All youknowwhat is breaking loose with NFL news.
Back in the pre-free agency days -- 1992 and prior, when Pearl Jam's "Ten" blared aloud and Guess sold a way-overpriced flannel cut-off shirt -- early March meant nothing in terms of the NFL calendar. Not anymore. This month's already overflowing with trades, terminations and a whole bunch of (legal) tampering. The drama's THICK:
Yes, the free agency frenzy is upon us. But what does it all mean? Which moves should we care about? Which deals truly matter?
For this week, the new locales of stars and journeymen take center stage. Don't sleep on the latter, either. If there is one thing everyone should glean from the salary-cap era, it's that mid-tier FA signings contribute to winning every bit as much as (if not more so than) the headliner deals. Put another way: The Toyota Camry carries as much juice as the latest Elon Musk Mars sex machine. Or something like that. Look no further than last year, when a few nondescript signings made larger waves on the field than in print (SEE: Hyde, Micah). Actually, see below.
Presenting the top free-agent acquisitions of 2017, with all things considered, be it total impact, cost or postseason import. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on the matter. Who am I missing? @HarrisonNFL is the place.
HONORABLE MENTION: Ted Ginn Jr., WR, New Orleans Saints
Contract signed last offseason: Three years, $11 million.
It's hard to believe Ted Ginn Jr. is heading into Year 12. Thought long and hard about filling this spot with Josh McCown, who pulled a rabbit out of an even more ageless hat in winning five of his 13 starts with the Jets. But Ginn has been so maligned over the years that it's time for people to recognize the player he's become. He was the Saints' long-ball threat, but also a guy Drew Brees could count on in the short game. Ginn incredibly caught over 75 percent of the passes that came his way, one of the higher catch rates in the league. Don't forget Ginn's prolific day against his former team on Wild Card Weekend, either.
Brees on passes of 20-plus air yards to Ginn: 10 for 17, 20.1 yards per attempt, 3:0 TD-to-INT ratio, 142.8 passer rating.
Brees on passes of 20-plus air yards to all others: 22 for 43, 14.8 yards per attempt, 2:3 TD-to-INT ratio, 83.2 passer rating.
10) Marquise Goodwin, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Contract signed last offseason: Two years, $8 million.
Between tragedy and the emotional (and physical) toll the season took on Goodwin, the 49ers' reliable wideout more than deserves to make this list. Signed to a modest two-year deal in the 2017 offseason, Goodwin delivered nearly 1,000 yards receiving while not being afraid to go over the middle. His attitude after the loss of his child only served to inspire, while his play on the field lifted what was a lackluster WR group in 2016. The former Olympian and track star -- who went to Rowlett High School in Texas -- could really go places with Jimmy Garoppolo the full-time starter this year. He inked a three-year extension with San Francisco that includes $10 million in guarantees last week.
9) Robert Woods, WR, Los Angeles Rams
Contract signed last offseason: Five years, $34 million.
Nobody got all hot and bothered when the Rams inked Woods to a deal in the offseason. Yet, there were few players who helped out their new team and new/old market more than the former Bills (and USC) wideout. Had Woods not hurt his shoulder late in the season, he would've likely surpassed 1,000 yards. Cooper Kupp and the much-ballyhooed Sammy Watkins aside, Woods was the most reliable Rams wideout in 2017. My colleague on NFL Network's "Power Rankings Show," Maurice Jones-Drew, does color for the Rams' radio broadcasts, and he mentioned often that few people were noticing how important Woods was to L.A.'s resurgence. True that. While there was much ado about Jared Goff, Sean McVay and Todd Gurley, few were chopping it up around the water cooler about Woods.
Cool stuff: Woods is just one of a gaggle of former Bills receivers who have gone on to do bigger things elsewhere. Goodwin in San Francisco and Chris Hogan in New England have certainly taken advantage of their new addresses. And Watkins never experienced the team success in Buffalo that he had in L.A. Can you imagine having all four of those guys at one time? For a couple years, the Bills did.
8) Alshon Jeffery, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Contract signed last offseason: One year, $14 million.
This was one of the headline moves of the 2017 offseason, with much dinero riding on the Eagles' decision to go out and grab the lanky Jeffery on a healthy one-year deal. Money well spent. Jeffery was a principal figure in the Eagles' first-ever Super Bowl title, contributing nine touchdowns in the regular season and three more in the postseason. In fact, Jeffery was such a hit in Philly that the Eagles signed him to a $52 million extension in December. Defenses had to account for his presence. Had OC Frank Reich and Carson Wentz not spread the ball around so much in the Eagles' offense, Jeffery would've put together an even more productive season. His numbers also dipped as the skill group adjusted to the loss of Wentz late in the season. Otherwise, he might have crossed the 1,000-yard barrier. Did I mention that he played the entire season with a torn-up shoulder?
Cool stuff: You never want to make too much of one play, but the Foles-to-Jeffery touchdown connection early in the Super Bowl told 100 million-plus people watching that Philadelphia would NOT provide the mighty Patriots with a walk-through practice. Too often, we pay close attention to fourth-quarter stanzas, marking them as unquestionable turning points in big games. Jeffery's jump-ball brilliance in the first quarter was as crucial as any other play in the game. Which is why you can watch it here:
7) Micah Hyde, S, Buffalo Bills
Contract signed last offseason: Five years, $30.5 million.
This was the signing I circled last offseason. Was Micah Hyde the most important move of the offseason? No. Did I agree with the Packers letting him walk? No. Though it sounds like Hyde aggressively explored his options outside of Titletown. Hyde was a Swiss Army Knife for Dom Capers. (If you're sitting in your dorm room and have never seen a Swiss Army Knife, it's a red-and-white thing that can do all sorts of cool stuff, like get a knot out of your shoe. And people love 'em like Milton adored this red stapler.) So Hyde signed a robust deal in Buffalo, and he was worth every penny. Hyde picked off five balls and deflected eight more, while racking up 82 tackles. Count that up -- it's nearly 100 plays. Also bear in mind how important turnover diff was to the Bills' success. (They were plus-nine last year.)
Cool stuff: Hard to understand why there wasn't more widespread respect for Hyde last offseason, despite the lucrative offer he ended up receiving from the Bills. While everyone fawned over Aaron Rodgers' dart to Jared Cook to beat the Cowboys in the 2016 playoffs, no way the Packers win that game if Hyde doesn't pick off Dak Prescott on a Dallas threat in Green Bay territory. It was a run-pass option, with Prescott opting for a bubble screen on second-and-short. Hyde's football intuition took over as he jumped the screen and gave the ball back to his offense. Awesome stuff:
6) Patrick Robinson, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
Contract signed last offseason: One year, $775,000.
Given how little Robinson signed for, the Eagles certainly found themselves a bargain in the formerly disappointing first-round pick. All Robinson did was intercept four passes while defending 14 others. He even went all Clyde Simmons and added a sack. What a year this guy tallied, seemingly out of nowhere. Especially when you consider that everyone thought the secondary would be Philadelphia's weakness, or that Ronald Darby would be the most important new face back there. Guess again.
Cool stuff: Sometimes it's not the stats or even the season-enduring consistency that boost the quality of a player, but rather his ability to produce game-altering plays when it matters most. Robinson did just that in the NFC title game, with his 50-yard pick-six:
5) Case Keenum, QB, Minnesota Vikings
Contract signed last offseason: One year, $2 million.
Keenum signed a one-year deal worth peanuts at his position. Two million bucks with a $250,000 signing bonus is nothing for a QB, which shows you how much interest the guy commanded in the free agency bazaar. What was truly bizarre: why more personnel folks didn't have more interest in the former Ram. Maybe he wasn't a Kurt Warner-esque player, but few free-agent QBs have ever paid off like Keenum. Despite leading the Rams to a 3-1 start in 2016, nobody this side of Jared Goff anticipated Keenum leading the Vikes to the NFC title game. He made it look easy down the stretch, like when he calmly chucked four touchdown passes at Washington or delivered a timely miracle ball to Stefon Diggs in the Divisional Round, despite being rattled by the Saints' pass rush throughout the second half. What a deal Keenum was for the men in purple.
Cool stuff: It's not an original take to assert that Keenum and Adam Thielen hit a nice groove last year. However, Keenum was actually quite a bit more effective statistically throwing to Diggs ...
Throwing to Thielen: 62.2 completion percentage, four touchdowns, one interception, 97.2 passer rating.
Throwing to Diggs: 67.9 completion percentage, six touchdowns, one interception, 115.0 passer rating.
4) Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Contract signed last offseason: Two years, $11 million.
Foles didn't play nearly as much as Keenum, but how can we rank the Philly passer lower after he absolutely torched the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, and led the Eagles to a trophy that Jaws, Wilbert, Randall, Donovan and "The Bad-assa-dor" (Hugh Douglas' nickname for himself) couldn't? Like Keenum, Foles inked a cheap deal in the rich world of quarterbacking, earning $4 million in 2017. Chase Daniel made more money in Philly in 2016. Incredible. Foles proceeded to deliver a postseason reminiscent of the scorched-Earth run Joe Flacco went on in 2012, while tabbing a Super Bowl MVP on the way. How many free-agent signees have gone 28 of 43 for 373 yards and three touchdowns in the Super Bowl?
Cool stuff: Foles has surpassed a 100 passer rating in each of his four career playoff games. His current 113.2 passer rating is the highest in NFL postseason history (minimum 100 pass attempts). Read that line again.
3) Andrew Whitworth, LT, Los Angeles Rams
Contract signed last offseason: Three years, $33.75 million.
No doubt about it: The Rams paid Whitworth serious dough to improve their offensive line. He delivered. Yes, that contract listed above is a truckload for a tackle in his mid-30s, but Whitworth was more than worth it in 2017. The left tackle's play promotes paying a premium to get a guy who can push a team from also-ran to the playoffs, as opposed to only doing bargain deals in free agency. While Whitworth didn't over-deliver, a la his teammate in Woods, few players could raise the level of an entire unit the way this veteran did, not to mention being named first-team All-Pro. On that note ...
Cool stuff: The improvement in Los Angeles' offensive line from 2016 to '17 was ginormous. Sure, McVay deserves credit, as does run-game coordinator Aaron Kromer. Still, the Rams gave up 21 fewer sacks in 2017. Twenty-one! The yards-per-carry figure went up a full yard, from 3.3 to 4.3. They say a solid left tackle or center can anchor an entire line. I have no idea who they are, but Whitworth has long been the most underrated player in the NFL.
2) A.J. Bouye, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Contract signed last offseason: Five years, $67.5 million.
The Bouye signing required even more capital than Whitworth's deal. Corners don't come cheap, at least not when they are coming off the kind of year Bouye had for the Texans in 2016. Thus, Jags GM David Caldwell forked over a hefty $10 million signing bonus as part of the megadeal listed above to bolster his secondary. I liked the move for team and player, and even if he wasn't a bargain in the same vein as Keenum, the pressure was so much higher on Bouye to perform. There was no low bar; plenty of analysts thought this contract was awfully rich for a player coming off "one good year." Then consider Bouye lined up opposite Jalen Ramsey, perhaps the most unique talent at the position in the league today. Quarterbacks were bound to throw at Bouye. They didn't have much luck. No one expected Jacksonville to nearly make it to the Super Bowl. The Bouye acquisition was as integral as any other to making the unthinkable thinkable.
Cool stuff: Bouye, who logged six picks while allowing just one touchdown reception in 2017, was as difficult to throw on as any player in the NFL last season. Need proof? Here are the five cornerbacks who yielded the lowest passer rating against (min. 50 targets), courtesy of researcher Mike Band over at the NFL West offices:
1) A.J. Bouye: 41.7
2) Marlon Humphrey: 49.6
3) Tramon Williams: 52.6
4) Kyle Fuller: 55.0
5) Ross Cockrell: 56.2
1) Calais Campbell, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars
Contract signed last offseason: Four years, $60 million.
Yep, you're getting a Jags twofer here at the top of the list. Better than a Vin Diesel "xXx" double feature (actually, that was a *threefer*)). Campbell won NFL Defensive Player of the Year from both The Sporting News (voted on by the players) and the Pro Football Writers of America. He wasn't far off in The Associated Press voting, tallying 17 votes -- six shy of Aaron Donald. We've seen huge free-agent deals for defensive linemen not pay off in the past -- Albert Haynesworth is the cover boy in that regard, and Ndamukong Suh was just released -- but Campbell was the linchpin of Jacksonville's defense. His disruptive play up front helped the Jags make it all the way to the AFC Championship Game, while the defense allowed the second-fewest points in the league. This after finishing 25th, 31st, 26th, 28th and 29th in that category over the previous five seasons.
Cool stuff: Short and sweet -- Campbell racked up his first double-digit sack season in 2017, his 10th year in the NFL. Who would've guessed that? Schemes.