Jared Stanton – Chief NFL Writer
The most exciting part of the offseason is finally upon us! Throughout the early stages of free agency, there has been no shortage of high profile moves, mainly due to both the shifting landscape of the NFL and strong teams now finding themselves in the midst of a transitional phase.
Below is a breakdown of the most notable signings thus far, complete with a brief analysis and overall grade for each move. As previously mentioned, there has been plenty of action, so let’s dive in!
THE DEAL: 3 years, $84 million with the Minnesota Vikings (fully guaranteed)
Call this deal a win-win for everybody involved!
Now the NFL’s highest paid player by average salary, the former Redskin has chosen to sign with a Minnesota Vikings team that will not only pay him a ridiculous amount of cash, but offer him a legitimate shot at a title for the next three years.
Despite a stellar season from Case Keenum in 2017, Cousins presents a massive upgrade for Minnesota at the quarterback position, and will now have the luxury of playing with not only an elite defense but a pair of productive wide receivers and a dynamic young rushing duo.
Some people might be concerned about the fact that he has never won a playoff game, but he has played on some Washington teams that were FAR from perfect. Are we seriously going to act as if Cousins and the Redskins had a realistic shot of beating Aaron Rodgers and the Packers back in 2015?!
Ultimately, the Vikings were one game shy of the Super Bowl in 2017/18, and after signing the most sought after free agent in this year’s class, fans should expect them to be contenders yet again in 2018.
THE DEAL: 3 years, $42 million with the Chicago Bears ($14 million guaranteed)
Despite the Bears’ need for a true number one receiver, there appears to be a certain degree of uncertainly lingering around this signing…
Make no mistake, this will be a significant deal if the former Jaguar can put up similar numbers to what he did back in 2015 (80 catches, 1,400 yards, 14 touchdowns), but that appears to be a pretty big “IF” at this point in time.
Not only does Robinson need to prove that he is back to full health after tearing his ACL in 2017, he also needs to prove that his 2015 season was not a fluke after he managed an underwhelming statline of 73 catches, 883 yards, and 6 touchdown receptions the very next year.
Yes, he was catching passes from a terrible version of Blake Bortles in 2016, but it seems fair to wonder whether or not Robinson will struggle to produce yet again if sophomore play-caller Mitch Trubisky stalls in his development.
At the end of the day though, only $14 million of Robinson’s contract is guaranteed, so this is a low-risk/high-reward signing by a team that could afford to gamble to improve on an offense seriously lacking firepower!
THE DEAL: 3 years, $48 million with the Kansas City Chiefs ($30 million guaranteed)
This was a HORRIBLE move by the Kansas City Chiefs.
After finishing 28th in total defense a season ago, the Chiefs have responded by trading away their best defensive player in Marcus Peters, and offered a 3yr/$48 million deal to a wide receiver that has not only struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, but just has not looked that good last year.
Sammy Watkins produced only 39 catches and 593 yards with the Rams in 2017, ranking him the 41st ranked receiver according to PFF.
He did manage to catch eight touchdown passes, but he acted strictly as a field-stretcher who seldom saw any involvement in Sean McVay’s offense, and the fact of the matter is that guys like this can usually be acquired in free agency on relatively cheap deals.
Perhaps Andy Reid has a plan to get the most out of Watkins, but $30 million guaranteed seems to be way too much, especially when there are more serious issues that need to be addressed with this team.
THE DEAL: 5 years, $66.5 million with the Jacksonville Jaguars ($30 million guaranteed)
With all of the losses that the New England Patriots have suffered so far this offseason, the Jacksonville Jaguars are shaping up to be the early favourites of the AFC conference!
With the loss of Allen Robinson the Jags have cap space to burn, and they rightly decided to make the former Panther the highest paid guard in the NFL.
This means Jacksonville can now complement their elite defense with not only an explosive young running back, but an offensive line that features two of the game’s most elite players at their respective positions in Norwell and Brandon Linder.
Blake Bortles simply needs to not stuff this up, and assuming he is able to do that #Duval will not be falling one drive short of the Super Bowl again this coming season.
In signing this highly-sought left guard, it seems the rich just got a whole lot richer!
THE DEAL: 2 years, $36 million with the Denver Broncos ($25 million guaranteed)
There is still an expectation that the Broncos choosing a quarterback at number five in the draft, but they have added the best possible bridge to the future in signing the former Viking.
Keen had an extraordinary 2017 campaign, finishing with a TD:INT ratio greater than 3:1, and ranking as the NFL’s 5th best quarterback on 3rd down situations.
He likely benefited from the amount of help which Minnesota provided him, and there are questions surrounding whether or not he can replicate last season’s success at another franchise but the Broncos still feature enough talent to the point in which he could have a relatively high floor.
Of course, there is also the possibility that Keenum took a legitimate step forward in 2017.
Ultimately, the Broncos have gotten themselves a guy who was arguably a top-ten quarterback last season, and they got him for the same price that the Bears got Mike Glennon for last offseason (YES, Mike Glennon…).
It is pretty hard to fault that no matter what the circumstances are.
THE DEAL: 5 years, $61 million with the Tennessee Titans ($30 million guaranteed)
Similar to the Chiefs and the deal in which they handed out to Sammy Watkins, the Titans’ signing of Malcolm Butler is a terrible move…
The $30 million guarantee that Butler has earned with Tennessee puts him firmly amongst the NFL’s highest paid corners despite the fact that he was awful last season – ranking as the 51st best corner according to PFF.
As if that is not concerning enough, Malcolm Butler was also benched prior to Super Bowl 52 and failed to play a single snap, with many whispers circulating around character concerns which played a part in Bill Belichick’s shocking decision.
Rashaan Melvin is a solid defensive back with tremendous size and length, and graded he out as PFF’s 17th ranked corner in 2017, and would have been a MUCH cheaper option here for the Titans as well as avoiding possible character concerns.
In saying this, the former Super Bowl hero has been a very good cornerback in years past, so perhaps a change of scenery is all he needs.
For now though, it is extremely hard to like this signing.
THE DEAL: 5 years, $72.5 million with the New York Jets ($34 million guaranteed)
This is yet another deal that screams disaster!
Signing Johnson to this deal would have been a good move if this was three years ago, but he has not been a productive corner for 2 seasons now, dipping across the board in 2016 after he broke out in a big way the previous season.
There is obvious upside that comes with Johnson’s size and length, and his former position coach with the Rams is now the Vice President of Player Personnel at the Jets, but this is a player entering his prime years with virtually little-to-no momentum.
Everybody seems to love this deal, and everybody seems to be ignoring Johnson’s struggles over the past 2 years, but there will be NO compliments given by me…
THE DEAL: 1 year, $5 million with the New York Jets (plus $10 million in incentives)
This move is not bad by any means, but it IS puzzling.
According to Nick Shook of NFL.com the Jets have signed Bridgewater with the belief that he is going to be their starting quarterback in 2018, yet the team finds themselves in a great position to select a very good rookie in next month’s draft.
In saying this, even if Teddy Bridgewater is just a temporary option, the Jets have also resigned veteran Josh McCown who played better last season than what Bridgewater ever had at any point in his three-year career in Minnesota.
You can never fault a team for adding a cheap, starting-calibre player to its quarterback room, and for once the Jets might have done something right.
THE DEAL: 2 years, $40 million with the Arizona Cardinals ($15 million guaranteed)
Call me one of the biggest believers in Sam Bradford’s ability!
Assuming that he can remain healthy this coming season, the Arizona Cardinals have just gotten themselves an absolute steal for a pretty reasonable price!
After undergoing a knee scope last season, Sam Bradford’s doctor has since stated that “there is no reason for there to be concern moving forward,” and assuming this information is accurate, the Cardinals are getting a player who had a 99.3 passer rating and completed north of 70% of his passes in 2016, not to mention tearing the New Orleans Saints to shreds in week one of last season.
The deal looks to be a lot at first glance, but only $15 million of it is guaranteed, with the second year being a team option.
Ultimately, if this move does not pan out the Cardinals can simply move on at the end of next season.
However, if all goes to plan, they just swooped in and got themselves a franchise quarterback (pun intended).
THE DEAL: 3 years, $27.15 million with the San Francisco 49ers ($3 million guaranteed)
Sherman did not waste any time finding a new home, and being the competitor that he is he chose to take the opportunity to stick it to his former team twice a year.
Say what you will about him, he is still the NFL’s active leader in interceptions, passes defended, completion percentage allowed, and passer rating allowed since the 2011 season.
After looking at the contracts that Trumaine Johnson and Malcolm Butler just received, the 49ers signing of the Stanford alumni only becomes even more impressive.
They essentially signed the game’s most productive cornerback over the last 7 years for less than $10 million a season with hardly any guarantees to hold them hostage.
With a legitimate franchise quarterback in place, an extremely good general manager/head coach combination, and a now improving defense, look for the 49ers to be one of the most improved teams in the entire league this coming season!
THE DEAL: 3 years, $30 million with the Green Bay Packers ($22 million guaranteed)
It is no secret that Jimmy Graham did not fit in with the Seattle Seahawks, but with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay the big-time tight end could be in store for a nice little resurgence!
Last season, Graham was still able to reel in 10 touchdowns despite seeing the rest of his stat line decline across the board, meaning that he still remains one of the better red-zone targets in the game.
He is also still a solid athlete for his position despite a devastating knee injury two seasons ago, and there is little-to-no reason to believe that Graham cannot fill the Packers need for a dependable target over the middle.
Ultimately, this is still a 6’7”, 265lb pass catcher who is too athletic for most linebackers, and too big and strong for most matchups thrown his way.
Graham might not ever be the same player that he was with Drew Brees, but he will find success with another elite quarterback in Rodgers.