Houston Texans sign S Chris Clemons

The Texans are retooling the safety position this off-season, signing Kendrick Lewis, a mediocre starting/solid reserve safety, keeping Danieal Manning on a pay cut off of an injury, and now signing Chris Clemons. They also have DJ Swearinger and Shiloh Keo, who were their starters last season after Manning got hurt and Ed Reed got hurt. Those 5 are all fairly inexpensive and will all compete for the two starting jobs.

I think Chris Clemons has the best chance to be one of the starters (my guess is Swearinger, a 2013 2nd round pick, will win the other job). I have no idea why Clemons was still available on the open market this late in free agency and how the Texans were able to get him for just 2.7 million over 2 years. He was Pro Football Focus’ 19th ranked safety last season and 25th ranked safety in 2012 in two years as a starter in Miami, his only two years as a starter. For comparison, the Dolphins replaced him with Louis Delmas, an inferior safety, for 3.5 million over 1 year. That wasn’t that bad of a deal, but this was a steal.

Grade: A

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Chicago Bears re-sign CB Tim Jennings

Tim Jennings led the NFL in interceptions in 2012 with 9 and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked cornerback. People dubbed this as his breakout year because they’re fixated on interception numbers and he had just 7 interceptions from 2008-2011, but he was actually very solid in 2010 and 2011, grading out 15th in both 2010 and 2011, despite the low interception totals. Last season, he had 4 picks, but he graded out as just a league average starter, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 52nd ranked cornerback.

It’s very possible his best days are behind him, as he heads into his age 31 season and with Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli gone. However, he was still arguably the Bears’ best defensive player last season and he probably has a couple seasons left of being at least a decent starter, if not better. The Bears are paying him very appropriately, giving him 22.4 million over 4 seasons, with 12 million over 2 seasons guaranteed and minimal dead money if they were to move on from him after 2015. This is a pretty solid deal.

Grade: A-

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Chicago Bears re-sign C Roberto Garza

Roberto Garza, formerly a solid guard in his prime, struggled at center in 2010-2012, especially struggling in 2011, when he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked center. However, he was actually pretty solid last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked center. There’s no guarantee he’ll be nearly that good again in 2014, especially as he heads into his age 35 season. However, this deal isn’t cost prohibitive (1.5 million over 1 year) and the Bears could still very well add competition and/or a successor for him through the draft. It’s a decent deal that allows the Bears to return all 5 starters from a solid offensive line that missed a combined 48 snaps all last season.

Grade: B+

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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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