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All Under-The-Radar Signings Team 2016
Published at 6/10/2017
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Millen  Bill


All Under The Radar Signings Team 2016

                  By Max Dambach


With rosters beginning to round out during OTAs, free agent signings have slowed down to a crawl. For this reason, now is a fantastic time to consider the impact of this year’s free agent class. The high profile signings of Calais Campbell, Alshon Jeffery, Mike Glennon, and Adrian Peterson, among others, have been scrutinized and speculated upon endlessly, but I wanted to examine some of the more under-the-radar signings of the offseason that may pay huge dividends for the team savvy enough to have signed them. What follows is a team constructed of the signings that may not have been as talked about as some of the aforementioned deals, but have the potential to have a major impact.

* I have not considered resigned players in the construction of this list

* All statistics referenced in this article are derived from pro-football-reference.com

Quarterback: Brian Hoyer

2016 Team: Chicago Bears

2017 Team: San Francisco 49ers

Contract Details: 2 Years, $12,000,000

Analysis of Signing: It is difficult to find an un-heralded quarterback signing in this day and age. After all, it’s a quarterback’s league, and the other players are just living in it. However, heading into this league year, there has been relatively little coverage of the presumed starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers: Brian Hoyer. New 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan chose to sign Hoyer rather than pursue a passer in the draft or attempting to sign free agents Cutler or Romo. Hoyer is in a position to make a larger impact in San Francisco than most are giving him credit for. His only competition on the depth chart consists of Matt Barkley, who backed up Hoyer in Chicago in 2016 and third round rookie CJ Beathard. Kyle Shanahan has a history with Brian Hoyer. In 2014, Hoyer’s first full season as a starter for the Cleveland Browns, Shanahan worked alongside Hoyer as offensive coordinator to generate over 3300 yards passing and 12 touchdowns. Furthermore, prior to his 2016 injury, Hoyer was experiencing his best season to date with 289 yards per game, 67% completion rate, and a 6:0 touchdown to interception ratio.  Although some might point to a lack of skill position talent in San Francisco as a possible downfall of Hoyer’s 2017 season, the skill position talent on Chicago’s 2016 team was not too dissimilar. Due to a combination of Shanahan’s offensive ingenuity, Hoyer’s 2016 performance, and the history between Shanahan and Hoyer points to what could be a surprisingly productive 2017 for Brian Hoyer.


Running Back:  Danny Woodhead

2016 Team: Los Angeles Chargers

 2017 Team: Baltimore Ravens

 Contract Details: 3 Years, $8,800,000

 Analysis of Signing: The Baltimore Ravens were able to buy low on Danny Woodhead as he comes off of a torn ACL, but provided that he has recovered sufficiently, they will reap the rewards of signing a dynamic playmaker who will elevate an otherwise anemic Baltimore offense. Although Woodhead may not be a traditional between-the-tackles runner in the NFL, he has experienced some success in that regard and has 4.3 yards per carry average and will likely split carries with Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon. Woodhead’s true value to the Baltimore Ravens comes in his pass catching abilities. In 2015, Woodhead’s last full season, he caught 80 passes for upwards of 750 yards and 6 touchdowns. For a Baltimore team losing Steve Smith to retirement, Kamar Aiken and Kyle Juszczyk to free agency, and Dennis Pitta to another hip injury, Woodhead’s pass-catching is a welcome addition to an offense that now runs through an aging Mike Wallace and a disappointing 2015 first round pick Breshad Perriman. Baltimore lost 51% of its receptions from last season and should look to replace at least some of those receptions with Woodhead, which puts Woodhead in prime position to give Baltimore its money’s worth and then some in the 2017 season.

Fullback: Kyle Juszczyk

Former Team: Baltimore Ravens

New Team: San Francisco 49ers

Contract Details: 4 years, $21,000,000

Analysis of Signing: The fullback is considered a dying position by many in the NFL with many teams preferring to use a slot receiver in many base sets and other run-heavy teams like the Tennessee Titans preferring a “12” personnel set with two tight ends and one running back. However, Kyle Shanahan and staff would likely beg to differ after making Kyle Juszczyk the highest paid fullback in NFL history.  According to Pro Football Focus, Juszczyk totaled 465 snaps, good for 27th among eligible running backs and was also their highest graded fullback due to his contributions in running and pass blocking, but also rushing and receiving. Juszczyk is a true Swiss army knife out of the backfield that a creative play caller like Kyle Shanahan can effectively use. Shanahan experienced success using Patrick Dimarco in an H-Back role during his stint in Atlanta and should look to replicate that success on a 49ers team that lacks a true standout at any offensive position


No. 1 Wide Receiver: Michael Floyd

Former Team: New England Patriots

New Team: Minnesota Vikings

 Contract Details:  1 year, $1,410,000

Analysis of Signing: Once a first round pick for the Arizona Cardinals out of Notre Dame, wide receiver Michael Floyd has had an underwhelming career thus far. He has often displayed promise, as seen in his 1000-yard season in 2013, but he hasn’t been the offensive juggernaut that Arizona had hoped for and he never truly emerged from the shadow of Larry Fitzgerald.  Following his 2016 arrest for a DUI, he was released from the Cardinals and signed with the eventual championship-winning New England Patriots. After making moderate contributions in the latter part of the season for the Patriots, he was not resigned and now heads to Minnesota on a 1-year prove-it deal. This past year, the Vikings receiving corps played reasonably well with Stefon Diggs and surprise breakout player Adam Thielen shouldering most of the burden in the wide receiver room. Former first rounder Cordarelle Patterson and 2016 first rounder Laquon Treadwell contributed little to the team’s passing game. Adding Michael Floyd into the mix provides the Vikings receiving corps with more experience and provides Sam Bradford with another playmaker to lean on in the passing game. Floyd has the size that Diggs lacks when working the boundaries, which should allow Stefon Diggs to work out of the slot more in 2017 with Thielen and Floyd on the outside. Diggs has experienced a lot of success out of the slot in the last two seasons and will be afforded more time there with the addition of Floyd. As a complementary piece to young star Stefon Diggs, Floyd should look to replicate his prior success as a complementary piece to Larry Fitzgerald and far exceed his 1.4 million dollar deal in a contract year.


No. 2 Wide Receiver: Cordarrelle Patterson

Former Team: Minnesota Vikings

New Team: Oakland Raiders

Contract Details: 2 Years, $8,500,000

Analysis of Signing: Michael Floyd, the new Minnesota Vikings wide receiver, was signed, in part, to replace some of the production Minnesota lost when former first round pick Cordarrelle Patterson left the fold. Following a stellar rookie season, Patterson routinely disappointed the Vikings who kept waiting for him to take the next step. Patterson’s route running and technique kept him from becoming a productive receiver in Minnesota and he relied far too much on his raw talent and athleticism.  Patterson was electric with the ball in his hands, but the ball rarely found its way into his hands unless he was given schemed touches. Patterson moves to Oakland in an attempt to revitalize his career and he has a chance to be very valuable for the Raiders as they attempt to make a deep playoff run in 2017. On the Raiders, Patterson will face less pressure to produce behind an established depth chart that includes Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and Seth Roberts. The presence of Marshawn Lynch should encourage teams to load up the box with bigger, slower defenders that won’t be able to cover Patterson if he is on the field at the same time. He will be matched up against teams’ 3rd and 4th cornerbacks and will be able to victimize them with his elusiveness and athleticism. Furthermore, Patterson will prove an asset in the return game where he averaged 31.7 yards on kickoff returns and has proven himself to be a weapon on special teams since his rookie year. The Raiders struck gold when they signed an underachieving top pick Michael Crabtree in 2015. Could lightning strike twice with Patterson in 2017?


Tight End: Lance Kendricks

Former Team: Los Angeles Rams

New Team: Green Bay Packers

Contract Details: 2 years, $4,000,000

Analysis of Signings: It was difficult to pinpoint an under-the-radar tight end signing in this free agency class because it was fairly top heavy with Martellus Bennett and Jared Cook headlining the tight end class and receiving plenty of media coverage. However, Martellus Bennett’s new running mate in Green Bay (Lance Kendricks) might be in line to produce more than some may expect. Last season, with the LA Rams, Kendricks produced his highest yardage and reception numbers since 2012. For years, Kendricks has toiled for the Rams and suffered from the sub-par quarterback play of Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, and Jared Goff. In the league’s 32nd ranked offense that mustered a meager 184 passing yards per game, Kendricks still managed to finish 21st among all tight ends in yardage gained. Now, in one of the league’s best passing attacks, with one of the league’s most elite quarterbacks, Kendricks will naturally experience a significant uptick in production. Martellus Bennett, Jordy Nelson, and Davante Adams will draw coverage away from Kendricks and provide him with more opportunities to produce.

Left Tackle: DJ Fluker

Former Team: Los Angeles Chargers

New Teams: New York Giants

Contract Details: 1 year, $3,000,000

 Analysis of Signing: Although DJ Fluker can certainly be considered a bust during his stint with the Chargers after being selected 11th overall in the 2013 draft, he showed some improvement in 2016 by surrendering only 1 sack in 16 games at RG for the Chargers. Fluker now heads to New York to protect Eli Manning. The Giants were able to buy remarkably low on Fluker considering the strides he made at a new position in 2016. By comparison, Luke Joeckel signed a deal worth almost three times as much with the Seattle Seahawks despite his coming off of a major injury and performing on a similar level to Fluker. Fluker won’t likely be able to unseat current right guard John Jerry who was also resigned this offseason, but he is talented enough to unseat either of the current starting tackles. Former 7th round pick Bobby Hart is unproven on the edge and Ereck Flowers is a massive liability on Eli Manning’s blindside. He graded out as the 71st pass blocker in giving up 47 hurries, 8 hits, and 4 sacks according to Pro Football Focus. His only saving grace was Manning’s quick release that prevented even worse numbers. If Fluker is able to secure one of the two tackle spots on the roster, he will be a bargain at only $3,000,000 for the Giants.

Right Tackle: Menelik Watson

Former Team: Oakland Raiders

New Team: Denver Broncos

Contract Details: 3 Years, $18,375,000

Analysis of Signing: Although it might appear that Watson received a large contract in this year’s free agent market, it actually boils down to a 1 year $6,000,000 prove it deal. Since he was drafted in 2013 by Oakland, Watson has demonstrated great athleticism for his size and was an important part of the dominant Oakland line when healthy. And therein lies the main issue with signing Menelik Watson: his injury history is disconcerting. Watson has missed 37 games since he was drafted due to injury, which makes him a boom-or-bust signing for Denver. If Watson is able to prove that he can stay healthy and play at the high level that was seen at times in Oakland, he should prove a steal for the Broncos who are attempting to retool their offensive line after surrendering 40 sacks and gaining only 1484 rushing yards as a team. 

Left Guard: Jahri Evans

Former Team: New Orleans Saints

New Team:  Green Bay Packers

Contract Details: 1 Year, $2,250,000

Analysis of Signing: As Kevin Zeitler was resetting the guard market with a megadeal, the Green Bay Packers quietly signed a 4 time 1st team All-Pro and 6 Time Pro-Bowler to an affordable 2 year contract. Jahri Evans may be a 33-year-old guard, but his on field play has not slipped. According to Pro Football Focus, Evans ranked 5th among qualified guards in 2015 and 2016 with a Pass-Blocking efficiency that was only 0.71 points behind the guard he was signed to replace: TJ Lang. The Packers are paying a quarter of the money to employ a guard who plays at almost the same level as the one they used to employ. That’s what I call a deal. 

Right Guard: Ronald Leary

Former Team: Dallas Cowboys

New Team: Denver Broncos

Contract Details: 4 years, $36,000,000

Analysis of Signing: Ronald Leary was compensated exceedingly well for an offensive lineman who has played a backup role in 2015 and 2016. However, Ronald Leary is not your typical backup lineman. Prior to 2015, Leary played a key role in the vaunted “Great Wall of Dallas” that paved the way for Demarco Murray’s monstrous 2014 season, but due to an ongoing investigation at the time of the 2015 NFL draft, Dallas was able to sign La’el Collins as an undrafted free agent despite the fact that he was largely considered a first round talent. Collins replaced Leary on the Dallas offensive line, but Leary was able to make 12 starts in 2016 after Collins was injured and he played admirably in those 12 games. On any other NFL team, Leary would have been a starter, and that certainly holds true for the Denver Broncos. Denver had one of the worst offensive lines in the league that stifled the running game and made it difficult for young quarterbacks Trevor Simien and Paxton Lynch to grow. The signing of Leary should go a long way in amending that situation.

Center: JC Tretter

Former Team: Green Bay Packers

New Team: Cleveland Browns

Contract Details: 3 Years, $16,750,000

Analysis of Signing: The Center class in 2017, as per usual, was fairly thin. However, the Cleveland Browns made a wise decision to pay JC Tretter to help stabilize their line alongside Kevin Zeitler. Tretter should prove an instant upgrade over the bust that is Cameron Erving. Tretter has dealt with his fair share of injuries over the years, but he graded out as the 9th best center in 2016. Green Bay only chose not to sign Tretter because they have another very capable center under contract in Corey Linsley. Even though Cleveland’s quarterback situation is far from settled, the front office seems to have placed an emphasis on building up the line that will play in front of that quarterback. The Cleveland line now comprises Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, JC Tretter, Kevin Zeitler, and one of their young offensive line prospects at right tackle. The Browns certainly seem to be approaching this rebuild the right way, which should provide hope for Cleveland fans.

Left Defensive End: Chris Baker

Former Team: Washington Redskins

New Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Contract Details: 3 Years, $15,750,000

Analysis of Signing:  Chris Baker was not the most heralded free agent along the defensive line this offseason. Nor was he the most heralded Redskins free agent after Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson left. Baker wasn’t even the most heralded Redskins player to move to Tampa Bay (again Desean Jackson claims this honor), but when 2017 is said and done, Baker could be lauded as one of the best signings. Baker showed during his time in Washington that he is capable of playing all over the line and producing at the same time.  In his last two seasons, he had 10.5 sacks and he joins a line that is a step above the one he left in Washington, as he will now be playing alongside Gerald McCoy, Noah Spence, and Robert Ayers. The signing of Baker should help provide depth for Tampa Bay and boost their sack totals, which is imperative for this up and coming team.

Right Defensive End: Chris Long

Former Team: New England Patriots

New Team: Philadelphia Eagles

Contract Details: 2 Years, $4,500,000

Analysis of Signing: Although Long’s best years may be behind him, he was still able to generate 4.0 sacks for the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots last year. Long fits best in a rotational role now as he advances in age which will put him on the field in passing downs much in the same way that Green Bay utilized Julius Peppers in recent years to great effect. Long’s experience in the league will help Philadelphia’s first round pick Derek Barnett to become acclimated to the NFL and Long should be able to teach him a thing or two about rushing the passer. After all, Chris Long does have 58.5 career sacks. Long’s presence may not necessarily be seen statistically, but his presence will certainly pay dividends for the Eagles in the long run.

Defensive Tackle: Bennie Logan

Former Team: Philadelphia Eagles

New Team: Kansas City Chiefs

Contract Details:  1 Year, $8,000,000

Analysis of Signing: Bennie Logan has been a regular starter for the Philadelphia Eagles at the NT position since his rookie year, but the Eagles were unable to retain his services due to the mega-contract that Fletcher Cox signed the year before. It was impossible for the Eagles to justify paying that much money to their defensive tackle, so they were forced to let Logan walk. Logan was graded 11th best against the run last year by Pro Football Focus, so the Chiefs must have been thanking their lucky stars that they were able to sign him for only $8,000,000. The Chiefs, prior to cutting Jeremy Maclin and Nick Foles, were strapped for cap space and needed to replace former first round pick Dontari Poe whose play has fallen off of late, but would have been more expensive than the more effective Bennie Logan. Logan doesn’t produce gaudy sack totals like other defensive tackles like Gerald McCoy and Fletcher Cox, but the Chiefs have plenty of pass rushers in Chris Jones, Tamba Hali, Dee Ford, Tanoh Kpassagnon, and Justin Houston, so they just need Logan to improve their run defense, which ranked a paltry 26th in the league. Logan should solidify the point of attack for the Chiefs defense, which should force more passing attempts by opposing quarterbacks and more turnovers in the secondary.

Left Outside Linebacker: John Simon

Former Team: Houston Texans

New Team: Indianapolis Colts

Contract Details: 3 Years, $13,500,000

Analysis of Signing: John Simon has been an underappreciated contributor on the Houston Texans defense with Whitney Mercilus, JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Brian Cushing stealing the limelight. Thus, his signing with the Indianapolis Colts wasn’t talked about very much. Though he only played in 11 games in 2016, he managed to amass 51 tackles and 3.5 sacks. John Simon went from being an afterthought on a talented Texans defense to the best linebacker on the Indianapolis Colts, who had previously been relying on Sean Spence, Barkevious Mingo, and Antonio Morrison. The signing of Simon is the first step in what must be an extensive rebuild of the Colts abysmal defense. Simon may never be a superstar at the OLB position, but he is a solid defensive player, but with a prolific offense led by Andrew Luck, the Colts only need solid defensive players that can hold a lead.

Weak Side Inside Linebacker: Lawrence Timmons

Former Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

New Team: Miami Dolphins

Contract Details: 2 Years, $12,000,000

Analysis of Signing: Some who believe that Timmons is over the hill have derided the signing of Lawrence Timmons, but Timmons could serve as a short-term fix to a Miami linebacker corps that lacks a lot of talent outside of Kiko Alonso. After presumed starter Koa Misi missed all of last season with a devastating neck injury, his return is in question for this season. Combine that with Misi’s extensive injury history and the signing of Timmons looks even better. For the last 7 years, Timmons has been able to stay on the field for every game and field at least 68 tackles in each season. In the last 7 years, Misi has missed 40 games and never recorded more than 59 tackles. When compared side by side, Timmons should prove an upgrade over Misi with his consistency and production.  The Dolphins are searching to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year and Timmons could play a large part in that endeavor.

Strong Side Inside Linebacker: Zach Brown

Former Team: Buffalo Bills

 New Team: Washington Redskins

Contract Details: 1 Year, $2,300,000

Analysis of Signing: Perhaps its because Zach Brown went from one small market team (The Titans) to another (The Bills), but Brown has proven himself to be worth far more than the $2.3 million he is due in 2017. Zach Brown stepped in for the injured Reggie Ragland to record 149 tackles and 4.0 sacks and a Pro-Bowl berth for the Bills. Brown was a huge bargain for the Redskins who needed to upgrade over Will Compton in a bad way. He should be able to rack up tackles alongside Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith on his way to a massive payday in 2018. Brown has already set his sights on a lofty goal. As reported by Conor Orr of nfl.com, Brown wants to win the defensive MVP award. If that happens, the Redskins will look very shrewd indeed for this signing.


Right Outside Linebacker: Connor Barwin

Former Team: Philadelphia Eagles

New Team: Los Angeles Rams

Contract Details: 1 Year, $3,500,000

Analysis of Signing: The Los Angeles Rams needed to add pass rushers after they ranked at the bottom of the league in sacks after only managing to get 31 sacks in 2016.  With their awful offense in 2016, they should have gotten far more sacks than that. This low of a sack total is an indictment of their pass rush, and the addition of Barwin should help to remedy this situation to a certain extent. Barwin has managed to achieve a sack total of 5 or greater in the last 4 years and has two double-digit sack seasons. While it may be a stretch to expect a double-digit sack season from Barwin at this point in his career, he should still be able to provide somewhat of a pass rushing presence for the Rams and give Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn some pass rushing help.


No. 1 Cornerback: Jason McCourty

Former Team: Tennessee Titans

New Team: Cleveland Browns

Contract Details: 2 Years, $6,000,000

Analysis of Signing: McCourty has experienced two injury-marred seasons in the last two years, which has caused some to forget that he was a more than capable CB1 for the Tennessee Titans for years. McCourty is a low-risk, high-reward signing for the Browns in that they could be getting an above average CB2 to play alongside Joe Haden. McCourty has always been an above average tackler at the position, but the Browns must hold out hope that his athleticism remains at or close to the level it once was before his major injuries in the last two seasons. The Browns have invested heavily in their front seven and drafted Jabrill Peppers to play at the back end, but have largely ignored their weak cornerback room despite their bevy of picks.  If McCourty can regain his form, the Browns cornerback room may surprise people by becoming a strength rather than a weakness.


No. 2 Cornerback: Davon House

Former Team: Jacksonville Jaguars

New Team: Green Bay Packers

Contract Details: 1 Year, $2,800,000

Analysis of Signing: In 2017, Davon House will be returning to play for the team that drafted him after he took a two-year stint in Jacksonville. The Green Bay Packers probably should have never let him leave following two good years in 2013 and 2014 when House seemed to be coming into his own, but as seems to be the case every year, the Jacksonville Jaguars were able to lure him in with a big money contract. The following year, House had a fantastic season with Jacksonville with 60 tackles and 4 interceptions, but his play fell off substantially in 2016 with the Jaguars moving towards a zone coverage scheme that did not complement House’s man-to-man coverage abilities. Moving back into a scheme that fits his play style, House should be able to regain his status as a starting caliber cornerback in Green Bay and stabilize a suspect Green Bay defense that only needs to be average to allow Aaron Rodgers to win games. Similarly to John Simon’s signing, as I mentioned earlier, House doesn’t need to be anything more than a solid defender to allow the explosive Green Bay offense to win games in 2017.

Free Safety: JJ Wilcox

Former Team: Dallas Cowboys

New Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Contract Details: 2 Years, $2,650,000

Analysis of Signing: Chris Baker wasn’t the only under the radar signing that Tampa Bay made this offseason. They also signed former Cowboys free safety JJ Wilcox to a 2 year deal in an effort to find a running mate for Chris Conte and upgrade over Ryan Smith. Even though Wilcox fell behind Barry Church and Byron Jones in the depth chart, he still managed to rack up 45 tackles and an interception in a rotational role. Wilcox is only 2 years removed from a season with 81 tackles and 3 interceptions, so the Buccaneers are gambling on the fact that Wilcox will be a highly productive player when given more snaps and return to his dominant 2014 form.


Strong Safety: Jonathan Cyprien

Former Team:  Jacksonville Jaguars

New Team: Tennessee Titans

Contract Details: 4 Years, $25,000,000

Analysis of Signing: In a fantastic strong safety market, the Titans may have gotten the best of the bunch in young Jaguars defender Jonathan Cyprien, but the move has been underrated or ignored in favor of other signings such as Tony Jefferson, Micah Hyde, Barry Church, and Quentin Demps. Part of this is due to the Titans being a relatively small market team, but part of it is due to a perception that Cyprien isn’t a complete safety. This is a fair assessment of Cyprien as he may never be an elite safety in terms of covering wide receivers, but he does fit perfectly into a niche in the Titans defense that was largely unfilled in 2016. Though Cyprien is not the greatest in coverage against wide receivers, he does excel in run defense and covering tight ends, which is two areas that Tennessee desperately needed help coming into 2017. Cyprien actually graded out as the top run defender in 2016 by Pro Football Focus with 126 total tackles. The signing of Jonathan Cyprien also allows the Titans to move 2016 third round pick Kevin Byard to Free Safety where he can play more of the center field role that the Titans no doubt envisioned when they drafted him. Cyprien will play an important role in the Titans defense as an enforcer who shuts down opposing tight ends and shuts down the opposing running game while the other members of the secondary focus on shutting down opposing receivers.




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