We’ll be breaking down all the major and minor moves for NFL Free Agency with grades and analysis. You can find the comprehensive list of moves and grades here.
Marvin Jones To Jacksonville
Reported deal: Two years/$14.5 million with $9.2 guaranteed
With D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault, the Jaguars have an exciting young dup to build a receiving corps around. Last year, the Jaguars didn’t completely have that reliable piece to glue everything together. That role was spread through the likes of Chris Conley and Keelan Cole. Marvin Jones brings the downfield ability the likes of Conley and Cole possess but also the middle of the field work that could help out a rookie quarterback such as Trevor Lawrence.
When Chark first got to the Detroit Lions, he was a big-play threat on the outside. Jones’s 12.9-yard average depth of target was still among the highest for receivers in 2020, per Next Gen Stats, and he was one of 21 receivers to have a 30% or higher share of the team’s intended air yards, but over the past two seasons, he’s done most of his work from the slot.
In 2018, just 15 of Jones’s 61 targets were from the slot. That shifted to 59-of-93 (63.4%) in 2019 and 73-of-115 (63.5%) in 2020. This gives the Jaguars an affordable veteran that can allow the offense to move receivers around to win in all areas of the field.
John Brown Is The Raiders’ New Deep Threat
Reported deal: One year/$3.75 million
Last year, the Raiders gave Nelson Agholor a vet-minium deal and turned him into a legitimate deep threat. To replace him, the Raiders went to a player who already has a history as a reliable outside deep threat (and a better one than Agholor) in John Brown.
Brown was displaced by Gabriel Davis as the true deep threat in the Buffalo Bills offense last season, but while he wasn’t clicking on the deep passes, Brown has a mid-season stretch where he became an elite screen option. That could help a Las Vegas offense with a quarterback who has not always reliably pushed the ball downfield.
The addition of Brown on the outside could also open up more options for Henry Ruggs in the slot. Ruggs had the second-highest aDOT among receivers last season, per NFL Next Gen Stats, but despite his speed giving the impression as a tur deep threat, he was used more and more efficient as an intermediate option in college.
Buffalo Adds Depth With Emmanuel Sanders
Reported deal: One year/$6 million
The Bills set their breakout offense up with a deep group of wide receivers who could play specific roles. With Buffalo’s release of Brown, Gabriel Davis is expected to play a much bigger (and deserved) role, but that didn’t mean the Bills would stop adding to that depth.
Due to a number of factors, Emmanuel Sanders’s signing with the New Orleans Saints wasn’t the home run it was expected to be as a No. 2, but for just $6 million, Sanders only has to provide WR3 or 4 production to match that value.
Only the Cardinals used four wide receivers on the field more than the Bills and a four-wide set of Sanders, Davis, Cole Beasley, and Stefon Diggs can stress the defense to every level of the field. A heavy rotation of those players could also keep them healthier, especially as Sanders and Beasley get older.
With how good the Bills have been at finding talent, it’s possible Buffalo could have gone with a cheaper option here but unlike some other questionable receivers here, the Bills aren’t breaking the bank or hoping for more than what Sanders has recently shown he can bring to an offense.
Cardinals Sign A.J. Green
Reported deal: One year/$6 million, worth up to $8.5 million
The worst thing a free agent signing can do is still leave the team with a need at the position and that’s what A.J Green to the Arizona Cardinals does. The Cardinals need receiving help, but what Green has to offer doesn’t fill the role of what Arizona should be looking to add.
Green was one of the least efficient receivers in the league last season and it wasn’t just due to quarterback play. Green and Joe Burrow weren’t able to connect deep but Green was still targeted down the field often — his 13.9-yard aDOT was the 16th-highest among receivers last season.
Just 25 of Green’s 55 targets that came more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage were charted as catchable by Sports Info Solutions, which was the lowest rate among receivers with 50 such targets. But Green’s inability to consistently separate was just as much of a factor, if not more, than the quarterback play. For context, 70% of targets over 10 yards were considered catchable for other Bengals receivers in 2020.
Green’s work in the short-to-intermediate area wasn’t great, either, if the Cardinals were hoping for a Larry Fitzgerald-like move to the slot for shorter work. Only 50% of Green’s targets between 1-10 yards produced positive EPA, which ranked 67th among 76 receivers with 40 or more targets in that area. Both Tyler Boyd (70.2%, seventh) and Tee Higgins (69.1%, ninth) were in the top-10 of that group.
Arizona’s biggest need was a field-stretcher that can create and take advantage of space. The current version of A.J. Green offers none of that and still leaves a hole to fill in that receiving corps.