Assessing free agency as it dies down
The NFL offseason, one of the longest in sports, has become an ongoing event all its own.
From the moment a team is eliminated until training camps begin in July, the offseason becomes an exercise in extrapolation, speculation, and fantasy football of an entirely different kind.
The offseason is when our minds run away with us. Sure, with a team sport as nuanced as football we can never truly know how good or bad a team’s offseason is until well into the next regular season. That said, there isn’t much fun in sitting around from February until July without talking about football.
In that light, we present Sports Talk Florida’s grades for NFL Free Agency So Far. We’ll start with the western divisions.
Lost: FS Tyrann Mathieu, OLB Kareem Martin, WR Josh Brown, QB Matt Barkley
Signed: QB Sam Bradford, QB Mike Glennon, OG Justin Pugh, OT Andre Smith, LB Josh Bynes
Still unsigned: LB Karlos Dansby
The Cardinals moved quickly to shore up their quarterback position, adding Sam Bradford under center to bring stability to an offense that was chaotic in 2017. With Bradford’s injury history, it is wise to make sure there is a capable backup in place, and thus the Cardinals took a flyer on Mike Glennon after his release from the Bears.
Pugh will be critical to the offensive line, helping add a new dimension to the run game in particular. This could take some pressure off of Bradford and the aerial attack.
Re-signing Bynes became important when the Cardinals lost Martin. Bynes played in fourteen games for the Cardinals last season as the all-important middle linebacker. With Karlos Dansby’s future up in the air, Arizona could decide to move on with the more affordable Bynes at the “Mike” position.
The Cardinals went 8-8 in 2017 despite scoring the third-fewest points of any NFC team last season. Adding Bradford and Pugh should help that offense get closer to at least the league average. However, losing Mathieu and Martin could cause trouble for a defense that wasn’t exactly among the league’s best in 2017.
Overall grade: B-
Los Angeles Rams
Lost: CB Trumaine Johnson, WR Sammy Watkins, TE Derek Carrier, FS Cody Davis, OLB Cameron Lynch
Signed: CB Sam Shields
Still unsigned: OLB Connor Barwin
The Rams are still working in free agency, reportedly in the mix for Ndamukong Suh. They also traded for Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, who look to take the Los Angeles secondary to a new level in 2018 along with Shields. The NFL is a passer’s league, and the Rams are banking on stopping the pass.
Sticking with defense, the Rams re-signed Dominique Easley, part of their stout pass rush, as well as cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman to add to their newfound secondary depth.
Watkins’ exit was more or less inevitable. The speedy wideout got a big three-year deal to go to the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Rams preferred to save the cap room. They also saw cornerback Trumaine Johnson leave, though of course they’ve gone down different avenues to load up at that position.
The offensive line was fantastic for the Rams last season, and they rewarded center John Sullivan with a two year deal to keep stability on that line. This can only help the development of quarterback Jared Goff.
As defending division champions, the Rams had the luxury of building on their strengths for 2018. Largely, they did that, adding a fierce secondary to an already scary defense.
Overall Grade: A-
San Francisco 49ers
Lost: RB Carlos Hyde, G Brandon Fusco, DE Aaron Lynch
Signed: CB Richard Sherman, RB Jerick McKinnon, OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, C Weston Richburg
Still unsigned: SS Eric Reid, DT Leger Douzable
The 49ers made a real splash in one of football’s new rivalries when they signed Richard Sherman, the longtime Seattle Seahawk. Sherman brings leadership qualities, talent, and an abundance of confidence to the 49ers’ defense. The three year deal turned out to be relatively easy on San Francisco’s cap, and should at bare minimum provide a little buzz to the defense.
While Sherman was the flashiest move, San Francisco’s best free agent signing was likely Weston Richburg, a center who had previously been with the New York Giants. Now that the 49ers have their quarterback of the future in Jimmy Garoppolo, it is important to make sure that quarterback is well-protected. Richburg will help with that, and a capable pass-catching back like McKinnon will keep defenses honest next season.
The Niners did not spend all their cap room this free agency period, which is a wise idea. Garoppolo aside, San Francisco is not a complete football team just yet and GM John Lynch knows that. There will be a time very soon when San Francisco will look to make moves that could set up a championship run. This offseason is just a little too early for that.
Overall Grade: B
Lost: CB Richard Sherman, TE Jimmy Graham, WR Paul Richardson, DT Sheldon Richardson, TE Luke Willson
Signed: TE Ed Dickson, OLB Barkevious Mingo, G D.J. Fluker
Still unsigned: G Luke Joeckel, CB Jeremy Lane, RB Eddie Lacy
Perhaps Seattle’s best move was retaining safety Bradley McDougald, the former Buccaneer. McDougald has proven himself to be one of the hardest-working defensive players in the game, and he’s earned his spot on the Seattle defense.
Speaking of that defense, it is not going to look the same as it did in recent years. The “Legion of Boom” has been broken up, with Sherman leaving alongside Richardson and Michael Bennett. Bennett was traded to Philadelphia in exchange for wide receiver Marcus Johnson and a fifth round draft pick.
The moves look to save Seattle some cap space, but they also suggest that the Seahawks may be rebuilding for a year or two after a disappointing 2017 season. Better to make changes quickly than wait until things have gotten bad, and the Seahawks are doing that off a 9-7 campaign that did not result in a playoff spot.
Fluker will play a big role for the Seahawks moving forward. Russell Wilson was under pressure for much of the season last year, and the offensive line looks to be a priority for Seattle this offseason. Expect the Seahawks to consider linemen in the upcoming draft.
Overall Grade: C-