NFL free agency is upon us. As deals roll in, we’ll be breaking them down here as this page will be updated with analysis and grades for all the major moves. On top of the grades, you’ll get plenty of context as to why deals were made and why they do or don’t make sense. More emphasis is on the analysis than the grades.
This will be the place for all of the breakdowns, so keep checking back as deals continue to come through. Also, don’t miss Rich Hribar’s fantasy fallout posts elsewhere on the site, which will dive into the fantasy implications of these moves.
Statistics from TruMedia unless noted otherwise. Salary information from Over The Cap.
Amari Cooper to CLE | Brady/Jensen return to TB | Haason Reddick to PHI | Christian Kirk to JAX | J.C. Jackson to LAC | Carlton Davis back to TB | Mitchell Trubisky to PIT | Sebastian Joseph-Day to LAC | Justin Reid to KC | Marcus Williams to BAL | Marcus Maye to NO | Chandler Jones to LVR | Von Miller to BUF | Allen Robinson to LAR | Davante Adams to LVR | Matt Ryan to IND | Tyreek Hill to MIA
Bobby Wagner Officially Signs With The Rams
Reported deal: two years/$17.5 million with $10 guaranteed
After it was reported that Bobby Wagner would sign a five-year/$50 million deal with the Los Angeles Rams, we had to wait for the real figures of the deal to be released. That took until Wagner officially signed his contract on Monday.
The actual deal is closer to two years and $17.5 million with incentives that could bring it up to $23.5 million. There is $10 million of guaranteed money in the contract, which includes his $6.5 million base salary in 2022 and a $3.5 million 2023 roster bonus on the fifth day of the new league year. If he’s still on the roster, his $7.5 million base salary for 2023 will be guaranteed.
An $8.75 million average puts him between Demario Davis and Myles Jack. The $10 million guaranteed puts him well below that.
Wagner, who will turn 32 years old in June, has been one of the league’s best coverage linebackers for nearly a decade but there were some signs of decline in 2022. Wagner finished 42nd among 85 qualified linebackers in yards allowed per coverage snap, though that metric has not always been kind of Wagner in his career. He was thrown at less often (his 0.078 targets per coverage snap were at least a five-year low per SIS) but he allowed a five-year high 88% of targets thrown his way to be completed.
The Rams will hope a change of scenery will help both the player and scheme. As the Seahawks’ defense struggled to replenish talent, Wagner needed to carry a heavier load. For the Rams, the inside linebacker spot was something the franchise largely ignored in team building, but for that reason was also a position that needed to be schemed around on the field.
Last year, 2021 third-round Ernest Brown flashed, especially in the playoffs, but Troy Reader was left playing 58% of the defensive snaps. Wagner’s presence now gives the Rams a linebacker that can constantly be on the field and can manage handling the short and intermediate middle — an area where the Rams struggled last season. Los Angeles was 28th in EPA per play on throws between 1-10 air yards between the hashes.
The Rams played dime at the third-highest rate in the league last season (26.9%), which would keep just one linebacker on the field, but they also still played over half their snaps in nickel 53.2%. Having Wagner and Brown on the field would be beneficial to both.
Having Wagner could also ease the responsibilities for the safeties, who might not have to rotate down as aggressively from a two-high shell with a linebacker that can handle both coverage and run fits better than what the team has had in the past.
Wagner might not be in the prime of his career, but he’s still significantly better than what the Rams have put out there at linebacker. Having that type of talent at the position also opens up more possibilities schematically as this defense evolves. If it doesn’t work out, there’s not much in the way of commitment heading into Year 2.
Dolphins Trade DeVante Parker To The Patriots
DeVante Parker’s time in Miami was limited as soon as the Dolphins acquired Tyreek Hill. He was also never a pure fit in what the offense could look like under Mike McDaniel. Parker, more of a contested catch receiver, only averaged 2.6 yards after the catch per reception last season, though his 11.45-yard average depth of target was the second-highest on the Dolphins behind Mack Hollins.
Parker, at best, would have slotted in as Miami’s No. 3 receiver and No. 4 option including Mike Gesicki, but now that role will comfortably go to Cedrick Wilson.
By picking up a 2023 third-round pick in the trade (and moving a 2022 fifth), the Dolphins are practically booting the 2022 draft. Miami already had the lowest draft capital in the league (four picks and just one, 102nd overall on Day 2), but the stock is full in 2023 now with two first, a second, and two thirds. Miami also clears about $6 million in 2022 and gets Parker completely off the books for 2023.
The Patriots now get a useful, inexpensive receiver to add to a positional group that needed more help. Parker still has two years remaining on his deal, which will cost around $12.3 million total.
Parker will give the Patriots an outside threat to help Mac Jones. Among 31 qualified quarterbacks, Jones ranked 27th in completion percentage on throws outside the numbers that traveled at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage (40.7%). At full health, Parker has been able to win on those deeper sideline throws.
Part of the problem with Parker has been his availability. He’s appeared in 16 games just once through his seven-year career and has only played enough to reach the 100-target mark twice. Last season, he played in just 10 games.
Having Parker on the outside should allow the Patriots to move other pieces around in the offense. His presence should open up the middle of the field for Kendrick Bourne and the tight ends, while both Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Algholor won’t have carry the full load on the outside. Parker could also be displacing N’Keal Harry’s role on the roster, though Harry’s ability to fill that was always more theory than practice.
By not giving up any 2022 draft picks — and gaining one more in the fifth — the Patriots could still target a wide receiver to bolster the group should one fall to them early in the draft. Parker just turned 29 years old and while he increases the competency level at the position, he doesn’t preclude more additions from coming in.
Grade: B for both sides
Marquez Valdes-Scantling Gives The Chiefs Speed
Reported deal: three years/$30 million with $18 million in first two years
The Chiefs made their first move in replacing the role of Tyreek Hill with the signing of Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Valdes-Scantling has the ability to be the deep threat in the offense, but to this point in his career, hasn’t shown much more outside of that. The good news is, he’s been very effective in his deep receiving role.
In 2021, only two wide receivers ran at least 10 deep routes (20 or more air yards) and were targeted at a higher rate of those routes than Valdes-Scantling at 54.5%. That sample includes 154 receivers in 2021. Over the past two seasons, that figure was 46.5% for MVS and he out-targeted Davante Adams straight up 47-45 in that span. Those 47 deep targets ranked 10th among all wide receivers. Tyreek Hill’s 57 ranked third.
Valdes-Scantling is still a work in progress elsewhere as a receiver. On routes under 20 yards past the line of scrimmage, he’s averaged just 0.95 yards per route run and earned a target on just 12.1% of those routes. The yards per route run figure ranks 65th out of 69 wide receivers with at least 500 qualified routes and the targets per route run rank 66th.
There is an added bonus that Valdes-Scantling is a good blocker, which could help the Kansas City running game, but he’s not getting paid because he can block. MVS fills a very specific role the Chiefs needed to fill, but it’s unclear if he brings much more than that. $18 million over the first two years is a lot to give even for a great deep threat. The Chiefs still need to fill out the rest of the receiver room, though at least having that speed won’t force them to draft just for that.
Reported deal: Chiefs trade Hill to Dolphins for 2022 first-, second, and fourth-round picks, and 2023 fourth- and sixth-round picks, Dolphins give Hill four year/$120 extension with $72.2 million guaranteed and $75 million over the first three years.
Well, that escalated quickly. Early Wednesday morning, it was reported the Chiefs and Tyreek Hill could not come to an agreement and Hill was allowed to seek a trade. By Wednesday afternoon, Hill was a Miami Dolphin.
Breakdowns in the talks between the Chiefs and Hill centered around how to make him the top-paid receiver in the league following the Davante Adams trade and extension. Even if some of the Adams figures were propped up with later non-guaranteed years, that $28.5 million average figure was out there and that was what Hill was searching for and ultimately got in Miami.
Hill will reportedly get a four-year/$120 million extension with the Dolphins ($30 million per year) with $72.2 million guaranteed and $75 million over the first three years ($25 million per year). All of those figures surpass Adams. That last non-guaranteed year would sit at $45 million and if Hill is still playing at a high level, that would be pushed into another extension. If he’s not, that’s the point to move on.
There are some differences comparing Adams to Hill in these trades. Hill is a year-and-a-half younger but as a player so reliant on his speed, his skillset might not age as well as Adams’s.
The Miami Impact
This is a significant haul, both in draft capital and money to give up for a wide receiver, but Miami had both to spare. The 2022 picks knock the Dolphins out of the first two rounds, but they only give up Day 3 picks outside of that. Thanks to the No. 3 overall pick trade last offseason, the Dolphins have San Francisco’s first-round pick in 2023, which still gives them two first-round picks next year.
Hill is the rare wide receiver whose speed is enough to completely change the geometry of both the offense and defense. That’s true when he’s alone but now he’ll be paired with Jaylen Waddle in Miami, a young receiver who might come close to that ability. The speed on offense, which will also include Cedrick Wilson, Mike Gesicki Chase Edmonds, and Raheem Mostert, is arguably unmatched.
Of course, there are questions about how this speed will mesh with a quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, who had the third-lowest average depth of target among 31 qualified quarterbacks in 2021, above only Ben Roethlisberger and Jared Goff.
The less said about the 2021 Miami offense the better, but the RPO-heavy structure was put in place to make up for a ton of limitations, including the offensive line. It hamstrung the upside of the offense, kept Waddle as a slant and quick out threat, and made most of it completely unwatchable.
Only 7.7% of Tagovailoa’s pass attempts traveled 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage, which was the second-lowest rate in the league above just Daniel Jones. But when Tagovailoa did throw deep — just 30 times — it tended to go quite well. Tagovailoa completed 50% of those passes and led the league in EPA per attempt (1.03) on those throws. He’s also had a history of effectively throwing deep, going back to college.
Part of that college production was written off by having incredible talent surrounding him and throwing to wide-open receivers and, well, that might be the exact same situation he finds himself in now.
Both Hill and Waddle have the short-area quickness to win on shorter routes, like slants, that will allow those quick throws to be an effective part of the offense.
Head coach Mike McDaniel comes from the San Francisco offense that used quick dropbacks with Jimmy Garoppolo as a play-action replacement to take advantage of space in the middle of the field. Last season, the 49ers used a short dropback 64% of the time, which was the fifth-highest in the league per Sports Info Solutions. The Dolphins were at just 55%, which ranked 18th.
Tagovailoa threw 60.8% of his passes within 2.5 seconds of the snap, per TruMedia, but only ranked 18th in EPA per dropback on those throws. Per Next Gen Stats, Tagovailoa threw a league-high 19.3% of his passes into tight coverage (a yard or fewer of separation), which is almost unheard of with his low aDOT. But so much was quick and forced in the offense. The Shanahan-style of offense is built around creating space in that area. Having better answers on those types of plays could help all involved.
One area where the combination of Hill and Waddle could help is in the intermediate game. There could be endless crossers between the two, which would give defenses fits in the middle of the field. Among the 31 qualified passers, Tagovailoa was the only quarterback with negative EPA on throws between 11-19 air yards, which included a league-worst completion percentage (41.9%) and five interceptions.
Last season. Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel were fourth and fifth in receiving yards on 11-19 air yard throws with the 49ers. Hill ranked 14th.
Hill also fundamentally changes how defenses have to play against the offense. Hill did so much of his damage as the No. 3 (most inside) in trips but also has tied for 15th on receptions as an isolated receiver (30), per SIS. There are nearly endless lineup combinations the Dolphins could throw out in trips from 11 personnel with Hill, Waddle, Wilson, and Gesicki switching up who plays what role.
Should defenses start to sell out in two-high as they did against the Chiefs (this could take a while for a legitimate deep passing game to be a consistent threat), the Dolphins now have an improved offensive line and a Shanahan wide-zone run game to take advantage of light boxes. If defenses try to defend the run, a play-action game should open up.
A lot of this hinges on development from Tagovailoa in Year 3 but the Dolphins also have contingency plans in place. Teddy Bridgewater was brought in this offseason and he had a hot stretch to start 2021 throwing some of the deepest passes in the league with the Broncos. Should none of that work, Miami has those two 2023 first-round picks that would offer flexibility in a batter draft class for another rookie passer.
Kansas City Fallout
There was arguably no better scheme-player-coach match than Hill and Patrick Mahomes with Andy Reid. That group forced defenses to put additional resources into defending against the deep pass and while the Chiefs had some ups and downs working through it, they remained as one of the league’s best passing offenses.
The combination of Hill and Mahomes opened up so many things for the Chiefs and defenses selling out to stop the deep pass was warranted against that pair. Since 2018, Hill accounted for 38.3% of Kansas City’s targets of 20 or more air yards. Over that span, no player had more targets (118), receptions (50), yards (1,875), or touchdowns (19) on deep passes than Hill.
That’s an element that will be hard to replicate or replace in aggregate. The Chiefs thought they had a Hill-type player in Mecole Hardman when he was selected in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, but that speed never played the same as Hill’s on the field.
But even as Hill brings an irreplaceable skill, the workings of the Chiefs offense hasn’t completely changed without him on the field. Mahomes has been significantly better with Hill (0.26 EPA per dropback) but his production without him (0.19) is still quite good and would rank second in the league since 2018. The way in which Mahomes plays doesn’t completely change, either, with more passes thrown 10 or more yards past the line of scrimmage on Mahomes’s near 600 dropbacks without Hill on the field.
Patrick Mahomes with & without Tyreek Hill, 2018-2021
|On/Off||EPA/Dropback||At/Behind Line %||Short % (1-10)||Intermediate % (11-19)||Deep % (20+)|
Of course, part of that is due to the shifting structure of the offense over the past year and a half when defenses were selling out to stop Hill from winning deep, which turned him into more of a short and intermediate target.
Jokingly, someone posted on Twitter that the Chiefs solved the two-high problem by getting rid of Hill, but it would not actually be a surprise if defenses so relax a bit on that front, which could open up more downfield shots on the sidelines from Mahomes.
It’s also hard to fault Kansas City for refusing to hit the top of the elevated market for Hill. Deals for Mahomes, Chris Jones, Orlando Brown, and Frank Clark currently occupy the top of the Chiefs’ cap and while they could continue to move money around in a Saints fashion, leaving some future cap flexibility could help. Moving on from Hill opens up $20.4 million in 2022.
Like the Packers, the Chiefs find themselves in need for a wide receiver, both in free agency and the draft. But unlike Green Bay, Kansas City has Travis Kelce, who can easily serve that role in the short term. There have already been rumors of interest in former Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who would bring speed alongside Kelce and new addition Juju Smith-Schuster, whose slot role is now more defined in the offense.
With back-to-back first-round picks (29 and 30) plus the 50th overall pick in the second round, the Chiefs are in a position to go hard on the receiver class, which features a few players who could excel in Kansas City. Alabama’s Jameson Williams stands out as the closest this draft has to a Hill-type player, but he’s coming off a torn ACL. Georgia’s George Pickens has recovered from his ACL tear and could be an option. Later in the draft, Boise State’s Kalil Shakir or Virginia Tech’s Tre Turner could also be depth options.
Hill is a unique talent that aided so much of what the Chiefs wanted to do on offense, but at the same time, thanks to the quarterback the Chiefs are also in a position to succeed without him. It’s going to look different, but with Mahomes, Kansas City has the ability to make things go and take multiple swings for how to fill in a receiver in an offense that should still be among the league’s best with high picks and cap space to work with.
Grade: B for both teams
The Dolphins Finally Sign Terron Armstead
Reported deal: five years/$75 million with $43.37 million guaranteed
Few teams had a bigger need on the offensive line than the Miami Dolphins. In 2021, the Dolphins ranked 32nd as a team in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate. After making a smaller improvement with Connor Williams at guard earlier in the offseason, the Dolphins went for the biggest free agent remaining and a team-player fit most matched at the start of free agency with Terron Armstead.
When on the field, Armstead has been one of the league’s best left tackles, but part of the problem has been his ability to stay on the field. He’s yet to play more than 15 games in a season — a number he’s only reached once. Armstead was in and out of the lineup in 2021, played just eight games, and had knee surgery in January.
But Armstead has been so good on the field those limited snaps haven’t completed mattered. In 2018 he was named second-team All-Pro with just 10 games. He made the Pro Bowl in 2019 and 2020 with 15 and 14 games played. Armstead was on the field for just 437 snaps in 2021 but among 73 tackles with at least 400 snaps played last season, Armstead was 13th in Blown Block Rate, per SIS.
At $15 million per year, Armstead wouldn’t be among the top-10 paid left tackles. It’s a big deal but not market setting, which is acceptable for a soon-to-be 31-year-old tackle with injury issues. There is also upside to the deal that could pay Armstead up to $87.5 million, which would be closer to top-six money at the position.
The signing also opens up some flexibility across the rest of the offensive line that could help Liam Eichenberg, Austin Jackson, and Jesse Davis fit into better roles.
Jameis Winston Re-Signs In New Orleans
Reported deal: Two years, $28 million with $21 million guaranteed
Starting quarterback openings are filling up and with the Saints still needing one, they went back to Jameis Winston on a two-year deal that pays him in a middle tier for quarterbacks that didn’t really exist over the past few seasons. Currently, there is a gap between starters making $25 million and backups making $10 million per year with only Winston in between.
Before Winston tore his ACL in Week 8, he had played well as the Saints’ starter in 2021. Through that point, Winston ranked ninth in EPA per dropback. He had done so in a low-volume passing attack and with the highest (and unsustainable) touchdown rate among quarterbacks at 8.7% but he had also had limited his mistakes with just a 1.7% interception rate.
The 2021 version of Winston was much more controlled with a career-low average depth of target and a career-high rate of throws behind the line of scrimmage. Part of that was due to a Saints roster that didn’t have much in the way of deep threats — and the short passing didn’t even include Michael Thomas.
Winston’s effectiveness, even in a small sample, is more impressive compared to the other quarterbacks the Saints had to put on the field after his injury. Winston’s 0.13 EPA per dropback stands well above Trevor Siemian (-0.04) and Taysom Hill (-0.05), on a similar number of dropbacks — not to mention the disastrous start for Ian Book.
Adding Winston back at this price gives the Saints a solid starter for 2022 with the option of figuring out the future for this offseason or next. It also limits the number of actual quarterback snaps Hill will take, which is always a plus. After the trade of Matt Ryan, Winston now comfortably sits as the second-best quarterback in the division.
Matt Ryan Traded To The Colts
Reported deal: Matt Ryan to the Colts for a third-round pick
The Indianapolis Colts had a quarterback problem because they didn’t have one. The Atlanta Falcons had a quarterback problem because they were on the hook for a massive charge while going out and trying to recruit another quarterback.
To remedy both situations, the Falcons traded Matt Ryan to the Colts in exchange for a 2022 third-round pick. It’s been reported that third-round pick is the Colts’ own (82nd overall ) and not the 2022 pick Indianapolis got from Washington (73rd).
Indianapolis had the hole at quarterback after they traded Carson Wentz to Washington in exchange for two third-round picks (after giving up a first and third for him last offseason). The Colts now get to hold on to that Commanders 2022 third, higher than their own, and the 2023 third-round pick that could turn into a second should Wentz reach the snap requirements during the regular season.
The Colts will take on two years and about $54 million on Ryan’s deal, though is no guaranteed salary remaining on the contract. Ryan leaves a league-record $40.525 million dead money hit on the Falcons’ 2022 cap, but that number was a sunk cost that was going to be paid regardless. Moving on from Ryan opens up $9 million for the Falcons in 2022. The dead cap figure is huge, but so was Ryan’s expected 2022 cap hit anyway.
Ryan will turn 37 years old in May and had a down season in 2021, 23rd in EPA per dropback. But there is some hope Ryan can have a bit of a bounceback in a better situation. At his age, there is some concern over Ryan’s arm strength and some of those deep passes did not look particularly strong but the supporting cast also played a big part.
Among 30 quarterbacks with at least 50 passes that traveled 15 or more air yards in 2021, Ryan only ranked 20th in completion percentage but was fifth in on-target rate and second in catchable rate, per SIS. Those passes might not be rocketed in, but they were getting to where they needed to be and accurately.
Keeping Ryan indoors for his home games should also significantly help any more dropoff in arm strength during his late 30s.
In Indianapolis, Ryan will also get a better offensive line. On those throws of 15 or more air yards, no quarterback was under pressure more often than Ryan (49.4%).
The Colts still have some work to do at receiver, but there will be options. Michael Pittman should help in the short-to-intermediate area and T.Y. Hilton could return, but the rest of the group is quite bare. With Ryan’s $24 million cap hit on the books (below the $28 million for Wentz), the Colts still have $15 million to play with in free agency or trades with more that could be reworked and opened up.
This isn’t a long-term solution for Indianapolis and the Colts will eventually have to cross that bridge, but Ryan appears to be the best of the 2022 options placed in front of them. No one should be expecting a return of MVP level play from Ryan, but the Colts would have been a playoff team with just average quarterback production in 2021. Ryan still has the ability to give that, at the least.
The Falcons are now left with one of the most barren rosters in the league. There’s a chance a rookie quarterback can be drafted but it’s more likely a bridge gets put in place until a better draft class in 2023. Atlanta played its hand poorly, had few options to leverage and move on from their franchise quarterback, and couldn’t even get the better pick of the two third-rounders in Indianapolis’s possession. This is now part of a deep rebuilding process in Atlanta.
Grade: B for Indianapiolis, D for Atlanta
Bengals Keep Adding To Offensive Line With La’El Collins
Reported deal: two years, $20 million
The reshaping of Cincinnati’s offensive line continues. While the Bengals went out and shopped around mid-tier guards just to get some kind of upgrade at an affordable price, they took their first bigger swing by being the favorite and luring in La’el Collins as soon as he was released by the Dallas Cowboys. But even by getting in a better tackle, the price tag — just two years and $20 with a third voidable year tacked on — isn’t all that expensive for a player of Collins’s quality.
Last season, Collins ranked 11th among tackles in blown block rate among 64 tackles with at least 500 snaps played per SIS. He did, though, serve a five-game suspension in 2021 for a violation of the substance abuse policy.
Collins will turn 29 years old in July and while he’s shown the ability for outstanding play at the position, he mostly just has to be fine to live up to this deal that puts him below the top five right tackles in the league.
The Bengals have figured out a way to incrementally improve the offensive line without breaking the bank. This might not be one of the best offensive lines in the league even after the additions, but as long as it’s not one of the worst, it’s a significant upgrade.
Robert Woods Traded To Titans
Reported deal: Rams trade Robert Woods to Titans for 2022 sixth-round pick
When the Rams signed Allen Robinson, there was speculation that Robert Woods could be the odd man out in Los Angeles, especially given there was still interest in re-signing Odell Beckham. Now Woods, the receiver who really started it all for this version of the Rams as an early free agent signing in the Sean McVay era.
Woods gives the Titans a solid No. 2 option that could easily serve in Tennessee’s play-action-heavy system. Throughout his tenure with the Rams, Woods has been able to win both as an outside and slot receiver and his experience lining up in tight splits could help evolve both the running and passing games.
Last season in his nine games, Woods had an average depth of target of 8.16 and averaged 4.4 yards after the catch per reception. That should play well in the middle of the field, where Ryan Tannehill wants to work most often. Woods has also worked well in motion, out of the backfield, and on jet sweeps, which could open up another element of the passing game. The Titans could still use a field stretcher as a No. 3 option, but pure speed should be easier to come by.
Woods is coming off an ACL tear, part of the reason it only took a sixth-round pick to acquire him. The move is also partly to clear cap space for the Rams with the Titans taking on his $13.5 million salary for 2022. There are three more years on Woods’ contract, but no more guaranteed money. This type of deal has been a typical buy-low swing for the Titans on an injured player. If Woods gets back to full strength, he should be a perfect fit in Tennessee’s system.
Juju Smith-Schuster Signs With The Kansas City Chiefs
Reported deal: one year/$3 million, up to $10.75 million
Last season, Juju Smith-Schuster flirted with the Kansas City Chiefs before he returned to the Pittsburgh Steelers on a one-year deal. That resulted in just 15 receptions for 129 yards in five games before a dislocated shoulder forced him to miss the rest of the 2021 season. Now Smith-Schuster gets a chance to join the Chiefs and once again rebuild his market after a down 2020 and injury-shortened 2021.
Smith-Schuster started his career as an effective slot target, but his yards per route run has dropped each year since his rookie season. It’s hard to completely remove Smith-Schuster’s production with the continued decline of the quarterback and overall offense in Pittsburgh.
That idea Smith-Schuster role plays into exactly what the Chiefs have missed over the past year and a half. As defenses sold out to stop the deep pass against Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City started to rely on Travis Kelce in the intermediate area and that killed those defenses throughout 2020. But that didn’t work quite as well in 2021 and often Hill needed to be the short-to-intermediate threat. Now, Smith-Schuster can thrive in that area, which opens up more possibilities for Hill and Kelce.
Kansas City hasn’t had that clear No. 2 receiver option and No. 3 overall option with Mahomes and now Smith-Schuster has the chance to be the best option to fill that role at a relatively cheap deal.
There are still pending civil suits against Deshaun Watson from 22 women who allege various degrees of sexual misconduct that span multiple years. A Supreme Court dismissed 10 criminal cases, which is why we’re here with Watson traded — more than a year after he initially requested a trade before any allegations surfaced.
I get this is very much an on-field analysis site that has stuck to covering that, leaving bigger topics to those who are admittedly more qualified to talk about them, but it’s impossible to not start here with a Watson trade given how it shapes the entire situation. As recently as Tuesday, The Atheltic reported no team in the running for Watson had contacted the attorney for the 22 women, instead doing their “due diligence” through Watson and his lawyer.
Once the criminal cases were dropped, teams flung themselves at Watson — a player who held all the power in his landing spot due to a no-trade clause — and the teams that made the cut to be considered then set up meetings to pitch Watson on their franchises.
It’s not even as if everything disappeared with the criminal cases dropped. The civil cases are still ongoing and Watson is virtually guaranteed to be suspended at some point by the NFL (the league has made it very clear they do not need a criminal conviction for a suspension in these types of situations) and if his reaction to the Supreme Court ruling is any indication, his actions are not yet something he feels — or has even feignedly expressed — remorse over.
But Watson is young and extremely talented at the league’s most important and valuable position, which is why multiple teams were prepared to send the Houston Texans a massive haul and why the Cleveland Browns, even after they were told they were out of the running, still pursued Watson gave up three first-round picks and more for the quarterback on top of of a fully guaranteed $230 million over five years — a raise over a four-year/$156 million extension Watson signed in 2020 that he never officially played on.
Watson’s $46 million per year now tops the $45 million average on the Patrick Mahomes contract signed in 2020.
This new contract has even built in a workaround in the event Watson is suspended in 2021. Any suspension would come out of the base salary for the given year and so the Browns have set Watson’s base salary to just $1 million, making the financial loss as small as possible.
Cleveland now has to make this fit both on and off the field. We’ve seen what a top-tier quarterback can do to elevate an offense like the one the Browns run under Kevin Stefasnksi and Watson is a top-tier quarterback. In 2020 he was second in EPA per dropback on a team that went 4-12. Over the course of his career, he’s averaged 0.16 EPA per dropback, which would have ranked second in 2021. Watson has both raised the quality of players around him and taken advantage of star pairings.
He’s likely to get that with Amari Cooper, who the Browns just traded for last week.
It remains to be seen what the give and take will be between the player and the offensive system. With so much power given to Watson already, does he hold all the leverage when deciding the style of play? Stefanski was brought up and has excelled with the heavy under center, play-action version of offense and to this point, the Browns have built the roster in that image.
Only the Cowboys and Panthers have more money invested in running backs and only five teams ran the ball more on early downs than the Browns in 2021. Much of the offensive structure is set up around the under center aspect, which builds off the run game and the look of the run. Over the past two seasons, Baker Mayfield was under center for 53.7% of his dropbacks. During the 2020 season, Watson was under center on 17.9%. Over his career, that’s been just 24.4%.
What’s most likely is we see something similar to how Sean McVay meshed his offensive philosophy with Matthew Stafford’s strengths last season. There are already some similarities there. The Browns used empty heavily with Mayfield and Watson has used that on over 20% of his dropbacks in his last two years on the field. Cleveland has to hope the meshing of offense and quarterback works that well.
That’s another piece of this, too. The Browns now need Watson to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league year after year. There’s no other way to remotely justify what it took to make this move without that.
But that’s not guaranteed. Like what happened with the Denver Broncos and Russell Wison in the AFC West, the Browns have not even assured themselves a spot at the top of their division with his move (and again, this is a much different backdrop than the Wilson trade). Both the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals have rosters worthy of topping the AFC North.
Cleveland will now work on a trade for Mayfield, who already wanted out before the trade for Watson was made official. He has just $18.9 million remaining for his fifth-year option, which is a more than palatable price for an acquiring team.
We’ve seen Mayfield have the ability to manage a well-structured offense — he was 11th in EPA per dropback in 2020 — but we’ve also seen the floor of what could happen when the situation isn’t ideal. After high expectations were set from 2020, Mayfield ranked 21st in EPA per dropback.
Still, at 27 years old, there’s enough for a franchise to take a swing. Carson Wentz just went to two third-round picks after he went for a first the offseason prior and Mayfield has been as good, if not better, than Wentz over the past two seasons. That’s admittedly not the highest bar to clear or the most flattering comp, but as is the entire case here, quarterback play is at a premium.
Whatever the Browns get back for Mayfield, also softens what they gave up for Watson. It’s likely that third-round pick cancels out. Cleveland also would clear all $18.9 million from Mayfield’s contract with the trade.
The Watson presentations have also left the wake of potential quarterback movement in Atlanta with Matt Ryan and New Orleans, the two other finalists.
There are a ton of layers to this trade and it’s not easy to lay them all out in a brief way. The drawn-out process that led to the actual trade of Watson is now over but the fallout is far from done.
One superstar is leaving the Green Bay Packers, but it’s not the one that has grabbed all of the attention over the past few months. Davante Adams has been traded to the Las Vegas Raiders to reunite with his college quarterback Derek Carr. With the trade completed, the Raiders will sign Adams to a record-setting contract worth $141.25 million over five years.
With the rest of the AFC West getting most of the attention, the Raiders have made some big moves to improve the roster for 2022 and beyond. The Chandler Jones signing and Yannick Ngakoue trade upgraded both edge and corner. Of course this splash brings one of the best wide receivers in the league to Las Vegas.
Last season, Adams thrived on both volume and efficiency. He was third among receivers in yards per route run and second in target share. Over the past four seasons, Adams leads all receivers in target share (27.6%) and is fifth in yards per route run.
His ability to thrive as a true No. 1 receiver completely changes any offense he’s a part of and his ability to win both outside and from the slot opens up so many options for what an offense can do with him.
Las Vegas didn’t have many great options in the passing game last season. Hunter Renfrow led wide receivers with a 21.2% target share, but just a 6.47-yard average depth of target. Adams can win all over the field and clear out the middle for Renfrow and Darren Waller.
Adams is also one of the best red zone threats in the league. Over the past four seasons, he had 30.7% of the Packers’ red zone targets, which easily leads all receivers in red zone target rate. The next highest player is at 25.7% His 1.61 yards per route run also rank first among receivers with at least 100 such routes. In 2021, the Raiders ranked 26th in points per red zone trip and 27th in touchdowns per red zone trip.
For Las Vegas, this is an immediate upgrade but there may be some-long term concerns as Adams will turn 30 years old in December and this contract is scheduled to take him through his age-35 season.
The Raiders sent the first- and second-round picks in the deal — Nos. 22 and 53 — which comes close to the value of a mid-first-round pick on of the market-setting deal for Adams. That is a key point.
Adams is getting $28.5 million per year on the contract, which eclipses the $27.25 million set by DeAndre Hopkins from his 2020 extension. That figure was a number Adams reportedly wanted to top, but the Packers had been hesitant to go there.
What makes that Hopkins number so interesting at the top of the wide receiver market was that is came from the new money in a two-year extension ($54.5 million) that went on top of three years still in place on Hopkins’s current deal. That allowed the Cardinals to spread out the signing bonus over more than just those two seasons and at the time it was signed, Hopkins was on the books for five total years and $94.415 million, $18.8 million per year.
The value of NFL contracts and extensions typically come from the new money involved, but with so many years still on Hopkins’s contract, that number was pushing reality a bit. The next-highest receivers were only pushing $20 million per year.
With this contract, Adams now pushes the top of the receiver market, which will have a domino effect on the likes of Tyreek Hill, DK Metcalf, Justin Jefferson, A.J. Brown, Deebo Samiel, and Terry McLaurin. Given we just saw the other top-of-the-market deals at receiver top out at $20 million per year, we’re in for a shift in the market for those who haven’t been paid yet.
Las Vegas had around $36.5 million in cap space before the trade and extension. It wouldn’t be surprising to see some of this money front-loaded while the Raiders have the space to include it, which would limit the downside on the backend deal as Adams pushes into his mid-to-late 30’s. Adams could age well, but there’s still a fairly sizable risk for the years this extension covers.
Where do the Packers go from here?
While Adams and the Packers could not agree on that market-setting figure over the past year, it has been reported that Green Bay was willing to match the contract but Adams wanted to play elsewhere, specifically Vegas. In that report, it was also said that Aaron Rodgers was aware of the Adams situation when he decided to come back and sign his massive three-year extension.
As much as the Packers relied on Adams in the passing game, it’s also not difficult to fault them for getting what they could for a soon-to-be 30-year-old wide receiver who commanded record-setting money. Of course, part of that goes out the window because the Packers were willing to pay for that deal, but it’s not a complete loss.
Green Bay does now need to overhaul the receiving corps after years of only added supplemental pieces. The Packers now have two picks in the back-half of the first round in a draft that has some good high-end receiving talent. If they wanted, the Packers could even double-dip.
Adam Schefter reported the Packers have been in the market for a veteran wide receiver, but it’s unclear whether that would be through a trade or free agency. The list of free agent wide receivers doesn’t spark a ton of confidence, though.
Julio Jones just got cut for injuries and inconsistency during his year in Tennessee. The Packers had interest in Odell Beckham when he was released by the Browns, but his ACL tear would put his timetable for a return around November at the earliest. Slot options such as Jarvis Landry, Cole Beasley, or Juju Smith-Schuster don’t exactly fit what the Packers now need outside.
The Packers will open up $20 million in cap space with Adams’s franchise tag off the books, which will give Green Bay about $21 million in total cap space per Over The Cap.
Rodgers is coming off back-to-back MVP seasons and could carry an offense built around RPOs and quick game throws but the ceiling of that would be incredibly limited — especially in the playoffs. Something will be done at receiver, and likely multiple things because it’s going to take more than one player to make up for what Adams brought to that offense.
Allen Robinson Signs With The Los Angeles Rams
Reported deal: three years/$45 million with $30 million guaranteed
The Los Angeles Rams have not been shy in adding wide receiver talent and they’ve continued adding to that group with Allen Robinson. For $15 million per year, the Rams are getting Robinson below the price of the franchise tag he played on last season ($17.98 million) in Chicago and around the cost of Courtland Sutton and Robby Anderson, around the bottom of the top-20 receivers in the league.
Robinson had a down year with the Bears in 2021 with just 1.13 yards per route run, which ranked 110th out of 153 wide receivers with at least 100 routes run last season. That figure was 2.06 in 2020, which ranked 23rd of 153. It was clear Robinson never completely clicked with the 2021 Bears offense but he also occasionally looked a step slow in his routes.
Of course the 2022 Rams offense will be the best structure the 29-year-old Robinson has been around and Matthew Stafford will be the best quarterback he’s caught passes from, clearing a low bar set all the way back with Christian Hackenburg in college.
In the Rams offense, Robinson gives a bigger body as an X receiver, which would be a new element for the offense, and even if Robinson isn’t as quick as he was in his prime, Sean McVay can do work to get that type of receiver open.
The Rams want to be a heavy 11 personnel offense (a league-leading 86% last season) and at full health, Robinson, Cooper Kupp, and Robert Woods provide a stellar grouping that allowed Van Jefferson to slide back into a fourth-receiver role that could play to his strengths. Robinson should also serve as a safety net should Woods’s recovery from his torn ACL linger through the beginning of the season.
It’s also been reported the Robinson signing doesn’t close the door on the team re-signing Odell Beckham, who obviously has a longer road to recovery after his torn ACL in the Super Bowl. Given the Rams have turned into a pass-heavy offense with Stafford and some of the tight splits allow the receivers such as Kupp and Woods to act as de facto tight ends on plays, loading up on talented wide receivers is not the worst strategy for this offense.
Buccaneers Extend Chris Godwin
Reported deal: three years/$60 million with $40 million guaranteed
The contract extension party continued in Tampa Bay. Chris Godwin was going to be on the Buccaneers for the 2022 season with his second franchise tag and he’s now locked in for an additional two seasons without much more per year than his $19.18 franchise tag figure. Godwin’s deal guarantees just one more season after 2022 and will allow him to his the market again at 29 years old.
A torn ACL with surgery to repair it in January might impact Godwin’s start to the 2022 season, but it didn’t stop him from getting a top of the market deal. Godwin’s $60 million over the next three seasons matches what’s remaining on Amari Cooper’s contract with the Browns and the exact deal given out to Mike Williams, who also started with the franchise tag from the Chargers. It’s arguable Godwin is a better receiver than both.
Even in a slightly down season that saw the ball spread around more in the Tampa Bay offense, Godwin led the team in targets and was used more as the short-intermediate option from the slot with a 7.33-yard aDOT. That was a bit of a shift from his 10.21-yard aDOT in 2020. Godwin has been a more productive receiver, but in volume and efficiency without Antonio Brown on the field. Godwin had 2.13 yards per route run without Brown in 2021 compared to 1.49 with Brown.
Injuries are something to watch with Godwin, who has only played 14 games in a season twice but he’s been great in those seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards in both. 2022 presents another opportunity for the offense to open up for Godwin and locking that potential in for additional seasons is a solid deal for both sides.
Von Miller Adds To The Bills’ Pass Rush
The shock of free agency was the Buffalo Bills signing Von Miller. The signing itself was a shock, as was the initial reported numbers on the deal, though the real figures quickly came out. This is much closer to a three-year/$53 million deal, which is much more reasonable for the soon-to-be 33-year-old pass rusher. The $17.6 million average over those seasons is right around what Chandler Jones just got.
Miller didn’t have an elite regular season in 2021, split between the Broncos and Rams, but he came alive in the playoffs with a 17.3% pressure rate. Over a full season, that would have ranked fourth in the league. It’s not exactly fair to expect that type of rate for Miller over a full season, but he still showed the ability to take over games off the edge. Miller actually ranked 35th in pressure rate during the regular season.
The Bills have used a ton of resources on the pass rush over the past few seasons, including first- and second-round picks in 2021 and a second-round pick in 2020. Due to the volume of players at the positional, Buffalo had a pass-rush-by-committee and it paid off with the third-highest pressure rate and the sixth-best Pass Rush Win Rate as a team.
Buffalo is likely to be without Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison (both free agents), which lessens the rotation a bit, but having more players on the edge could help both the complementary players and Miller. Even with the production from Hughes and Addison, Miller is clearly a better individual rusher than those two, which should garner more attention. Potentially having a deeper rotation could also save Miller’s legs throughout the season.
A more disruptive pass rush might also be necessary in front of a secondary that is likely to lose Levi Wallace in free agency and will have Tre’Davious White coming off a torn ACL — though the league’s best safety dup certainly helps there, too.
Miller is a star swing for the Bills, hoping to keep the level of defense at the same rate of the offense as the team continues to push as a Super Bowl contender.
Raiders Add Chandler Jones, Swap Yannick Ngakoue For Rock Ya-Sin
Reported deal: three years/$52.5 million with $34 million guaranteed
The Las Vegas Raiders had a busy day shuffling around pass rushers and ended up with Chandler Jones as the running mate next to the the newly extended Maxx Crosby. Vegas released Carl Nassib, who was a productive, but expensive rotational rusher. Then as the Jones signing occurred, the Raiders flipped Yannick Ngakoue to the Indianapolis Colts for Rock Ya-Sin.
Jones returned from a 2020 Achilles injury and was pack to his productive ways rushing the passer. He had 26 quarterback hits (ninth), 10.5 sacks, and ranked 36th among edge rushers in pressure rate, per SIS.
A $17.5 million average value puts Jones just below the top tier of edge rusher contracts and even as Jones just turned 32 years old, his skill set looks to be something that should continue to age well, allowing his production to stay at that level. Jones had some help next to the underrated Markus Golden in Arizona, but Crosby is arguably the best individual running mate Jones has been with on the edge in his career.
The Raiders were eighth in Pass Rush Win Rate and 11th in pressure rate last season and they’re pushing more chips into imprioving that unit.
Ngakoue will now be on his fifth team in four years. He’s still a productive pass rusher — 23 quarterback hits and 10 sacks in 2021 — but there isn’t always consistency. Sometimes his aggressiveness rushing the passer can work against him by overpursuing the play.
Indianapolis has needed an improvement on the edge for a team that ranked 24th in Pass Rush Win Rate 17th in pressure rate. Reports suggested the Colts were trying to get this deal done on Tuesday night and the Raiders waited until they had Jones locked in as a replacement to let Ngakoue go.
The Colts potentially could have just signed Jones themselves instead of trading away a corner, but Ya-Sin was on the final year of his rookie deal and the Colts are only on the hook for one year and $13 million of Ngaokue.
Ya-Sin has had some inconsistency in his time in Indianapolis but 2021 was his best, ranked 32nd in Adjusted Yards allowed per coverage snap. He played well in man coverage and could allow new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to stay aggressive in coverage behind the pass rush.
Indianapolis now shifts a need at edge to one at corner.
Grade: B for Jones, B+ for Raiders trade, C+ for Colts
Seahawks Sign Uchenna Nwosu
Reported deal: two years/$20 million with $10.5 million guaranteed
After the Russell Wilson trade, a look at the Seattle Seahawks’ roster illuminated the lack of young talent to build around. Ther was DK Metcalf, Poona Ford, and Darrell Taylor. That was pretty much the extent of it. Uchenna Nwosu won’t be some young star, but the 25-year-old pass rusher is a wildly underrated player who now gives Seattle plus positional group on the edge.
Nwosu got his first shot at a full-time role with the Chargers last season, starting 15 games and playing 67% of the defensive snaps. He finished the year with five sacks and 17 quarterback hits (t-29th among all defenders) and tied for 23rd in pressure rate among 102 edge rushers with at least 200 pass rush snaps, per SIS.
Seattle was 20th in Pass Rush Win Rate last season per ESPN and 26th in pressure rate as a team per SIS. Darrell Taylor, individually, ranked 39th in pressure rate.
This is the type of deal the Seahawks need to restart the building of a younger foundation across the roster.
Darious Williams Heads To Jacksonville
Reported deal: three years/$30 million with $18 million guaranteed
Over the past few seasons, the Jaguars have spent a ton of resources trying to improve the quality of cornerbacks. Last season, they were 30th in EPA per dropback so Jacksonville continues to look for upgrades.
Darious Williams was a key piece in the 2020 Rams defense that had the best coverage unit in the league, but his play was more inconsistent in the Raheem Morris version. Williams was 16th in Adjusted Yards allowed per coverage snap among cornerbacks in 2020 but dropped to 57th in 2021. That 2021 ranking was still better than any Jaguars corner (Shaquill Griffin ranked 68th among 93 corners).
Williams can be a physical corner, but he was also the target of choice when either Jalen Ramsey was in the slot or teams tried to avoid Ramsey on the outside. Still with all of that considered, his downside in a relatively rough year was still an average corner. That’s a clear upgrade for the Jaguars
Jacksonville is paying up for that type of improvement, but not as much of a premium as they’ve paid for other positions this offseason. Williams has plenty of talent and he should give Jacksonville a more than serviceable duo alongside Griffin.
Baltimore Ravens Bring In Morgan Moses
Reported deal: three years/$15 million
Few teams get better value from free agent signings than the Baltimore Ravens. Typically they’re shopping around with free agents that were released and won’t count against the compensatory pick formula — they once again got the most value from those for the 2022 NFL Draft — but the Ravens took a big deal with Marcus Williams and even this smaller deal for Morgan Moses comes on a standard UFA.
Still, there’s a ton of value in the Moses deal regardless of the role he’s scheduled to play in 2022. Moses could easily slide in as the starter at right tackle to replace the retired Alejandro Villaneuva. Moses hasn’t missed a game since the 2015 season as a starter at right tackle.
Last year, Moses was 48th of 62 tackles in blown block rate per SIS, but many of those happened late in the down since he was among the top right tackles in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate which accounts for the first 2.5 seconds after the snap.
Adding Moses gives the Ravens some options in how to handle the offensive line. He could easily be the starter but a $5 million average doesn’t have to guarantee that. Patrick Mekari played well at tackle last season when he was put into that position but he’s also versatile with time at center and guard in his first two years in the league.
There is little to no downside for the Ravens bringing in a dependable veteran tackle for a fairly low price.
Saints Replace Marcus Williams With Marcus Maye
Reported deal: three years/$28.5 million with $15 million guaranteed
With Marcus Williams gone to the Baltimore Ravens, the New Orleans Saints took a flier on Marcus Maye. As with most Saints contracts, there are a number of layers to this deal. The Saints are buying low and hoping for upside on a good player who tore his Achilles in November. If Maye comes back and plays like he had previously, the $9.5 million average here will be a great value. The $15 million guaranteed gives the Saints basically a two-year trial in hoping Maye can return to form.
In 2020, Maye had 11 passes defensed, two sacks, two forced fumbles, and two tackles for loss.
Getting multiple years is nice for Maye and necessary for the Saints to work the cap. As is always the case, New Orleans is structuring contracts to get under the cap before the new league year starts. By doing that, the Saints are already over the cap for the protected 2023 number next season. This is how the Saints have to operate.
Because they couldn’t really shop at the Marcus Williams level for safety, New Orleans will take a swing on a potentially good player on an injury discount. These are some of the risks the Saints will have to take when adding talent. The reward is clearly high here, too, and it’s a risk worth taking. Long-term for the Saints, the key will be managing how many of these risks they have to take to keep adding to the roster.
Jets Improve Secondary With D.J. Reed, Jordan Whitehead
Few teams had less talent in the secondary than the New York Jets in 2021 and it showed on a defense that ranked 32nd in EPA per dropback. Adding to that group was a top priority for the Jets and they made a pair of improvements in cornerback D.J. Reed and safety Jordan Whitehead.
Reed was a fifth-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2018 under Robert Saleh, but the 5’9” cornerback really developed as a plus starter over the past two years with the Seattle Seahawks. Despite his size, Reed can hold up well in coverage on the outside and his combination of arm length and ball skills allows him to play bigger. He has 17 passes defensed combined over the past two seasons.
Last year, Reed ranked 27th among 93 qualified cornerbacks in Adjusted Yards allowed per coverage snap. An $11 million average is about where Reed’s play has been over the past two years.
The Jets also grabbed another safety in Whitehead. The $7.25 million average is a nice deal for the Jets even if Whitehead spends most of his time in the box, where he’s done his best work in his career. Ashtyn Davis and Lamarcus Joyner are still on the roster as safeties that can play deep and given the slow safety market on top of an Achilles injury, the Jets could be in a favorable spot to re-sign Marcus Maye.
Both of these moves help the Jets in 2022 and beyond and neither cost signing cost too much for a clear improvement.
Grade: B for both
Randy Gregory Swaps Cowboys For Broncos
Reported deal: five years/$70 million with $28 million guaranteed
This deal was originally reported and agreed upon as a return to the Dallas Cowboys, but a late snag in the discussions (after the Cowboys announced it) had Randy Gregory agree to the deal with the Denver Broncos.
Gregory has turned into a disruptive player when he’s on the field, but availability has been an issue. In 2020, he was a rotational pass rusher before he played more in 2021 but he played just 12 games due to various injuries — a calf was the cited cause of missed time, but he also had a knee injury he played through which required surgery in January.
Still, Gregory was 11th in pressure rate among edge rushers in 2021 per SIS. Having that type of disruption will be a boost of a Denver defense that ranked 32nd in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate last season.
Gregory will turn 30 years old in November, so a five-year deal would be a long commitment, but at $14 million per year and only $28 million guaranteed, this is not much more than a two-year deal with the chance to reasses afterward.
Baltimore Ravens Keep Adding To The Secondary With Marcus Williams
Reported deal: five years/$70 million with $37 million guaranteed
The Baltimore Ravens love them some safeties and getting Marcus Williams is the next on an impressive list of players who can play deep and cover a ton of ground while the corners play a lot of one-on-one coverage.
Last year, the Ravens used a ton of man coverage with a single-high safety and while the defense will look a little different under new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, that type of strategy plays to the strengths of the players.
Williams was a true deep safety for the Saints, a team that also played a ton of man coverage, though with a little more two-high on the back end. New Orleans ranked eighth in DVOA against deep passes and Williams played a big role in that. He’s had at least seven passes defensed in all but one of his five NFL seasons.
This deal comes in just below the top tier of safety contracts just under Kevin Byard, but well under the true top of the market for Jamal Adams, Justin Simmons, and Budda Baker. Williams, who was franchise tagged last offseason, could easily play up to that quality and getting him below those numbers on the open market is a win for the Ravens and a defense built around talent in the secondary.
DJ Chark To Prove It With Lions
Reported deal: one year/$10 million
DJ Chark broke out during his sophomore season in 2019 but has battled inconsistency and injuries in the two years since. Chark played just four games in 2021 due to a broken ankle. At his best, Chark is a viable deep threat that can add a vertical element to an offense — he avearged 22 yards per reception on his seven 2021 catches.
Going the one-year route makes some sense for both Chark and the Lions. If there is a hang-up, though, it might be the quarterback. Having the vertically of both Chark and Josh Reynolds is nice but that’s not exactly the strength of Jared Goff. However, it could fit more with the arm of Malik Willis. That pairing might not have immediate production, but it could be entertaining.
Lions receivers had a total of 16 receptions on passes thrown 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage. Chark could clear out some room for Amon-Ra St. Brown underneath (6.98 aDOT), but that’s probably not what Chark has in mind to rebuild his value. If there is a quarterback change or a shift in offensive philosophy, Chark could be a valuable piece of the receiver rotation.
49ers add cornerback Charvarious Ward
Reported deal: three years/$40.5 million with $26.7 million guaranteed
The 49ers defense played well last season, especially against the pass, but much of that was from scheming around the available talent. Getting better talent to continue to scheme around is a good move. Charvarious Ward gives San Francisco that type of player who can hold up well in coverage on the outside.
Last season, Ward was an average corner ranked 66th among corners in Adjusted Yards allowed per coverage snap.
The deal is a little pricey, which puts Ward around the William Jackson contract, which would matter less if the top of the market exploded more. But having just a $3 million difference in average value between Ward and J.C. Jackson is something. It says more about the current cornerback market than this deal specifically, but it;’s worth noting.
Ward should still be a good fit in DeMeco Ryans’s defense and brings a higher talent level to the secondary,
Justin Reid Heads To Kansas City
Reported deal: three years/$31.5 million with $20 million guaranteed
In his four years with Houston, Justin Reid has been a versatile safey playing all over the secondary. He’s lined up for most of his snaps as a deep safety but has the ability to play in the box and the slot. Reid might not be a one-to-one replacement for Tyrann Mathieu, but the versatility certainly helps.
Reid has been up and down in production over the past two seasons, but it’s been with little help in the Houston secondary. His skill set fits nicely with how Steve Spagnuolo could use him, moving him around to wherever he is needed along with Juan Thornhill.
The Chiefs stuck with a ton of two-high last season, both pre- and post-snap. Kansas City lined up with a two-high shell on 52% of their snaps, which ranked 15th, and ended with middle of the field open coverage on 44% of plays, which was the third-highest rate in the league, per SIS. Houston also played a lot of two-high, but so much of that was just plain Cover 2.
Reid just turned 25 years old and now has a significantly better supporting cast around him and and a defensive structure that should better fit him as a player.
Zay Jones Is a receiver, so the Jaguars paid him
Reported deal: three years/$24 million (up to $30 million)
The Jaguars struck again with a receiver deal that made you triple-take with the initial numbers before smaller numbers come out that are still an overpay. Zay Jones at $10 million per year is kinda nuts. Zay Jones at $8 million still isn’t great.
Jones was a target-hog in college, nearly by default, but he never fully got a grasp on a full-time role in the NFL. His best year in the NFL came in 2018 when the Bills didn’t have much else at the position and Jones turned 102 targets into just 652 yards.
He was the de facto deep threat for the Las Vegas Raiders last season after Henry Ruggs was released with a 14.0-yard aDOT, though he only had six receptions of 20 or more air yards. Jones tested as an explosive athlete, but it hasn’t really translated on the field.
If there is some silver lining, it’s that Jones ran most of his routes (72%) on the outside last season, which at least is a change from the collection of slot receivers currently on the Jaguars roster.
The Jaguars have spent a ton of money on receivers in free agency and haven’t really fixed their receiver issue. That’s arguably the worst spot a team can put itself in after a big spending spree.
Sebastian Joseph-Day Is a perfect fit for the Chargers
Reported deal: three years/$24 million with $15 million guaranteed
Few team-player fits made more sense than Sebastian Joseph-Day to the Chargers. For a team that desperately needed to find an answer for stopping the run, Joseph-Day is the perfect signing. He played excellent under Staley with the Rams in 2020 when he ranked fifth among defensive tackles in Run Stop Win Rate and he was in the top-10 in 2021 before a pec injury forced him out of the second half of the season.
Pass rushing isn’t Joseph-Day’s calling card, but he had three sacks and five quarterback hits, both career-highs, in just seven regular season games last year. He’s not a complete zero in that department, so while other defensive tackles that signed might have a bit more pass rush upside, Joseph-Day’s elite run defense more than makes up for the difference.
With that in mind, his $8 million per year comes in below a number of interior defensive linemen contracts that came in at $10 million per year. Joseph-Day is as good or better than most of those players, which makes this deal look even better.
Now with multiple building blocks across the defense, this unit should be much better than the unit that couldn’t stack up with its lack of talent last season.
The biggest impact in the short term is this signing allows the Chargers to open up what they do with the 17th overall pick. Georgia’s Jordan Davis was such a popular mock pick because it fit a need, but that’s no longer a hole with Joseph-Day. Davis could very well still be a top target, but that decision won’t have to be forced.
Jaguars set the market (again) with Brandon Scherff deal
Reported deal: three years/$49.5 million with $30 million guaranteed
When Brandon Scherff has been on the field, he’s been one of the league’s best guards. The problem lately is how often he’s been on the field. Scherff hasn’t played 16 games in a season since 2016 and he’s played more than 11 games just once since then (13 in 2020). The Jaguars are betting that Scherff can stay healthy as he enters his age-31 season.
Jacksonville isn’t taking a small bet on this, either. At $16.5 million per year, Scherff’s deal tops the guard market, beating Wyatt Teller, Joel Bitonio, and Joe Thuney.
It’s going to be tough for Scherff to live up to this deal if he stays healthy and there has not been a proven track record of that throughout his career. The Jaguars didn’t have to go to the top of the market here. Jacksonville’s offensive line ranked 18th in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate as a team and 21st in Run Block Win Rate. Small incremental improvements could have had just as big of an impact on the line.
Mitchell Trubisky, Pittsburgh Steelers Starter
Reported deal: two years/$14.25 million, worth up to $27 million
Ok, so let’s get this out of the way — the Mitchell Trubisky contract is fine. Reports early in the offseason had Trubisky as a hot commodity, worth at least $10 million per year. After a ton of build-up and the announcement two-year deal packaged with the fact Pittsburgh intends to make Trubisky the starter, the eventual terms of the deal aren’t that bad.
Ideally, you’re not signing Trubisky to be your starter in 2022. But if you have to, this isn’t a terrible way to do it.
As was the case in the final few games of Trubisky’s tenure with the Bears, it’s possible to scheme the quarterback up into a useful enough passer. Chicago adopted a Shanahan-style wide-zone play-action-heavy scheme that put a ton of training wheels on Trubisky and it worked.
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada wants to do more in that style, but was hamstrung by what Ben Roethlisberger could do and was willing to do. Heavily scheming around the quarterback is sadly a step up from not scheming at all because of the quarterback, which is where Pittsburgh found itself at the end of Roethlisberger’s run.
This Trubisky contract also won’t stop the Steelers from picking a quarterback in the first round if they want to — Kenny Pickett being the more likely option. Nothing about this answers Pittsburgh’s long-term questions at the position, but it’s not a worst-case scenario, which is about as good as the Steelers could hop at this point.
Rams keep the offensive line together with Brian Allen, Joseph Noteboom
Allen: three years/up to $24 million
Noteboom: three years/$40 million with $25 million guaranteed
Part of what made the Los Angeles Rams’ offense so special in 2021 was the play of the offensive line. The unit ranked first in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate and 12th in Run Block Win Rate. As will be expected to be the case with some of the Rams’ highly productive players, the question heading into this offseason was how many linemen could they keep. Andrew Whitworth is considering retirement and all of Austin Corbett, Joseph Noteboom, and Brian Allen were free agents. The Rams will now get at least two of them back.
Allen is a big piece of the offensive line improvement as he has developed into a serviceable center. His 2021 was still a bit rocky, ranked 32nd among center in blown block rate per SIS, and he was part of the interior troubles in the middle of the season that sparked the poor play from Matthew Stafford but he had enough high quality play throughout the season to make him a net positive on the line.
An $8 million average salary puts him 12th among centers, which seems fair for the 26-year-old who continues to improve.
Keeping Noteboom is more interesting for both the short- and long-term ramifications. Much of the immediate impact hinges on what Whitworth decides to do for the 2022 season. If Whitworth returns, Noteboom becomes a pricy swing tackle, but if Whitworth retires, the Rams have their future left tackle ready to step in.
Noteboom played well in 2021 during a stretch when Whitworth was out and he’ll step right in as soon as Whitworth moves on. Of course, it’s still unknown when that will be. Even as Noteboom has bounced around as a utility lineman while he waits for the left tackle spot to open, he still won’t turn 27 years old until June.
These are solid signings to keep continuity along the offensive line but they’re also the first part in some of the difficulties the Rams will face over the next few seasons. This offensive line was easier to build when most of these players were on rookie deals, but now they’ll be on second contracts with value that will increase and make keeping other players on the roster a bit more difficult.
Buccaneers Keep Carlton Davis
Reported deal: three years/$44.5 million with $30 million guaranteed
As was the case with Ryan Jensen, it was widely believed Carlton Davis would leave in free agency after Tom Brady retired and the Buccaneers used the franchise tag on Chris Godwin. But Davis’s return is another byproduct of Brady coming back.
Not only does Tampa Bay look like a better option with Brady in place, it makes more sense for the Buccaneers to keep pushing to bring players back and keep the core as intact as possible. It also helps Tampa Bay that the top of the cornerback back market never really exploded.
While J.C. Jackson basically got the Byron Jones deal, Davis barely edged out the contract given to Trae Waynes in 2020. Davis had some ups and downs in coverage this season — he ranked 59th among cornerbacks in Adjusted Yards allowed per coverage snap — but he’s had some high quality play and he won’t turn 26 years old until December. There’s not a lot of downside in Tampa Bay guaranteeing most of the three-year deal.
An outside corner duo of Davis and Jamel Dean (13th in Adjusted Yards allowed per coverage snap) is a great place to build while the Buccaneers can now look for upgrades at slot corner and safety.
Evan Engram Lands In Jacksonville
Reported deal: one year/$9 million
Evan Engram never completely fulfilled his potential with the New York Giants. Part of that came from usage, which took a hybrid slot receiver who ran a 4.4 and kept him near the line of scrimmage. Engram had one of the lowest aDOTs among tight ends and that never fully took advantage of his skill set.
Engram could profile like a Mike Gesicki-type slot receiver and could potentially be more productive in that type of role. Engram has more yards per route run than Gesicki, even with a more than three-yard difference in aDOT.
The difference in targets between Evan Engram (6.69 aDOT) and someone like Mike Gesicki (9.85) is kind of crazy.
Engram still eclipses him in yards per route run (1.36 to 1.31) and I think that gap would be even bigger if Engram’s target map looked like the one on the right pic.twitter.com/vkgn0ln7jn
— Dan Pizzuta (@DanPizzuta) February 23, 2022
It will be interesting to see how the Jaguars use Engram because he’s operated a ton from the slot, but that’s currently where all of Jacksonville’s receivers tend to operate from. Engram might be another high volume option in Doug Pederson’s offense and there is enough talent that a change in scenery could help unlock something else from Engram.
Cedrick Wilson gives the Miami Dolphins More Speed
Reported deal: three years/$22.05 million with $12.75 guaranteed
With Michael Gallup out to start the 2021 season, Cedrick Wilson got the bump into more playing time and he made the most of it. Among Cowboys receivers, Wilson was second in yards per route run and he led that group in yards after the catch per reception. Per Next Gen Stats, Wilson had 1.2 yards after the catch per reception over expectation, which also led the team.
If Wilson plays a bigger role in the new Miami offense, his speed — both his long speed and ability to run after the catch — could play well for how Mike McDaniel would like to scheme receivers open. Wilson played 84% of his snaps in the slot last season. That could get in the way of recently franchised tight end Mike Gesicki but Gesicki could see a little more time in-line under McDaniel. The receivers, including Jaylen Waddle, could also move around more.
The soon-to-be 27-year-old former sixth-round pick gives the Miami offense some speed that was desperately needed to help push things down the field. Even being a consistent WR3 would be a step up from what Wilson has been so far in his career (he only has 837 career receiving yards) but his time in an expanded role gives some optimism for a fun fit in this offense.
Tracy Walker Stays In Detroit
Reported deal: three years/$25 million with $17 million guaranteed
Few things went well for the Lions on defense last season — it was a unit that ranked 31st in EPA per dropback allowed. But there are a number of individual players worthy of keeping around to build under defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.
Walker is one of those players and the 27-year-old got around top-20 safety money in order to keep him in Detroit. In 2021, Walker shifted more to a deep safety after playing more in the box over his first few seasons. With Quandre Diggs gone, Walker took over that role. Under Glenn, the Lions took a Rams-esque approach and played a two-high shell on 62% of their snaps per SIS, the fifth-highest rate in the league. They shifted to a single-high coverage on 44% of their snaps.
The Lions struggled against the deep pass but building on Walker, Amani Oruwariye, and Jeff Okudah could be a solid foundation for a secondary with some upside to improve.
Ted Karras, Alex Cappa Upgrade Bengals Offensive Line
Karras: three years/$18 million with $5 million guaranteed
Cappa: four years/$35 million with $11 million guaranteed
The Bengals needed help on the offensive line and they got it. The first big deal went to Alex Cappa, a guard formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay offensive linemen get helped out by the quick release of Tom Brady but Cappa still ranked 44th in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate among guards. He was 32nd among 67 guards with at least 500 snaps in overall blown block rate, per SIS.
Karras was 11th in Pass Block Win Rate among guards and 26th in overall blown block rate. Karras is a bit older, which shows in the difference in monetary value both in the overall deal and the guarantees.
All the Bengals needed to do was upgrade the offensive line and with the bar so low to start, it wouldn’t take much to do so. That’s the avenue Cincinnati took. This was a team that was 30th in Pass Block Win Rate in 2021. Neither Karras nor Cappa is individually stellar, but that’s not what the Bengals are paying for and it’s also not what the Bengals need. Just getting to be an average offensive line would be a massive improvement for Cincinnati in 2022 and these signs, with low guarantees, help that cause.
This is a much-preferred avenue to throwing a ton of money at one of the top offensive linemen on the market (although there isn’t a ton available, to begin with). Cincinnati has a better offensive line now than it did yesterday, which is a huge win for what they need.
Chargers Upgrade The Secondary With J.C. Jackson
Reported deal: Five years/$82.5 million with $40 million guaranteed
The Chargers had money to make multiple splashes in free agency and they haven’t disappointed. It’s one thing to wildly throw money around as free agency opens but it’s another to actually do it on game-changing pieces.
Adding J.C. Jackson to the Chargers’ secondary is a potentially game-changing piece. Jackson is one of the league’s best man coverage corners and that alters so much of what a defense can do. Last season, Jackson was sixth in Adjusted Yards allowed per coverage snap (which factors in touchdowns and interceptions) among 92 corners with at least 300 coverage snaps, per data from SIS. He was 21st in 2020.
With five or more interceptions in each of the past three seasons, he’s a rare corner that has shown the ability to have repeatability in forcing interceptions. Jackson is good enough to hold up tightly in coverage and his elite ball skills allow him to make a play. He can get beaten sometimes in one-on-one coverage but his overall playmaking ability more than makes up for those miscues. Think if Trevon Diggs was more consistent in down-to-down coverage ability.
Having Jackson on the outside could allow the Chargers to leave him on an island on one side of the field and shade the coverage to the other side. Even when the Chargers play “zone” which they did on 63% of their snaps in 2021, the fifth-highest rate in the league per SIS, the match principles allow Jackson to play like it’s man coverage off the line.
This could make the roles of players such as Derwin James and Asante Samuel Jr. both easier and more versatile. Jackson isn’t Jalen Ramsey but he could have the same type of impact on the defense when Ramsey played on the outside with the Rams.
The contract isn’t even that bad. Maybe my expectations for numbers were set too high because a Ramsey-like deal was rumored but a $16.5 million average over five years is outside of the top-five at the position. It’s basically the same deal — the raw numbers are identical — that Byron Jones got from the Dolphins two offseasons ago. Rarely do we see the top contract at a position come out the same as it was the previous offseason, never mind two years ago.
Los Angeles worked some of its cap space to front-load the deal in exchange of the lower overall average, but that’s still a fantastic price for a top-tier corner who won’t turn 30 years old until the fourth year of his contract.
Jaguars Throw The Bag At Christian Kirk
Reported deal: four years/$72 million with $37 million guaranteed
The Christian Kirk deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars is a classic “wait for more details to emerge” situation. The earliest reports showed $84 million as the raw total, only for that to be clarified as “up to” that figure. Then the $72 million figure came out, though with more details, it’s clearly front-loaded with $39 million in the first two seasons.
But even in this case as the details clarified some of the contract… it’s still a whole lot of money for Kirk. Just two years and $39 million is $19.5 million per year.
On the whole, the contract averages $18 million per year, which places Kirk in the top-10 of receiver contracts with the same average as what Kenny Golladay got in free agency last season and Tyreek Hill.
Kirk led the Cardinals in targets last season and did most of his damage from the slot, where he lined up for 78.4% of his routes. He has the deep speed the Jaguars desperately lacked during the season last year, but that’s not necessarily a skill that needs top money to be found. At this money, Krik is going to be asked to be a focal point of the offense, which needs a lot of projection on top of what Kirk’s role has been during his NFL career.
Among 35 receivers with at least 100 targets in 2021, Kirk ranked 21st in yards per route run. But unfortunately for the Jaguars, their two receivers that qualified ranked 33rd and 34th. Kirk certainly helps Jacksonville in an area of need but he doesn’t exactly solve the whole problem. That’s a tough place to be when shopping at the top of the market.
Bengals Keep B.J. Hill
Reported deal: three years/$30 million with $10 million guaranteed
B.J. Hill was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals after getting lost in the New York Giants’ love for overpaying and over-drafting interior defensive linemen. Hill had a productive rookie season with 5.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits while playing nearly 60% of the snaps before he was replaced by Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence.
Hill was only on the field for 47% of the defensive snaps for the Bengals in 2021, but his upside as an interior pass rusher came out with another 5.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hits. With Larry Ogunjobi now gone, there is an opening for Hill to play an even bigger role with Cincinnati.
At $10 million per year, Hill is slotted in around more run-focused defensive tackles, and in that group, including the lines of Eddie Goldman, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Grover Stewart, Hill has the most to offer as a pass rusher.
Haason Reddick Heads To Philadelphia
Reported deal: three years/$45 million with $30 million guaranteed
Few players have reworked their value across the league over the past few seasons than Haason Reddick, yet he still might be undervalued. The former Temple Owl signed a one-year deal with the Carolina Panthers last season and responded with an 11-sack season, following up his 12.5-sack 2020.
Reddick has been one of the more productive speed rushers in the game and his ability on the field has been unlocked since he turned into a more full-time pass rusher. After playing that role in his final year at Temple, he bounced around the defense as an athletic off-ball linebacker during his early years in Arizona.
In 2021, Reddick finished eighth in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate among edge rushers, though just 38th overall pressure rate. There’s a bit of a disconnect between how quickly Reddick can win and how consistently he does it. Still, pass rusher can be a position where just a few splash plays can make all the difference.
Lining Reddick up on the Eagles’ defensive front along with Brandon Graham and Josh Sweat opens up a ton of possibilities in the rotation. Reddick can still line up off the ball and rush the passer or drop back into coverage, which could serve in a role the Eagles tried last season. Even while Reddick rushed the passer more, he still only rushed on 82.6% of his pass snaps, per SIS, which opens up plenty of possibilities with what to do with him on those other snaps.
A $15 million average puts Reddick around the area of last year’s top free agent signings in Trey Hendrickson and Carl Lawson on the edge — the raw numbers of the deal are identical to Lawson’s. Reddick might profile exactly like those two pass rushers, but his skill set allows for a wide variety of ways the Eagles can take advantage of it.
Bears Sign Larry Ogunjobi
Reported deal: three years/$40.5 million with $26.35 million guaranteed
Ogunjobi hit free agency at the worst time last offseason after a 2.5-sack 2020. He moved from the Browns to the Bengals on a one-year deal and turned around with his best season as a pro — 7.5 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, and 12 tackles for loss.
Last season, Ogunjobi started 16 games and played 67% of Cincinnati’s defensive snaps. Per SIS, he finished seventh among defensive tackles in total pressure and drew five holding penalties as a pass rusher, which tied for the fourth-most against defensive tackles.
Chicago needs a pass rush presence inside, especially with Akiem Hicks likely to be gone. At 28 years old, Ogunjobi still has plenty left in his prime as a disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line.
Laken Tomlinson Solidifies Jets Offensive Line
Reported deal: three years/$40 million with $27 million guaranteed
The Jets have had some issues to work through along the offensive line and the entire right side from 2021 was set to hit free agency. With Tomlinson, the Jets pay a fairly hefty price but they’ll get a solid guard familiar with the Shanahan-style zone-blocking scheme used by offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.
Last season, Tomlinson ranked 20th among 67 guards with at least 500 snaps in blown block rate, per SIS. At his current contract, Tomlinson would be somewhere in the top-10 guards for both average salary and guaranteed money. The Jets desperately needed help on the interior, especially for run blocking. As a team, the Jets ranked 17th in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate, but just 27th in Run Block Win Rate.
Tomlinson has played left guard for his entire career and that’s also where Alijah Vera-Tucker played in his rookie season for the Jets. One of them will have to move over to the right side, which isn’t ideal but it won’t be the worst problem for the Jets to deal with along the line.
Jaguars Bolster Defense With Foye Oluokon & Foley Fatukasi
Much of the focus on what the Jaguars could do in free agency centered around the offense and building around Trevor Lawrence. That’s coming, but the first big deals with terms available came on the defensive side of the ball with linebacker Foye Oluokon and interior defensive lineman Foley Fatukasi.
No matter the regime in place, the Jaguars love them some top-of-the-market off-ball linebackers. Even with Myles Jack on the roster Jacksonville has taken swings on the likes of Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey in free agency. Maybe it means something that neither of those players is still on the Jaguars’ roster?
Oluokon took over as the top linebacker in Atlanta with De’Vondre Campbell gone and he certainly made an impact in the run game with 102 solo tackles. Oluokon was up and down in coverage, ranked 31st in yards per coverage snap allowed among 72 linebackers with at least 200 coverage snaps in 2021 per SIS.
The biggest impact for the run game will be the addition of Fatukasi along the line. With the Jets, Fatukasi was in the top-10 of ESPN’s Run Stop Win Rate in each of the past two seasons — tied for third in 2021 and fourth in 2020.
At $10 million per year, Fatukasi is in the top tier of run-first interior linemen, but it’s a deserved bump for the former sixth-round pick. The Jaguars’ rush defense was about average — 18th in EPA per attempt — but adding a bigger body up front could open up many more things for the second level.
Grades: C- for Oluokon, B- for Fatukasi
Emmanuel Ogbah Re-signs in Miami
Reported deal: four years/$65 million, $32 million guaranteed
At his combine press conference, Mike McDaniel said one reason he kept the current defensive staff in place for the Dolphins was because it reminded him of how much he hated playing them in 2020. That might overlap with the players on that defense as the Dolphins re-signed Emmanuel Ogbah as the team’s top pass rusher.
After fine seasons with the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs, Ogbah came alive in Miami’s aggressive defense and often as the lone traditional pass rusher. He had nine sacks in each of the past two seasons and put up 45 combined quarterback hits, which is tied for the seventh-most among defenders in that span.
Ogbah was 28th among linebackers/defensive ends in pressure rate last season while he played 67% of the defensive snaps. Now locked down. Ogbah can give the Dolphins a consistent pass rush presence as a rusher as the Miami defense can mix-and-match around him with a traditional front including Jaelan Phillips or with disguised looks using more of the athletic linebackers on the roster.
The deal at $16.5 million per year with $32 million guaranteed is around the deals of Bud Dupree and Leonard Floyd last season. Ogbah might not stand out in that tier as an ~top-20ish pass rusher, but he’s produced in that area. It might be difficult for Miami to get surplus value out of this deal, but it stops a hole from opening at the position and the Dolphins can now focus elsewhere.
Chase Edmonds To Dolphins, James Conner Stays In Arizona
Edmonds: Two years/$12.6 million with $6.1 million guaranteed
Conner: Three years/$21 million with $13.5 million guaranteed
Both of Arizona’s 2021 running backs were scheduled to be free agents. At the combine, Kliff Kingsbury said he’d like to have both of them back, though that didn’t seem like a reality. We now know where both are going with the deals announced within minutes of each other.
Chase Edmonds is on his way to Miami on a two-year deal that averages a little over $6 million per year. With just $6.1 million guaranteed, it’s not much more than a one-year deal with a team option. Edmonds turned into a useful back with the Cardinals once Kingsbury took over.
Edmonds only played 12 games in 2021 but was useful as the open field back for Arizona. Edmonds was third among running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts in EPA per attempt last season and had the fourth-highest rate of runs to gain at least 10 yards among those 49 running backs. Part of that was due to Arizona’s run scheme, but he’ll now go to Miami and a Shanahan-based outside zone system under Mike McDaniel that has sprung open holes for running backs in the past.
James Conner was the short-yardage and goal line back for the Cardinals and that led to 15 rushing touchdowns. Conner wasn’t the big play threat, but he wasn’t always put in the situations for those types of runs. Despite the high number of touchdowns, Conner still averaged just -0.05 EPA per rush in 2021. The Cardinals now are betting that he can take over a bigger workload and be a more effective open field runner.
Now Conner will likely team with 2020 seveth-round pick Eno Benjamin for Arizona’s running back rotation, though given the deal for Conner, he’s projected to be more of a bell-cow than he was with Edmonds. This is a great reward for Conner working his way from everything he’s been through to a one-year deal last year to this contract, but the Cardinals will need more from him in a lead back role for this to work out.
Grades: C+ for Edmonds, C- for Conner
Vikings Extend Kirk Cousins For a year
Reported deal: One-year/$35 million extension
Extending Kirk Cousins might seem like a new regime committing to the quarterback, but it tends to make it easier for the Vikings to move on after 2022. Without an extension, Cousins was set to play in the final year of his contract with a $45 million cap hit. It would be difficult to move that figure and if Cousins left as a free agent, Minnesota would be left with just a potential comp pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
The one-year extension (with two void years) lowers Cousins’s 2022 cap hit to $31.25 million and his 2023 cap hit will be $36.25 million. Part of the 2023 number comes from a $15 million roster bonus that the Vikings could potentially eat before a trade to make the deal more friendly for an acquiring team. With that, Cousins would only cost a team $15 million in salary in 2023, which would make a deal much more appealing. In a trade, Minnesota could also clear $17.5 million in cap space for 2023. It’s a well-structured hedge on an inconsistent quarterback.
Cousins is not the type of quarterback that will carry a team, but he’s been effective. Last season he was 10th in EPA per dropback among quarterbacks and led the league in EPA per attempt on throws to the intermediate area of the field (11-19 air yards) — thanks, Justin Jefferson.
There are elements of a Kevin O’Connell offense that could play to Cousins’s strengths and lead to another efficient but not spectacular year of quarterback play. At that time, the Vikings can decide what they would like to do with Cousins in an offseason that could be better for acquiring a new quarterback, especially in the draft.
This is a move that needs to be graded on a curve considering what was in front of Minnesota’s new regime. Extending Cousins probably isn’t the ideal situation for a team that would like to potentially look for more consistent quarterback play at a high level but getting that extension, lowering the 2022 cap hit, and leaving options open for moving on in 2023 is about as good as the Vikings could have played this situation.
Tom Brady and Ryan Jensen Return To The Buccaneers
Reported deal: Three years/$39 million with $23 million for Jensen
Tom Brady’s retirement lasted a little over a month. On the eve of free agency, the 44-year-old quarterback announced he was coming back for another season in Tampa Bay. Brady was still playing some of his best football in 2021 as he ranked fifth in EPA per dropback among quarterbacks.
The return of Brady obviously gives the Buccaneers a huge boost heading into an offseason in which Kyle Trask was the only other quarterback under contract. The Buccaneers are now -225 to win the NFC South, per BetMGM, after the division appeared to be a messy jumble heading into free agency.
Having Brady back obviously is big on its own for Tampa Bay, but it also helps shape the entire offseason plan. Keeping Chris Godwin on the franchise tag makes more sense now (as would a long-term extension to drop the 2022 cap number) and the Buccaneers could now bring back Rob Gronkowski. Keeping those weapons in place for Brady now is a top priority when potentially rebuilding could have been on the table pending what happened at quarterback.
This could also help the Buccaneers plan for a future at quarterback instead of being in whatever desperate spot they would have been in this offseason.
Getting Jensen back is also an unexpected pleasant surprise attached to the return of Brady. Jensen will turn 31 years old in May and was likely to get one more shot at a free agent deal this offseason and it appeared that would be out of the price range of the Buccaneers. Jensen’s $23 million guaranteed is top-five for centers, just eclipsing the $22 million guarantees Jensen got on his previous contract. The $13 million per year average puts him in second, eclipsing Corey Linsley‘s contract from last offseason.
Jensen was third among centers in blown block rate in 2021, according to Sports Info Solutions. He’ll now continue to be a rock in the middle of the offensive line that now has more continuity than it appeared it would have earlier in the offseason.
Cowboys Bring Back Michael Gallup
Reported deal: Five years/$62.5 million with $27 million guaranteed
The first immediate domino to fall after the Cowboys traded away Amari Cooper was bringing back Michael Gallup. Gallup only got into nine games during the 2021 season, missing the first half of the season and then suffering a torn ACL in the regular season finale. From Weeks 10-17 when Gallup played, he led the Cowboys in target share (17.4%) and was the deep threat with a 12.2-yard average depth of target.
At full health, Gallup can be a productive No. 2 and he’ll now get a chance to play that role in the Dallas offense. In 2019, before Lamb was drafted, Gallup put up 1,100 receiving yards in 14 games as the No.2 option behind Cooper. After L:amb was drafted, Gallup fell to the No. 3 option, though he still played 94% of his snaps out wide over the past two seasons.
This won’t be the last piece of the Dallas offense we see moved around over the next week. Dalton Schultz was hit with the franchise tag and there is belief the Cowboys want to bring back Cedrick Wilson, who is also a free agent. That would give the Cowboys a more than serviceable 11 personnel set, though maybe not with the upside of the full strength group from the past two seasons.
Bills Re-Sign Isaiah McKenzie
Reported deal: Two years/$4.4 million
McKenize has been one of the league’s most underrated receivers over the past few seasons. After some flashes in 2020, McKenize re-signed for one year at $1.1 million for 2021. He’s played about a quarter of the snaps over the past two seasons in Buffalo and he’s flashed whenever he’s been on the field.
McKenzie only had 176 receiving yards in 2021, but 125 of them came when he took over the full-time slot role in Week 15 — a game Cole Beasley was forced to miss due to COVID protocols. This is a solid deal for a rotational receiver but this could be a steal should the Bills and Beasley part ways. Beasley has been granted permission to seek a trade and the Bills would save $6 million in 2022 by moving on.
Amari Cooper Traded to the Cleveland Browns
As the Dallas Cowboys worked to clear cap space, Amari Cooper appeared to be the biggest piece to move. Getting out of Cooper’s contract opened up $16 million in cap space for the 2022 Cowboys. On the Dallas side, this is the balance of doing the best in a bad situation. In no way should a team want to be forced into a place where it needs to release or trade a player like Cooper in order to fix their cap space going forward, especially due to some other worse contracts on the books.
But it appeared the Cowboys were going to make a move on Cooper one way or another and the Browns swooping in with a fifth-round pick gives Dallas something instead of nothing with a straight release. Dallas is already re-signing Michael Gallup with some of the space opened up and it seems Cedrick Wilson could return as the No. 3 receiver to fill out the 11 personnel looks behind CeeDee Lamb, who will now be the featured receiver in the offense. Last season, Lamb led the team with an 18.8% target, which was just the 34th-highest rate in the league.
By giving up a fifth-round pick, the Browns get to bet on a super talented receiver — something the Cleveland offense desperately needs. The Browns will pick up the full remaining three years and $60 million, spread evenly with $20 million per year, but none of that is guaranteed. Should this not work out, Cleveland could walk away clean after this season with no charges on the future cap. But if it does work out, the Browns would have a talented receiver and could rework the contract, add some guarantees, and lower the cap hit in future seasons.
Cleveland needed an upgrade at receiver and it’s a fairly low risk to bring Cooper in without any guaranteed money, even at the high salary. The Browns have allowed Jarvis Landry to seek a trade, which would open up nearly $15 million on the cap (the same as a release) on the final year of his contract. (Landy has since been released). Cleveland could also still target a receiver early in the draft with the 13th or 44th overall pick.
With David Njoku franchised and Hunter Bryant and Austin Hooper on the roster (for now), the Browns could still be a tight end-heavy offense. In 2021, Cleveland used 12 personnel on 22% of offensive snaps and led the league with a 17% rate in 13 personnel. Having Cooper as the top receiver could help in those formations, especially if he’s kept on the outside. Last season when the Cowboys went into 12 personnel, Cooper kicked inside more often (57.4% slot rate) but was outside on 75% of snaps in 11 personnel and had more success there.
The Browns were just 23rd in EPA per dropback in 2021, so any shot at improvement is one worth taking.
Grades: B for Browns, C- for Cowboys