Since the free agency frenzy officially kicked off on Tuesday, NFL teams have been hard-pressed to make big moves and improve their rosters.
It’s been tough keeping track of every transaction in real-time, and let’s be honest: We won’t know how these moves will turn out until the start of the season.
That doesn’t mean we can’t attempt to weigh in about the best and worst moves each team has made so far this offseason. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do in this article.
Best Move: Signing LT Jared Veldheer (five years, $35 million, $17 million guaranteed)
Arizona didn’t panic or attempt to overpay for Branden Albert; instead, they went younger and cheaper with Jared Veldheer. Veldheer has a lot of upside and should give Carson Palmer the necessary time needed in the pocket.
Worst Move: Losing LB Karlos Dansby to Cleveland
You will see Dansby’s name among the “Worst Moves” under Cleveland, who overpaid for him, so this isn’t exactly the Cardinals’ fault for letting him go (unlike other teams last season who shall remain nameless until I get to them). Arizona will have to replace a vital cog in their defense from last season, and so far it looks like they’ll attempt to do that in the draft.
Best Move: Signing G Jon Asamoah (five years, $22.5 million, $8 million guaranteed)
The Falcons knew they had to beef up their interior offensive line, and Asamoah was the best choice to do it. It’s hard to find a “bad” deal with the Falcons, who made out pretty well in free agency by fixing their issues in the trenches on both side of the ball.
Worst Move: Signing DT Paul Soliai (five years, $33 million, $14 million guaranteed, $11 million guaranteed in 2014)
Looking at the financials, this was their worst move. But scheme-wise, I liked this deal for the Falcons. Soliai will be reunited with his former Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan (under whom Soliai had his best seasons), which should mean that he will give Atlanta great production. The Falcons can also get out of this contract in two years as he’s only guaranteed $14 million, with $11 million coming his way this season.
Best Move: Re-signing LT Eugene Monroe (five years, $37 million, $17.5 million guaranteed)
Ozzie Newsome gets his man, period. After the left tackle market dried up quickly on day one, Monroe found himself going back to Baltimore on a deal that will remain friendly to the Ravens’ cap for years to come.
Worst Move: Losing CB Corey Graham to Buffalo
The Ravens have an even bigger hole in the secondary with Graham now gone—not the best problem to have in a passing league.
Best Move: Signing CB Corey Graham (four years, $16.3 million, $8.1 million guaranteed)
Graham might not be the sexiest name among cornerbacks in this year’s free agent crop, but he helps solidify a Bills secondary that has some holes of its own. He’ll likely be used more as a nickel CB, but should excel in the position playing in the slot. Price tag might be a tad too high for what he’ll likely do, but overall, it’s a good acquisition for the Bills.
Worst Move: Signing G Chris Williams (Four years, $13.5 million, $5.5 million guaranteed)
Williams has struggled in Chicago and St. Louis, so while the contract makes sense for a starting left guard, the Bills better be sure that Williams can start. As Mike Rodak of ESPN.com points out, “The analytics website ProFootballFocus.com graded him as the worst player on the Rams and as one of the worst guards in the NFL.”
Best Move: None
As of 6 a.m. ET, the Panthers have yet to sign anyone big of note.
Worst Move: How they mishandled the Steve Smith situation.
I understand attempting to trade (then eventually releasing) Steve Smith. He’ll be 35 this season, it looks like his best days might be behind him, and he was due $7 million this season.
They still could’ve attempted to see if he’d be willing to restructure his contract (according to Joseph Smith of The Charlotte Observer Carolina never asked him to). Even if he said no, it’s better than letting him go in a messy break up, especially since he has been the face of the franchise for the last decade.
Best Move: Signing DE Lamarr Houston (five years, $35 million, $14.9 million guaranteed)
I love this deal. Any time you can get a 26-year-old pass rusher for that price, you have to do it.
Bonus points for Houston in being the former teammate of Bears’ impending free agent Henry Melton, Houston can attempt to get Melton to stay in Chicago, which he’s already indicated he would do in an interview with The Boers and Bernstein Show on 670 The Score in Chicago.
Worst Move: Letting Devin Hester go
Just because I say something is the “worst” doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s actually all relative (as is saying something is the best). The Bears did the right thing in letting Hester go, it’s only the worst move because he could still help them.
In truth, the Bears have probably been one of the winners of free agency so far. They’re using it to get younger and address a defense that kept them from winning the NFC North. Thus far, I’ve yet to see a bad deal.
Best Move: Re-signing G Mike Pollak (three years, $5 million, $1 million guaranteed)
Mike Pollak fits what the Bengals want to do, and does so cheaply. Staying healthy is the only question.
Worst Move: Losing Michael Johnson
The Bengals may have been prepared to lose Johnson, but he’s not someone you just let go of. The pass-rusher is just now entering his prime and has a great career ahead of him.
Best Move: Releasing Brandon Weeden
Watch the tape from last season and you’ll quickly realize why this move works for them. And they’ll likely look to start over and go young at the position.
Worst Move: Signing LB Karlos Dansby (four years, $24 million, $12 million guaranteed)
So let me get this straight: Browns released D’Qwell Jackson, who was owed $4.2 million in 2014 and is 30 years old.
To replace him, they went with 32-year old Karlos Dansby, who they signed for a deal that’s worth $2 million more overall, and with $1 million more guaranteed.
Am I missing something here? Or is this an awful move?
Best Move: Releasing WR Miles Austin
The Cowboys needed cap space in a big way, and Austin is clearly on the other side of his prime. Releasing him made too much sense not to do at this point, especially since he’s designated as a June 1st cut and will free up $5.5 million against the cap in 2014.
Worst Move: Releasing DE DeMarcus Ware
Again I point out this is relative to the team, as it was something the Cowboys had to do based off of their cap situation as well as how much Ware would’ve made had he stayed.
Ware was asked to take a pay cut and refused, so really he’s the reason he’s no longer in Dallas. Don’t cry for him though, for Denver has ompensated him quite well. And he’ll produce there.
Best Move: Signing S T.J. Ward (four years, $22.5 million, $13.5 million guaranteed)
The Broncos had a lot of moves to choose from here. I went with Ward because it helps out their biggest issue (the secondary), and adds a physical element that they didn’t have last season.
Worst Move: Not waiting a day for the Darrelle Revis situation to shake out, and overpaying Aqib Talib instead.
Between Talib and Revis, I’ll take Revis. That was likely New England’s thinking, and it should’ve been Denver’s thinking. As early as Monday, we knew of the possibility of Revis leaving Tampa Bay. Considering that he’d wind up signing a one-year, $12 million deal (Talib’s contract is for six years, $57 million with $26 million guaranteed), wouldn’t it be safe to assume that Revis would consider a similar deal from the Broncos?
Signing Talib was smart, but why rush to buy a Benz when you can easily afford a Bentley, but have to wait for the Bentley first.
Best Move: Signing WR Golden Tate (five years, $31 million, $13.25 million guaranteed)
The Lions needed a receiver to take some of the pressure away from Megatron, and Golden Tate presented the best skillset at the position on the market to do so. Now the Lions have a receiving unit that rivals their division rival Chicago Bears’ tandem of Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.
You can’t argue with the price either, especially for what Tate can bring to the table.
Worst Move: Losing DT Willie Young to the Chicago Bears
Willie Young isn’t the type of player that makes or breaks a season, but he was good at a position where Detroit needs depth. Losing him will hurt.
Green Bay Packers
Best Move: Re-signing CB Sam Shields (four years, $39 million, $12.5 million guaranteed)
Typical Green Bay deal where they take care of their own well, while also not risking too much for them. I could say something negative about how backloaded this deal is, but considering that he’ll be 30 when his next contract is up and how little guaranteed money is involved in the deal, I doubt they’ll want to get out of this deal at anytime during the duration of it.
Worst Move: None (yet)
Losing safety M.D. Jennings to the Bears was tough, however the Packers didn’t seem to have too much interest in retaining him (they could’ve offered a restricted free agent tender to Jennings, but declined, per Rob Demovsky of ESPN).
It would be bad for James Jones to leave, until you realize that Aaron Rodgers is still the quarterback and likely could make another James Jones from one of the many receivers that will be available in this upcoming WR-deep draft. And the Packers have been great at developing and coaching up receivers in the past.
Best Move: Re-signing TE Garrett Graham (three years, $11.25 million, $3.75 million guaranteed)
Whoever the Texans quarterback will be will need a reliable tight end, and when Garrett Graham was called into action last year, he was exactly that. Nice little deal for him that essentially forces him to prove himself to get a better long-term deal.
Worst Move: Not releasing Matt Schaub (yet)
It’s time to move on from Schaub. Texans have the first pick, and two quarterbacks that, when mixed with their defense and offensive weapons, puts them back into contention. Schaub needs to move on, too.
Tanking the 2011 season to draft Andrew Luck
Sorry, I don’t know how that got there.
Actual Best Move: Signing DL Arthur Jones (five years, $33 million, $10 million guaranteed)
For what feels like the first time since their incredibly awesome and potential outlier of a draft in 2012, the Colts did something right by fortifying a weak defensive line by signing Arthur Jones, reuniting him with head coach Chuck Pagano (Jones’ defensive coordinator in Baltimore during his first two seasons in the league).
Worst Move: The in-season trade of their first-round pick for Trent Richardson.
The only thing that will make this trade a wash will be the fact that the Browns will find a way to mess it up. Yes, I know it happened in season, and I know the Colts already made a dubious signing this offseason (LB D’Qwell Jackson for four years, $22 million with $11 million guaranteed), but when you have a talent like Andrew Luck, you just can’t throw away first-round picks like that.
Luck would’ve been better served without Richardson this season, and with a first-round pick used on Zack Martin in order to protect him.
Best Move: Signing DE Chris Clemons (four years, $17.5 million, $5.4 million guaranteed)
I understand the concerns with Clemons’ age, but what I like about this deal is it’s essentially a pay-as-you-go deal for a pass rusher that brings leadership to the group.
Worst Move: Signing G Zane Beadles (five years, $30 million, $12.5 million guaranteed)
It’s not like this is a bad deal, or that Beadles is a bad player. He’s just a tad overrated. Overall, the Jaguars have done well in free agency, even though they’ve been signing castoffs from other teams, they’re improving their roster.
Kansas City Chiefs
Best Move: Signing G Jeff Linkenbach (One year, $900k)
After losing the left side of their offensive line, the Chiefs needed to reboot. Linkenbach provides versatility, and a one-year “make-good” contract is the right call.
Worst Move: Not retaining Jon Asamoah or Geoff Schwartz
I understand letting Branden Albert go, but the Chiefs should’ve thought twice before letting go of both players that filled in at left guard last season. At least one should’ve stayed.
Best Move: Re-signing Brent Grimes (four years, $32.025 million, $16.95 million guaranteed)
Good deal for one of their best defensive players, and structured well as most of the guaranteed money is paid in his first two seasons.
Worst Move: Signing LT Branden Albert (Five years, $47 million, $26 million guaranteed)
Dolphins absolutely needed a left tackle.
However, Eugene Monroe was available, and he’s younger and better. Jared Veldheer was available, and he’s younger and has better upside. Anthony Collins: Also younger, also has higher upside. All three players were cheaper too. Joe Philbin seemed dead set on signing Albert since last season, which hurt the Dolphins financially.
Best Move: Signing DT Linval Joseph (five years, $35.5 million, $12.5 million guaranteed)
Best defensive tackle available in free agency by far, and a building block for what should be an impressive Vikings defense.
Worst Move: Signing CB Derek Cox (Contract details unavailable as of the publishing time of this article.)
I’m not a fan of Cox, who was perhaps the worst free agent acquisition of last season for San Diego (and throughout the league). Can he redeem his career? Of course he can, but I had to choose a worst contract among the Vikings, who so far have done well, and this is it.
New England Patriots
Best Move: Signing Darrelle Revis (One year, $12 million with an option for a second year)
Not only did they sign the best cornerback in the NFL, they signed him to a deal that’s essentially holdout-proof, as the option would only take effect if the Patriots pick it up (which they’d be crazy to do considering the $25 million cap hit).
They had a Benz, but traded up for a Bentley. This shutdown CB just made their defense a whole lot better.
Worst Move: The (inevitable) departure of Vince Wilfork
Wilfork hasn’t left the Patriots yet, but after being asked to restructure his deal, he asked for his release (per Ben Volin of The Boston Globe). This will sting until you remember that they’re the Patriots and will likely get all of us upset by drafting someone big like RaShede Hageman and not skipping a beat.
New Orleans Saints
Best Move: Signing S Jairus Byrd (six years, $54 million, $26.3 million guaranteed)
Whatever tricks New Orleans used to make this deal work were effective. Byrd adds a consistent playmaker to a defense that’s already heavily reliant on safeties, and fits well in Rob Ryan’s scheme.
Just imagine him playing alongside Kenny Vaccaro. The Saints now have one of the best safety tandems in the league.
Worst Move: Trading Darren Sproles
Sproles is such an important weapon in the team’s offense, that I just can’t see why the Saints would let go of him. He is deadly catching swing and screen passes, and Sean Payton knows exactly how to utilize him. Also, he’s cheap.
New York Giants
Best Move: Signing LB Jon Beason (three years, $19 million, $7 million guaranteed)
Beason fits a need for the Giants, and the guaranteed money is a nice price for the play and leadership he will provide on the field.
Worst Move: Not improving, as they’ve been inactive everywhere else.
It’s not like the Giants normally splurge on free agents, which is not only understandable but also usually the right way to go. But with all of the needs the Giants have, something has to be done at some point, for the draft doesn’t always fill all your needs.
New York Jets
Best Move: Signing Eric Decker (five years, $36.25 million, $15 million guaranteed)
I know the question will be “Who’s going to throw to Decker?”. Need I remind you that Tim Tebow was once his quarterback? And that season Decker caught 44 passes for 612 yards and eight touchdowns. Is that production worth the money being paid? No, it certainly isn’t. Is Decker being paid based off of what he did with Manning? Yes, he is.
That doesn’t make it a bad deal. Looking at the Jets, they are just a quarterback away, and who knows, Geno Smith might actually develop. They do need to improve their passing game, and Decker is a reliable possession receiver. For their offense, that’s the kind of receiver they need.
Worst Move: Everything Darrelle Revis-related.
None of this is their fault. They traded Revis to Tampa Bay last season, and got the foundation of their defense for the next decade out of the deal in Defensive Rookie Of The Year Sheldon Richardson. Yes, they probably should’ve attempted to make it work long-term, but in the end they got a great deal out of it, which became worse after Revis was released by the Buccaneers this week (had Revis remained a Buccaneer, the Jets would’ve received the Buccaneers third-round pick. Instead, it’s a fourth round pick).
To make matters worse, Revis is now a member of the Patriots. And in the process of becoming one, he strung the Jets along through his camp, who made proclamations about being “in love” of the possibility of returning to New York (per Rich Cimini of ESPN New York).
That part wasn’t the Jets’ fault as well, and it was smart of general manager John Idzik to not get engaged in any talks with Revis this time around, especially when you consider that in that same report, Cimini notes that Revis had his mind set on New England the whole time.
Best Move: Signing DE Justin Tuck (two years, $11 million)
I’m not a fan of anything Oakland did this offseason. This is the best I could do when naming their “best move”. Granted, Tuck will make life a living hell for Manning this season.
Worst Move: Failing to retain Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston
You have two young cornerstones for your offensive and defensive line, and enough cap room to sign them and still plug up the other multitude of holes on your team.
How in God’s name do you let them go? Is Mark Davis the NFL’s version of Jim Buss?
Best Move: Trading for Darren Sproles
Darren Sproles in Chip Kelly’s offense. Look out, NFC East. The Eagles offense is now explosive and contains many weapons that opposing defenses will have to worry about.
Worst Move: None (yet)
I was considering putting the lack of action towards Darrelle Revis as their worst move (like I did with the Broncos), but with the Eagles I decided not to. Overall, they’ve had a very good free agency period, signing the right players to the right deals.
Best Move: Signing S Mike Mitchell (five years, $25 million, $5.25 million guaranteed)
Heck of a deal for the Steelers, who need plenty of help along the back end of their secondary.
Worst Move: Not signing a DE or DT to shore up their defensive line, which is rather thin at the moment.
The Steelers lost a defensive end in Al Woods. But did nothing to replace him. This might be better left for the draft, but who should they pick at No. 15?
San Diego Chargers
Best Move: Signing RB Donald Brown (three years, $10.5 million, $4 million guaranteed)
One might think this move is redundant, but outside of Danny Woodhead, San Diego lacks pass catchers out of the backfield, and you can’t count on a full season from Ryan Matthews. The Chargers now have insurance at the position.
Worst Move: Staying stagnant and not improving on defense
The Chargers must beef up their defense (especially the secondary), but so far have been merely spectators, staying quiet. This must change, and soon. Most of the defensive backs are now off the market, and they may have missed their chance.
San Francisco 49ers
Best Move: Signing S Antoine Bethea (four years, $21 million, $9.25 million guaranteed)
The 49ers didn’t get younger at safety, but they were able to maintain the talent level at the position without breaking the bank by going with the less expensive Antoine Bethea over Donte Whitner (whose deal with Cleveland might’ve made the list had it not been for the Karlos Dansby deal).
Worst Move: Trading for QB Blaine Gabbert
Relatively speaking it’s the worst move they made (the Jonathan Martin trade was a good, low-risk, high-reward move), as they had to give up a draft pick for Blaine Gabbert. You shouldn’t have to give up a sandwich for him. He’s barely a backup QB.
Best Move: Re-signing DE Michael Bennett (four years, $28.5 million, $16 million guaranteed)
This has been the only move of significance the Seahawks have made this offseason, and also their best. Bennett’s pass rush is essential to the Seahawks defense, but unfortunately, it won’t stick out as much after the losses the team incurred.
Worst Move: Losing players after an inevitable post-Super Bowl turnover
It seems like this happens to every Super Bowl winner, losing players in free agency. And thus far it’s hit the ‘Hawks fairly hard. They’ve already lost Golden Tate, Breno Giacomini, Red Bryant and Chris Clemons in the first three days of free agency. The biggest loss will likely be Tate, who gave the Seahawks a speedy, yards-after-catch receiver downfield.
St. Louis Rams
Best Move: Getting rid of LG Chris Williams
Yes, it’s addition by subtraction for the Rams, who lose a turn style at left guard by letting Chris Williams sign with the Bills.
Worst Move: The Rodger Saffold contract (five years, $31.7 million, $19 million guaranteed)
Your guard should not be paid like a tackle. Rodger Saffold signed for more guaranteed money with the Rams this season than Jake Long did to be their left tackle last season.
Then again, considering that Long hasn’t been able to stay healthy for a full season since 2010, Saffold might find himself at left tackle anyway. Still a bad deal (but not as bad as the one Oakland was prepared to give him).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Best Move: Signing LT Anthony Collins (five years, $30 million, $9 million guaranteed)
The Buccaneers needed to beef up their offensive line and found a bargain with loads of potential in Anthony Collins. Great financials on the deal too, as the Bucs will be able to cut bait after the 2015 season if things don’t go as planned.
Worst Move: Cutting Darrelle Revis
You do not cut the best cornerback in the NFL. You attempt to make it work, no matter what. There’s no replacing Revis. Even though the team signed Alterraun Verner, Revis is more well-rounded and can play in zone and press-man (where he excels). The speedy Verner prefers zone.
Best Move: Signing DT Al Woods (two years, $4 million, $1 million guaranteed)
The Titans have needed to get bigger up front on defense since 2009, and signing Woods to this cap-friendly “prove it” deal is a step in the right direction.
Worst Move: Losing CB Alterraun Verner
Considering the money Verner is getting from Tampa Bay (four years, $25.75 million, $14 million guaranteed), Tennessee could’ve afforded to keep its lone Pro Bowl selection from 2013. But they’ve been quiet during the offseason thus far, and that’s not a good thing. They should at least be retaining their players, but they’re not.
Best Move: Signing Jason Hatcher (four years, $27.5 million)
Signing a pass-rushing compliment to Brian Orakpo is the smartest thing the Redskins could’ve done. What makes it even smarter is he was stolen from a division rival, and he’ll be motivated to stick it to his former team. Hatcher was underrated as a member of the Cowboys last season and was an anchor on the defensive line.
It’s a great value signing and the post-Shanahan regime is off to a good start.
Worst Move: Dan Snyder isn’t selling the team.
It shall remain like this for the ‘Skins until said sale happens.
(Honestly, the Redskins have fared well in free agency thus far. The only two free agents they lost, OLB Darryl Tapp and C J.D. Walton, are easily replaceable. And they’ve made some good value signings as well.)