I'm sorry, but the fact that you say the Browns passed on Wentz because they thought RGIII was better is the dumbest thing I've read, and so far from the truuth that it's downright ignorant. They made that trade because they felt the package of picks they got back in return was better than Wentz. Was it wrong to pass on Wentz? Probably. But saying they did it for RGIII is so wrong. They got a first round pick back (which they thought would be high, either way, its a first round pick) AND they still selected Cory Coleman, who looks to be a terrific WR. So yea, you lost a lot of credibility by saying they valued RGIII over Wentz. I'd actually like to know where you even got that idea from.
Browns sign WR Brian Hartline (2 years, $6 million): C Grade
Brian Hartline just made a dumb decision. The Patriots showed interest in him, so he should've gone to New England and played with Tom Brady. His career would've been resurrected, and he could have signed a bigger contract elsewhere once Brady retired. Instead, he'll be catching passes from Josh McCown or Johny Manziel in 2015. Way to kill your own career, Brian.
This is just a "meh" signing. The Browns aren't surrendering much money, and Hartline is better than what Cleveland had at receiver, save for Andrew Hawkins, so the move makes sense on a basic level. However, Hartline is as mediocre as they come, so he won't be making much of an impact.
Eagles re-sign DE/OLB Brandon Graham (4 years, $26M; $14M guaranteed): A- Grade
Philadelphia's offseason has been a disaster thus far, but at least the team did something right with this re-signing. Losing Trent Cole and Brandon Graham would've been too much for the team to handle, as the pass-rushing depth was looking completely depleted.
I'm surprised Graham came back to the Eagles, as he expressed interest in playing in a 4-3 scheme. He would be better as a defensive end instead of an outside linebacker, but he proved last year that he can be extremely productive standing up. He was strong in run support all while registering 5.5 sacks in very limited snaps behind Cole and Connor Barwin. He'll obviously take on a larger role this upcoming season with Cole gone.
Steelers re-sign ILB/OLB Arthur Moats (3 years, $7.5 million): B Grade
This is a solid move by the Steelers to re-sign one of their top backup defenders. Arthur Moats is capable of playing both outside and inside linebacker, and he filled in well on the edge last year when some injuries occurred. Moats is also a solid special teams player, so he'll continue to contribute even if everyone is healthy.
Jaguars sign OT Jermey Parnell (5 years, $32M; $13M guaranteed): D Grade
So, let me get this straight: Doug Free, who is the better, more-proven right tackle who played for Dallas last year, received just as much overall money in his contract as what Jermey (not Jeremy) Parnell is seeing in guarantees. Huh?
Someone needs to send a raven to Jacksonville to let general manager David Caldwell know that the right tackle position, contrary to his belief, is not that important of a position. There's absolutely no reason the Jaguars should've spent this much money on a player who has just seven career starts. Sure, Parnell has looked good when thrust into action, but he's an unproven commodity.
Contracts like this are always scary. The Jaguars truly don't know what they're getting in Parnell. Maybe he'll work out, but he has no track record of success. In fact, the one pattern here is a negative one, and it's that bottom-tier teams that sign free agents like this away from superior franchises almost always end up with busts. Sure, it works on occasion, but the probability that this signing won't work out is extremely high.
Texans re-sign QB Ryan Mallett (2 years, $7 million): B Grade
Who gonna give Ryan Mallett an offseason contract? His own team, apparently.
I was never a believer in Ryan Mallett because, despite his great physical gifts, I don't think he has the mental ability to process what's happening on the field. Most NFL teams apparently have the same concerns; otherwise, Mallett would've received a much bigger contract from someone else, given that the league is starved for quarterback talent. Instead, he gets to go back to Bill O'Brien's offense and compete for the starting job with Brian Hoyer.
I think this is a decent signing. It's not for much - remember, the Eagles are foolishly paying more to Mark Sanchez to be their backup - so it's all about the upside. O'Brien got Matt McGloin to play well at Penn State, so perhaps he'll be able to get the most out of Mallett. It's possible that Mallett won't even start next year, but the Texans are desperate at quarterback, so they have to be creative.
Chargers sign G/OT Orlando Franklin (5 years, $36.5M; $20M guaranteed): B+ Grade
The primary reason the Chargers missed the playoffs last year was because they couldn't protect Philip Rivers. The veteran quarterback was constantly knocked around and picked up some injuries as a consequence. San Diego's primary mission this offseason was to bolster Rivers' blocking. The front office re-signed left tackle King Dunlap a couple of weeks ago, and now it made a big move to acquire Orlando Franklin.
I like this signing quite a bit. Franklin was the top guard available in the NFL Free Agent Rankings, and he fills a huge need, as San Diego's primary blocking problems occurred in the interior last year. Franklin can also play right tackle in the event of an injury to D.J. Fluker.
Two other reasons why I like this move: First, this happens to be a fair price for Franklin; as a comparison, the Raiders just signed Rodney Hudson to a 5-year deal worth $44.5 million, so Franklin will be earning close to $2 million per year less than the former Chief. Second, the Chargers are poaching a very valuable player from their biggest rival, so they're strengthening their own roster while weakening Denver's.
Bills re-sign DE/OLB Jerry Hughes (5 years, $44.5M; $22M guaranteed): B Grade
Jerry Hughes was deemed a draft bust when the Colts got rid of him three years after spending a first-round pick on him. He resurfaced in Buffalo and completely turned his career around. It seemed like a fluke at first, but Hughes has managed to put together two dominant seasons, registering a combined 19 sacks since 2013.
Hughes is an important member of Buffalo's defense, so the team did well to re-sign him. However, I can't help but feel that Hughes will somehow regress based on how poorly he played in Indianapolis, so I'm hesitant to give this signing an "A" grade. Having said that, the Bills made what should be a solid move. Hughes projects as a terrific fit in Rex Ryan's defensive scheme, so I'm excited to see how the Jets' former head coach utilizes the 26-year-old edge rusher.
Bears reportedly sign DE/OLB Pernell McPhee (5 years, $40M; $16M guaranteed): C- Grade
The Bears are a moving to a 3-4 under new coordinator Vic Fangio, so one of the things on his long grocery list was a pass-rushing outside linebacker. He apparently found one in Pernell McPhee, who played well for the Ravens last year. He notched 7.5 sacks in limited snaps and stopped the run well.
The issue with this deal is two-fold. First, McPhee is an unproven commodity, so giving him this big of a contract is too risky. McPhee has only six career starts under his belt, and he registered just a combined 3.5 sacks in 2012 and 2013. Sure, he didn't get to play as much as he normally would have because he was stuck behind Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, but McPhee has never been a near-every-down player, so there's no proof that he can actually serve well in that role.
Second, motivation is a big concern. McPhee took the money and ran from a perennial Super Bowl contender to a team that's an absolute mess right now. The Bears are a train wreck in the wake of the Jay Cutler situation and Brandon Marshall trade. Why would any player want to join that hot mess right now? McPhee has made it known that his No. 1 priority is money, so this union probably won't end well.
Raiders reportedly sign C Rodney Hudson (5 years, $44.5 million): C Grade
Reggie McKenzie is at it again. The beleaguered Raiders' general manager overpaid for players in last year's free agency, and it appears as though he's willing to do the same thing this spring.
Unlike some of the aging bums McKenzie added a year ago, Rodney Hudson is actually a very good player. In fact, he's one of the league's best centers, as he was slotted in the top 20 of my Top NFL Free Agent Rankings list. So, why the "C" grade? It's because the Raiders could've paid less money to Stefen Wisniewski, who is just as good of a center as Hudson. Oakland inexplicably let Wisniewski get away, probably because the team struggles to evaluate talent (even its own).
Hudson's motivation also has to come into question. Why is he willing to go from a team on the cusp of playoff contention every year to one of the worst-run franchises in the NFL? It appears as though it's solely because of money, and if so, that's a terrible omen for this pact. Hudson apparently doesn't care about winning, so there's a good chance that this will be a bust signing.
Cardinals reportedly sign ILB Sean Weatherspoon (1 year, $4 million): A- Grade
I really like these type of 1-year "prove it" deals, as they tend to work out more often than not. And even if they fail, there's no risk involved for the team. They can simply move on from the player once the season is over with no financial penalty.
Sean Weatherspoon was an obvious candidate for a "prove it" contract. He tore his Achilles in June and was already dealing with knee problems that caused him to miss extensive action in 2013. He's a talented player though, and if healthy, he can have a big impact in Arizona's defense. The two questions are: 1) Can he stay healthy? 2) And if he does, will he still perform close to 100 percent in the wake of all of his leg injuries? Even if one of those answers is "no," Arizona won't be setting itself back, so this transaction is all upside.
Patriots re-sign S Devin McCourty (5 years, $47.5M; $28.5M guaranteed): A Grade
For a while, it seemed like the Patriots would lose Devin McCourty to the Eagles, Giants or Jaguars, all of whom pursued him. McCourty, however, did the right thing for his career, re-signing with the team that gave him the best shot to keep winning, all while staying relevant.
This is a good deal for McCourty. As a comparison, the Seahawks re-signed Earl Thomas to a 4-year, $40 million deal with $27.7 million guaranteed recently. Thomas and McCourty are comparable players, so the fact that McCourty signed for less money per year and about the same guaranteed makes this a great deal. New England already lost Vince Wilfork earlier this offseason, so it couldn't stand to lose an even more important player of their defense.
Bengals re-sign K Mike Nugent (2 years, $4 million): D Grade
Mike Nugent is one of the worst kickers in the NFL. He hasn't hit better than 82.6 percent of his kicks since 2011, and he's 4-of-9 from 50-plus in the past three years in a day and age that kickers blast long field goals routinely. The only reason this isn't getting a "Millen" grade is because all of the top kickers were already off the market. Still, giving Nugent $2 million per season is inexcusable.
Eagles re-sign QB Mark Sanchez (2 years, $9M; $5.5M guaranteed): C- Grade
It's almost like Chip Kelly robbed a bank and is throwing away all of the money out on the street to cause mayhem. Mark Sanchez is a solid backup quarterback, as he proved last year that he can win some games when called upon. However, he's getting more than backup money. As a point of reference, the Browns paid Josh McCown $14 million over three years with $6.25 million guaranteed to be their starter. That's just about as much overall and less guaranteed per year than what Sanchez received to be the No. 2 signal-caller.
I suppose Kelly wanted a viable option in case he can't trade up for Marcus Mariota - whom I have going No. 2 overall in my 2015 NFL Mock Draft - but he still could've found a comparable backup quarterback for less money. It's possible that Kelly envisions Sanchez as next year's starter as a bridge to Brett Hundley, but it's not like the former Jet is going to take the Eagles to the playoffs. Thus, there's no real reason Kelly should've given Sanchez this type of contract.
Eagles reportedly sign CB Byron Maxwell (6 years, $63M; $25M guaranteed): D Grade
Kareem Jackson received a 4-year deal worth $34 million on Saturday. Brandon Flowers inked a 4-year, $36 million contract earlier today. Both Jackson and Flowers are better and more proven than Byron Maxwell. So, with that in mind, why in the world is Maxwell getting a 6-year, $63 million deal with $25 million guaranteed from Philadelphia?
This contract makes no sense. Maxwell is physically gifted, but he has never been a No. 1 cornerback in the NFL. Richard Sherman was on the other side of the field in Seattle, but Maxwell won't have that sort of luxury in Philadelphia. He also won't have two excellent safeties like Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor aiding him. Asking him to do everything in Philadelphia's secondary is a bit ridiculous, and it's almost certain to backfire.
There's a slight chance this signing works out. As mentioned, Maxwell has lots of talent, and at 27, he'll be in his prime for most of the duration of this contract. He also fits into the defensive scheme well. However, the Eagles are overpaying a player who has never proven that he can cover No. 1 receivers, so there's too much of a risk involved.
Eagles reportedly sign RB Frank Gore (3 years, $7.5 million guaranteed): C- Grade
Adam Schefter has reported that the Eagles have signed Frank Gore to a 3-year deal, which includes $7.5 million guaranteed. I may have an updated grade once all of the final numbers are announced.
As for now, I can't say I'm a fan of this signing. Frank Gore played well for the 49ers last year, but he turns 32 in May. He also has 2,442 career carries under his belt, so he's not going to last very long, and there's also a good chance that he completely regresses in 2015.
If the Eagles made this move three years ago, I would've been fine with it. But Gore is too old right now for this sort of money, and as I've been saying in other signings, there's absolutely no need for any NFL team to spend like this on a free agent running back, given how talented the crop of backs in this upcoming draft class is.
Vikings re-sign DT Tom Johnson (3 years, $7M; $3M guaranteed): B Grade
This isn't a splash move like the Dolphins signing Ndamukong Suh or the Chargers retaining Brandon Flowers, but it's a solid one. Tom Johnson is a decent rotational defensive tackle who can get pressure on the opposing quarterback. He recorded 6.5 sacks in 2014, so Minnesota did well to bring him back at a reasonable price. The one downside is that Johnson will turn 31 in August, but he should still be productive for a season or two.
Chargers re-sign CB Brandon Flowers (4 years, $36 million): B+ Grade
Brandon Flowers is one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. The Chargers were able to obtain him cheaply last offseason after the Chiefs jettisoned him because he was a poor fit for their new defensive scheme. San Diego got a great bargain with him, and now they're paying him the money he deserves.
This price is definitely right for Flowers, who was the No. 9 player in my Top NFL Free Agent Rankings list. He just turned 29, so he should be able to play at a very high level for at least three more years. Losing Flowers would have hurt a lot because the Chargers still have to deal with Peyton Manning twice per year, so credit them for being able to retain one of their top defenders.
Dolphins reportedly sign DT Ndamukong Suh (6 years, $114M; $60M guaranteed): C Grade
"Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it." I had to look to do a Google search in order to find out who said that quote, and it apparently was someone named George Santayana. I knew for sure that it wasn't Dolphins' owner Stephen Ross, based on this contract.
Any Miami fan who wants to defend this transcation has to remember two words: Albert Haynesworth. The former Tennessee defensive tackle was absolutely dominant for the Titans. He signed a $100 million contract with the Redskins and proved to be an absolute abomination. He became fat and lazy, and he constantly argued with the coaching staff. He didn't last very long as a consequence.
I think Ndamukong Suh will fare better in Miami than Haynesworth did in Washington, but there's a big chance he'll bust. First of all, paying this much money (reported by Chris Mortensen) to any non-quarterback is insane. And it's even worse for a defensive tackle - a position in which players have trouble maintaining weight. What if Suh becomes fat and happy with this contract? It's safe to say that there's a good chance the Dolphins won't get him at 100 percent.
Second, Suh has some disciplinary issues, which could hurt the Dolphins. What if he's suspended for a key game? What if he gets too wild in South Beach? All of these are factors that Ross should have considered.
And finally, this is just too much for Suh. J.J. Watt received nearly $10 million less guaranteed. Suh is not a better player than Watt, so the Dolphins obviously overpaid - something they've done way too many times in free agency. The list includes Mike Wallace, Philip Wheeler, Dannell Ellerbe, Earl Mitchell... I can keep going and going, but you get the point.
I don't think this is an atrocious move, which is why I'm giving the Dolphins a "C" instead of a Millen grade. However, I think there's a high chance that Ross and his front office will ultimately regret giving the former Lion this much money.
Bills extend RB LeSean McCoy (5 years, $40M; $26.5M guaranteed): C Grade
Again, I don't understand why the Bills feel the need to dedicate so many resources to a running back with about 1,450 career carries and 300 receptions, especially with a very strong running back class available this April. Players at this position pretty much grow on trees right now, so paying one with that much of a career workload under his belt isn't very smart.
Granted, McCoy is one of the better running backs in the NFL right now, but he won't hold that distinction for very long. In two seasons, he'll be north of 2,000 carries and 400 catches. He'll be 29 by then, so chances are he'll regress rapidly beginning in 2017. The problem is that the Bills don't have a quarterback right now, and by the time they obtain one - perhaps one of the three I have slotted in the first round of my 2016 NFL Mock Draft - McCoy won't be nearly as effective. And that's exactly the issue. The Bills currently need to think long term because they aren't winning now with Matt Cassel or E.J. Manuel, but McCoy is a short-term player.
Colts sign G Todd Herremans (1 year, $3.5 million): B Grade
It's unclear how much money is actually guaranteed on this deal; Todd Herremans can earn as much as $3.5 million through incentives, so he's not getting this entire amount.
I think this is a solid move for the Colts, who have to bolster their offensive line. Todd Herremans probably shouldn't be starting at this point in his career, but he's better than what Indianapolis already had at the right guard spot. Herremans struggled immensely last year, but only because he was playing through a biceps injury. He should still be able to run block pretty well, though he tends to get beaten in pass protection.
Packers re-sign WR Randall Cobb (4 years, $40 million): A Grade
Randall Cobb apparently learned from the mistakes his predecessors committed. Both Greg Jennings and James Jones ruined their careers by separating from Aaron Rodgers and signing with teams that had inferior quarterbacks. When the NFL Free Agent Rumors surfaced about Cobb potentially signing with the Jaguars and Raiders, I was set to criticize him for being guilty of the same errors as Jennings and Jones.
Cobb has proven to be smarter than that. He reportedly took $1-$2 million less per season to stay with the Packers, which is smart because he'll just make that money back in his next contract. He'll continue to be a highly productive weapon for Rodgers, who will remain in his prime for the duration of this contract. So, barring an injury to his quarterback, Cobb won't have to worry about his numbers declining, which is something both Jennings and Jones experienced.
As for the Packers, this is a no-brainer "A" grade. Cobb could've gotten paid more elsewhere, so giving $10 million per year to one of the top play-makers in the league seems like a great bargain. Cobb, who will turn only 25 in August, might even perform on a higher level than he did in 2014.
Titans re-sign P Brett Kern (5 years, $15 million): D Grade
Brett Kern was fifth in punting average (46.8) and tied for sixth in net punting average (40.8) last year. That's great and all, but no punter deserves $3 million per season. That's just ridiculous. Half-decent punters can be found on the street, so I don't get why Tennessee dished out all of this money. I understand that Kern is one of the better punters in the league, but the Titans should be spending their cash on players who actually have an impact on the game.
Saints re-sign RB Mark Ingram (4 years, $16 million): C Grade
I may change this grade once I find out how much guaranteed money Mark Ingram will earn in this new contract. That figure is currently unavailable.
I wouldn't have been so eager to pay Ingram if I were the Saints. First of all, this incoming class of running backs is outstanding, so finding a replacement wouldn't have been that difficult. Second, Ingram was a chronic underachiever prior to the 2014 season. I suspected Ingram might have his best year because he was playing for a new contract. Now that he has more money, will he become lethargic again? I'm not saying Ingram will definitely regress, but it's definitely a strong possibility.
Texans re-sign CB Kareem Jackson (4 years, $34M; $20M guaranteed): B Grade
Unlike Houston's other move today, this is a solid one. I still can't believe such a sub-par right tackle like Derek Newton received all that money. I figured he'd get a 2-year deal worth $5 million or so. I'm so perplexed by that contract.
At any rate, Kareem Jackson is a legitimate No. 1 cornerback in the NFL, and he's only 26 (27 in April), so he'll be able to play at the top of his game throughout the duration of this deal. The contract comes with a hefty price tag, but it could be argued that Jackson is well worth it. He was the No. 17 player in my Top NFL Free Agent Rankings list, so I expected him to receive a big pay day.
The one concern with Jackson was that he was overweight prior to the beginning of the 2013 season and struggled that year as a consequence. He has been in terrific ever since, but will all of this guaranteed money make him fat and happy again? The Texans better hope not, but regardless, I don't blame them for giving Jackson this deal, given that they needed to keep one of their better defenders on the roster.
Texans re-sign OT Derek Newton (5 years, $26.5 million): D Grade
I can't say I understand this contract. As I mentioned in the Doug Free re-signing below, chemistry is very important when it comes to the offensive line. However, Derek Newton is just not that good.
Newton played well in the second half of the season last year, but he has otherwise been a pedestrian blocker in his 4-year career, especially when it's come to pass protection. Newton, while run blocking well, was poor when it came to shielding Ryan Fitzpatrick and the other quarterbacks in 2014, so there's no reason to expect him to improve in that regard going forward. I would've been fine with Houston retaining him cheaply, but this contract is just outrageous. Quite simply, the Texans overpaid.
Cowboys re-sign OT Doug Free (3 years, $15M; $6M guaranteed): A- Grade
Chemistry is extremely important when it comes to maintaining a strong offensive line. Dallas finally got the talent together up front, so keeping all of the blockers together for another season is huge for Tony Romo and whomever starts at running back next year.
Doug Free is a talented right tackle who has played exceptionally well the past couple of seasons. Age is beginning to be a concern with him - he turned 31 in January - but the price is extremely good; $6 million guaranteed over three years for one of the better right tackles in the business is a great deal.
Seahawks re-sign RB Marshawn Lynch (3 years, $31 million): B Grade
Marshawn Lynch was initially due $8.5 million, but was unhappy with that amount of money. He's apparently fine with this increase of $2.5 million, which is completely justified. Lynch, arguably the best running back in the NFL, still has at least one great season left in the tank, as he'll turn just 29 in April.
I'm excited to see what Christine Michael can do as the team's lead back, so it wouldn't have been the end of the world had Seattle parted ways with Lynch, but retaining him is best for another run at the Super Bowl. It's especially great that the Seahawks were able to keep him on the roster without jeopardizing their future with a long contract; giving him a long-term deal wouldn't have made sense, given that Lynch is a running back nearing 30. But having him back for only one more year? Why not?
Update: So much for Lynch not receiving a multi-year deal. The Seahawks have given Lynch a 3-year, $31 million extension, and he's set to make $12 million this year. I obviously don't like this as much as the 1-year, $11 million contract that was initially reported, so I have to drop this grade, which was originally an "A." It's currently unclear how much Lynch will be guaranteed following this season, so this extension might not be too bad. It depends on the details of the deal, which are unknown at the present moment. I'll give this a solid "B" for now, but I'm not a fan of the Seahawks keeping Beast Mode around for more than one season, given that he'll turn 30 after the 2015 campaign.
Chargers sign WR/KR Jacoby Jones (2 years, $5 million): B+ Grade
Jacoby Jones isn't going to see the field much on offense in San Diego, as he won't pass Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd or even the promising Dontrelle Inman on the depth chart. However, the Chargers needed a boost in their return game, and they're getting exactly that in Jacoby Jones, who has six special-teams touchdowns over the past four years, including one last year. Jones, who takes back both kickoffs and punts, was among the league leaders in return average in both aspects last season.
Jets re-sign ILB David Harris (3 years, $21.5M; $15M guaranteed): D Grade
Good lord, what are the Jets doing? In a span of just four hours, they managed to poison their locker room and overpay for an aging defender. Is it too late to bring John Idzik back? Because as awful as he was, he was even too smart to pull a move like this.
This is a terrible contract. David Harris, who just turned 31, is a mere two-down linebacker. He's strong against the run, but struggles in coverage. He's not getting any younger, and his best days are obviously behind him, so it's puzzling why the Jets would throw $15 million guaranteed his way. If they offered him $5 million guaranteed, I still would've thought that would be too much. They're paying on past performance, which is a horrible error to make in free agency.
New York endured a nightmare offseason last year, and it appears as though history is repeating itself. It's getting embarrassing, and it doesn't appear as though the team will have much success until Woody Johnson sells the team.
Jets acquire WR Brandon Marshall from Bears for a fifth-round pick
Credit Aaron Leming of BearReport.com for having this trade at 10 a.m., whereas Adam Schefter announced it an hour later. I just wanted to make that clear because some publications are giving Schefter credit.
As for this trade, the Jets have a new front office, but they are doing the same, stupid things. Brandon Marshall is not the same receiver he once was. Many will remember Marshall for his many 100-reception seasons - he had five of them - specifically his 2012 campaign in which he registered 118 catches for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Those days are long gone. Marshall caught 61 balls for 721 yards and eight scores last year, and that downward trend will continue, especially given that he'll now be playing with a limited or inexperienced quarterback. Marshall is no longer a young player; he turns 31 later this month. It's also fair to say that his attention is elsewhere. He focused on being a weekly analyst on Inside the NFL last year, and it obviously distracted him from actually playing football. Being in New York will make it easier on him, since he won't have to travel, but then there's issue of his locker room antics. The Bears wanted to jettison Marshall to clean up their locker room, so why are the Jets taking him on?
I understand that New York surrendered just a fifth-round selection and addressed a huge need, but this trade is a classic case of subtraction by addition. In addition to costing the front office $9.575 million against the cap, Marshall will hurt the team's morale if things go south, and they will because the Jets have one of the worst rosters in the NFL. This will not end well for New York.
As for the Bears, the fifth-round choice isn't as significant as getting rid of a player who, by their own admission, hurt the team in the locker room and was costing the franchise close to $10 million in cap space. Now, if only Chicago could also dump Jay Cutler. If the front office manages to convince the Jets to take on Cutler's contract as well, it'll have a very successful offseason.
Panthers extend TE Greg Olsen (3 years, $22.5M; $12M guaranteed): B+ Grade
Greg Olsen is coming off the best season of his career. He caught 84 passes for 1,008 yards, both of which were career-highs. He also scored six touchdowns and blocked extremely well, as usual. He was highly important for Carolina's offense, and helped lead the team to a playoff spot during its hot stretch at the end of the season. Olsen, who was heading into his contract year, definitely deserved this sort of money.
I'm giving the Panthers a B+. It would be a slightly higher grade, but my only concern is Olsen's age. He'll turn 30 a week from now, and while he should still be great in 2015, there's a chance, albeit a slim one, that he could decline in 2016 and beyond. The Panthers could be paying a bit based on past performance, but this is still a quality extension.
49ers sign DE/DT Darnell Dockett (2 years, $7.5M; $2M guaranteed): C Grade
Darnell Dockett is one of the most overrated defensive players in the NFL. He's a big name, yet he hasn't put together a quality season since 2011. Now, he's coming off a torn ACL as a 34-year-old (in May), so he might even be less effective than he already was in the first place.
The 49ers are overpaying for Dockett's services. Even though he's getting "just" $2 million guaranteed, it's still too much for a player who may offer San Francisco absolutely nothing. Still, it's not an egregious amount, and Dockett does potentially fill a need at the defensive end position, which has been vacated by the troubled Ray McDonald.
This isn't an awful signing by any means, since it won't set the 49ers back much when it doesn't work out. Still, the team should be spending its money on younger, healthier players who have a better chance of contributing.
Bills acquire QB Matt Cassel from Vikings for draft picks
Here's the composition of the trade: The Bills are swapping their first 2015 fifth-round pick for the Vikings' 2015 sixth-round pick. Minnesota will also receive a 2016 seventh-round choice from Buffalo.
With that in mind, this seems like a quality deal for both sides. Matt Cassel is a veteran stopgap quarterback, and the asking price for one is about a fifth-round pick, so the compensation is fair. Cassel is incapable of leading the Bills deep into the playoffs, or anything, but he can manage games and have Buffalo in contention for an 8-8 or 9-7 record, just like Kyle Orton did last year. With Cassel on the roster, Buffalo won't have to count on E.J. Manuel starting anytime soon. The team can either let Manuel develop or draft another quarterback this April or next spring.
As for the Vikings, Cassel was not in their long-term plans whatsoever, so obtaining something for him is a plus, especially considering that they were able to unload his salary. Minnesota will now need a No. 2 quarterback with Christian Ponder headed for the open market, but one can just be acquired via free agency. Check out the NFL Free Agent Quarterback Rankings to see who's available for Minnesota.
Bills acquire RB LeSean McCoy from Eagles for LB Kiko Alonso
LeSean McCoy is the more prominent player, but Buffalo is definitely the loser in this trade. McCoy is only 26 (27 in July), but he already has 1,463 carries under his belt, and that doesn't include all of the receptions he has secured over his career. His numbers were down this past season (4.2 YPC), as his 2013 figures (5.1 YPC) were inflated because teams paid so much attention to DeSean Jackson. McCoy will have the same luxury in Buffalo with Sammy Watkins serving as a downfield threat, but the Bills won't be getting the best of McCoy for very long, as he'll undoubtedly be crossing 2,000 career carries after the next two seasons.
As you can tell, I don't like this move very much for Buffalo. The running back class entering the 2015 NFL Draft is a very talented one, so why trade a stud defensive player for an aging back? Why not just select a running back in the second or third round?
The Eagles, meanwhile, are getting a very talented linebacker in Kiko Alonso. The former Duck - no shock that Chip Kelly traded for him - had a superb rookie year, especially in coverage. He was a three-down player who will serve as an upgrade over DeMeco Ryans, who didn't play as well in 2014. Alonso is coming off a torn ACL, but that happened before the season, so he's had plenty of time to recover. Alonso is only 24, so there's no reason to think that he won't be 100 percent by the start of the season.
Philadelphia now has a major hole at running back, but that's not a huge deal. As mentioned, the running back class is a great one, and running backs effectively grow on trees, so Kelly will be able to land a replacement.
Cowboys re-sign WR Cole Beasley (4 years, $13.6M; $7M guaranteed): C+ Grade
I can't say I'm a fan of this contract. Cole Beasley has never caught more than 39 passes in any of his three NFL seasons. He's an undersized slot receiver who could've been retained for just a second-round tender this offseason, given that he was a restricted free agent. Granted, he would've commanded more money had he posted greater numbers in 2015, but on the flip side, he would've been much cheaper if he would've tallied fewer than 40 receptions again.
Having said that, this wasn't a bad move. Beasley had a strong finish to his 2014 campaign, serving as a reliable tertiary option for Tony Romo. I just don't think any other team would've offered him this kind of money, and again, Dallas didn't even have to give him this sort of contract for another year.
Browns sign QB Josh McCown (3 years, $15 million): D Grade
The Browns are always good for some laughs in the offseason. This contract is ridiculous for multiple reasons. One is that McCown failed on a 2-year, $10 million deal with Tampa Bay last season despite having Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans to throw to. McCown won't have anything close to that sort of talent in Cleveland. Another reason is that the Browns could've just re-signed Brian Hoyer for about the same amount of money, or perhaps even less. Hoyer is both younger and better than McCown. Neither is a viable starter, but I don't see how a 36-year-old McCown is any sort of upgrade over Hoyer.
Redskins sign DE/DT Ricky Jean Francois (3 years, $9M; $4M guaranteed): D Grade
Ricky Jean-Francois is best used as a backup; he's a below-average starter at best who doesn't do anything particularly well. With that in mind, the Redskins are paying too much. They could've obtained a player of equal talent for much less had they been patient. I just don't get why they had to give him $4 million guaranteed.
Chargers re-sign OT King Dunlap (4 years, $28 million): B- Grade
It's unknown how much guaranteed money King Dunlap has received, so I may change this grade if that amount is either outrageous or underwhelming. As it stands now, it's just a mediocre move. Dunlap was awful in Philadelphia, but found a home as an above-average blind-side protector in San Diego. He was great in 2013, but regressed a bit last season. He turns 30 right after the 2015 campaign begins, so his skills could erode soon.
Dunlap is definitely not worth $7 million per year, but again, the contract details could paint a better picture. Besides, if the Chargers had let Dunlap walk, they'd have a major void at the left tackle position.
Cardinals re-sign WR Larry Fitzgerald (2 years, $22 million): B+ Grade
The Cardinals were $12 million over the cap entering Wednesday, so they had to ask some of their players, primarily Larry Fitzgerald, to take a pay cut. Fitzgerald was set to count more than $23 million against the cap, which is unacceptable for any receiver, let alone a soon-to-be 32-year-old who hasn't eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in the past three years.
Fitzgerald did, in fact, take the pay cut, though he is now guaranteed all of this money. It's still a lot for him, but Arizona was able to clear close to $13 million off the cap, so the front office will actually be able to do something in free agency, especially once some other salaries are reduced.
Raiders hire DC Ken Norton Jr.: B Grade
As with the Seattle hire, there's nothing to base Ken Norton's play calling off of, as he's never been a defensive coordinator on any level. However, he definitely deserves a chance, as he did a great job as Seattle's linebackers coach over the past five seasons. This acquisition definitely makes a lot of sense, though Norton could just as easily prove to be an incompetent play-caller.
Seahawks hire DC Kris Richard: B+ Grade
Kris Richard has never been a coordinator on any level, so it's impossible to know how well he'll do now that he's being asked to call the plays. However, he did a great job as Seattle's secondary coach, getting the most out of the defensive backs, most of whom were taken in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft. It's also nice that the Seahawks have continuity with Richard, so this seems like it should be a good hire.
Titans hire Dick LeBeau: A Grade
Dick LeBeau isn't technically the defensive coordinator, but he'll be in charge of the stop unit, taking over for the ineffective Ray Horton. LeBeau is a major upgrade over Horton, so this is obviously a positive move. In fact, I like it a lot. Horton has proven to be an incompetent coordinator over the years, helping to derail Darnell Dockett's career and keeping Tennessee's defense near the bottom of most categories.
LeBeau will provide a boost, but it won't really matter until the Titans add some defensive talent to their roster; they have tons of holes at most positions, especially the secondary. Once they do make upgrades though, they'll be in better position to have a superior stop unit.
Falcons hire head coach Dan Quinn: B Grade
The Falcons can't get an "A" grade for this hire because they bungled their chance at landing Rex Ryan, who was the clear-cut top candidate for the job. Bringing in Dan Quinn does make sense, though I do disagree with some publications that believe Quinn will just be able to snap his fingers and revive Atlanta's defense. Quinn was an NFL defensive coordinator for just two seasons, and he did it with the Seahawks, who have a ton of talent. The Falcons obviously don't have that sort of talent. There's a ton of work Atlanta's front office has to do to change that, and the team won't sport a quality stop unit until many upgrades are made.
It's always hard to tell how coordinators will fare as head coaches because they've never had to take on a full leadership role. Quinn has never been a head coach on any level, but that doesn't mean he's a bad hire. It just makes the decision difficult to grade. Like I said, the acquisition makes sense, but how Quinn will perform is anyone's guess.
49ers hire OC Geep Chryst: MILLEN SLAVE Grade
I can only imagine a 49er fan dressed as Mr. Slave learning of this hire and saying to himself, "Geep Chrysth."
It's amazing how incompetent the 49ers have become. They had one of the top three head coaches in the NFL, an offensive guru who has gotten the most out of mediocre quarterbacks, and the front office has transformed that into a line coach who is now calling all the shots and a new coordinator who has no positive experience at the position.
Geep Chryst was the offensive coordinator of the Chargers in 1999 and 2000. His offenses ranked 26th and 28th, and he was fired after the 2000 campaign in which San Diego went 1-15. Chryst has since had time off and served as a positional coach for various teams, including the quarterbacks' coach for San Francisco.
The 49er players are reportedly dismayed by this promotion, and it's easy to see why. The team made a cheap hire, as Chryst is another "yes man." Chryst has done nothing to deserve this job, as he failed to develop Colin Kaepernick. It's a shame to see this proud franchise decay into oblivion, but that's exactly what's happening because both ownership and the front office are so incompetent.
Broncos hire DC Wade Phillips: A+ Grade
With Peyton Manning, now 39, set to decline once again, the Broncos will need to lean on their defense more than ever. The stop unit failed down the stretch last year because the overmatched Jack Del Rio didn't do a very good job. Wade Phillips, on the other hand, will get the most out of the talent on Denver's defense.
Phillips failed as a head coach in Dallas, but he remains one of the best defensive minds in football. He has succeeded as a coordinator wherever he has gone, and he'll have the pieces in place to maintain a dominant stop unit in Denver. Phillips will run his 3-4, and the Broncos have the personnel for that, with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware being the edge rushers. Terrance Knighton, assuming he's re-signed, is a perfect nose tackle, and he would be flanked by Derek Wolfe and Sylvester Williams up front. Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan will be stationed at inside linebacker.
This is the best possible move the Broncos could've made. The head-coaching hire they made was uninspired, but they'll at least have one of the top defensive coordinators in the business.
Bears hire OC Adam Gase: B- Grade
Adam Gase was a hot name heading into the offseason, and he was expected to perhaps land a head-coaching job. That never happened. He apparently had the opportunity to land the head-coaching gig in San Francisco, but somehow screwed it up.
Instead, Gase will follow John Fox to Chicago. I like that Fox will at least have familiarity with Gase, but it's impossible to love this move, given that Gase has never been an offensive coordinator without Peyton Manning. Coaching Jay Cutler will be much more of a challenge, and I'm not sure if Gase - or anyone else not named Mike Shanahan, for that matter - can get the job done. Even if Cutler is jettisoned, it's still impossible to tell how Gase will do unless he's somehow able to coach another future Hall of Famer.
Browns hire OC John DeFilippo: C+ Grade
John DeFilippo has never been an offensive coordinator on any level of football. That doesn't necessarily mean that this a bad hire; it just makes it difficult to grade.
Here's what we do know about the soon-to-be 37-year-old: He was the quarterbacks' coach with the Jets in 2009 when Mark Sanchez was a rookie. Sanchez played well that year, quarterbacking the team in the AFC Championship. DeFilippo then was the quarterbacks' coach for the Raiders in 2012-14. Studying under Greg Olson for two years, DeFilippo helped Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin and Derek Carr play relatively well.
Perhaps the Browns are making a good decision by bringing in DeFilippo. I certainly like this hire more than if they would've gone with a failed retread like Marty Mornhinweg. Again, it's tough to grade, but a C+ seems appropriate.
Ravens hire OC Marc Trestman: A Grade
I'm not in a particularly great mood, or anything, just in case you were wondering after seeing all of these "A" grades I've given out today. I just think these teams have made terrific hires.
Marc Trestman got the most out of Jay Cutler in 2013, but was fired after a failed 2014 campaign in which Culter stopped caring and trying. It's not Trestman's fault that his quarterback had absolutely no heart, and he probably didn't deserve to lose his job. He has a brilliant offensive mind, and he'll serve as a perfect replacement for Gary Kubiak as Baltimore's offensive coordinator. Dubbed the "quarterback whisperer," Trestman could have Joe Flacco playing the best football of his career in 2015.
Jaguars hire OC Greg Olson: A Grade
It's very lazy to look at how Greg Olson's offenses have ranked over the years because that would be ignoring the types of quarterbacks he has worked with. Here's the list: Josh Freeman, Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin and Derek Carr. It was miracle work just getting the offenses to rank 30th with those signal-callers under center.
Olson has gotten the most out of every quarterback he has coached, save for Gabbert, who was a lost cause. He coached up Freeman to be a Pro Bowl quarterback before personal issues derailed Freeman's career. Blake Bortles declined as the 2014 campaign progressed, so bringing in Olson was a great move for Jacksonville. Olson can turn Bortles around to save the Central Florida product's career.
Bears hire DC Vic Fangio: A Grade
Vic Fangio was one of the more sought-after coordinators this offseason, so Chicago fans should be happy that their team landed him. Fangio has had success at multiple posts as a defensive coordinator. He did relatively well with the expansion Texans, and he was even better these past few years with the 49ers. His best work came last season when he managed to maintain one of the league's top defenses despite the fact that many of the players on his unit were injured/suspended.
It's going to take a lot of work for Fangio to turn around Chicago's putrid defense, but his presence will definitely help. The Bears have a ton of work to do on this side of the ball this offseason.
Raiders hire OC Bill Musgrave: F Grade
A typical Raiders' move. Jack Del Rio was hired a few days ago, and he has already screwed up by replacing Greg Olson with Bill Musgrave. Whereas Olson coached up Derek Carr and got the most out of him - as well as many other quarterbacks over his coaching career - Musgrave has pretty much been a failure wherever he's gone. He had two unsuccessful tenures as an offensive coordinator in Jacksonville and Minnesota, and he was part of the reason Nick Foles regressed this past year when he replaced Bill Lazor as the Eagles' quarterbacks coach.
The Raiders have made poor decisions for more than a decade, and this is just the latest one. Del Rio should've been thrilled to inherit someone like Olson, but he managed to severely downgrade his offensive coordinator. Carr, as a result, will suffer a severe sophomore slump that could help ruin his career.
Falcons hire OC Kyle Shanahan: B+ Grade
The Falcons screwed up by failing to land Rex Ryan, but they at least made a decent hire by bringing in Kyle Shanahan to run the offense. Shanahan has plenty of experience as the play-caller in Houston, Washington and Cleveland. He has gotten the most out of some pedestrian quarterbacks like Robert Griffin (when he was healthy), Matt Schaub and Brian Hoyer, but he also struggled with others, such as Donovan McNabb and Johnny Manziel.
Shanahan will be working with the best quarterback he's ever coached as a coordinator. He should be able to help Matt Ryan with his effective game-planning, so I like this acquisition by Atlanta.
Broncos hire HC Gary Kubiak: C Grade
This strikes me as an uninspired hire. Gary Kubiak never led his team deep into the playoffs, failing to beat anyone but Andy Dalton in the postseason. Kubiak had just a 61-64 record in eight seasons, and his team quit on him in 2013; he went 2-11 before getting fired late in the year.
I don't see how Kubiak is an upgrade over John Fox. I'm not crazy about Fox either, but Kubiak is just a mediocre head coach at best. It just seems like John Elway wanted a "yes man" who would agree that Peyton Manning is still the best option for the team even though Manning had a decaying arm down the stretch (even before he tore his quad).
Kubiak's not a terrible hire because he at least has experience, but I don't see how the Broncos became better with him.
Bears hire HC John Fox: C- Grade
The national media will eat this up as a great hire, but I don't see it working out very well. John Fox is an overrated coach; his methods are extremely dated, he's way too conservative, and he didn't win any close playoff games with the Broncos. It was either a victory against an outmatched opponent, or an embarrassing defeat as a favorite. There's a reason the Broncos canned him.
The Bears really had two options that made sense: Either hire an offensive-minded coach like Mike Shanahan, who could work with Jay Cutler, or blow the entire thing up. This approach will not work. Chicago has a decaying roster and a quarterback who doesn't care, yet it hired an outdated, mediocre coach whose methods are no longer effective.
Giants hire DC Steve Spagnuolo: C+ Grade
Steve Spagnuolo comes home. Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator of the Giants during their 2007 Super Bowl run, and he was subsequently hired by the Rams to be their head coach, as he impressed many with his apparent ability to generate a heavy pass rush. Unfortunately for Spagnuolo, it appears as though he was a product of the talent around him. He hasn't enjoyed nearly as much success in his other posts, failing with both the Rams and the Saints as their defensive coordinator.
There's some hope that Spagnuolo can turn things around back in New York, but I'm not as optimistic. The one positive, however, is that he and Tom Coughlin have worked together before, so there won't be any sort of learning curve.
49ers hire HC Jim Tomsula: C Grade
The 49ers are going to take a huge step backward and will likely have trouble making the playoffs over the next several seasons. That's because Jim Harbaugh is gone. Harbaugh took San Francisco out of irrelevant 6-10-type seasons and brought them to a Super Bowl, but inept ownership wanted a "yes man" who would not steal the spotlight. Much like Jerry Jones with Jimmy Johnson in the 90s, Jed York screwed up and made things personal, dismissing an elite head coach for no explicable reason.
Having said that, I already gave the 49ers a terrible grade for letting Harbaugh go. I don't mind this hire. Jim Tomsula is a good leader and will provide some continuity, which is definitely a positive. However, I'm not sure Tomsula will be able to manage a game well, given that he was just a defensive line coach.
Note: After learning what happened to Adam Gase - the 49ers refused to hire him because he wanted to bring in his own coordinators - I've decided to drop this from a B- to a C. Trent Baalke is single-handedly ruining this great franchise.
Raiders hire HC Jack Del Rio: D Grade
This is why the Raiders are the Raiders; they make stupid moves like this. Jack Del Rio had a failed tenure as Jacksonville's head coach. He took the Jaguars to the playoffs a couple of times, but he was often overmatched. Owner Wayne Weaver eventually got so fed up with him that he told the media that he wished Del Rio had a better work ethic. How can a coach with a poor work ethic get hired to be a head coach again? The Raiders would've been better off with Tony Sparano, who at least cared.
This is a major win for Del Rio. Not only does he get to be a head coach again; he gets to go home. He'll be in California, near the beach, where he concentrate on surfing rather than game planning for his upcoming opponents.
Redskins hire DC Joe Barry: C Grade
This is actually a Matt Millen hire because Millen brought Joe Barry in to be the defensive coordinator of the Lions in 2007. Barry lasted two seasons with Detroit, and his defense was ranked dead last both years, and he was part of the 0-16 disaster in 2008. Barry has spent the past four years as San Diego's linebackers coach.
I previously gave this a Millen grade, but some in the know are more optimistic about it. Barry has done a great job developing linebackers over the years, and he already has enjoyed a great rapport with Jay Gruden, so there won't be any trust issues, as there were with Jim Haslett. I'm not crazy about this hire, but it doesn't appear to be a terrible one.
Jets hire OC Chan Gailey: C+ Grade
There have been moans and groans from people talking about how Chan Gailey has been out of the NFL for two years following a failed tenure in Buffalo as the head coach, but this isn't a terrible hire. Gailey has a decent offensive mind. He was able to get Ryan Fitzpatrick to play well for a stretch in Buffalo, and C.J. Spiller, who produced 1,244 rushing yards in 2012, has done nothing since Gailey left. The Gailey hire could work out, but the Jets need an injection of talent more than anything on offense.
Jets hire HC Todd Bowles: B Grade
The Jets were downgrading their coach no matter what they were going to do this offseason. Todd Bowles is a fine candidate though. He has been a very good defensive coordinator over the years, and at 51, he deserves a chance to be a head coach. He's not Rex Ryan, however, and he still faces the same issue Ryan did - he needs to find a quarterback and someone to run the offense. Bowles also won't nearly have the same sort of talent he did in Arizona, so New York fans shouldn't expect a top-10 defense in 2015. It remains to be seen if he can function as the same sort of motivator.
Cowboys re-sign HC Jason Garrett (5 years, $30 million): B- Grade
Jason Garrett strikes me as a very mediocre head coach, and his record reflects that. He was 29-27 in his career heading into this past season, and he has never been past the second round of the playoffs. He barely had any actual duties during games, almost serving as a figurehead of some sort in addition to being the team's leader.
The Cowboys could do better than Garrett, but I'm not giving this a bad grade because I'm a fan of continuity. The Cowboys look like they have something good going, so why change things now? The money is too much, but Jerry Jones has it, and it's not like Garrett will count against the cap, or anything.
Broncos fire HC John Fox: B+ Grade
I feel sorry for John Fox. His recent playoff loss to the Colts wasn't completely his fault, as perennial choke-artist Peyton Manning had been playing with a decaying arm. Manning was going to gag at some point anyway, but Denver wasn't going very far, given how poorly Manning had been down the stretch.
Having said that, I don't mind this firing at all. Fox has always been overrated as a coach. He has a good defensive mind - despite royally screwing up the game plan versus Indianapolis - but his decision-making is awful, as he is way too conservative. How many times has he punted on fourth-and-short near or past midfield despite having Manning and all of those offensive weapons? It was almost like he still thought Jake Delhomme was his quarterback.
Fox isn't a bad coach overall, but the Broncos can do better. I wonder whom they're going to hire though, given that Manning is a rapidly declining player who won't be around much longer. I'm not sure anyone outside of the elite coaches like Bill Belichick and Jim Harbaugh could win with this team, and they're obviously not available.
Bills hire OC Greg Roman: C Grade
I loved the Rex Ryan hire, but as I hinted yesterday, I'm not crazy about this move. In four years as San Francisco's offensive coordinator, Greg Roman had the offense better than 20th in yardage just once, and it was never in the top 10. Also, Colin Kaepernick seemed to have regressed under Roman's tutelage. Some of that was Jim Harbaugh mailing it in this past year once it was clear he wouldn't be back, but it's discouraging that Roman was never able to develop Kaepernick.
Roman will be charged with a much more difficult challenge in Buffalo. The Bills have nothing at quarterback, as E.J. Manuel is currently the favorite to start next year. If Roman couldn't get Kaepernick to take the next step, how is he going to get the most out of Manuel?
I don't hate this hire, as there were worse candidates out there. I don't think it's a very inspired one though, either.
Bills hire HC Rex Ryan: A+ Grade
This proves how incompetent the Jets are. How could they let Rex Ryan get away AND go to a team in the same division? Ryan is one of the few people who truly knows how to contain Tom Brady, and the Bills reeled him in. This is huge, as Buffalo has an extensive history of losing to the Patriots. It looks like that will be changing in the near future.
Ryan, of course, needs an offensive mind to complement him, given what the Jets endured on that side of the ball since 2009. There are rumors that he'll bring along 49ers' offensive coordinator Greg Roman, but I'm not sure he's the answer. The Bills don't have a quarterback anyway, and ultimately, that's the position they'll need to address to become a true Super Bowl contender.
By the way, I think this is a major blow for the Falcons. Ryan would've been perfect for them, given the offense already in place. I can't believe Arthur Blank allowed Ryan to walk away without hiring him.
Steelers fire DC Dick LeBeau: C Grade
The Steelers have technically "mutually" parted ways with Dick LeBeau, but this is effectively a firing because they didn't want him back. LeBeau has been the team's defensive coordinator since 2004, and his tough defenses were a major reason why Pittsburgh was able to win two Super Bowls in the past decade.
However, Pittsburgh's defenses have declined steadily in recent years. LeBeau is getting the blame from some publications, but in truth, he had inferior personnel to work with. The Steelers have not drafted well defensively, especially when it comes to the secondary, so I don't see how any defensive coordinator could've gotten great production out of what the team currently has on the roster.
Having said that, LeBeau is 77, so it wouldn't hurt to go in a different direction. I think the Steelers will ultimately miss him, but if they have a plan in place to have someone else step in, they might as well do it now.
Patriots re-sign S Patrick Chung (3 years, $8.2 million): B Grade
Philadelphia fans might be confused about this after watching Patrick Chung struggle for them in 2013, but Chung simply is built for Bill Belichick's system. He played pretty well in 2014, though he faded a bit down the stretch. Still, this is a decent contract who a player who happens to be a solid piece in Belichick's defense.
Patriots re-sign RB Brandon Bolden (2 years, $2.32 million): C+ Grade
Brandon Bolden is buried on New England's depth chart at a weak position for the team, but that's because he averaged just 3.2 yards per carry in 2014. Bolden at least functions well as an effective special-teamer, so extending him two more years makes sense.
Buccaneers hire OC Dirk Koetter: B+ Grade
Dirk Koetter has always had a lot to work with in Atlanta, including a franchise quarterback, but his offenses were always ranked among the league's best units. The Buccaneers are still deciding which franchise signal-caller to take, but they've made a nice move by bringing in Koetter, who has successful NFL experience. He should be able to get the most out of Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston, and he'll be a major upgrade over what Tampa had this year in terms of a play-caller.
Steelers extend OC Todd Haley (2 years): B+ Grade
It's easy to blame Todd Haley when things go wrong, given his personality, previous tension with Ben Roethlisberger, and the gif of him staring at a woman eating a hot dog. However, Haley has done a good job with the Steelers, who were ranked second in yards per game this past season. Roethlisberger was able to set career-high numbers in many categories in 2014, including yards (4,952) and completion percentage (67.1).
As I said with the Browns below, one of the keys to maintaining a winning organization is stability. The Steelers would've taken a step backward if they took the Cleveland approach and brought in someone new to call the plays. Instead, they can just head into 2015 with confidence that their offensive will be highly productive.
Browns fire OC Kyle Shanahan: D Grade
Kyle Shanahan technically asked for his release, and the Browns granted it to him. Shanahan is not some sort of master play-caller, or anything, but Cleveland is getting a poor grade for how it handled this situation and its incompetence overall. Shanahan was doing a good job of getting the most out of Brian Hoyer before center Alex Mack's injury. Hoyer capsized after that, and then we all saw what a disaster Johnny Manziel was. Shanahan was never on board with Manziel - great job by him for being so prophetic - but this created friction in the front office. It got so bad that a "high-ranking official" (probably owner Jimmy Haslam) was texting recommended plays to Shanahan during the game. Ladies and gentlemen, the Cleveland Browns.
Shanahan was the Browns' eighth offensive coordinator since 2006, so the team will have a ninth in less than a decade. That's absolutely ridiculous. A big part of creating a winning franchise is having stability. There is no such thing in Cleveland. Haslam, is fairly new, but he appears to be even worse than the previous guy, which isn't a surprise considering his previous legal issues.
Giants fire DC Perry Fewell: B Grade
This move makes sense. In the half decade in which Perry Fewell has coached them, the Giants have been in the top five of most yardage surrendered three times. Fewell has coached some great defenses as well; his stop units were particularly strong in 2010 and 2013, as well as 2008, when he was with the Bills. However, he has coached too many poor defenses and hasn't shown the ability to make adjustments when things aren't ideal.
Fewell's failure in New York isn't all his fault, however. The front office has inexplicably ignored the linebacking corps for years despite it continuously being a glaring need. The Giants, consequently, were 31st against the run in terms of YPC allowed to opposing running backs this past season.
Redskins fire DC Jim Haslett: A Grade
Jim Haslett lasted five years in Washington despite fielding only one defense ranked above 18th in yardage allowed. Personnel was an issue, no doubt, but Haslett's blitz schemes were easily solvable for most teams. Making matters worse, one of his former players, linebacker London Fletcher, called him out during the season. Take a look at what he said, if you haven't seen it:
"He's clueless as a defensive coordinator. He lacks attention to detail. He lacks feel on how to call a game. Some of the calls he used to call when I was playing were head-scratching. They were so bad, I used to change them, like, 'We're not running that.' And we'd get off the field and he would ask, 'Why did you change the call.' (I would say), 'Because that�s just a dumb call. That�s why I changed it.'"
Jaguars fire OC Jedd Fisch: A Grade
Jedd Fisch didn't exactly have the best personnel to work with in Jacksonville, but he did not do a good job as the team's offensive coordinator, leading the franchise to two consecutive finishes as the 31st-ranked team in yardage. Blake Bortles did not look any better than he did when he initially started; in fact, it appeared as though he regressed as the season went on. Bortles constantly looked like he was scared to take shots downfield, so this is something Jacksonville needs to fix before it becomes an irreparable habit.
There are rumors that Marc Trestman could be Jacksonville's new offensive coordinator. Trestman and Gus Bradley are apparently great friends, and Trestman, also known as the "quarterback whisperer," could do wonders with Bortles' natural ability.
Giants retain HC Tom Coughlin: A Grade
The Giants have failed to achieve a winning record the past three years, so there was some speculation that Tom Coughlin would be fired. That didn't turn out to be the case, as New York announced that it'll be keeping him on for one more year.
I understand New York getting rid of Coughlin if it wanted to do a fresh reboot, but given that it'll keep rolling with Eli Manning, there was no reason to fire the 68-year-old. Coughlin is one of the top coaches in the NFL. He's a two-time Super Bowl winner, so it's not his fault that the Giants have been just 22-26 the past three seasons. The Giants would be so much better with an improved offensive line and linebacking corps. If those two areas are fixed, New York could compete for another Super Bowl, provided that Manning, 34 in January, still has what it takes.
Dolphins retain HC Joe Philbin: D Grade
Joe Philbin is not head-coaching material. He was absolutely oblivious to what was going on in his own locker room when the bullying scandal was going on; he reportedly doesn't have the respect of his players; and he failed to motivate his team in a Week 17 matchup with the divisional-rival Jets, when a victory could've given his team a winning record.
Philbin has a fine offensive mind, but he's better off being a coordinator. He just can't cut it as a head coach, and this is extremely obvious to almost everyone, so it's curious as to why owner Stephen Ross hasn't fired him yet. In fact, if I were Ross, I'd can Philbin and hire Rex Ryan. This would give me a head coach who could stymie Tom Brady, and Ryan wouldn't have to worry about the offense, given that Bill Lazor is already in place to tutor Ryan Tannehill.
Philbin hasn't done a terrible job with the Dolphins, which is why I haven't given this an "F," but it's pretty clear that he's not the answer because he's overmatched, and he doesn't command the respect of his own players.
Raiders retain GM Reggie McKenzie: C Grade
Owner Mark Davis left the door open for Reggie McKenzie to be fired, but he referred to McKenzie as "my guy" in Monday's meeting with the media. McKenzie has had his ups and downs. He curiously axed Hue Jackson and replaced him with the overwhelmed Dennis Allen; allowed Jared Veldheer to get away in free agency; bungled the Rodger Saffold signing (though Davis had a hand in that); and wasted early-round choices on D.J. Hayden and Menelik Watson.
On the other hand, McKenzie did well in the 2014 NFL Draft, found some late-round steals in Latavius Murray, Mychal Rivera and T.J. Carrie, and had to deal with the mess that Al Davis left behind; he didn't even have a selection in the first two rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft to work with.
McKenzie hasn't been overly impressive, but I can see why Davis wants to give him one more year. It's too early to determine whether Derek Carr will be a solid starting quarterback, but if he develops into one, McKenzie will need to take serious credit for that because every team passed on Carr last spring.
49ers fire HC Jim Harbaugh: MILLEN Grade
The 49ers called this a "mutual agreement to part ways," but let's be real here. They undermined Jim Harbaugh at every opportunity this year, beginning with leaking reports to the NFL's Internet tabloid publication back in February. Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke couldn't get along, so Baalke did everything in his power to make Harbaugh want to leave.
I'm going to assume that Baalke has compromising pictures of 49er ownership because no one in their right mind would've kept Baalke over Harbaugh. Baalke screwed up numerous early draft choices like A.J. Jenkins, LaMichael James, Tank Carradine, Vance McDonald and Jimmie Ward (awful rookie year), and those were just the terrible picks in the first two rounds. Oh, and let's not forget the fact that he actually traded a draft choice for Blaine Gabbert.
Harbaugh, meanwhile, was responsible for turning this franchise around. He led the 49ers to a 44-19-1 record through four seasons, reaching the NFC Championship thrice, as well as the Super Bowl, where he was just one play away from beating the Ravens. Despite a ridiculous amount of injuries to his roster this past season, Harbaugh still had the team playing hard in meaningless games late in the year, nearly knocking off the Seahawks in Seattle.
The 49ers are going to be so much worse without Harbaugh, who already took the Michigan job. Colin Kaepernick, who has already shown signs of regression, will take another major step backward without an offensive mastermind coaching him up. The 49ers will eventually have to fire Baalke, and perhaps then they'll realize that they let go of the wrong guy.
Bears fire HC Marc Trestman: C Grade
Phil Emery absolutely had to go for bungling the Jay Cutler contract, but I don't understand why Marc Trestman had to be fired. Trestman probably should be an offensive coordinator, but it's not his fault that his general manager kept the wrong quarterback, throwing tons of money at the most indifferent player in the NFL.
Trestman got the most out of Cutler in 2013, but Cutler just stopped paying attention. Is it Trestman's fault? Perhaps a bit, but Cutler is so heartless that he wouldn't have listened to anyone upon obtaining so much money. It was telling that Trestman had Jimmy Clausen playing the best football of his career versus a tough Detroit defense in Week 16. That proved that Cutler was the problem; not Trestman.
Having said that, I'm not sure if Trestman was the long-term answer anyway, so I can't say that I hate this firing. Cutler is almost certain to be around next year because of his ugly contract, so perhaps the Bears can actually bring in the Wizard of Oz - a.k.a. Mike Shanahan - who can give Cutler a heart. Shanahan worked well with Cutler in Denver, so the match would make sense. If Chicago can't hire Shanahan, however, then the team will be doomed with a downgraded offense matching a horrific defense.
Bears fire GM Phil Emery: A- Grade
For any aspiring NFL general manager out there, here's a tip: Do not give $126 million to a heartless, indifferent quarterback, because it will get you fired.
At least one person had to take the fall for the Jay Cutler contract, and Phil Emery was the obvious choice. Emery had a terrible 3-year run in Chicago. In addition to overpaying for Cutler, he bungled many early-round draft choices, including Shea McClellin, Brandin Hardin, Evan Rodriguez, Khaseem Greene and Ego Ferguson (though the jury is still out on the latter).
Emery had some hits in the draft - Kyle Fuller, Alshon Jeffery, Kyle Long - but there were more whiffs than successful choices. He also put his team in a terrible situation with the Cutler contract, which was an obvious poor decision when it was made. In fact, I graded it a "C+" at the very bottom of the page, noting that Packer fans were thrilled with the extension.
Falcons fire HC Mike Smith: B+ Grade
Mike Smith had the Falcons in the NFC Championship two years ago, but now he's gone. That's what going 10-22 over a two-season stretch will do to you in a league that could easily stand for "Not for Long."
Firing Smith was probably the right decision. Smith repeatedly bungled late-game situations, costing his team victories against the Lions and Browns this year alone. Winning those games would've helped him seal up the NFC South with a victory over the Saints, but instead, he was outmatched in a blowout defeat against the Panthers in Week 17. These past two years weren't all on Smith - the Falcons sustained a ridiculous amount of injuries - but it's not like Smith was adding much by being on the sideline.
Smith has a great defensive mind, and he should immediately find work as a coordinator, but he was just overmatched as an NFL head coach. With Matt Ryan hitting 30 in May, the Falcons need to act quickly and find a coach who can win a championship before the window closes permanently.
Jets fire HC Rex Ryan: F Grade
There are only a handful of coaches in the NFL who know how to contain Tom Brady. The Jets had one of them, and they also happen to be in Brady's division... and yet, they fired that coach? Huh?
Woody Johnson cemented himself as one of the league's most incompetent owners by firing Ryan on Black Monday. What Ryan did in 2014 was miracle work. The Jets had a roster that screamed 1-15; outside of the defensive line, the team didn't have a single positive unit. Ryan was able to somehow win four games with such a depleted squad, and the players loved him; they played hard for him in so many meaningless games. Oh, and let's not forget the fact that Ryan once took Mark Sanchez to two consecutive NFC Championships. The heralded Chip Kelly couldn't even get Sanchez to the playoffs!
Ryan does have his warts. He doesn't have a grasp of the offensive side of the ball, so he needs to have a sharp offensive coordinator to work with him. He also screws up clock and game-management situations occasionally. Having said that, unless you want to count Jim Harbaugh, Ryan is the top head-coaching candidate available this offseason. The Jets will be worse off with whomever they hire. In fact, the Dolphins, who had a horrific showing in Week 17, should think about canning Joe Philbin and hiring Ryan, who would thrive in Miami because a strong offense is already in place there.
Jets fire GM John Idzik: A+ Grade
John Idzik was arguably the NFL's worst general managers, so he absolutely had to go. This move is actually a year too late, as he should've been fired last offseason. During his tenure in New York, Idzik...
Signed numerous free-agent busts, like: Breno Giacomini, Mike Goodson, Antwan Barnes, Willie Colon and David Garrard.
Obtained three players (Chris Johnson, QBDK, Percy Harvin) who poisoned the locker room.
Gave No. 1 receiver money to No. 2 wideout Eric Decker, despite having nothing at quarterback.
Dedicated resources to second-round pick Geno Smith.
Squandered many draft choices, including the No. 9 overall selection on Dee Milliner, as well as several mid-rounders spent on terrible receivers.
Allowed Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie to walk away without properly addressing the cornerback position, putting Rex Ryan in a tough spot.
Alienated many of those in the front office.
Idzik, who had no scouting experience upon being hired, was expected to be a failure from Day 1, but no one figured he would be incompetent on a Matt Millen-type level. The only thing he didn't do was drop the six-letter F-bomb on one of his receivers in front of the media.