreno rarely faced stacked boxes and, much more often than not, was running against boxes of 6 or fewer defenders. In spite of that, he actually just rushed for 4.31 yards per carry, which isn’t a spectacular average. He was just Pro Football Focus’ 23rd ranked running back in terms of running grade. He’s a talented pass catcher and pass protector, but he’s an average runner at best. He also missed 20 games from 2010-2012 and had just 426 touches over those 3 seasons. There’s a reason why the Broncos showed no interest in bringing in back with Montee Ball behind him on the depth chart.

All that being said, the Dolphins are getting him at a very reasonable rate, as he’s owed just 3 million over 1 year. Compare this to contracts received by 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) and Rashad Jennings (4 years, 14 million) this off-season. This adds some stability to a Dolphins backfield that was previously very murky with Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas, and Mike Gillislee.

Grade: A-

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Chicago Bears re-sign CB Charles Tillman

Charles Tillman was once a dominant cornerback, grading out 20th, 6th, and 3rd in 2010, 2011, and 2012 respectively. However, he struggled last year, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 89th ranked cornerback out of 110 eligible on 438 snaps. The likely reasons for that are threefold. One is his age as he goes into his age 33 season. Another was the loss of former head coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Going from those two running your defense to Mel Tucker is a serious downgrade that likely contributed to Tillman’s down year. The third was injury as he dealt with a variety of nagging injuries, including a torn triceps that ended his season 8 games in.

He could be better when healthy next season, but there’s a good chance he’s just never the same player again and close to being done. His age is now an even bigger concern and Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli aren’t coming back. This one year deal, worth 3.5 million, isn’t much of a gamble and it could pay off for a team that needs help at both cornerback and safety. Tillman can play either position and potentially provide at least a short term solution at one of those positions. However, it’s not a great deal either and it’s a slight overpay in my opinion.

Grade: B+

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Indianapolis Colts sign MLB D’Qwell Jackson

The Browns cut D’Qwell Jackson in order to save 5.23 million on the cap and they replaced him with Karlos Dansby on a 4-year, 24 million dollar deal with 14 million over 2 years guaranteed. Dansby is two years older (33 vs. 31), but he’s the much better player, grading out as a top-13 middle linebacker on Pro Football Focus in each of the last 4 seasons, including a 6th place finish last season. Only Patrick Willis and Derrick Johnson have also been top-13 linebackers in each of the last 4 seasons. The Browns upgraded at a similar price.

Meanwhile, the Colts are picking up the Browns’ sloppy seconds and overpaying. Jackson’s contract is worth 22 million over 4 years with 11 million over 2 years guaranteed. It’s a comparable contract to Dansby’s, but he’s not a comparable player. Jackson was Pro Football Focus’ 42nd ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible last season and has only graded out above average on Pro Football Focus in 1 of the last 4 seasons, including a 2010 of which he missed the entirety. He’s not getting any better going into his age 31 season and he won’t help solve the Colts’ problems at middle linebacker. This is a massive overpay.

Grade: C-

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Indianapolis Colts sign DE Arthur Jones

A 2010 5th round pick, Arthur Jones has developed from a solid reserve in 2011 on 255 snaps to a solid starter on 536 snaps to a breakout player in 2013, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked 3-4 defensive end. Now he reunites with his former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, the head coach in Indianapolis, and fills a need at 5-technique defensive end for the Colts. They needed someone to rotate with Ricky Jean-Francois and Cory Redding, especially with the latter going into his age 34 season.

However, I do think they overpaid giving Jones 33 million over 5 years with 16 million guaranteed. At his best, he’s worth that kind of money, but he’s still just a one year wonder at this point in his career. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue to be this good. He’s never played more than 536 snaps in a season and he’s never been the key cog on Baltimore’s defensive line, rotating often and playing alongside Haloti Ngata. It’s a risky contract. I had him valued in the 5-6 million dollar range yearly so 6.6 million is an overpay.

Grade: B

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Philadelphia Eagles sign CB Nolan Carroll

Nolan Carroll has seen his snap count increase in each of the past 3 seasons, going from 330, to 653, to 809 snaps from 2011-2013. He’s been roughly an average player on Pro Football Focus the whole time and is now an average starter. Last season he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 52nd ranked cornerback, right in the middle of the pack, allowing 47.8% completion, which was actually the 4th lowest in the NFL among eligible cornerbacks.

He’s a good addition for a Philadelphia team that could use competition for Cary Williams at cornerback. He was Pro Football Focus’ 80th ranked cornerback out of 110 eligible last season. His 4.75 million dollar salary for 2014 has already been guaranteed by virtue of him being on the roster on March 16th, but Carroll comes as cheap competition (5.25 million over 2 years). This is a solid value.

Grade: A-

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Arizona Cardinals sign CB Antonio Cromartie

A league average cornerback from 2009-2011, Cromartie had a dominant 2012 campaign, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 16th ranked overall cornerback and 5th ranked cornerback in pure coverage grade, allowing just 46.0% completion, 5th lowest in the NFL. That was a big part of the reason why the Jets felt comfortable moving on from Darrelle Revis. Cromartie looked like a mini-Revis. However, Cromartie was awful in 2013, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 8th worst cornerback, 2nd worst in terms of coverage grade. He was torched with regularity, allowing 19.1 yards per completion, 2nd highest in the NFL. That led to his release from the Jets, which saved them 9.5 million on the cap.

The Cardinals are taking a flier on Cromartie here with a one-year prove it deal worth 3.25 million dollars. It’s possible his rapid decline last season was largely due to a hip injury and if he’s healthy in 2014, he could be a lot better. He’s only going into his age 30 season. It’s a worthwhile gamble for a Cardinals team that had issues at cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson last season, one of their few holes on an overall strong defense. He’ll compete with Antoine Cason for the starting job and could make Cason a cap casualty eventually. If it doesn’t work out, it’s just a one year deal.

Grade: A-

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Buffalo Bills sign MLB Brandon Spikes

Brandon Spikes was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked middle linebacker last season, but that’s a little misleading. That was fueled solely by his run play as he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ first ranked middle linebacker in terms of run grade by a mile, but he ranked 38th out of 55 middle linebackers in terms of coverage grade. He also played only 694 snaps as a part-time two-down player. He’s a pure base package player in a league that’s devaluing pure base package players, though he’s an excellent one at that.

This isn’t a new thing for him. In 2012, he graded out 9th among middle linebackers, including 1st as a run stopper, playing just 742 snaps. In 2011, he graded out 18th among middle linebackers, 19th in run grade, and played 364 snaps. In 2010, he graded out 9th among middle linebackers, 4th in run grade, and played 356 snaps. He also has a history of injury and issues with the coaching staff. All this being said, he is phenomenal at what he does and this contract (3.5 million over 1 year) is very reasonable for a Buffalo team that needs middle linebacker help. He’s a much better version of Arthur Moats, who played two-downs for the Bills last year, with safety Da’Norris Searcy coming down and playing linebacker in obvious passing situations.

Grade: A

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Baltimore Ravens sign WR Steve Smith

Steve Smith had 64 catches for 745 yards and 4 touchdowns last season. Excluding the Jimmy Clausen season and his injury plagued 2004 season, those were his worst since his rookie year in 2001. That’s just what happens to receivers this age. 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.

Steve Smith is 19th in all-time receiving yards yardage, but he’s also going into his age 35 season. That’s why it’s risky to give him a 3-year 10.5 million dollar deal, even if only the first year’s salary of 4.5 million is guaranteed, and why it was a good idea for the Panthers to cut him, even if they were incredibly thin at wide receiver. Even a 1-year, 4.5 million dollar deal for Steve Smith is too much, even for a wide receiver needy team like the Ravens. Steve Smith has had a great career, but there’s a chance he just falls off a cliff in terms of his abilities in his age 35 season.

Grade: C

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