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2020 NFL Free Agency: The Five Best Free Agent Signings

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Bargain bin shopping. I got a red plastic cart to fill.

Oakland Raiders v New York Jets Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

This desk is covered in Post-It notes. Most of them are brain scrambled ramblings. You have to go under to go over. There’s a big black cat that needs a haircut. Others are things to do. Customers to call. Groceries to buy. Somewhere under this rubble nonsense is a list containing articles to write, like this one, and things to watch, like Matt Schaub bootlegs. But because of this Hantavirus rats’ colony, I missed the bell. I’m late, so very late.

Free agency has been over for a month plus now as teams prepared for the NFL Draft. Now that the draft is done and the offseason is pretty much over, teams will make their calls and due (sic) their diligence to fill in their remaining holes, using the remaining free agents as an avenue to find replacement bodies for twisted summer knees.

It’s time to sit back and wait until August when football becomes an idea again and quickly a reality instead of a time of memories and daydreams. In the meantime, here are the best free agent signings from the 2020 NFL offseason. It’s never too late to learn about Shaq Barrett bargains the season before they happen.

1. Cory Littleton, Las Vegas Raiders (3 years, $35.2 million)

The Raiders had a variety of missing floors and windows during last season’s reconstruction. They lacked corner talent—they finished 28th against WR1s and 30th against WR2s by DVOA. They didn’t have a WR1 themselves, and their passing offense was carried by Derek Carr throwing breaking routes to Darren Waller. Their pass rush struggled; they had a bottom half pressure rate. And, of course, they had abysmal linebacker play.

Tahir Whitehead and Nicholas Morrow started at linebacker for Las Vegas Oakland. They struggled with run fits. They couldn’t cover. Asking them to do anything in coverage was like a stepfather trying to get his son to take the trash out on summer vacation. The Raiders were one of the worst teams in the league at covering tight ends and running backs.

Littleton is a slam dunk signing that fixes both of these problems. He’s one of the rare linebackers who can carry out every coverage role. He can be the rat defender chasing crossing routes. He can scurry to the post and hand-deliver the tight end to the middle of the field safety. He can run out to the flat to defend tight ends or running backs. He can singlehandedly control the screen game. Plus, he’s a premium run defender and blitzer.

The Raiders snagged the best linebacker of this free agent class without having to pay a premium. Joe Schobert, Kyle Van Noy, Blake Martinez, and Jamie Collins all received similar contracts, but only Van Noy is worth top free agent dollars. I don’t understand the Nick Kwiatkoski love; regardless, he’ll be a dramatic improvement over Whitehead and Morrow. The Raiders turned one of the worst aspects of their team into one of its biggest strengths by signing Littelton; Kwiatkoski will help as well.

2. Robbie Anderson, Carolina Panthers (2 years, $20 million)

‘Market inefficiency’ was a buzzword that dominated professional sports last decade. Pay for disruption instead of sacks. Pay young players entering their prime. Going for it on fourth down is good and field goals are cowards. These are all things everyone learned in the 2010s.

There will be hundreds of new things to learn about this silly game this decade as player tracking improves and younger coaches with bright pink brains start to run the professional games. Along the way, there will be more adages we can hang onto, new ‘market inefficiencies’ for teams to take advantage of.

Before this evolution takes place, there is one inefficiency sitting there for teams to take advantage of. It’s very simple. Sign players who used to play for Adam Gase. That’s it. During Gase’s head coaching career, there have been multiple players whose lives have taken off once he disappeared from their lives. On the other end of the spectrum, players have seen their careers turn into shambles once he arrived on the scene.

After the 2018 season, Gase was fired by the Dolphins and signed with the New York Jets. With Gase gone, DeVante Parker turned into a WR1, got rewarded with a contract extension, and now gets to snag left handed RPOs from Tua Tagovailoa. Ryan Tannehill, Kenyan Drake, and Kenny Stills have all seen their lives change for the better in their new, Gaseless neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, the Jets dropped from 23rd to 31st in points scored in Gase’s first season in Jersey. Le’Veon Bell averaged 3.2 yards an attempt. Jamison Crowder posted a stat line of 14 catches for 99 yards. Sam Darnold re-posted his rookie season stats in his sophomore year. Ryan Griffin is the only hero who has been able to excel under Gase’s snake-wriggling gaze.

This newest ex-Jet to fly off somewhere new is Robbie Anderson, who gets to join Teddy Bridgewater, Curtis Samuel, D.J. Moore, Christian McCaffrey, and most importantly, new head coach Matt Rhule. Last season Carolina was stuck throwing short in condensed boxes while Kyle Allen repeatedly missed downfield throws. Bridgewater isn’t a great deep passer, but he’ll be exponentially better than Allen was last season. Carolina’s offense made sense without Anderson around; Bridgewater can use his brain and accuracy to orchestrate a quick passing attack. With the addition of Anderson, the Panthers have another deep passing threat to pair with Moore.

Last season Anderson averaged 15.3 air yards per target. Despite this, he finished 53rd in DVOA and was last among qualified receivers in average cushion. This is a bet on talent and a more opportunistic situation away from Gase’s deranged offensive tendencies. Anderson and his Nickelodeon hair should splat the deep sections of the field next season.

3. Leonard Floyd, Los Angeles Rams (1 year, $10 million)

A year removed from a Super Bowl appearance, the Rams are in salary cap hell. Jared Goff and Aaron Donald count $53.8 million against the cap in 2020. They still have to pay Jalen Ramsey after giving up top draft capital for him which cost them the ability to pick up cost-effective talent in exchange for a known, lockdown cornerback. And the Rams are paying Todd Gurley to play somewhere else (Atlanta) next season. Because of this, the Rams were unable to re-sign productive pass rusher and great stunt man Dante Fowler; Fowler signed a three-year, $45 million contract to replace Vic Beasley sailing off the edge of the Earth.

The Rams did manage to sign a former first round pick and bargain buy low replacement in Leonard Floyd. Floyd can do similar things to Fowler for a fraction of the cost. Although Floyd is somehow already 28 and never had the expected first round pick pass rushing production with the Bears in Chicago (18.5 sacks and 44 quarterback hits over four seasons), he exudes an interesting skillset.

One of the FUN things from a downtrodden Chicago season was how Floyd (#94) and Khalil Mack were used on the same side of the ball. Floyd was able to work with Mack on either the outside or inside to pressure the quarterback. Now that Floyd is on the West Coast, remove Mack and insert Donald.

Donald had 12.5 sacks, 24 quarterback hits, and 48 pressures last season. But his impact lands far beyond the confines of the box score and charting statistics. Pushing the pocket. Constantly forcing quarterbacks to roll to the edges. All of this allowed other Los Angeles defenders to be janitors and clean up bloody scrambles kicked over by Donald. Fowler and Clay Matthews (also a free agent) combined for 19.5 sacks and 27 quarterback hits.

In Donald, the Rams have a player who can generate an entire defensive line’s worth of pass rushing production on his own. They just need an edge rusher who can work off him and use predator athleticism to chase down and sever quarterbacks. Floyd will do this; there is still some one-on-one pass rushing talent here that hasn’t been fully tapped. He has shown the ability to create pressure as a jet edge rusher and can easily turn speed into power to rush the passer.

The Rams were stuck this offseason trying to carry the fire of recent playoff success. After the decisions they made unfolding on the field—mainly Goff being unable to carry an offense on his own—they’re the NFL’s equivalent of a Maserati in an apartment complex. Budget cuts need to be made. Talented and productive players had to leave. The Rams are forced to add water and meat from a tube dinners. At least Floyd is tuna tetrazzini instead of steak and taters.

4. Benson Mayowa, Seattle Seahawks (1 year, $3.05 million)

As of right now, Jadeveon Clowney is still unsigned. The Seahawks’ best front seven defender is going to try and haggle for more than the $12 million or so they’re willing to offer. My malodorous palms are telling me Clowney will play somewhere else. He’ll end up in Tennessee, or Cleveland, or deity of your choice help us all, Indianapolis. When Clowney does move on, the majority of Seattle’s pass rushing disruption will leave along with him.

Without Clowney, the Seahawks have a hilarious pass rush, a maniacal thing only they could conjure up. It currently consists of Jarran Reed, Rasheem Green, L.J. Collier, Branden Jackson, Poona Ford, plus new rookies Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson. Reed and Green are high potential players who will produce more than the six sacks and thirteen quarterback hits they had in 2019 if they stay healthy. Ford clogs the toilet wherever he goes. Collier did almost nothing his rookie season. Taylor should contribute as an edge rusher immediately. It’s interesting. It’s bizarre. It’s Seattle.

Using 2019 numbers, Mayowa is now the most productive pass rusher the Seahawks have. He’s overlooked because he played for a stale Raiders rush. Mayowa put up a line of 7 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and 18 pressures. As a rusher, Mayowa (#91) has great hands and can knock punches away to win around the edge. Plus, he can win with power, as seen against everyone’s favorite right tackle Chris Clark, and this sack against Chicago.

Is this great? No. It’s perfectly fine. But “perfectly fine” will mean a lot for a starving Seattle rush, especially for a Seattle team navigating Russell Wilson’s $31 million cap hit as they try and put together another Super Bowl run.

5. Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers (2 years, $12 million)

Touchdown regression is real, and it’s a hell of a thing. Over the course of Ebron’s career, he posted touchdown totals of 1, 5, 1, and 4 before leaving the Lions to sign with the Indianapolis Colts. In his first season in Indy, he caught 13 touchdowns, beating his career total in a single season. Last season with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback (RIP Andrew Luck), Ebron managed only 3 TDs before an ankle injury cut his season short.

The Steelers’ offense had a wide variety of problems in 2019. JuJu Smith-Schuster, as great as he is, couldn’t carry on offense led by Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges. Their running backs were constantly injured. But the biggest problem was their inability to score touchdowns in the red zone. The Steelers finished last in red zone touchdown rate at 35%. They scored 14 touchdowns on their 40 trips, 5% worse than 31st ranked Jacksonville. That is a hilarious figure, especially compared to the 75.6% rate top-ranked Tennessee put up.

Touchdown regression is as real as red zone touchdown rate regression is. The Steelers are going to score more touchdowns in the red zone next year no matter how many games Ben Roethlisberger plays, or which running back gets hurt, or if their young receivers stagnate. It’s going to get better in Pittsburgh. The extent that it does will depend on the week-to-week talent the Steelers have.

Ebron can control the seams and leap over smaller defenders to snag the ball from nothingness. The most tight end touchdown receptions Pittsburgh has had in the last five seasons is four. The only player to put up double-digit touchdown receptions for them during this span is Antonio Brown. Ebron is an immediate red zone improvement over Vance McDonald, Jesse James, and Heath Miller’s last hurrah.

Who cares if Ebron doesn’t like blocking? He should help the Steelers scoring woes this season, and in a whatever tight end free agent market, two years and $12 million with an out after one season is an absolute steal.

Honorable mention quality free agent signings: