2015 NFL Free Agency Diary

  • Chiefs Have Lots Of Decisions To Make In Free Agency

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    The Kansas City Chiefs finished the 2015 regular season as the hottest team in football, winning their final 10 games of the year.  They kept the momentum going as they blasted the Houston Texans in the AFC Wildcard round, 30-0, before ending their season with a loss the next week in New England.

    Quarterback Alex Smith played mostly mistake free football all season long, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin proved to be the big threat player they needed on the outside and Travis Kelce emerged as one of the best tight ends in football.

    Defensively, the team finished fourth in the NFL in sacks and first-round pick Marcus Peters took home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

    With a relatively young core that somewhat resembles the Super Bowl champion Broncos, it looks like the Chiefs will be a force in 2016.

    If they make the right moves.

    When perusing Football Insiders Top 100 Free Agent list, you'll notice that there are many more Chiefs than any other team represented.  In fact, Kansas City has three of our top 15 available unrestricted free agents.

    With the salary cap reportedly being raised at least $12 million to approximately $155 million, the Chiefs will have some room to work, but they will need to be somewhat creative to keep their defense together.

    Eric Berry is our highest rated Chiefs free agent and not only is he an inspirational story coming back from cancer, but he's a legitimate Pro Bowl safety.  With safety becoming more and more important, Berry is a player who can't be replaced with a cheaper free agent option or in a very weak safety class.

    Football Insiders asked former Rams and Browns personnel man Russ Lande about what is making the safety position so difficult to find talent at.

    "With the growth of the passing game, and the rules taking away the big hitters at the position, playing safety has become tougher and tougher," Lande said. "It used to be an easier transition from cornerback, but you're looking at the field in a completely different way and the responsibilities are completely different.  It's becoming a premium position even if it's not acknowledged that way."

    Berry is a priority for the Chiefs, and they will likely get a deal done by any means necessary.

    The question is how much of a team-friendly deal might Berry take to keep the rest of the defensive core intact?

    Kansas City still has to make a decision on Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Johnson, who was tremendous in 2015 as well as defensive end Tamba Hali.

    Inside linebackers can be found in the draft which would save the team money.  With that said, it would be difficult to find a player that can be the caliber of Johnson.  Even if they did, that rookie wouldn't be as good as Johnson immediately and that would cause the defense to take a step back.

    Speaking of taking a step back, are the Chiefs ready to part ways with Tamba Hali?  The veteran defensive end is 32 years old and the team invested a high draft pick on Dee Ford a couple of years ago, but is Ford ready to assume the pass rushing role opposite Justin Houston?  You can't have enough pass rushers and despite Hali's age, he will still be a commodity on the free agent market.

    The next tier of free agents that Chiefs general manager John Dorsey has to make a decision on are cornerback Sean Smith and defensive end Mike DeVito.  Smith is a tall, 6-foot-3 cornerback that is built on a similar frame as Richard Sherman.  At just 28 years of age, he is still young enough to warrant plenty of interest around the league.

    Mike DeVito is anything but a flashy player, but he fits in very well in Kansas City's system.  The good news for the Chiefs is that the former University of Maine product's best chance for success is in K.C., and he's familiar with the scheme.  He will turn 32 years old before the beginning of training camp, and that should lower his marketability around the NFL.

    Finally, the Chiefs have to make decisions on backup quarterback Chase Daniel and defensive tackle Jaye Howard.  Neither player will make for huge headlines in free agency, but Daniel runs Andy Reid's system to perfection when he's had to fill in for Alex Smith.  After a few more than solid preseasons, the word around the league is out that the former Missouri quarterback is one of the very best backups in the league and is better than a few starters around the league.  Although he doesn't have a plus-arm, Daniel has very good mobility and accuracy and some team could see him as a potential starter (Houston, San Francisco or Los Angeles).

    It's difficult to make re-signing a backup quarterback a priority, but the drop-off between Smith and Daniel is negligible.

    Finally, defensive tackle Jaye Howard is a player who is getting a lot of mentions around the NFL. Nobody believes that he'll be a superstar in the near future, but it's difficult to find legitimate defensive line depth and he has talent.

    If you're thinking that head coach Andy Reid has favorites on the roster and has a say in free agency, a Chiefs source told us otherwise.  Our source told us that Reid is happy to just be coaching and leaves the personnel part to the personnel people.

    This will be the most important offseason in GM John Dorsey's era at the position and his decisions on who he keeps and lets go will shape the team going forward.  Outside of signing Berry, there could be a mass exodus in Kansas City.
  • NFC West Free Agency Preview

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    It was a productive season for the teams in the NFC West, as they placed two teams in the playoffs and the Arizona Cardinals advanced all the way to the NFC Championship Game.

    Still, to get over the proverbial hump, each team has plenty of work to do and with a very interesting class of free agents, we're going to preview some of the directions that each team may go.

    San Francisco 49ers


    Team needs: Quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, all three levels of defense

    If it seems like the 49ers list of team needs is a bit ambiguous, it's because they need just about everything.  It's a roster that's been depleted by poor management and multiple retirements and they're going to have to rebuild through both free agency and the draft.

    Although the 49ers have plenty of money to spend, don't expect them to be overly aggressive in free agency as they have to find many of their solutions in the draft.

    Top target that would make sense:  Derrick Johnson, LB, Kansas City

    The great 49ers defense of a few years ago was built on tremendous linebacker play and there was a major void left when Patrick Willis retired.  Derrick Johnson would fit in very well next to Navarro Bowman and the Chiefs have so many top-tiered free agents that they can't afford to get into a bidding war with another team for an inside linebacker.

    A few other targets: Mike DeVito, DT, Kansas City; Dwayne Allen, TE, Indianapolis; Janoris Jenkins, CB, Los Angeles; Kelechi Osemele, OG, Baltimore. 

    The 49ers need almost everything and it's likely that they'll go after more secondary targets in the free agency market.  DeVito fits that bill as he's a solid player who can start right away.  Whoever ends up being Chip Kelly's quarterback can benefit from having a player like Allen to throw to, while Jenkins will add some talent to the secondary.  Osemele should be a fit in most places.

    Los Angeles Rams


    Team needs: Quarterback, wide receiver, offensive tackle, safety

    The Rams appear to be more open to finding their quarterback solution in free agency, at least for a band-aid while they groom a potential franchise signal caller.  If L.A. can get solid quarterback play, their defense is good enough to win with, even in the loaded NFC West.

    It's likely that they will put much of their free agency focus on the offensive side of the ball.

    Top target that would make sense:  Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago

    There's no question that the Rams can use a deep threat who has size, and Jeffery fits that bill, assuming he makes it to free agency.  Jeffery's ball skills are second to none and he will make even the most average quarterback look significantly better (i.e. Jay Cutler).  Although Case Keenum doesn't have the arm strength to be a pure deep ball passer, Jeffery will help all over the field with jump balls.

    A few other targets: Brock Osweiler, QB, Denver; Richie Incognito, OG, Buffalo; Anquan B0ldin, WR, San Francisco; William Beatty, OT, New York Giants.

    The Rams could make a play for Osweiler and if they do they should be better at the position.  Incognito would help any offensive line and Boldin would add professionalism to a young receiving corps.  Beatty should be able to step in and start Day 1.

    Seattle Seahawks


    Team needs: Offensive line, defensive line, running back, wide receiver

    The Seahawks have been a playoff team for four straight years and their roster is one of the healthiest in the NFL.  They likely won't be overly active in free agency, but there are some holes to plug, especially on the offensive line.

    Seattle just rid itself from the albatross salary of running back Marshawn Lynch with his retirement and this gives them a chance to better allocate their free agency funds elsewhere.

    Top target that would make sense:  Richie Incognito, OG, Buffalo.

    After missing a full season following the Dolphins bullying scandal, Incognito returned to action last year and was one of the very best interior linemen in football.  Since he was a "good soldier" last year, his image has been rehabilitated and he's a hot commodity entering the market.  The Seahawks at their core are a run-first offense, and having Incognito on that line would help tremendously.

    A few other targets: Greg Hardy, DE, Dallas; B.J. Raji, DT, Green Bay; Jahri Evans, OG, New Orleans; Kelechi Osemele, OG, Baltimore.

    The Seattle locker room can handle a Greg Hardy type of signing and he would be devastating on the opposite side of Michael Bennett.  The Seahawks will likely find a replacement for Brandon Mebane in the middle and either Evans or Osemele would be considered major upgrades on the offensive line.

    Arizona Cardinals


    Team needs: Defensive line, linebacker, offensive line, cornerback.

    The Cardinals made it a long way last season and might have made it even further if injuries didn't strike at the wrong times.  Although they have great talent at the skill positions, the roster can still use plenty of depth and they should be a legitimate player in free agency as their window might be closing pretty soon with Carson Palmer's age.

    Top target that would make sense:  Tamba Hali, DE, Kansas City.

    The Cardinals were not able to sustain a consistent pass rush last season and often had to outscore their opponents to win games.  Although they did that successfully, a great pass rusher like Hali would be more devastating for teams that have to play from behind against the Cards.

    A few other targets: Olivier Vernon, OLB, Miami; Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants; Prince Amukamara, CB, New York Giants; Sean Smith, CB, Kansas City.

    As mentioned above, pass rush is a key for the Cards and Vernon and Pierre-Paul would be solid fits.  If you can't improve your pass rush, then get better in the secondary and Amukamara and Smith would be great complements to Patrick Peterson.
  • Saints Select Stephone Anthony 31st Overall- Full Analysis

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    The New Orleans Saints used their second of two first-round picks to select former Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony.

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    "Stephone Anthony wasn't the top rated inside linebacker on my board, but he was apparently that on Mickey Loomis' board.  He's an active linebacker who should help the defense, but with Randy Gregory still on the board the pick didn't make a ton of sense."- Charlie Bernstein

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    "It was a bit of a rough night for the Saints as they selected two players I wouldn’t have touched at their respective slots. I did not expect it to take until pick No. 31 for an inside linebacker to come off the board. That’s rare. And when the first finally did, I never expected it to be Stephone Anthony. I get the need for the Saints, but I can’t understand the player fit. It’s one thing to pass on Eric Kendricks for a stronger, more physical ILB, but hello, does Benardrick McKinney ring any bells? Anthony might be slightly more athletic, but McKinney is pretty close and he’s the bigger, more powerful player. And I’m just not sure how long Anthony’s workout speed projects long term at his size.” - Devon Jeffreys

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    "Stephone Anthony will step in and play for the New Orleans Saints right away, and will be a part of as drastic a rebuild as we’ve seen in New Orleans in a long time. Maybe it’s because this pick was part of the Jimmy Graham, but this pick seems underwhelming. Anthony is a good football player, but I prefer Miami’s Denzell Perriman, UCLA’s Eric Kendricks and Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney. Clearly the Saints staff saw something in Anthony that many analysts did not." - Pat Donovan

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    "I straight-up hate this pick. I think Eric Kendricks and Benardrick McKinney are far superior talents at this position, and the team is still lacking in the secondary. A pass rusher might have been a good add, too. My least-favorite pick in the first round." - Alex Hickey

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  • Report: Dolphins To Host Stevan Ridley

    The Miami Dolphins, largely considered a running back needy team will host former New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley, according to a report.  Ridley has battled fumbles and injuries throughout his career, but has the size and strength to be a solid goal-line back.

    Ridley's best season came in 2012 when he ran for 1,263 yards and scored 12 touchdowns.  Last season, Ridley played in just six games while rushing for 340 yards with two touchdowns.

    Via- Alain Poupart, Dolphins.com
  • Colts sign LB Irving

    The Indianapolis Colts agreed to terms with unrestricted free agent inside linebacker Nate Irving on Friday.

    The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Irving spent the past four seasons with the Denver Broncos, where he totaled 104 tackles, two sacks, two passes defensed and 22 special teams stops in 54 regular-season appearances (12 starts). In six playoff games (three starts), he recorded nine tackles and one pass defensed.

    Last season, Irving started the first eight games and posted a career-high 44 tackles with one sack before being placed on injured reserve Nov. 13 after tearing his ACL.

    In 2013, Irving started four of 15 regular-season games and opened all three postseason contests in the Broncos' run to Super Bowl XLVIII. In 2012, he tied for the team lead with 10 special teams tackles.

    Irving was originally selected by Denver in the third round (67th overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft out of North Carolina State.
  • Vince Wilfork To Sign With Houston Texans

    Former New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork will take the next step in his potential Hall of Fame career as a Houston Texan, according to Wilfork's Twitter account. 

    “This has been an interesting process for me and my family, one we have taken very seriously and given a lot of thought. We want to thank the Kraft family and entire Patriot organization for the last 11 years, however we will be starting a new chapter in our lives as Houston Texans. The coaching staff in Houston has made this exciting new transition feel like home to us. We will forever be Patriots in our hearts, thank you everyone for everything.”

    Wilfork should be a rotational player on Houston's defensive line playing next to the great J.J. Watt.
  • Report: Browns To Sign CB Tramon Williams

    The Cleveland Browns have reportedly come to terms on a three-year contract with former Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams.  The former Pro Bowler (2010) was signed as an undrafted rookie by the Houston Texans back in 2006 before finding a home with Green Bay.

    The deal is reportedly worth up to $21 million over three years and Williams will likely fill the role of the departed Buster Skrine, who signed with the New York Jets.

    Via- Adam Schefter, ESPN
  • Report: Eagles To Work Out Tim Tebow

    Former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft pick Tim Tebow is getting one more (last) chance to keep his NFL dream alive.  Chip Kelly, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles is reportedly bringing in Tim Tebow for a workout.  The Eagles already have quarterbacks Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley and G.J. Kinnie under contract for 2015.

    Tebow refused to change positions over the past two seasons when opportunities were afforded to him.  It's unclear whether he's changed his mind about a position switch.

    Via- Adam Schefter, ESPN.
  • Report: Cecil Shorts To Sign With Texans

    Former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts, III is reportedly poised to sign with the Houston Texans, according to a Fox Sports Ohio report.

    Shorts has been a tease throughout his Jaguars career as he routinely made difficult catches while dropping passes which hit him in the hands.  Jacksonville grew tired of his injury history as well as he never played a full 16-game season in his four year career.

    Via, Zac Jackson, Fox Sports Ohio
  • NFL AM: Teams Play High-Stakes Musical Chairs with Receivers

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    More Top Receivers on the Move

    While Chip Kelly finally exhaled, Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey stepped up to drive the free=agent market on Friday.

    The Dolphins continued the resurgence of player-for-player trades by sending LB Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round pick to the Saints in exchange for WR Kenny Stills. Once Stills was secured, Miami dropped the other shoe by sending Mike Wallace and a seventh-round pick to the Vikings in return for a fifth-round selection.

    “We are excited that we were able to acquire Kenny Stills,” Hickey said. “He is a talented, young and ascending player who has been very productive in his first two seasons in the league.”

    The motivations for each team are clear. The Dolphins shed two big contracts, giving Miami some much needed salary cap relief after breaking the bank for Ndamukong Suh. But this was about more than money, as Ellerbe missed most of last season with a hip injury (and underperformed when healthy) and Wallace was unhappy with his role in the offense. Both players were candidates to be released prior to being traded.

    For the Saints, this is about shifting assets from offense to defense. The key acquisition for New Orleans is really the third-round pick, which will almost certainly be used on defense. But Ellerbe, who will take a significant pay-cut as part of this deal, has a chance to replace the recently released Curtis Lofton at inside linebacker.

    And for the Vikings, they get a deep-threat who appears to be a perfect fit in Norv Turner’s vertical passing game. Minnesota hoped Cordarrelle Patterson would be that player, but his sophomore season was nothing short of awful and any contributions he makes at this point must been seen as a bonus.

    Speaking of Minnesota’s fizzled-out first-round picks, Percy Harvin also found a new home on Friday. He agreed to a one-year, $6 million deal with Buffalo. New Bills head coach Rex Ryan coached Harvin in New York over the second half of last season; if he can maximize Harvin’s diverse skill-set, it would be a great way to stick it to the Jets.

    Harvin was released after the Jets traded for Bears WR Brandson Marshall, as some of the game’s top pass catchers continue to play a high-stakes game of musical chairs.

    Veteran Running Backs Keep Cashing Checks

    Repeat after me: You find find good running backs in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft ... or later.

    Most astute followers of the NFL know this to be true, yet that is not reflected in this week’s headlines. The Cowboys signed RB Darren McFadden to a two-year contract, even though he has not averaged better than 3.4 yards per carry since 2011. The Steelers followed suit, adding 32-year-old DeAngelo Williams to back up Le’Veon Bell.

    "I haven't played in any Super Bowls," Williams said, "and to know this is a Super Bowl-contending team and to help them make that offense even better, it excites me and I hope that it excites Steelers Nation. I know we're going to do great things here."

    The Steelers made the playoffs last season, but had no chance to advance in the tournament after Bell injured his knee and was unable to play. So it only makes sense to add an “insurance policy” who has missed a quarter of his team’s games over the last six seasons, right?

    Again, repeat after me: You find find good running backs in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft ... or later.

    Running backs age like bread, not like wine. There is no reason to overpay for veterans with thick medical files and minimal tread on their tires, especially when young talent is cheap and in abundance.

    Need examples? C.J. Anderson, an undrafted free agent in 2013, averaged over 95 rushing yards per game over the second half of last season in Denver. Elsewhere in the AFC West, undrafted rookie Branden Oliver paced the Chargers with 853 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns. Over in the NFC, Vikings RB Matt Asiata -- an undrafted free agent in 2011 -- scored more rushing touchdowns than Bell.

    This year’s draft is loaded with talented middle-round running back prospects, including David Johnson (Northern Iowa), David Cobb (Minnesota), Cameron Artis-Payne (Auburn) and Josh Robinson (Mississippi State). These players are younger and more durable than veteran retreads like McFadden and Williams and come at only a fraction of the price.

    Repeat after me: Well, you get the point. Now someone go clue in the Cowboys and Steelers.

    Big Ben Starts the Clock Ticking

    Unlike running backs, quarterbacks will always command top dollar. This offseason promises to provide even more evidence of that, as several premier signal-callers are in-line for extensions. The first domino in that line fell on Friday, as Ben Roethlisberger agreed to a new five-year deal with the Steelers.

    “It's home. It's family," Roethlisberger said. "As much as my wife and kids are family, so is the Rooney family and my team and coaches.”

    The dollar figures of Roethlisberger’s new deal were not immediately available, but rest assured the Giants and Chargers are waiting eagerly to discover those details. That’s because Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, who entered the league alongside Roethlisberger as members of the 2004 draft class, are both entering contract years.

    The old-timers aren’t the only ones ready to cash in. Andrew Luck is expected to sign the biggest contract in league history at some point this offseason, while Russell Wilson and Cam Newton could also net extensions in excess of $100 million.

    The quarterbacks have all the leverage in these negotiations. One look at the QB situations in Chicago, Buffalo, New York (Jets), Cleveland, Houston and Washington makes it clear that if any of these elite passers hit the open market, he would ignite a massive bidding war. The franchise tag, which gets 10 percent more expensive each time it is applied, can only buy a team so much time.

    It has always been a quarterback-driven league, but that point will be emphasized all the more as soon as some of these mega-deals start rolling in. Big Ben was first; now, the clock is ticking for the Giants, Chargers, Colts, Seahawks and Panthers.

    Want to talk more about these and other headlines? Join Michael Lombardo for his weekly NFL Chat on Friday at 2pm EST. But you do not have to wait until then ... you can ask your question now