The first day of NFL free agency is known by most as the first day of the league year. And while teams were not technically allowed to sign players to new contracts until 4 PM on March 10, word began to leak a few days prior to the starting bell. Somewhat of a buzz kill, the three day negotiation period is considered legal by the NFL to an extent, but word started rolling in so quickly this year that the NFL seemed to take notice. Nevertheless, news regarding the biggest teams and players has not stopped pouring in over the course of the past week, and like always, NFL free agency has morphed into a frenzy.
The only question is, where should we begin?
The $exy $uh $igning
Ndamukong Suh was the sexiest free agent on this year’s market.
You heard me right…
Since when has a 300+ pound man been considered sexy? Since he was the first defensive player to finish in the top five of the Heisman voting since Charles Woodson won the award in 1997, that’s when. Suh’s been sexy since he signed that whopping Nike endorsement deal straight out of Nebraska, and he was sexy when he signed onto Jigga’s Roc Nation sports agency last year. It’s highly unlikely for a player of Suh’s caliber to even hit free agency this early in his career, but after contract negotiations broke off between the interior lineman and Detroit’s front office this past July, signs pointed to Suh testing the waters.
Blowing his wad in the early minutes of free agency isn’t something Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is unaccustomed to, but tapping out at over 100 million dollars for someone that doesn’t play quarterback is nearly unprecedented. Agreeing to a 6 year, $114 million deal ($60m guaranteed), Suh joins Houston’s JJ Watt as the only other non-offensive player in the NFL that’s playing under a contract that surpasses the 100 million dollar mark, and rightfully so. That being said, I’m not entirely surprised by Suh’s decision to take his talents to South Beach, and I have got 114 million reasons to back me up. To be quite honest, I’m just surprised Jay didn’t try to bump it up to 130 mill as soon as 4 PM rolled around yesterday.
After giving up 121.1 rushing yards per game last year, it is a foregone conclusion that Suh’s elite talent level will help the Dolphins front seven immediately. However, I question whether or not the Fins made the right move from a financial standpoint. Since Suh agreed to terms with Miami, the Dolphins have been actively shopping linebacker Dannell Ellerbe ($9.85m against the cap), and they have released LB Philip Wheeler ($6.4m against the cap), OG Shelley Smith ($2.5m against the cap), and DT Randy Starks ($5m against the cap). Jelani Jenkins established himself as a starter in the middle of Miami’s defense this past season (110 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 FF), but who else is Miami going to plug in their defense around Suh? Miami resigned LB Kelvin Sheppard, but the jury will be out all season as to whether or not the Fins will be able to field a respectable D after doling out so much dough to Suh.
Where do they go from here?
Miami felt confident after sticking TE Charles Clay with the transition tag, but Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills are primed to make the fifth year man out of Tulsa their best offer. Miami’s got a chance to match Buffalo’s deal, but the Fins brought in versatile Cleveland
tight end pass catcher Jordan Cameron for a visit on Wednesday as well. It will be interesting to see whether or not Miami continues to look for a trade partner for Dannell Ellerbe, but if they are unable to find any takers, it is likely that they will release the former Ravens linebacker after spending only two seasons in South Beach, the latter of which was cut short by a hip injury. Miami is also reportedly looking to re-structure Mike Wallace’s deal after the WR initially voiced his unwillingness to do so.
As for Detroit, they sent a resounding response around the league just before free agency’s 4 PM start yesterday, trading the Baltimore Ravens a fourth, fifth, and seventh round selection in this year’s upcoming NFL Draft. In return, the Lions received All-Pro DL Haloti Ngata, along with a seventh round pick. After failed attempts to restructure Ngata’s contract, Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome decided the time was right to deal the veteran lineman. While a nice consolation prize for Jim Caldwell and the Lions front office, the reality is that Ngata is nearing the end of his career, and his production has decreased over the past couple of seasons. Nevertheless, the Lions will look to pair Ngata with young Ziggy Ansah, and I would not be surprised to see the Lions adopt somewhat of a 3-4 defense this season in an attempt to maximize Ngata’s effectiveness.
In Chip we trust? Philly’s Puzzling Pick-ups
I’m asking the same question most of you are… What is Chip doing?
After unloading Shady McCoy‘s hefty salary to Rex Ryan and the Bills in exchange for linebacker Kiko Alonso, Philadelphia averted their attention to the NFC West free agency pool to relieve a couple of their deficiencies. Attempting to fill the void left by McCoy, the Birds brass raided the running back market, targeting veteran runner Frank Gore. It looked as though Gore was headed for Philly too, until word surfaced that the former Niners back was having second thoughts. Gore eventually reneged on his agreement to head to Philly, and the Birds were forced to look elsewhere.
Whiffing with the Gore deal, the Eagles advanced to their next best option, by signing RB Ryan Mathews to a 3 year, $11.5 million ($5m guaranteed) deal. Mathews has only played one full NFL season since being drafted, and in that season he rushed for 1,255 yards (4.4 ypc, 6 TD). When healthy, Mathews is seen as an explosive back with capable hands out the backfield, and he has exhibited an innate ability to gain yards after contact. He will be inserted into a backfield trio already founded by Darren Sproles and Chris Polk, and the trio will do their best to rekindle the days of old when Philly had their three-headed monster of Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook, and Correll Buckhalter.
Other notable acquisitions include Philly resigning OLB Brandon Graham to a 4 year deal worth $26 million ($14m guaranteed), along with bringing in two former members of the “Legion of Boom” out in Seattle. The Eagles freed themselves of their Bradley Fletcher/Cary Williams free agency debacle by cutting the two floundering corners after the season, and the Birds then set their sights on acquiring another pair of corners from this year’s pool. Seattle’s Byron Maxwell, agreed to sign a contract with the Birds that would make him one of the highest paid defensive backs in the league. Coming in at 6 years, $63 million ($25m guaranteed), Maxwell’s new contract vaults him into the monetary range of some of the league’s elite, such as Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis (more on this later from everyone’s favorite Pat’s fan), and former teammate Richard Sherman. Talk about a huge commitment for a guy that has only started a total of 17 games in his four year NFL career. The former Clemson Tiger won’t be surrounded by the dominant talent he was with out in Seattle, but his size (6’1″ 205 lbs) and skill as a one-on-one cover man fits well with Billy Davis‘ scheme.
Philly’s second defensive back acquisition during free agency was Walter Thurmond III. A former Oregon Duck, I guess it should be no surprise that the Birds made a play for the 5’11” 190 pounder. Thurmond spent the majority of this past season injured after signing a 1 year deal with the New York Giants, but he developed a solid track record with the LOB the season Seattle trounced Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII. Thurmond has a past track record, being suspended for four games during the 2013 season after testing positive for marijuana. Thurmond’s agreement is for 1 year with the Birds, and he will get a chance to prove himself in Philly’s relatively shallow cornerback crop.
It only makes sense to save the best for last, right? In a complete shocker, Adam Schefter reported just before the 4 PM buzzer yesterday that Philly would be trading QB Nick Foles, a 2015 fourth-round pick, and a 2016 second-round pick to the St. Louis Rams for former number one pick Sam Bradford and a 2015 fifth-round pick. Bradford is coming off of two straight seasons that ended as the result of a torn ACL, and he has underperformed for the majority of his NFL career (40.7 QBR) when healthy. A head scratcher for sure, the deal provides St. Louis with a stable QB situation, and it provides Philly OC Pat Shurmur with a familiar face. Shurmur was Bradford’s OC in St. Louis when the Oklahoma QB won the rookie of the year in 2010. Regardless of the fit, Bradford has a lot to prove after an unlucky career so far, and Philly must restructure his contract, as he is set to be paid an absurd $12.985 million this upcoming season.
Where do they go from here?
With a number of questionable moves already made by Chip Kelly, who knows what Philly might do next? There are suspicions that with Bradford now in Philly, the Eagles will still attempt to move up to select Oregon Duck and Heisman trophy winner Marcus Mariota. While it remains to be seen whether or not the Eagles front office is willing to part with the coup necessary to slide up and select the Hawaiian signal caller, Kelly said in a press conference today that ““I think Marcus is the best quarterback in the draft, but we would never mortgage our future,” adding that “We didn’t bring Sam in here to be a chip (for another player). I’m the only Chip here.” It’s obvious Kelly is content with his free agent and trade acquisitions up to this point, but the Birds will need to address their holes at the receiver and safety position if they want to compete for an NFC championship this coming season. News also spread yesterday evening that Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray has expressed a genuine interest in joining a now crowded Philadelphia backfield, and although Philly added Mathews yesterday, Murray will be in for a visit to the NovaCare complex on Thursday. Philadelphia has the cap room to accommodate the former Dallas runner, but they are unable to make the kind of offer that Oakland or Jacksonville might be looking to present. Nevertheless, the former Oklahoma back could be looking to reunite with his college quarterback in Sam Bradford, and if the Eagles somehow manage to swoop in and snag Murray, it would be a tremendous thorn in the side to everybody out there in Jerry World. Keep your eyes peeled today for a possible decision from one of free agency’s most talked about players.
Julius Thomas Lands in Jacksonville
As if it wasn’t made evident by the four million dollar pay cut he signed off on this past week, this is Peyton’s last hurrah. Denver slapped 2010 first rounder Demaryius Thomas with their franchise tag, making way for Julius Thomas to hit the free agent market. Hit it he did, agreeing with Gus Bradley’s Jacksonville Jaguars on a contract that will pay him $46 million over five years ($24m guaranteed). After Denver’s spending spree this past offseason, it was unlikely they were going to make an offer of that magnitude to the tight end, so he’s headed to a Jacksonville team with the most cap space in the league.
Over the past two years, there have not been too many tight ends as productive as the Jags new weapon. Notching 1,277 yards on 108 catches with a whopping 24 touchdowns in the two years he started for the Broncos, Thomas was a frequent target of Peyton Manning all over the field. This season, he will enter the Jaguars offense as
one of their prominent threat s, and it will be interesting to see whether or not the former college basketball player can function as the go-to guy with second year quarterback Blake Bortles at the helm. Not to get too ahead of myself, but remember what Dallas Clark‘s career was like after he left Indy? Me either…
Where do they go from here?
New Denver head coach Gary Kubiak went out and got his man as soon as Thomas decided to jettison the Mile-High City. During his career, Owen Daniels hasn’t played a single down for an offensive play caller other than Gary Kubiak, and it appears as though Daniels will finish his career that way. After reports surfaced that Daniels was headed to Denver on Wednesday for a visit, word then leaked that he had instead agreed to contract terms (3 years, $12m) with the Broncos prior to even making the trip. Denver also re-signed TE Virgil Green (3 years, $8.4m), and they’ll pair the two in a Denver offense that will look to run the ball much more with Kubiak’s new regime in control. Sure, a combination of Daniels and Green is not nearly as dreadful as the downfield threat that Thomas presented for Denver, but Peyton has got plenty of weapons at his disposal out there, and ultimately John Elway and the rest of the Broncos front office deemed Julius Thomas expendable.
Colts Collecting a Coup
Faced with a myriad of injuries that included losing Robert Mathis to a ruptured Achilles before the season even began, the odds were stacked against the Colts this past year. Nevertheless, Andrew Luck was able to architect a successful campaign for Indy, tossing 40 touchdowns and registering 4,761 yards through the air on the way to an AFC Championship berth. After sticking with the Pats during the first two quarters, Tom the Terrific and the rest of the Brady Bunch clearly outmatched Indy in the second half, sending Chuck Pagano‘s team packing for the offseason.
With a few distinct holes in their squad, Indianapolis entered the free agent frenzy with a simple motive — protect Andrew Luck, and surround him with more weapons. The Colts started off by agreeing to terms with former Eagles OG Todd Herremans, only days after the Saginaw Valley State product was cut by Philly after a respectable decade in midnight green. While Herremans’ health has been an issue over the past few seasons, he is a considerable upgrade over what Indy was sending out to protect Luck last season.
The Colts were also able to haul in a second veteran from that same team occupying the City of Brotherly Love, snatching up pass-rush specialist Trent Cole. Through his ten seasons with Philly, Cole racked up 85.5 sacks. After playing as a DE under the Andy Reid regime for the majority of his career, the Blitz TV host was forced to learn a new position in Billy Davis’ hybrid 3-4 scheme, taking his hand out of the dirt and switching to outside linebacker. The knowledge that he’s gained of the position over the past two years will surely help in his transition to Indy’s defense, and all signs point to Cole finishing out his career with Indy, acting as a mentor to former first-rounder Bjoern Werner and young talent Johnathan Newsome.
Capping off Indy’s impressive introduction to free agency, the organization rejoined two legendary Miami Hurricanes, adding RB Frank Gore and WR Andre Johnson. After playing with each other in college at “The U,” Gore and Johnson will reunite on the Indy roster in hopes that they can provide Luck with an increasingly formidable attack. The 49ers all-time leading rusher inked instead with the Colts to the tune of 3 years, $12 million ($7.5m guaranteed). Johnson completed the reUnion by signing this afternoon with Indy for 3 years, $21 million. While the two former Hurricanes are not the elite talents that they proved to be earlier in their careers, they still have some production left in the tank. Gore rushed for 1,106 yards this past season in San Fran, but after the Niners drafted former Ohio State workhouse Carlos Hyde in the second round of 2014’s draft, the writing was on the wall. He’ll take over with another Buckeye, Boom Herron, to form a respectable Indy backfield after Indy struck out with their Trent Richardson experiment.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Johnson signing should be bittersweet for Colts fans. After choosing to part ways with yet another former Cane and future HOF Reggie Wayne, AJ brings a professionalism and skill set to Indy that will prove to be a welcome addition. With speedster TY Hilton stretching the field for the Colts, Johnson will most likely function as the possession receiver in Indy, and a mentor to young, promising receiver Donte Moncrief.
All in all, Indy has had a productive free agency period thus far, and they will look to continue to add valuable pieces around Luck as they look to rise once again to an elite status in the AFC.
Returning to Revis Island
I wonder what Darrelle Revis gets his agent for Christmas every year. Seriously. After signing a 6 year, $96 million dollar deal with Tampa Bay in 2013, Revis was cut by the Bucs after only one season, a season in which he raked in $13 million and 2 interceptions. He then signed a 2 year, $32 million dollar deal with New England last offseason. After choosing not to pick up Revis’ team option, the Pats let the four-time All-Pro test the free agency waters, confident that they would be able to resign the elite corner for a lesser sum.
The Pats, Jets, and Browns were the only three teams to seriously pursue the CB, primarily because of the hefty price tag he carries, but those were the only three realistic landing places for the shutdown corner. Moving quickly, Revis chose to sign a 5 year, $70 million deal ($39m guaranteed) with the J-E-T-S, returning him to the Patriots’ division rival, not even two months fully removed from winning a Super Bowl with New England.
Adding Revis to a depleted Jets secondary was crucial for new head coach Todd Bowles, and the Jets also added former Browns CB Buster Skrine yesterday with a deal coming in at 4 years, $25 million ($13m guaranteed). Word is the Jets are also pursuing another former corner of theirs, Antonio Cromartie, with the help of Revis, but it remains to be seen whether or not New York can make it work financially. It would have been something else to see Revis line up opposite of Joe Haden in Cleveland, but he’s headed back to the concrete jungle, ready to rekindle the memories he once made as a Jet.
Now for a closer, more disgruntled look at Revis’ return to the Big Apple, let’s turn to Ben Rappaport, a devout Patriots fan with a few choice words for Mr. Revis. Take it away, Ben…
Disgruntled… HA don’t make me laugh. Loyalty isn’t in everyone’s blood and if Revis wants to flee back to New York that’s on him. The Patriots are notorious free agent scrappers, and will find replacements… The absurd amount of money that got thrown at a 30 year old cornerback with a reconstructed knee is something the Patriot’s would never have endorsed. Sure was Revis perhaps the third most important player on the Super Bowl winning team two months ago? Probably. Was he a perfect Patriot, exemplifying the characteristics they honor on and off the field? I would say so… Except, wait… Maybe he wasn’t. The New England Patriots don’t believe in “getting paid.” You sign with us for the discount of one thing: winning. You do your job, you show loyalty, and you get paid not only in money… but in legacy. So Mr. Revis, go back to New York, enjoy all that money, because when it is all said and done and your career is finishing up with you watching Geno Smith throw game losing interceptions from the sidelines, remember that one ring that is safely at home. Remember what logo is implanted on that ring. They say that in the world of professional sports you should always take the money, but there is a reason the Patriots will keep winning and the Jets will keep losing… and it isn’t because of their much better uniform colors.
Graham Headed to the Hawks
This was more of a head-scratcher to me than the Eagles/Rams trade to be honest. In an absolute stunner merely seconds before the beginning of free agency, Seattle shipped Pro-Bowl Center Max Unger and the 31st pick in this year’s draft to New Orleans in exchange for a fourth round pick… Oh, and that one All-Pro tight end and matchup nightmare Jimmy Graham.
The deal came out of nowhere, and even Saints QB Drew Brees was blindsided, saying “I’m as shocked as everyone else. I love this guy.”
Jimmy Graham… He’s a really good player.
Considering how productive Graham has been for the Saints over the course of his still young career, it is mind boggling to some fans why New Orleans would make such deal. On the verge of releasing veteran OG Jahri Evans, adding Unger shores up the Saints interior offensive line. The primary reason New Orleans made this trade, however, has to deal with the organizations flirtation with the salary cap limit. Having already cut long time RB Pierre Thomas as well as LB Curtis Lofton, it has been apparent from the get go that the team down by the bayou are worried about their money. Graham was a huge chunk of that, having signed a 4 year, $40 million deal this past July. The TE was slated to earn roughly half of that ($21m) over the first two seasons, but New Orleans apparently deemed the TE expendable with Seattle’s offer on the table. Now, having traded Graham and cutting Thomas, it looks like New Orleans will rely on resigned runner Mark Ingram to receive the bulk of the carries, and young wide-outs Brandin Cooks and Kenny Stills to pick up the slack in the passing game.
Seattle is the clear winner of this trade, and they are not strangers to pulling off a deal like this. Having acquired Percy Harvin by trading their first rounder to Minnesota a couple years back, the Hawks are hopeful that this swap is a tad more successful. Graham gives Russell Wilson an elite down field target, something he’s been missing, and maybe just maybe they will utilize Graham in passing situations on the goal line. Bringing in Graham is sure to be a strain on the Hawks salary cap, but Graham offers and immediate offensive upgrade for Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense.
Rebuilding a Village
Let’s take a second to acknowledge the brief brilliance that was Patrick Willis‘ career. After spending eight years in the league, five of which were All-Pro campaigns, Willis called it quits on Tuesday, citing persistent toe injuries as the reason why he chose to hang up his cleats.
“As I stand up here today, it’s tough, it’s hard, but it’s also easy at the same time,” said Willis, fighting back tears to no avail. “I knew there would be a day I’d leave, and I always told myself that I wanted it to be on my terms… So here I am today standing before you guys, not as a perfect man, but as an honest man… I have no regrets.”
Willis’ departure, while abrupt and obviously irreplaceable, will be soothed by the Niners acquisition of Chris Borland, a rookie this past season from Wisconsin that manned of the inside linebacker positions for San Fran, ending the season with 107 tackles and 2 ints. NaVorro Bowman will also be returning this season, bouncing back from the gruesome ACL tear that he suffered during the 49ers 2013 NFC championship loss to Seattle. Nevertheless, the vibe is different this year in The City by the Bay.
It hasn’t even been three months since Jim Tomsula took the stage as the new head coach of the 49ers, and the San Francisco roster is already in a state of flux. A scene hardly comparable to Jim Harbaugh’s inauguration as the San Fran head man, Tomsula preached the importance of simplicity, family, and appreciation.
“What a village,” Tomsula remarked at his press conference. “I believe it takes a village. I believe no one man does anything by himself. I think the strength is in the people around him, and the way people come together.”
With Willis retiring, and fellow defensive vet Justin Smith contemplating a similar decision, now is the time to come together more than ever for Tomsula and the Niners. Coupled with the departures of other long-time Niners like Frank Gore, Mike Iupati, and Michael Crabtree, it will be interesting to see the culture in which Tomsula attempts to implement.
As for addressing their needs via free agency, San Fran came to terms with former Ravens WR Torrey Smith today. The four year man proved himself to be a viable deep-threat during his tenure with Joe Flacco in Baltimore, but he also struggled with dropped passes. San Fran forked over 5 years and $40 million ($22m guaranteed) for the former Maryland product, reuniting him with Anquan Boldin in the Bay, and providing Colin Kaepernick with a speedy WR Smith that stretches the field.
Edge Rushers Finding Fits
The 2010 NFL Draft class boasted plenty of prospects that could rush the passer, and a number of them are still on this year’s free agent market. The following DE/OLB’s are all actively searching for the right fit, and all of them have received preliminary interest from a number of NFL squads.
Akeem Ayers – DE/OLB – New England Patriots
Originally selected in the second round of 2011’s draft by Tennessee, the Titans shipped Ayers to New England where he spent this past season collecting a Super Bowl ring. Ayers contributed 4 sacks and an interception for the Pats in a limited role. At 25, Ayers is still young and he has the ability to play with his hand in the dirt as a DE, or standing up as a pass-rushing OLB. Multiple teams are in on the former UCLA Bruin, but right now St. Louis appears to be the team that is showing the most interest.
Derrick Morgan – DE/OLB – Tennessee Titans
Tennessee made Morgan their 16th pick out of Georgia Tech in the 2010 draft, and while he has not been able to put together even one double digit sack season (or anything above 6.5 for that matter) in his NFL career, he is receiving a good amount of interest. Teams looking to upgrade their pass rush like Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Dallas have already expressed interest. Morgan is still relatively young, 26, and if placed in the right scheme, multiple teams would love to add him to their arsenal.
Brian Orakpo – OLB – Washington Redskins
Orakpo was thought to be a sure thing out of the University of Texas when the Redskins took him with the 13th overall pick in 2009. Scouts appeared to be right about Rak after he compiled 28.5 sacks in his first three years with the Skins, however he has since torn his pectoral muscle twice in the past three seasons, playing in 17 of a possible 49 games. Both the Cardinals and Titans have shown interest in Orakpo at this time.
There’s No Place Like Home
Devin McCourty – FS – New England Patriots
After rumors ran rampant that the Eagles and Giants were were buckling up to make a run at the six-year vet out of Rutgers, Devin McCourty chose to leave money on the table and re-sign with the New England Patriots to the tune of 5 years and 47.5 million ($28.5m guaranteed). McCourty was revered as one of the most talented players testing the free agent market, and New England obviously made it a priority to bring him back. The Pats frequently utilized nickel and dime packages throughout the season, and bringing McCourty back was pivotal for the Pats, especially considering his ability to play both safety and cornerback. With Revis now headed back to the Jets, and the starter opposite him, Brandon Browner, also becoming a free agent, McCourty will continue his role as the head honcho in a Pats secondary that also features two other Rutgers products in corner Logan Ryan and fellow safety Duron Harmon.
Jeremy Maclin – WR – Kansas City Chiefs
Let’s put things into perspective… If you’re reading this and you weren’t an NFL wideout this past season, you had just as many touchdowns as the Kansas City Chiefs wide-receivers. Pathetic, right? After their wideouts were shut out from the end zone this past season, Andy Reid and the Chiefs were certain to target a receiving threat that could stretch the field in this year’s free agent crop.
Returning this past season from a torn ACL, J-Mac responded in his first year of Chip Kelly’s offense by posting career numbers that included 85 catches for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns which is 25 catches, 564 yards and 10 touchdowns more than any wide receiver the Chiefs had last season. Philly’s former first rounder took a chance on himself this past offseason, signing a 1 year contract and essentially banking on a solid year that would raise his free agent stock. His former head coach out in Kansas City took notice, and the Chiefs offered Maclin a 5 year, $55 million deal ($22.5m guaranteed). With Maclin in the fold for KC, Dwayne Bowe‘s future playing in Arrowhead Stadium is murky, but he has yet to be released as of now.
Ultimately, Philly was not comfortable offering Maclin a deal upwards of $9 million, solidifying the receiver’s decision to return home. A Kirkwood, Missouri native and former Mizzou Tiger, Maclin’s homecoming will be celebrated upon Chiefs fans, especially if he is able to make a few trips to pay dirt this season.
Jerry Hughes – OLB – Buffalo Bills
A former first rounder for the Indianapolis Colts, Hughes spent three lackluster years in Indy, registering a total of 5 sacks. The Colts decided to ship Hughes to Buffalo during the 2013 draft, and since then Hughes’ production has soared. In his first two seasons with the Bills, the former TCU Horned Frog registered a total of 20 sacks in a defense that surrounds him with fellow trench stalwarts Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus. Hughes was a major priority for Buffalo heading into this offseason, and they rewarded his efficient production with a 5 year deal worth $45 million ($22m guaranteed). The 26 year old pass-rusher will look to improve upon his game now that Rex Ryan is at the helm for Buffalo, and it will be interesting to see where exactly Ryan plugs Hughes in such a rabid defensive scheme.
Randall Cobb – WR – Green Bay Packers
Bryan Bulaga – OL – Green Bay Packers
Dallas and Denver exercised their franchise tags on Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas respectively, making Randall Cobb the highest rated wideout in this year’s free agent pool. Cobb was everything Packers fans hoped he would be this past season, catching 91 balls for 1,287 yard and 12. Honestly, I could probably catch 12 touchdowns if I had Aaron Rodgers throwing to me, but Cobb was a must-have for Green Bay. At 24 years of age, Cobb is the most versatile offensive threat for Rodgers, as he lines up all over the field, even sometimes as a running back. Signing for 4 years and $40 million, much of the same will be expected from Cobb this coming season.
Another must-sign for Green Bay was offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga. Bringing back the former Iowa Hawkeye was instrumental for a Green Bay offensive lineman that has struggled with its continuity over the past few seasons due to injury. With all five starters in tact for the majority of the 2014 season, it was evident what A-Rod and Eddie Lacy (myyyyyy second favorite young running back behind Le’Veon Bell), could accomplish. Rodgers of course turned in an MVP season, and Lacy rushed for his second straight 1,000 yard season. Things are going good in Green Bay, and as it always has, it starts with the offense.
Brandon Flowers – CB – San Diego Chargers
One of the notable vets in this years free agency pool, “Bouquet” came to terms on a 4 year deal after playing out the 1 year contract he signed with San Diego last offseason. After a rough departure out of Kansas City, Flowers reunited with former Virginia Tech teammate Eddie Royal in San Diego, and now it looks as if he will finish out his career there. Flowers has been one of the most consistent corners in the league over the course of his career, notching 20 interceptions over the course of his seven year career.
Other Notable Signings
Orlando Franklin – OL – San Diego Chargers
Franklin was a flexible asset along the Denver Broncos’ offensive line the past two seasons, transitioning back and forth between OT and OG when the Broncos experienced a number of injuries. Entering his fifth season in the NFL, the former Miami Hurricane agreed to a deal with San Diego worth $36.5 million over 5 seasons ($20 mill guaranteed). The Bolts will look to slide the veteran Franklin (6’7″ 320 lbs) into the LG spot next to King Dunlap (6’9″ 330 lbs) at LT, comprising one of, if not the largest tackle/guard tandem in the league.
Pernell McPhee – LB – Chicago Bears
Ozzie Newsome has been pimping linebackers out of Baltimore for quite some time now, and McPhee is another one you can add to the list. In his fourth year out of Mississippi State, McPhee had 7.5 sacks this past season for the Ravens, registering the majority of his QB takedowns in limited snaps behind Baltimore’s fearful pass-rush tandem of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. Those 7.5 sacks, coupled with a violent, relentless motor, was enough to convince new head coach John Fox and Chicago GM Ryan Pace to fork over $40 million to McPhee over 5 seasons (16 mill guaranteed). McPhee will step in as a day one starter in Chicago’s 3-4 defense, a scheme that shares multiple similarities with Baltimore’s 3-4 rotation, and the Bears organization will discover whether or not he can perform at a consistent level.
Jared Odrick – DT – Jacksonville Jaguars
The writing was on the wall for the former PSU Nittany Lion after the Dolphins committed a huge chunk of change to Donkey Kong Suh. A productive interior presence for Miami throughout the course of his rookie contract, Odrick was targeted quickly by a number of teams, eventually signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars for 5 years, $42.5 million ($22 mill guaranteed). Odrick will be an immediate upgrade to a Jacksonville defense that gave up 121.1 ypg on the ground, a number that ranked the sixth worst in the NFL this past season.
Mike Iupati – OL – Arizona Cardinals
After spending four seasons with the San Fransisco 49ers, the former All-Pro inked a deal with the Arizona Cardinals worth up to $41 million over the course of 5 seasons ($22.5 mill guaranteed). At one time Iupati was regarded as one of the elite OG in the NFL, but over the course of the past two seasons his production has faltered some, due in part to an inability to stay healthy. More of a road grader than a pass protector, Iupati will bring an attitude to the Arizona run game. And while $8 a season is a hefty price to pay for an interior offensive lineman, the Cardinals desperately needed to upgrade a running game that only averaged 3.3 ypc last season.
Red Flag Flyers
The following players are free agents that possess adequate NFL talent, but they are in some way marred by past injuries of off-the-field issues.
Percy Harvin – New York Jets – WR
After acquiring Harvin via trade from Seattle mid-season, the Jets cut the former Florida do-it-all a few days ago. Once Brandon Marshall became a Jet, Harvin became expendable, and he now stands as an intriguing low-cost option for teams looking to potentially add a versatile offensive threat. Migraines, multiple injuries, and character issues have plagued a career that has now sent Harvin to three different teams, but there could be someone out there that still sees the receiver as the big play threat he once showed flashes of in Minnesota.
Nick Fairley – Detroit Lions – DT
Early word was that Detroit had hopes to resign the talented Auburn alum, but after trading for Ravens NT Haloti Ngata, it is looking more and more likely that Fairley’s underwhelming career in the Motor City has come to a close. Fairley is arguably the most talented DT still floating in the FA pool, but past run-ins with the law and a lackluster motor might prohibit him from receiving the kind of offer his talent suggests. The DT is slated to visit the Cincinnati Bengals today, and it’s also rumored that the Pats might make an attempt to teach Fairley the Patriot way. Fairley will land with an organization when all is said and done, and it will be interesting to see whether or not a change of scenery could revitalize his still-promising career.
Greg Hardy – Carolina Panthers – DE
Most NFL teams wouldn’t touch this guy with a ten-foot pole, but there’s still a chance Hardy finds a landing spot on a roster this season, regardless of whether or not he is granted playing eligibility. The former Carolina DE is facing a league suspension for a domestic violence case, but commissioner Roger Goodell granted Hardy the privilege to sign with an organization as a free agent, despite being on the commissioner’s exempt list. Hardy turned in a Pro-Bowl season during his 2013 effort, notching 15 sacks. Carolina and Atlanta have already declared that they are not interested in adding the troubled lineman to their roster, but Hardy’s elite pass-rush skills will eventually lure a team into rolling the dice with him. Who that exact team is, however, remains to be seen.
Rolando McClain – Dallas Cowboys – LB
Khalil Mack‘s budding career in Oakland may not have even begun if it were not for McClain. The Raiders made McClain the first linebacker taken in the 2010 NFL Draft, selecting him eighth overall over talents such as Earl Thomas, Maurkice Pouncey, Demaryius Thomas, and Dez Bryant. After a tumultuous three years out in the Black Hole, and multiple run ins with the law, Oakland cut the former Alabama All-American. He signed as a free agent with the Baltimore Ravens in April of 2013, but suddenly retired from the NFL a month later.
After a “self-imposed exile,” McClain rejoined the league and was traded by the Ravens to the Dallas Cowboys. Desperately needed help after Sean Lee tore his ACL for a third time, Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli thrust the former first-round freak into the starting lineup. McClain performed admirably (81 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack) for a Cowboys defense that overachieved all season.
McClain’s career revival is something that NFL teams will be sure to take notice of, but there’s no doubt that they’ll do their homework before committing any kind of serious dough towards the linebacker.
So that’s what we’ve got for you at this point, folks. Free agency is a fluid situation, with news flying in at any and every angle, but this will provide you with a solid break down of the biggest and baddest moves that have gone done thus far. As free agency continues, it will be interesting to see where certain players end up… Whether it is a running back looking for a big pay day, or a former red flag flyer looking for a new home, the free agency pool is still stacked with some supreme talent, and there are 32 teams around the league looking add and improve upon their rosters. Someone out there has to be interested. I know I am.