There’s nothing better than a big deal. Mmmmmmm. I love to place items in my virtual shopping cart and wait for the manufacturer to send me 10% off pleas to coax security codes and expiration dates out of my hands. Two grapefruits for a dollar. Gas savings when I need a car wash anyways. Turning credit card purchases into cashback awards. One-year contracts with limited guarantees. Wooo-weee. The top button is down and I’m hanging loose.
Once again, free agency is dead for now and has given way to the swaying of NFL Draft prospects. This list is short sighted for now. There will be some real bargain bin digging deals after the draft. But for now, these are the five best free agent signings.
1.) Shaq Barrett Tampa Bay 1-Year $4 Million
Oh no. I’ve already started to convince myself into being a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan. Bruce Arians and his all vertical heave it up deep and heavy offense is here. There’s Mike Evans, the NFL’s greatest volleyball player, Chris Godwin, a now 6’1” 209 pound slot receiver who’s been limited by dropsies, and True Detective Season Four tight end combination O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. It’s an enormous receiver group that has the potential to terrorize puny cornerbacks with go up and get it snags.
To top it off, Jameis Winston is entering his fifth season. This is probably it for Winston. He’s bulking up to 250 this offseason to be a Big Dog brand quarterback. Throughout his career he’s made some absurd downfield throws, it’s just the turnovers and continuous ditzy mistakes that have derailed him. Winston has thrown 88 touchdowns to 58 interceptions. His career interception rate is 3%. All while averaging an above average 7.6 yards an attempt. If the turnovers can be limited, Winston should be able to extend his career instead of relegating to backuphood. This couldn’t be a more perfect situation for him.
The problems should be on the other side of the ball this season. The 2017 defense was terrible, but was propped up by turnover luck. Last season’s defense was terrible without the turnover luck. And this offseason their cap space was grasped like a shirt collar and pressed up against the wall, and they were unable to make any real big moves. But the moves they did make were pleasant. Deone Bucannon was signed for 1-year $2.5 million, Kevin Minter 1-year $895 thousand, Kentrell Price 1-year $1 million, Rakeem Nunez-Roches one-year $895 thousand, everyone is trying to be Chris Ballard these days, and my favorite, Shaq Barrett one-year $4 million.
Shaq Barrett was Denver’s primary outside linebacker on the other side of Von Miller from 2015 to 2017. In those three seasons he had 7 forced fumbles, 11 sacks, 28 quarterback hits, and 56 pressures, including a 2017 season when he had 31.5 pressures. Last season he had 3 sacks, 7 quarterback hits, and 5 pressures after his playing time crumbled. He was pushed down to a sub-rusher role after Denver took Bradley Chubb in the first round.
In Tampa, Barrett will once again be a primary starter. Tampa is moving to a 3-4 defense with Todd Bowles as the defensive coordinator. He should be a hellion again with the opportunity to play in another aggressive defense, and gets to play off of Gerald McCoy and Jason Pierre-Paul. For a league always starving for pass rushing, this is a great bargain and low buy for the Bucs. Now they just need to remove the pink alarm clock numbers and all those jagged lines.
2.) Justin Houston Indianapolis Colts 2-Years $24 Million ($18.5 Million Guaranteed)
The only good part of the Chiefs’ defense last season was their pass rush. Houston, Dee Ford, and Chris Jones led a pass rush that finished 11th in pressure rate at 31.5% and was 7th in adjusted sack rate. Once again they finished 32nd in run defense DVOA. To flip things around, the Chiefs hired Steve Spagnuolo and are moving to a 4-3 defense. They released Justin Houston after failing to find a dance pardner, and saved $14 million this season by releasing him. Kansas City also traded Dee Ford after franchise tagging him. Their edge rush is gone. Just like that.
The worst part of the Colts’ defense was their pass rush. They were 25th in pressure rate and 29th in adjusted sack rate. Margus Hunt cooled off. Jabaal Sheard was their only plus pass rusher aside from some sly nickle cornerback blitzes. This offseason with a hundred+ million to spend, it seemed like a given they’d spend to improve this aspect of their team.
Then the best edge rushers were franchise tagged. Trey Flowers was given everything to play in Detroit. And then the Colts didn’t do much of anything at all. They retained their own and added Devin Funchess. The release of Houston was sent from the omniscient clouds above. Houston played in only 12 games last season after having hamstring problems. In those games he had 9 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, and 25.5 pressures. The year before that, he had 9.5 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, and 38.5 pressures.
The Colts primarily play Nickle. Houston is a hand off the ground player. I’d expect for Houston, at age 30, with his injury history, to skip out on first down and short down situations. Indy should use him as a fresh death cart, picking up the bloating vacuous rot to eviscerate offensive tackles in pass rush situations. In this role, Houston could be the most efficient rusher in the league, and should still produce similar stat lines. This signing fills an enormous need for Indy, and doesn’t have the long term sting that typically comes along with unrestricted pass rush signings of his caliber.
3.) Tevin Coleman Atlanta Falcons 2-Years $8.5 Million ($5.25 Million Guaranteed)
In 2017 the Atlanta Falcons had an all-time great offense that fell apart in the second of a 28-3 lead blowing Superbowl. The offensive coordinator then, who decided to stay aggressive and keep slinging it, is the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers now. In Coleman’s last season with Kyle Shanahan, Coleman had 8 touchdowns, averaged 4.4 yards an attempt, and had 31 catches for 421 yards. It was also his most efficient season. He had a rushing DVOA of 9.7%.
Now that teams have realized paying running backs is a silly thing to do, it’s easy to get production for cheap. Carlos Hyde found 1-year $2.8 million in Kansas City, Isaiah Crowell 1-year $2.5 million, Mark Ingram 3-years $15 million, and there are many others, Jay Ajayi, T.J. Yeldon, Alex Collins, and Alfred Blue, are still looking for new homes. Of all the running back contracts, the one given to Coleman was the best.
Coleman is a consistent outside zone runner. He uses vision to find the correct lane, and speed to blast off into the second level. You’d like for him to break more tackles, he broke only 13.1% of his tackles last season, and is too teeny to run through anyone, but he’s still able to find the open field and outrun defenders. He’s a better redzone back than you’d expect. And he helps out in the passing game. As a receiver Coleman has 92 catches on 134 targets, 11 touchdowns, and 11 yards a reception. A back has to be able to catch passes in a Shanahan offense.
He’s also is entering his age 26 season, and only has 620 touches. He’s relatively fresh for a position that teams turn into a swampy wad of bolus, left for other teams to digest and deal with the injuries. After sharing the workload with Devonta Freeman, he’ll once again do the same with Matt Breida and Jerick McKinnon in San Francisco. Considering his age, past productivity, previous history with Kyle, and cheaper contract than backs like Latavius Murray and Mark Ingram received, this was a great deal.
4.) Matt Paradis Carolina Panthers 3-Years $29 Million ($12 Million Guaranteed)
Ryan Kalil retired after 12 seasons of blocking down on defensive tackles, reaching nose tackles, scurrying around the interior of the offensive line in pass protection, and climbing above the timber line in the run game. The Panthers immediately replaced him with Paradis on a 3-year $29 million deal, a better deal than one the Bills handed out for a similar player in Mitch Morse.
Morse was given 4-years $44.5 million and $26.175 guaranteed, and is a former Kansas City Chief, a team whose offensive linemen are always worse elsewhere. Paradis is as good of a player as Morse, but just has the broken leg stigma, an injury players typically recover well from. He was the center of the Broncos’ great run blocking offensive line until his week 9 injury against Houston. As a zone blocker, his best skill is blocking the second level.
Carolina asks their offensive linemen to make plenty of blocks in space. The Panthers were the best screen team when Cam Newton was healthy. Their entire offensive line would be forced to block for three seconds and then take off and shred open field defenders. On top of this, they pulled to help lead the way on reverses, and for Newton when he was used as a runner.
Paradis’s ability to block linebackers is a perfect fit in Carolina. He’ll replace the previous center piece of the Panthers’ offense and stave off the fears brought upon when a team loses a 12 year starter.
5.) Ronald Darby Philadelphia Eagles 1-Year $8.5 Million
The Eagles’ best cornerback was spectacular last season until he tore his ACL against the Dallas Cowboys in week ten. Per Football Outsiders charting data, Darby was targeted 65 times, allowed 6.0 yards a pass, had a success rate of 57%, and allowed only 0.8 yards after the catch. If it wasn’t for the torn knee, Darby would have received one of those monstrous $14 million a year contracts. The type of contract Trumaine Johnson signed a year ago that the Jets already regret.
In free agency he visited other places, spoke to other people, and ended up back in Philadelphia. The Eagles weren’t expecting for his return after his 2018 performance and the limited cap space they had. Teams decided to sign other cornerbacks like Bradley Roby, Kareem Jackson, Steven Nelson, Justin Coleman, and Robert Alford instead. These deals and decisions gave the Eagles the chance to land the best cornerback on the market for cheap.
Instead of being the best part of a mediocre cornerback group, Darby could now be part of an elite pass defense. The Eagles added Malik Jackson to run stunts off of and protect Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Chris Long, and Derek Barnett with. Their young cornerbacks Cre’von LeBlanc and Avonte Maddox were incredible to end the 2018 season after having a rough go when they first filled in. With this pass rush, Darby, and the rest of the secondary, this Eagles’ pass defense should be wild. Even though Darby didn’t get the life changing money this offseason, at age 25, in this situation, he set himself up to receive it next offseason.
BONUS (TRADE): Kelechi Osemele Traded To The New York Jets
When you close your eyes what do you see? Can you see balloons on birthdays? The shackles of a finite reality broken and given way to the infinite. Blue skies and spiky plants. Golden light rummaging through redundant trees. I don’t see any of these things. Brown bear, all I see is Le’Veon Bell bouncy and patiently waiting, tapping his feet waiting for it to drop, for the defensive tackle to be obliterated off the line, for the pulling guard to rampage around, for the linebacker’s eyes to bulge out of his orbital bones, and then, there, free space and broken tackles forever.
The Jets were the team to spend big and rescue Bell from his self imposed slumber to turn future uncertainty into guaranteed certainty. The team also replaced mediocre guard, and former Seattle Seahawk—one of the rules to team building is to never pay Seattle offensive linemen--James Carpenter, with 2016 All-Pro and 2x Pro Bowler Osemele. The former Raven and Raider is one of the most violent offensive linemen in the league. His shoulder pads are made from skulls. He’s a berserker with a bellyful of bear meat. Osemele is able to flip enormous men over like tractor tires, and vaporize linebackers.
Last season was a rough one for him. The Raiders weren’t trying to win games, and had an all-time terrible pass rush, old defense, and lost offense. He spent the majority of the season hampered by a knee injury. What used to be the Raiders’ former strength just two seasons ago, the interior of their offensive line, was bruised and on the sideline. At 29 years old, last season should just be a quickly healed sore.
To bring him to New York all the Jets had to do was exchange a sixth round pick for a fifth and pick up the rest of his tab. Osemele was the second best guard to be reassigned this offseason, behind only the outside zone maven Rodger Saffold. Osemele will be perfect in New York’s power run scheme, and should pair perfectly with Bell in their attempt to allow Sam Darnold to play off the run game. All it took was taking on some cap space and flipping an inconsequential picks. The Jets could be a playoff sleeper if all those defensive investments finally gets them above and beyond mediocrity.