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Daily 2020 NFL Free-Agent Signings, Trades Grades for Friday's Action

Brent Sobleski

Whether the deals are official or not, NFL free agency continues to chug along with plenty of movement and agreements/signings two days after the start of the new league year.

The NFL is no longer the same as what everyone previously knew. Stars have aligned with different orbits. Once-highly regarded players have been tossed to the side. Numerous individuals found new homes. The amount of activity beginning Monday with the league's legal tampering period into the actual start of free agency has been nothing short of staggering.

Each day provided something new and jaw-dropping.

A pair of wide receiver trades dominated Monday's deals. Tom Brady agreeing to terms with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers completely changed the NFL landscape on Tuesday. The Chicago Bears seemingly gave up on Mitchell Trubisky by Wednesday. On Thursday, the Los Angeles Rams decided they no longer wanted to pay Todd Gurley, while the Detroit Lions came to the same conclusion with Darius Slay.

Like the rest of the world, the NFL is a far different place today, but limitations to normal operating procedures haven't stopped teams from continuing their shopping sprees, nor us from assigning grades to the league's latest transactions.

Todd Gurley Returns Home

John Cordes/Associated Press

Well, that didn't take long.

Less than 24 hours after the Los Angeles Rams announced they had released Todd Gurley, the running back agreed to a one-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons, according to ESPN's Jordan Schultz

The move comes on the heels of the Falcons releasing their own highly paid running back in Devonta Freeman, thus creating an opportunity for the 25-year-old Gurley to assume the starting position while returning to the state where he built his reputation. 

The former Georgia Bulldog can prove he's still a dynamic runner despite concerns with a lingering knee issue. 

The Falcons front office has immediately attacked problem areas. First, the team rid itself of Freeman's contract and may have gotten better in the short term. It lost Austin Hooper in free agency only to acquire former first-round pick Hayden Hurst in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Also, it finally added a legit edge-rusher in Dante Fowler Jr.

Atlanta has a legitimate chance to build upon its four-game winning streak to end the 2019 season with Gurley leading the way. 

Grade: B+ 

Broncos Sign Melvin Gordon

Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

Melvin Gordon III didn’t get the memo last season.

The running back market is depreciated, and he wasn’t going to get a better deal than the one the Los Angeles Chargers offered last year, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo (h/t Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith).

Instead of receiving $10 million annually from the Chargers, Gordon signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Denver Broncos on Friday, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Rapoport reported the two-time Pro Bowl running back did have a better deal on the table from another team but wanted to stay in the AFC West.

A little payback against the Chargers could go a long way. At the same time, the Broncos now have a loaded backfield with Gordon, Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman to take pressure off second-year quarterback Drew Lock.

Grade: B

Fullbacks Find New Homes

Morry Gash/Associated Press

Fullbacks are people, too. They may not have much value around the NFL anymore, but a few teams still utilize the position.

The New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints are two of those teams.

The Patriots offense took a hit last season when James Develin suffered a neck injury during a Week 2 game against the Miami Dolphins. The 31-year-old’s status with the team remains in question, especially since New England signed fellow fullback Danny Vitale on Friday, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

Even if Develin returns to action, he and Vitale can coexist. Develin is a traditional lead blocker, while Vitale is far more versatile as a runner and receiver.

The Saints, meanwhile, will bring Michael Burton back after releasing him prior to the 2019 campaign. According to NewOrleans.Football’s Nick Underhill, the two parties agreed to a one-year deal. The Saints relied primarily on Zach Line as their fullback last season, but he remains a free agent.

Grade: Patriots C+, Saints C

Super Bowl Champs Finally Get on the Board

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

The Kansas City Chiefs haven’t been active in free agency because they lacked financial flexibility thanks to Chris Jones’ franchise tag and Patrick Mahomes’ inevitable contract extension.

Cornerback Kendall Fuller, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and guard Stefen Wisniewski have signed elsewhere after being significant contributors during the Chiefs’ championship season.

Kansas City has to stand pat because it can’t offer large deals to anyone outside of its top performers.
However, the Chiefs finally brought in some fresh blood when the front office signed cornerback Antonio Hamilton to a one-year deal, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Hamilton hasn’t played much in four seasons, but he should get an opportunity now with Fuller’s departure and Bashaud Breeland still a free agent.

Grade: D

Chiefs Add Offensive Lineman Too

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

The Kansas City Chiefs weren’t quite done after signing Antonio Hamilton. They also agreed to terms with offensive lineman Mike Remmers, according to Yahoo Sports’ Terez A. Paylor.

The move should bolster Kansas City’s front five after the team lost left guard Stefen Wisniewski in free agency to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Remmers, who started 73 games over the last five seasons, could move inside to guard and replace Wisniewski. Remmers has plenty of experience at guard, even though he’s primarily been a right tackle throughout his career.

Or, the 30-year-old veteran could serve as the Chiefs' utility lineman as Cameron Erving’s replacement, since Andrew Wylie, who started 11 games at guard last season before suffering a high-ankle sprain, will remain a part of the team’s plans once he signs his exclusive free-agent tender.

Grade: B

Saints Re-Sign LG Andrus Peat

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Drew Brees’ re-signing may have been the New Orleans Saints’ top priority this offseason, but bringing back left guard Andrus Peat wasn’t far down the list.

Peat has agreed to re-sign with the Saints on a five-year, $57.5 million contract, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Peat’s return to the lineup keeps the entire Saints front five intact to protect the 41-year-old Brees.

While continuity definitely contributes to success for any offensive line, the Saints have always placed an extra emphasis on interior play since Brees is a shorter-than-ideal pocket passer. Peat is the latest example of the organization’s strategy of investing heavily in the guard and center positions.

Grade: B

Steelers Trade for Defensive Line Help

Nick Wass/Associated Press

In a rare in-division trade, the Pittsburgh Steelers acquired defensive lineman Chris Wormley and a 2021 seventh-round pick from the Baltimore Ravens for a 2021 fifth-round pick, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

Wormley started 13 games and played in all 32 the last two seasons. But the Ravens have made significant additions to their defensive front in Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers, so he became expendable.

The Steelers, who have been more active than usual this offseason, saw an opportunity to fortify their defensive line after Javon Hargrave’s departure. Wormley isn’t a nose tackle, but he’s a solid run defender to help in Pittsburgh’s rotation.

Grade: C

Steelers Add Offensive Weapon

Don Wright/Associated Press

Two years ago, Eric Ebron emerged as one of the game’s premier tight ends. The 2014 10th overall pick finally realized his potential in Indianapolis and led everyone at his position with 13 touchdown receptions on his way to a Pro Bowl berth.

But Ebron regressed in 2019 thanks to Andrew Luck’s abrupt retirement and Jack Doyle’s return from injury.

Thus, the 26-year-old offensive weapon didn’t have a huge market once he entered free agency. The Pittsburgh Steelers capitalized by signing Ebron to a two-year, $12 million deal, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

“[Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin] told me he's been on me since I was a Tar Heel, and he's happy to get one of the guys he wanted out of college,” Ebron told ESPN’s Josina Anderson. “He said being a defensive coach, he knows I'm hard to game-plan against, and I'm excited to come.”

Pittsburgh also restructured Vance McDonald’s contract this offseason. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger now has two potential mismatches at the tight end position.

Grade: B+



Re-Signings Create Depth for Cowboys, Bears, Jets and Texans

Roger Steinman/Associated Press

Quality depth should never be overlooked when assessing successful teams. On Friday, four franchises made sure to retain individuals who provide depth at key positions. 

The Dallas Cowboys made the most interesting deal of the bunch thanks to being the first organization to take advantage of a new CBA rule. Dallas re-signed offensive lineman Joe Looney to a one-year, $2.4 million contract, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo

In doing so, the Cowboys invoked the veteran benefit salary clause so the interior blocker will cost $1.25 million less against the 2020 NFL salary cap. This allowed Dallas to pay a little more for the 29-year-old blocker’s services than other interested teams would be able to. 

The Chicago Bears are bringing back safety Deon Bush on a one-year, $1.4 million deal, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Bush’s return became a priority after Ha Ha Clinton-Dix decided to go elsewhere and eventually signed with the Cowboys. 

The New York Jets also kept part of their secondary intact when they agreed to a one-year deal with cornerback Arthur Maulet, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini. The Jets weren’t able to acquire any of the big-name cornerbacks who moved from team to team, yet New York retained both Maulet and Brian Poole from last season’s 17th-ranked pass defense. 

The Houston Texans signed offensive tackle Roderick Johnson to a one-year, $1.75 million deal, according to Schefter. Johnson started three games last season as a swing tackle behind Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard. He’s expected to continue in the role. 

Grade: Cowboys, B; Bears, C+; Jets, C; Texans, C-

Buccaneers Add OL Joe Haeg

Mark Tenally/Associated Press

With Tom Brady finally signed, sealed and delivered, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers must adjust the offense to their new franchise quarterback, which includes protecting the 42-year-old veteran. 

The team entered the new league year with a significant void at right tackle after letting Demar Dotson leave in free agency. The organization signed offensive lineman Joe Haeg to a one-year, $2.3 million deal on Friday, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport

Haeg, who has starting experience at multiple positions, will come in as the projected starter at right tackle. His acquisition creates some flexibility for the front office since it won’t be forced to select an offensive tackle prospect with this year’s 14th overall pick. It still can, of course, but it doesn’t have to. 

Grade: C+

Browns Add Another Safety

Michael Wyke/Associated Press

New Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry set the tone for free agency and beyond during his introductory press conference.

“If there is anything that I want to be defined by, it is aggression,” Berry told reporters. “We want to aggressively acquire talent because that is the name of the game from an NFL front office perspective, and we are going to explore every avenue that enables us to do that.” 

He wasn’t joking. 

Cleveland has been the league’s most active team at the start of the new league year with nine signings in three days, including Friday’s acquisition of veteran safety Andrew Sendejo on a one-year, $2.25 million deal, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo

Sendejo will help fill a significant void in the Browns defense. 

On Wednesday, the team agreed to terms with Karl Joseph, yet didn’t have another starting-caliber safety on the roster. Sendejo, who has previously worked with both head coach Kevin Stefanski and defensive coordinator Joe Woods, gives the team a veteran option to work the defense’s back line. 

Grade: C+

Cowboys Sign S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Anytime a new head coach takes over a team, he likes to bring some of his old players with him to establish a culture and help with the transition. 

The Dallas Cowboys agreed to terms on a one-year, $4 million deal with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, according to the Dallas Morning News' Calvin Watkins. The Green Bay Packers originally took the safety with the 21st overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft when Mike McCarthy was their head coach. 

The move is interesting since Clinton-Dix is a natural free safety who is at his best when working along the back line. However, Xavier Woods started 15 games at free safety for the Cowboys last season and remains under contract. Either one of them will start after competing for the job with Darian Thompson at strong safety, or one of the natural free safeties will move to strong safety.

Besides, the Cowboys can use plenty of big nickel looks to get all three on the field and flex them into different positions. 

Grade: C+

Steelers Replace Ramon Foster

Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers left guard Ramon Foster announced his retirement Monday after 11 seasons and 145 starts. 

His departure created an unexpected hole in one of the league's most cohesive and well-traveled units. 

The Steelers addressed the position Thursday when the front office signed Stefen Wisniewski to a two-year deal, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero

Wisniewski is the perfect veteran presence to slot into Foster's old spot. The Pittsburgh native helped solidify the Kansas City Chiefs offensive front during the team's Super Bowl run after taking over as the starter for an injured Andrew Wylie in Week 16. 

The 30-year-old veteran with 103 career starts should slide seamlessly into the Steelers front and keep Ben Roethlisberger upright. 

Grade: B+

   
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