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2014 NFL free agency: Handing out a grade to every NFC team

2014 NFL free agency grades: Tampa Bay Buccaneers finish with high marks The Saints defense took a major step forward with safety Jairus Byrd. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Now that the dust has settled in the 2014 NFL free agency process, it's time to bow to convention and hand out premature grades. We must wait to see what actually happens on the field, of course, but here's how we think each NFC team did through the first few weeks of free agency:

Dallas Cowboys

Grade: D

Best addition: DT Henry Melton

Biggest loss: DT Jason Hatcher

The Cowboys have been cap-strapped for the last few seasons with bad deal after bad deal by Jerry and Stephen Jones coming back to bite the franchise. The losses of DeMarcus Ware to the Broncos and Jason Hatcher to the Redskins were two side effects. Ware is coming off a disappointing season, to be sure, but he could just as easily be reborn in a system more tailored to his strengths. Not having Hatcher will be a bigger blow -- the veteran is one of the more underrated interior pass rushers in the NFL. Dallas got Henry Melton to fill those gaps on a decent low-ball deal, but there's little else to show for this free-agency period (the signing of backup quarterback Brandon Weeden was notable only for Weeden's flameout in Cleveland after his misbegotten first-round selection), and as the team keeps pushing its higher-valued contracts down the road in a cap sense, one wonders when the Joneses will be able to rebuild.

MORE COVERAGE: 2014 NFL free agency grades: AFC2014 NFL mock draft database

New York Giants

Grade: B-plus

Best addition: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Biggest loss: DT Linval Joseph

The Giants made a lot of signings that didn't explode off the page, but added talent and depth at several key positions. With cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond in the fold, a secondary that was once a weakness now becomes a strength. Former Raiders and Jaguars running back Rashad Jennings is an underrated producer in a rotational role, and center J.D. Walton and guard Geoff Schwartz add considerably to an offensive line that has been breaking down over the last few seasons. General manager Jerry Reese did a fine job, and though the loss of Linval Joseph will be a problem, he can be replaced in a draft that has a deep class of defensive tackles.

Philadelphia Eagles

Grade: A

Best addition: CB Nolan Carroll

Biggest loss: WR Jason Avant

The Eagles scored big, and they started by re-signing their own key players in left tackle Jason Peters, center Jason Kelce, and receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. The ongoing soap opera with receiver DeSean Jackson hasn't come to a head yet, so we'll leave this grade where it is for now. Getting cornerback Nolan Carroll from Miami was a big deal, because Philly's secondary was a flat-out mess last season. The Eagles also overhauled their safety rotation with Malcolm Jenkins, and getting Darren Sproles in a trade with the Saints should add some interesting firepower to Chip Kelly's offense.

Washington Redskins

Grade: B-minus

Best addition: DT Jason Hatcher

Biggest loss:  DE/OLB Darryl Tapp

After two years of league-imposed salary cap penalties, the Redskins finally got to spend in free agency again, and they pulled off a nice move in getting Jason Hatcher from the Cowboys. He'll fit perfectly in Washington's 3-4 defense, and most likely make Dallas pay next season for considering him redundant. Akeem Jordan will help replace London Fletcher in the middle of that defense. Two moves have us shaking our heads, though -- the re-signing of cornerback DeAngelo Hall and the contract given to former Browns guard Shawn Lauvao, who was quite the turnstile last season.

Chicago Bears

Grade: B-plus

Best addition: DE Lamarr Houston

Biggest loss: QB Josh McCown

One thing's for sure -- Bears general manager Phil Emery was hell-bent on improving a defensive line that was the team's primary problem in 2013. Chicago signed the versatile Lamarr Houston, who can play everything from three-tech tackle to stand-up outside linebacker; the underrated Willie Young, who racked up all kinds of hurries in Detroit's defense; and came through with Wednesday's agreement with Jared Allen. These moves take the sting out of losing Henry Melton and Julius Peppers to the Cowboys and Packers, respectively, but Josh McCown's departure to the Buccaneers puts head coach Marc Trestman in a bit of a quandary -- the veteran backup was tremendous in relief of Jay Cutler last season, and Trestman must now further expand his reputation as a quarterback whisperer with somebody else.

Detroit Lions

Grade: B

Best addition: WR Golden Tate

Biggest loss: DE Willie Young

The Lions got an estimable No. 2 target behind Calvin Johnson in Tate, who can play in the slot or outside, and adds value as a returner. Losing safety Louis Delmas to the Dolphins was tempered by the addition of James Ihedigbo, and the loss of Willie Young to the Bears is something the team can take care of in the draft. The Lions didn't do a lot in free agency, and Young was the only major hit to their personnel along the way.

Green Bay Packers

Grade: B-minus

Best addition: DE Julius Peppers

Biggest loss: WR James Jones

The Packers retained tackle B.J. Raji, linebacker Mike Neal and cornerback Sam Shields for a defense that underperformed in 2013, and the likely defections of linemen Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly mean that there's work to do in the draft. Keeping Neal was particularly important, as he can play all around the front seven. Receiver James Jones' signing with the Raiders will test the theory that anyone can excel when Aaron Rodgers is their quarterback, and center Evan Dietrich-Smith's signing with the Buccaneers puts a hole in the offensive line. Of course, the big deal was the three-year, $30 million contract given to Julius Peppers, which doesn't have a lot of guaranteed money involved. Redefining Peppers in a 3-4 base defense is a big ask, and he's always tended to disappear at times, but the Packers need to add spark to their defense, to be sure.

Minnesota Vikings

Grade: B-plus

Best addition: DT Linval Joseph

Biggest loss: RB Toby Gerhart

With new head coach Mike Zimmer in tow, it was clear that the Vikings would commit heavily to their defense, and they did -- not only re-signing end Everson Griffen to a contract that could be a bit of an overpay, but also grabbing underrated tackle Linval Joseph from the Giants. With Joseph, Griffen, Sharrif Floyd and Brian Robison, Minnesota now has a seriously formidable base four-man front. Tackle Corey Wootton, formerly of the Bears, will add an interesting rotational wrinkle. Adding cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn and Derek Cox, though not flashy moves, should help a secondary that was frequently toasted in 2013. It's clear that the team will have to address its quarterback situation in the draft -- re-signing Matt Cassel and hoping Christian Ponder turns the corner won't feed the bulldog.

Atlanta Falcons

Grade: C

Best addition: DT Paul Soliai

Biggest loss: FS Thomas DeCoud

The Falcons jettisoned a lot of formerly great players this offseason, including DeCoud, cornerback Asante Samuel and linebacker Stephen Nicholas. Now with a commitment to reverse the mistakes made on both sides of the line over the last few seasons, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and assistant GM Scott Pioli went heavy on the defensive line as the team transitions to more of a 3-4 look. Problem is, the Falcons are paying those guys heavily, too -- and not always in range with their career performance. Soliai has been a high-quality player for a while, so his five-year, $33 million deal with $14 million guaranteed makes sense. But the five-year, $25 million deal given to defensive end Tyson Jackson makes little sense -- outside of 2013, Jackson has never been more than a decent run-stopper, and one wonders if this wasn't Pioli trying to make right the fact that he overdrafted Jackson in Kansas City. Atlanta also re-signed defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry. They'll desperately need to deal with the offensive line at some point -- certainly in the draft.

Carolina Panthers

Grade: D

Best addition: WR Jerricho Cotchery

Biggest loss: WR Steve Smith

Conclusion: Yes, general manager Dave Gettleman is still dealing with the cap ramifications of the mistakes made by predecessor Marty Hurney, but losing your three best receivers in Smith, Brandon LaFell and Tedd Ginn doesn't help Cam Newton much. The way Gettleman handled the Smith situation was ham-fisted at best, and he'll have a lot to answer for if Smith balls out in Baltimore and the Panthers can't re-stock their receiver corps. Cotchery is a step in the right direction. Placing the franchise tag on defensive end Greg Hardy apparently was a necessary move, bit it further hamstrung the front office, and now the Panthers must hit several home runs in the draft.

New Orleans Saints

Grade: B

Best addition: FS Jairus Byrd

Biggest loss: RB Darren Sproles

Adding Byrd to a secondary that already includes the dynamic and versatile Kenny Vacarro means the Saints may have the best safety duo in the NFL right now. Byrd was the No. 1 defensive free agent, and his range in coverage is hard to top. On offense, losing Sproles wasn't so much of a hit, because it was fairly clear that the team was ready to move on. It may cast them in a bad light if Sproles excels in Philadelphia, but Sean Payton has earned a considerable amount of credit when it comes to helping players excel in his offense. The re-signing of right tackle Zach Strief was an important bridge. The Saints will take their needs on both sides of the line to the draft.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Grade: A

Best addition: CB Alterraun Verner

Biggest loss: FB Erik Lorig

Not only did the Bucs pick up a large number of impact players on cap-friendly deals, but also they lost little of import -- as long as Verner isn't a one-year wonder and doesn't prove to be vastly inferior to Darrelle Revis, who is now in New England. Other than that, Tampa Bay's front office scored big. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith is a tough, reliable veteran to add to the offensive line, and replacing Donald Penn with Anthony Collins at left tackle was about as big an upgrade as is possible. Former Bengals end Michael Johnson should be able to do in Tampa for Lovie Smith what Julius Peppers did for Smith in Chicago -- provide serious pass rush outside, and kick inside in certain instances. Former Seahawks tackle Clinton McDonald will add power and pass rush in rotation, and the addition of Josh McCown gives the Bucs intriguing (and much-needed) quarterback options. It's one thing to win in March and quite another to do so the next February, but the Bucs' franchise overhaul continues -- and it's been very impressive.

Arizona Cardinals

Grade: A-minus

Best addition: OT Jared Veldheer

Biggest loss: ILB Karlos Dansby

Getting Veldheer on the cheap was a huge gain for general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians -- with a consistent left tackle in the fold and 2013 first-round guard Jonathan Cooper coming back from injury, the Cards have more offensive line stability than they've had in eons. However, losing Dansby is a blow for Todd Bowles' highly-ranked defense, because Dansby and Daryl Washington worked in perfect concert together. Kevin Minter, projected to replace Dansby, is a forward-motion player without Dansby's versatility. However, adding Antonio Cromartie on a one-year deal to supplement cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu could give Arizona the best trio at the position in the league. Receiver Ted Ginn adds deep playmaking ability and return acumen, and Jonathan Dwyer adds to the running back rotation.

San Francisco 49ers

Grade: C

Best addition: SS Antoine Bethea

Biggest loss: SS Donte Whitner

The 49ers probably got a bit better at the strong safety position in upgrading from Whitner to Bethea, and hey ... maybe Jim Harbaugh can turn the recently traded Blaine Gabbert into a serviceable backup quarterback. But with Tarell Brown off to Oakland and Carlos Rogers unsigned, expecting new arrival Chris Cook to do much in that regard is a fool's errand -- Cook allowed nine touchdowns in coverage and gave up a league-worst 140.3 quarterback rating last season. Acquiring Jonathan Martin will be better than a PR ploy only if Martin plays at a position that works best for him -- he's not a natural left tackle at the NFL level.

Seattle Seahawks

Grade: C

Best addition: DE Michael Bennett

Biggest loss: WR Golden Tate

The Seahawks added so little in free agency that it makes sense to add Bennett to this list, because he was the one player the team desperately wanted to re-sign. They reached out to Jared Allen and were outbid by the Bears, took a pass on the free-agent guards (though it remains a position of severe need) and said good bye to several formerly great but recently flawed defenders in Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond. Clearly, after making several big splashes with trades and in free agency last season, the Super Bowl champs are looking to the draft, and they have to save their pennies for the impending re-signings of quarterback Russell Wilson, cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas. Losing Tate to the Lions opens up a specific need that the team will have to address in the draft, because they can't count on Percy Harvin making it through a full season healthy.

St. Louis Rams

Grade: C

Best addition: DE Alex Carrington

Biggest loss: OG Shelley Smith

Carrington was a late add to a defensive line that was already a key strength. The Rams should also be congratulated for holding the line with Rodger Saffold and getting him back on their terms after the Raiders tried and failed to grievously overpay him The loss of Shelley Smith to the Giants was a lesser-known hit to an offensive line that is very much a work in progress. They'll have to deal with that, and several other important offensive positions, in the draft.

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