2021 NFL free agency grades: Buccaneers, Chiefs, Jets leading the way with smart signings

Free agency is far from over (the second and third waves can drift well into the summer), but the first 24-48 hours of action in the NFL’s legal tampering period was enough to provide all kinds of juicy headlines: The Patriots going on a spending spree of epic and uncharacteristic proportions? The Raiders bidding adieu to … their entire offensive line? The Saints confirming their 2021 quarterback competition? As handfuls of big names agree to terms and spring rosters are molded, we’ve already got plenty of moves to review.

Keep in mind all 32 teams are still in the thick of early offseason activity, but here’s how we’d grade each club’s moves — or non-moves — now that free agency is officially underway:

Note: These grades do not include moves that occurred before the start of legal tampering on March 15, except for franchise tags. Signings are not official until Wednesday at 4 p.m. when the new league year begins.

Notable moves:

Adding J.J. Watt before free agency was a splashy move, if not a bit of an overpay. And Golden is a fine rotational pass rusher to keep around. But Arizona could really use help out wide, at corner and at tight end. Still plenty of holes to address.

Grade: C+

Notable moves:

This is what a tight salary cap will do to you. Draft day is more important to this franchise anyway.

Grade: Incomplete

Notable moves:

Losing Matt Judon hurts the pass rush, but bringing back Bowser, McPhee and Wolfe certainly softens the blow, especially at such reasonable prices. Zeitler, meanwhile, could prove to be a steal as better interior protection for Lamar Jackson. 

Grade: B+

Notable moves:

They paid a premium for Milano and, to a lesser extent, Williams. But both vets have played integral roles when healthy. Retaining Feliciano also ensures that Josh Allen’s supporting cast is of the utmost importance.

Grade: B+

Notable moves:

Retaining Moton was priority No. 1, and they accomplished it. But who in the world convinced the front office to sign Elflein for three years? They could still use more help up front, as well as pass-catching help with Curtis Samuel unsigned.

Grade: C

Notable moves:

Is Andy Dalton really the answer at QB? Also, it’s good they want to patch things up with A-Rob, but unless they’re going to pony up serious dough (and give him a good QB, too), they may end up taking trade calls for him anyway.

Grade: D+

Notable moves:

Hilton and Hendrickson have lots of upside, but it’s hard to praise them for essentially swapping out their own top internal free agents (Carl Lawson, William Jackson III) for comparable or inferior starters at the same spots. Oh, and where’s Joe Burrow’s protection?

Grade: C+

Notable moves:

Somehow, they got Johnson — one of the top young safeties on the market — at great value. Finally, Cleveland has itself a play-making leader for the back end of its secondary. McKinley is just fine as a high-upside flyer, too.

Grade: A

Dallas Cowboys

Notable moves:

Re-signed CB C.J. Goodwin (2 years, $3.5M)Signed Bills OT Ty Nsekhe (1 year)

They were never going to be splashy here, so it’s hard to fault them too much for banking on lower-tier depth moves. Unless they strike gold in the draft, though, they’re going to need more help on “D.”

Grade: C

Notable moves:

Keeping Simmons and Harris is smart, and no one’s going to yell at them for retaining Miller, but at his price tag? You might’ve been better off letting him cash in elsewhere and collecting a nice compensatory pick in 2022. Darby is fine, but again, what a steep cost.

Grade: C+

Notable moves:

Re-signed DE Romeo Okwara (3 years, $39M)Sign Packers RB Jamaal Williams (2 years, $7.5M)

Nothing wrong with locking up a young pass rusher at a decent number. The Lions just have so many other holes to fill, from wide receiver on down, that it’s impossible to lavish them with free agency praise.

Grade: C+

Notable moves:

Technically, they re-signed Aaron Jones (4 years, $48M) before tampering began. We like the commitment, even if the price is a touch steep, although now they may have to bargain-bin shop at wide receiver and elsewhere.

Grade: Incomplete

Notable moves:

Lots of moves, but not a whole lot of substance. Lawson could prove to be a quality edge rusher, and Grugier-Hill and Cannon offer a fair amount of upside as starters, but not even the whole bunch collectively equals a premium addition.

Grade: C

Notable moves:

Despite all kinds of money, the Colts have stayed quiet so far. We’re waiting for them to give new QB Carson Wentz some additional offensive weaponry, or replace Denico Autry up front.

Grade: Incomplete

Notable moves:

Like the Texans, they’ve done quite a bit, but quantity doesn’t mean quality. Griffin and Jenkins will undoubtedly improve their secondary, but how much do you want to bet they’ll be itching to get out of one or both their deals by the end of 2022? Meanwhile, if Robinson and Hyde are the only offensive pieces they add for presumptive No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence … yikes.

Grade: C+

Notable moves:

The Chiefs knocked it out of the park as soon as they agreed to terms with Thuney, who isn’t necessarily a world-beater up front but can play literally every spot and do it well. Protecting Patrick Mahomes is key, and he will do that.

Grade: A

Las Vegas Raiders

Notable moves:

Ngakoue enters as great value here and offers an instant upgrade off the edge. But what are they doing up front? Cutting Hudson actually costs them money, not to mention creates another hole for a group that’s already down two other starters.

Grade: B-

Los Angeles Chargers

Notable moves:

Much like the Chiefs, their top priority was adding protection for their young QB. Linsley offers just that. Davis, meanwhile, is an underrated re-signing to start at corner following Casey Hayward’s departure.

Grade: A-

Los Angeles Rams

Notable moves:

Is Floyd really worth $16 million per year? Probably not. But they learned their lesson from letting Dante Fowler Jr. walk after his renaissance in Los Angeles. If Floyd can be just a solid edge rusher alongside Aaron Donald, that’s a win.

Grade: B

Miami Dolphins

Notable moves:

Wilson is a big name just a year removed from becoming a first-round pick, but there’s a reason the Titans dumped him so eagerly. McKinney, meanwhile, is a fine replacement for Kyle Van Noy. They need to make a splash out wide.

Grade: C

Notable moves:

Tomlinson is exactly their kind of addition: A big, gap-plugging body for Mike Zimmer’s defense. His presence should help their edge rushing situation, so long as Danielle Hunter actually returns to it.

Grade: A-

New England Patriots

Notable moves:

The opinions on the Pats’ unexpected splurge will be varied, but we fall right in the middle. Are they overpaying for a bunch of guys? Obviously. Do free agent extravaganzas pan out? Rarely. Still, Smith and Henry will immediately improve their offense, Judon is still a Pro Bowl-caliber rusher, and guys like Agholor and Mills offer enough versatility to carve out steady roles. Next up: A real QB.

Grade: B

New Orleans Saints

Notable moves:

Keeping Williams on the tag was the first step in the right direction. As for Winston and the all-important QB spot, look, it’s not ideal, but with their cap situation, it was always going to be tough to waltz into a mighty Drew Brees successor … until the draft?

Grade: B-

New York Giants

Notable moves:

Keeping Williams is smart, especially after what they gave up for him and even though his $21M per-year average wrongly suggests he’s Aaron Donald-esque. But Booker and Ross at the skill spots? Come on. They need to help Daniel Jones with real play-makers.

Grade: C-

New York Jets

Notable moves:

Here’s what it looks like for a New York team to spend smartly. Corey Davis and Carl Lawson can be top-15 players at premium positions, and both instantly improve the Jets’ chances. Jarrad Davis’ deal is a little rich, but he’s a high-upside plug-in, too.

Grade: A

Philadelphia Eagles

Notable moves:

They were reportedly in on John Johnson, but the reality is the focal point of their offseason is the draft.

Grade: Incomplete

Pittsburgh Steelers

Notable moves:

This was always going to be a bit of a rough week for the Steelers, who are hard-pressed for room while trying to build a win-now team for Ben Roethlisberger. Keeping Banner and Sutton helps, but still, they’re losing some play-makers.

Grade: C

San Francisco 49ers

Notable moves:

The Niners value their fullback more than any other team, but they have reason to do so in Kyle Shanahan’s system. Not sure paying Moseley and Verrett a combined $16M fixes the corner spot, but they’ve done well with what they have.

Grade: B-

Seattle Seahawks

Notable moves:

Do you think Russell Wilson is soaking up all this inactivity by the Seahawks?

Grade: Incomplete

Notable moves:

Like their Super Bowl opponent, they’ve knocked it out of the park. To retain all their key free agents, save for maybe Leonard Fournette, is a minor miracle. It’s not as if they’re only running it back with old guys, either; Godwin and Barrett are the future.

Grade: A

Tennessee Titans

Notable moves:

In splurging for a real pass rusher and D-line counterpart in Dupree and Autry, the Titans chipped away at other spots, cutting Jackson and Kelly despite their own flashes. Their bigger issue: Without Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith, they could use offensive help.

Grade: C+

Washington Football Team

Notable moves:

Their grade gets a boost because of Fitzpatrick, who alone offers a rather sizable upgrade over Alex Smith. But they’ve got plenty of holes left to address, such as out wide and, frankly, in the QB room, where they still need a long-term option.

Grade: B

Published: 2021-03-17 04:09:20

Tags: #NFL #free #agency #grades #Buccaneers #Chiefs #Jets #leading #smart #signings

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