AFC South Free Agency Grades
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
Titans - D
- RB Derrick Henry, franchise tag
- QB Ryan Tannehill, 4-years, $118 million, $62 million guaranteed
- EDGE Vic Beasley, 1-year, $12 million, $9.5 million guaranteed
- QB Marcus Mariota, Signed by the Raiders
- OT Jack Conklin, signed by the Browns
- CB Logan Ryan, free agent
- EDGE Cameron Wake, released
- TE Delanie Walker, released
- DE Jurrel Casey, traded
The Titans had a questionable offseason with a few head scratching moves, but the one good move in my opinion was to re-sign 2019 rushing leader Derrick Henry. Henry had 1540 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns in 2019, cementing him in my view as a top two running back in the NFL. Given his elite season and where he ranks amongst running backs its likely Henry will get top dollars for his position. While some condone paying running backs big money due to their value in today’s game, I believe you can win games with a running back being the focal point of the offense.
However, the first questionable move was re-signing quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a 4-year $118 million deal, making him the 9th highest paid annual quarterback in the NFL. Whilst Tannehill is coming off a career year in which he ranked 9th in QBR and threw 22 touchdowns to only 6 interceptions in 10 games, up to this point in his career he has been an average to below average quarterback averaging a QBR of 47.3 in his first 6 seasons. Not only this but Tannehill is 32 meaning he’s likely to begin regressing at some point in the duration of this contract. But if Tannehill does begin to regress the Titans can cut ties in 2022 with a dead cap hit of $10 million. Overall, I believe Tannehill won’t live up to his big contract and Tennessee will be back on the quarterback carousel market in 2022.
Possibly the worst move of the Titans free agency was Signing edge rusher Vic Beasley. Apart from a career year in 2016 in which he was 1st team All-Pro and totalled 15.5 sacks, Beasley has had a disappointing career given his pre-draft promise. Fortunately, the deal is only 1-year so the Titans can move off him if he under performs.
Tennessee also lost 3 good starters from their roster, Conklin, Casey and Ryan. Allowing Ryan to walk was a good move in my opinion, he has never made a Pro Bowl in his 7 years and is predominantly a slot corner. While I don’t like the Titans allowing Conklin to leave in free agency and trading Casey, they are both understandable moves. Tennessee already has $40 million of their cap allocated to the offensive line in 2020 and with Conklin’s new contract with the Browns paying him $14 million a year re-signing him would’ve put the Titans offensive line at 27% of the cap. While Casey has been named to the Pro Bowl the last 5 years, he is 31 and will likely begin to regress whilst being paid as a top 5 3-4 defensive end, so to the trade is more moving on from a big contract rather than an top defensive end.
Texans - F
- WR Brandin Cooks, via trade
- OT Laremy Tunsil, 3 years, $66 million, $50 million guaranteed
- RB David Johnson, via trade
- CB Bradley Roby, 3-years, $36 million
- WR Randall Cobb, 3-years, $27 million, $18.75 million guaranteed
- K Ka’imi Fairbairn, 4-years, $17.65 million, $9 million guaranteed
- WR DeAndre Hopkins, traded
- DT D.J. Reader, signed by the Bengals
- S Tashaun Gipson Sr, released
It would’ve been hard for the Texans to have a worse free agency if they tried, and they sure tried. In my opinion, Houston did not make a single good move and a plethora of bad ones. First, Deandre Hopkins. Bill O’Brien traded Hopkins and a 2020 4th round pick for David Johnson, a 2020 2nd round pick and a 2021 4th round pick. This trade is unfathomable in numerous ways. Deandre Hopkins is a top 2 wide receiver in the NFL, with the best hands in the game. In each of the past 3 years he was 1st team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler while averaging 105 catches, 1371 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. To trade him away when you have a young superstar quarterback is absurd, what makes the move even more gut wrenching is the justification. The move was by no means a football decision, things were personal between Hopkins and Houston’s Head coach and General Manager Bill O’Brien. Hopkins reportedly wanted a new deal, he had 3 years remaining on his current one but sits at 9th in annual pay for receivers, $6 million behind Julio Jones. O’Brien confirmed Hopkins’ desire for a new contract factored into their decision to part ways. However, if pay was the only reason why was the trade return so poor, the Texans received a second-round pick and a washed up running back on a bad contract that usually you’d have to give up capital just to move off of. The Giants received a 1st round pick for Odell Beckham Jr, the Raiders got a 1st round pick for Amari Cooper and the Vikings got a 1st round pick and more for Stefon Diggs. So, for the Texans to only get a 2nd round pick whilst taking on an awful contract for a receiver who is better than Beckham, Cooper and Diggs is clearly a personal decision by the General Manager. Not only this but the Philadelphia Eagles were reportedly offering more than the Cardinals were, potentially suggesting O’Brien was trying to do to Hopkins what Jarvis Landry believed Adam Gase did to him, “Adam sent me here to die”.
While no singular move trumps the Hopkins trade, they add fuel to the fire. While Brandin Cooks has had a productive career, he is on his 4th team in 6 years in the league and is more known by no fault of his own for his concussions rather than his play. While between 2015-18 he averaged 1,150 yards per year in 2019 he fell to 583 yards. On top of his injury concern and 2019 regression he is the 8th highest annually paid receiver, which is more than Hopkins. Given the Texans used the 2nd round pick gained in the Hopkins trade they actually received Cooks and Johnson in return the Hopkins. Despite O’Brien claiming the trade was to do with Hopkins wanting a new contract, the trade isolated is a cap hit deficit of $7 million in 2020, in theory Hopkins would likely wanted to be the highest paid receiver putting him at $23 million annually, which is $7 million more than his current deal. Hence, the deal makes even less sense as it gives you no cap relief, adds two bad contracts and you lose a top 2 receiver.
The Texans then added Randall Cobb and Bradley Roby. Cobb is an ageing predominantly slot receiver who prior to 2019 had been on a steady regression post 2014. As well as regressing, Cobb has been injury prone, starting just 36 out of 64 games over the last 4 years and Roby is an average at best slot corner when not playing in Denver’s previous elite secondary alongside Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. Hence, I believe both deals were bad and overpaid.
One good move was re-signing Laremy Tunsil, until you see the deal. While the 25-year-old has only allowed 5 sacks over the past 2 years and made the Pro Bowl in 2019, he is not the best tackle in the NFL. However, with the Texans giving up 2 first-round picks to acquire him as well as Kenny Stills it gave Tunsil a lot of leverage going into a contract year. Yet, no one would’ve predicted he be made the highest paid left tackle in the NFL by $6 million annually. The total numbers of the deal are 3 years, $66 million, $50 million guaranteed. Allowing Tunsil to hit the market again in his age 28 season, in which he will likely get another huge deal.
Overall, the Texans free agency was in my opinion full of hypocrisy, a complete disaster and potentially sets the franchise back for years to come.
Colts - B-
- DT DeForest Buckner, via trade
- OT Anthony Castonzo, 2-years $33 million, $17 million guaranteed
- QB Phillip Rivers, 1-year, $25 million fully guaranteed
- TE Eric Ebron, signed by the Steelers
- WR Devin Funchess, signed by the Packers
- 13th overall pick, traded
If you believe in Phillip Rivers its harder to have a better free agency than then Colts, but unfortunately, I don’t. Rivers has always been known to be a gunslinger, he has 4 seasons with over 18 interceptions, but he always made up for it with his elite arm talent. However, in 2019 the 38-year-old had lost velocity in his arm and looked broken down. Throwing just 23 touchdowns to 20 interceptions. While he will see drastic change in his offensive line play by now taking snaps behind potentially the best O-Line in the NFL, he is still an incredibly immobile quarterback and is a sitting duck in the pocket waiting to be sacked.
The trade and signing of DeForest Buckner is a great move in my opinion. He brings a needed elite presence in the interior of the Colts underrated defensive line. While the Colts have a lot of youth and depth in their D-line they don’t have many three down players. At 6ft 7 and 300 lbs Buckner is freak of nature as well as a monster in the run game and pass rush. Over the last two years he averages 10 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Whilst playing in the 49ers elite front seven could inflate Buckner’s stats he has proven himself to be elite and there is also the argument that its harder to get the sacks and tackles for loss when playing amongst other elite defenders. Although he is the 2nd highest paid annual interior defender at 4-years, $84 million with $44 million guaranteed, the Colts wouldn’t have been able to find better value at the 13th overall pick in the 2020 draft.
Re-signing Anthony Castonzo is a good move. Castonzo is coming off a highly productive season in 2019 allowing just 3 sacks, 5 quarterback hits and 34 total pressures. It secures a second top tackle on the edge of the Colts offensive line which will change life for new quarterback Phillip Rivers who his coming from one of potentially the worst offensive lines in the NFL.
Jaguars - C+
- EDGE Yannick Ngakoue, franchise tag
- LB Joe Schobert, 5-years, $53.75 million, $22.5 million guaranteed
- CB Darqueze Dennard, 3-years, $13.5 million, $6 million guaranteed
- DE Calais Campbell, traded
- DT Marcel Dareus
- QB Nick Foles, traded
- CB A.J. Bouye, traded
The Jaguars have made it very clear the rebuild is on, 2 years removed from an AFC Championship game, the Jaguars have parted was with Jalen Ramsey, Telvin Smith, Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, Malik Jackson and now soon Yannick Ngakoue. Although I am on board with Jacksonville’s plan of rebuilding, I think they made a few mistakes this free agency.
I think they should’ve traded Ngakoue sooner, preferably before the draft. Ngakoue was a Pro Bowler is 2017 and over 4 years has 37.5 sacks, 42 tackles for loss and 85 quarterback hits. He is clearly a star pass rusher his only knock is that he lacks a power move in the rush. Given Ngakoue is only 25 you would imagine the Jaguars could receive a late 1st early 2nd round pick similar to what the Chiefs gave up for Frank Clark. However, given Ngakoue’s vocal messages on his twitter and obvious desire to leave it drove his price down as stated by Jaguars executive Tony Khan in response to the star edge rusher, ‘tweeting insults at me won’t get you traded any faster. Only good trade compensation will do that.’ To which Ngakoue responded with ‘just trade me. I don’t need the speech’ Khan later replied by saying ‘show me the compensation. I’m sure you’re really driving up the price today btw’. Hence, we could see a situation where Ngakoue sits out the year and gets franchise tagged again or walks in free agency, as its very likely the Jaguars will get the compensation they desire.
While Nick Foles was evidently a bad investment, despite his $18.75 million dead cap hit, moving on from his contract via a trade was a good move by the Jaguars front office as during the rebuild its likely their cap spending will be low anyway. However, the compensation received for Bouye and Campbell was incredibly low. A 5th round pick for Campbell and a 4th round pick for Bouye is very unlikely to provide them with anything close to a replacement. The only positives to the trades are the cap relief and ability to set a new culture in the locker room.
Although the Jaguars are rebuilding, I like the signing of Joe Schobert. Over the past 3 season Schobert has only missed 3 games whilst averaging 126 tackles a year. Whilst Schobert is good in coverage, he can be a liability at times in the run game. Despite this, inside linebackers are hard to come by, so the Jaguars locking both Schobert and Myles Jack up for the future is a good move. However, it does mean the Jaguars have the 3rd and 9th highest annually paid inside linebackers, which as of now isn’t an issue as they are in rebuild mode and a lot of their players are on cheap rookie deals, but if the jaguars do not structure the deals correctly it could cause them cap trouble later into the deals.