NFL Free Agency Reactions
This page will be updated with expanded thoughts as free agents sign with new teams over the coming days.
New York Giants sign Olivier Vernon
This Vernon deal is the biggest for a DE in all categories: most overall gtd, most full gtd, highest average, payouts in years 1-3.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 9, 2016
To the surprise of nobody, Jerry Reese is now the clubhouse leader for worst contract.
Reese loves a good defensive lineman. He’s always going to be willing to overpay for one, but this is excessive. He’s obviously hoping that Vernon is going to follow in Everson Griffen’s path as an edge rusher who continues to develop after signing his huge deal.
Griffen is a decent pass rusher, not a great one at this point. He was inconsistent for the Dolphins, not finishing plays often enough. What’s concerning about Vernon is that he’s not hugely versatile. His run defense lacks intensity and control, while he has a tendency to get frustrated in his assignments.
That frustration creates other problems too. Vernon had a few roughing the passer penalties in 2015, most notably an extremely late hit that sidelined Marcus Mariota with a torn MCL.
Because they won two Super Bowls when Eli Manning was red hot, Reese has a blueprint that he sticks to rigidly. Investing so much money on the defensive line can be a smart move, the Seahawks did to win a Super Bowl a few years ago, but it feels misguided with so many other issues on the roster. It would make a lot more sense for Reese to spread that money around instead of tying it all up in a player who is talented but not yet great.
Atlanta Falcons sign Alex Mack
Protecting Matt Ryan was a problem for the Falcons last year. Too often the Falcons asked their quarterback to function from condensed pockets, releasing the ball with defenders in his face or tightening behind him to impact his release. They need better play across the board, especially at the guard positions, but adding Mack is a good start.
Mack has established himself as one of the better starting centers in the NFL over the course of his career. He may not be the very best in the league right now, but he’s only 30 and doesn’t appear to be significantly slowing down. Mack can execute tough blocks in the running game while being trusted in one-on-one situations as a pass protector.
When Shanahan worked with Mack in 2014, the center’s season was cut short by injury. Before leaving the field, Mack had played a key role in making the Browns an effective running team. The drop-off without him was huge.
Alex Mack will leave Cleveland having snapped the ball to 13 different starters in seven seasons https://t.co/Jy8K1mxhcM
— Scott @ WFNY (@WFNYScott) March 9, 2016
New York Jets sign Matt Forte
Although he has a long career behind him, Matt Forte should still be a quality back in 2016. He isn’t as abrasive a runner as the departed Chris Ivory, but does offer greater versatility.
Versatility is important in Chan Gailey’s offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick relied heavily on screens and simple, short throws that put pressure on his pass catchers to create with the ball in their hands. Forte has been one of the best receiving backs in the league for a long time. He is technically sound and consistent catching the ball, even if his explosiveness isn’t where it once was.
Houston Texans sign Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller, Jeff Allen
What are you doing, Bill O’Brien? Lamar Miller is great, read about him here, Allen is a solid lineman too, but Osweiler is a crazy move. O’Brien likes players who look like quarterbacks, tall guys with big arms and a strong upper chin. He doesn’t appear to care too much about if they can play the position at all.
Osweiler came out very poorly in the Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue. He doesn’t have a standout trait that you can build around. It’s a move that reeks of desperation from a coaching staff that has consistently made poor decisions with the position.
Philiadelphia Eagles sign Brandon Brooks
From a pure personnel point of view, the biggest problem on the Eagles’ offense last year was on the interior of their offensive line. They didn’t have functional guards, never mind quality starters.
Signing Brandon Brooks will give the Eagles at least one quality starter in 2016. Brooks is one of the best guards in the league, someone who legitimizes the Dancing Bear tag that gets given to so many offensive linemen during the draft process. He fits in any type of scheme because he plays with balance, has precise and strong hands with quick feet.
If Doug Pederson is running a similar offense to the one that he watched over in Kansas City, Brooks will be a perfect fit.
Minnesota Vikings sign Alex Boone
It would have been hard for the Vikings to sign an offensive linemen and get worse this offseason. Boone is a good guard, numbers on his contract aren’t out yet, but he shouldn’t be making a huge amount like Kelechi Osemele.
He fits the kind of offense that the Vikings ran last year and early word suggests he is going to play left guard rather than right guard. This will put him in a position to protect Bridgewater’s blindside more often than not, something he should be capable of doing effectively. Boone is a huge body with relatively nimble feet, he is a former offensive tackle who could still be moved outside if needed.
In re-sigining Phil Loadholt to a new deal and adding Boone, the Vikings have already taken a leap with their offensive line for 2016. Both are better run blockers than pass blockers though, which is key for an offense that is probably going to be built around Adrian Peterson again next season.
New York Giants sign Janoris Jenkins
There are two kinds of people who have opinions on Janoris Jenkins. Those who’ve paid close attention and those who are good at counting interceptions.
Jenkins is the front-runner for being the most overpaid free agent so far. Yes, even considering how much money Kelechi Osemele and Malik Jackson are set to make. He is a defensive back who wants to get an interception on every snap, a good idea in theory but an inclination that leads to more big plays for the offense than the defense.
There are many, many examples of plays where Jenkins unnecessarily jumps underneath routes to allow his receiver to run free down the sideline. There are more examples of him completely abandoning his assignment to try and read the quarterback’s eyes. Interceptions are nice, everyone wants them, but interceptions outside the structure of the defense aren’t valuable because the offense is going to take advantage of your lack of discipline more often than you will theirs.
In Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins, the Giants have two very talented players but two unreliable cornerbacks. Rodgers-Cromartie is a liability as a tackler while Jenkins is a liability in coverage. That’s not ideal in any situation, but especially so when you still have major questions at both safety spots.
Paying Jenkins so much suggests that the Giants either bought into his receptions and physical talent too much, or they believe the Rams didn’t coach him properly. For the Giants sake, they better hope that the Rams weren’t trying to coach Jenkins into being a disciplined cornerback because now that he’s paid, there’s no reason to think he’ll take to coaching that he was ignoring before.
San Diego Chargers sign Travis Benjamin
This was an odd one. The Chargers weren’t discussed much as a potential candidate for Benjamin even though everyone knew they needed a receiver and more specifically a deep threat.
Benjamin is a good receiver, a well-rounded one, but his main value comes in creating big plays downfield. He will be tasked with filling the Malcolm Floyd role in the Chargers offense. Floyd and Philip Rivers had a mutually beneficial partnership because Rivers could throw him open and Floyd could adjust to his fluttering passes at the catch point. Benjamin has good ball skills and is a better overall receiver than Floyd, but the fit doesn’t appear to be perfect.
The Chargers receiving corps is suddenly very small. It puts more pressure on Rivers to be precise, something that gets tougher as you get older. In 2015, Rivers’ arm strength deteriorated as the season went on as he tried to compensate behind a bad offensive line.
If the Chargers can get better play from their offensive line and establish a legitimate running threat to rely on, then Benjamin should have plenty of opportunities to run free downfield into space. If not, teams are going to continue to sit back in coverage and force Rivers to pick them apart.
Benjamin is a good receiver regardless. Even if the Chargers find themselves in a similar situation to last season, his route running and threat with the ball in his hands should make him an improvement over the departed Floyd.
Philadelphia Eagles sign Rodney McLeod
It’s shocking that Rodney McLeod has signed for more money than George Iloka, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that McLeod is overpaid. More so that Iloka is severely underpaid.
McLeod is a much better signing than his former Rams teammate, Janoris Jenkins. He is a deep-lying safety who will allow Malcolm Jenkins to spend more of his time over the slot or milling around the line of scrimmage. McLeod has good range and generally makes good decisions in coverage. His ball skills aren’t too shabby either.
The main concern with McLeod is his tackling. It was an issue with all Rams defensive backs in St. Louis so maybe it was a coaching emphasis, but they regularly chose to try and obliterate receivers rather than wrap them up to take them down. Landing a big hit is obviously an ideal outcome of any tackle attempt but it can’t always be your goal. Too often McLeod slid off or missed ball carriers in space because of his tackling technique.
You can’t afford to miss too many tackles when you are the last line of defense.
Pittsburgh Steelers sign Lardarius Green
You know what the Pittsburgh Steelers need? Another matchup receiver.
For as valuable as Heath Miller was over the course of his career, he has been a limited receiver over recent years. After tearing his ACL late in his career his athleticism was sapped to the point that he was mostly a redzone option or just someone to target on short routes when nobody could get open downfield. Laradarius Green couldn’t be further from Miller as a player.
Green is essentially an over-sized receiver. He is long and athletic with really impressive ball skills. It was always a bit of a mystery as to why he didn’t produce in San Diego. The most obvious assumption was that he simply got lost in the array of weapons that Philip Rivers had at his disposal. It’s possible that the same happens in Pittsburgh, but they fact that they have signed him this early in free agency suggests that they see him as a priority.
The Steelers will have Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, LeVeon Bell, Lardarius Green and Markus Wheaton to throw passes to next season. That’s ridiculous.
The one saving grace for opposing defenses is that Green is unlikely to be an every-down tight end. Jesse James should still feature a lot as a blocking tight end because Green can’t assume the role that Miller played in their running game. Todd Haley has built a great offense around Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh though, so making use of all his weapons shouldn’t be an obstacle.
Miami Dolphins trade for Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso
Mike Tannenbaum has failed upwards into the role he currently holds with the Dolphins. Now the Dolphins are getting exactly what they deserve.
Signing Williams instead of extending Vernon was a move that eyed the short-term more than the long-term, but it’s also a move that can be justified because Williams is a talented player. Taking on Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso would have made some sense for the Dolphins if they were just taking on bad contracts in a salary dump, but that’s not what they did.
Not only did the Dolphins take on two players who are questionable starters, they also swapped their eighth overall pick with the Eagles’ 13th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. This is just plain dumb. It’s what Tannenbaum does though. He doesn’t value draft picks and gets infatuated with players who have big reputations or at least had big reputations in the past.
Maxwell is the more interesting piece because he has the talent to be a good starter in the NFL. He proved that in Seattle. The Eagles didn’t use him properly, but the Dolphins don’t look like they are built to either.
To get the most out of Maxwell, the Eagles need to become a heavy Cover-3 team. This should also fit Alonso somewhat but it’s more important for Maxwell. To do that they will need to add a safety who can effectively cover the middle third on those plays. Reshad Jones is a good safety but keeping him in that role for the majority of games would limit his impact.
Instead of dropping Jones back and relying on someone else to play the strong safety role, the Dolphins should look to acquire Tashuan Gipson or Rodney McLeod in free agency. This would set their defense up to be an improvement on last season at the very least.
Miami Dolphins sign Mario Williams
The Dolphins are undoubtedly taking a risk by signing Williams, but the contract appears to be team friendly and it’s a much better idea than giving Olivier Vernon huge money on a long-term deal.
Williams has the talent to be better than Vernon, he has been better than him over the course of a longer career. The Bills were expecting Williams to be a key piece in Buffalo last year, but he didn’t play to his ability. Instead, he was frustrated by the scheme and played to protect his health and force his way out rather than chase down quarterbacks for sacks.
This is a simple equation for the Dolphins to figure out. If Williams is motivated, he’s great value. If he’s not, he’ll be on the open market again next season.
It looks like the Dolphins are going to move forward with a defensive line that consists of Mario Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, Earl Mitchell, Jordan Philips, Terence Fede and Damontre Moore. Wake is a major question mark coming off an Achilles tear at this stage of his career, the Dolphins can’t realistically expect him to live up to the contract he entered the offseason with.
As such, signing Williams shouldn’t be the last bit of business they do at the defensive end position. However, if it is, you can expect to see Ndamukong Suh play outside a little bit more in 2016 because defensive tackle is where the team has some depth. Jordan Philips showed signs of his quality last year while Earl Mitchell has been one of the Dolphins’ better players over recent years.
Jacksonville Jaguars sign Malik Jackson
Malik Jackson got overpaid in a bad way. But that’s okay.
The Jaguars can overpay Jackson for a couple of reasons: They have an abundance of cap space, a ludicrous amount really. Most of their key players that need to be retained are on rookie deals with a few years left on them. The cap is rising(obviously) and there is always a premium on pass-rushers, especially those who can create pressure from inside.
It’s always dangerous when you give big money to an ancillary piece of a Super Bowl team. The Jaguars will be concerned about how Jackson responds to making so much money with a team taht has spent the last few years losing, especially since they are likely regretting signing Jackson’s former teammate, Julius Thomas, after just one season.
Focusing on the figure and the concerns alone would be foolish though.
He’s a better pass rusher than Jared Odrick, whom the team signed last offseason, and could allow the Jaguars to move forward with a pass-rush heavy defensive line. If Sen’Derrick Marks is at full strength moving forward, the Jaguars could trot Dante Fowler out as their wide edge rusher, with Marks and Jackson inside and Odrick playing on the opposite end to Fowler.
Fowler himself needs to return from his own torn ACL cleanly, but the potential for a hugely disruptive defensive line unit is there. The Jaguars still have a lot of work to do, but this is a goo start for a defense that desperately needs help at every level.
Indianapolis Colts re-sign Dwayne Allen
I won’t be commenting a huge amount on teams re-signing their players, it’s generally less interesting but there is also rarely much that needs to be said. Allen is an exception though.
Allen is a great talent. He’s a guy who can dominate linebackers and defensive linemen as a lead blocker on running plays, while also being a mismatch problem for linebackers and safeties in space. Injuries have blighted his career to this point, but more significantly the Colts have squashed his output.
Nobody on the Colts roster has been set up for success since Pagano took over. A scheme that features too much play action, too many deep drops and receivers being asked to do things they’re not capable of doing made for an awful offense that needed great play from its quarterback to be successful.
This obviously had a big impact on Allen, but the tight end also had to deal with the presence of Coby Fleener, an inferior player who was regularly featured more than Allen despite being limited and inconsistent.
Tennessee Titans trade for DeMarco Murray
DeMarco Murray is not done yet. He was badly misused in Philadelphia last year.
As a between-the-tackles runner who is offered options to create rather than forced into a system that forces him to rely on his blocking completely, Murray should offer huge value to the Titans. he can be the three-down running back that the franchise hasn’t had over recent years.
Murray offers the offense a hammer who can complement Marcus Mariota’s speed threat on option plays. If the Titans can figure out the interior of their offensive line, they will have the potential to be one of the best running teams in the league.
There are two major concerns with this move. The first is more of a wide-reaching one, who knows what the coaching staff is going to do with Murray. I have very little trust in Mike Mularkey or the Titans in general when it comes to making smart decisions.
Secondly, what kind of compensation did the Titans give up. It’s still unknown at the time of writing, but if the Titans gave up anything more than a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft they will have made a mistake. Murray didn’t want to be in Philadelphia, chances are he would have been released if he hadn’t found a trade partner.
How much he reworks his contract doesn’t really matter because the Titans have a lot of cap space.
Oakland Raiders sign Kelechi Osemele.
The Raiders gave Osemele an outrageously large contract. I don’t have any real issue with the money, the Raiders have a huge amount of cap space so they can afford to overpay a bit right now and guards are more valuable than often suggested.
Osemele is a good player. He has proved over recent years that he can be one of the best starting guards in the NFL. If he stays on the inside and becomes the Raiders new right guard, their interior trio will be one of the best in the league with Gabe Jackson and Rodney Hudson waiting.
Building a high-quality offensive line is hugely important for the Raiders. It’s important for every team but more so for them because of their quarterback. Carr needs a clean pocket to work from, he’s not built to function in tight spaces and he reacts poorly when pressured from any area of the field.
If Osemele stays at guard, I love this move. If he becomes the team’s starting left tackle, I’ll I be concerned.
Osemele initially played right tackle for the Baltimore Ravens when he entered the league. He struggled with his consistency in space as his athleticism appeared to be an issue. He moved to guard before the playoffs, in time to play a key role in the team’s Super Bowl run. Even though he has played left tackle on occasion since then, he’s not really built to thrive outside.
He can be a competent starting tackle, but why take a player who is established himself as a top-tier talent at one position only to force him into a spot where he is only an adequate starter?
The left tackle position isn’t necessarily more important than the other four offensive line positions now. It might have been in the past, but defensive coordinators are more creative than in seasons past while quality pass-rushers are lining up in different spots all over the field. The Raiders need to keep Osemele inside to make this a smart move.