Indianapolis Colts sign G Todd Herremans

Herremans was one of several veterans cut or traded by the Eagles this off-season, in an effort to free up as much cap space as possible for free agency, in the first off-season that Chip Kelly has had control over the roster. Herremans was owed 4 million in 2015 and the Eagles saved 2.8 million on the cap immediately by letting him go. It was a smart move. Herremans is an accomplished veteran who has made 124 starts for the Eagles over the past 10 years since they drafted him in the 4th round in 2005, but he missed 8 games with injury in 2014 (making it 16 games missed over the last 3 seasons) and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 57th ranked guard out of 78 eligible.

Herremans was Pro Football Focus’ 23rd ranked guard in 2013, so he could bounce back in 2015, but he’s also going into his age 33 season. Also, the only reason Herremans graded out so high overall in 2013 was because he was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked guard in run blocking. He struggled mightily in pass protection, grading out 79th out of 81 eligible in that aspect. In fact, Herremans hasn’t graded out above average in pass protection since 2009. He’s still a capable run blocker, but pass protection is more important in today’s NFL and it’s an area that Herremans has major issues in, especially at this stage of his career.

The Colts are giving Herremans significantly less than the Eagles were scheduled to be giving him. Herremans will make just 2.25 million this season, with another 1.25 million available in incentives. He also is only guaranteed a 500K signing bonus so if the Colts don’t like what they see when he shows up to training camp and he loses the starting right guard job, the Colts could move on from the rest of the 1.75 million they owe him with no penalty if they think that’s too much to pay to a reserve. It’s not a bad deal in that sense, but it’s not a particularly good deal either, especially for a team that needed real help at right guard.

Grade: B-

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Seattle Seahawks sign CB Cary Williams

The Eagles cut Cary Williams earlier this off-season, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not still a starting caliber player in the NFL. The Eagles were simply in the middle of a massive roster makeover and were cutting anyone that thought wasn’t worth his salary in an effort to free up as much cap space as possible for this off-season. The Eagles used some of their large amount of cap space this off-season to sign former Seattle cornerback Byron Maxwell to a gargantuan deal, which left Seattle needing a replacement for Maxwell. That’s where Williams comes in.

Williams was Pro Football Focus’ 49th ranked cornerback out of 108 eligible in 2014, not bad, but not worth his 6.5 million dollar salary, especially going into his age 31 season. He’s made all 32 starts over the past 2 seasons in Philadelphia, but he’s graded out slightly below average in both seasons. Dating back to his final 2 seasons in Baltimore, Williams had made 64 starts in the last 4 seasons, grading out slightly below average in 2012 and slightly above average in 2013. He’s a consistent, but unspectacular cornerback who was being paid like an above average starter and going into his age 31 season. That’s why the Eagles cut him.

Given that, I think the Seahawks overpaid on this deal, giving him 18 million over 3 years, an average salary of 6 million that’s barely below that 6.5 million figure. He’s still being paid like an above average starter. Only 3.5 million of this deal is guaranteed, the signing bonus, but, barring something crazy happening, Williams will see 7 million in the first year of this deal, which is more than he would have gotten in Philadelphia.

Bringing in Tramon Williams would have been a better move. Williams is a year older, but he has a more impressive track record and he’s been just as durable and consistent. I know Williams commanded 7 million annually from the Browns, but I find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have taken this exact deal from the Seahawks had they offered it to him, given that he’d make 7 million in the first year and that he’d have a significantly better chance of winning the Super Bowl in Seattle than in Cleveland. This is an overpay for Cary Williams.

Grade: C

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Baltimore Ravens sign S Kendrick Lewis

Kendrick Lewis started all 16 games for the Texans last season and has made 67 starts in 5 seasons in the NFL since the Chiefs drafted him in the 5th round in 2010. Given that, I’m surprised he signed in Baltimore where it’s not clear that he’ll be a starter in 2015. Will Hill is presumably locked in to one starting safety spot because of his talent, though he’s proven to be hard to trust in the past with his history of suspension and he’s technically still a restricted free agent so another team could sign him and the Ravens would have only the right of first refusal.

At the other safety spot, the Ravens have Matt Elam. Elam, a 2013 1st round pick, made all 16 starts as a rookie in 2013 and played decently, but he was a trainwreck in 2014, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 78th ranked safety out of 87 eligible on 411 snaps and getting benched mid-season for Darian Stewart. Stewart signed as a free agent in Denver this off-season and the fact that the Ravens brought in a replacement for Stewart with as much experience as Lewis has doesn’t suggest that the Ravens are confident in Elam’s long-term potential.

Not only am I surprised that Lewis went to a place like Baltimore where he wouldn’t be guaranteed a starting job. I am also surprise that he was only able to get 5.4 million over 3 years. Lewis struggled in his final 2 seasons in Kansas City in 2012 and 2013, but he bounced back last season in Houston and has now graded out above average in 3 of 5 seasons he’s been in the NFL. This is a very good value for a solid player who has a chance to make a real impact in Baltimore next season.

Grade: A

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Buffalo Bills sign TE Charles Clay

Players who get slapped with the transition tag rarely get signed by another team. That’s because slapping a player with the transition tag generally means you want to keep that player around long-term and you’re willing to match close to any offer another team makes. Given that, you might guess that the Bills overpaid to land Charles Clay, originally given the transition tag by Buffalo’s divisional rival Miami. You’d be correct. This is a huge overpay, a big part of the reason why the Dolphins gave up on re-signing Clay earlier this off-season and why they declined to match within a day (their final offer was reportedly 27 million over 4 years).

This deal is worth 38 million over 5 years with gives Clay the 4th highest average salary in the NFL by a tight end, behind only Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, and Rob Gronkowski. Clay has been a solid player in his 2 years as a starter in the NFL, grading out 34th in 2013 and 14th in 2014, but he’s hardly one of the top tight ends in the game. Clay’s replacement in Miami, Jordan Cameron, signed a deal for a similar amount annually (7.5 million annually) and he’s an inferior player, but just because that was a bad signing doesn’t mean this is a good signing.

On top of that, Cameron’s deal was over a much shorter period of time (2 years, 15 million) so it doesn’t hurt the Dolphins long-term as much as Clay’s deal does to the Bills. Clay’s deal has more guaranteed money (20 million) than Cameron’s deal does in total money and that figure doesn’t even really represent how much of this deal is essentially guaranteed. That’s because Clay will make 24.2 million over the first 2 years of this deal, a move designed to make it impossible for the Dolphins to keep Clay under the cap in 2015 and 2016.

Not only will Clay almost definitely see all of that money over the next 2 years even if it’s not all guaranteed (they won’t release him after 1 year and 20 million), but because he’s set to earn just 4.5, 4.6, and 4.7 million in 2017, 2018, and 2019 respectively, the only way he gets released is if he’s an absolute trainwreck. If he’s still a serviceable tight end in 2017-2019, he’ll see the entirety of this deal, even though it’s paying him much more than the average serviceable tight end overall. This is essentially a fully guaranteed 5 year, 38 million dollar deal, which will take him through his age 30 season in 2019. It’s a case of a team falling in love with an above average starter and doing everything they could to bring him in, regardless of the costs. This isn’t how good teams are built.

Grade: C-

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San Diego Chargers sign CB Patrick Robinson

Patrick Robinson has essentially been a bust as a 2010 1st round pick, but it hasn’t been for lack of talent. He’s just missed 22 games in 5 seasons and had serious trouble consistently staying healthy and on the field. His best season came in 2011, when he played 15 games (7 starts) and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 19th ranked cornerback, but that’s not the norm for him. In 2014, he played 624 snaps in 14 games, starting 6 of them, and grading out about average. That’s more par for the course.

That being said, this is a good move by the Chargers. In San Diego, he’ll be the 3rd cornerback behind Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett, playing outside in sub packages when Flowers moves inside to cover the slot. That’s appropriate for his skill set, as is his 2 million dollar salary on a 1-year deal (with another million available in playing time related incentives). Considering Shareece Wright, who was horrific as their 3rd cornerback last season, signed for 3 million in San Francisco this off-season, this is a very solid deal.

Grade: A-

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Detroit Lions re-sign CB Rashean Mathis

Rashean Mathis looked done after 2012, as he graded out below average in 2012, missed 11 games with injury in 2011 and 2012 combined, and was going into his age 33 season. He didn’t get signed until mid-August in 2013, but he turned back the clock in Detroit over the past 2 seasons, making 29 starts and grading out 26th in 2013 and 12th in 2014. He’s a risky signing because he’s going into his age 35 season in 2015 and could see his abilities fall off a cliff, but the Lions are barely paying him anything (3.5 million over 2 years with 750K guaranteed) and he’s a nice stopgap in their secondary.

Grade: A

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Dallas Cowboys sign DE Greg Hardy

Greg Hardy was the free agent with the greatest risk/reward on the open market this off-season. There’s a reason he’s only getting signed more than a week after free agency started, after most of the top edge rushers signed within the first 2-3 days. Given that, I like how this deal was structured. How was this deal structured? Well, there is nothing guaranteed, nothing due at signing, and the base salary is the minimum of 745K.

Of course, Hardy can earn much more than that. He can make 1.311 million for attending off-season workouts. He’ll make about an additional 578,500 per game that he’s on the roster. That’s particularly helpful for the Cowboys because Hardy is likely to be suspended. If he had been given a big signing bonus, the Cowboys would be paying him more per game if he got a big suspension.

All in all, Hardy can make about 11.3 million this season if he plays all 16 games and attends all off-seasons workouts, though he’s unlikely to play all 16 games. On top of that, there are fairly lucrative incentives for sacks. Hardy will make an additional 500K if he gets 8 sacks, 1 million if he gets 10 sacks, 1.4 million if he gets 12 sacks and 1.8 million if he gets 14+ sacks. If Hardy plays all 16 games and gets 14+ sacks, he can make about 13.1 million, though that’s going to be unlikely given that he’ll probably be suspended.

The Cowboys are also not allowed to franchise tag Hardy next off-season so, if he stays clean and puts up big numbers this season, he’ll be set for a big payday next off-season. I like that Hardy was willing to bet on himself and take this kind of a deal, rather than taking a long-term deal that gives him more upfront financial security, but pays him 70-80% of what he’s worth. It shows that Hardy trusts himself to stay clean. It would have raised an eyebrow for me if Hardy had been willing to sign a long-term deal this off-season.

Overall, it’s a fairly low risk deal for the Cowboys financially and a good match of player and team. The Cowboys need defensive end help and Hardy, when right, is one of the best defensive ends in football. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2013 and their 6th ranked in 2012 and he’s only going into his age 27 season. He’s obviously risky because of his off-the-field history, his looming suspension, and the fact that he could be rusty, having not played a game since week 1 of last season, but this deal handles that risk well. I can’t give this deal an A because the Cowboys take a PR hit by signing him, but, from a purely football standpoint, it’s a great deal.

Grade: A-

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