NFL Free Agency, Day 1: Trade Recap

The NFL’s Free Agency signing period officially began at 4 PM ET Tuesday, with many previously reported deals, agreed upon in principle, being announced within the first two hours. The biggest surprise perhaps, on the first day of free agency, came in the form of three trades, involving some high-profile names. Before we get into some of the free agents who signed on with new teams or chose to re-sign with their current teams, let’s take a look at the players and teams involved in Tuesday’s three big trades:

NFL Free Agency Day 1: Trades

Seattle Seahawks get:
New Orleans Saints get:
TE Jimmy Graham
2015 4th-round Draft Pick
C Max Unger
2015 1st-round Draft Pick

Seahawks: From the tight end position last season, four players combined to total 48 receptions for Seattle. In acquiring Jimmy Graham, the Seahawks immediately improve their passing offense, giving quarterback Russell Wilson a go-to receiver, who can be the number-one target in an offense that saw just average success through the air. Graham, at 28, easily ranks as one of the top three tight ends in the league, and is one of only two tight ends in NFL history to have multiple seasons with over 1,000 yards receiving and 10 receiving touchdowns. For the Saints in 2014, Graham hauled in 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 TD’s, and will benefit the Seahawks not only in their passing game, but in blocking as well. Though Graham will have to work this offseason to improve his blocking ability, his strengths in catching passes and gaining yards will make him a valuable asset for the Seahawks offense moving forward. The only downside to this trade is that Seattle had to give up their Pro Bowl center to get Graham, but likely believe they can fill the void at center from within, through the draft, or on the free agent market.

Saints: For the Saints, the acquisition of two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger provides an upgrade on the offensive line. In Unger, the Saints acquire an experienced starter at center, with a proven track record of success, and who will keep quarterback Drew Brees on his feet. The 28 year-old Unger was a major reason why Russell Wilson was able to scramble on upfield runs, and escape pressure in the backfield, due to his strong blocking. The Saints were set to owe Jimmy Graham a $5 million roster bonus in the coming week, so by moving Graham, the team avoids having to pay that bonus, and relieves themselves of his $8 million cap hit, while taking on only a $4.5 million cap hit from Unger. The Saints also receive Seattle’s 1st-round draft pick in the deal, which will give New Orleans the 13th and 31st picks in the first round of the draft. With those picks, they will be able to upgrade at positions of need, whether that be a pass rusher or help in their secondary.

Baltimore Ravens get:
Detroit Lions get:
2015 4th-round Draft Pick
2015 5th-round Draft Pick
DT Haloti Ngata
2015 7th-round Draft Pick

Ravens: For the Ravens, this move works to free up cap space. Ngata’s cap hit in 2015 would have been $16 million. With the money freed up by trading Ngata, the Ravens can look to sign free agents to help their offense and defense, while having Timmy Jernigan, coming off his rookie season in 2014, to fill the void Ngata leaves behind. With the Ravens losing both Torrey Smith and Owen Daniels to free agency, and the running back position in question, with Justin Forsett still on the free agency market, the Ravens can now work to fill those empty spaces with the cap room opened up. In return for Ngata, they also obtain two mid-round draft picks which they can use to add younger depth players, or trade in an attempt to move up in the draft.

Lions: With defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh departing for warmer weather, signing with the Miami Dolphins, the Lions were left with a gaping hole on their defensive line. Before free agency officially opened, they filled that void by acquiring Haloti Ngata from the Baltimore Ravens. The Lions will likely ask Ngata to restructure his contract to limit his cap hit, but the more important thing for Detroit is that they replaced Suh with a comparable, veteran player, who costs less than the reported $19 million per year Suh will be receiving from Miami. A five-time Pro-Bowler, Ngata missed four games last season due to a PED-related suspension. In the 12 games he did play, he amassed 31 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, and two interceptions. With the possibility of losing Nick Fairley in addition to Suh, the Lions can, for now, at least take solace in the stability Ngata provides filling the existing void, and worry about any vacancies that open in the next few weeks later.

St. Louis Rams get:
Philadelphia Eagles get:
QB Nick Foles
2015 4th-round Draft Pick
2016 2nd-round Draft Pick
QB Sam Bradford
2015 5th-round Draft Pick
(Conditional 2016 3rd-round or 4th-round Draft Pick)*

Rams: The Rams relied on two quarterbacks in 2014, Austin Davis and Shaun Hill, with each of them starting eight of the team’s 16 games. The reason they were left to rely on Davis and Hill, is because their planned starting quarterback, former first-round draft pick Sam Bradford, suffered a torn ACL and missed the entire season. Tuesday, the Rams chose to move onward without Bradford, shipping him to the Eagles, and receiving Nick Foles in return. Foles, who suffered a broken collarbone in Week 9 last season and missed the remainder of the season, led the Eagles to a 6-2 record to begin the 2014 season, and barring injury, should provide the Rams with a more stable option at quarterback. Foles displayed definitive talent in 2013, throwing for 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions. For the Rams, the draft picks they acquired pale in importance to the acquisition of Foles, who should provide them with better quarterback play than they’ve received over the past few seasons.

Eagles: For the Eagles, the acquisition of Bradford will likely be part of a plan to move up in the first round of this year’s draft, in order to take Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, who Eagles head coach Chip Kelly coached at Oregon before taking the Philadelphia head coaching job. Now, if that is not the case, and the Eagles plan on Bradford being their starting quarterback, this move is a bit more difficult to explain. If Bradford can stay healthy, which he has been unable to do thus far in his career, there is a chance he could show the talent that he displayed in college, which led the Rams to take him with the first overall pick in the 2010 draft. But, with speculation being that the Eagles are looking to move up in this year’s draft, Bradford could find himself as a piece in another trade later this offseason, with a likely destination of New York or Tampa Bay.

*- The Eagles will receive a 2016 3rd-round draft pick from the Rams if Bradford does not play at all for Philadelphia. The Eagles will receive a 4th-round pick if Bradford plays, but plays less than 50% of the Eagles total snaps during the season. The Eagles will receive no conditional pick if Bradford plays more than 50% of the team’s snaps during the season.