NFL free agency is underway, as teams began re-signing players and making trades after last week's franchise-tag deadline. Now that the new league year has begun, deals can be made official.
Among the top players off the board so far: Offensive tackle Trent Williams is headed back to San Francisco, tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith are among the Patriots' signings, the Bengals landed pass-rusher Trey Hendrickson, and the Giants inked Kenny Golladay to a four-year pact. Washington and coach Ron Rivera also landed former Carolina playmaker Curtis Samuel, whom Rivera coached with the Panthers.
National NFL reporters Jeremy Fowler, Dan Graziano and Kevin Seifert are grading every big free-agent signing and trade for the next week, using our top 100 rankings as a guide. They'll grade each move from the team's perspective, using the contract terms, money numbers, player value and age, and history to assess the deal. Because the specific structure of contracts isn't always known when a deal is announced, they might delay grading a move until they know more about the guaranteed money.
They've graded more than 50 deals so far, with the most recent grades at the top. This piece will continue to be updated.
Tracker: Latest signings, moves
Ranking the top 100 free agents
NFL free agency landing page
Monday, March 22
Kenny Golladay, WR, New York Giants
The deal: Four years, $72 million with $28 million guaranteed at signing
Top 100 ranking: 5
Two things can be true at the same time: (1) The Giants, who set out to find a true No. 1 wide receiver in free agency, signed the free agent who most closely fits that profile. (2) They paid him a ton of money. The grade is a good one because they got the guy they wanted, but it's kept out of "A" range because they got smoked in the negotiations by agent Todd France.
This deal is even better than the top-line numbers make it look for Golladay. Yes, he gets the $28 million fully guaranteed at signing, including $10 million of his $13 million 2022 salary. But as of the third day of the 2022 league year, the remaining $3 million of that 2022 salary becomes fully guaranteed, he gets a $4.5 million roster bonus and his $4.5 million 2023 roster bonus becomes fully guaranteed. So if the Giants cut him before the start of the 2022 league year, they'll have paid him $28 million for one season. And if they cut him after two years, they'll have paid him $40 million for two seasons. That's not terrible if he's the true No. 1 wide receiver they clearly believe he is.
Golladay is the kind of perimeter receiver whose ability to win 50-50 balls should be a big help to young Giants quarterback Daniel Jones as long as Golladay can stay on the field. But frankly, this is a player who comes with some question marks after the way the 2020 season went for him in Detroit, so the signing is not without risk. -- Graziano
Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Buffalo Bills
The deal: One year, $2.5 million
Top 100 ranking: 88
Say what you want about Trubisky's tenure as the Bears' starter. No matter how you look at it, this is a relative steal for the Bills. Getting a veteran backup for less than $3 million is quite a deal. Keep in mind, for example, that the Dolphins guaranteed $5 million to Jacoby Brissett. It was also wise for the Bills to find a backup who can mirror starter Josh Allen's skill set.
While he might not be as accurate or confident a passer as Allen, Trubisky has the arm to make every throw and has a similar level of mobility. If he needed to play for the Bills, they would not have to make significant changes to their offensive philosophy. -- Seifert
Kyle Fuller, CB, Denver Broncos
The deal: One year, $9.5 million with $9 million guaranteed
Fuller was due to earn $14 million in salary and bonuses in 2021 if he'd stayed with the Bears for the final year of his contract. Chicago found his $20 million cap hit untenable and asked him to cut his salary down to about $2 million, according to a source close to the situation. Likely figuring former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, among others, would be happy to pay him more than that on the open market, Fuller refused the pay cut and the Bears released him.
He was a Bronco within minutes, and by adding him and fellow free-agent signee Ronald Darby the Broncos addressed one of their most significant needs with a pair of quality veterans at good market value. Denver still could look for a cornerback in next month's draft, but these signings mean the Broncos don't have to draft a cornerback just because this year's team needs one. Reunited with Fangio, Fuller should be a high-level performer in Denver in 2021. -- Graziano
Anthony Harris, S, Philadelphia Eagles
The deal: One year, $5 million
Top 100 ranking: 27
At his best in Minnesota, Harris was a playmaking safety who was efficient in deep coverage. He was part of a larger slump in the Vikings' defense during the 2020 season, going without an interception after totaling nine in the previous two seasons combined. But in the end, he is a relatively low-risk signing for the Eagles. There are 20 NFL safeties set to earn more than $5 million this season.
Harris is precisely the type of mid-age veteran who was going to be vulnerable to the tighter cap environment in 2021. At 29, he's young enough to get one more crack at a decent payday next spring. In the meantime, the Eagles are in position to get strong value out of this signing. -- Seifert
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Indianapolis Colts
The deal: One year, $6.5 million
Top 100 ranking: 72
The Colts' plan this week was clear: Try to bring back a few valued veterans but don't overdo it. So they offered Rhodes a pay increase over last year's $3 million to re-sign with them, knowing the economics of a depressed free agency might lure him back. Rhodes was solid last season with 12 pass deflections, two interceptions and a 76.3 Pro Football Focus grade. You could argue he was more productive last season than Patrick Peterson, who got $10 million from Minnesota.
Maybe Indianapolis could have invested in more of a long-term solution at the position (Rhodes is 30), but paying twice as much as his cost made little sense for a team poised for contention. If the Colts can re-sign Rhodes and receiver T.Y. Hilton at reasonable clips, Indy is off to a good start in March. -- Fowler
Saturday, March 20
Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks
The deal: Two years, $10.425 million, with $5.5 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 96
The money is good for Carson considering the tough free-agency climate for running backs. For the team, this is slightly more than Seattle wanted to spend on a running back when it has other glaring issues at pass-rusher and No. 3 receiver. And at some point the team has to give the keys to Rashaad Penny to validate his first-round status.
A big part of Seattle's identity is the power running game, though, and Carson is still the best man for that job. Russell Wilson won't mind this move at all. He values Carson's presence greatly. Seattle was pushing up against the cap before this deal but can restructure some contracts if it comes to that. -- Fowler
Friday, March 19
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
The deal: One year, $8 million
Top 100 ranking: 17
It's is a home run for the Steelers to get Smith-Schuster back for another year at this price, even if it meant they had to move on from cornerback Steven Nelson to do it. It's not awful for Smith-Schuster, either. He'll have another bite at the apple next year at the age of 25. Some of this had to do with the lower salary cap, though Smith-Schuster also preferred not to play for the Ravens, who were pursuing him.
But consider some of the other receiver deals that have been struck this week. The Jets gave Corey Davis $27 million in guarantees. Washington is paying Curtis Samuel an average of $11.5 million on a multiyear deal. The Dolphins guaranteed Will Fuller V $10.6 million. The Jaguars gave Marvin Jones Jr., who is seven years older than Smith-Schuster, $9 million guaranteed. This deal will turn out to be one of the best bargains in free agency. -- Seifert
Justin Simmons, S, Denver Broncos
The deal: Four years, up to $61 million with $35 million guaranteed
In essence, the Broncos had to decide whether to do this contract or bid farewell to Simmons after the 2021 season. A third consecutive franchise tag is 144% of the second and at the very least would have provided the baseline of negotiations for a deal in 2022. An argument could have been made for making 2021 his final season, capping his tenure at six really good seasons, and moving on before his quality of play declined -- especially at these numbers. After all, only one team has given a safety more guaranteed money than is in this deal; Washington's Landon Collins has a total of $44 million in his contract.
With that said, Simmons is young enough (27) to continue building a defense around. He has started every game for the past three seasons, is a strong leader and most importantly is finally getting some recognition for his broad-based skill set. This was a defensible decision, even with the high numbers at a position not generally considered among the top three most valuable. -- Seifert
Kyle Rudolph, TE, New York Giants
The deal: Two years, up to $14 million
Top 100 ranking: 46
Rudolph isn't likely to see $16 million over the next two years, but the Giants gave him a pretty good deal for what we assume will be the backup role to Evan Engram. Their interest in Hunter Henry, who eventually signed with the Patriots, indicates they want to use multiple tight ends in their offense, but how many snaps could Rudolph get if Engram is healthy and playing regularly?
The contract calls for him to receive $7 million for 2021, assuming he is on the roster, and then the Giants will have to decide about the 2022 season, during which he will turn 33. With that said, Rudolph has a unique set of skills that could justify this salary, if the Giants take proper advantage of it. He developed into a good blocker during his time in Minnesota. And while he has never been a down-the-seam tight end, he excels on difficult catches near the sideline and especially in the end zone.
He could be a wonderful safety net for quarterback Daniel Jones, who sometimes needs them. -- Seifert
Bud Dupree, OLB, Tennessee Titans
The deal: Five years, $82 million, including $35 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 4
Dupree was arguably the most explosive edge rusher in the class. His recovery from a torn ACL suffered in December was the only issue, but Dupree tells us his doctors project he'll be full go for training camp. Perhaps that's good enough for the Titans, who must right last year's wrongs at pass-rusher with the Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney flops.
Dupree has 19.5 sacks in his past 29 games. He works hard, plays the run and plays with power. He should provide more consistency than the previous options in Tennessee.
The only risk is the long-term investment if the knee doesn't hold up or if the performance is subpar. But, like most long-term deals in the NFL, the Titans have an escape hatch after two years. Dupree is owed $34 million over those first two years. -- Fowler
Thursday, March 18
Desmond King II, CB, Houston Texans
The deal: One year, $3.5 million
Top 100 ranking: 18
This is a really strong one-year rental for the Texans. King was an excellent slot cornerback during his early years with the Chargers, but his career got upended a bit when the Chargers signed veteran Chris Harris Jr. Ultimately, they traded him to the Titans last season rather than initiate long-term contract discussions.
As it turned out, King was one of many players who entered the market knowing that a one-year deal would be the best-case scenario, one that would allow him to reenter the market in 2022 when he would be 27. In the meantime, the Texans got good value here for at least one season. -- Seifert
Will Fuller V, WR, Miami Dolphins
The deal: One year, just over $10 million, with additional incentives
Top 100 ranking: 21
Not too much to knock here, as the Dolphins clearly needed weapons to bolster the passing game. Fuller was one of the few receivers in this class with elite speed and route-running ability. His 86.2 Pro Football Focus grade was in the top 10 leaguewide last year. And any one-year deal four days into free agency comes at a reasonable money clip.
Fuller's issue is reliability: He has failed to play more than 11 games in a season since 2017 due to injuries and a suspension will cost him the season opener in 2021. But a one-year deal eliminates most of that risk. If it doesn't work, move on. It's time to take the constraints off Tua Tagovailoa and let him air it out and learn from mistakes. Fuller can help with that. -- Fowler
Kenyan Drake, RB, Las Vegas Raiders
The deal: Two years, $11 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 94
If anyone out there has any idea what the Raiders are doing, please hit me up on Instagram or something, because I am totally lost. They used a first-round pick on Josh Jacobs two years ago and seem to like using him as their lead back, but last season they spelled him with Devontae Booker on passing downs. So earlier this week, they let Booker leave and sign with the Giants for $2.25 million a year. Now they sign Drake for literally twice that much the day after they traded their starting center and one of their starting guards.
Do you know how much guaranteed money Jacobs will make in the next two years? I do. It's $3.7 million. Not per year. Total. Does Jon Gruden think the league is mandating some sort of minimum spend on the running back position and he has to meet it?
Agents for running backs have been howling for the past couple of days about how there's no money out there for their guys, holding back tears as they look over $4 million-a-year offers for established producers. I just can't understand why it makes sense to pay this guy this much money at this point in the market. -- Graziano
Jared Cook, TE, Los Angeles Chargers
The deal: One year, up to $6 million, including $4.5 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 64
Jared Cook isn't Hunter Henry on the field, but the difference between his deal and Henry's (with the Patriots) makes the comparison a wash. (Henry received $25 million guaranteed as part of a three-year deal.) In fact, I'd listen to an argument that the Chargers are better off in the long run with this arrangement, especially if Donald Parham -- who had three touchdowns amid 10 receptions last season -- develops into more of an every-down player.
Cook turns 34 next month, but he has caught 22 touchdowns in 45 games over the past three seasons. Between him and Parham, the Chargers are going to have quite a set of red zone threats. This move was a pretty sensible recovery after losing Henry. -- Seifert
Kyle Van Noy, LB, New England Patriots
The deal: Two years, up to $13.2 million, $6 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 49
This was an outcome we should have taken to Vegas as soon as the Dolphins announced plans to release Van Noy. I mean, of course he was going back to the Patriots -- and of course the Patriots wanted him. He's perhaps the most prominent example of a player the Patriots plucked out of NFL obscurity, plugged into a specific hybrid role that perfectly fit his skills, and then cashed in with another team only to find himself heading back to New England to finish his career.
Van Noy turns 30 later this month, and it remains to be seen if he is still the same player that left for the Dolphins last spring. The non-insignificant guarantees in this deal, however, suggest the Patriots have big plans for him in 2021. This move would get an "F" for creativity, but fortunately for everyone, this isn't an art class. -- Seifert
Wednesday, March 17
Patrick Peterson, CB, Minnesota Vikings
The deal: One year, up to $10 million
Top 100 ranking: 22
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer loves his cornerbacks and doesn't mind if they are on the older side. In some cases, he prefers it. The 30-year-old Peterson will serve the Terence Newman role for Zimmer, as the veteran who might be past his prime but is still good enough to demonstrate for younger players how to execute the scheme at a fairly high level.
It wasn't a coincidence that the Vikings' defense collapsed last season after the team bid farewell to veteran cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander. Rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler started a combined 25 games, and it did not go well. It can be trite to claim that a position group needs a leader, but Newman has shown how one knowledgeable veteran can influence the effectiveness of the entire room.
To get a perennial Pro Bowl player -- and potential Hall of Fame inductee -- to fill the role is a pretty decent way to go. -- Seifert
Gerald Everett, TE, Seattle Seahawks
The deal: One year, $6 million
Top 100 ranking: 36
This is incredible value for a player some evaluators consider a fringe top-10 talent at tight end. He hasn't put it all together yet, serving as more of a situational tight end behind Tyler Higbee in Los Angeles. But Seattle is counting on new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, who was with Everett in L.A., to unlock his enormous potential.
The second-wave tight ends were aiming for around $8 million, but Seattle waited this out for a more palatable number. Sure, call this a team-building move. But in the bigger picture, it had to start addressing the strained Russell Wilson relationship with more help for him. This was a good start. It also is adding guard Gabe Jackson in a trade with the Raiders. -- Fowler
Curtis Samuel, WR, Washington Football Team
The deal: Three years, $34.5 million
Top 100 ranking: 19
We'll see whether this deal is a bargain once some of the other big wide receiver deals come in. It's a bit less than Corey Davis got from the Jets earlier in the week, but Samuel is a different kind of player than Davis -- as well as a different kind of player than Kenny Golladay, Will Fuller and JuJu Smith-Schuster, all of whom haven't signed yet.
There was a real eye-of-the-beholder element to the team evaluations of Samuel in the past couple of days. Some saw him as a gadget-type player who wasn't worth the eight figures per year he was seeking. But Ron Rivera, Scott Turner and the Washington coaching staff know Samuel from their time together in Carolina and have some idea of how to use him. Obviously, they weren't alone, or they could have gotten him cheaper. But he should be a quality complement to starting wideout Terry McLaurin for a Washington team that needed to add playmakers. -- Graziano
Kyle Long, G, Kansas City Chiefs
The deal: One year, up to $5 million with $1.1 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 70
If Long is healthy, this is a grand slam for the Chiefs. You'll remember that Long was one of the NFL's best guards from 2013 to '15 with the Bears. Injuries cost him eight games in 2016, six in 2017, eight in 2018 and 12 in 2019. If a year off has healed him and he can come anywhere close to his early-career performance, the Chiefs will have gone a long way toward rebuilding their offensive line after the releases of left tackle Eric Fisher and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
And while their acquisition of free-agent guard Joe Thuney cost them a premium deal (five years, $80 million), the Chiefs' deal with Long is a bargain no matter how it works out. There were plenty of teams interested, and Long visited with the Raiders -- the franchise for whom his father, Howie, produced a Hall of Fame career -- but the Chiefs' recruiting got the job done. The big worry, of course, is whether Long can stay on the field for most of the season. It hasn't happened in six years. But that's why the Chiefs got the price they did. -- Seifert
Haason Reddick, OLB, Carolina Panthers
The deal: One year, $6 million with $2 million in possible incentives
Top 100 ranking: 16
No, I'm not grading easy because he's a New Jersey guy. Or at least not as far as you know.
Look, this is a nice value deal for a guy who had 12.5 sacks last year in somewhat limited playing time. Reddick is a former first-round pick who could be a one-year wonder. Heck, he could be a one-game wonder, since five of those sacks came in a single game. But paying this kind of price to find out isn't a bad play. I'd rather do this than give an injured Bud Dupree whatever it is the Titans paid him.
Situation matters, and Reddick played for Panthers coach Matt Rhule at Temple. If he plays the way he believes he's capable of playing -- and the way the Cardinals did when they picked him in the first round -- this could be a win-win where the team gets more production than it's paying for and the player gets to cash in next year in what hopefully will be a looser market. -- Graziano
Raiders trade Rodney Hudson to the Cardinals
Las Vegas Raiders get: Third-round pick
Arizona Cardinals get: C Rodney Hudson and a seventh-round pick
Raiders grade: D
Cardinals grade: B+
It's hard to understand why the Raiders are dismantling their offensive line, one they have spent dearly to assemble. Early reports that they planned to release Hudson were preposterous, given his status as one of the top five centers in the league, and the Raiders must have realized the same. Getting a third-round pick is better than nothing, but it's still hard to understand how the Raiders are better in the short or long term with the current set of facts.
The Cardinals happily capitalized here and managed a big and unexpected upgrade at a key position. They'll pay Hudson $9.9 million this season, but there is no guaranteed money in 2022. So if Hudson has a good season, they'll probably need to extend his deal by next spring. -- Seifert
Jayon Brown, LB, Tennessee Titans
The deal: One year, up to $5.25 million
Top 100 ranking: 52
Ultimately, Brown didn't generate the kind of interest he had hoped for this week. That was bound to happen to lots of free agents in 2021 as they navigate the (presumed) one-year drop in the salary cap, and it wasn't surprising to see it happen to a cover linebacker who missed six games last season because of an elbow injury.
A good performance will give Brown another chance at free agency in 2022, but for now the Titans get a gift. They'll have another year of a really good, if underappreciated, defensive player who can run all over the field, at less than the market value he would have received in most other years. -- Seifert
A.J. Green, WR, Arizona Cardinals
The deal: One year, up to $8.5 million with $6 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 15
Are the Cardinals reassembling an All-Pro team from the mid-2010s? Green, who turns 33 this summer, joins defensive end J.J. Watt (31) as the Cardinals' top two targets during the negotiating window.
We can all see what's happening here. The Cardinals finished behind the Seahawks and Rams in the NFC West last season, and the 49ers are a significant threat to jump back into the mix for a division title. General manager Steve Keim's answer has been to load up on elite veterans whose best days are behind them. It's still possible that he'll bring back receiver Larry Fitzgerald (38 in August).
The good news is that Green actually managed to make it through 16 games last season with the Bengals. He'll get plenty of opportunities to be productive in this offense. If not? It's a one-year deal, with no further damage done. -- Seifert
Rams trade DE Michael Brockers to Lions
Los Angeles Rams get: 2023 seventh-round pick
Detroit Lions get: DE Michael Brockers
Rams grade: B
Lions grade: A
This is a deal that makes sense for both sides. Detroit needed help on the interior of its defensive line and didn't want to spend for the likes of Dalvin Tomlinson or Shelby Harris.
Brockers is 31 and makes $8 million this year in salary and bonuses, but the Lions won't carry any commitment to him beyond this season if they don't want to. He was probably going to be a salary-cap casualty for the Rams, so they get a good grade because they got at least something in return -- even if it wasn't much. -- Graziano
Trent Williams, OT, San Francisco 49ers
The deal: Six years, $138 million, with $40.15 million fully guaranteed at signing and a $30.1 million signing bonus
Top 100 ranking: 1
This is another tough one to grade, because the Niners needed to re-sign Williams at any cost, but a deal like this really stretches the phrase "at any cost" to dangerous levels. We'll see how it looks when the final details come in, but it appears interest from the Chiefs and other teams drove up the price to the point in which Williams becomes the highest-paid offensive lineman in the league. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, because you can make the case that Williams is the best offensive lineman in the league, but he's also turning 33 in July and hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2013.
The Niners are still getting a deal on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo at about $25 million a year over the next couple of years, but that's not going to last forever and there could come a point in the next couple of years where paying a mid-30s tackle this much money hurts their ability to put together a quality roster.
Again, Niners team president Paraag Marathe is historically a contract whiz, and we'll see how hamstrung San Francisco really looks when the full details come in. But it appears the 49ers paid pretty dearly to keep the big man in the Bay Area. -- Graziano
William Jackson III, CB, Washington Football Team
The deal: Three years, $40.5 million, $21 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 31
This is top-of-the-market money for this year's available corners, but it's not bad when you consider Jackson is a strong cover guy. He's not top 10 in the league, but he's not far off. Consider that his old team, the Bengals, just got a new starting corner (Chidobe Awuzie) and a slot corner (Mike Hilton) for slightly less per year than Jackson's $14 million. That's the only knock here, whether a slight overpay in this depressed market.
Still, Washington knows the benefit of good outside corner play. It got it with Ronald Darby, who parlayed a one-year deal into three years and $30 million with Denver. So, Washington took a swing on a higher-profile player. Can't knock this organization for the aggressiveness at a premium position. -- Fowler
Tuesday, March 16
Leonard Williams, DL, New York Giants
The deal: Three years, $63 million with $45 million fully guaranteed at signing
Williams had the Giants backed into a corner. After trading for him in 2019, franchise tagging him for $16.126 million in 2020 and then franchising him again this year, they were staring at a $19.351 million salary cap hit if they didn't get his contract extended. With teams required to be under the cap by 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, that would have seriously hindered their ability to do much else in free agency.
So Williams was able to squeeze a very strong deal out of the Giants, getting a whopping $45 million fully guaranteed at signing. It's no bargain for the Giants, of course, but it's hard to argue with the idea of paying Williams. They franchised him last year, and he delivered 11.5 sacks, proving he was worth the franchise-tag salary and more. He's a key figure in their defense, and as another team's personnel guy said to me Tuesday night, "You've got to pay somebody."
Williams will have to continue to produce the way he did in 2020 for this contract not to look bad in a year or two, but there's no real reason to believe he won't. The way this was managed -- from the trade to the two franchise tags -- is a major reason the price got so high, so the deal takes a little bit of a downgrade for all of that. It lowered Williams' 2021 cap number from $19.35 million to $11 million, though that number will jump to $26.5 million in 2022. Count the Giants among the teams hoping for a big salary-cap spike next year. -- Graziano
Jacoby Brissett, QB, Miami Dolphins
The deal: One year, up to $7.5 million with $5 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 73
The Dolphins' handling of their quarterback position continues to be interesting, and the upshot here is that they signed a backup who is more than a backup.
Brissett started 15 games for the Colts in both 2017 and 2019 and at age 28 still has room for growth. We all expect Tua Tagovailoa to be the Dolphins' starter when the 2021 season opens, but as we saw last season, coach Brian Flores wasn't afraid to swap Tagovailoa with Ryan Fitzpatrick over the course of the season.
Fitzpatrick plans to sign with the Washington Football Team, so Flores needed a new and equally credible backup if he planned to follow a similar approach this season. Brissett's arrival at least gives him the option. -- Seifert
Andy Dalton, QB, Chicago Bears
The deal: One year, $10 million, up to $13 million with incentives
Top 100 ranking: 39
Of course this is a vanilla move that will roil an already fragile fan base. But we must consider all the options. Landing Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson without a premium draft pick to offer is an arduous task. The Bears pick 20th overall in April's draft, likely not high enough to land a top-five passer. They explored the market for Jameis Winston, who opted for a New Orleans re-sign. Mitchell Trubisky is Plan Z. The options are scarce.
Dalton reunites with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who oversaw some of Dalton's better offensive days in Cincinnati. But, it's Andy Dalton. Hard to generate excitement with this move as the Matt Nagy-Ryan Pace era faces immense pressure coming off back-to-back 8-8 seasons. -- Fowler
Marvin Jones, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
The deal: Two years, $14.5 million with $9.2 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 32
Jones is well-liked throughout the league and is coming off his first 16-game season in three years. He's also long past the best years of his career. He can be a complementary player for a productive and talented offense. But what are the Jaguars, who are at the start of a total rebuilding process, doing by adding a 31-year-old receiver?
For Jones, the answer is simple: As a free agent, you go where you're wanted. For the Jaguars? You don't have to spend money just to spend it. Why not spend that money, and maybe more, to re-sign Keelan Cole? This is nothing against Jones, but the placement from the Jaguars' perspective doesn't seem to make sense. -- Seifert
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Houston Texans
The deal: One year, up to $12.5 million
Top 100 ranking: 95
Fast-forward to Week 3. The Texans have traded Deshaun Watson to Miami and selected Justin Fields with the No. 3 overall pick in April's draft. They've spent the summer swearing they want Fields to sit and learn while Taylor starts, and Taylor has started the first two games. Then, some bizarre physical issue knocks Taylor out of the game, Fields goes in, plays well, takes the job and runs with it. Seen this movie before?
Taylor sure has, last year in Los Angeles and three years ago in Cleveland. But hey, as of now it looks like he has a real shot to start for the Texans, who may or may not trade Watson, who may or may not show up if they don't. As the Chargers kept telling us last year, he has plenty of NFL starting experience, including some in the playoffs.
Houston had been pounding the pavement for quarterback fallback options, checking in on Alex Smith, among others, in recent days (per sources), because the organization is painfully aware of the uncertainty around the Watson situation. This deal is most likely not the full $12.5 million but rather in line with the Cam Newton and Jameis Winston deals in which that's the value if he hits his incentives.
A ton of stuff can happen between now and Week 1, so there's really no way to know what Taylor's opportunity will be there. But he does give the Texans a much-needed answer to the question, "Who plays quarterback if they trade Watson?" -- Graziano
Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Cincinnati Bengals
The deal: Three years, $21.75 million, $7.5 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 30
Until he signs elsewhere, it's possible William Jackson could still return to Cincinnati. But assuming he does not, this looks like the Bengals finding his replacement on the cheap. In typical Bengals style, the only guarantee is a $7.5 million signing bonus, and the first-year salary is $1.35 million with the ability to earn $400,000 in per-game roster bonuses. So if they wanted to move on after 2021, they'll have paid Awuzie between $8.85 million and $9.25 million for one year's work.
He's a good player who turns 26 in May and missed eight games last season because of an early-season hamstring issue and a late-season COVID-19 protocols issue. Dallas let him walk because it basically didn't like anything about its defense in 2020, but he's fine. Just a downgrade from Jackson.
Bengals fans will feel better if the team starts applying some of the savings to offensive line help for Joe Burrow. -- Graziano
Shaquill Griffin, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
The deal: Three years, $40 million with $24.5 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 20
The Jaguars don't get much benefit of the doubt in free agency, where they usually overextend in trying to make up for mistakes high in the draft, where they were positioned because they had the NFL's worst cumulative winning percentage (.295) from 2010 to 2020. So I get the instinct to drag them for being the first team to throw premium money at a cornerback in this market.
But if they were going to spend money at the position, in hopes of addressing a pass defense that was the NFL's third worst in 2020 by Total QBR, Griffin was a pretty good place to start. He hit a career high with three interceptions last season, is always around the ball and plays with an edge that can be contagious. ESPN Stats & Information credited him with 39 pass breakups in four seasons as a Seahawks starter, tied for the 14th most in the NFL over that period.
It's always possible that we'll look back on this signing in a couple of years and wonder if it made enough of an impact. But at this moment, it has strong possibilities. -- Seifert
Hunter Henry, TE, New England Patriots
The deal: Three years, $37.5 million, including $25 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 2
The Patriots can identify tight end talent. They showed that when Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were dominating defenses together, and the Patriots believe offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels can scheme up two-tight-end sets better than just about anyone.
This was Henry's money range throughout, so New England didn't overspend there. But the Patriots have to be docked for drafting a pair of third-round tight ends, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, last year. There's little room for them after New England spent big on tight ends and receivers this time around. Squandered draft capital hurts when rookie-class labor is so much cheaper than this stimulus check Bill Belichick is spending on free agents.
That's sort of nitpicking. Henry will get open for Cam Newton -- or whoever quarterbacks this team -- all day. -- Fowler
Trey Hendrickson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals
The deal: Four years, $60 million, including $16 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 7
This is a very Bengals deal. They let their own guy, Carl Lawson, leave for a deal with the Jets and signed away Hendrickson from the Saints to replace him. Why not just keep your own guy? The answer lies in the Bengals' preferred contract structure. They don't like to guarantee any money other than the signing bonus, and they kind of didn't here. (The $16 million guarantee is made up of a $10 million signing bonus and a $6 million roster bonus that gets paid on Monday.)
Hendrickson will get $4 million in salary and bonuses this year in addition to that, so he'll get $20 million in the first year, but there'll be no guarantee after that, so the Bengals will have the flexibility they like to have in their free-agent deals. Having not seen the Lawson details yet, I'm left to assume the Jets put second-year guarantees in and that's where the Bengals balked.
Anyway, nerdy contract stuff aside, this basically works out to $32 million for two years for a 26-year-old pass-rusher who had 13.5 sacks last season. Lawson's career high in sacks is 8.5, and it was four years ago. The Bengals did fine here, and as always, they did it their way. -- Graziano
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Washington Football Team
The deal: One year, $10 million
Top 100 ranking: 51
What should an NFL team do when it doesn't have an obvious starting quarterback, doesn't like its trade options and isn't in position to draft a franchise player at the position (No. 19 in Round 1)? In recent years, the most popular answer has been to sign Fitzpatrick. As has been said in many of the previous instances, Washington could have done a lot worse.
Based on Total QBR, Fitzpatrick is actually coming off his best season, despite the Dolphins' decision to bench him in favor of Tua Tagovailoa. He was more effective at age 38 than he was at age 30. As he has at other stops, Fitzpatrick will give Washington the time and space to address the position for the long term without feeling immediate pressure on the 2021 season, all while giving it a pretty decent chance to compete in the NFC East. -- Seifert
Jameis Winston, QB, New Orleans Saints
The deal: One year, $5.5 million plus up to $7 million in incentives
Top 100 ranking: 45
The Saints guaranteed Winston more ($5.5 million) than the Patriots' Cam Newton ($3.5 million), but had the same idea. Like Newton's, Winston's deal could grow if he is a starter but would at the very least pay him as a high-end backup.
Winston will compete with Taysom Hill to replace the retired Drew Brees, a scenario the Saints have telegraphed for months. If he wins the job and reaches most of the incentives, he will still represent a relative bargain for a veteran quarterback. If Hill is the starter -- and we can't rule it out given his $12.2 million salary in 2021 -- then Winston will know it's time to move on in 2022. Regardless, Winston's deal gives the Saints legitimate options that would otherwise be limited by Hill's high-priced contract. -- Seifert
Dalvin Tomlinson, DT, Minnesota Vikings
The deal: Two years, $22 million, including $16 million fully guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 90
The best news here is that Tomlinson is young (27) and durable. He played in all 64 of the Giants' games over the past four seasons, establishing himself as a reliable run defender. Along with the return of nose tackle Michael Pierce, who opted out last season, Tomlinson will unquestionably help the Vikings address their uncharacteristically soft run defense of 2020. (They allowed 4.56 yards per rush, No. 23 in the NFL.)
But it's an open question whether Tomlinson can be the kind of disrupter that we usually associate with the 3-technique position, where Tomlinson presumably will play with Pierce ensconced at the nose. The $20 million in total guarantees within this contract puts Tomlinson near the top 10 of 4-3 defensive nose tackles in the NFL, and he'll get to test free agency again before he turns 30. He'll help. But will he help enough? -- Seifert
Ronald Darby, DB, Denver Broncos
The deal: Three years, $30 million, including $19.5 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 90
The only knock on Denver here is that I've heard feedback leaguewide on how exceptional of a deal this is for Darby. So maybe he won the negotiation. But that doesn't mean Denver made a bad deal.
The 27-year-old Darby had a strong bounce-back season in Washington, and some teams saw good value in the second-tier corner range. A Vic Fangio defense could probably have success with an orange cone at cornerback. And since Darby is a lot better than an orange cone, he'll make enough plays to justify most of this deal. -- Fowler
Monday, March 15
Carl Lawson, DE, New York Jets
The deal: Three years, $45 million, with $30 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 37
My theory on pass rush is that sacks don't tell the entire story of a player's effectiveness. But over time, elite pass-rushers will get plenty of them. So where does that put Lawson, who has totaled 20 sacks in four NFL seasons? Phrased nicely, because that's how we do it here, Lawson is a player the Jets are counting on to elevate his production after signing a big contract.
It has happened before, most recently with the Green Bay Packers' 2019 signing of Za'Darius Smith. And Lawson has definitely shown positive signs, having been credited with 58 quarterback pressures last season by NFL Next Gen Stats.
But let's be clear: The Jets are paying Lawson to be an every-down game-wrecker. We've seen this kind of risk flop in free agency far more than we've seen it succeed. -- Seifert
Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Las Vegas Raiders
The deal: Two years, $26 million
Top 100 ranking: 3
We'll have to see the actual numbers on this deal before we can really be sure, but part of the issue is that the Raiders took a pass-rusher with the fourth overall pick two years ago, and it says something about how that pick has turned out that they felt the need to spend on one in free agency this year.
Ngakoue is still two weeks shy of his 26th birthday, so he is a nice age for a free agent. He has had at least eight sacks in each of his five NFL seasons. But you didn't hear a lot of buzz about him when you talked to teams over the past week. It sounded like a lot of teams thought they'd be overpaying for a guy who is a little undersized for his position and hasn't developed much since his early days in Jacksonville.
Maybe Ngakoue is young enough that the development can still come, especially now that he has reunited with former Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, who is the Raiders' new defensive coordinator. But if it's really a deal for $13 million a year, I am left to wonder who the Raiders were bidding against. -- Graziano
Corey Davis, WR, New York Jets
The deal: Three years, $37.5 million
Top 100 ranking: 11
The Jets need help at nearly every position, but wide receiver was a key target for an upgrade. Their leading receiver last season was Jamison Crowder, whose 699 yards was the second lowest for a team's leading receiver in the league. They also needed receivers who could make contested catches; their 2020 reception rate on plays where the receiver had less than three yards of separation was an NFL-low 42%, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Davis is the kind of physical receiver who can help them in that area, providing he can carry over the momentum he built in his final year with the Titans. He'll also be a willing blocker on the outside, an attribute that new coach Robert Saleh is known to have been looking for. The Jets aren't getting a game-breaker in Davis, but he'll make them better in both the passing and run game. -- Seifert
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The deal: One year, $10 million
Top 100 ranking: 44
This one was pretty easy. Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is better with Gronkowski on the field. Brady wants Gronkowski on the field, and Gronkowski wants to be on the field with Brady. Voila! Deal done.
Would the Buccaneers have won the Super Bowl without Gronkowski? Possibly. But if you're all-in, you're all-in. There was no reason not to pay Gronkowski what he needed to come back for another season. -- Seifert
Nelson Agholor, WR, New England Patriots
The deal: Two years, $22 million
Top 100 ranking: 33
It's easy to understand why the Patriots targeted a wide receiver like Agholor as part of their first-day maneuvering. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, they finished the 2020 season averaging 0.9 yards per vertical route, second fewest in the NFL. Agholor's average of 2.8 yards per vertical route last season led the NFL. That's all a fancy way of saying the Patriots needed a deep threat and Agholor was one of the league's most efficient on those routes last season.
We'll soon have more details on the precise contract figures. If it comes in at a legitimate $13 million per year, it would qualify as the kind of overpayment we often see teams make when they're chasing specific players on the open market. At the moment, for example, the contract of Buffalo Bills wideout Stefon Diggs -- a 2020 All-Pro -- pays him $14.1 million annually.
But if the Patriots were determined to sign a deep threat and they didn't want to pay the presumed premium for a higher-regarded wide receiver such as Kenny Golladay, then Agholor wasn't a bad choice. The deal probably left them room to sign a second free-agent wideout, Kendrick Bourne, later in the day. -- Seifert
Leonard Floyd, OLB, Los Angeles Rams
The deal: Four years, $64 million
Top 100 ranking: 26
I don't know, man ... Floyd will turn 29 the first week of September, and he has 29 sacks in his first five years in the league -- and 10.5 of those came last season with a defensive coordinator who isn't there anymore. This feels like a pretty big bet that the former Bears first-rounder's 2020 breakout was real, and I'm not sure I wouldn't rather have tried to lure 25-year-old Romeo Okwara away from Detroit for less.
Floyd had other interest, for sure. The Giants were in it hard on Monday, offering around $14 million per year, according to sources, and former Rams coordinator Brandon Staley had at least some mild interest in bringing Floyd with him to the other L.A. team. But this kind of money was just too much for Floyd to turn down, and good for him for parlaying a one-year prove-it campaign into big pass-rusher bucks. -- Graziano
Corey Linsley, C, Los Angeles Chargers
The deal: Five years, $62.5 million, $17 million fully guaranteed at signing
Top 100 ranking: 10
No doubt, Linsley fills a major need for the Chargers, who must invest in protection for second-year quarterback Justin Herbert and absolutely have to improve their run blocking. They ranked last in ESPN's run block win rate metric and second to last in ESPN's pass block win rate metric last season. Going all out for a center made sense as a plan for the Chargers, and did they ever.
The $12.5 million average annual value on the contract makes Linsley the highest-paid center in the league, just a tick ahead of the Colts' Ryan Kelly. And the deal is even better than that for the player, who receives a $13 million signing bonus, a fully guaranteed $4 million salary in 2021 and a $9 million salary in 2022 that is injury guaranteed at signing and converts to a full guarantee on the second day of the 2022 league year. Which means, unless they cut him before this time next year, the Chargers will have paid Linsley $17 million for one year.
The deal effectively guarantees him $26 million in the first two years, which averages to $13 million a year. No wonder the Packers couldn't afford to keep him. -- Graziano
Joe Thuney, G, Kansas City Chiefs
The deal: Five years, $80 million, $32 million fully guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 12
This is what happens when a clearly desperate team approaches the best player available at the position. Thuney's $16 million average per year blows away the previous high for a guard in a multiyear deal, which had been $14.1 million for the Eagles' Brandon Brooks. (Washington's Brandon Scherff's franchise tag in 2021 will be worth $18.036 million.)
To be clear, the Chiefs needed to remake their offensive line after bidding farewell to tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. It is also quite possible that center Austin Reiter will sign elsewhere. They are better off today than they were yesterday. But when you're in that situation, you have to pay a premium for, in this case, a reliable and durable player who has never made a Pro Bowl or been named an All-Pro.
That premium included not only the $16 million average but also the guarantees. Unless Thuney plays only one season with the Chiefs, a pretty unlikely scenario, he's guaranteed to earn at least $48 million over three seasons in the deal. -- Seifert
John Johnson III, S, Cleveland Browns
The deal: Three years, $33.75 million, $24 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 24
Several teams had Johnson ranked as the best safety in free agency, which makes this nice value for Cleveland. In turn, Johnson gets higher guarantees but gives a manageable contract structure. Johnson is a valuable chess piece, with the ability to play strong or free safety. Cleveland was largely expected to work in the midrange markets but took its shot at an opportune time.
And this fills a big need for the Browns defense. According to ESPN Stats & Info research, the Browns allowed 15 touchdown on passes thrown 15-plus yards downfield last season, which was tied with the Cowboys for most in the league. -- Fowler
Matthew Judon, OLB, New England Patriots
The deal: Four years, $56 million with $32 million guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 25
New England is in full get-right mode with a string of high-profile signings. Getting a pass-rusher coming off back-to-back Pro Bowls at $14 million per year is solid work, and with Shaq Barrett off the market, Judon was among the best available.
If there's one knock, it's that the pass-rush market is deep enough where New England could have waited and gotten a good player for cheaper. But here's to assuming Bill Belichick knows how to maximize Judon in a unique way, and Judon was intent on going to a winner throughout the process. -- Fowler
Jalen Mills, DB, New England Patriots
The deal: Four years, up to $24 million
Although he is of prime age for a free-agent target (27 in April), Mills didn't land on our ranking of the top 100 free agents available. There are a lot of questions about his past three seasons. He missed eight games in 2018, seven games in 2019 and then returned to the Eagles on a one-year deal to play safety rather than cornerback.
It's obvious that the Patriots saw something they liked in the 2020 version of Mills, who managed to start 15 games. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Mills did a better-than-average job in coverage from his new position. He allowed a minus-12% completion rate over expectation, the fifth-best mark among defensive backs with at least 300 snaps.
We'll see where the final money lands, but has Mills shown enough to merit a first-day-of-free-agency plunge? That seems very far from a sure thing. -- Seifert
Kyle Juszczyk, FB, San Francisco 49ers
The deal: Five years, $27 million with $9.6 million fully guaranteed at signing
If anybody else but Kyle Shanahan pays a fullback like this, we'd be throwing an "F" on the board and screaming, "What are they thinking?" But the Niners view Juszczyk as more than just a fullback. He's a vital part of almost everything they do on offense, and they felt they couldn't afford to lose him. Other teams were interested, presumably including the Jets, whose new offensive coordinator is former Shanahan assistant Mike LaFleur. So the Niners had to pony up here.
But we're grading these deals from the team's standpoint, and while it's great for the 49ers that they secured a player who's important to them, they got no bargain here. Juszczyk is getting a $4 million signing bonus, a fully guaranteed $2.155 million option bonus that gets paid on April 1, 2022, and fully guaranteed salaries of $1.075 million this year and $1.12 million in 2022. Plus, $1.25 million of his $4.75 million 2023 salary is fully guaranteed at signing.
Do you know how hard it is to get any third-year guarantee in an NFL contract? Especially in a market like this? Nice work by Juszczyk and agent Joe Linta. -- Graziano
Jonnu Smith, TE, New England Patriots
The deal: Four years, up to $50 million, $31.25 million fully guaranteed
Top 100 ranking: 6
I had Hunter Henry one spot above Smith in ESPN's ranking of the top 100 available free agents, but the difference was more schematic than anything. As anyone who has seen him take carries from the backfield or run after the catch can attest, Smith is a phenomenal athlete who should spark all kinds of creativity from offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has never jumped out and signed a pass-catcher like this before. But you don't need to be a historian to remember that his offenses in New England were never better than when his tight ends -- Rob Gronkowski, most notably -- were forcing mismatches all over the field.
Belichick paid dearly in his effort to reestablish that approach, especially after drafting two tight ends in the third round of the 2020 draft. We'll see where Smith's final numbers settle, especially as it relates to average per year. But for now, the only tight end deals that rate higher are the ones signed by All-Pros George Kittle and Travis Kelce. -- Seifert
Shaq Barrett, OLB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The deal: Four years, $68 million, plus possible $4 million incentives based on sacks and Super Bowl
Top 100 ranking: 9
Look, Tampa Bay's mission is to keep together the team that won the Super Bowl. There are teams with far worse reasons for spending money this offseason than that one. This is a big contract, but it's not an out-of-control number for a player who was expected to lead the offseason pass-rush market whether he stayed in Tampa or left. It's a smaller number per year, and in terms of guarantees, than Trey Flowers got from the Lions when he left the Patriots as a free agent two years ago.
The Bucs got a nice deal here on a player they like a lot and who just helped them win the Super Bowl. Other pass-rushers around the league were watching this number, figuring Barrett might set the ceiling for free-agent edge rusher deals this offseason. Now we look to the likes of Carl Lawson, Bud Dupree and Matthew Judon to see whether they can get close to what Tampa gave Barrett, who had 27.5 sacks over the past two seasons. If one of them tops it, the Bucs will know they got a bargain. -- Graziano
Romeo Okwara, DE, Detroit Lions
The deal: Three years, up to $37 million
Top 100 ranking: 29
Okwara picked the right time to have a career year. His 10 sacks in 2020 matched the cumulative total for his previous four seasons. But there is a near-universal belief around the league that Okwara is an ascending player at a key position. And despite five years in the league, he won't turn 26 until this summer.
That's the kind of profile that can cause teams to fall over themselves to make audacious offers to in the open market, even in a year of relative austerity. The Lions did well to talk Okwara into this deal before he could test that theory. His $13 million average is a huge raise off the $3.2 million he earned in 2020, but it doesn't put him into the top 10 of 4-3 defensive ends in the league. -- Seifert
Kevin Zeitler, G, Baltimore Ravens
The deal: Three years, up to $22.5 million
Top 100 ranking: 42
This deal makes all kinds of sense for the Ravens, who never found a permanent replacement for Marshal Yanda after he retired following the 2019 season. In fact, 2020 was the first season in Ravens history without Yanda or Jonathan Ogden as part of their organization. And it showed: Ravens quarterbacks were pressured on 35% of their dropbacks, fourth-highest in the NFL.
Zeitler won't have the same impact as Yanda or Ogden, obviously, but he'll without question elevate the consistency of the Ravens' line. And while there is always concern about signing a 31-year-old free agent, Zeitler has been exceptionally durable in his career: He has missed only one game in the past six seasons.
The Ravens did well to jump on one of the two or three best interior linemen available in this market at a price that did not break the top 10 in average per year for guards. The first two seasons of the deal are fully guaranteed at $16 million, meaning Zeitler has an average of $8 million over that period. And while it wasn't a prime factor in his signing, Zeitler won't count against the Ravens' future compensatory-pick benefits because he was thrust into the market by a release (from the Giants) rather than the expiration of his contract. -- Seifert
Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers
The deal: Four years, $48 million
Jones is a top-10 running back, so the Packers needed to put some splash on this deal. But the early buzz is they got much of what they wanted -- base payouts closer to $10 million annually with a manageable guarantee structure and incentives to push it higher. Otherwise, why would Green Bay turn down an $8.7 million franchise tag just to turn around and give Jones $12 million (other than angling for a compensatory pick if he walks)?
So Jones gets closer to market value and Green Bay gets more control and flexibility than the franchise tag could provide. Perhaps most importantly, Green Bay gets an explosive playmaker whose toughness and versatility will keep Aaron Rodgers happy. In two years as the full-time starter, Jones has averaged 1,509 total yards and 15 total touchdowns per season.
The Packers also like AJ Dillon, a second-round pick in 2020, and he'll likely fill the role Jamaal Williams has played behind Jones. This is going to be a great offense again in 2021. -- Fowler
Dolphins trade Shaq Lawson to Texans for Benardrick McKinney
Miami Dolphins get: LB Benardrick McKinney and a 2021 seventh-round pick
Houston Texans get: LB Shaq Lawson and a 2021 sixth-round pick
Dolphins grade: B-
Texans grade: B
On the surface, this deal might look like a swap of mostly interchangeable front-seven players. It's not. Instead, the deal is best viewed as an exchange of players neither team wanted.
McKinney appears to be a replacement for Kyle Van Noy, a utility-role player whom the Dolphins released one year after giving him a free-agent contract. Lawson, meanwhile, will give the Texans a situational pass-rusher after a 2020 season in which their defense compiled the NFL's fourth-worst Total QBR (67.6).
The Texans deserve credit after finding a landing spot for a player who missed 12 games last season and was due to earn $7.75 million with a salary cap number of $7.94 million. Lawson will be playing for his third team in three seasons and is due to make $17 million over the next two seasons.
We're cutting the Dolphins a bit less slack here because it has been only 12 months since they signed Lawson to a big deal. They're doing a lot of work to fill a position that isn't generally considered one of the most important on a defense. -- Seifert
Cam Newton, QB, New England Patriots
The deal: One year, $5.1 million
From a financial perspective, this deal was a no-brainer for the Patriots. They locked in what we can reasonably assume to be their fallback plan at the position for high-end backup money. Newton is guaranteed $3.5 million, via a $2 million signing bonus and a $1.5 million base salary, and would get to $5.1 million if he is active for every game and meets a preset threshold for offseason workouts. Keep in mind that the Lions are scheduled to pay backup Chase Daniel $4.55 million in 2021.
It's reasonable to assume that the Patriots will continue shopping for quarterbacks, maybe through the draft or even free agency. But if nothing else, they now have Newton in their back pocket with a deal that would be a steal for a starter and fair market value for a backup of his skills. Even if he wins the Patriots' starting job and has a throwback-Cam kind of season, he can't earn more than $13.6 million. There are currently 15 quarterbacks set to earn more than that in 2021. -- Seifert
Daryl Williams, OT, Buffalo Bills
The deal: Three years, $24 million
This is a home run for the Bills, as it's really just a one-year commitment at $9.75 million to a player who was one of their best and most reliable offensive linemen in 2020. There were market watchers who believed Williams would do well if he got to free agency and wonder why he took this deal with Buffalo, and it speaks to how well things are going in Buffalo that players would want to stay there rather than find out what they're worth on the open market.
The Bills have the 28-year-old Williams for $7.125 million in 2022 and again in 2023 if they want to keep him. He has a $4.35 million injury-only guarantee in 2022 that becomes fully guaranteed if he's still on the roster on the fifth day of the 2022 league year. So as long as he's healthy, the Bills can see how he plays and whether they can upgrade before deciding whether to keep or replace him this time next year.
This is a big win for the Bills as they try to keep their excellent roster together for another deep playoff run. -- Graziano
Matt Milano, LB, Buffalo Bills
The deal: Four years, $41.5 million
The Bills didn't get any kind of major bargain here -- Milano did well for a linebacker who didn't test the market. But they get to keep an important part of their defense without completely breaking the bank to do it.
Milano essentially got a tick more in average salary and guarantees ($20 million fully guaranteed at signing and paid in the first two years) than Blake Martinez did last year when he signed as a free agent with the New York Giants. So it seems like the two sides looked at that deal, added a bit for inflation and called it a day.
Buffalo is trying to keep together a roster it thinks is good enough to win the Super Bowl, and it had some concern about losing Milano to the free-agent market. Keeping him from even getting there is a win. -- Graziano
Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys
The deal: Four years, $160 million
Count me among those who don't think this was a completely one-sided beatdown. In the big picture, the Cowboys got the quarterback they wanted for the long term signed for the long term, without the drama bleeding into another season.
When you include last year's franchise tag salary of $31.4 million, the Cowboys will have had Prescott under contract from the age of 27 through 31 at an average of $38.3 million per year. Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson both have bigger averages in their deals, despite Prescott's leverage advantage created by the expiration of his rookie contract.
Prescott might have gotten everything he wanted -- a $40 million average in new money, a record $95 million in full guarantees -- but he didn't get everything he could have gotten. He was almost certainly one year away from entering the free-agent market, where his value would have soared. The Cowboys managed to steer clear of the worst-case scenario. -- Seifert