We’ll be grading all of the NFL offseason moves — signings and trades — right here in March, so check this file for updates as the deals come in. Grades go all the way back to the Alex Smith deal before Super Bowl LII.
Most recent grades and write-ups are at the top.
Wednesday, March 7
Last year went disastrously for Baker, who left Washington to sign a three-year, $15.8 million deal with Tampa Bay. Baker got $6 million guaranteed but did little during his season in Tampa, racking up just a half-sack, five quarterback knockdowns and two tackles for loss across 437 defensive snaps. Baker didn’t win the locker room over, either, with teammates having to stop quarterback Jameis Winston from getting in Baker’s face after a critical encroachment penalty on fourth down late against the Panthers.
The Bengals have a long history of taking on reclamation projects with some success under Marvin Lewis, and at one year, $3 million, Baker doesn’t come with much risk. The 30-year-old is down to 300 pounds, a noticeable drop given that he was listed at 320 and likely played at a larger weight last season. The Hampton product racked up 9.5 sacks and 27 knockdowns between 2015 and 2016, so if Lewis can turn Baker back into a useful interior pass-rusher, the Bengals will have a steal on their hands.
Trade: Rams deal LB Alec Ogletree to Giants
Grade for Rams: C+
Grade for Giants: C
The Giants were loathe to spend money on coverage linebackers under the reign of general manager Jerry Reese, who never adequately replaced Antonio Pierce in the middle of the field after the playoff hero finished his career in 2009. Draft picks like Jonathan Goff and a bevy of free agents — everyone from Jon Beason to J.T. Thomas — couldn’t stay healthy or play effective football. With new GM Dave Gettleman coming over from a Panthers organization that built its defense around Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, it’s no surprise that he might want to address inside linebacker this offseason.
Of the candidates the Giants have brought in since Pierce, Ogletree is certainly the most likely to succeed, but it’s hard to argue that the former Georgia star is likely to return value. The 26-year-old is a stud athlete, but he hasn’t been able to turn those measurables into significant production since 2014. Ogletree forced 10 fumbles over his first two seasons, but he has been responsible for only two strips in the three years since. He made tackles on 16.1 percent of Los Angeles’ run plays last season, a rate that ranked 60th in the league among players with 200 run snaps or more.
The problem is that Ogletree plays a position the league really doesn’t seem to value with significant contracts. The Rams signed Ogletree to a four-year, $42.8 million extension last October, and the Giants will essentially have Ogletree on a four-year, $38 million deal with $10 million guaranteed, all coming this season. That’s not in line with what better players have gotten in free agency; Dont’a Hightower, for one, got four years and $35.5 million to stay with the Patriots last offseason. Useful players such as Zach Brown, who is back in the market this year, had to settle for a one-year pact. It’s difficult to believe Ogletree would have received this much if he were a free agent.
The Rams free up cap space as part of this deal, which marks the second expensive defender they’ve dealt away in a week after trading Robert Quinn to the Dolphins. It now seems more likely that they’ll hang on to fellow linebacker Mark Barron, who seemed like a plausible cap casualty. L.A. will have $6.5 million in dead money on its cap for Ogletree this year, but with $47.3 million in space, the Rams can use the savings to bring back receiver Sammy Watkins, who would otherwise be an unrestricted free agent. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has helped develop unheralded inside linebackers such as Todd Davis and Brandon Marshall in years past, so the Rams might be able to get by without big-money players on the interior.
Gettleman gives up fourth- and sixth-round picks to the Rams, who send a 2019 seventh-rounder back as part of the deal. The Giants have the second pick in the fourth round (No. 102) and the third-to-last selection in that round (pick 135) as a compensatory chit. There’s a big difference between the two selections, obviously, but either pick would represent a victory for the Rams.
Trade: Seahawks deal DE Michael Bennett to Eagles
Grade for Seahawks: C
Grade for Eagles: B+
The Eagles are one of the most aggressive trading teams in the league and built their Super Bowl success around a deep, dominant defensive line, so it’s no surprise that they acquired Michael Bennett from the Seahawks today. Bennett will slot in as a replacement for Vinny Curry, and with three years and $22.1 million left on his deal, Bennett won’t break the bank as part of one of the league’s best defensive lines. It seems pretty clear that Seattle wanted to move on from Bennett, who might be the first part of a painful defensive rebuild over the days to come. The Seahawks would likely have cut Bennett, given that the return — a fifth-round pick and flyer WR Marcus Johnson, with a seventh-rounder going back to Philadelphia — won’t move the needle.
Tuesday, March 6
Chris Ivory has been one of the worst running backs in football over the last two years, averaging 3.6 yards per carry while producing more fumbles (seven) than touchdowns (five). It’s no surprise he was cut by the Jaguars, but it’s more difficult to see why the Bills prioritized him on a two-year, $5.5-million deal when backs of his ilk are free to acquire in the market. Remember that LeGarrette Blount, a more effective power back, languished in free agency for months after an 18-touchdown season before settling for a one-year, $1.3-million deal with the Eagles last offseason. The Bills just guaranteed Ivory $3.3 million, which seems inexplicable for a team which already has the league’s most expensive running back in LeSean McCoy.
Friday, March 3
Trade: Rams deal DE Robert Quinn to Dolphins
Grade for Rams: C+
Grade for Dolphins: C+
The Rams decision to trade Robert Quinn is a reflection on what the 27-year-old has looked like since undergoing back surgery in January of 2016. Quinn has just 12.5 sacks and 18 knockdowns over the past two years. That would be an upgrade for the Dolphins, who foolishly gave Andre Branch a three-year deal last offseason with $8 million fully guaranteed for 2018 to play across from Cameron Wake. Quinn will be a massive upgrade at defensive end on Branch, but the Dolphins will likely need to perform cap gymnastics to either fit Quinn in on his current cap hit of $11.4 million or as part of a new contract. It seems likely that Quinn could serve as a replacement for Ndamukong Suh, whose departure would free up $17 million in cap room for a Dolphins team which is nearly $16 million over the salary cap at the moment.
Monday, Feb. 26
The one-year, $5-million deal the Bills inked with Vontae Davis is a good short-term risk for a team who probably would have had to pay more to bring back the oft-injured E.J. Gaines next season. Davis slipped badly in 2016 and was impacted by injuries in 2017, but the former Colts standout won’t turn 30 until May and was a legitimate number-one cornerback up to that point. In a free-agent pool where mid-market starting corners are likely to approach $10 million per season with two years of guaranteed money, getting Davis on a short-term pact for half that is a win for Bills general manager Brandon Beane.
Friday, Feb. 23
Trade: Chiefs deal CB Marcus Peters to Rams
Grade for Chiefs: C
Grade for Rams: B+
Grades for the Marcus Peters trade: The Chiefs get a C for their end of the swap, in which they sent Peters and the 196th pick to the Rams for the 124th selection and a 2019 second-rounder. If the Rams finish 20th in the draft order next year and we don’t depreciate the pick’s value for time (both of which are perhaps conservative estimates), the Chase Stuart suggests the Chiefs picked up the 33rd selection in a typical draft for a 25-year-old former All-Pro cornerback on a below-market deal for the next two seasons. While Kansas City clearly wanted to trade Peters, this is a price point at which the Chiefs probably needed to trust their ability to rehabilitate Peters and bring him back into the fold. The Rams, meanwhile, get a B+ for their end of the bargain. They probably need to start holding onto their draft picks after sending high selections out in the trades for Peters, Jared Goff, and Sammy Watkins, but they’re not incurring an enormous amount of risk in trading for Peters. They can go year-to-year and pay the Washington product just $27.5 million over the next three seasons, which is less than inferior cornerbacks like Dre Kirkpatrick and Logan Ryan got in their free-agent deals last offseason.
Tuesday, Jan. 30
Trade: Chiefs deal QB Alex Smith to Washington
Grade for Chiefs: B
Grade for Washington: B
Plenty of people figured the Chiefs were going to trade Alex Smith this offseason to free up their starting job for 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes. They were half-right. The Chiefs didn’t wait until the offseason to make their move, agreeing to a deal to trade Smith to Washington for a third-round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller.
Washington’s stunning trade for a new quarterback should reverberate around the league; a half-dozen teams that weren’t involved with the deal suddenly saw their offseason plans change or come into focus. The deal (and Smith’s subsequent extension) obviously suggest Washington will be moving on from incumbent quarterback Kirk Cousins, who will hit unrestricted free agency.