With plenty of action in the first two weeks of the 2021 league year, here are some observations on what we’ve seen in free agency:
Los Angeles Chargers
I think the Chargers did exactly what they should be doing. Corey Linsley is an excellent signing and really gives them stability at the center position moving forward. Matt Feiler is another adequate lineman at a reasonable price, only $7 million annually. He is a little bit tougher of an evaluation because I thought he played better two seasons ago, but he is a guy that can play both guard and tackle and could eventually replace Bryan Bulaga at right tackle. They also remained disciplined with Hunter Henry (NE) and did not allow themselves to overpay for a player that has injury concerns. With a young quarterback, philosophically, this is exactly what they should be doing. With a solidified front, they should have a really good offense. Having a good line will be Herbert’s best friend. It will allow them to pass and run and it will give him half-a-second longer to work through progressions in a new offense.
Washington Football Team
Washington had a really smart offseason because they did not go nuts but they went after young players who can still be contributing in 2-3 seasons. They brought in Curtis Samuel, who will only be 25 next season, on a three-year deal. They also upgraded at corner by signing William Jackson away from Cincinnati on a three-year, $40.5 million deal, but let Ronald Darby (DEN) leave for $30 million. Ryan Fitzpatrick really gives them some stability at quarterback as they target a younger guy, potentially in the draft. These are smart, strong additions that they did not have to break the bank for. They already have a strong defensive front, so these are the types of moves a young team should be doing to bolster their roster for the short and long term. They are being realistic and took an incremental step.
Houston should have the mindset that they need to level out the existing house to build up a new foundation. It appears to be that is what they are doing, so to go out and spend a lot of cumlimative money on one-year deals for rotational and backup guys does not make a lot of sense. They should have either signing 25-year-old guys that they could have gotten on a discount and can grow with or held onto this money in order to carry it over to when they expect to be good.
There is over $35 million dollars they allocated for this year and next that they would have been better off saving instead of trying to win one additional game. They signed Christian Kirksey to a one-year deal for $4.5 million after he was released in Green Bay. Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram were both brought in on one year deals for over $6 million total. Kamu Grugier-Hill got $2.5 million for one season. They also signed rotational guys, Kevin Pierre-Louis ($7 million), Terrance Mithcell ($6.5 million), Jordan Jenkins ($6 million), and Andre Roberts ($5.5 million) all to two-year deals. It appears they have accepted they will not be good in the next two seasons, so these moves are not in line with what their macro team-building philosophy should be.
Las Vegas Raiders
I am really unsure of Vegas’ philosophy this offseason. They parted ways with three starting offensive linemen — Trent Brown (NE), Rodney Hudson (ARI) and Gabe Jackson (SEA) — only to hand $11 million to RB Kenyan Drake for two seasons. If you want to contend and have a chance to go to the Super Bowl, you need to build a team that can beat good teams. If you are weakening your line, it is much less likely you can beat the upper echelon teams to make long runs. On defense, I think Yannick Ngakoue is a good signing at a good price and would have gone for much higher had he been exposed to the marketplace last offseason.
Overall, I just think the Raiders significantly weakened their offense, and then turned around and gave some of that money to a backup running back. I think they were in a better position a year ago compared to where they currently stand.
New England Patriots
The Patriots have very smartly shown that they are a better team when they have the ability to control the middle of the field. By adding Jonnu Smith and then Hunter Henry, they took a major step in getting back to doing that. This is them going back to their formula of emphasizing backs and tight ends and making wide receivers a second priority, even with the addition of Nelson Agholor. I do think they added players that will make a difference, some significantly, but they did not seem to notice how soft the marketplace was. Henry also has major injury concerns, so I am not sure I would have been willing to give him over $12 million annually. I never had a problem with overpaying by a million or two to get the guy you wanted but when you do that with so many players, you are hampering your flexibility going forward. Over $70 million in guarantees for those three players seems like an overpay compared to what the market was dictating, even if they will be significantly better than last season.
On defense, they bring in Jalen Mills to help reshape their secondary. I do not necessarily think that is a great fit, and I am not sure who they were bidding against to give him four years, $24 million. I think Matt Judon reflects the opposite of the majority of the moves they made. Had he been exposed to the marketplace last offseason, he would have commanded much higher than four years, $54 million. I think here they really got an appropriate discount for a guy that can really help in what they like to do.
New York Giants
Like New England, the Giants made upgrades but did so at very high prices and borrowed significant dollars from the future in a year I think they can only be okay. In my experience, the only time you should borrow like that is if you think you are on the verge of being a contender or have a legit Super Bowl opportunity. That is not the Giants right now. The positives; Kenny Golladay is a significant upgrade at wide receiver after they released Golden Tate. I am just surprised they were willing to give him $18 million annually for four years, with $40 million in guarantees, knowing how oversaturated the wide receiver market has become. I think their other big splash, Adoree’ Jackson, is also an upgrade, but not worth what they paid him with his injury concerns. He does make them better, but I do not think he is a $13 million a year player for the next three seasons. In addition to Kyle Rudolph, that is three players they paid for that have injury concerns.
The Giants also lost foundational pieces in Kevin Zeitler (BAL) and Dalvin Tomlinson (MIN) for much less money than what they paid Golladay and Jackson. While I think they improved their talent, I am not sure the high prices they paid in a soft market nets out to a positive, especially since they lost a starting lineman on both sides of the ball in the process.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Other than Shaquil Barrett, they really just paid everyone they wanted to. We just have a long history of title-winning teams, not just in football, either, that try to repeat with the same team, and it often does not work. I think Philadelphia made this mistake after their Super Bowl, and we really see it all the time. I think re-signing the younger players, Barrett and Chris Godwin was correct, but I am not sure about the Ndamukong Suh’s and Rob Gronkowski’s. Even with Godwin, they have enough talent at receiver; I think they could have made a tough decision and upgraded elsewhere.
Kansas City Chiefs
Everyone was eager to jump on Kansas City because they cut both starting tackles, Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. I actually think they will get at least one of them back at a much cheaper price when they’re healthy. They made a massive upgrade with Joe Thuney in the interior and should expect to get Laurent Duvernay-Tardif back. They also have a third-round pick from last year back at tackle, Lucas Niang, after he opted out. That is an extra draft pick essentially. They should have a much better offensive line next year. I think they made some very smart moves, and I would assume they get Fisher and/or Schwartz back.
I am not sure they know what to do; everything seems random. I actually don’t hate the Andy Dalton signing because it gives them stability at the position and keeps the door open if Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson becomes available. I do not understand moving on from your best corner, Kyle Fuller (DEN), especially after cutting another corner, Buster Skrine. They got weaker on the outside and the slot. They did not fix the offense and the defense took a step back.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints’ biggest problem is the loss of Drew Brees and the uncertainty with Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston. On defense, they let a few linemen go; Trey Hedrickson (CIN), Sheldon Rankins (NYJ) and LB Alex Anzalone (DET). They already gave up two firsts for Marcus Davenport, so they really need him to stay healthy and perform like a top-tier player.
By bringing in Bud Dupree, this is a good example of a reallocation of assets. I look at this as a trade with themselves. They wanted to emphasize getting stronger up front and were willing to sacrifice secondary players by cutting Adoree’ Jackson, Malcolm Butler and Kenny Vaccaro.