NFL Free Agency opened at 4 PM Tuesday, and in the days since, teams have been paying hand-over-fist to acquire some of the premiere players on the market.
Beyond the free agent signings, there have been multiple trades, involving some of the biggest names in the NFL, including tight end Jimmy Graham, running back LeSean McCoy, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. For many teams, the trades offer an opportunity to clear salary cap space, while also acquiring players and draft picks of value, rather than releasing a player and receiving nothing in return.
And so with the beginning days of what has been a busy and unpredictable NFL Free Agency period in the books, let’s take this opportunity to review some of the best and worst moves made thus far.
NFL Free Agency, Week 1
CB Darrelle Revis (NYJ), 5-year/$70 million
2014 Stats: 47 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble
Reunited and it feels so good. The New York Jets and Darrelle Revis agreed to a 5-year, $70 million contract that will see the cornerback return to New York for the 2015 season, two years removed from being traded by the Jets to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2014, Revis signed on as a free agent with the New England Patriots, greatly improving their secondary, as he provided stout defensive coverage and veteran leadership for the eventual Super Bowl champions. With a ring now in hand, Revis entered the free agent market with the chance to earn himself some big money.
One of the top cornerbacks in the league, the Jets will certainly be paying him as such over the next five years, with Revis earning an annual salary of $14 million per season, and the contract including $39 million in guaranteed money. The Jets benefit two-fold from the addition of Revis, as they receive a definite upgrade to their secondary, while also negatively impacting the division rival Patriots, who now must work to fill the void left by one of the premier cornerbacks in the NFL. If the 29 year-old Revis manages to maintain the high level of play he has shown over the course of his career for even half of the five-year contract, this deal can be considered a great investment by the Jets.
FS Devin McCourty (NE), 5-year/$47.5 million
2014 Stats: 51 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble
When the New England Patriots decided to franchise tag kicker Stephen Gostkowski, it appeared as though they may allow safety Devin McCourty to hit the free agent market. But, before that could happen, New England showed McCourty just how much he means to them, rewarding the 27 year-old with a new 5-year pact worth $47.5 million. With the looming specter of losing cornerback Darrelle Revis on the horizon, the Patriots decided to lock down one of the top safeties in the league, shoring up at least one facet of their secondary for the coming future.
The importance of re-signing McCourty became even more evident on Tuesday, when Revis signed with the New York Jets, and on Thursday, when cornerback Brandon Browner signed with the New Orleans Saints. McCourty will be an important part of the New England secondary, likely to be looked at as the unit leader moving forward. His reliable defense and veteran experience, while offering the Patriots secondary stability and consistency, will also be major assets in helping any free agents and younger players in transitioning to the Patriots defensive schemes.
WR Randall Cobb (GB), 4-year/$40 million
2014 Stats: 91 receptions, 1,287 yards, 12 TDs
Aaron Rodgers should be pleased by this signing. The Green Bay Packers locked up wide receiver Randall Cobb with a new 4-year contract, ensuring their dual-threat receiving tandem of Cobb and Jordy Nelson will remain intact, at least for now. Cobb finished 2014 in the top 10 in receptions (T-9th) and touchdowns (T-4th), and 11th in the league in receiving yards with 1,287. As a duo, Cobb and Nelson were responsible for 54.2% of the Packers team total for receptions, and combined for 25 of the team’s 38 receiving touchdowns.
A dependable deep threat, Cobb hauled in 24 receptions of 20+ yards, and provides the Packers with speed on offense, and on special teams as a punt returner. The 24 year-old Cobb was selected to his first Pro Bowl in 2014, and should produce big receiving numbers for years to come. Years that Cobb will get to enjoy with the Packers, alongside Nelson and Rodgers.
Best Value Signing:
RB Frank Gore (IND), 3-year/$12 million
2014 Stats: 255 carries, 1,106 yards, 4 TDs
The Indianapolis Colts had the 22nd ranked rushing offense in the NFL in 2014, with Trent Richardson leading the team with 519 yards rushing. Tuesday, the Colts agreed to terms with veteran running back Frank Gore, who spent his first 10 seasons in the league with the San Francisco 49ers. Over the past few years, the running back position has seen a decrease in value with the NFL becoming a more passing-reliant league, but that does not diminish the fact that a quality running back can play an important role in making an average offense more consistent and dynamic.
In Gore, the Colts acquire a strong, reliable running back, who can break tackles and rumble for extra yards after first contact. He has rushed for over 1,000 yards in eight of his 10 seasons since entering the NFL, and gives Colts quarterback Andrew Luck another weapon in an already impressive Colts offense. For a back with Gore’s resume, and despite his age, the Colts are getting a steal to only be paying Gore just $12 million over 3 years, especially considering running backs with lesser pedigree have been signed to similar deals this offseason. If Gore continues putting up the numbers he has to this point in his career, for the Colts, this signing will be a great value pick-up for Indianapolis.
Best Value Trade Acquisition:
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (NYJ), Acquired in exchange for a conditional 2016 6th-round or 7th-round draft pick
2014 Stats: 197/312, 63.1% comp., 2,483 yards, 17 TDs, 8 INTs
In 2014, Ryan Fitzpatrick was awarded the starting quarterback job for the Houston Texans and the 11-year veteran was able to put up some decent numbers in his 12 starts. Following the signing of Brian Hoyer, and re-signing of Ryan Mallett, Fitzpatrick became the odd man out in Houston, and was traded to the New York Jets on Wednesday for a conditional 2016 late-round draft pick. Though Fitzpatrick may not be considered an elite quarterback, he has provided reliable play throughout his career and put together a quietly solid season last year.
Fitzpatrick ranked fourth in the league in passing-yard-per-attempt, and recorded the ninth highest quarterback rating among NFL starters. He threw for 2,483 yards and tallied a +9 touchdown-to-interception differential. Jets incumbent starter, Geno Smith, ranked near the bottom of the league in QB rating, with only four quarterbacks recording a lower rating than Smith’s 77.5. For the Jets, the trade is a great value, acquiring a quarterback with the capability to step in and start immediately in 2015, while giving up just a late-round draft pick.
QB Mark Sanchez (PHI), 2-year/$9 million
2014 Stats: 198/309, 64.1% comp., 2,418 yards, 14 TDs, 11 INTs
This signing would perhaps fit better under a heading of ‘Most questionable re-signing’, and could have fit under ‘Worst value re-signing’, but for now anyway, it will rest beneath ‘Worst re-signing’.
Mark Sanchez had a solid 2014 season, starting the season’s final 8 games for the Eagles after starting quarterback Nick Foles went down with a broken collarbone. Sanchez threw for 2,418 yards in his 9 games, connecting on 14 touchdowns, while throwing 11 interceptions. The Eagles re-signing Sanchez makes plenty of sense, as all teams need a backup quarterback, but at an average annual salary of $4.5 million, Sanchez will be one of the highest paid backup quarterbacks in the league. With Sanchez’s salary, and the $12.985 million contract of newly acquired quarterback Sam Bradford, the Eagles will be spending over $16 million for the two quarterbacks combined next season.
As important as a backup quarterback is, and with the chance that Sanchez could potentially start, with the possibility Bradford is traded before the season, or goes down with an injury, the $4.5 million average annual salary can certainly be justified. Sanchez did put together a fairly good season in 2014, but has struggled with inconsistency for the majority of his career. If Sanchez does start in 2015, the Eagles will have a steal, paying their starting quarterback so little, but if he spends the season on the bench, it can be argued that money could have been better served filling a more vital need.
Worst Value Signing:
WR Jeremy Maclin (KC), 5-year/$55 million
2014 Stats: 85 receptions, 1,318 yards, 10 TDs
Jeremy Maclin leaves the Philadelphia Eagles, who had the 6th-ranked passing offense in the NFL in 2014, to join the Kansas City Chiefs, the 29th-ranked passing offense in the league. In terms of salary, the move makes sense for Maclin, with his annual salary jumping to almost double his 2014 salary in 2016. Next season, he will make $3.4 million, before his salary balloons in 2016 to $12.4 million. For the 26 year-old Maclin, the five-year deal will keep him in Kansas City, barring his release or any trades, until he is 31.
As talented as Maclin is, there exists the very likely scenario that in Kansas City, he will not reach the level of statistical numbers he has annually thus far in his career. In 2014, Maclin hauled in 85 receptions. For the Chiefs, tight end Travis Kelce led the team with 67 receptions, also leading the team in receiving yards with 862, a total over 450 yards less than Maclin’s total of 1,318 receiving yards. The Chiefs are hopeful that Maclin can improve their receiving corps, which he has the ability to do. In Kansas City, he will also be reuniting with former Eagles head coach Andy Reid. But, when considering the Chiefs woeful passing offense last season, and the fact that not a single wide receiver caught a touchdown pass for the Chiefs in 2014, an average annual salary of $11 million for Maclin seems steep. Maclin fits a definite need for the Chiefs, but at a very high cost.
New Orleans Saints get: LB Dannel Ellerbe, 2015 3rd-round Draft Pick
Miami Dolphins get: WR Kenny Stills
Though this is labeled as the ‘Worst Trade,’ this is actually hugely beneficial to one of the two teams involved. From this trade, the Miami Dolphins acquire a young, talented wide receiver in Kenny Stills who will only cost the team $585,000 in 2015. Stills is also signed through the 2016 season, during which his salary will increase to just $675,000. In 2014, the 22 year-old Stills pulled down 63 receptions for 931 yards and three touchdowns. He caught 74.1% of the passes thrown to him, and ranked 22nd in the NFL in yards-per-catch average, with a total of 14.8 YPC. Of a possible 32 games, Stills has played in 31 of them through the first two seasons of his NFL career. With the departure of top-tier wide receiver Mike Wallace, Stills will be looked at to make a major impact in the Dolphins passing game. For the Dolphins, the trade gets them a young talent with game-changing potential at cheap cost. In a retooled offense that also added top-tier tight end Jordan Cameron, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill will have plenty of new hands on deck to haul in his passes.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees’s supposed unhappiness with Stills’s work ethic, as well as staff concerns about his lack of maturity, have pointed at as reasons for Stills being traded. Despite these reasons, the Saints gave Stills just two years with the organization, after drafting him in 2013, before shipping him off to Miami. The Saints acquire an important 3rd-round draft pick, giving them five picks total in the first three rounds of this year’s draft. But, beyond the draft pick, the Saints acquire linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, a six-year veteran who has yet to play a full NFL season. Ellerbe played 15 games in 2013, but lost the entirety of 2014 after suffering a hip injury in Week 1. The Dolphins were willing to trade Ellerbe due to his high $8.45 million cap hit for 2015. Ellerbe has reportedly agreed to restructure his contract with New Orleans to alleviate some of that cap pressure, which makes the trade a little more reasonable. But, there has to be some concern surrounding whether Ellerbe can return to 100% for 2015, and if he can stay healthy for the entire season. Though New Orleans does acquire a tough, physical linebacker, who did record 101 tackles in 2013, and a 3rd-round draft pick, what they give up in Stills will be a tough hole to fill on their offense, especially since they also traded away ball-hawking tight end Jimmy Graham.