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NFL Free Agency: Reactions and Grades from First Official Day of Free Agency

Rodney Hudson

The NFL offseason has just started and already it has not disappointed! Even though teams could not officially sign free agents on March 15th, they could agree to contracts with free agents that would be signed later this week. NFL Free agency officially started March 17th at 4 pm EST. At that time free agents could officially sign with teams and prior trades can be made official.

Now that some time has passed since these signings have happened it the right time to evaluate and react to them. Some of the biggest factors to consider when reacting and grading a free agent signing are the player-team fit, whether that player fills a need for the team, and how large of a contract that team offers that player. All of those factors were considered when grading the free-agent signings listed below. Here are the grades of the signings and trades from the first day official day of NFL Free Agency.

[Signings made prior to 12:00 am EST on March 18th be mentioned below]

Blockbuster Signings

San Fransisco 49ers make Trent Williams the highest-paid left tackle in NFL History

Trent Williams
The San Fransisco 49ers have made Trent Williams the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

During the early morning, the San Fransisco 49ers were able to retain Trent Williams. It was reported that Williams had turned down the reigning AFC Champion Kansas City Cheifs to stay in San Fransisco. Last season Williams showed that he is still one of the best-left tackles in the league. The 2020 Pro Bowler’s play has earned him his six-year $138 million deal. After retaining Williams the 49ers remain a potential contender in the NFC for the foreseeable future. The 2020 5th and 2021 3rd round pick San Fransisco gave up to acquire Williams will continue to look like a bargain if he remains playing this well.

Grade: A

Alex Mack signs a 3 year $14.85 million deal with the San Fransisco 49ers

Shortly after retaining Trent Williams, the San Fransisco 49ers signed another former All-Pro offensive lineman in Alex Mack. Like Williams, Mack also has played for 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan on a different team. During Shanahan and Mack’s only season together in Atlanta in 2016-17 Mack was named Second-Team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler. On top of that, they also made an appearance in the Super Bowl that season. Mack may not be considered the best center in football anymore, but he is still one of the league’s best interior offensive lineman. It will be interesting to see how the 49ers line up the interior of their offensive line now with both Weston Richburg and Alex Mack under contract and considered centers. One of them will likely lineup at right guard for the 49ers next season.

Grade: A-

John Brown joins the Las Vegas Raiders after signing a 1 year $3.75 million deal

The Las Vegas Raiders lost their number one wide receiver from last season (Nelson Agholor) to the New England Patriots. So they responded by signing a receiver with a similar mold and playing style to him. Like Agholor, John Brown is a slightly smaller receiver, is known as a deep threat and a burner. Brown will be 31 to start the next season so he won’t likely be the team’s number one receiver next season. Instead, this opens the position up to 2020 first-round pick Henry Ruggs to be the team’s best pass-catching option besides Darren Waller. The Raiders got a cheaper option than Agholor in Brown that should be able to fill the role Agholor left in this offense.

Grade: B+ 

Justin Coleman signs with the Miami Dolphins for 1 year $2.75 million

Justin Coleman is a great veteran to add to any roster. He is one of the better nickel corners in the league. However, Coleman landing in Miami raises a few questions. The first question is what does this mean for Noah Igbinoghene. The Dolphins took Igbinoghene in the first round of last year’s draft. It was assumed that Igbonoghene would primarily in the slot after giving both Byron Jones and Xavien Howard long-term deals. Now that Coleman is in the picture, does Miami trust Igbinoghene? Will Igbinoghene and Coleman have to battle it out in camp for the nickel cornerback role in Miami’s defense? It seems most likely that Miami will play four cornerbacks on the field for most of their snaps. But if Coleman’s role is to take over for Igbonoghene after one season, the Dolphins should focus on developing their most recent first-round pick over replacing him.

Grade: B-

The Arizona Cardinals add A.J. Green to a 1 year $8 million contract

A.J. Green
The Arizona Cardinals have brought in A.J. Green to be the team’s second option at receiver after DeAndre Hopkins. (Courtesy of Fox News)

A.J. Green landing in Arizona feels like a weird fit at first but makes more sense when looking at the entire picture. After their first couple of seasons, it seems clear that Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella are not going to develop into anything more than role receivers at the NFL level. Kyler Murray and the Cardinals are in need of a star receiver to play opposite DeAndre Hopkins. Green may not be the receiver he was at the peak of his career but it wasn’t too long ago where he was considered one of the league’s best receivers. He has the opportunity to show this season in a new offense that can still be considered a top receiving option for an offense. Arizona makes sense for Green because at this point he is nearing the end of his career at age 33 next season. Much like many veteran players, Green could have gone to Arizona because it is an easy play to live with nice weather where he could eventually live after he retires.

Grade: B+

Jayon Brown returns to the Tennessee Titans on a 1 year $5.25 million deal

It is shocking to see that after hitting the open market Jayon Brown only got a one-year deal worth slightly more than $5 million to return to the Titans. After his production the last couple of seasons it seemed like teams would have to get into a bidding war to acquire Brown’s services. His season-ending elbow injury shouldn’t have been the reason why he signed for so little. Brown was medically cleared before he hit the market. Brown likely returned to Tennesee on a cheap deal to be a part of this team’s quest to reach their true potential. The Titans came within a quarter of the Super Bowl in 2019-20. Brown along with the Titan’s other offensive additions could push Tennesee over the hump and make them Super Bowl contenders in 2021-22.

Grade: A

The Las Vegas Raiders trade Rodney Hudson (and a 7th round pick) to the Arizona Cardinals to a 3rd round pick

After reportedly releasing Rodney Hudson, the Raiders decided to trade him to Arizona instead. It made sense that the Raiders got rid of some of the players they did in order to clear cap space. But getting rid of Rodney Hudson did not make much sense for the Raiders this offseason. The Raiders broke even instead of owing Hudson money when they cut him because he let the Raiders keep the money they guaranteed him this offseason. This was a steal for the Cardinals. For only a third-round pick the Cardinals acquire arguably the best center in football. Hudson is a massive upgrade at the position for Arizona and pushes the Cardinal’s offensive line into great territory.

Raiders Grade: C

Cardinals Grade: A

Marlon Macks stays in Indianapolis for another season for 1 year $2 million

After how well Jonathan Taylor played for the Colts last season it’s shocking that both Mack and the Colts had a mutual interest in each other to get a deal done. Mack missed the last 15 games of the season after tearing his Achilles. Many thought the Colts drafted Taylor in the second round to replace Mack once he became a free agent. Before last season Mack was coming off a career-high 247 carries and 1,091 rushing yards. Mack was in need of an opportunity to prove to the league that he is still the same running back he was preinjury and that he is capable of being a team’s lead back. He will not get that opportunity in Indianapolis. Besides Taylor, the Colts already have two very comfortable change of pace/depth backs in Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins. Mack is in need of an opportunity to receive 150+ carries and the Colts need to put the ball in Taylor’s hands as much as possible. Something has to give and this signing just does not seem well for both sides.

Grade: C

The Carolina Panthers sign Haason Reddick to a 1 year $8 million

Haason Reddick
Haason Reddick reunites with his former college coach Matt Rhule in Carolina to be a pass-rush specialist. (Courtesy of Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)

Haason Reddick broke out during the 2020-21 season and showed that his role should be to get after a quarterback. But after only one season where Reddick wasn’t considered disappointing, it is understandable that he only got a one-year deal. But if his price tag was only $8 million the question comes up why didn’t the Cardinals bring Reddick back to play opposite Chandler Jones and along the same side of the field as J.J. Watt. Reddick does reunite with his former head coach at Temple Matt Rhule in Carolina. Reddick gives Carolina the versatility to play a hybrid style of defense. They can now flex two players between multiple positions. Carolina can now flex Reddick between outside linebacker or rotate him with 2020 second-round pick Yetur Gross-Matos at edge rusher. The Panthers already have Jeremy Chinn who rotated between linebacker and safety this past season. When both Reddick and Chinn are on the field opposing offenses will scramble to figure out what each will do during individual plays.

Grade: B+

Solomon Thomas joins the Las Vegas Raiders for 1 year $5 million

Former third overall pick Solomon Thomas has not found his role yet in the NFL. Coming into the NFL in 2017 one of his best traits was his versatility to play pretty much anywhere along a defensive line on either a 3-4 or 4-3 defensive front. It also helped Thomas shoot up draft boards after Calias Campbell won the defensive player of the year award that same season showing the same versatility. During his four seasons in San Fransisco had his career-high in sacks his rookie season with three. He has only started five games in the past two seasons. Thomas started only three of sixteen games in 2019-20 and only two games in 2020-21 because he tore his ACL. The Raiders are in need of proven defensive talent especially on the interior of their defensive line. Thomas is the complete opposite of a proven commodity. Instead, Thomas is a former top prospect who had a high ceiling but has disappointed. The Raiders were not the best fit for Thomas.

Grade: C-

Kyle Long comes out of retirement to play for the Kansas City Cheifs

Right before the offseason begun Kyle Long announced that he wants to come out of retirement. There aren’t many better situations for Long to land than Kansas City on a 1 year $1.5 million deal. However, the former Pro Bowler and All-Pro’s role hasn’t been clarified yet. After signing Joe Thuney the Chiefs have two more than capable starting guards in Thuney and Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff. Is Long a depth option and potential Duvernay-Tardiff insurance policy if he opts out again. Or will the Chiefs experiment and play one of these linemen at center or left tackle where they still have a need. Either way, this was a great pickup by the Chiefs who showed last season that they are in need of depth across their offensive line.

Grade: A-

Gerald Everett remains in the NFC West after signing with the Seattle Seahawks

At times Gerald Everett has shown flashes of being the tight end Seattle took in the second round in 2017. But Everett has just been a role player for the Rams for the last four seasons. He has been behind Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Brandin Cooks (until 2019-20) in targets in the offense for his first couple of seasons. Recently Everett fell behind Tyler Higbee in the Rams offense and became the Rams’ second tight end. With that being the case it seemed very likely that Everett was going to leave Los Angeles. However now he gets to play the Rams twice next season in Seattle. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has always taken advantage of having talented tight ends on his roster. Everett immediately becomes the Seahawks’ third receiving option on offense behind D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett and could be in line for a career year in 2021-22.

Grade: B+

The Washington Football Team adds Curtis Samuel on a 3 year $34.5 million deal

Last year Curtis Samuel showed that he is more than a versatile offensive weapon, but a legitimate starting receiver. Samuel set career-highs with 77 receptions for 851 receiving yards despite Carolina adding Robby Anderson. Now he will reunite with his former head coach Ron Rivera in Washington. Washington got Samuel for cheap considering what other receivers made on the open market. Unless Logan Thomas has a breakout season Samuel could be in line to be Washington’s true number two receiver behind Terry McLaurin. Adding both Samuel and Ryan Fitzpatrick could propel Washington into the playoff again in 2021-22.

Grade: A

Gabe Jackson is traded from the Las Vegas Raiders to the Seattle Seahawks for a 5th round pick

Gabe Jackson became the fourth Raiders starting offensive lineman to get removed from the roster and third to be traded away. Jackson has been a very reliable starter for the Raiders over the last seven seasons. The Raiders opened up just over $7 million by trading Jackson to the Seahawks. On the other hand, Seattle gives Russell Wilson his wish for better protection. The only slight issue with acquiring Jackson is the offensive line alignment. Last season third-round pick rookie Damien Lewis played extremely well at right guard which is the position that Jackson plays. The question becomes which one between Jackson and Lewis is comfortable moving to the left side because Seattle cannot afford to bench Lewis. Besides Duane Brown, Lewis was Seattle’s best offensive lineman last season.

Raiders Grade: B

Seahawks Grade: B+

The Minnesota Vikings sign Patrick Peterson to a 1 year $10 million deal

Patrick Peterson
The Minnesota Vikings add a veteran presence to their defense in eight-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson. (Courtesy of Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports)

A full season after letting go of a former All-Pro cornerback, the Minnesota Vikings signed a former All-Pro cornerback in Patrick Peterson. Last year Minnesota let go of multiple veterans across their defense and their defense struggled to hold up with multiple inexperienced players and rookies starting across it. The Vikings took Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler early last year’s draft. Their cornerback group lacked a proven veteran to be the number one corner while the younger players develop. Peterson is the perfect veteran to lead this young secondary. He is not too far removed from his prime to be a reliable number one cornerback. It also allows Dantzler to develop playing team’s second wide receiver option and Gladney to play where is comfortable in the slot. Mike Zimmer is going to have fun with a veteran like Peterson in his defense. This signing also means that 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes‘ time in Minnesota is limited. It wouldn’t be shocking if he is asked to give up #21 to Peterson in the next couple of days and his fifth-year option isn’t picked up.

Grade: A-

Kyle Van Noy rejoins the New England Patriots after one season in Miami

Kyle Van Noy has become the latest Patriots veteran to sign a huge contract with another team, not work out, then return to New England. It is fair to say that his return to New England happened a lot quicker than many have expected. The craziest part about it is that Van Noy didn’t even have a bad year in Miami. The Dolphins likely cut Van Noy because they thought they could use the money they were going to spend on him better this offseason. New England now has a plethora of edge rushers to work with this season including Matthew Judon, Chase Winovich,  and 2020 second-round pick Josh Uche to go with Van Noy off the edge.

Grade: A-

Other Transactions From that Day

The Los Angeles Rams trade Michael Brockers to the Detriot Lions for a 7th round pick. Rams: B-, Lions: A-
Lamar Miller signs a 1 year $1.2125 million deal with the Washington Football Team: B
David Sharpe returns to Washington on a 1 year $2.133 million deal: B
The New England Patriots sign Ted Karras to a 1 year $4 million contract: B
Adam Butler signs with the Miami Dolphins for 2 years $9.5 million: B
The Las Vegas Raiders retain Zay Jones on a 1 year $2.5 million deal: B
Denzelle Good returns to the Las Vegas Raiders on a 2 year $8.36 million deal: B
Denzel Perryman signs with the Carolina Panthers for 2 years $12 million: B+
Chad Beebe stays a part of the Minnesota Vikings after signing a 1-year deal: B
Richie Incognito returns to the Las Vegas Raiders for 1 year $2.62 million: B+
The Cleveland Browns resign Malcolm Smith to a 1 year $1.2125 million deal: B
The Chicago Bears keep Deon Bush on a 1-year deal: B
D.J. Jones returns to the San Fransisco 49ers on a 1-year deal: B+
Johnathan Hankins comes back to the Las Vegas Raiders on a 1 year $3 million deal: B
The Carolina Panthers sign Morgan Fox to a 2 year $8.1 million deal: B+
The Jacksonville Jaguars trade Josh Olivier to the Baltimore Ravens for a conditional draft pick. Jaguars: B-, Ravens: B
Quinton Jefferson signs with the Las Vegas Raiders on a 1 year $3.25 million deal: B+
Levi Wallace returns to the Buffalo Bills on a 1 year $1.75 deal: A
The Denver Broncos sign Mike Boone to a 1 year $2.5 million deal: B
The Cincinnati Bengals hold onto Samaje Perine for 2 years $3.3 million: B-
The Dallas Cowboys resign Jourdan Lewis to a 3 year $16.5 million: B
Ifedi Odenigbo joins the New York Giants on a 1 year $2.5 million deal: A
Rashad Higgins returns to the Cleveland Browns on a 1 year $2.38 million deal: A-
Larry Ogunjobi stays in the AFC North after signing with the Cincinnati Bengals for 1 year $6.2 million deal: B+
Angelo Blackson signs with the Chicago Bears for 2 years $5.5 million deal: B

Other 2021 Offseason Grades and Reactions

Day One of the Tampering Period (March 15th)
Day Two of the Tampering Period (March 16th)

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