NFL Free Agency Report: Hits and Misses

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 01: Fozzy Whittaker
FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 01: Fozzy Whittaker /

NFL Free Agency Report looking at the hits and misses while reviewing some of the best and worst free agency signings of  2017.

There’s a reason why successful franchises prefer to build through the draft. Tossing around money in free agency is risky business. Even for smart teams like the Patriots and Packers, it’s difficult to evaluate a player’s value and fit when changing teams and schemes.

But free agency can also be the difference between a GM keeping his job and losing it. In 2016, the Giants used other teams’ talent to rebuild their entire defense, went 13-3, and once again put fear in the hearts of New England fans. This year, the Jaguars seem to have pulled off a similar feat with their signings.

Here, we’ll take a look at some of the best and worst deals handed out this offseason. For this exercise, we’ll focus on players who changed teams, so you won’t see names like Le’Veon Bell or Eric Berry.


Andrew Whitworth, Los Angeles Rams

It’s hard to tell what improved the Rams’ offense more: Adding Whitworth or trading away Greg Robinson. The former Bengal has solidified the entire offensive line on a relatively cheap three-year deal ($34 million).

Pro Football Focus currently has him ranked as the fifth-best tackle in the NFL, and he’s a huge reason Todd Gurley is having an MVP-level season. In pass protection, Whitworth’s balance and agility allow him to mirror athletic pass rushers, taking them where they want to go and away from the quarterback. He also excels on the move when pulling on tosses and screens.

More from With the First Pick

Josh McCown, New York Jets

Only five quarterbacks in the NFL have thrown for more touchdowns than McCown this season. While most would love to label him a game manager, he currently ranks top-ten in the league in completions over 20 yards.

His deep prowess is even more striking when you consider the Jets complete inability to protect him (26 sacks so far this season). His ball placement and mobility have also been impressive. The team’s schedule gets much tougher the rest of the way, but McCown looks as good as he did in 2013 with Chicago.

Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye, Jacksonville Jaguars

Goodness. The Jags may have come away from this free agency period with two All-Pros and a playoff appearance.

It’s easy to spot Calais Campbell on film: simply look for the biggest lineman on the field. The former Cardinal has dominated from his very first appearance for Jacksonville, setting the franchise record for sacks in a game in Week 1.

He hasn’t slowed down a bit. Whether simply overpowering linemen into the backfield or using a nasty throw-and-swim move to get past them, he’s a game-wrecker for the league’s best defense. He’s big enough to play anywhere on the D-line, and when inside he’s impossible to block with a guard one-on-one. A man that big should not be able to move like he does.

Yet, is it possible that the NFL leader in sacks isn’t even the team’s best addition? Not only is it possible, it’s likely the case in Jacksonville. A.J. Bouye has been outstanding this season. Bouye surprised everyone in 2016 with great tackling and incredible timing in coverage. I was skeptical whether he could sustain that level of play in Jacksonville, but I was very, very wrong.

He isn’t the best corner on his own team, but no one in the league beats receivers to their routes as often as Bouye. He and Jalen Ramsey are big reasons why Jacksonville has so much time to get to the opposing quarterback.

Pierre Garcon, San Francisco 49ers

Garcon sadly won’t get to continue his solid performance in San Francisco. Not only has he suffered from lackluster quarterback play, but Mike Clay of ESPN points out that Garcon also faces one of the toughest corner schedules for a number-one receiver.

In a division with Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson, that’s no surprise. But the D-3 product thrived anyway and was on pace for 80 catches and 1,000 yards this season. He is a reliable route runner, never drops passes, and has very good awareness on the sideline. His loss may make the Niner offense unwatchable.

T.J. Lang, Detroit Lions

It takes a good blocker to shut down Mike Daniels. Monday night, Lang blanked his former teammate and gave Matt Stafford plenty of time to survey the field. In Green Bay, Lang was a member of the best pass protection unit in the league.

He’s not very mobile and won’t pancake many people. But even though he isn’t flashy, Lang rarely does anything wrong. He’s great at picking up stunts and using defender’s momentum against them. Granted, he gets away with holding almost every play. But what good lineman doesn’t? In the run game, he’s not going to drive anyone off the ball. Instead, get in front of defenders, turns them, or forces them to overrun their gaps. My favorite thing about Lang is that he refuses to block air in pass protection. If no one is nearby, he’ll help the center or tackle, often preventing free rushers from penetrating the pocket.

Micah Hyde, Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills are one of the biggest surprises in the league. Much of that is due to their solid passing defense. The team is holding opposing quarterbacks to a rating of 76.6 and has only given up seven passing touchdowns.

Much of that improvement is due to the presence of Micah Hyde. With five interceptions and eight pass deflections, Hyde has vastly improved from his time in Green Bay. Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the fourth-best safety in football, partly due to his 46.4 passer rating allowed in coverage.

Logan Ryan, Tennessee Titans – Flexible enough to play inside or outside on a team that badly needed help in the secondary
Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders – He’s made so many big catches for Derek Carr. Against Miami Sunday night, he single-handedly kept the Raiders offense moving for stretches


Terrelle Pryor, Washington Redskins

I’m not sure you could write a free agent mistake list without an appearance by the Redskins. Luckily for Washington, Terrelle Pryor’s deal is only for one year. After turning down a much more lucrative offer in Cleveland and betting on himself, the former quarterback seemed to be in a great spot.

Paired with a high-end quarterback with a heavy passing offense, his situation improved in almost every aspect. Yet Pryor has been a major disappointment. Washington recently cut his playing time in favor of unproven receivers Josh Doctson and Ryan Grant, both of whom have played demonstrably better.

Kenny Britt, Cleveland Browns

Ironically, the man Cleveland chose to replace Pryor has been worse, and much more expensive. Kenny Britt has been a disaster. In exchange for a four-year, $32 million contract, Britt has produced only 128 yards and one touchdown.

He has been so bad that he didn’t play a snap in Week 8 against the Vikings. Admittedly, the Browns’ quarterback play has been consistently awful, but Britt is underperforming even compared to the other Cleveland receivers: he is hauling in only 35.7% of his targets (10 of 28), which is tied for last on the team.

Stephon Gilmore and Mike Gillislee, New England Patriots

Free agency is about opportunity cost. In order to sign corner Stephon Gilmore to a massive deal, the Pats lost the versatile Logan Ryan and angered Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler. Gilmore as already been benched once this season and has produced headlines like this one.

Additionally, New England could have re-signed LeGarrette Blount (100 attempts for 467 yards) for just over $1 million. Instead, they overpaid Mike Gillislee (98 attempts for 355 yards) to play the same role. Gillislee has been much less effective than Blount was last year, and became the subject of trade rumors around the deadline.

Mike Glennon, Chicago Bears

Like Britt in Cleveland, Glennon wasn’t put it the best position to succeed when he joined Chicago. The Bears’ incumbent top two receivers were Cameron Meredith and Kevin White, neither of whom would be a top 3 option on a playoff team.

The unit would have been a poor one had those players actually been on the field. However, Meredith sadly tore his ACL in the preseason, and White suffered yet another season-ending injury.

Still, Glennon failed to do the one thing necessary to remain on the field for John Fox: protect the football. In his four starts, he committed eight turnovers and threw only four touchdowns, barely averaging 200 yards per game. His poor play forced the team to turn to Mitchell Trubisky much earlier than they had planned, and they have yet to score 30 points this season.

Matt Kalil, Carolina Panthers

Joe Thomas, Jason Peters, Andrew Whitworth, Donald Penn, Joe Staley. Those are the players with contracts most similar to Matt Kalil’s according to Seems out of whack, right? I’m not sure which game film convinced the Panthers to give Matt Kalil $31 million guaranteed.

In Minnesota, he was actually one of the worst linemen on one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Not to mention he was injured for most of 2016. It’s hard to find someone who thought the contract was a good idea at the time. Kalil has allowed six sacks already this season.

Menelik Watson, Denver Broncos – Eight sacks allowed in six games
Adrian Peterson, New Orleans Saints – 20.3 yards per game before his departure
Eddie Lacy, Seattle Seahawks – Ugh. Just…everything.