The league year officially starts March 14, but that hasn’t kept teams from making a list of trades and signings ahead of time. Let’s pass out some grades.
The NFL offseason didn’t even wait for the season to finish before getting underway. Kansas City and Washington made a blockbuster deal to send quarterback Alex Smith to the nation’s capitol before the Super Bowl. And that was just the beginning.
The league year doesn’t even open until March 14, and already we’ve got a long list of major moves to assess.
Welcome to the new NFL.
Grading offseason moves is a tricky thing because there’s so much more at play than just the numbers a player brings to his new team. It’s still probably easier than grading draft picks who haven’t even played a snap at the pro level, but it’s worth remembering not everyone’s offseason champs see that magic translated on the field.
We’ll have to revisit these grades after the season ends. But for now, let’s assess!
(Signings and trades presented with the newest ones first and updated as they happen).
Dolphins to bring in former Chiefs WR Albert Wilson
It’s a three-year, $24 million deal for Wilson. He’s no Jarvis Landry, but he’s cost-effective and he should be a useful and productive piece in Miami’s receiving corps.
Saints sign Drew Brees to a two-year, $50 million deal
Sure, it was fun to watch Saints fans freaking out about the Saints taking their sweet time to do anything about Brees. And yes, other teams with cash to spend and a need at quarterback did their due diligence by reaching out to Brees’ agent. But the Saints were always going to re-sign him, and they did so on a team-friendly deal that they can get out of after one year if Brees’ age catches up with him this year.
Bills will add DT Star Lotulelei
We had Lotulelei rated as the best interior defensive lineman available in free agency. The Bills are in a position to build on last season’s success and they’re making the moves to make it happen.
Chiefs will reportedly sign WR Sammy Watkins
It’s not like the Chiefs were hurting for offensive weapons with RB Kareem Hunt, TE Travis Kelce and WR Tyreek Hill. But with second-year QB Patrick Mahomes set to take over the offense, adding a prototypical No. 1 receiver only helps. And with Mahomes’ arm, the Chiefs are expected to have more robust downfield attack, which happens to be an area where Watkins has excelled in the past … when he’s healthy.
Three years, $30 million guaranteed for Watkins, but that’s the kind of move you can afford to make when you’re quarterback has three years left (possibly four with the fifth-year option on the table) on his rookie deal.
Jaguars will reportedly sign OG Andrew Norwell
Interior line didn’t seem like a massive need for the Jags. They already had a pretty effective run game last year and the fifth-best sack rate, but this makes both of those areas even better. Norwell, according to PFF, was the best pass blocking guard in the league last year. One less excuse for Blake Bortles to stink.
Still, five years at $66.5 million and $30 million fully guaranteed feels like a luxury move.
Bears will reportedly sign WR Allen Robinson
Three years, $42 million with $25 million guaranteed feels like a bargain. Whatever the cost, the Bears couldn’t afford not to bring in an established No. 1 receiver for second-year starting QB Mitchell Trubisky.
Broncos will reportedly sign QB Case Keenum
It’s a massive upgrade for the Broncos quarterback situation, and it still gives them the flexibility to try again with drafting and developing one this year. Keenum thrived in Minnesota with a solid offensive cast around him and a stout defense to make things that much easier. It’s a similar script in Denver. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders should be thrilled about the move.
It’s a good start to challenging what the Chiefs are doing this offseason with the Watkins signing.
Bills trade OT Cordy Glenn to the Bengals and shuffle draft picks.
Grade: A … the Bengals did something!
The deal includes a swap of first-round picks, with the Bills getting Cincy’s 12th pick and the Bengals walking away with the 21st pick. The Bengals gave the Bills a sixth-rounder and got a fifth-rounder in the deal too.
Glenn fills a huge need for the Bengals who struggled to protect Andy Dalton, who was sacked 39 times last season. They lost Andrew Whitworth to the Rams in free agency in 2017. But now they have a left tackle again, a good one.
The Bills now have the 12th and 22nd picks in the first round. They could probably find a QB with that first one; Dan Kadar’s latest mock draft had Louisville’s Lamar Jackson still on the board through the 15th pick.
49ers sign CB Richard Sherman.
It’s a three-year deal worth as much as $39 million, which is reasonable for a top-of-the-line starting corner who doesn’t turn 30 until the end of the month. He is coming off a torn Achilles, but expects to ready for camp.
Cornerback was probably the 49ers’ biggest offseason need. Sherman will pair with and mentor Ahkello Witherspoon as the starting corners, and now they can look for depth at the position.
But this move gets an A for the sheer hate, signing the player behind the rivalry between these two teams that will still face each other twice a year.
BROWNS’ BIG TRADIN’ BONANZA!
Browns trade DT Danny Shelton and a fifth-round pick to the Patriots for a 2019 third-round pick.
Grade: B for the Browns; A for the Patriots.
Shelton was a big part of the Browns’ actually good run defense last season. He’s on the last year of his rookie deal too — with the potential for a fifth-year option in 2019 — and carries a meager $2 million cap hit. However, they do have second-year DT Larry Ogunjobi to replace him.
The Patriots get a nice replacement for Alan Branch, who’ll probably be a critical part of another double-digit win campaign this year.
The Taylor and Landy deals generated the most excitement, but this was the shrewedest move of the bunch. Hue Jackson ruined Kizer’s tenure with the Browns last season … a remarkable feat because it usually takes a couple years to get burned out by the Browns. He was destined to get cut. Instead, the Browns got a starting-caliber cornerback out of the deal, and Kizer gets a fresh start.
They also swapped picks in the fourth and fifth rounds of this year’s draft.
Bills trade QB Tyrod Taylor to the Browns for a third-round pick.
Grade: A for both teams.
I don’t know why the Bills have been so anxious to move on from Taylor, but doing it this way is a win for everyone involved. Taylor gets to continue his career as a starter in the NFL. The Browns have a bridge quarterback while they groom a rookie, and the Bills get the 65th pick in the draft to give them two picks in each of the draft’s first three rounds and all the flexibility that comes with it.
The question here is whether Taylor suffers the fate that befalls most Browns quarterbacks. Maybe Todd Haley can drum up some version of the offense he ran in Pittsburgh, a working man’s version of the Steelers’ Three Bs (along with all the three or four head scratching WTF decisions Haley’s good for every week). Taylor’s threat as a runner is something the Browns will have to build into the offense too, which would be especially effective if they do draft Saquon Barkley.
Dolphins trade WR Jarvis Landry to the Browns for a fourth-round pick and a 2019 seventh-round pick.
A reliable, chain-moving slot receiver. His 74.5 career catch rate is nothing to overlook given the quarterbacks he’s had to work with in Miami. According to Pro Football Focus, he generated the sixth most yards from the slot last year and the most in 2016. Cleveland’s going to overpay him if they sign him to a contract extension, but that’s a luxury they can afford.
The Dolphins were pretty clear Landry wasn’t in their plans, so getting a pair of picks for a guy they could’ve just let walk is a plus.
Eagles trade WR Torrey Smith to the Panthers for CB Daryl Worley
Grade: A for the Eagles. C for the Panthers.
Philadelphia has the smartest front office in the NFL. They don’t get enough credit for it either. Smith was the odd man out in the receiver rotation this year. Instead of just cutting him, the Eagles managed to get a depth corner with two years left on his rookie deal.
Carolina might have signed him for less than the $10 million left on the last two years of his deal. Smith does give the Panthers another speedy downfield threat, a position that thrives with Cam Newton running the offense.
Broncos trade CB Aqib Talib to the Rams for a fifth-round pick.
At 32, it’s hard to say just how much Talib has left, but he was still one of the league’s better corners last year. And at $11 million this year ($8 million next year), it’s not a bad deal for the Rams.
The Broncos had the depth at the position, inserting Bradley Roby into the starting job, and needed the cap space.
Rams trade LB Alec Ogletree and a 2019 seventh-round pick to the Giants for a fourth- and sixth-round pick.
Grade: B for the Giants just because his contract is a little pricey for the position. A for the Rams.
Ogletree never found his place in Wade Phillips’ defense. Cutting him wasn’t an option thanks to an extension that made him one of the highest paid linebackers in the league and would have left the Rams with $10 million in dead cap space. Fortunately for them, the Giants needed a coverage linebacker.
Seahawks trade DE Michael Bennett and a seventh-round pick to the Eagles for WR Marcus Johnson and a fifth-round pick.
The Seahawks settled for a little less than other teams were offering (the Patriots had a third-round pick on the table). But good on them for sending Bennett to a team where he’ll be more at home as part of an outstanding defensive line rotation.
Bills sign RB Chris Ivory.
Whyyyyyyyy? The Bills gave Ivory a two-year, $5.5 million contract, which isn’t going to break the bank or anything, but it just doesn’t make much sense as far as assembling a team. They already have a massive amount of money tied up in the position thanks to LeSean McCoy’s $40 million contract. Now, they’re bringing in a backup who hasn’t averaged more than 3.8 yards per carry in his last two seasons and fumbled seven times in that span.
Rams trade DE Robert Quinn and a sixth-round pick to the Dolphins for a fourth- and sixth-round pick.
Quinn’s never been the same player since injuries put him on the shelf for most of 2015 and 2016. Even without his All-Pro form, the Rams will miss the 8.5 sacks he had last season. It’s a big upgrade opposite Cam Wake in Miami’s four-man front, but one that gives the Dolphins more cap work to do, as usual.
Bills sign CB Vontae Davis.
Two years ago, Davis was one of the NFL’s handful of shutdown corners. Injuries have taken a toll since then, but a one-year deal worth $5 million means the Colts don’t necessarily need him to play at that level again. And if he does get back to that level, or close to it, so much the better for Buffalo and Davis.
We’re not going to grade off every little free move that happens this month, but these are the kind of deals that have a way of becoming the best kind of offseason pickups.
Chiefs trade CB Marcus Peters and a sixth-round pick to the Rams for a fourth-round pick and a 2019 second-round pick.
Grade: A for the Rams; C for the Chiefs.
Like I mentioned the other day, the Rams have the most dangerous secondary in the NFL now, thanks to a trio of smart offseason moves. It’s hard to believe the Chiefs couldn’t have gotten more for Peters, or just kept him because he’s a good player with one year left on his rookie deal (and the potential for a fifth-year option).
Chiefs trade QB Alex Smith to Washington for CB Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick.
Grade: A for the Chiefs. B for Washington.
Kansas City had no place for Smith this season and no room to carry that kind of cap hit for Pat Mahomes’ backup. Getting a third-round pick and a starting slot corner with two years left on his rookie deal is a big win.
Washington is a good landing spot for Smith. He slides into a competitive team with a talented cast around him. Still, it’s hard not to think that maybe Washington could’ve handled things better with Kirk Cousins.
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