Walter’s Free Agent Grades of Note
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~ Walter Cherepinsky, over at WalterFootball.com, gives grades for every free agent signing.
Being a Packer fan, this probably doesn’t reel you in often. But the Packers have, so far, re-signed four of their own guys, and of course added one UFA from another team with the big fish Peppers.
What does Walt think of the moves? I guess Andrew Quarless hasn’t done enough to earn a grade though.
What does Walt think of a few other team’s moves regarding players I would have liked to see Thompson bring in?
Here’s a look at those few, and remember, you can catch all 32 team’s grades right HERE over at WalterFootball. Walt does some great work over there, and he won’t waste your time talking about local high school basketball or his wife’s cooking, etc.
Packers sign DE Julius Peppers (3 years, $30M; $7.5M guaranteed): B- Grade
The Packers almost never sign free agents, so when they do, you know it’s going to be a headliner. This signing is quite complicated, as there are multiple positives and negatives to it.
Let’s begin by acknowledging that Peppers sucked last year. He tallied 7.5 sacks, but that’s not indicative of how poorly he played. He struggled to place pressure on the quarterback and was also poor in run support. He just turned 34 in January, so he’s probably never going to be the same player ever again. Also, the scheme fit is a strange one. Peppers has never been in a 3-4 before, so how will he adjust? He probably had the natural talent to be a 3-4 defender earlier in his career, but that may not be the case anymore.
There are some reasons why this could work, however. First, the price tag isn’t that big of a deal. The Packers had plenty of cap space for 2014. This contract doesn’t include much guaranteed money beyond this season, so $7.5 million guaranteed won’t exactly kill Green Bay.
I also like that the Packers are stealing Peppers away from their biggest rival. That also plays into another reason why this acquisition could work, which is Peppers’ motivation. Peppers has always been one to slack off at times, so that may have been the reason he stunk last year. Perhaps he’ll be fired up to prove to Chicago that he didn’t deserve to be released. There’s definitely bounce-back potential here.
All in all, I feel like this signing deserves a B- or C+ (I must have changed it four times). It probably won’t work out, but there’s plenty of upside and very little risk involved for Green Bay.
Packers re-sign NT B.J. Raji (1 year, $4 million): A- Grade
B.J. Raji had a monstrous season during Green Bay’s Super Bowl run back in 2010, but he has played sluggishly two of the past three years. He was especially awful in 2013. He also doesn’t happen to fit what Green Bay wants to do now defensively, which is to become much faster to combat the 49ers and other teams with mobile quarterbacks.
So, why are the Packers getting a good grade for this? Well, Raji is very talented, so giving him a 1-year “prove it” deal could pay off. Raji will have to try hard to get a big contract next spring, so Green Bay will be getting him at his best. Besides, the Packers have plenty of cap room, so they’re taking zero risk by bringing Raji back.
Packers re-sign DE/DT/OLB Mike Neal (2 years, $8M; $2.5M bonus): B Grade
Mike Neal showed versatility this past season, as he was asked to play outside linebacker instead of his standard five-technique position in the wake of injuries. He didn’t perform as well at his new position, but he still rushed the passer effectively. Getting Neal back is a nice move for the Packers, especially considering that he was generating interest from several other teams.
Packers re-sign CB Sam Shields (4 years, $39M; $12.5M bonus): B Grade
This is a ton of money for a cornerback who has missed eight games over the past two seasons, but Sam Shields has a ton of talent and the ability to be a No. 1 corner in the NFL. He’s also just 26, so there’s a good chance he’ll improve on his game. I don’t blame general manager Ted Thompson for overpaying just a bit to keep a key member of his defense. I can’t give the Packers a great grade for this contract, but they certainly don’t deserve a bad one.
Buccaneers sign C/G Evan Dietrich-Smith (4 years, $14.25M; $7.25M guaranteed): B+ Grade
Aaron Rodgers has to be fuming right now. He begged his front office to retain his center. Ted Thompson apparently has other plans, as Evan Dietrich-Smith signed on to play with Green Bay’s former NFC Central rival.
Dietrich-Smith will help improve a weak interior, though it’s unclear whether he’ll play center or guard. He could start at center, which would move Jeremy Zuttah to guard. The other option is keeping Zuttah at center and using Dietrich-Smith at guard. Either way, Tampa added a talented, versatile lineman at a reasonable price.
Jets sign OT Breno Giacomini (4 years, $18M; $7M guaranteed): B Grade
As a comparison, the Raiders signed former Jets’ right tackle Austin Howard for five years, $30 million overall and $15 million guaranteed. Breno Giacomini is getting about half of that, yet the difference between Howard and Giacomini isn’t that great. Both are solid, but unspectacular right tackles. With that in mind, the Jets deserve a decent grade for finding a cheaper option at the position without downgrading it very much.
Now the SAFETIES, which is the Packers biggest hole, by far, on the roster. Their starting safeties were atrocious, horrible last year. Two of them, Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings are long gone now. But the other one, Morgan Burnett, has to be back due to the large contract Thompson handed him before last season. Burnett thanked him for that by having a terrible season with zero interceptions and many big plays allowed, including the big touchdown pass to Vernon Davis in the close playoff loss to the 49ers, again.
Dolphins sign S Louis Delmas (1 year, $3.5 million): B+ Grade
Jeff Ireland often did stupid things in free agency, so it’s a relief to see Miami’s new regime off to a good start. Louis Delmas would’ve been a risky signing for a multi-year deal, given his extensive injury history. However, there’s minimal downside with this acquisition because it’s only for one year. Delmas will be highly motivated to show everyone that he’s worthy of a long contract – much like Michael Bennett, Aqib Talib, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, etc. – so Miami will be getting him at his best, all while filling a position of need.
Saints sign S Jairus Byrd (6 years, $54M; $28M guaranteed): C+ Grade
When it was announced that Jairus Byrd inked a 6-year deal, I wondered what the value of his contract would be. I thought that a pact worth $45 million with $22 million guaranteed would earn the Saints a B+ or maybe a B. I was not expecting $54 and $28 million, respectively.
Byrd is one of the top free agents on the market, but this is too much money for a non-quarterback and non-pass-rusher, especially for a team as strapped for cash as New Orleans. Having said that, Byrd is going from a reeling franchise to a perennial Super Bowl contender, so unlike the free agents who defect for inferior squads, he could be motivated, even in the wake of signing an extremely lucrative contract.
Broncos sign S T.J. Ward (4 years, $23M; $14M guaranteed): A+ Grade
Wow. How did the Broncos land T.J. Ward, one of the top free agents on the market, to a deal worth less than $6 million per year? This is an amazing signing, and it’s well worth the first A+ of the day (not counting the Jaguars actually getting something for Blaine Gabbert, because that still seems unreal).
The safety position was a big need for Denver – Broncos team needs page – and getting a major talent like Ward really improves the pass defense. The Broncos just got a lot better.
Browns sign S Donte Whitner (4 years, $28M; $11M guaranteed): B- Grade
The Browns just lost T.J. Ward, but they managed to replace him with Donte Whitner. Ward received a 4-year deal worth $23 million from Denver, while Whitner is getting $28 million over the same span. So, in typical Cleveland fashion, the team has downgraded a position with someone who has a greater contract. Oh, Browns…
This deal isn’t bad though. Whitner is a two-time Pro Bowler who has missed just one game in the past four seasons, and at 29, he still has at least two quality seasons left.
Eagles sign S Malcolm Jenkins (3 years, $16.25M; $8.5M guaranteed): C- Grade
The good news is that Malcolm Jenkins is only 26 and has flashed some of his first-round potential at times. The bad news is that he’s inconsistent, as he struggled more often than not in New Orleans.
Jenkins is an upgrade over what the Eagles had at safety, but saying that is like giving a homeless person a larger cardboard box than the one he already has. Jenkins is not an ideal NFL starter based on the way he has played over his career. He has the potential to improve though, so this isn’t a terrible signing.
Chiefs re-sign S Husain Abdullah (2 years, $2.27M; $750K bonus): A Grade
Husain Abdullah started the final two games of this past season, but he had an excellent performance in the playoff loss to the Colts. It made me wonder why Andy Reid started Kendrick Lewis over him for most of the year. Maybe Abdullah will rightfully become the starter in 2014. Regardless, a 2-year, $2.27 million contract is quite the bargain for the underrated 29-year-old safety.
Steelers sign S Michael Mitchell (5 years, $25M; $5.25M guaranteed): C- Grade
The narrative with Michael Mitchell is that Al Davis ultimately “got this one right” after everyone laughed at him once he spent a second-round pick on yet another height-weight-speed guy. However, Mitchell has enjoyed just one quality NFL season thus far. He struggled in Oakland before thriving in Carolina, but he may have just been successful in 2013 because the Panthers’ front seven was so ferocious.
With that in mind, I don’t like this signing at all for Pittsbrugh. The Steelers are often cautious in free agency, so this move surprises me. It’s not like them to throw money at a one-year wonder like Mitchell. Perhaps Mitchell will continue to have success, but there’s more of a chance that he’ll revert to pre-2013 form.
Giants sign OLB O’Brien Schofield (2 years, $8 million): D Grade
This is strange. O’Brien Schofield has never had more than 4.5 sacks in his career, thanks in part to his inability to stay healthy. I figured Schofield would be signed to a deal for about $1 million per season, but giving him $4 million per year seems egregious. Schofield is also a questionable scheme fit for the Giants.
Everson Griffen was a guy I really wanted, but that was based on the fact that I thought we might be able to get him for closer to what he had been making than….. this:
Vikings re-sign DE Everson Griffen (5 years, $42.5M; $20M guaranteed): D Grade
Wow. My jaw literally hit the floor when I saw these numbers. Then again, I shouldn’t have been so surprised, given that general manager Rick Spielman paid tons of money to backup tight end John Carlson a couple of years ago.
This signing is almost as bad. Griffen has started just ONE game in his career. One game. Sure, he has flashed some potential – he notched 5.5 sacks this past season in a reserve role – but this is way too much money to give to a player solely for the dreaded “P-word.” Griffen hasn’t proven that he can be an every-down player, so this deal has “disaster” written all over it.
I don’t get how a personnel man in the NFL, one who’s getting paid millions of dollars, can spend lots of money so carelessly. It’s baffling. The only question is whether or not Spielman will use Mike Zimmer as a scapegoat once this signing fails, just as he fired Leslie Frazier because Carlson, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman predictably didn’t live up to expectations.
This is a guy some Packer fans, especially the UW Badger fans, wanted the Packers to sign. I am not a Badger fan, and I picked up Daniels in fantasy football and he provided me with nothing, so I was not one who was clamoring to sign this guy. Walt, by the way, is very fond of Matt Millen. Not. In his opinion, Millen was the worst GM in modern history. Any mention of Millen is not good for a GM.
Texans re-sign TE Garrett Graham (3 years, $11.25M; $4.5M guaranteed): MILLEN MCKENZIE SHOULDER Grade
I can’t begin to explain this signing. Garrett Graham is a sub-par blocker and a mediocre receiver. He had a chance to shine in the wake of Owen Daniels’ injuries this past season, yet he posted just 49 catches for 545 yards and five touchdowns. The right value for him was about just $1-$1.5 million per year, if that. There’s just no reason Houston should have offered him this much money. It’s so inexplicable that I’m wondering if Graham has pictures of Bob McNair downloading kielbasa porn, or something. Hence, the Millen (F) grade.
The reason I am showing this one is because Jordy Nelson will be needing a new deal within the next 12 months, and this is a good comp to what he might command. They are very similar. Decker was never the number one guy there with Demaryius Thomas there, plus had Wes Welker and Julius Thomas. Jordy was also always one of many good options available to his QB.
Jets sign WR Eric Decker (5 years, $36.25M; $15M guaranteed): C Grade
Free agents, especially receivers, who go from great teams to mediocre or poor ones, often disappoint. Vincent Jackson has been the one exception over recent years, and Eric Decker is unlikely to be the second.
The Jets are paying Decker like a borderline No. 1 wideout, yet he’s really just an average second receiver. Decker has been a product of Peyton Manning the past couple of years. Some will point out that he caught eight scores in the Tim Tebow year, but touchdowns are fluky. Decker is bound to disappoint his new team, especially considering the colossal downgrade at quarterback. Decker has proven that he prioritizes money over his career, and his output with the Jets is sure to show that.
Broncos sign DE DeMarcus Ware (3 years, $30M; $20M guaranteed): A+ Grade
Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware on the same defense? I think every quarterback in the AFC West just crapped their pants.
Ware is coming off a down year, but if he can get healthy in 2014, he has the potential to lead the NFL in sacks, especially with Miller commanding attention on the other side. Ware has endured several injuries recently, so there’s no guarantee that he’ll be close to 100 percent, but the risk is definitely worth the reward.
It’s just unbelievable that the Broncos are getting deals like this. As a reference, Lamarr Houston, who has 16.5 career sacks, was given nearly as much guaranteed money ($15 million) from Chicago. Michael Johnson, who notched just 3.5 sacks in 2013, received more guaranteed money ($24 million) from Tampa Bay. And my personal favorite, Everson Griffen, who has just one career start, signed a larger contract with Minnesota ($42.5M overall; $20M guaranteed). John Elway is just trolling these teams at this point.