We are two weeks removed from the beginning of the legal tampering period, and for the most part, NFL free agency has been settled. Sure, there are still some impact veterans on the open market, but most teams have already spent a large amount of their cap space, and there is no way to know when Jadeveon Clowney, Prince Amukamara, Logan Ryan, Everson Griffen, and Jason Peters will find new homes. Today, we’ll recap and analyze each AFC team’s moves in free agency; we’ll highlight their best and worst moves, look at needs they did and did not address, while also giving them an overall grade for their free agency performance. We’ll go in alphabetical order by city.
Additions: EDGE Calais Campbell (Trade-JAX), EDGE Matthew Judon (Franchise Tag), CB Jimmy Smith (Re-Sign), DL Jihad Ward (Re-Sign), IDL Derek Wolfe
Losses: WR Seth Roberts (CAR), TE Hayden Hurst (Trade-ATL), OG Marshal Yanda (Retirement), IDL Chris Wormley (Trade-PIT), IDL Michael Pierce (MIN), IDL Domata Peko, IOL James Hurst, LB Patrick Onwuasor (NYJ), EDGE Pernell McPhee, CB Brandon Carr, S Tony Jefferson
Remaining Salary Cap Space: $13,513,779
BEST MOVE: Acquiring EDGE Calais Campbell For 5th Round Pick
Campbell is not only an elite run defender, but also an effective pass rusher who had 71 total pressures last season. Even at 33-years-old, he has shown no signs of slowing down, and is a perfect fit for Baltimore’s scheme given his ability to play in any alignment on the defensive line. General manager Eric DeCosta essentially turned two fifth-round picks into star cornerback Marcus Peters and Campbell, which is simply laughable.
WORST MOVE: Franchise-Tagging EDGE Matthew Judon
On the surface, it would appear that Judon’s 63 total pressures were a sign of him developing into one of the better edge rushers in the NFL. Yet, he benefited greatly from unblocked pressures, and ranks just the 45th in pass-rush win rate since 2018, per Pro Football Focus. It appears he was a product of the scheme, and the Ravens are paying him $15.828 million on the franchise tag.
TOP NEED(s) ADDRESSED: Pass Rush
The Ravens were able to generate a lot of pressure due to their blitz heavy scheme, but they still earned the sixth-worst pass-rushing grade from Pro Football Focus. With Campbell in the fold, they have an elite edge rusher, while at the very least, Judon and Derek Wolfe should also be secondary options along their defensive front.
TOP NEED(s) NOT ADDRESSED: WR and IOL
The Ravens’ efficiency running the football is unprecedented, but for them to become a more complete team, it’d be nice for Lamar Jackson to have more targets to throw to outside the numbers- he relied too much on the team’s tight ends last season. Plus, after guard Marshall Yanda retired, they still need more depth there, considering how much they rely on their gap/power rushing scheme.
OVERALL GRADE: A-
The Ravens are set at quarterback and in the secondary, and thus, were able to focus on improving their pass rush. They accomplished that on the cheap with the Campbell trade, and although I would’ve preferred for them not to keep Judon, he and Wolfe should be productive players. I really wish they pushed harder for a veteran receiver, such as Emmanuel Sanders, but there isn’t much to criticize with their free agency approach.
Additions: WR Stefon Diggs (Trade-MIN), EDGE Mario Addison, IDL Vernon Butler, CB EJ Gaines, IDL Quinton Jefferson, CB Josh Norman, IOL Quinton Spain (Re-Sign), OT Daryl Williams, LB AJ Klein, LB Tyler Matakevich
Losses: EDGE Shaq Lawson (MIA), CB Kevin Johnson (CLE), LB Lorenzo Alexander (Retirement), IDL Jordan Phillips (ARI), S Kurt Coleman, IDL Corey Liuget, RB Frank Gore
Remaining Cap Space: $26,539,939
BEST MOVE: Acquiring WR Stefon Diggs
On the surface, some say the price – first-round pick, fourth-round pick, fifth-round pick, and sixth-round pick – a large price for the Bills to pay for star receiver Stefon Diggs. Yet, in essence, they traded a first-round pick and third-round pick for one of the game’s most well-rounded receivers; outside of quarterback, it’s the most valuable position in the NFL, and their only true need was a #1 receiver. Diggs’ capabilities as a deep threat, as well as his contested catch ability, are a fantastic fit with Allen, and acquiring the former Viking was a home-run move by general manager Brandon Beane.
WORST MOVE: Overpaying For Depth Defensive Players
Between Vernon Butler, AJ Klein, Quinton Jefferson, and Mario Addison, the Bills added a lot of depth for their front seven, yet paid $6 million or more per year for each player. Considering Addison, who has been pretty close to an average player, is the most productive player of the bunch, they definitely overpaid for these four players; they didn’t get much better, yet used a lot of their cap space to bring them in.
TOP NEED(s) ADDRESSED: WR and OL
Not only do the Bills now have one of the top receiving corps in the NFL with Diggs on board, but they also did a good job to make sure they continued to protect Josh Allen. Tackle Daryl Williams is a great bounce-back candidate should he move back to right tackle, where he’s been productive, and guard Quinton Spain is a reliable pass protector. Having a strong offensive line is more about limiting weak links that having one superstar, and Buffalo has chosen the proper approach to shore up the offensive trenches.
TOP NEED(s) NOT ADDRESSED: TE?
Simply put, the Bills have put together a near-flawless roster around Josh Allen on both offense and defense; their greatest weak-link may be their quarterback, yet they obviously aren’t ready to move on from the former top-ten pick. Perhaps they could’ve looked for an upgrade at tight end over Dawson Knox, such as Eric Ebron (2/$12M), but overall, they’re in great shape heading into the draft.
OVERALL GRADE: A-
The Bills may have overpaid for average defensive players, but they can get out of almost all of those contracts after one-year, so it isn’t like those decisions were disastrous. Meanwhile, acquiring Diggs put a stamp one of the more complete rosters in the NFL, outside of the quarterback position; it’s rare for a team to leave free agency without any sort of glaring need whatsoever.
Additions: IDL DJ Reader, CB Trae Waynes, WR AJ Green (Franchise Tag), S Vonn Bell, CB Mackenzie Alexander, LB Josh Bynes, IOL Xavier Su’a-Filo
Losses: TE Tyler Eifert (JAX), OT Cordy Glenn, OG John Miller (CAR), IDL Andrew Billings (CLE), CB Darqueze Dennard, CB BW Webb, S Clayton Fejedelem (MIA)
Remaining Cap Space: $13,657,810
BEST MOVE: Signing CB Makenzie Alexander
Alexander dealt with injuries last season, but he was one the game’s top slot corners in 2018, and it was very smart for the Bengals to bet for a bounce-back performance from in given the volatility of pass coverage. On a one-year, $4 million contract, it’s safe to say that he’ll provide them with surplus value.
WORST MOVE: Overpaying To Improve The Defense
The Bengals clearly made it a priority to improve their defense via free agency, but I don’t think they did so properly. Cornerback Trae Waynes (3/$42M) was given a top-tier cornerback contract, yet has been closer to an average player throughout his career. Safety Vonn Bell (3/$18M), meanwhile, is a nice fit next single-high safety Jessie Bates III, but he’s a box safety, which isn’t super valuable. The same goes for nose tackle DJ Reader (4/$52M), is a rare player given his pass-rushing prowess, but the defensive line was the one area where Cincinnati was strong defensively. The Bengals did get better defensively, but it would’ve been hard not to, and they perhaps were too aggressive bringing in either average players or players at non-valuable positions.
TOP NEED(s) ADDRESSED: CB and WR
Though I believe the Bengals paid too much for Waynes, he’s a solid #2 corner, and opposite William Jackson, with Alexander in the slot, the Bengals have definitely upgraded their secondary. Plus, soon-to-be #1 overall pick Joe Burrow needs a #1 receiver, and assuming he’s healthy, AJ Green will be that for him on the franchise tag.
TOP NEED(s) NOT ADDRESSED: OL
The Bengals were a good match on paper for tackles Bryan Bulaga (3/$30M) and Jack Conklin (3/$42M), as well as guards Graham Glasgow (4/$44M) and Stefen Wisniewski (2/$2.85M), but for the most part, left their offensive line unaddressed. Yes, they’ll get back first-round tackle Jonah Williams back, but they still are set to play below-average players at every other spot, and leaving it to the draft to protect Burrow is risky. Rather than make such a concentrated effort to add to their defense, it would have been beneficial for them to use some of that money to properly support their quarterback.
OVERALL GRADE: C
Bringing back Green was critical, as were the one-year deals given to Alexander and linebacker Josh Bynes. However, Cincinnati overspent on defensive players who won’t move the needle, and didn’t improve their subpar offensive line. It was nice to see them finally be aggressive in free agency, but they did so the wrong way.
Additions: OT Jack Conklin, TE Austin Hooper, IDL Andrew Billings, CB Kevin Johnson, QB Case Keenum, S Karl Joseph, S Andrew Sendejo, LB BJ Goodson, FB Andy Janovich (Trade-DEN), EDGE Adrian Clayborn
Losses: QB Drew Stanton, S Damarious Randall, WR Rashard Higgins, CB TJ Carrie (IND), S Eric Murray (HOU), LB Joe Schobert (JAX), TE Demetrius Harris (CHI)
Remaining Cap Space: $43,703,760
BEST MOVE: Their Low Budget Defensive Depth Moves
The Browns made some splash signings on the first day of the legal tampering period, but it’s what they did beyond the first day that impressed me. Rather than overpay to fill some of their holes on defense, they were patient, and for just $11.75 million in total, they added two starting-caliber safeties (Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo), their new slot cornerback (Kevin Johnson), and a nose tackle (Andrew Billings). Considering what similar caliber players at those positions signed for, each of those four deals were tremendous value signings for Cleveland; there’s a reason they still have so much cap space.
WORST MOVE: Making Austin Hooper The Highest Paid Tight End
Austin Hooper is a solid tight end, but definitely not an elite one. Per Pro Football Focus, 75.5% of his receiving production came through holes in zone coverage or on underneath routes, and he has just 58.9 receiving grade against single coverage since 2016. I understand that Cleveland wants to use a lot of sets with multiple tight ends in head coach Kevin Stefanski’s offensive scheme, but Hooper appears to be a pretty replaceable player, and his new contract (4/$42M) is too pricey for my liking.
TOP NEED(s) ADDRESSED: OT and S
The Browns came into the offseason needing two new starting tackles to properly protect Baker Mayfield, and they got one in Jack Conklin. The former Titan’s three-year, $42 million deal is less than I thought he’d sign for, and considering he ranked in the 94th percentile as a zone-blocker, per Pro Football Focus, he’s an excellent fit for Stefanski’s scheme. They also came into the offseason needing two safeties, and rather than splurging on one player, they got two capable players in Sendejo and Joseph for under a combined $5 million.
TOP NEED(s) NOT ADDRESSED: OT and LB
As mentioned, Cleveland needed two starting tackles, which means that they still need a proper blindside protector for Mayfield; veteran Jason Peters is a natural fit. While not the most valuable position, after losing Joe Schobert, the Browns also have a hole at linebacker, as right now, some combination of Mack Wilson, Sione Takitaki, and BJ Goodson would make up their linebacking duo; they could afford to improve their pass coverage in the middle of their defense.
OVERALL GRADE: B
I really wish the Browns’ didn’t splurge so heavily on Hooper, but the rest of their free agency was fantastic. They got Conklin, a tremendous fit for them, at a cheaper price than expected, and were also able to improve the depth of their roster on tremendous value deals. They still need another offensive tackle, and even though they could draft one, I’d prefer for them to bring in an established veteran like Peters. Still, this free agency made me a believer in Cleveland’s new regime for the most part, which is definitely a positive.
Additions: CB AJ Bouye (Trade-JAX), IDL Jurrell Casey (Trade-TEN), OG Graham Glasgow, RB Melvin Gordon, IDL Shelby Harris, QB Jeff Driskel, TE Nick Vannett, P Sam Martin, S Justin Simmons (Franchise Tag)
Losses: OC Connor McGovern (NYJ), CB Chris Harris Jr. (LAC), S Will Parks (PHI), IDL Derek Wolfe (BAL), OG Ronald Leary, QB Joe Flacco, QB Brandon Allen, CB Cyrus Jones
Remaining Cap Space: $29,819,797
BEST MOVE: Their Low-Risk Veteran Defensive Acquisitions
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio got the most out of the Broncos’ defense last season, but as far as the talent was concerned, they needed improvement at every level of the unit. Between acquiring cornerback AJ Bouye for a fourth-round pick and franchise-tagging Justin Simmons, they’ve done a marvelous job addressing their pass coverage. Meanwhile, Jurrell Casey (acquired for 7th round pick) and Shelby Harris (1/$3.25M) are productive run defenders and pass rushers along their defensive line, and will provide impact at a very cheap cost. Fangio was already an asset, but with Casey and Bouye on board, along with Simmons and Harris coming back, Denver’s defense could be scary next season.
WORST MOVE: Incoherently Signing RB Melvin Gordon
Not only is running back not a valuable position whatsoever, but between Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, the Broncos already had a cheap, productive running back duo. Sure, they could’ve used a receiving back, but Melvin Gordon won’t provide that; he’s a very similar player to Lindsay, yet cost the team $8 million per year and $13.5 million guaranteed in his two-year contract. Considering receivers Robby Anderson signed (2/$20M) and Emmanuel Sanders (2/$16M) signed for similar prices, it’s safe to say this was a misuse of resources.
TOP NEED(s) ADDRESSED: Secondary and DL
As mentioned, Bouye, Simmons, Casey, and Harris all represent meaningful acquisitions/retentions to help them defensively. Bouye, in particular, stands out, as although he struggled last season, should be in a much favorable situation, and also should bounce back given the volatility of the cornerback position.
TOP NEED(s) NOT ADDRESSED: WR and CB
The Broncos really need a vertical threat for quarterback Drew Lock to complement #1 receiver Courtland Sutton, who is more of a possession receiver. Robby Anderson seemed like such a natural fit, as did Breshad Perriman; they definitely should have Alabama speedster Henry Ruggs III at the top of their draft board now. Also, even though Bouye can be their #1 cornerback, it won’t matter if Denver’s #2 cornerback is a weak-link, which appears to be the case at the moment. A reunion between Fangio and Prince Amukamara, whom Fangio coached in Chicago, seems to natural for it not to happen.
OVERALL GRADE: B+
The Broncos have done a lot to improve their defense this offseason at a low price, and also shored up their offensive line by signing guard Graham Glasgow. Yet, coming into free agency, I really wanted them to add a field-stretching receiver and a cornerback opposite of Bouye, and they did neither. They have a well-rounded roster, but those positions stand out as critical needs; instead of the very poor decision to give Gordon $8 million per year, they should’ve upgraded their perimeter positions.
Additions: WR Randall Cobb, RB David Johnson (Trade-ARI), CB Bradley Roby (Re-Sign), Vernon Hargreaves (Re-Sign), TE Darren Fells (Re-Sign), OT Brent Qvale, S Jaylen Watkins, S Eric Murray, CB Phillip Gaines (Re-Sign), QB AJ McCarron (Re-Sign), K Ka’imi Fairbairn (Re-Sign)
Losses: WR DeAndre Hopkins (Trade-ARI), IDL DJ Reader (CIN), CB Jonathan Joseph, S Jahleel Addae, S Mike Adams (Retired), LB Barkevious Mingo (CHI), RB Carlos Hyde, RB Lamar Miller
BEST MOVE: Signing OT Brent Qvale?
To be frank, every decision the Texans made this offseason was head-scratching, as head coach Bill O’Brien is off to a disastrous start as a general manager. At the very least, he brought in some much-needed offensive line depth, as they signed Brent Qvale to a cheap one-year deal. Unfortunately, this is the best I could do in terms of finding a positive from their free agency.
WORST MOVE: Trading WR DeAndre Hopkins For a 2nd Round Pick and an Expensive, Regressing Running Back
Superstar receivers are so hard to come by, that when you have to chance to keep one long-term, you don’t think twice. Sure, DeAndre Hopkins may have wanted a raise on his contract, but he’s deserved it at this point- he may be the best receiver in the NFL. If they wanted to deepen their roster with a couple of first-round picks, I would’ve understood, but they essentially gave Hopkins away for a second-round pick and a running back that the Cardinals were actively trying to get rid of. Heck, they even gave up a 2020 fourth-round pick in exchange for a 2021 fourth-round pick; in what world can you justify this trade whatsoever?
TOP NEED(s) ADDRESSED: Hopkins’ Replacement?
At the very least, Houston moved quickly to add a veteran receiver to the roster. For three years and $27 million, Randall Cobb is at least a little overpaid, but he does complement deep threats Will Fuller and Kenny Stills as an intermediate target from the slot.
TOP NEED(s) NOT ADDRESSED: Pass Defense
The Texans had the fifth-worst coverage grade from Pro Football Focus last season, and coming into the offseason, I expected them to add multiple cornerbacks and a coverage linebacker. Instead, they simply brought back players that were part of the problem last season, and did nothing whatsoever to upgrade their pass defense. That means Deshaun Watson will be forced to engage in a lot of high-scoring affairs, yet O’Brien took away his star receiver.
OVERALL GRADE: F
The Texans’ free agency performance is the definition of what merits a failing grade. This may seem harsh, but not only did they accomplish nothing, they also hurt the team’s short-term and long-term outlook. If this is a sign of things to come with O’Brien, who already traded two-first round picks and more for tackle Laremy Tunsil, calling the shots, it’s safe to say Texans fans should be very pessimistic about him building a capable roster around Watson.
Additions: QB Phillip Rivers, IDL DeForest Buckner (Trade-SF), OT Anthony Castonzo (Re-Sign), CB Xavier Rhodes, OT La’Raven Clark (Re-Sign), CB TJ Carrie, IDL Sheldon Day
Losses: TE Eric Ebron (PIT), CB Pierre Desir (NYJ), OL Joe Haeg (TB), EDGE Jabaal Sheard, WR Devin Funchess (GB), QB Brian Hoyer (NE), IDL Margus Hunt, S Clayton Geathers, WR Dontrelle Inman, WR Chester Rodgers, K Adam Vinatieri
Remaining Cap Space: $26,863,345
BEST MOVE: Signing QB Phillip Rivers To a One-Year Contract
With just a 58 passing grade from Pro Football Focus, it’s clear that Jacoby Brissett wasn’t going to be the Colts’ franchise quarterback. Rivers regressed with the Chargers last season, but a lot of that had to do with him playing behind and not being protected by his offensive line, in my opinion. Reunited with head coach Frank Reich, who can help tone down some of Rivers’ overaggressiveness, and behind an excellent offensive line, I expect a rejuvenated Rivers for next season. If not, Indianapolis can move on after one season; there isn’t much downside with this contract for the Colts.
WORST MOVE: Trading The 13th Overall Pick For IDL DeForrest Buckner and Extending Him
It’s bad enough that in the most loaded receiving class, the Colts traded the 13th overall pick for a good-not-great interior defensive lineman. However, general manager Chris Ballard also signed him to a four-year, $84 million, which is a massive amount for a player at a non-valuable position. Ballard has made many fantastic decisions, but his fascination with finding a 3-technique for his defense may have caused him to get too desperate.
TOP NEED(s) ADDRESSED: QB, OT, IDL
As mentioned, replacing Brissett with Rivers is a major upgrade at the league’s most important position, which according to Pro Football Focus, improved their projected win total by 0.30; he essentially helps the Colts as much as DeAndre Hopkins will help the Cardinals. Plus, re-signing longtime tackle Anthony Castonzo makes certain that he’ll be protected by one of the top offensive lines in the NFL. Heck, even though the Buckner trade was a very poor decision by Ballard, they needed an interior rusher, and he’ll certainly provide that for him; they should’ve gone for a cheaper player, however, such as Shelby Harris.
TOP NEED(s) NOT ADDRESSED: WR and CB
Although Rivers will have tremendous pass protection, his supporting cast isn’t where it needs to be, as outside of TY Hilton, Indianapolis doesn’t have any other reliable targets for him. Considering that they passed at the chance to draft a receiver with the 13th overall pick, it’s surprising they didn’t make a stronger push for Emmanuel Sanders or Robby Anderson, as each would’ve logical fits. Furthermore, replacing Pierre Desir with Xavier Rhodes (and TJ Carrie) is a downgrade in my eyes, and although they’ll rely on some of their younger cornerbacks, they still need to deepen that group.
OVERALL GRADE: B-
The Colts upgrade their roster by the second-most WAR (0.35), per Pro Football Focus, so they’ve definitely made the moves necessary to be the frontrunners in the AFC South. However, the decision to invest so much draft and financial capital in a good-not-great interior defensive lineman was very confusing, as was the swap of Rhodes for Desir. Getting Rivers on a one-year deal was fantastic, as was the Castonzo re-signing, but I’m a little surprised by Ballard’s disorganized offseason approach.
Additions: LB Joe Schobert, IDL Rodney Gunter, TE Tyler Eifert, CB Rashaan Melvin, IOL Tyler Shatley (Re-Sign), IDL Al Woods, EDGE Yannik Ngakoue (Franchise Tag)
Losses: QB Nick Foles (Trade-CHI), CB AJ Bouye (Trade-DEN), EDGE Calais Campbell (Trade-BAL), LB Jake Ryan, IDL Marcell Dareus, OT Cedric Ogbuehi (SEA), TE Geoff Swain
Remaining Cap Space: $22,808,288
BEST MOVE: Cutting Ties With Their Veteran Players
It’s clear that the Jaguars are heading towards a rebuild, which made it paramount for them to part ways with some of their veteran players, such as Nick Foles, AJ Bouye, and Calais Campbell. Two fourth-round picks and a fifth-round pick may seem underwhelming for those three players, but at least they got something for them rather than having to release them. Mostly, though Jacksonville is loaded with draft picks and future salary cap space, which couldn’t be said as of this time last year.
WORST MOVE: Signing LB Joe Schobert
Although he didn’t have a very productive season last year, I’m a fan of Schobert, who is reliable in coverage and has pass-rushing ability. However, I don’t like the fit with him in Jacksonville, as he’s already 28-years-old, and the team is supposed to be rebuilding; why give over $10 million per year for a linebacker? It’s not an atrocious deal by any means, but it does symbolize them struggling to commit to a full-on rebuild.
TOP NEED(s) ADDRESSED: LB and TE
I almost put “long-term cap space” as their biggest need addressed, but I’ll stick with actual on-field positions. The addition of Schobert does create a dynamic linebacking duo with Myles Jack, even if the merits of the deal are a little strange. Offensively, the Jaguars will be sticking with Gardner Minshew under center, and assuming health, Tyler Eifert can be the weapon over the middle of the field that the former sixth-round pick didn’t have last season.
TOP NEED(s) NOT ADDRESSED: WR, OT, CB
If 2020 is about evaluating Minshew, then Jacksonville should be putting him in the best position to succeed. It’s clear that Cam Robinson is not a starting left tackle, and although their wide receiving corps is fine, they’re lacking a true #1 target for Minshew. In terms of the roster, the most glaring need is cornerback, as Tre Herndon is their best outside cornerback at the moment. However, if they are committed to punting on the 2020 season, supporting Minshew should’ve been more of a priority than improving the defense.
OVERALL GRADE: B
Jacksonville probably could’ve gotten more in their trades of Bouye and Campbell, but who knows? What’s most important is that they created more long-term financial flexibility, and put themselves in a position to get a high draft pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Yet, what’s keeping them from receiving an “A” game was them being too aggressive on defensive reinforcements, which makes me believe that even they aren’t comfortable “tanking” during the upcoming season. Sticking to a clear direction would’ve been preferable, though overall, there was more “good” with this free agency period for the Jaguars than there was “bad”.
Kansas City Chiefs
Additions: IDL Chris Jones (Franchise Tag), OT Mike Remmers, CB Antonio Hamilton, WR Demarcus Robinson (Re-Sign), QB Chad Henne (Re-Sign)
Losses: CB Kendall Fuller (WSH), IOL Stephen Wisniewski (PIT), EDGE Emmanuel Ogbah (MIA), CB Bashaud Breeland, CB Morris Claiborne, LB Reggie Ragland (DET), QB Matt Moore, RB LeSean McCoy, RB Spencer Ware, OL Cameron Erving, LB Darron Lee
Remaining Cap Space: $177
BEST MOVE: Signing OT Mike Remmers
It wasn’t a flashy move, but it’s always important to add offensive line depth, and Mike Remmers will provide that for the Chiefs. He’s graded out with a pass-blocking grade above 66 in five of the past six seasons, per Pro Football Focus, and provides Kansas City with cheap insurance in case they deal with offensive line injuries again.
WORST MOVE: Not Working Something Out With WR Sammy Watkins
Wide receivers are very valuable, but in such a deep receiver draft, one could argue the Chiefs are in a good position to cut ties with Sammy Watkins, who has a $20 million cap hit for next season. The best situation would be a contract restructuring, but either way, keeping Watkins at his current cap hit prevented them from keeping nickel corner signing a veteran cornerback such as Chris Harris Jr., which is a far greater need.
TOP NEED(s) ADDRESSED: OT Depth and IDL (For Now)
It’s unclear if Chris Jones will be a Chief next season, but for now, Kansas City still has the services of one of the elite interior defenders in the NFL Considering the state of their roster, they should shop him in case they can get a first-round pick, but the only “wrong” decision they can make is signing him to a massive extension. Also, as mentioned, signing Remmers, a pretty reliable pass protector, was a very important move to prevent what happened last year; as their tackles dealt with injuries, the offense took a slight step back.
TOP NEED(s) NOT ADDRESSED: Pass Coverage
The Chiefs’ pass coverage improved all the way to average last season, but with Fuller and others leaving, they still could use help in pass coverage at the cornerback and linebacker position. Obviously, Watkins and Jones prevented them from adding to those positions, but I’d expect them to address their coverage in the draft.
OVERALL GRADE: A-
Honestly, the winners of free agency are sometimes the ones who don’t make any moves. With Patrick Mahomes due for a $40 million per year extension, the Chiefs couldn’t afford to hand out any more lucrative contracts. Plus, tagging Jones gives them the flexibility to either trade him or keep him in the fold, while I expect them to eventually work something out with Watkins. At the moment, they still appear to be the best team in the NFL.
Las Vegas Raiders
Additions: LB Cory Littleton, LB Nick Kwiatkoski, QB Marcus Mariota, CB Eli Apple, IDL Maliek Collins, EDGE Carl Nassib, WR Nelson Agholor, S Jeff Heath, OG Eric Kush, TE Jason Witten
Losses: S Karl Joseph (CLE), LB Tahir Whitehead (CAR), CB Daryl Worley, LB Vontaze Burfict, WR Dwayne Harris, QB Mike Glennon
Remaining Cap Space: $15,285,765
BEST MOVE: Signing LB Cory Littleton
He may struggle as a run defender, but Cory Littleton’s coverage ability is off the charts, which is why he was the 9th most valuable linebacker in the NFL last season, per Pro Football Focus. He was easily the best linebacker on the open market, yet for three-years and $35.25 million, and zero guaranteed money attached to the final year, the Raiders are getting an absolute steal. For context, Schobert, Blake Martinez, and Jamie Collins all signed for around $10 million per season; Littleton is on a whole different level from those players. It’s rare for a linebacker to move the needle, but since he projects to add 0.16 WAR, according to Pro Football Focus, this may be my favorite signing for any team this offseason.
WORST MOVE: Signing EDGE Carl Nassib
Improving the pass rush was a need, but Nassib has never had a Pro Football Focus pass-rush grade over 63. He’s more of a run defender, but Las Vegas already has those types of players, and giving him a three-year contract worth $25 million is far too pricey.
TOP NEED(s) ADDRESSED: LB
Not only did the Raiders steal Littleton, but they also brought in Nick Kwiatkoski, who complements him as a more of a downhill linebacker. Both of these players are above-average coverage linebackers, and in a division with Travis Kelce, Hunter Henry, and Noah Fant, Las Vegas really needed to add some athleticism in the middle of their defense.
TOP NEED(s) NOT ADDRESSED: CB and WR
Eli Apple and Nelson Agholor are interesting reclamation projects who’ve shown flashes of excellence in the past, but neither are starting-caliber players at the moment. The Raiders definitely need a #1 receiver who can encourage Derek Carr to use his arm strength to his advantage, and who could’ve completed Tyrell Williams (deep threat) and Hunter Renfrow (slot receiver). Emmanuel Sanders was such a natural fit for them, and they could’ve easily topped the two-years, $16 million he signed for. Additionally, although they improved their pass coverage over the middle, they’re lacking in cornerback depth. They apparently made Byron Jones and Chris Harris Jr. larger offers than they signed for, so they definitely tried to improve there, but now, they’re almost forced into using one, or both of their first-round picks on cornerbacks.
OVERALL GRADE: B+
I love what the Raiders did at the linebacker position, but at the end of the day, they also needed to add an impact receiver and 1-2 starting cornerbacks, and they accomplished neither. Littleton and Kwiatkoski are sizable upgrades over what Las Vegas had, and Marcus Mariota, Maliek Collins, and Jeff Heath all were solid value signings, but I’m not sure Las Vegas improved their roster enough to compete in a very tough division.
Los Angeles Chargers
Additions: OT Bryan Bulaga, CB Chris Harris Jr., OG Trai Turner (Trade-CAR), IDL Linval Joseph, TE Hunter Henry (Franchise Tag), RB Austin Ekeler (Re-Sign), LB Nick Vigil
Losses: QB Phillip Rivers (LAC), OT Russell Okung (Trade-CAR), RB Melvin Gordon (DEN), S Adrian Phillips (NE), LB Thomas Davis (WSH), LB Jatavis Brown (PHI), WR Travis Benjamin (SF), OG Michael Schofield, S Jaylen Watkins (HOU), IDL Brandon Mebane, FB Derek Watt (PIT)
Remaining Cap Space: $37,553,266
BEST MOVE: Improving The Surrounding Cast For Their Quarterback
At the moment, it appears Tyrod Taylor will be the Chargers’ starting quarterback next season, but they still have the cap space to add another quarterback, and are in position to draft one as well. Regardless, whoever is at quarterback was going to have the same struggles that Phillip Rivers had, but Los Angeles prevented them by improving the surrounding cast. They “earned” the second-worst pass-blocking grade in the NFL last season from Pro Football Focus, but by signing tackle Bryan Bulaga (3/$30M) to an affordable deal and flipping a disgruntled Russell Okung for a solid pass protecting guard in Trai Turner, that won’t be the case next season. I’m also a major fan of them franchise tagging Hunter Henry, who is one of the best tight ends when healthy. In essence, they were able to keep their group of playmakers intact while overhauling the offensive line, which is a major win for them.
WORST MOVE: Signing IDL Linval Joseph
Interior defensive line isn’t an important position, but even I have to concede that the Chargers needed to be more resistant to inside power next season. However, two years and $17 million is a lot for Joseph, who has regressed as a run defender and pass rusher each of the past two seasons.
TOP NEED(s) ADDRESSED: OL and CB
We’ve already gone over the brilliance of the Chargers’ offensive line reinforcements, but how about signing Chris Harris Jr. to a two-year contract worth just $17 million? He’ll move back to the slot in Los Angeles, where he has established himself as one of the premier cornerbacks in the NFL, which will allow for the Chargers to have as versatile and athletic of a defense as you can have; they may run a “dime” defense all the time, which is the perfect way to try to contain explosive offenses.
TOP NEED(s) NOT ADDRESSED: LT and WR
The Chargers should have a top-five defense next season, and have one of the most well-rounded rosters in the NFL. That said, I doubt they’ll actually go into next season with Trey Pipkins as their starting left tackle, as that would almost negate all of their other offensive line upgrades. Whether it’s trading for Trent Williams, or preferably, signing Jason Peters, they definitely need a new blindside protector. Additionally, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are a great wide receiver duo, but each have the injury concerns, and either way, they could use a tertiary option. With their remaining cap space, Los Angeles has the ability to address those positions if they want to, though they also will be signing plenty of players to extensions.
OVERALL GRADE: A
Not only did the Chargers improve their offensive line significantly so far, keep Henry, and add to what should be one of the most exciting defenses in the NFL, but they did so while also maintaining $37 million in cap space. Now, they’re not only flexible if any veterans become available via trade or free agency, but also, they can start working on contract extensions- several of their top players need a new contract. Ideally, they’d go into next season with a better quarterback than Taylor, but general manager Tom Telesco has done a marvelous job putting together this roster.
Additions: CB Byron Jones, LB/EDGE Kyle Van Noy, OG Ereck Flowers, EDGE Shaq Lawson, EDGE Emmanuel Ogbah, IOL Ted Karras, S Adrian Colbert (Re-Sign), RB Jordan Howard, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, LB Elandon Roberts
Losses: S Reshad Jones, CB Aqib Talib, OG Evan Behm, OT J’Marcus Webb, TE Clive Walford
Remaining Cap Space: $22,682,552
BEST MOVE: Signing CB Byron Jones
Based on plenty of research done by Pro Football Focus, it has become evident that coverage is far more important than pass rush. Yes, the Dolphins were the worst pass-rushing team in the NFL last season, but they also were the worst in terms of coverage last season, and had two different ways to improve the defense. They chose the better approach, acquiring one of the game’s best cornerbacks in Byron Jones, who just happens to thrive in single coverage- Miami’s reliance on man coverage means that their cornerbacks must be strong in single coverage. With Jones and Xavien Howard, the Dolphins should have one of the best cornerback groups in the NFL, and thus should have one of the better pass defenses in the NFL.
WORST MOVE: Overspending On OG Ereck Flowers and EDGE Shaq Lawson
The Dolphins had by far the worst offensive line in the NFL, and figure to not be much better there next offseason. Whereas tackles Bryan Bulaga (3/$30M), Rick Wagner (2/$11M), Mike Remmers (One Year), and Dennis Kelly (3/$21M) all signed for affordable rates, they choose to give $10 million per year to Ereck Flowers, who in a career-best season was an average guard for the Redskins. Additionally, they gave the same contract to Shaq Lawson, who also hasn’t been very productive for them. Even with how weak they were at guard and edge rusher last season, these two players add just a combined 0.05 WAR, according to Pro Football Focus, which far too of an amount considering the amount they’re paying each of them.
TOP NEED(s) ADDRESSED: CB, Versatility On Defense
Miami may have the game’s two highest-paid cornerbacks, but that doesn’t bother me at all; it’s by far the most valuable defensive positions. However, that’s not all the Dolphins did. Linebacker/edge rusher hybrid Kyle Van Noy is a perfect fit in head coach Brian Flores’ scheme, while Emmanuel Ogbah can play a variety of alignments on the defensive line if used properly. I definitely expect the Dolphins to have a top-ten defense next season.
TOP NEED(s) NOT ADDRESSED: OL and WR
The Dolphins could afford to add a true #1 receiver, but undoubtedly, their offensive line is what is very alarming. They received a putrid 46.1 pass-blocking grade last season from Pro Football Focus, which was nearly 14 points lower than the second-worst team, yet they haven’t added a tackle- the duo of Julie’n Davenport and Jessie Davis definitely won’t get the job done whatsoever.
OVERALL GRADE: B-
I’m all for the Dolphins investing in their pass coverage, but their lack of additions on the offensive line is extremely concerning. If they really are going to trade up for Tua Tagovailoa, they aren’t going to be able to add a premier offensive tackle in the draft, and with their current tackle duo, the Alabama product would definitely be in a position to fail. Hopefully, they still ponder trading for Trent Williams or signing Jason Peters, as no team is in need of an offensive tackle more than them.
New England Patriots
Additions: S Devin McCourty (Re-Sign), OG Joe Thuney (Franchise Tag), S Adrian Phillips, IDL Beau Allen, QB Brian Hoyer, WR Damiere Byrd, ST Matthew Slater (Re-Sign), FB Danny Vitale, LB Brandon Copeland
Losses: QB Tom Brady (TB), LB/EDGE Kyle Van Noy (MIA), LB Jamie Collins Sr. (DET), S Duron Harmon (Trade-DET), IOL Ted Karras (MIA), WR Phillip Dorsett (SEA), IDL Danny Shelton (DET), LB Elandon Roberts (MIA), TE Ben Watson (Retirement), K Stephen Gostkowski
Remaining Cap Space: $891,775
BEST MOVE: Signing S Adrian Phillips
The Patriots made the decision to trade safety Duron Harmon, but they moved quickly to bring in safety Adrian Phillips on a two-year, $6 million contract with no guaranteed money attached the second year. The 28-year-old Phillips has dealt with injuries in the past, but he’s solid in coverage and versatile- he’s lined up at safety, slot corner, and linebacker. He’s a nice chess piece for Bill Belichick’s defense.
WORST MOVE: Franchise-Tagging OG Joe Thuney
Thuney is one of the best guards in the NFL, especially in pass protection, so it makes sense that New England wanted to keep him. However, $14.781 million is a lot for a guard, especially considering the Patriots would still have a solid offensive line if they let him leave. Yes, they could trade him, but they were going to get a compensatory pick for him anyways, and tagging him took away almost all of their remaining cap space.
TOP NEED(s) ADDRESSED: S
Coming into the offseason, I thought for sure that the Patriots would let safety Devin McCourty hit the free-agent market, but they signed him to an understandable two-year contract worth $23 million. Between him, Chung, and Phillips, New England still has a terrific group of safeties and one of the best secondaries in the NFL.
TOP NEED(s) NOT ADDRESSED: TE, WR, LB/EDGE, QB
With under $1 million in cap space, it’s more than likely that the Patriots either draft a quarterback, or roll with Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer under center. That’s definitely their major long-term need at the moment, and whoever is the quarterback needs more weapons than Brady had last season- Eric Ebron (2/$12M) would’ve been the perfect tight end. Additionally, with Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins Sr. departing in free agency, they’ll be on the lookout for the next edge rusher/linebacker hybrid, though those players are tough to find. One possible fit? Former first-round pick Haason Reddick, who doesn’t have a role with the Cardinals right now.
OVERALL GRADE: C+
It was difficult to pick a “best move” or “worst move” for the Patriots, as they weren’t super active outside of keeping McCourty and Thuney. Obviously, losing Tom Brady is a killer, especially with the dead cap hit he’ll have ($13.5 million), but they’re a smart organization, and knew it was time to look towards the future. I wouldn’t be shocked if they shop veterans such as cornerback Stephon Gilmore and slot receiver Julian Edelman, as I definitely believe they’re putting themselves in positions to land a premier quarterback in the 2021 draft.
New York Jets
Additions: CB Pierre Desir, WR Breshad Perriman, OT George Fant, OG Alex Lewis, OG Greg Van Roten, CB Brian Poole (Re-Sign), EDGE Jordan Jenkins (Re-Sign), OC Connor McGovern, IOL Josh Andrews, LB Patrick Onwuasor, LB Neville Hewitt (Re-Sign)
Losses: WR Robby Anderson (CAR), OT Kelvin Beachum, CB Maurice Canady (DAL), LB Brandon Copeland (NE), CB Darryl Roberts, OC Ryan Kalil, WR Demaryius Thomas, QB Trevor Siemian
Remaining Cap Space: $45,016,813
BEST MOVE: Their Cornerback Signings
The Jets, unfortunately, came into an offseason with needs at practically every important position, and on defense, none stood out more than their cornerbacks. However, for just a combined $10.5 million, they were able to re-sign one of the better nickel corners in the NFL (Brian Poole), as well as an excellent press-man bounce-back candidate (Pierre Desir). It’s been a shaky offseason for New York, but they’ve at least patched together their secondary, and have done so at a cheap price.
WORST MOVE: Signing OT George Fant
The Jets haven’t made any splash offensive line signings, but I do commend them from adding plenty of depth. However, they took a massive misstep in signing George Fant to a three-year, $30 million deal, even though there isn’t any guaranteed money after the first season. The 27-year-old has spent nearly as much time as an eligible tight end than as a starting tackle, and if New York starts him at left tackle, the results could be disastrous. Sure, he’s a decent swing tackle, but not for a cap hit of $7.25 million, especially when far superior tackles signed for a similar price.
TOP NEED(s) ADDRESSED: CB and IOL
The Jets still need another cornerback, but they have the resources to do so, and it’s unbelievable that they added two productive players at such an important position at such a small cost. Plus, between Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, and Alex Lewis, they’ve acquired three solid pass protectors on the offensive line; I’m happy they chose to add depth rather than one high-end player.
TOP NEED(s) NOT ADDRESSED: WR, OT, More Pass Defense
Going into his third season, Sam Darnold needs more help if he is going to show that he can be the team’s franchise quarterback. Breshad Perriman is a nice addition, but he’s a downgrade over Robby Anderson, and regardless, Darnold still needs more weapons in order to succeed. He’ll also require better pass protection from his tackles, but at the moment, Fant and Chuma Edoga would be the team’s starters there; they’re yet another team that will probably try to sign Jason Peters. Finally, I’ve applauded their cornerback signings, but they still are thin in the secondary, and also have zero pass rush whatsoever. Honestly, the Jets could use an upgrade at every position besides safety, which speaks to the poor state this roster is in.
OVERALL GRADE: C+
The Jets are probably getting criticized more than they should be, as Fant was their only poor signing, and they’ve added a lot of depth. Considering that they have a very top-heavy roster, I like the approach taken by general manager Joe Douglas, who inherited a terribly constructed group of players by previous general manager Mike Maccagnan. Still, Darnold didn’t receive enough help during this free agency period, which places too much pressure on them in the draft. It looks like Douglas is aiming towards being aggressive during the 2021 free agency period, but Darnold needs help now, and he won’t be getting it.
Additions: TE Eric Ebron, IOL Stefen Wisniewski, EDGE Bud Dupree (Franchise Tag), IDL Chris Wormley (Trade-BAL), FB Derek Watt
Losses: IDL Javon Hargrave (PHI), CB Artie Burns (CHI), IOL BJ Finney (SEA), TE Nick Vannett (PIT), EDGE Anthony Chickillo, S Mark Barron, OG Ramon Foster (Retirement)
Remaining Cap Space: $8,667,814
BEST MOVE: Signing IOL Stefen Wisniewski
For whatever reason, Wisniewski has consistently been disregarded every offseason. However, he consistently produces on the interior offensive line, has been a part of two Super Bowl-winning offensive lines, and has guard/center flexibility. For just over $1 million per year over the next two seasons, this is one of the best “small signings” of the offseason.
WORST MOVE: Franchise-Tagging EDGE Bud Dupree
2019 was the first season in which Dupree had over 50 pressures or a pass-rushing grade from Pro Football Focus above 61, which makes me believe that it was an outlier. He benefits from a great situation playing alongside TJ Watt and a great interior defensive line, and rather than paying him $15.828 million on the franchise tag, they should not have placed a priority at edge rusher, based on their current cap situation.
TOP NEED(s) ADDRESSED: TE and IOL
The Steelers definitely regressed on the interior offensive line last season, and needed an upgrade there even more after Ramon Foster retired and BJ Finney departed in free agency- Wisniewski was a fantastic signing. Meanwhile, tight end Vance McDonald has mostly disappointed during his time in Pittsburgh, but now, Ben Roethlisberger has a true vertical threat up the seams in Eric Ebron, who signed a very reasonable two-year, $12 million contract.
TOP NEED(s) NOT ADDRESSED: QB, S, LB, WR
The Steelers have a very well-rounded roster, and although they could use an upgrade at safety, #2 linebacker, and a true #1 receiver, they’d be fine rolling into next season with what they currently have. What they can’t do, however, is go into next season with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges as their backup quarterbacks, especially after both essentially prevented them from making the playoffs last season. Given Roethlisberger’s injury concerns, Jameis Winston is such a perfect fit in that vertical offense, and Georgia’s Jake Fromm in the middle rounds of the draft could be a steal for them as well.
OVERALL GRADE: B-
The Steelers didn’t have much to work with this offseason, so it can be seen as a success that they were able to sign Ebron and Wisniewski. However, they could’ve avoided putting themselves into a hole by tagging Dupree, and have yet to add a veteran quarterback. I really hope they find a way to sign Winston, but regardless, the problem with this team is more about their long-term outlook, not their current talent.
Additions: QB Ryan Tannehill (Re-Sign), OT Dennis Kelly (Re-Sign), RB Derrick Henry (Franchise Tag), EDGE Vic Beasley, OT Ty Sambrailo
Losses: QB Marcus Mariota (OAK), IDL Jurrell Casey (Trade-DEN), OT Jack Conklin (CLE), CB Logan Ryan, EDGE Cameron Wake, EDGE Kamalei Correa, TE Delanie Walker, WR Tajae Sharpe (MIN), RB Dion Lewis (NYG), LB Wesley Woodward
Remaining Cap Space: $32,509,301
BEST MOVE: Re-Signing OT Dennis Kelly
With Jack Conklin signing with the Browns in free agency, the Titans needed to find a replacement in free agency to keep their offensive line intact. Kelly performed very well in place of Taylor Lewan at left tackle for the first four games last season, and has established himself as a productive pass protector. It’s hard to get a starting-caliber tackle at a reasonable price, but Tennessee got one for just $7 million per year (3/$21M).
WORST MOVE: Everything Else
The Titans’ process this offseason has been very puzzling. Yes, Ryan Tannehill was fantastic last season, but considering what his previous baseline was, the franchise tag seemed necessary in order to make certain it wasn’t an outlier performance. Yet, he’ll now be tied to Tennessee for at least three more seasons, and with the franchise tag, they compounded their mistake by giving it to running back Derrick Henry, who plays a non-valuable position and benefited greatly from one of the top run-blocking offensive lines in the NFL. Heck, giving Vic Beasley over $9 million, considering he’s been a below-average pass rusher, only to trade Jurrell Casey for a seventh-round pick to shed salary, was also pretty baffling; bringing back Kelly has been their only logical move so far.
TOP NEED(s) ADDRESSED: OT
As mentioned, the Titans couldn’t afford to look to the draft to find their new starting right tackle, and Kelly is a veteran who has proven himself enough. Tennessee did a nice job moving quickly to bring him back before his market got too competitive.
TOP NEED(s) NOT ADDRESSED: Pass Defense
The Titans were fine in pass coverage last season, but interestingly, they struggled against nearly every above-average passing offense, as they need more help in the secondary and at edge rusher. They may believe Beasley helps, but it doesn’t really, and with slot corner Logan Ryan likely leaving, they need 1-2 corners at least.
OVERALL GRADE: D-
As mentioned, the Titans’ approach to this free agency period has been pretty bizarre, as if Tannehill turns out to not be the player he was last season, his contract could be an absolute burden. They were too loyal to keeping Henry, and thus made compounded their mistakes, and they didn’t do anything to help their pass defense. Had it not been for retaining Kelly, they would’ve gotten a failing grade; the right approach seemed so obvious, what they deviated so much from it.