AROUND THE NFL

After a flurry of activity, 15 of the top 25 free agents (and 10 of the top 12), according to ProFootballTalk.com, are tagged or signed:

 

The following are PFT’s top 100 free agents for the start of the 2019 league year. The rankings include prospective unrestricted and restricted free agents, as well as released players. The list will be updated as events warrant, with signings, tags and re-signings denoted when announced and/or reported.

 

1. Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. (The Cowboys used the franchise tag on Lawrence.)

 

2. Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. (The Texans used the franchise tag on Clowney.)

 

3. Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers. (The Lions agreed to terms with Flowers on a five-year deal on March 11.)

 

4. Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. (The Falcons used the franchise tag on Jarrett.)

 

5. Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark. (The Seahawks used the franchise tag on Clark)

 

6. Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford. (The Chiefs used the franchise tag on Ford.)

 

7. Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell.

 

8. Giants safety Landon Collins. (Washington agreed to terms with Collins on a six-year, $84 million deal on March 11.)

 

9. Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. (The Jets agreed to terms with Mosley on a five-year deal on March 12.)

 

10. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas.

 

11. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. (The Jaguars agreed to terms with Foles on a four-year deal with a base value of $88 million on March 11.)

 

12. Texans safety Tyrann Mathieu. (The Chiefs agreed to terms on a three-year, $42 million deal with Mathieu.)

 

13. Washington linebacker Preston Smith.

 

14. Bears safety Adrian Amos.

 

15. Rams guard Rodger Saffold.

 

16. Broncos center Matt Paradis.

 

17. Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner. (The Raiders agreed to terms with Joyner on March 11.)

 

18. Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby.

 

19. Ravens linebacker Za’Darius Smith.

 

20. Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown. (The Raiders agreed to terms on a four-year, $66 million deal with Brown on March 11.)

 

21. Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr. (The Jets agreed to terms with Barr on March 11.)

 

22. Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright.

 

23. Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

 

24. Dolphins offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James. (The Broncos agreed to terms with James on March 11.)

 

25. Bucs offensive tackle Donovan Smith. (Signed a three-year deal with the Buccaneers on March 5.)

– – –

 

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com says one trend of early 2019 free agency has been big money to safeties, starting with S LANDON COLLINS moving to the Redskins:

 

Collins’ six-year, $84 million agreement with the Redskins was an eye-opener. He’s a difference-making player, but his new average annual value reset the market at a safety position where pay had been strangely stagnant. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo has the details, which include Collins receiving $32 million fully guaranteed over the first two years of the contract. After that, Collins will have to play at a high level to stay on the roster, like virtually every NFL player not in the first two years of his contract. (Norman, for instance, probably won’t see the last year of his contract in 2020.)

 

The contract total brings back the free agency ghosts of Redskins past, although Collins is just hitting the prime of his career at age 25. I’m more worried about Washington’s front office filling in the rest of a top-heavy roster than whether Collins will be worth the coin.

 

The huge contract kickstarted an avalanche of lucrative contracts at the position. Tyrann Mathieu received $42 million over three years from the Chiefs, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. The Honey Badger was the Chiefs’ top target in free agency, making it fair to wonder if Eric Berry could be released in the coming days. The contract completes a remarkable comeback by Mathieu from his second torn ACL. It also wasn’t the last deal given to a safety patiently waiting for long-term love.

 

Lamarcus Joyner went up the California coast after agreeing to join the Raiders, giving new general manager Mike Mayock an intriguing (if short) safety combination with Karl Joseph. Kenny Vaccaro parlayed a one-year deal with the Titans last offseason into a four-year, $26 million contract that includes $11.5 million guaranteed this time around. Kareem Jackson, who can play cornerback and safety, used a sneaky great season in Houston as a springboard into a three-year deal worth $33 million, according to Rapoport, including $23 million guaranteed. The Broncos traded Aqib Talib to save money a year ago and now will pay Jackson more.

 

NFL teams say a lot with who they pay early in free agency. They said Monday that the 2018 dip in the safety market was random and foolish. Versatile defensive backs who can cover and hit are more valuable than ever. If the Texans wanted Mathieu as badly as they said — and they reportedly were narrowly outbid for Mathieu — they could have just paid him a year ago when the price was much lower.

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com applauds the Eagles:

 

A tight salary-cap situation isn’t stopping the Eagles.

 

This is the daily part of the column where I write about salary-cap space being overrated. Perhaps a better way to say it: Creative teams can find ways to make big acquisitions, regardless of their salary-cap situation. The Eagles were in as much cap “hell” as any team in the league entering the offseason, yet they’ve still found a way to agree to terms with former Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson (three years for $30 million) and acquire DeSean Jackson in a trade before giving him a new contract. The Eagles also re-worked tackle Jason Peters’ contract to secure their future Hall of Fame left tackle.

 

General manager Howie Roseman still has to make some tough decisions, such as potentially cutting Nelson Agholor later this week, and will probably let valuable linebacker Jordan Hicks leave in free agency. But the Eagles aren’t sitting on their hands. They needed interior players, so they essentially traded Michael Bennett for Malik Jackson. They needed speed and saw DeSean Jackson’s contract as an asset. In this year-to-year league, teams like the Patriots, Eagles and Rams have found that short-term deals for veterans on the wrong side of 30 can be the best bargains available. (Just look at Chris Long’s contract in Philadelphia.) For teams that plan to contend every year, the idea of putting all your chips into a championship “window” is silly …

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

The Cardinals are bringing aging vet LB TERRELL SUGGS back home.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Terrell Suggs told the Ravens that he won’t be returning to Baltimore in 2019 and it appears he’s headed back to the state he called home during college.

 

Suggs played at Arizona State and Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the veteran pass rusher is expected to sign with the Cardinals. There is no word on how long the deal might last or how much Suggs stands to earn in Arizona.

 

Suggs, who will turn 37 during the 2019 season, leads active players with 132.5 career sacks and is coming off a seven-sack season in 2018.

 

Markus Golden is set for free agency and his departure would open a clear spot for Suggs opposite Chandler Jones in the Cardinals’ pass rush. With three other defensive linemen and two linebackers set for free agency, there will likely be more new arrivals on the Arizona defense in the near future.

 

Not to nit-pick, but Suggs called Arizona home long before he set foot on the campus in Tempe.  This from Wikipedia with an interesting note on his youth football team:

 

He was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. While growing up in Saint Paul, he played youth football, as a center, with future baseball player Joe Mauer as quarterback.] Suggs moved to Arizona after the eighth grade. As a teenager, he attended multiple schools, the first being Chandler High School. He later transferred to Hamilton High School where he set the Arizona Class 5A record for rushing yards in a game with 367 against Yuma Kofa as a junior in 1999.

 

As a senior, Suggs was named a Parade high school All-American in 2000, Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year, the No. 1 jumbo athlete in the nation by SuperPrep Magazine, Arizona Player of the Year by USA Today as well as an All-American by USA Today and the 60th-best player in the nation by Sporting News.

 

In addition to football, Suggs lettered three times in basketball and once in track and field.

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Folks in Tampa Bay think LB KWON ALEXANDER is a good, not great, player even when doesn’t have injury concerns.  But he has a big money new contract from the 49ers.  This from TheRedZone.org:

 

The San Francisco 49ers have come to terms with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander on a four-year, $54 million contract according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

 

The deal reportedly includes $27 million in rolling guarantees.  Originally a fourth-round pick out of LSU in 2015, Alexander was a major force in his first two seasons in Tampa but his progress has been derailed by injuries the past two seasons.  He also served a four-game suspension in 2015.  He is currently recovering from an ACL tear suffered in October but is expected to be ready by training camp. 

 

At least as of right now, the deal makes Alexander the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history which is baffling considering his injury history.  Apparently the 49ers are paying for potential as Alexander will not turn 25 years old until August.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com notes something of interest:

 

Alexander is recovering from a torn ACL suffered last October. The top two players paid by the 49ers last year — quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and running back Jerick McKinnon — also are recovering from torn ACLs.

 

A four-year starter in Tampa, Alexander has 46 starts with the Bucs. He made it to the Pro Bowl in 2017.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com is not impressed by Denver’s contract with T Ja’WUAN JONES:

 

Ja’Wuan James, OT, Denver Broncos

The deal: Four years, $52 million with $32 million guaranteed

Grade: D

 

This time last year, James’ status with the Dolphins appeared to be on shaky ground after he missed the second half of the 2017 season with a hamstring injury. One report suggested that the Dolphins were going to release James from his fifth-year option, though that report turned out to be inaccurate. Another rumor suggested that the Dolphins were considering dealing James to the Broncos in a deal for running back C.J. Anderson, whom the Dolphins had previously targeted as a restricted free agent.

 

James responded in 2018 with his best season. The former first-round pick suited up for 15 games and committed seven penalties, which seems like an unimpressive feat until you consider that he averaged 10.2 penalties per 15 games in his first four seasons. Per STATS, LLC, James allowed five sacks, which is right in line with his career rate when he has played a full season (or something close to it). I would give him extra credit, given that the Miami quarterback for a good chunk of the season was Brock Osweiler, who is not exactly a mobile weapon within the pocket.

 

There’s nothing in James’ track record, though, that suggests he’s worthy of this sort of deal. He is now comfortably the highest-paid right tackle in football, with his $13 million average annual salary placing him ahead of Lane Johnson ($11.3 million) and Rick Wagner ($9.5 million). Both Johnson and Wagner were far more effective and consistent on their rookie deals than James was on his.

 

You almost wonder whether the Broncos are signing James to play left tackle with the idea of moving Garett Bolles to the right side given the price tag, but this still wouldn’t make sense unless there were other teams that valued James as a solution on the left side. Right tackle has been a disaster for Denver under general manager John Elway, where recent additions such as Donald Stephenson, Menelik Watson and Jared Veldheer have failed to pan out.

 

This is paying way over the odds to fix the problem, and I’m not sure it’ll solve things. Given that the Broncos were able to hire legendary offensive line coach Mike Munchak this offseason to run their offensive line, it seems like they would have been better off with a cheaper veteran such as Jermey Parnell and a rookie for Munchak to mold into a starter.

 

He likes the signing of CB KAREEM JACKSON more:

 

Kareem Jackson, DB, Denver Broncos

The deal: Three years, $33 million with $23 million guaranteed

Grade: B-

 

Where will Jackson line up for the Broncos? The Texans were planning to move him to safety last season before moving the long-time cornerback to his original position because of an injury crisis. The good news, in a way, is that the Broncos need help at cornerback and safety with Bradley Roby a free agent and Darian Stewart off the roster.

 

At this price, Jackson is making midtier free-agent money at corner, which isn’t bad for a player who has generally been an average-to-good player on the outside as a pro. My guess is that the Broncos will start Jackson, who turns 31 at the beginning of this deal, at cornerback before moving him to safety by the end of this deal. In a thin cornerback market, even given that Jackson is on the wrong side of 30, his prior level of play and relative durability suggest that it wouldn’t have been shocking if he had taken home more than this.

 

 

KANSAS CITY

Adam Teicher of ESPN.com looks at the signing of S TYRANN MATHIEU:

 

The Kansas City Chiefs have always been rewarded for their faith in safety Eric Berry, who earlier in his career beat back cancer to return to his previous form as one of the NFL’s best safeties.

 

It’s never a good idea to count him out. But after Berry’s two mostly inactive seasons, the Chiefs can no longer afford to plan on his return, not after their dismal defense prevented them in 2018 from advancing to the Super Bowl — something they haven’t done in almost 50 years.

 

They had to make a move at safety, and on the first day of the free-agent negotiating period they made a bold one, agreeing to contract terms with Tyrann Mathieu.

 

Mathieu, who turns 27 in May, gives the Chiefs the versatile safety they’ve lacked ever since losing Berry to a torn Achilles tendon in the 2017 season opener. He’ll be the rangy center fielder in coverage they’ve lived without, but also a presence against the run.

 

He comes at a considerable cost. His $14 million average annual salary is higher than the $13 million per season the Chiefs gave to Berry two years ago.

 

But his addition could be the first step in returning some respectability to the Chiefs’ defense. The Chiefs had Mathieu as the highest-rated safety available in free agency, ahead of Earl Thomas and Landon Collins.

 

There’s a good chance Mathieu will give the Chiefs much more over the life of his contract than Berry has in the first two seasons of his deal. Mathieu will be only 29 when this contract expires.

 

He had some injury problems early in his career, finishing three of his first four NFL seasons on the injured reserve list. But he’s been durable since, playing all 16 games for the Cardinals in 2017 and for the Texans last season.

 

The Chiefs may pair Mathieu at safety with Berry, if he’s healthy enough to play. The Chiefs could also release Berry, but they’ve given no indication they’re planning to do so and he costs them about the same amount against their salary cap whether he stays with them or goes.

 

Mathieu and a healthy Berry would give the Chiefs quite the combination at safety, a duo that would turn a huge positional weakness into a strength. But Monday’s contract agreement with Mathieu makes a Berry comeback a luxury for the Chiefs.

 

It’s no longer a necessity.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock’s next steps are to sign T TRENT BROWN and S LeMARCUS JOYNER to deals.  Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com is not impressed with the former:

 

The Raiders are taking a massive risk with Trent Brown.

 

The Antonio Brown trade was a no-brainer for the Raiders. But the four-year, $66 million contract for tackle Trent Brown raises questions about whether there’s really a plan here. Brown was available for virtually nothing in a trade just a year ago, when he had the reputation as an oft-injured, sometimes overweight, sometimes under-motivated right tackle on the 49ers. One solid — not great — year in New England has turned him into the highest-paid tackle in the league on average. After trading away guard Kelechi Osemele, it’s clear that the team only wants Gruden Guys.

 

Taking a risk on Trent Brown would be bad enough even if the Raiders hadn’t used two top-65 picks on tackles just last year. It’s still possible Brown could play on the right side and leave last year’s top-10 pick, Kolton Miller, on the left side, but the Raiders are giving valuable resources to a risky league-average starter either way. Buying mid-level players at huge premiums is how teams usually strike out in free agency, and Brown isn’t the same caliber of player as former Patriots left tackle Nate Solder. Ask Giants fans how they feel about paying Solder quarterback money a year ago, like the Raiders did with Brown this year.

 

AFC NORTH

 

PITTSBURGH

Kimberley Martin of YahooSports.com looks at the Steelers in the post-Brown-Bell Era.

 

The end was inevitable.

 

The union had deteriorated.

 

The bonds had irrevocably been broken.

 

And time would not heal the emotional scars of mutual self-interest.

 

The collision course could no longer be avoided in Pittsburgh — the star wide receiver fixated on his freedom and armed with significant leverage against an NFL franchise focused on restoring order and peace within its locker room.

 

After months of in-fighting and public discord, the dust has now settled on Antonio Brown’s calculated escape from the Steelers. And with one trade, and $30 million in guaranteed money from the Oakland Raiders, Brown confirmed to the world that business is indeed “boomin’.”

 

No one knows if he’ll wins games, make the playoffs or catch 1,200-plus receiving yards again in Oakland (or Vegas), but all that matters in this moment is that Brown found a better situation for him — i.e., a suitor willing to finally compensate him for what he is: one of the best receivers in the league.

 

For years, he was that playmaker in Pittsburgh; that constant threat, that target poised to do damage against defenses. But the damage done to his relationship with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin was a transgression the Steelers could not bear to live with. So instead of retaining his talent and staying the course toward reconciliation, the organization went to great lengths to rid itself of Brown after running back Le’Veon Bell sat out the entire 2018 season.

 

The Steelers shockingly showed they are willing to eat $21.1 million in dead money just to part ways with one of the game’s greatest playmakers.

 

But Brown and Bell’s departure doesn’t mean the “circus” has fled Pittsburgh altogether.

 

With no scapegoats left to blame, the state of the Steelers now rests on the shoulders of Roethlisberger, the 37-year-old face of the franchise whose leadership tactics have been questioned publicly by former teammates (including Hines Ward and Emmanuel Sanders, among others). But for all of the criticisms of Roethlisberger’s behavior behind closed doors, the Steelers brass firmly believes in Big Ben.

 

“Ben Roethlisberger is unquestionably the leader of this team,” general manager Kevin Colbert said at the NFL scouting combine.

 

Pittsburgh is on the precipice of change. And it’s on those who remain to prove to that recent failures were the result of distractions caused by Brown and Bell — and not the consequence of something far deeper and far more difficult to admit.

 

The fate of the franchise falls on an aging quarterback who has the full support of management and uses the media as a means to call out his teammates. In Pittsburgh, it seems, Roethlisberger can do no wrong.

 

“I think I have earned the right to be able to do that with as long as I have been here,” the two-time Super Bowl champion said, during one of his weekly radio spots last season, of his penchant for criticizing guys publicly. “And I’ll just be just as critical of myself [in the media], as well.

 

“Being around for a long time with a lot of different players, you have to know how to motivate different guys in different ways. I think that’s part of being a leader, being a captain, just understanding players. Sometimes you just grab them off to the side, and sometimes you have to be honest with them.”

 

The Steelers also must be honest about the challenge that lies ahead for Tomlin.

 

It was a foregone conclusion that Pittsburgh would part with Brown in the next year or two due to his age, mounting frustrations and the emergence of 22-year-old receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Similar to backup James Conner seamlessly supplanting Bell as the Steelers’ workhorse, the stage has been set for Smith-Schuster to be the new star on offense.

 

And he knows it too.

 

“I’m ready,” the 2017 second-round pick tweeted in the immediate aftermath of the reported trade involving Brown and the Raiders.

 

But it takes more than just good players to field a playoff-caliber roster.

 

It takes discipline. Talent. And, above all else, cohesion.

 

That’s a trait the 2018 Steelers desperately lacked.

 

With each drama-filled incident that surfaced last season, it became increasingly clear that Tomlin had lost control. No longer were the Steelers skilled at keeping things in-house.

 

The bad blood that existed between select players and management had seeped into the public domain, and there was no way — despite what Colbert now says publicly — to corral the negative headlines and the sideshows that caused them.

 

For Pittsburgh to be successful in the absence of two of its biggest offensive stars, Tomlin must do a better job of managing his quarterback, and find a way to once again lead his team deep into the playoffs. If he doesn’t, he might be the next big name to part ways with Pittsburgh.

 

At the slightest sign of strife, there will be no more divas left to blame for the franchise’s missteps.

 

There will only be Tomlin. And, of course, Roethlisberger.

 

The quarterback adept at publicly doling out blame.

 

Charles Robinson, also of YahooSports.com says it was indeed Ben at the source of Brown’s problems – but not Ben Roethlisberger, rather Benjamin Franklin.

 

In late February of 2017 – in one of the social media time capsules that often illustrate the fleeting stability of NFL relationships and contracts – Antonio Brown was resolute. Fresh on the heels of a four-year, $68 million contract extension that briefly made him the highest-paid wideout in the NFL, he announced his stay in Pittsburgh as permanent.

 

“Steelers for life #Boomin”, Brown tweeted that Feb. 27, above a smiling photo of himself and agents Drew and Jason Rosenhaus.

 

Barely two years later, Brown went to Instagram for his change of heart – same agents, less impressive attire, entirely different message. Captioned “At work”, Brown snapped a photo of the two men hovering over a laptop and binder and calculator, both apparently trying to free him from that previous “for life” proclamation.

 

Inside that flip-flopping timeline, which ultimately ended with Brown’s unofficial trade to the Oakland Raiders, there is one important person missing. The change agent that mattered most, really. More so than quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, coach Mike Tomlin or any member of the Rooney family. That person?

 

Odell Beckham Jr. And most specifically, his money.

 

If Steelers fans are looking for the factor most responsible for the exit of Brown, they should affix themselves on Beckham and the market-setting contract extension he signed with the New York Giants in the summer of 2018. Because as much time as we spent talking about Brown’s social media antics or his relationship within the organization, it was the money that changed the marriage.

 

Simply put: Brown wanted one more significant (and guaranteed) bite at the financial apple and the Steelers had no more fruits to offer. Not with three years left on a contract that had doled out a $19 million signing bonus in 2017. Not with a young star like Le’Veon Bell having failed to secure his own table-setting bag in Pittsburgh. And most definitely not with Brown turning 31 this offseason, just as his continuing soap opera plunged to new depths.

 

Naturally, we concentrated on that soap opera a great deal the last few months. And how could we not? Brown was butting heads with the media, his quarterback and his coach, all while playing out a large portion of the drama on his social media accounts. He was accused of quitting on the Steelers in their final week of the season, and his long-running penchant for seeking attention suddenly became a fatal flaw that was too much to bear.

 

Yet, the only thing that truly changed here was the money and the age to attain it. It’s not like the Steelers and Brown hadn’t dealt with some troubling problems before that 2017 extension. Yet the two sides came together anyway, supposedly for “life”… or until another wideout set a new financial bar that made Brown’s deal – and guaranteed money – look like a hefty mistake. Which is exactly what that last extension was. A mistake. For both sides.

 

First, Brown and his representation should have known the landscape-altering Beckham deal was coming. Not to mention a litany of other free-agent deals that would blow $19 million in guaranteed money out of the water. Signing that deal was akin to setting the relationship between the wideout and the franchise onto the train tracks. Just because you couldn’t see the train in the winter of 2017 didn’t mean it wasn’t coming one year later. Yet Brown and his agents did the deal, possibly even knowing this day would eventually come.

 

Which brings us to the Steelers. Since the signing of the last labor agreement and the significant expansion of the salary cap, Pittsburgh’s way of doing business has gotten archaic quickly. Yes, it’s a franchise that plays out most of the deals that it signs. But the stern refusal to budge on guaranteed money is something that has begun to sting when it comes to top-level negotiations. It’s part of the reason things went so badly with Bell the past two years. It’s also part of why the relationship with Brown went sideways. Because there was simply no way he wouldn’t be irked about his $19 million in guaranteed money once he saw the avalanche of guarantees elsewhere.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

WR DEVIN FUNCHESS takes a big money, short term deal with the Colts.  Grant Gordon of NFL.com:

 

Boasting more salary cap space than any other franchise, the Indianapolis Colts will dive into free agency with the signing of former Panthers receiver Devin Funchess.

 

The Colts will sign Funchess to a one-year deal worth a max of $13 million, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Monday.

 

Funchess will complement a Colts receiving corps led by T.Y. Hilton and provide quarterback Andrew Luck with a big target as the four-year veteran measures up at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds.

 

All four of Funchess’ NFL seasons were spent playing in Carolina and he’s coming off a season in which he had 44 receptions for 549 yards with four touchdowns. Those stats came in the aftermath of a career-best 2017 showing (63 catches, 840 yards, eight TDs).

 

The Colts could do no wrong last year, but ESPN’s Bill Barnwell does not hesitate to put a low grade on this move:

 

The deal: One year, $10 million (with an additional $3 million in incentives)

Grade: D+

 

While some were suggesting that the Colts and their $100 million war chest were going to be big spenders in free agency, it was always more likely that general manager Chris Ballard’s organization would pick its spots and wait for prices to go down. There are no discounts on Day 1 of the legal tampering period. While Indy did make a signing, it’s going to raise some eyebrows.

 

It seemed likely that Funchess would have to settle for a one-year, prove-it deal after the Michigan product was excommunicated from the Panthers offense during the second half of 2018, but I didn’t expect him to get this sort of cash. If the Colts were willing to pay this much for a one-year deal on a young player, they should have been able to toe the line and get an option year to use if Funchess returned to form. There’s always a middle ground — maybe the second year would void if Funchess had a 1,500-yard season or something truly spectacular — but speculative one-year deals for young players just don’t make a lot of sense.

 

The closest equivalent to this last offseason was the one-year, $9.6 million deal Donte Moncrief signed with the Jaguars. I gave that deal an F for many of the same reasons. I’m a little more sanguine on Funchess’s deal, if only because Funchess was better at his pre-free agency peak (in 2017) than Moncrief was in his (2015). Funchess should take over the Dontrelle Inman role in Indy’s lineup, but I wonder if the Colts were better off just re-signing Inman at a lower rate.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com seems to think that QB NICK FOLES is the right guy at the right price for Jacksonville:

 

“Nick who?” indeed.

 

The moment the Jaguars hired John DeFilippo to coordinate the offense, it became obvious that they’d target quarterback Nick Foles. And indeed they have.

 

The fact that they were the only serious suitor for Foles allowed the Jaguars to stay on the right side of $25 million per year, putting Foles behind the likes of the Zero Win Playoffs club of Derek Carr ($25 million), Matthew Stafford ($27 million), Jimmy Garoppolo ($27.5 million), and Kirk Cousins ($28 million).

 

At a mere $22 million on a four-year deal, the Jaguars have the quarterback who can, with the right coaching, provide the right level of play and, more importantly, the right amount of leadership.

 

Though it often isn’t pretty, Foles gets it done. He’s cool under fire, and he finds motivation in those who doubt him. Even after everything that he accomplished in 2017 and 2018, the doubters are plentiful. And that’s good for Foles, and for the Jaguars.

 

So keep doubting him, and he’ll keep finding a way to get it done — and to make his team better in the process.

 

On the other hand, Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com is not as enamored:

 

Nick Foles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

The deal: Four years, $88 million with $50.1 million guaranteed

Grade: C-

 

In the end, the Jaguars were the only viable landing spot for the former Super Bowl MVP. In a different year, Foles might have had a bevy of possible suitors, but five teams drafted quarterbacks in the first round of last year’s draft, and somewhere between two and four quarterbacks are going to come off the board in Round 1 this April. When the Broncos traded for Joe Flacco and the Giants dug their head further into the Meadowlands sod in support of Eli Manning, the Jaguars were the only open chair left.

 

You would figure that this might have earned the Jaguars a relative bargain, but despite seemingly negotiating against themselves and with no other starting jobs currently available, Jacksonville needed to top $50 million in guarantees to reel Foles into their lineup. In a league in which winning teams are generally built around two quarterback archetypes — the above-average passer on a rookie deal and the true superstar making big bucks — the Jags are one of the few teams trying to win with something in the middle.

 

That hasn’t been a winning formula; the only veteran to win a Super Bowl in this range since the new collective bargaining agreement was signed is Eli Manning in 2011. (I’m not counting Tom Brady, who could clearly command far more on the free market than he’s received from the Patriots, if so inclined.) Before him, you have to go back to Brad Johnson and the 2002 Buccaneers.

 

It’s difficult to see a great fit between Foles and his new offense, even given that former Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo will be taking the reins as offensive coordinator in Jacksonville this season. Tom Coughlin has wanted to build an offense around running the football, avoiding giveaways and trusting his defense to make plays. DeFilippo, notably, was just fired in the middle of his lone season with the Vikings for not running the football frequently enough to satisfy Mike Zimmer.

 

Turnovers are going to be an issue. During his two seasons in Philadelphia with Doug Pederson, Foles threw six interceptions on 296 attempts, which isn’t a problem. His ability to protect the football wasn’t quite as impressive. Foles fumbled once every 33 touches during his two-year return to Philly, which was behind only Lamar Jackson among passers with 300 touches or more. His career rate is better, but is still below average for a quarterback who rarely runs with the football. Few bosses are more sensitive about fumbles than the guy running things in Jacksonville.

 

Foles also threw nearly 88 percent of his passes out of the pistol or shotgun during his two seasons with the Eagles, one of the highest rates in football. The former Air Raid quarterback can play under center, but it doesn’t work to his strengths. Are the Jags going to mold their offense to Foles? If they do, will that further stifle the running game Coughlin wanted to foster by using the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft on Leonard Fournette? There might be a way to make this all work, but this is hardly a plug-and-play solution in terms of scheme.

 

The other thing to worry about with Foles is health. The 30-year-old has fallen prey to injuries throughout his pro career. In 2012, Foles broke his hand after six starts. In 2013, a concussion knocked Foles out of his second start and cost him a week before the Arizona product returned for a blistering-hot second half. The following year, Foles fractured his clavicle in his eighth start of the season. The veteran was benched after nine games with the Rams, his longest consecutive stretch of starts as a pro. The Jaguars are paying Foles like he’ll start all 16 games, but little evidence says the former Andy Reid draft pick can pull that off.

 

The Jaguars can feel good about marking an end to the Blake Bortles era. Foles is an unquestionable upgrade on the oft-frustrating Bortles, whom the Jags spent years propping up before finally giving in to reality during the 2018 campaign. Most quarterbacks would have been, though, and they wouldn’t have cost anywhere near as much as Foles did.

 

Even if we assume that this is a two-year deal in the $51 million range, which is usually how the Jags structure their free-agent signings, Foles is going to be an expensive addition at a time when Jacksonville will be trying to re-sign players like Yannick Ngakoue and Jalen Ramsey to extensions. Part of free agency is identifying the right talent to bring in, but a huge component is identifying the possible market for those players and bidding accordingly. The Jags didn’t execute the latter with this Foles deal.

 

 

TENNESSEE

The Titans add WR ADAM HUMPHRIES to their roster for four years.  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

The Tennessee Titans are set to lock up one of free agency’s top slot wide receivers.

 

The Titans are expected to sign Adam Humphries to a four-year deal worth $36 million, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Mike Garafolo reported. The contract can’t be finalized until the league’s new calendar year begins Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.

 

Humphries, who ranked No. 46 on NFL.com‘s list of Top 101 free agents of 2019, possesses good hands and is a reliable receiver.

 

He joined the Buccaneers in 2015 as an undrafted free agent out of Clemson and appeared in 60 games with 17 starts over the past four years, totaling 219 catches for 2,329 yards and nine touchdowns in that span.

 

With the Titans, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Humphries provides a much-needed weapon in the short-to-intermediary passing game for quarterback Marcus Mariota.

 

Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are running out of wide receivers for new head coach Bruce Arians.

 

In addition to getting ready to lose Humphries in free agency, the Buccaneers on Monday also traded DeSean Jackson to the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

The Bills now have the highest paid center in football, inking erstwhile Chiefs C MITCH MORSE.  Thoughts from Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com:

 

Mitch Morse, C, Buffalo Bills

The deal: Four years, $44.5 million

Grade: B

 

The Bills were a mess at center last season, when they turned to former Bengal Russell Bodine and found that there was a reason Cincinnati didn’t keep him around. What’s interesting is that general manager Brandon Beane presumably addressed his hole at the pivot by signing Spencer Long to a three-year, $12.6 million deal earlier this offseason, but he has made a far larger investment by giving Morse a record annual average salary for a center, topping the $10.5 million figure Ryan Jensen hit last offseason.

 

Long has just $1.2 million in guarantees in his deal, so it’s entirely possible that the Bills plan to use him as a backup or utility lineman. He has also spent time at guard, and the Bills could very well move Long off center and have him take over for free agent John Miller. Morse was a tackle in college, and this sort of deal is more typically tackle money, but it’s rare for a team to hand out a deal such as this and expect a player to change positions in the process.

 

Morse should be a huge aid for Josh Allen in terms of helping to set protections in Brian Daboll’s offense. The only real concern with him is injuries, given that he missed nine games in 2017 with a foot injury and five in 2018 with a concussion. If the Bills carved out sufficient protections within the guarantees to protect against injuries, it’ll be an even better deal for Buffalo.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

The Jets come out flying, coming to agreement with a pair of linebackers – LB ANTHONY BARR of the Vikings and LB C.J. MOSLEY of the Ravens.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com on Mosley:

 

A report indicated linebacker C.J. Mosley‘s preference was to return to the Ravens as long as there wasn’t a huge gap between what they were offering and what another team was willing to pay him as a free agent.

 

We’re not sure what the Ravens were offering, but it appears they weren’t able to close enough of that gap. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Mosley has agreed to a massive five-year deal with the Jets.

 

Rapoport reports that the deal is worth $85 million with $51 million in guaranteed money. That’s bigger than the four-year, $54 million deal that Kwon Alexander agreed to with the 49ers and would set a new standard for inside linebackers.

 

As expected, the Jets have been busy in free agency since the legal tampering window opened on Monday. Mosley is joined at linebacker by Anthony Barr and the team has also reached agreements with wide receivers Jamison Crowder and Josh Bellamy.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

2019 DRAFT

This Mock Draft from Todd McShay of ESPN.com:

 

We saw lots of speed, strength and power at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis as prospects for the 2019 NFL draft jockey for first-round status. And with it, there’s some more movement in my projection of the opening 32 picks.

 

Players now have one more shot to show what they’ve got on the field at their schools’ pro days, which will take place over the next few weeks. Then teams will have to figure out how they grade those players and how they’d fit within their systems as we race toward April 25, when names will be called in Nashville, Tennessee.

 

1. Arizona Cardinals

Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma

We can’t deny the rumblings here, and we know new coach Kliff Kingsbury recruited Murray in college. I’m not all-in on Arizona taking him just yet, though — the Cards could be trying generate trade interest among the QB-needy teams. Still, the just-tall-enough Murray is a perfect fit to help Kingsbury transition the Air Raid offense to the NFL, and this pick makes sense from a scheme standpoint with all of Murray’s athleticism. Now, what could the Cardinals get for Josh Rosen?

 

2. San Francisco 49ers

Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State

The Niners will be hunting for pass-rushers this offseason, and getting the best overall player in the class at No. 2 would be a fantastic start. Bosa has length, speed and power from the edge, and it’s fathomable that the Buckeye paces San Francisco’s defensive line in sacks as a rookie. He’s that good.

 

3. New York Jets

Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama

The Jets need defensive linemen for new coordinator Gregg Williams, and the Alabama tackle fits perfectly as an interior pass-rusher who also can stop the run. Williams was incredible at the combine, and his quick first step would be a force on the inside for Gang Green.

 

4. Oakland Raiders

Josh Allen, OLB, Kentucky

When you manage just 13 sacks — a league low, and 17 fewer than the next-worst team — you’d best be looking for pass-rushers. Allen himself out-sacked the Raiders in 2018, recording 17 coming off the edge for Kentucky. If the Jets don’t take him at No. 3, he fits a big need here.

 

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Montez Sweat, DE, Mississippi State

If you set a combine record for the fastest 40-yard dash for a defensive lineman (4.41 seconds, at 260 pounds), you’re going to make some money. Sweat has a ton of upside, and Tampa Bay badly needs difference-makers on defense. But there’s also a very real possibility that the Bucs trade back with a team looking for a quarterback, and taking the best available offensive lineman — perhaps Jawaan Taylor — makes sense in that scenario.

 

6. New York Giants

Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State

Another mock, another Haskins-to-the-Giants projection. It just makes sense. New York needs to secure its future at the position while it has this high pick, and Haskins has some great anticipation and feel in the pocket. Give him a year of learning from Eli Manning, not unlike what Kansas City did with Patrick Mahomes and Alex Smith, and then let him start unleashing deep balls to Odell Beckham Jr.

 

7. Jacksonville Jaguars

Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida

With Nick Foles expected to come to Florida, the Jags need to beef up the offensive line to protect their new quarterback and create some holes for Leonard Fournette. Taylor’s mobility, power and quickness in the trenches would be welcomed. He is a starting right tackle on Day 1.

 

8. Detroit Lions

Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan

The Lions need edge rushers with Ezekiel Ansah entering free agency. Gary had a good week at the combine, showing his athleticism and explosiveness. A lack of production in college might cause him to fall out of the top five, but if he is coached properly, the talent and skill set are there to be a stellar disruptor.

 

9. Buffalo Bills

D.K. Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss

He’s an absolute monster at 6-foot-3 with ridiculous strength and 4.33 40 speed. Metcalf specializes in running the 9 route, and Josh Allen has the big arm to get him the ball. It has been a while since Buffalo had a real receiving talent like Metcalf, but don’t sleep on the offensive line here, either. A good chunk of that unit will enter free agency.

 

10. Denver Broncos

Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama

Denver has to upgrade the offensive line, and Williams is an experienced starter who would immediately provide an improvement at right tackle. New starting QB Joe Flacco is going to need protection, and Williams can handle speed off the edge with his quick feet.

 

11. Cincinnati Bengals

Devin White, ILB, LSU

There are a lot of needs here, but White is a three-down ‘backer who can play sideline to sideline. He’s one of my top prospects in the class and really impressed at the combine. The Bengals need a quarterback of the defense, and the value for White is tremendous outside of the top 10.

 

12. Green Bay Packers

T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa

Yes, the Packers re-signed Jimmy Graham, but he is 32 years old and his production has declined. Hockenson combines size, speed and strength at the position, and he would give Aaron Rodgers a real weapon in the passing game.

 

13. Miami Dolphins

Drew Lock, QB, Missouri

If the Ryan Tannehill era is indeed coming to a close, Lock would give new offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea a quarterback to develop. Lock has great mobility and arm strength, even though he needs some work with mechanics and ball placement.

 

14. Atlanta Falcons

Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

Putting Wilkins right next to Grady Jarrett, whom the Falcons franchise-tagged, would help fix a run defense that allowed nearly 5 yards per carry last season. Wilkins is an explosive interior player who was a four-year starter for the defending national champs.

 

15. Washington Redskins

Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma

No change from my previous mock, as the speedy Brown heads to the nation’s capital. Washington will be looking for improvements in multiple areas, but adding a burner would open up this offense. Brown has good hands and can outrun just about anyone.

 

16. Carolina Panthers

Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson

Carolina dropped opposing quarterbacks for a sack only 35 times in 2018. Free agency is one way to handle that, but Ferrell has very good physicality and quick hands at the point of contact. He’d be a presence on the edge for the Panthers after running up 11.5 sacks with Clemson last season.

 

17. Cleveland Browns

Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State

Dillard showed off elite athleticism for the position at the combine. He is a superb pass-protector who also has the range to cut off linebackers at the second level. And the Browns will be looking for a young left tackle to help protect Baker Mayfield’s blind side for years to come.

 

18. Minnesota Vikings

Ed Oliver, DT, Houston

Value, value, value. Oliver is one of the top 10 players in the class. So although offensive line is a more glaring immediate need here, the Vikings could plug Oliver into the middle of that defensive line between Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter and create headaches for offensive coordinators. He’s a perfect replacement for free agent Sheldon Richardson.

 

19. Tennessee Titans

Garrett Bradbury, C, NC State

I think Bradbury is the best, most NFL-ready interior offensive lineman in the class. Ben Jones has played guard before, so the Titans could move him over and slide Bradbury in at center to drastically improve this unit. Bradbury has some athleticism and power in the middle.

 

20. Pittsburgh Steelers

Devin Bush, ILB, Michigan

Pittsburgh hasn’t been able to replace Ryan Shazier in the middle of that linebacker group. We’ve seen Bush go sideline to sideline with Michigan, but his 4.43 40 time at the combine really drove home just how fast this kid is. He’s an every-down talent and would fit in nicely with an already strong defense.

 

21. Seattle Seahawks

Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State

Frank Clark is coming back to Seattle on the franchise tag, but the Seahawks still need a tackle in the middle next to Jarran Reed. On talent alone, Simmons competes with the best of the class. But there are some off-the-field concerns, and now the necessary recovery from a recent torn ACL.

 

 

22. Baltimore Ravens

Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama

How do you make a dual-threat quarterback like Lamar Jackson even scarier? Put an explosive three-down running back like Jacobs next to him in the shotgun. Jacobs was never a full-time starter at Alabama, so he has a lot of tread left on the tires — and a whole lot of pop out of the backfield.

 

23. Houston Texans

Cody Ford, OT, Oklahoma

The secondary is going to have some holes, and I do like the idea of Dexter Lawrence plugging the middle of Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense. But the Texans allowed 62 sacks last season, the league high by six. Full stop. Ford is a big mauler who would help keep franchise QB Deshaun Watson off his back, and he could play tackle or guard.

 

24. Oakland Raiders (from Chicago Bears)

Byron Murphy, CB, Washington

After addressing the pass rush with Allen at No. 4, the Raiders could look for a ball hawk in the secondary here. Murphy’s football intelligence and fast eyes would make him a good fit in Paul Guenther’s defensive scheme.

 

25. Philadelphia Eagles

Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple

We all know the Eagles want to fix the secondary, and though the Philly faithful might be clamoring for Greedy Williams here, I like Ya-Sin’s full skill toolbox. He impressed me at the combine and deserves first-round consideration.

 

26. Indianapolis Colts

Taylor Rapp, S, Washington

With a pretty good group of safeties out there on the free-agent market, the Colts could opt to address their need there. But with Matt Eberflus’ 4-3 featuring under Cover 2 and Tampa 2 components, Indy will be looking for speed and versatility. Rapp checks those boxes.

 

27. Oakland Raiders (from Dallas Cowboys)

Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State

It’d be poetic for the Raiders to use the exact pick they got for Amari Cooper to add a game-changing wide receiver. Campbell displayed 4.31 speed in Indianapolis and hauled in 90 balls for 12 touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards last season. He’d be an explosive receiver for Derek Carr (or whoever is playing QB for the Raiders) and has the ability to develop a really polished route tree.

 

28. Los Angeles Chargers

Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson

L.A. already has Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on this defensive line. Now drop in a 342-pound run-stopper with 5.05 speed and high-end athleticism. With multiple members of this unit heading toward free agency, Lawrence would be a great get.

 

29. Kansas City Chiefs

Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia

Andy Reid has to find a way to improve the secondary, and Baker does a nice job reading routes with terrific instincts in coverage. Only the Bengals allowed more passing yards than the Chiefs last season, and Steven Nelson will be a free agent. Once Kansas City gets a corner, it will likely consider a running back in the second or third round.

 

30. Green Bay Packers (from New Orleans Saints)

Brian Burns, DE, Florida State

With Clay Matthews and Muhammad Wilkerson looking at free agency, the Pack will want to add a pass-rusher off the edge. Burns dropped the opposition for 10 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss at Florida State last season.

 

31. Los Angeles Rams

Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

The Rams scored 32.9 points per game in 2018, second to only the Chiefs. And adding a tight end with 4.51 speed could help keep the offense at that pace. Fant is essentially a big slot receiver, which would create exploitable matchups for Jared Goff and coach Sean McVay on offense. Getting the second Iowa tight end here would be a steal.

 

32. New England Patriots

Irv Smith Jr., TE, Alabama

I really wanted to go defensive line here with Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton all entering free agency, but there was just no value. Instead, the Alabama tight end would give the Pats an alternative to an aging Rob Gronkowski. But I’d bet that Bill Belichick trades out of the spot to stockpile extra picks.