Philadelphia Eagles extend MLB DeMeco Ryans

Ryans was originally scheduled to make 6.9 million in 2015. This extension is worth just 7.5 million over 2 years. However, the problem is that 6.25 million of this new deal is guaranteed, which means it’s essentially fully guaranteed (the Eagles are highly unlikely to cut Ryans next off-season with guaranteed money still owed to him in 2015). Ryan’s original 6.9 million dollar salary in a 2015 contract year was non-guaranteed and the Eagles could have cut him with no penalty and saved 6.9 million in cash and cap space.

With that in mind, they should have cut him, rather than giving him this extension. Even forgetting the fact that Ryans isn’t necessary any more with the Kiko Alonso trade (Alonso and Mychal Kendricks are more than capable of manning the two interior linebacker spots if both are healthy), Ryans just isn’t that good. He’s coming off a torn Achilles that limited him to 8 games last season and he’s going into his age 31 season. He wasn’t horrible in those 8 games in 2014, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 53rd ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible in 2013, his last healthy season. He also hasn’t graded out above average since 2011. For a team with limited cap space left, to the point where they’re shopping Evan Mathis, one of the best guards in the NFL, this move doesn’t make a lot of sense, outside of the fact that Ryans will provide depth and veteran leadership.

Grade: D

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Cleveland Browns sign WR Dwayne Bowe

From 2007-2012, Dwayne Bowe caught 415 passes for 5728 yards and 39 touchdowns in 88 games in his career, despite playing with the likes of Brodie Croyle, Damon Huard, Tyler Thigpen, Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko, Kyle Orton, and Brady Quinn at quarterback. That earned him a 5-year, 56 million dollar deal, but it’s been all downhill for Bowe over the past 2 seasons since signing that deal. Despite playing with Alex Smith over the past two seasons, who has been easily the best quarterback he’s had in his career, but Bowe has put up 57/673/5 and 60/754/0 slash lines in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

I thought he was a nice buy low candidate on the open market this off-season, but the Browns don’t seem to know what that means. This deal will pay Bowe 12.5 million over the next 2 seasons, an annual average of 6.25 million. That means that Bowe will still be the 18th highest paid wide receiver in the NFL, which is ridiculous considering he hasn’t been good since 2012, he’s going into his age 31 season, and he’s gotten criticism for his work ethic in recent years. Something in the 2-year, 8 million dollar range with 4 million guaranteed was what I was expecting and a deal that would have been much more appropriate.

There’s bounce back potential for him, but, given how much they’re paying him, there’s little upside on this deal. I get that the Browns had a need at wide receiver and money to spend, but that’s no excuse for an overpay like this, especially considering Jabaal Sheard, one of the Browns’ best defensive players last year, signed for cheaper than this in New England this off-season. Bowe could take away valuable practice and game reps from a rookie on a young team next season. The worst part might be that the Browns, for whatever reason, guaranteed 9 million. Because Bowe is unlikely to be cut after 1 year and 9 million, that basically means this 2-year, 12.5 million dollar deal is essentially fully guaranteed. It’s a borderline hilariously bad contract this far into free agency.

Grade: D

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Denver Broncos sign S Darian Stewart

The Broncos were not expected to re-sign free safety Rahim Moore this off-season (and they didn’t). That’s because the Broncos already had big contract defensive backs in their secondary around the free safety spot, in the form of Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, and TJ Ward. However, the Broncos did need a replace for Moore, who signed with the Texans on a surprisingly cheap 3-year, 12 million dollar deal that I thought was one of the better values of free agency. Stewart comes even cheaper than Moore, as the total value of this deal (4.5 million over 2 years) is similar to the annual value of Moore’s deal, though that’s with good reason as he doesn’t nearly have Moore’s upside.

However, he’s a solid cheap replacement whose deficiencies can be masked by the rest of this secondary. Stewart, a 2010 undrafted free agent, was forced into a starting role too early in 2011, grading out 82nd out of 87 eligible safeties that season. Stewart has rehabbed his value in the last two seasons though. In 2013, he graded out only slightly below average on 583 snaps and then in 2014 he graded out above average for the first time since his rookie season on 782 snaps (14 starts). He’s a fringe starter, but he’s a solid, cheap signing by a team that has a lot of talent all over the field that they have to fit under the cap in the next couple of off-seasons.

Grade: B+

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Pittsburgh Steelers re-sign OLB James Harrison

Harrison was reportedly choosing between Pittsburgh and Tennessee. Even though his former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is now in Tennessee, Pittsburgh always seemed like the most logical choice for Harrison. Pittsburgh is the better of the two teams. They offer the easiest path to playing time, as he’d be stuck behind big ticket free agents Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo. Pittsburgh has a real lack of talent at 3-4 outside linebacker following Jason Worilds’ retirement and Harrison should be the starter opposite the inconsistent Jarvis Jones. A return to Pittsburgh also meant a return to the team where he’s played 10 of his 11 career seasons and would give him a chance to add to his Steeler legacy.

Given all of that, this is the right move by Harrison and a great move by the Steelers, who would have been stuck starting career reserve Arthur Moats opposite Jones with little to no proven depth at the position. Harrison gets added to an outside linebacker crew that should feature him, Jones, Moats, and likely an early round rookie. The Steelers’ depth problems at outside linebacker were why the Steelers re-sign Harrison last season in the first place. Harrison was out of the league to start last season, but he rejoined the Steelers for week 4 after they needed help at the rush linebacker position and he proved to be a huge pickup, grading out 10th at his position on just 439 snaps. No one played fewer snaps at his position and graded out better.

He’s going into his age 37 season so the end of the road is right around the corner, but he proved last season that he still has something left in the tank. He has graded out above average in every season in Pro Football Focus’ history (since 2007), including last season and a 2013 season with the Bengals where he was Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker on just 383 snaps as a base run stopping outside linebacker. No one played fewer snaps and graded out better at the position that season, making it two different seasons that could be said about him and at two different positions. Harrison will get more than the minimum this season, but he deserves it and the Steelers are still hardly breaking the bank for him. This deal is worth 2.75 million over 2 years with nothing guaranteed beyond a 500K signing bonus so it’s low risk and pretty much all upside.

Grade: A

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New York Giants sign RB Shane Vereen

Shane Vereen was a 2nd round pick by the Patriots in 2011. Vereen saw just 188 snaps in 2011 and 2012 combined, but he was expected to be a big part of their post-Aaron Hernandez offense in 2013. He was when he was on the field, but he missed 8 games with injury. He caught 47 passes for 427 yards and 3 touchdowns on 66 targets on 200 routes run, an average of 2.14 yards per route run that was 2nd only to Darren Sproles among running backs, very impressive numbers in 8 games. Going into 2014, he was expected to put up big receiving numbers, assuming he stayed healthy. He did stay healthy, playing all 16 games, but in that sense, his 52 catches were a disappointment. He’s a solid pass catching running back, but he’s not much of a traditional running back (4.18 yards per carry on 217 career carries) and 16 million over 4 years seems like a little much for him.

Grade: C+

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Oakland Raiders sign OLB Malcolm Smith

Malcolm Smith follows his former linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. to Oakland, where he is now the defensive coordinator. That makes sense, but it’s not clear what his role will be in Oakland. The Raiders paid him 7 million over 2 years, which suggests he’ll be a starter, after spending most of his career as a reserve in Seattle. Free agent signing Curtis Lofton is locked in at middle linebacker, while Khalil Mack is locked in as the two-down linebacker in base packages (moving to the defensive line in sub packages as an edge rusher). That leaves Smith to compete with Sio Moore, a 2013 3rd round pick who has been solid in 22 starts in his first 2 seasons in the NFL.

I don’t know if Smith can beat him out. Malcolm Smith was Super Bowl MVP in Super Bowl 47, one of the more anonymous Super Bowl MVP’s in NFL history. Smith played a good game, but there were more deserving candidates, as Smith didn’t even play half the snaps in that game (34 of 71). He just happened to make a few splash plays that we remember. Smith also wasn’t even a starter that season, playing just 490 snaps. He was still Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker that season, despite the limited action, with no one playing more snaps and grading out better. However, he’s still graded out above average in just 2 of 4 seasons and he’s only once played more than 286 snaps in a season. I don’t think he’s better than Moore, so this is an overpay and a bad match of team and player.

Grade: C+

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Miami Dolphins re-sign S Louis Delmas

Louis Delmas looked like a promising young safety in 2009 and 2010, starting 30 games in his first 2 years in the league after the Lions drafted him in the 2nd round in 2009, grading out above average in both seasons. However, knee problems limited him to 19 games in 2011 and 2012 and he graded out below average in both of those seasons. He seemed to turn his career in 2013 (with the Lions) and 2014 (with the Dolphins), making 29 straight starts and playing decently as a starting safety, but he tore his ACL week 14 in 2014, a very serious concern given his injury history.

Given that, I’m surprised the Dolphins re-signed him this early in the off-season, though it’s obviously possible they know way more about the condition of his knee than I do. For what it’s worth, reports say that both Delmas and the Dolphins expect him to be ready for training camp, though that’s obviously a very preliminary estimate and there’s no guarantee that he’ll be the same player upon his return. I’m also surprised that Delmas got 3.5 million, the same amount he got from the Dolphins last off-season when he was coming off of a season in which he played all 16 games and graded out 25th at his position, rather than a season where he graded out 51st and tore his ACL. That doesn’t make it a bad deal, but it’s obviously a risky one and I feel like the Dolphins could have gotten him a little cheaper.

Grade: B-

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