Happy New League Year!
Although the new NFL league year officially started on Wednesday, it was the opening of the “legal tampering” window on Monday that signaled the beginning of the free agency frenzy.
As always, it is a time where player power and team desperation to alter the fortunes of a franchise see players get paid. Since Kirk Cousin’s fully guaranteed contract of last year’s free agency, the numbers involved in these contracts continue to soar.
In this weeks “Hodgkinson’s Huddle”, I take a look inside the AFC West’s wheeling and dealing since last Monday. I’ll be picking two moves that I love for each franchise. I’ll also highlight where I think the teams may have got it wrong.
Bryce Callahan: Whilst all eyes were on the acquisition of former Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson in Denver, I prefer the signing of Callahan. Playing on a one year deal in Chicago last year, he had arguably the best season of his career. He tallied three interceptions and two sacks before his season was bought to a premature end with a broken foot. The move reunites Callahan with his former defensive co-ordinator at the Bears, Vic Fangio, and he should fit in well with Fangio’s system. Expect Callahan to line up as a nickel corner allowing Chris Harris Jr to play on the outside. The Broncos needed to make shore up the secondary and with the addition of Callahan, they’ve certainly done that.
Ja’Wuan James: I like this move by the Broncos, on one condition. It’s very much reliant on James staying healthy. Since being drafted in the first round by the Miami Dolphins in 2014, he has only managed 16 games twice. During his time in Miami he has started at both left and right tackle. In signing a four year, $51 million contract he will become the highest paid right tackle in NFL history. Denver will need him to provide value for every penny as they look to create stability on an offensive line that has seen it’s share of rotation and inconsistency. What I like in James is his athleticism and his footwork. He will need all of this in a division where he will face off against Joey Bosa twice a year.
Since the end of the 2018 season the Broncos have released linebacker Brandon Marshall and safety Darian Stewart. Both players have played a significant part in the Denver Broncos team over the past few years. As is the nature of the NFL, relationships don’t last forever and I appreciate that. What I don’t appreciate is the lack of moves in free agency so far to replace those players.
The free agent market for the safety position has been significant this off-season and I thought we might see the Broncos make a big play for someone like Landon Collins. Instead, it is divisional rivals the Chiefs and the Raiders who have made a big splash at the position. Although the Broncos have made significant additions to the secondary with their signing of Jackson and Callahan, there will still be significant work to do for Vic Fangio’s defence to be a formidable force in the league.
Kansas City Chiefs
Tyrann Mathieu: Coming off the back of a year deal in Houston, Mathieu was one of the most high profile players available. The Chiefs made sure that the “Honey Badger” didn’t escape their grasp and slapped a three year, $42 million on him. It’s a great signing for a team that desperately needed to improve in the secondary. Too many times last season, it was the back end of the defence that let the Chiefs down and this was particularly exposed late in the season against the LA Chargers.
Mathieu is the do it all player that the Chiefs need. He can play in coverage and he can make plays in the box. Last season he was the fifth highest graded safety against the run. He had three sacks and two interceptions. New defensive co-ordinator Steve Spagnuolo is known to be aggressive in how he uses safety blitzes and that will suit Mathieu just fine.
Carlos Hyde: After cutting Kareem Hunt during last season, the Chiefs depth chart consisted of Spencer Ware, Damien Williams and Darrel Williams. Although they put in some great performances, they’re not names that are going to set the league alight. Carlos Hyde gives the Chiefs a genuine rushing threat. We’re not too far removed from his eye opening performances for the 49ers that earned him a three year deal with the Browns. Not only does he represent a rushing threat but he can be used in the passing game too. After being released by the Jaguars at the beginning of March, the Chiefs swooped. The one year, $2.8 million deal is good value all around. The Chiefs get a bargain running back, and Hyde gets a year to prove he still has high value and productivity in the league.
The Chiefs feel like they’re a team in a bit of a free fall. With Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce leading the team, they should be climbing high. They have been a team that no-one wanted to face. Their off season moves so far don’t really have the feel of a team primed for success. With a change of defensive scheme, it was always inevitable that there would be some casualties.
However, losing both of Justin Houston and Dee Ford can’t have really been in the plan? Releasing Eric Berry was a huge shock. Is the signing of defensive end Alex Okafor really the answer at the other end of the front four? On offence, center Mitch Morse has gone. For me, he was an unheralded part of the success of the Chiefs offence. They have lost wide receiver Chris Conley to the Jaguars. They may be set to lose Tyreek Hill as investigations continue in to some disturbing off field incidents.
Thomas Davis: For me, this was one of the most shocking moves off the off season so far. Don’t get me wrong, I love Thomas Davis, I just didn’t expect him to ever move on from the Panthers. I don’t think many people did. This is a great move for the Chargers in my opinion. He’s signed on a two year, $10.5m deal which doesn’t break the bank. Sure, he might have had some injuries in his career and might not have the sideline to sideline speed but he is still playing at a high level. With the re-signing of Denzel Perryman the Chargers have a solid linebacker group behind their fearsome front four.
Brandon Mebane: Speaking of the fearsome front four, the resigning of Brandon Mebane is an important one for the franchise. The Chargers don’t make many moves in free agency so it would always be a case that some of their moves would be taking care of their own. Mebane had a torrid time off the field last season and continued to perform on it. Now they’ve resigned Mebane, if the Chargers add someone like Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery in the draft, this will be easily the best defence in the league.
Phillip Rivers isn’t going to last forever. I’m afraid that is just a fact, not just an unpopular opinion. He had possibly one the greatest seasons of his career last year. Under his guidance, the Chargers looked like on of the most complete teams in the league. Every year, talk turns to how long he can play on and the succession plan. This week it was announced that the Chargers had secured the services of Tyrod Taylor from Cleveland on a two year, $11 million deal. I’m not even slightly convinced that this is a good move from the Chargers.
When you consider that Rivers hasn’t missed a game since the start of 2005, do you really need someone as a back up that has starting experience? Taylor is a decent quarterback, don’t get me wrong, but he got beat out by Baker Mayfield very quickly last year and I just don’t see his value here. He certainly isn’t going to be the next starting quarterback when Rivers finally hangs up his cleats. I’d like to see the Chargers draft a later round quarterback like Boise State’s Brett Rypien to develop and take over the reigns.
Antonio Brown: The Brown to the Raiders story already feels like old news, just one week after it was announced. For Raiders fans, there must be a little concern about how Brown engineered his departure from the Steelers. However, you can’t help but love this trade for the Silver and Black. They have gotten, for my money, the best receiver in the league and they’ve gotten him for an absolute steal. It seems even more so when you consider what the Browns have given up for Odell Beckham Jr.
The Raiders shipped a third and a fifth round pick to Pittsburgh. It’s an astonishingly good deal for them. Obviously the trade off is that they’ve had to pay him $50 million over 3 years. If Gruden can get Carr and Brown singing off the same song sheet though, every penny will be paid back with interest. The atmosphere in Oakland is all love hearts and rainbows right now, from the introductory press conference to the impromptu visit from Brown to Derek Carr at his home. Let’s hope it still is this time next year.
Lamarcus Joyner: The Raiders defence was a disaster zone last season, especially in the secondary. Whilst all eyes will be on how they utilise their bounty of draft picks to replace Khalil Mack, the signing of Joyner helps the secondary immediately. Whilst the figures seem eye popping at first, $42 million, the Raiders get an extra year compared to the deal the Chiefs have given Tyrann Mathieu. Joyner brings big game experience having played in the Super Bowl last year for the Rams. He played in a National Championship game in his college career with Florida State. What he also brings is versatility, having played both safety and corner in his time with the Rams.
There are many holes to plug in the Raiders roster, and having multiple picks early in the draft is going to help with that. What won’t help is paying a kings ransom to plug some of those holes in free agency. Especially when one of the positions that you’ve paid big for was currently being filled by last years first round pick. The Raiders spent $66 million on former Patriots left tackle Trent Brown.
In my opinion, the Raiders have been conned by a one year performance that was influenced by Brown having the greatest offensive line coach in the league behind him. Despite Von Miller describing him as one of the best tackles in the league, the San Francisco 49ers were happy to trade him to the Patriots in 2018. With the money they paid to Trent Brown, the Raiders priced themselves out of the race to sign Le’Veon Bell. As much as I admire the play of the offensive line, I know which piece I would prefer on my offence.
You can find me on twitter at @ojhodgkinson with any opinions or feedback!
Feature Image: justthephacts.com