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NFL Free Agency 2019: Grading the Biggest Moves

Which signings make the most sense, and which may not pan out as expected? Analyzing the biggest transactions of NFL's free agency.

It takes an entire season to gauge the effectiveness of a free agent in a new city, but that doesn't mean an initial opinion isn’t warranted. The opening of the legal tampering period is as much a reflection of the market as it is the coach, his scheme and the culture he's created. As the Antonio Brown situation underlined, money is often the deciding factor in everything, but when multiple teams are vying for your services, tiebreakers like familiarity, friendliness, reputation and offensive and defensive style come into play.

Those are the kinds of factors we’ll be taking into consideration in our initial grades post. Be sure to refresh this page throughout the day to find all the latest signings. Check out our team-by-team tracker to see all of the moves that your team has made, and here’s our player rankings to see who’s still on the market.


From: New England Patriots
To: New Orleans Saints
Contract: three years, $15 million 

Breakdown: The price is certainly right. The Saints realized they needed an upgrade over Tyeler Davison, who filled a spot but didn’t necessarily shine the way one might have expected when surrounded by Sheldon Rankins and Cam Jordan. Now, Rankins is recovering from offseason surgery and the Saints are making a calculated bet on Brown. We’ve seen the market on nose tackles ebb and flow over the years, but this price is consistent with someone who is going to be an anchor against the run in a division full of talented backs. Davison had a higher sack total last year, but Brown has more on his career and could also represent an attempt at marginally improving their interior rush on first and second downs. Remember that New England also had Danny Shelton a year ago,  and he also had a presence on some passing downs. All this being said, the Saints still have a long way to go defensively this offseason. The Times-Picayune mentioned Mario Edwards as another possible target. That would be a start

Grade: B


From: Philadelphia Eagles
To: New York Giants
Contract: Four years, $37.5 million, $23 million guaranteed

Breakdown: Wowza. Perhaps this is a move the Giants should have considered when the team already had Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Sheperd stretching the field together. Outside of the fact that this brings a 30-year-old into the fold at a time of apparent rebuilding, and as Rotoworld’s Evan Silva noted, awarded a division rival in the comp pick formula while simultaneously costing the Giants, it was a bidding war they seemingly didn't need to get into. Would he be taking the place of a potential developmental pick? The one thing I do like: The Giants are going to need to rely more on bunch formations and legal traffic to create openings now that Beckham is gone. This is an area where Tate can shine. He’s physical, has a solid catch rate and is smart enough to understand how he can create space for himself (and others) on the field. Still, if that were the plan, I would have gone after some other complementary wideouts (Danny Amendola, perhaps) with experience in generating those kinds of mid-range throws.

Grade: D

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S

From: Washington
To: Chicago Bears 
Contract: 1 year, $3.5 million

Breakdown: Value wise, this was one of the better financial moves of free agency. Adrian Amos goes to Green Bay on a four-year deal worth $36 million and in return, Chicago signs Clinton-Dix to a one-year deal for $3.5 million. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Eddie Jackson to repeat a phenomenal 2018, but if he does, it seems he would be able to make up for any deficiencies Chicago sees in Clinton-Dix, as opposed to the cost of keeping Amos. I wasn’t totally down on Clinton-Dix in Washington last year the way some were, especially considering he was traded halfway through the season. He still has a great snap on the ball from that deep centerfield spot and controls his section of the field with authority. New England has been successful for so many years because of its ability to find suitable replacements with fewer strings attached financially, and this is a classic example of upgrading your team’s veteran middle class without extending yourself.

Grade: B+

Teddy Bridgewater, QB

From: New Orleans Saints
To: New Orleans Saints
Contract: TBD

Breakdown: Good for the Saints. Bridgewater had some interest from the Dolphins, which may have offered him a chance to see extended snaps in 2019. Instead, he’s digging in on the belief that he’s the long-term answer to Drew Brees if and when the future Hall of Famer retires.

It’s interesting that, after a year where Nick Foles caused a cataclysmic shock to the backup quarterback market, this was supposed to be a tempo-setting class of starting quarterbacks. Outside of Foles, though, and the early trade for Joe Flacco at his present salary, there hasn’t been any major financial shift in the market. After watching Bridgewater during his extended preseason run, I figured that this would be his chance to jump into a starting role, but there is something to be said about the quality of jobs opening and the potential for long-term stability.

Miami may very well draft a quarterback, and it’s better to be waiting in the wings behind an aging starter than treading water in front of a highly-drafted rookie.

If nothing else, Bridgewater staying in New Orleans takes the best backup off the list. With Josh McCown’s future up in the air, and his skyrocketing stock as a future coach in the league, Bridgewater was going to be in demand as either a placeholder starting quarterback or high-end backup the closer we got to the draft.

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Grade: B

Tyrell Williams, WR

From: Los Angeles Chargers
To: Oakland Raiders
Contract: TBD

Breakdown: Now that we can view the Radiers’ offseason as an attempt at microwaving a rebuild that was never happening in the first place, it’s easier to look at this deal through a friendlier lens. New WR Antonio Brown cannot operate in a vacuum, and Oakland needs to upgrade its set of weapons around him. Williams will be able to take advantage of the single coverage, and he is good in traffic and, like Brown, smart when the play breaks down. It’s a good time to be Derek Carr, for sure.

Grade: C+

Tyrod Taylor, QB

From: Cleveland Browns
To: Los Angeles Chargers
Contract: Two-year contract

Breakdown: It's never a bad move to upgrade at the backup quarterback position, especially when the starter is 37 years old. Taylor represents a slight bump up from 2018 backup QB Geno Smith in that he has more starting experience and could theoretically win with an offense that has Melvin Gordon in the backfield. It was initially a bit surprising to see that the starting quarterback carousel left Taylor out of consideration for starting jobs (at least for now) in 2019, though both teams now have the option of drafting a long-term rookie replacement and dealing their blue chip backups should an injury arise around the league.

Grade: B


From: New Orleans Saints
To: Baltimore Ravens
Contract: Three years, $15 million

Breakdown: John Harbaugh wanted ball control running backs to match his new offense, and while they were only softly wading into the Le’Veon Bell waters, a player like Ingram may make more sense for the team in the short term. With Alvin Kamara in the mix in New Orleans, Ingram’s workload hasn’t been extraordinary, saving some mileage for the tail end of his career in Baltimore.

Grade: B-


From: Seattle Seahawks
To: Baltimore Ravens
Contract: Four year, $55 million

Breakdown: An interesting move from another team that seems to be moving in two directions at once. The Ravens gutted their defense this offseason, opening up the space to pay Thomas near the top of the market (Will he fit better than Eric Weddle, who was already so integral to that scheme?). Thomas is arguably the best safety in football, so the quality of the player is not in question. However, one has to wonder what the Ravens are expecting to do with this roster in 2019. If they plan to maximize the window of Lamar Jackson’s rookie deal, wouldn’t it have made sense to hold on to Terrell Suggs and some of their other tenured defensive weapons? At the least, Baltimore’s secondary is daunting and definitely got more athletic on Wednesday.

Grade: B

Anthony Barr, LB

From: Minnesota Vikings
To: New York Jets (briefly!)
To: Minnesota Vikings
Contract: Five-year, $67.5 million contract

Breakdown: Good teams find a way to keep their best players so they’re not in a position where they have to scramble to fit uncertain puzzle pieces onto their roster during free agency. Barr was just beginning to flourish as a pass rusher in Minnesota and definitely has some room to grow. He’ll be back underneath the franchise tag number for a linebacker despite a heavy pursuit from the New York Jets. Pretty amazing, given that the Jets are throwing fistfuls of money at anyone who can fit into Gregg Williams’s defense.

Grade: B-

Latavius Murray, RB

From: Minnesota Vikings
To: New Orleans Saints
Contract: Four-year, $14.4 million deal

By effectively replacing Mark Ingram with Latavius Murray, the Saints have downgraded their base ground game, which is built on interior, downhill runs. Murray is a 230-pounder who often runs like he’s 215, while Ingram is a 215-pounder who often runs like he’s 230. Some of it is a function of body type; at 6' 3", Murray is long and angular, while the 5' 9" Ingram is low and compact. But more of it is a function of sheer ability—Ingram finishes runs with authority, plus he has deceptively light feet and loose hips, while Murray is a stiffer, less imposing runner who relies on having sound blocking and lacks the nuance to make average blocks look good.

Murray was signed for an average of $4.5 million over four years, which is a tick more than what Ingram had been making. If Ingram doesn’t garner at least $6 million annually from whatever team signs him, this will register as one of the most befuddling roster moves of 2019. Not only is Ingram a much better inside runner than Murray, but he’s also a more polished backfield receiver, particularly on screens. In New Orleans’s scheme, that’s huge.

With Ingram, the Saints could feel O.K. with limiting superstar Alvin Kamara to 70% of the snaps. With Murray, as the season wears on, they’ll be more and more tempted to keep Kamara on the field. That’s not insignificant given that this offense for the next 5-7 years is expected to be built around Kamara, whom many NFL coaches regard as football’s best all-around back.

New Orleans is in win-now mode, but the team took a step back at what’s been an important position in their scheme.

Grade: D+

—Andy Benoit

C.J. Mosley, LB

From: Baltimore Ravens
To: New York Jets
Contract: Five year, $85 million ($51 million guaranteed)

Breakdown: I suppose if you have the money, you should spend it. But if you’re entering year four of your time as a general manager and are spending $17 million on a non-pass rusher or cornerback who doesn’t even complete your defense, something else is probably broken. Mosley is a great player—the best inside linebacker available in free agency. But he has 10 percent more of his salary guaranteed than He’s making $3.5 million more a year than Kwon Alexander, who re-set the inside linebacker market Monday and almost $5 million more per year than Luke Kuechly. The Jets will be paying Mosley this season what the Texans are paying J.J. Watt, the Browns are paying Olivier Vernon and what the Cardinals are paying Chandler Jones.

Grade: D+

Tyrann Mathieu, Safety

From: Houston Texans
To: Kansas City Chiefs
Contract: Three years, $42 million

Breakdown: The safety market has gone the way of Lazarus. After bottoming out in 2018, we’ve seen two players both reset the market in a matter of hours to open the legal tampering period in 2019.

While Landon Collins got the years (six) from Washington, Mathieu’s three-year, $42 million deal in Kansas City puts him back into free agency before his 30th birthday—theoretically the goal of anyone who signs one of these things believing they’ll be there for the duration of the contract. It also gives the Chiefs a quick evaluation period on a good player, plus an instant injection of energy and improvisation in the secondary.

Despite pawing at the safety market at the trade deadline last year, the Chiefs may end up in a better place with Mathieu, who will turn 27 just before training camp. He’s an ideal fit for new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who likes players that can react quickly after the snap and won’t need to be constrained by as many strict coverage rules. This should stomp out many of the matchup problems the Chiefs should face within the division and give them an extra hand against Oakland’s newly revamped passing game.

Grade: B

Terrell Suggs, Edge

From: Baltimore Ravens
To: Arizona Cardinals
Contract: One year, $7 million

Breakdown: While it’s shocking to see Suggs playing outside of Baltimore, where he played for 16 seasons, he’ll now be operating closer to home. We’ve never seen Suggs play without the Ravens’ swarming 3-4 scheme, but he should fit in nicely with Vance Joseph and some similar principals. Getting a player at the tail end of his career, away from the place where he built a Hall-of-Fame career, is always a boom or bust proposition. This is especially true when you’re a collegiate head coach trying to navigate choppy waters for the first time in your career. On paper, he provides another way for the Cardinals to attack the quarterback in a division full of destructive quarterbacks.

Grade: C+

Nick Foles, QB

From: Philadelphia Eagles
To: Jacksonville Jaguars
Contract: Four years, $88 million ($50.125 million guaranteed)

Breakdown: There’s a lot to like about this move—Jacksonville gets someone more proven under center, and for about $22 million a season, which is Joe Flacco-Eli Manning money. From an administrative standpoint, you probably couldn’t have done much better for a QB you expect to start for the next four seasons, even if there wasn’t a competitive market for his services. Think about it this way: if you low-ball Foles any more, there are probably more attractive destinations to go for high-end backup money, including remaining in Philadelphia. There are also some things you don’t like, though none of which the Jaguars can do much about right now.

Foles was the best and most proven quarterback on the free-agent market this year, and the Jaguars did not spend another season limping offensively with Blake Bortles under center. Nor did they try to go cheap and sample a younger retread. That alone should be considered a victory.

Despite Foles’s stellar performance in the late-season charge and Super Bowl victory on which he led Philadelphia a year ago, the concern is which player the Jaguars will be getting (and what kind of offense coordinator John DeFillipo creates for Foles there). It’s far too simplistic to say that, because DeFillipo was on the Eagles the year they won the Super Bowl, he can create that same system and elevate Foles to that level again.

One thing that’s important to understand: The Eagles were way, way ahead of the curve in 2018—schematically, analytically, institutionally, everything. Having spent so much time studying and adapting an offense to Carson Wentz, their system was marinated not only in the best of Andy Reid-isms, but in the new wave of defender-conflicting offensive plays that now dominate the circuit. Teams are now catching up there. Foles also had another one of his best years at a time when Chip Kelly’s offense was fast and foreign, holding a noticeable advantage over defenses at the time.

You can argue that Jacksonville made the AFC Championship Game as a quarterback-averse offense and that any modicum of steady professionalism there could push them over the edge, but that also depends on a resurgent year from Leonard Fournette and continued stability from their all-star cast on defense. So, this is a bittersweet day for Jaguars fans. Be excited because they’ve pivoted at the most important position on the field. Be cautiously optimistic because it will take a tremendous performance from his supporting cast to make it work.


Jamison Crowder, WR

From: Washington
To: New York Jets
Contract: Three years, $28.5 million ($17 million guaranteed)

Breakdown: This is one of my favorite signings of free agency so far. Yes, in theory, you could find a speedy multi-tool weapon like Crowder in the draft (in the middle rounds, no less) for a fraction of the cost. But, the Jets have cash and a young starting quarterback, so why not allocate funds to one of the more important positions on your offense, and develop someone behind him? Crowder could have done more in Washington, and will do more with Gase (an example: he averaged less than five carries per season, even during the jet sweep, triple option motion boom). Despite having some home run threats, Sam Darnold struggled to find dependable hands in 2018. This will help tilt some matchups back in his favor.

Grade: B

Trey Flowers, DE

From: New England Patriots
To: Detroit Lions
Contract: Five years, between $16-17 million per season

Breakdown: If the APY is truly in the $16-17 million range, this is a good move for the Lions. They needed (younger) help from a rush end who can also play well against the run. Because Jadeveon Clowney and DeMarcus Lawrence are tied up, the windfall of cash was expected to trickle down to the second and third tier of edge defenders. Instead, they got a versatile player paired with his former defensive coordinator for about the price Washington paid for a box safety.

While Matt Patricia will undoubtedly spend the rest of this offseason battling the narrative that he’s trying to right his ship with the help of old Patriots players, Flowers was someone who was going to stand out to a lot of coaches, and he’ll be an integral part of a front that is slowly getting better.

Grade: A-

Landon Collins, S

From: New York Giants
To: Washington
Contract: Six years, $84 million ($45 million guaranteed)

Breakdown: Holy moly. Landon Collins had a market and it shows. The versatile safety leapfrogs Eric Berry as the highest-paid safety in the NFL, and in the process, he may be scaring the pants off teams who may be wondering what a 30-year-old Earl Thomas costs.

On one hand, Washington should be commended—this is one of the best free agents on the market, and since the team is (presumably) building around a ground control team helmed by Case Keenum, it will want a complementary defense capable of multiple looks, and aggressively forcing turnovers.

In that way, Collins is ideal. He can hold down almost an outside linebacker-type spot and contains the run fairly well. Perhaps Washington is viewing him as a younger, stronger version of Patrick Chung who can be the centerpiece of this unit.

The downside is that the team is spending $14 million a year on a safety. Perhaps Washington will do a delayed release of some of their veterans who don’t have any guarantees left on their contracts and generate more cap room that way, but on a team with so many needs, is this the best allocation of funds? To my earlier point, maybe you view the $14 million as befitting of a guy who plays two positions fairly well—and really, maybe that’s the way the NFL will have to view many of these hybrid safeties as the position becomes more essential to modern defenses (much like Les Snead had to view Todd Gurley as more than a running back, and why Le’Veon Bell held out for an entire season).

On the opening day of free agency, there probably wasn’t a signing that resonates more with the greater football world. Collins gets a chance to face his old team —one that apparently made him so upset that he cleaned out his locker just before franchise tag season—twice in 2019 and becomes the next big-ticket free agent hoping to make Washington’s defense (and team in general) relevant again in the postseason.

This is a big move, and it reminds us that just because a team doesn’t have a boatload of cap space doesn’t mean they won’t be active.

Grade: C+


From: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
To: San Francisco 49ers
Contract: Four years, $54 million ($27 million guaranteed)

Breakdown: This is a lot of money for a player who is insanely talented but does struggleat times (the 13.5 million now resets the top salary at the inside linebacker market, which is good news for the Bobby Wagners of the world). It’s clear the 49ers’ defense requires that all-over menace in the middle, and Alexander is your best option for keeping a similar base concept on the market. You can look at San Francisco’s cap space a little bit like funny money anyway since they do have to spend. They are going after core players, but Alexander is coming off a torn ACL and plays a very intense, all-over version of that middle linebacker slot. The bottom line: Alexander is the kind of player who can smash a tight end and knock him off his route—the kind of person who can stick with some of the bigger mismatch creators at the position, and still have a steady presence in the run game.

Grade: B-


From: New England Patriots
To: Oakland Raiders
Contract: Four years, $66 million ($36.75 million guaranteed)

Breakdown: The Raiders ditched one of the highest-paid guards in football, Kelechi Osemele, and will replace him with Trent Brown, now the highest-paid offensive linemen…ever. This is some kind of sustained rebuild eh? Brown had a nice season in New England last year and is a powerful blocker. While Tom Brady’s methodical pocket presence and quick release tend to make offensive linemen look better (Brown, a seventh-round pick by the 49ers in 2015, was traded to New England last year) he has established himself as one of the premiere tackles in the NFL. I like this move if it doesn’t dramatically impact the development of last year’s first-round pick, Kolton Miller. We’ll see if Brown’s signing means anything for veteran Donald Penn, who is a full decade Brown’s senior.

Grade: A-


From: Jacksonville Jaguars
To: Philadelphia Eagles
Contract: Three years, $30 million

Breakdown: While I’m with Andy Benoit on this one—why pay $10 million for a player who is not going to be as disruptive as Michel Bennett, when you wouldn’t pay him $7 million?—the upside here is that Jackson still probably has a year or two left in his athletic prime (he just turned 29) and gives Philadelphia some serious noisemakers capable of creating problems in the interior. Jackson is two years removed from being a top-of-the-market, dual-threat pass rusher, but a new scheme could breathe new life into the back end of his career.

Grade: B


From: Miami Dolphins
To: Detroit Lions
Contract: One year, $4.5 million

Breakdown: We didn’t see this as much in Miami, but if Matt Patricia’s plan is to utilize more of the rub concepts that were popular in new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s Seattle scheme, Amendola is a must-have. I’ve often thought that, outside of sheer size or speed, there are few players who can manipulate a defense better with subtle movements and picks than Amendola. While a receiver signing in free agency is often bad news for other pass catchers on the team, Lions receivers should be quite happy. Plus, it's not going to break the bank.

Grade: B+

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