Free agency is dead. Unknown cadavers are iced down, waiting to be popped open. The cremains are dumped into sentimental settings. Organs are pulsating inside of their new perfect match. Skin has been pasted and is clinging to a new set of bones. Teams have stopped signing players to new contracts. They are sitting still and waiting until after the 2018 NFL Draft is completed so they can sew up the rest of the holes with players dying to get added to another roster.
Hundreds of contracts were given out. These were good, bad, or perfectly fine. We don’t care bout the mediocre. We want the extremes. The best. The worst. The mediocre are ignored. With this mantra in mind, these were the five best free agent signings handed out so far this offseason.
Honorable Mention: Allen Hurns (2 years, $12 million), Cameron Fleming (1 year, $3.5 million), Sheldon Richardson (1 year, $8 million), Teddy Bridgewater (1 year, $6 million)
5.) Kony Ealy: 1 year, $1.25 million ($200,000 guaranteed)
A wise man once said, “Get sacks, get stacks.”
But even as the importance of pressures, quarterback hits, and passes defended have become more pervasive and their value has been better understood, the sack is still the king. Sacks are the end result of consistent disruption. Sacks without disruption is the hallmark of an empty player who was fortunate enough to find his way home, an enormous winged, vector riding, death faced beast. As smart as teams are to not pay Erik Walden big bucks, players like Ealy still fall through the cracks.
Last season Ealy had one sack. Es no bueno. But what Ealy did contribute to the Jets was everything else. Ealy had he had 9 deflected passes and 21.5 hurries. Es bonita bueno. He also did this from the interior. Like good love, interior pass rushing is hard to find. It’s also more troubling for the quarterback. QBs don’t have the space to step up, the rush gets in on them quicker, and it removes the shorter passes to the middle of the field.
For any team except for maybe Los Angeles (Rams) and Philadelphia, Ealy would be a snazzy addition. He’s going to a Dallas team with an underrated pass rush; it finished second in pressure rate at 35.5% last year. The Cowboys are also bringing back the majority of their rush as well. Demarcus Lawrence (55 pressures), Tyrone Crawford (28 pressures), Maliek Collins (22.5 pressures), Taco Charlton (12 pressures), David Irving (11.5 pressures), and Benson Mayowa (11 pressures) are all going to be playing for the Cowboys again. All of these players are younger and have the potential to up their game. Adding Ealy is only going to sharpen these teeth.
Ealy has been one of those players who has always had talent but has never quite fully put it together. Some guys never do. They’ll never able to overcome the mental hurdles to be consistently great. There’s still time for Ealy, though. He’s only 26. In Dallas, he gets to play for Rod Marinelli, a defensive line coaching warlock who can turn anyone with a spat of talent into a pass rushing dragon, needing only a little bit of coaching and sulfur to make it happen. This could be a buy-low deal that becomes an explosion. On this defensive line, with this defensive coordinator, don’t be surprised if Ealy sees a sack total jump from one to ten and then gets stacks next offseason.
4.) Kyle Fuller: 4 years, $56 million ($18 million guaranteed)
I’m not against throwing money around. If you got it got it, you should flaunt it flaunt it. It takes beaucoup dollars to bring in top players in free agency, and if you are spending big on top players, more often than not you’ll end up okay. The problems arise when you overpay bad to mediocre players and bet big on the outlier.
Fuller was a restricted free agent this year. The Packers offered him a contract. The Bears matched and turned down draft pick compensation to keep him in Chicago. This was a great move. Turnovers are a high variance stat. They require the offensive player to make a mistake. A player’s individual performance isn’t all it takes to make them happen. However, some players have a nose for the ball. Fuller is one of those players. Last year he defended 22 passes, and after three full seasons in the NFL, he has created eleven turnovers (eight interceptions and three fumbles). He’s an impact player and turnover creator at the cornerback position.
He’s a great coverage guy as well. Last season he was targeted on 110 passes, but gave up only 5.8 yards per pass, an insane figure for an outside cornerback. He had a success rate of 64%, which ranked third for all players who started a minimum of eight games, saw 3.5 targets per game, or had 50 targets for the entire season. He shut down wide receivers and attacked the football.
Fuller had one year stolen away from him by injury. He has only played three full seasons in the NFL. It usually takes this long for a cornerback to understand and excel in the professional game. Fuller has already reached this level of excellence and is slightly ahead of schedule. Unlike Malcolm Butler, and Trumaine Johnson, two other cornerbacks who are not only worse, but were more highly paid this offseason, it’s possible Fuller gets even better than he is now. At $14 million a year and just $18 million guaranteed, it doesn’t get much sweeter than this for a big money signing.
3.) Mike Pouncey: 2 years, $15 million ($10 million guaranteed)
The Pouncey brothers are the Molinas of the NFL. Both are very good at what they do and both have been hampered by injuries. Regardless of the shoddy hip that’s going to be replaced like a dry tire one day, Pouncey can still play.
Pouncey is a perfect outside zone scheme blocker. Like his brother, he evaporates to the outside shoulder. He has the quickness to get all over and reach every nose tackle in football. He has the lower body strength and pad level to still be able to deal with the men that are larger than he, as a very large man, already is.
Playing for San Diego (IT WILL ALWAYS BE SAN DIEGO TO ME, DAMMIT!), Pouncey will again be in an outside zone scheme. This year he will be blocking for one of the best backs in football in Melvin Gordon. The Chargers’ prize pony is going to be receptive of Pouncey’s skills, too. The Chargers’ run offense has been held up by their lack of an offensive line. Both Gordon and Austin Ekeler were forced to transcend the blocking in front of them. The Chargers ranked 26th in adjusted line yards, 25th in power success, and 26th in stuffed rate, but finished 13th and 12th in second level and open field yards. This is because of tackle-breaking and playmaking.
The Chargers needed help on the interior of their line of scrimmage. Adding a constant presence like Pouncey will help this, and they’ll also have 2017 second round pick Forrest Lamp back playing football. The Chargers will improve on their 30th ranking in middle adjusted line yards in 2018. They’ll be better at sustaining drives. Gordon won’t be stuck carrying the football as often with the emergence of Ekeler, and when each back does get the ball, they’ll be able to do more running and less shifting. Compared to the contracts Weston Richburg and Ryan Jensen received, this is a damn steal that finally covers that hole in the roof.
2.) Tyrann Mathieu: 1 year, $7 million ($6.5 million guaranteed)
Let’s play a quick game. Can you name every safety to start a game for the Houston Texans since Ed Reed was signed over Glover Quin? I know you can’t. Like every person I’ve ever kissed, I couldn’t remember either, and like every person I’ve ever kissed, it too is a very sad list: Eddie Pleasant (1 game), Ed Reed (6 games), Rahim Moore (6 games), Shilo Keo (11 games), Danieal Manning (11 games), Corey Moore (11 games), Marcus Gilchrist (13 games), Kendrick Lewis (16 games). DJ Swearinger (22 games), Quintin Demps (26 games), and Andre Hal (38 games).
For the last four years of football, the Texans have been starving for two competent safeties. They fell into Andre Hal after drafting him in the seventh round and moving him from cornerback to free safety. But in between Hal and the hole next to him, the Texans’ starting safeties have been mesquite thorns in the bottom of bare feet.
Aside from a pure talent standpoint, the Texans have also been looking for a player with Mathieu’s skill set. They tried and failed playing nickel sets with a safety in the box. Brian Cushing and Benardrick McKinney were too slow to cover running backs, so they moved Eddie Pleasant on down, and then proceeded to get crushed by shotgun power runs. D.J. Swearinger could mash some, but he missed too many tackles going for the big hit and could never figure understand that cornerbacks pass routes to safeties in zone coverage. Remember Quintin Demps trying to cover tight ends and winning AFC Defensive Player of the Month for catching passes A.J. Bouye tipped to him? Me too! The Texans have desperately wanted a safety who could split scalps in the box, cover tight ends, and play deep zone coverage.
Mathieu can do all of these things and then some. He’s a flash of blonde hair obliterating screen passes. He can play some slot corner. He’s also a perfect complement to Andre Hal. Houston’s free safety is undersized. Hal’s skeleton becomes gelatinous when it comes into flood water ball carriers. He’ll never be someone you want blitzing. The black hat just doesn’t fit on some people’s heads. But what Hal can do is affect passes from the middle half of the field to the sideline. Mathieu will allow Hal to stick to what he does best instead of forcing him to be the brute he isn’t. Romeo Crennel has called for his defenses to be multiple and diverse, but he’s never had a player like Mathieu to fully unlock it. The Texans now have exactly this.
But wait, there’s more! The Texans signed Mathieu for next to nothing. Even a cap-strapped team signing Mathieu for a one-year $7 million prove it deal would be slapping hands. The Texans pulled it off even with plenty of cap space remaining. If things finally break right, if the Texans actually end up having two competent safeties for the first time since 2012, it will all be for the low price of $19.99.
1.) Ndamukong Suh: 1 year, $14 million (Fully Guaranteed)
One of the things every NFL team has to figure out is what they are best at doing. With the salary cap and a communist NFL Draft, teams are restricted to how they can build their teams. They can’t be great at everything. There are going to be chips in the paint. It all can’t be slaughtered in red against a clash of blue bathroom towels. What teams need to do is find out what they are best at and limit their spending at those positions that complement this core competency. Gotta put that BBA to use, baby.
For the Rams, it’s going to be pretty simple: Murder offenses with their front three/four/six or whatever the hell defense Wade Phillips is going to run to get all these bandits in the game at once. Dominique Easley, Michael Brockers, Aaron Donald, Ethan Westbrooks, and now Suh. This is some sort of demonic horde. With this group, the Rams don’t even need to pay a linebacker a dime. They don’t even need to have a linebacker in the game for that matter.
Talent usually wins out. Let’s not complicate things. Phillips will figure out a way to get these six rocking, or at a minimum, rotating them out to keep them fresh, and maximize their chances to make plays. He just knows how to maximize his most taleneted players. We saw what Philips did with DeMarcus Ware, J.J. Watt, and Aaron Donald when he was running those defenses. Now we get to see what he does with Suh and Donald at the same time.
With run dominance that’s going to create a lot of long second downs, which usually lead to third downs, with this pass rush, on the interior especially, and Lamarcus Joyner, Aqib Talib, and Marcus Peters in the secondary, the Rams should compete with the Jaguars for the pass defense DVOA crown. They could put together one of the best pass defenses of all time. All it took were some crafty trades and a one-year $14 million contract to bring in one of the most brutal defensive linemen who’s ever played professional football.
Here lie Russell Wilson, Sam Bradford, and Jimmy Garoppolo. Let us pray.