Just like Christmas morning for kids, the formal opening of the free agent market in the National Football League is always accompanied with excitement, anxiousness, and nervousness. With many teams making crucial moves while others remained at a standstill, several organization were able to make vast improvements. However, many franchises were left in the dust in that department, failing to make the most out of their opportunity to set themselves up for success in the 2015 campaign.
After just one day of formal NFL free agency action, the critics, fans, and analysts have already decided how each team has fared thus far. Here are the grades for some of the biggest moves made around the NFL.
Miami Dolphins and Ndamukong Suh Agree to 6-Year/$114 Million Deal
When most NFL fans hear of Ndamukong Suh, they see a stud defensive tackle who dominates the line with gusto. While I see the same things, I also see a player who dominates in categories of the game that are not statistically calculated regularly.
Although Suh will never lead the league in sacks, interceptions, or forced fumbles, he holds a near-monopoly in the disruption department, proving to be one of the scariest defenders in the NFL day in and day out. The only thing I question here is the amount. Suh is much more of a winner here than the Dolphins. Miami was already crippled for funds to restructure the lackluster offense and Suh’s hefty new contract certainly will not aid the offense’s ability to reload. Nevertheless, the acquisition of one of the NFL’s best defenders earns an easily passable grade. Assuming Suh can avoid any consequential incidences that keep him off the field, he could easily earn his full value with the Dolphins.
Green Bay Packers and Randall Cobb Agree to 4-Year/$40 Million Deal
If there is one thing that this signing screamed in Green Bay, it was “normalcy.”
Despite a number of suitors around the NFL desiring his talents, Randall Cobb knew that his best chance at winning a Super Bowl ring was to remain in Packer-land with his “normalized” situation. Cobb is an exceptionally gifted receiver who could have earned a more expensive contract elsewhere. But he understood the importance of keeping an already tight-knit core together, all while earning a nice chunk of change in the process. Although the Packers seem to be grooming Davante Adams as a potential successor once either Jordy Nelson or Cobb take on some more tire tread, Green Bay knew that in order to give Aaron Rodgers and the team the best chance to win, Randall Cobb was a cornerstone element that needed to be secured (at the right price).
New England Patriots and Devin McCourty Agree to 5-Year/$47.5 Million Deal
The New England Patriots no longer have Darelle Revis or Brandon Browner, making the Devin McCourty signing all the more important moving forward into the 2015 season.
Now placed as the second-highest paid safety in the National Football League, D-Mac was the most crucial part of Bill Belichick’s All-Pro secondary last year. Say what you want about the intelligence of Revis and the physicality of Browner. But let us not forget that by the team the season starts, both ex-Patriot corners will have eclipsed the 30-year-old mark at a position that does not warrant a significant life expectancy beyond that point. In short, the Patriots will have to revamp their defensive style, a task that is not new to them. But they resigned the right guy out of the of the 2014 “Big Three” that anchored the secondary toward their fourth Super Bowl title.
Best Move: Seattle Seahawks Acquire Jimmy Graham From the New Orleans Saints
As if they could not get any better….
The Seattle Seahawks completely dismissed their defense-first model by acquiring tight end Jimmy Graham from the Saints in exchange for center Max Unger and draft-pick compensation, including the thirty-first overall pick this coming May. Clearly an impetuous move by New Orleans to remove salary from the books, the Saints added some draft choices that provide them with flexibility to add some interesting pieces for the future while giving the offensive line some much needed depth. Nevertheless, Seattle is the clear winner, equipping Russell Wilson with the ultimate offensive weapon in the passing game. It would be fitting that the best move of day one in free agency would not even be an actual free-agent signing. Then again, football has never been a romantically-driven sport, avoiding predictable outcomes at a variety of of crossroads.
Worst Move: New York Giants and Shane Vereen Agree to 4-Year/$16 Million Deal
A lot of teams did not do themselves any favors on opening day of free agency. And let us all be honest, you thought I was going to say that the Eagles-Rams swap of Nick Foles, Sam Bradford, and a medley of draft choices would have taken the cake on this one. But I can read into that trade more than I can deduce what the Giants were thinking with this signing. If the Eagles are able to move up and draft quarterback Marcus Mariota, then the trade will have made sense. If the Eagles are intent on rolling with Bradford, I could see myself recanting my current choice for this title.
Make no mistake, Shane Vereen is one of the hardest working halfbacks in the league, becoming one of the most effective receiving backs in the NFL. Nevertheless, the New York Giants already have a player who does the exact same thing as Shane Vereen – Rashad Jennings. Although Jennings was plagued with injuries last season, there has been no indication that New York is planning on usurping his role as the starter, making the acquisition of Vereen even more of a head-scratcher. The Giants have plenty of needs that must be addressed prior to the season, and the running back position just did not seem to be one of them.
Most Neutral Team: Carolina Panthers
The title of the “Most Neutral Team” is not an award nor a demerit. Simply put, the title is for the team that quietly got its business done without the need to make a big splash.
Of course there were teams that did next to nothing in free agency. But the Panthers signed an offensive tackle, resigned some pieces for the future, extended their best receiving option, and restructured deals with defensive anchors. None of these moves were big headliners and nor did the moves break the bank. Assuming they sever all potential courtships of Greg Hardy, the Carolina Panthers could wind up having one of the quietest off-seasons in the league, excluding the release of the team’s all-time leading rusher DeAngelo Williams.
Biggest Winner: New York Jets
The New York Jets are now a quarterback away from being a scary team to play against. This does not make them an immediate contender.
Darrelle Revis clearly favored the green in deciding to return to the Meadowlands, and I am not talking about the color of the Jets’ jerseys. A career decorated by financially-secured moves, Darrelle Revis chose the big bucks on a 5-Year/$70 Million contract to return to where he started his career. Did the nostalgia of playing where he started influence his choice? Yes. Does Darrelle Revis think that he has a better chance to win with the Jets than he does with the New England Patriots? Hopefully not (he is a smarter players than that). The price tag that the Jets paid for a corner who will be on the wrong side of thirty by the season’s start was not something that they should be proud of. Nevertheless, they got “their guy,” and paired him with an up-and-coming corner in Buster Skrine who can hopefully take over number one duties as Revis ages in time as well as an old friend in Antonio Cromartie, who came aboard on a 4 year deal. It will also be interesting to see how first-year head coach Todd Bowles structures his secondary, as his unit headed by Patrick Peterson in Arizona last year seemed to be a weak point in the defensive scheme. It is hard to give a team who recently revamped their secondary immensely, retained their best defensive lineman, and acquired a veteran receiver for some late draft picks a poor grade. All the Jets need is a quarterback. The only question is, will they finally get the right guy under center? Only time will tell if recently acquired Ryan Fitzpatrick is the answer.
Biggest Loser: San Francisco 49ers
The only thing keeping the San Francisco 49ers hopes afloat are the acquisitions of wide receiver Torrey Smith, running back Reggie Bush, and defensive end Darnell Dockett. Otherwise, the Niners seem poised for the cellar in the NFC West.
What a sad story too. Their title as “Biggest Loser” is not a reflection of the moves that they did or did not make, but simply because of what they lost out of natural occurrences. They lost an aging running back in Frank Gore who seems to defy father time every year, they lost Patrick Willis to an unfortunately premature retirement, and they failed to keep offensive lineman Mike Iupati in the bay area. If defensive end Justin Smith decides to hang it up as well, the 49ers will only continue to find it harder to get back to their winning ways from just a few years ago. Hopefully the departure of offensive coordinator Greg Roman can take off the training wheels from Colin Kaepernick that were unnecessarily installed last year. But unless rookie head coach Jim Tomsula has any actual tricks up his sleeve, 49er fans should not be expecting much from the squad in 2015.
Best Available and Predictions
Brandon Browner: Philadelphia Eagles
This is purely contingent on the Eagles trading up in the draft for Mariota. Otherwise, if the Eagles remain pat and plan to draft a cornerback at twentieth overall, Browner will not be playing in Philly next season, and would likely end up in a place like New Orleans who had desired his services last offseason. But the pairing works, right? Chip Kelly loves his big corners, and Browner certainly fits the profile. Although the team’s system might not be a direct match with the player, a tandem of Brandon Browner and Byron Maxwell would certainly rekindle some old “Legion of Boom” relations, giving the passing games of the NFC East some problems for certain.
Andre Johnson: Indianapolis Colts
Out with the old, in with the… old… or however the saying goes. Replacing Reggie Wayne with Andre Johnson was not perhaps what the Colts had in mind going into the offseason, but Andrew Luck certainly will not argue with the productivity that he will receive from Johnson if he winds up in Indy. Johnson has a number of suitors, namely the Patriots, possibly the Panthers, and some others, but the Colts seem like the ideal fit. Pairing Johnson up with T.Y. Hilton and a healthy portion of capable tight ends along with a refurbished running game is a recipe for immediate success. The Colts knew their future would be bright after they replaced Manning with Luck, but I do not even think they could have predicted contention this early in the process.
Written by Alex Floch, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Featured image via www.celticslife.com.
I am currently a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Growing up in a sports family, I have formed a distinct love for the industry. I enjoy writing about sports in my free time and hope to one day be able to pursue it as a career.