Atlanta Falcons sign G Chris Chester

Prior to this move, the Falcons had a massive need at left guard where Sam Baker, who has missed 28 of 32 games over the past 2 seasons combined after tearing both patellar tendons, was penciled in as the starter. Chester wasn’t the top guard available on the open market, as I think Rob Sims and Justin Blalock are better players, but Chester is a better fit for the Falcons’ zone blocking scheme than either of those two, especially not Blalock, who the Falcons cut earlier this off-season because he was a poor scheme fit, which is what created the hole in the first place.

Chester has experience in zone blocking schemes like the one new Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will be implementing, as he played in Washington from 2011-2013 when Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator and Kyle’s father Mike Shanahan was the head coach. Chester made 48 starts in those 3 seasons and, though he only graded out above average once in three seasons, he graded out 15th in 2012. Even last year, in Jay Gruden’s new power blocking scheme, Chester graded out above average. The issue is that he’s going into his age 32 season, which is part of why the Redskins cut him, saving 4 million on the cap and in cash in the process. However, he’s still a stopgap starting caliber player and a solid value on a 1-year, 2.8 million dollar deal for a team that needed someone like him. He also hasn’t missed a start since 2010.

Grade: B

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

New England Patriots sign MLB Brandon Spikes

I guess it’s back to slavery for Brandon Spikes. Spikes famously referred to his time in New England, to start his career from 2010-2013, as “4 years a slave” on Twitter after signing with division rival Buffalo last off-season, showing something in between a lame joke and a lack of self-awareness in the process. Spikes has reportedly rubbed coaches the wrong way throughout his career, a big part of the reason why he remained unsigned this late into free agency, so it looks like the joke is on him.

Spikes is only a two down middle linebacker, but he’s very good at what he does. He’s graded out 4th, 22nd, 1st, 1st, and 9th among middle linebackers against the run in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 respectively. He’s never played more than 742 snaps in a season because of his issues in coverage and he’s never ranked higher than 20th at his position in coverage, but he still should have seen a bigger market than this.

Ironically, the only place that would take him is the Patriots, who welcome him back on a 1.15 million dollar deal. Spikes won’t even start in New England this time around, as Jamie Collins broke out in his absence in a Super Bowl winning season, but he’ll provide valuable depth for a team whose two-down linebacker, Jerod Mayo, has missed 20 games with injury over the past 2 seasons and who is coming off of a torn patellar tendon, arguably the worst injury in football. It’s funny that Spikes had to settle for this deal and the Patriots are getting a steal, even if he doesn’t fill a need.

Grade: A-

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

San Diego Chargers sign OT Joe Barksdale

Barksdale was shockingly still available this late in free agency. Barksdale was a 3rd round pick of the Raiders in 2011, but he barely played in his first 2 seasons in the league, playing 282 snaps in 2011-2012 combined. He became a starter in 2013 with the Rams, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 25th ranked offensive tackle in 13 starts. He couldn’t quite match that in 2014, grading out slightly below average in 16 starts, but I still expected him to get signed to a multi-year deal for starter’s money early in free agency. However, Barksdale drew little attention early in free agency and then the Rams drafted Rob Havenstein in the 2nd round to replace him.

As a result, he ends up in San Diego, where I never expected he’d end up, especially this late in free agency. Right tackle wasn’t a huge need for the Chargers as they like 2013 11th overall pick DJ Fluker, but Barksdale still helps their team at a cheap price, 1.35 million over a year. Barksdale slots in at right tackle and moves Fluker inside to right guard, where his issues with pass protection will be masked better, and moves Justin Britt from right guard to center, getting Trevor Robinson out of the starting lineup. The Chargers are actually upgrading 3 spots on the offensive line a little for 1.35 million. This was a savvy move by savvy GM Tom Telesco.

Grade: A

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

Miami Dolphins extend QB Ryan Tannehill

In total, this is a 6-year, 96 million dollar deal, but Tannehill was already scheduled to make about 18 million over the next 2 years, between the final year of his rookie deal and the 5th year option the Dolphins exercised earlier this off-season. The extension itself is about 78 million over 4 years, so the average is bigger than the 16 million dollar average it seems like at first. However, only about 45 million of the contract is guaranteed, and even that amount is not fully guaranteed. Tannehill will make 25 million over the first 2 seasons of the deal, but, if he flops in those 2 years, the Dolphins can get out of the rest of the deal entirely, as long as they cut him before the start of the league year in 2017. Basically, they’re giving him an extra 7 million over the next 2 years, guaranteeing it fully (before this extension his 2015 salary was just guaranteed for injury), in exchange for having the option of having him under contract for a combined 71 million over 4 years from 2017-2020, with the ability to get out of it at any point during that time period.

Given that what the Dolphins are actually giving Tannehill is not nearly as onerous as the raw numbers suggest, this is a very good deal. Tannehill, the 8th overall pick in 2012, has gotten better in every year of his career, going from a quarterback rating of 76.1 as a rookie to 81.7 in 2013 and then 92.8. Last season, he finished the year completing 66.4% of his passes for an average of 6.86 yards per attempt, 27 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.  On the season, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked quarterback. He finished 5th in completion percentage, had a strong TD:INT ratio, with his only subpar area being his YPA average. In his career, he’s been below 7 YPA in every season, including last year.

However, I’m not worried about that for two reasons. One, he wasn’t necessarily inaccurate downfield. The offense just called for him to throw a lot of shorter passes, likely because the Dolphins surprisingly ranked 2nd the NFL in yards per carry (4.69 YPA). Tannehill completed 58.6% of his passes between 10-19 yards downfield, which is better than league average, and, while he only completed 30.2% of his passes 20+ yards downfield, he ranked 22nd out of 38 eligible in accuracy (completions + drops/attempts) 20+ yards downfield, so he wasn’t necessarily bad in that aspect of the game.

Second, I find completion percentage to be a more important stat as high completion percentage often correlates with your offense regularly being on schedule. I realize that Tannehill’s completion percentage is inflated by the types of passes he was attempting and that he owes a lot of that high number to his running game making things easier for him, but the Dolphins finished 8th in the NFL in rate of moving the chains last season, moving them at a 75.33% rate. Tannehill doesn’t deserve all the credit for that, but he deserves some, especially as he was dealing with poor offensive line play and an average at best receiving corps. Tannehill also contributed to that strong running game, rushing for 311 yards and 1 touchdown on 56 attempts (5.55 YPC). Besides, while the Dolphins ran well on a per play average, they didn’t run that often overall. Including pass attempts, sacks, and quarterback carries, Tannehill was involved on 66.5% of the Dolphins offensive plays last season, one of the highest usage rates in the NFL.

Right now, I’d say Tannehill is one of the top 10-15 quarterbacks in the NFL with the potential to get even better, going into his 4th year in the league, his age 27 season. It’s a fairly low risk deal if Tannehill flops and, if he doesn’t, this is the kind of money you have to pay to keep a quarterback in today’s NFL. Right now, there are 16 quarterbacks, including Tannehill, whose contracts have an average salary of 15+ million dollars in the NFL. Excluding guys on rookie deals, only one other veteran makes more than 5.25 million annually on his contract. There isn’t a middle ground with quarterbacks in today’s NFL. With the salary cap expanding at a rapid pace, almost all of the extra money is going to the most important position on the field, which makes sense.

Grade: A-

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

Baltimore Ravens sign CB Kyle Arrington

The Patriots cut Kyle Arrington earlier this week, voiding the 6.5 million in non-guaranteed money over 2 years remaining on his contract. It was a weird move, as Arrington was a valuable slot cornerback for them, grading out above average in 4 straight seasons, including 21st in 2013, and the Patriots had already lost their starting cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner this off-season. Perhaps they thought they could re-sign him a little cheaper, but the Ravens didn’t let that happen.

The Patriots’ loss is the Ravens’ gain as Kyle Arrington fills arguably their biggest remaining need. Things were so bad at cornerback for the Ravens that Rashaan Melvin, a 2013 undrafted free agent who was signed mid-season and made his NFL debut week 15, drew the start for them in the playoffs. Jimmy Smith’s injury was a big part of the problem, as he missed 8 games, but the problem has been there since last off-season, when they failed to find a replacement for Corey Graham, their talented #3 cornerback who signed with Buffalo. Their depth was shaky coming into the season (#3 cornerback Asa Jackson had never played a defensive snap in the NFL coming into this season) and this kind of situation was foreseeable.

Smith will be back healthy next year, after signing a 4-year, 41 million dollar extension, and Lardarius Webb, who graded out above average in every season from 2009-2013 (including 4th in 2011) could have a bounce back year, but the Ravens were left without a solid 3rd cornerback, only adding Tray Walker in the 4th round through the draft. Getting Arrington on a 3-year, 7.5 million dollar deal with 2.8 million guaranteed and taking him away from another one of the top teams in the AFC is a gift for the Ravens.

Grade: A

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

St. Louis Rams trade RB Zac Stacy to the New York Jets

Trade for Jets: Stacy was the feature back in St. Louis in 2013, but wasn’t that good, rushing for 973 yards and 7 touchdowns on 250 carries, an average of 3.89 yards per carry. The Rams brought in Tre Mason in the 3rd round last year to replace him and then in this year’s drafted they added Todd Gurley 10th overall, feeling they couldn’t pass on someone they felt was the next Adrian Peterson. That pushed Stacy to 3rd or even 4th on the depth chart (behind Benny Cunningham), which made him unhappy. He requested a trade and got one, going to the Jets for a 7th round pick.

The Jets aren’t giving up much here for the 2013 5th round pick, giving up a 7th round pick, and he’s still on a rookie deal so he’ll come very cheap for them. His career 3.88 YPC is partially the product of St. Louis’ poor run blocking. However, Stacy is pretty much a poor man’s version of Chris Ivory and Stevan Ridley who they already have. Like Ivory and Ridley, Stacy is a powerful between the tackles runner, who lacks agility, outside running ability, and pass catching ability (44 catches for 293 yards and a touchdown in 27 games). The Jets still don’t have a good outside the tackles complementary runner and their passing down back Bilal Powell leaves a lot to be desired. Stacy will have a tough time making this roster and carving out a role. I’m surprised they didn’t add a running back through the draft.

Grade: B

Trade for Rams: You can question whether or not the Rams made the right move at 10 overall, taking a player who doesn’t address a major need, but once they made that deal, they kind of had to do something with Zac Stacy. He wanted out and Benny Cunningham offers more in terms of versatility as a 3rd running back. This isn’t a great deal or anything, but credit them for at least getting something for him. Given that Stacy likely won’t make the Jets’ roster, they’re slight winners here.

Grade: B+

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

Houston Texans sign S Stevie Brown

Stevie Brown, a 2010 7th round pick, played just 151 snaps combined in 2010 and 2011, but had a breakout year in 2012, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 27th ranked safety. Unfortunately for him, he tore his ACL and missed his entire contract year in 2013 and was forced to settle for a one year deal back with the Giants to rehab his value. His 2014 season was a mixed bag. He graded out about average and played all 16 games, but he made just 8 starts and played just 559 snaps as he was benched for a stretch in the middle of the season.

As a result, he was forced to settle for this deal that’s near the NFL minimum (825K) for one-year and the Texans are getting a good deal on a guy that should at least be a replacement level starter. He’ll be an upgrade over DJ Swearinger, a 2013 2nd round pick who graded out 78th out of 87 eligible safeties last season. Swearinger wasn’t drafted by the current coaching staff, who isn’t thrilled with him and his unwillingness to play special teams, so they’re expected to trade or cut him, despite his youth. It wasn’t a good safety class in free agency, but the Texans got two of the top safeties on the market (Rahim Moore) without spending much money at all.

Grade: A

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]