San Diego Chargers sign CB Brandon Flowers

The Chiefs cut Brandon Flowers earlier this month in order to save 7.5 million in cash, after he had a rough 2013 season in which he graded out 87th out of 110 eligible cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus. He was especially bad in coverage, grading out 96th in pure coverage grade, allowing 64 completions on 96 attempts (66.7%) for 846 yards (8.81 YPA), 4 touchdowns, and an interception, while deflecting 5 passes and committing 7 penalties. He was a really poor fit for new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s coverage scheme.

Still, he generated a lot of attention over the past couple of weeks on the open market and rightfully so. Flowers was once one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. He was a top-7 cornerback in the NFL on Pro Football Focus in every season from 2009-2012, maxing out at #2 in 2010. No other cornerback was also in the top-7 in each of those 4 seasons. For some reason, he never made the Pro-Bowl until last season, when he was terrible. Only going into his age 28 season, Flowers could easily recapture his old form in a new system.

The Chargers landed him with this deal, which is worth up to 5 million over 1 season with 3 million guaranteed. That’s a lot of money for someone this late in the off-season, but he deserves it and this deal will allow him to test the market next off-season, still only going into his age 29 season. If he has a bounce back year, he could land a very lucrative multi-year deal. For the Chargers, this is a fantastic move for arguably the most cornerback needy team in the NFL.

The Chargers had probably the league’s worst cornerbacks last season, a huge part of the reason why their defense was so awful last season, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 75.36% rate, 28th in the NFL. Shareece Wright, Richard Marshall, Derek Cox, and Johnny Patrick were their top-4 cornerbacks last season. They ranked 102th, 101st, 104th, and 94th respectively out of 110 eligible cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus. Now the Chargers have added Jason Verrett in the first round of the draft and Brandon Flowers through free agency. If Flowers has a vintage year, the Chargers could have a halfway decent defense and could push to make the playoffs again, even if their offense isn’t as dominant again, despite a tougher schedule.

Grade: A

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Seattle Seahawks sign DT Kevin Williams

I mentioned that Kevin Williams and the Seahawks could be a match in my post last month, “Remaining NFL Free Agents Who Could Have An Impact.” Williams came in 2nd on that list. Believe it or not, the Seahawks still needed depth on their defensive line, after losing Clinton McDonald to the Buccaneers this off-season. Before signing Williams, they would have been counting on Jordan Hill, a 2013 3rd round pick who played 65 snaps as a rookie last season, to play a significant role on what was arguably the best defensive line in football last season.

The Seahawks are a young team that is going to get expensive fast over the next few off-seasons, but they’re also built to win now and signing a veteran like Williams cheap (about 2 million dollars) on a short-term deal was a good move for them. Likewise, Williams getting significant money at this point in the off-season and landing with a contender was a good move on his part. He showed decline last season and now is going into his age 34 season, but part of the reason he showed decline was he was so good to begin with. The future Hall-of-Famer was a top-3 defensive tackle in 2008-2010 and didn’t finish below 9th until last year. Even last year, he was 27th. He presumably still has another year or two left in the tank and can be valuable in a 500-600 snap role. This was a good move.

Grade: A

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Pittsburgh Steelers re-sign C Maurkice Pouncey

I really don’t get this move. When the Browns gave Alex Mack 5 years, 43 million earlier this off-season, I didn’t love it because it’s a lot of money for a center, but I understood it because Mack is probably the best center in the NFL. Giving Maurkice Pouncey 44 million over 5 years (with a 13 million dollar signing bonus), however, doesn’t make any sense. Pouncey is perennially overrated because of the public’s inability to evaluate a center (you can’t exactly blame them).

Pro Football Focus can evaluate a center as they evaluate players on a snap by snap basis, for every snap of a season. They’ve had Pouncey ranked 21st, 19th, and 12th from 2010-2012 respectively, including below average in 2010 and 2011. Meanwhile, Alex Mack has been in the top-10 in all 5 seasons he’s been in the league and John Sullivan of the Vikings has been top-3 in each of the last 3 seasons.

Not only that, but Pouncey missed essentially all of last season with injury, going down with a torn ACL week 1. I don’t understand the rush to give him this record deal right now. Let him come back for a season and prove the dominance he’s never shown before paying him this. I can’t imagine the Steelers would have had to pay him more than this as a free agent next off-season and if they would have had to, at that point it’s better to let him leave. This is a serious overpayment for a team with serious cap problems.

Grade: D

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New Orleans Saints sign C Jonathan Goodwin

The Saints needed a center, after letting Brian De La Puente leave this off-season. Tom DeLito was scheduled to be their starter at the position, but the 2013 undrafted free agent struggled through 162 snaps at right guard last season. Goodwin is going into his age 36 season, but he could have another season left in his tank. Interior offensive linemen tend to have among the longest careers in the NFL. While he’s shown decline, he still graded out above average as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked center last season, struggling some in pass protection, but continuing to excel as a run blocker. On run blocking alone, he was 7th at his position. Bringing him back on a one-year minimum deal was wise.

Grade: A

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Seattle Seahawks re-sign WR Doug Baldwin

Doug Baldwin hasn’t been incredibly productive in his career thus far, as the 2011 undrafted free agent has posted lines of 51/788/4 and 50/778/5 in 2011 and 2013 respectively, with a 29/366/3 line in 2012 in between. However, much of that is because of much of a run heavy team the Seahawks are. He averaged 1.83 yards per route run (on 425 routes run) in 2013, 27th in the NFL, and was Pro Football Focus’ 21st ranked wide receiver in terms of pass catching grade. In 2011, he was also Pro Football Focus’ 21st ranked wide receiver and, even in 2012, he graded out above average on Pro Football Focus. He just didn’t see as much playing time. He’s averaged 1.91 yards per route run in his career.

He’s an underrated wide receiver and a real asset to a relatively thin wide receiving corps in Seattle. He’s a slot specialist (69.4% of snaps were on the slot last season), but he has the ability to start outside as well. He’ll be the #2 wide receiver next year with Sidney Rice coming off of a torn ACL. They are keeping him here at a very reasonable rate, 13 million over 3 years, a very smart move for a team that’s going to be very expensive to keep over the next few off-seasons. For comparison, Emmanuel Sanders got 15 million over 3 years, even though he averaged 1.48 and 1.34 yards per route run in 2012 and 2013 respectively in Pittsburgh. This was a very solid move by the Seahawks.

Grade: A

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Chicago Bears re-sign WR Brandon Marshall

This extension will give Marshall 30 million in new money over 3 years, in addition to the 9.3 million he’s owed this season. A total of 23 million is guaranteed, including this year’s salary, which was already essentially guaranteed because the Bears weren’t going to cut him. This deal essentially adds 13.7 million in new guaranteed money, including a signing bonus and Marshall’s 2015 salary. It’s basically a 2-year, 23 million dollar deal fully guaranteed with options for 2016 and 2017 at a combined salary of 17 million.

Marshall has had some issues with teammates and off-the-field, but on the field, he’s been as steady as they come, with 7 straight 1000 yard seasons in which he’s missed a combined 4 games. As a result, he’s already 55th all-time in receiving yards with 9050. Among active receivers 30 or younger, only Calvin Johnson has more and if he keeps this up, he has an outside shot at the Hall of Fame.

Last season, he was actually Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked wide receiver by a large margin. That was mostly because of his absurd run blocking grade and that’s obviously not his primary job, but he was still Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked pass catching receiver and the fact that he can dominant on the outside on running downs is a nice added bonus. A 10 million dollar average salary would put him 7th among NFL wide receiver in average salary and he’s probably a top-5 wide receiver so the money, while it’s a lot, is about right for him.

One issue is his age, as he goes into his age 30 season, but this contract only takes him through his age 33 season. He should be on the decline by that point, but the steep decline for wide receivers doesn’t really come until age 34-35 and, given his talent and how few problems he’s had with injuries in his career, it would shock me at all if Marshall is still playing well come his age 32 or age 33 season. Even if he isn’t, the guaranteed money only goes through his age 31 season and he should have at least 2 more seasons at near his peak production left in him. This deal isn’t a tremendous value, but it’s an appropriate value for a team whose strength has quickly become their passing game.

Grade: A-

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Cleveland Browns re-sign CB Joe Haden

When Richard Sherman got a 4-year, 56 million dollar extension last week, I didn’t love it because it was a ton of money for a cornerback, but I understood why he deserved that and why they had to make the move. Joe Haden’s extension this week is actually longer and worth more in maximum money, full guaranteed money, and guaranteed for injury money than Richard Sherman’s. Sherman’s 4-year, 56 million dollar deal has 40 million guaranteed, with about 12 million fully guaranteed, while Joe Haden’s deal is worth 68 million over 5 years with 45 million guaranteed, 22 million of which is fully guaranteed. Sherman’s deal is worth more in annually value, but Haden is still getting a massive deal.

Joe Haden is a terrific cornerback, but I don’t think he’s quite at the level of deserving what Sherman got so I don’t understand this deal quite as much. I think Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis are the top cornerbacks in the NFL and there’s a big gap between them and the rest of the league. In 3 years in the NFL, Richard Sherman has allowed 115 of 248 (46.4%) for 1621 yards (6.54 YPA), 8 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions, while deflecting 34 passes and committing 26 penalties. Meanwhile, Darrelle Revis has allowed 43.1% completion, 5.41 YPA, and 12 touchdowns, while picking off 20 passes, since 2008.

In 4 years in the league, Joe Haden has allowed 179 of 331 (54.1%) for 2250 yards (6.80 YPA), 17 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions, while deflecting 50 passes and committing 21 penalties. That’s very impressive, but it’s not at the same level as Sherman or Revis. Revis has graded out among Pro Football Focus’ top-3 cornerbacks in 4 of his last 5 healthy seasons. Meanwhile, Richard Sherman has graded out 2nd and 6th in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Joe Haden has never graded out higher than 6th in 4 seasons, doing so in his rookie year in 2010, and he came in 13th, 20th, and 18th in the last 3 seasons respectively. That’s still very impressive, especially considering the volatility of the cornerback position. He’s been one of Pro Football Focus’ top-20 cornerbacks in each of the last 4 seasons, something only the supremely underrated Jason McCourty can also say (Revis missed 2012 with injury and Sherman was still in college in 2010). Haden might be the #3 cornerback in the NFL and he’s definitely top-5, but he’s not at the same level as Sherman and Revis so this deal is a bit of an overpay.

I understand the Browns have a lot of cap space to play with and need to pay players a premium to pay for them or continue playing for them. However, the Browns obviously have designs of getting out of the cellar and building a team that will be competitive yearly in the NFL over the next few seasons. That’s going to eventually get expensive and it’s going to be harder to do that when Joe Haden’s cap number if 14.5 million in 2017. I’m not saying re-signing him was a mistake, but I think they overpaid a little. I like Sherman’s deal better than this one.

Grade: B

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Seattle Seahawks re-sign CB Richard Sherman

Richard Sherman’s extension will make him easily the highest paid cornerback in terms of average salary at 14 million dollars yearly (4 years, 56 million added on to the one year remaining on his current contract). It’s a lot of money, especially when you include that 40 million of it is guaranteed, though the Seahawks will have options to get out of his 2015 and 2016 salaries within 5 days of the Super Bowl. However, Sherman deserves to be the highest paid cornerback in the NFL.

In 3 years in the NFL, Richard Sherman has allowed 115 of 248 (46.4%) for 1621 yards (6.54 YPA), 8 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions, while deflecting 34 passes and committing 26 penalties. No other NFL cornerback really comes close to that, with the exception of Darrelle Revis, who has allowed 43.1% completion, 5.41 YPA, and 12 touchdowns, while picking off 20 passes, since 2008. Sherman is essentially Revis with better ball skills, less of an injury history, and 3 years younger, only going into his age 26 season.

He deserved to get more than the 12 million yearly Darrelle Revis got from the Patriots. It’s hard to say that 56 million over 4 years is a great value, but it’s appropriate and the Seahawks really did need to keep him. The guaranteed money seems like a lot, but, again, it’s not all fully guaranteed and this deal only takes Sherman through his age 31 season so it’s unlikely, barring injury, that the Seahawks will see the need to let Sherman go at any point throughout the duration of the guaranteed money.

Grade: B+

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Seattle Seahawks re-sign S Earl Thomas

The Seahawks have made Earl Thomas easily the highest paid safety in the NFL, giving him 10 million dollars annually over the course of this extension and guaranteeing that Thomas will make 27.725 million dollars. While the 40 million dollar total value of this contract isn’t a record, both the guaranteed money and the annual salary are records (for non-rookie contracts), surpassing the deal that Jairus Byrd got earlier this off-season from the Saints, which gave him 54 million over 6 years with 26.3 million guaranteed.

Some people consider Earl Thomas the top safety in the NFL. I disagree, in favor of Jairus Byrd. Byrd has graded out higher than Thomas on Pro Football Focus in all 4 seasons that Thomas has been in the league. Byrd was 3rd among safeties in 2011, 2nd in 2012, and 8th in 2013, only coming in 8th because he missed time with injury. Thomas, meanwhile, has never graded out higher than 8th, doing so in 2011, and finishing 9th in 2013.

There’s something to be said for the fact that Thomas is 3 years younger (only going into his age 25 season) and this deal only taking him until his age 29 season, while the Saints could theoretically have Byrd under contract until his age 33 season. Thomas has also never missed a game, while Byrd has missed 7 games in 5 seasons, including recently 5 games missed in 2013 with foot problems. However, Byrd is the best safety in the NFL, not Thomas.

The big difference: In 5 seasons, Byrd has missed 22 tackles, while Thomas has missed 55 tackles in 4 seasons, including 31 over the past 2 seasons alone. That might sound like splitting hairs, but when we’re talking about best safety in the NFL, that type of thing matters. Both provide excellent depth coverage, but Byrd is also a sound tackler, which is not something you can say about Thomas. Byrd is the best safety in the NFL, while Thomas is in the mix with guys like TJ Ward, Eric Weddle, Eric Berry, Devin McCourty, and Troy Polamalu, who are in that next group of safeties.

This isn’t a bad deal, especially since it doesn’t even take Thomas into his 30s, meaning there’s a good chance he plays out this entire contract (5 years total, including the 4 years of extension). Thomas is a very valuable part of a Super Bowl winning defense. However, he doesn’t deserve to be the highest paid safety in the NFL. The Seahawks have so much young talent that they’re going to get so expensive to keep together over the next few seasons.

Richard Sherman is next with a deal that is going to be worth 12+ million dollars yearly and then Russell Wilson with a deal that’ll probably pay him 20+ million dollars yearly. Those two will both deserve their contracts more than Thomas deserves this one. Bobby Wagner is another guy that could command big money soon, while Russell Okung, Byron Maxwell, and Cliff Avril are going into contract years. They already have big contracts given to Max Unger, Brandon Mebane, Kam Chancellor, Percy Harvin, Michael Bennett and Marshawn Lynch on their books. Overpaying guys, no matter how talented they are, is being financially irresponsible, which is not something the Seahawks can afford to be.

Grade: B-

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Dallas Cowboys re-sign DE Anthony Spencer

From 2008-2012, Anthony Spencer was a top-11 3-4 outside linebacker on Pro Football Focus in all 5 seasons, including 4 as an every down starter and topping at #1 overall in 2012. As a result, he was franchise tagged by the Cowboys twice, but he played just 38 snaps on his 2nd franchise tag in 2013, missing most of the season with a knee injury. Between the knee injury and the fact that he’s going into his age 30 season, he was met with a cold market this off-season, remaining unsigned until late April and settling for 2 million on a one year prove it deal from the Cowboys.

That deal could end up being a complete steal for the Cowboys. Spencer can only make up to 3.5 million through incentives, 750K of that 2 million is in per game roster bonuses, and none of it is signing bonus, so none of his contract is guaranteed. Spencer has never played in a 4-3 in the NFL before, with the exception of those 38 snaps last season, but presumably, if he’s healthy, he can be an above average starter at the 4-3 defensive end position in rotation with George Selvie and a rookie.

The Cowboys are in desperate need of defensive line help, after losing both Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware this off-season, and Spencer can provide that in a big way if he’s right. He’ll be motivated to prove himself ahead of free agency next off-season so he can finally get that long-term deal. Between the contract year of his rookie deal, two franchise tags, and this one year deal, Spencer will be paying in 4 straight contract years. We’ve seen him do some of his best work in contract years.

Grade: A

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