NFL Free Agency: Grades for big first-day moves

American Football - NFL

NFL Free Agency started last night, and it didn't take long for teams to start splashing the cash in order to improve in 2014.

A number of moves were made in the early hours of free agency, and here are grades for some of the biggest switches between franchises.

Michael Johnson, DE – Cincinnati Bengals → Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Johnson had a down year in 2013 after a impressing during the 2012 season, and Tampa Bay certainly needed to add a pass rusher. His five year, $43.75m ($24m guaranteed) may be a little pricey, but Johnson adds to an improving defense and new head coach Lovie Smith will be hoping that Johnson can fulfil the potential he showed with the Bengals. Grade: B

Karlos Dansby, LB – Arizona Cardinals → Cleveland Browns

This move seemed a little odd given that Cleveland just let a 30-year-old linebacker leave in D'Qwell Jackson, but have replaced him with 32-year-old Dansby. Regardless, Dansby is a better player and given that his contract is similar to what Jackson is earning in Indianapolis, this really isn't a bad move for Cleveland. Grade: B

Rodger Saffold, OL – St. Louis Rams → Oakland Raiders

Reggie McKenzie, what are you doing? The Raiders general manager let left tackle Jared Veldheer walk, and has brought in Saffold on a huge contract. There are even suggestions that Saffold will play at guard, which would make his five year, $42.5m ($21m guaranteed) contract even more egregious. Grade: D

Lamarr Houston, DE – Oakland Raiders → Chicago Bears

After missing out on Michael Bennett from the Seahawks, it was no shock to see Chicago target another 'power' end in Houston – another player that McKenzie bizarrely let leave Oakland. Julius Peppers was cut shortly after this move, and it makes sense given murmuring that the Bears will look to implement more 3-4 defensive looks this season. A moveable piece like Houston will go a long way to making that successful. Grade: A

Zane Beadles, G – Denver Broncos → Jacksonville Jaguars

Bizarre move from Jacksonville, bringing in a guard who has always really been the weak link on the Broncos offensive line. The money initially looks gaudy - $30m over five years – but with just $13m of that guaranteed, it could've been worse. Still, it doesn't really improve the offensive line much in Jacksonville after the recent departure of Uche Nwaneri. Grade: D

Paul Soliai, NT – Miami Dolphins → Atlanta Falcons

Another team looking to use more 3-4 looks this season, the Falcons had to bring in a space-eating nose tackle and got one in Soliai. With experience of playing under defensive co-ordinator Mike Nolan in Miami, Soliai is a great fit for the Falcons but comes at a big price (five years, $33m, $14m of which guaranteed), and at 30-years-old, there are questions over how much Soliai can offer down the road. Grade: C

Jared Veldheer, T – Oakland Raiders → Arizona Cardinals

As stated previously, this is a strange loss for Oakland but an impressive get for the Cardinals. Arizona have needed protection for some time, particularly with Bruce Arians' offense predicated on vertical passing, and getting a young offensive tackle for just $35m over five years ($17m guaranteed) is a great move by general manager Steve Keim. Grade: A

Branden Albert, T – Kansas City Chiefs → Miami Dolpins

Veldheer is arguably better than Albert, yet the Dolphins paid considerably more here - $46m over five years with $25m guaranteed – but Miami had to improve an offensive line that was just atrocious last season. Young quarterback Ryan Tannehill needed more protection, and with Albert they have certainly improved their line, but at a huge cost. Grade: C

Arthur Jones, DE – Baltimore Ravens → Indianapolis Colts

Jones had a great season for the Ravens but has now chosen to reunite with his former defensive co-ordinator Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis. Jones understands the 3-4 system used by Pagano and should be an instant fit, but five years, $33m ($16m guaranteed) is a lot of money considering the Colts recently spent heavily to bring Cory Redding and Ricky Jean Francois in, who also play defensive end. Grade: B

TJ Ward, S – Cleveland Browns → Denver Broncos

I'm not sure how Denver managed to get Ward for just $23m over four years, but it's one of the bargains of free agency so far. The Broncos secondary got torched throughout the season and adding a top-tier safety in Ward at a relatively low price is a great move from general manager John Elway. There may be question marks over Ward's injury history, but he improved the back end of the Broncos' defense massively. Grade: A

Alterraun Verner, CB – Tennessee Titans → Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Another offseason, another demonstration of the Buccaners splashing out. Verner had his best season yet with the Titans, and was expected to be much more coveted than he ended up being. Verner is an ideal fit for Lovie Smith's Cover-2 defense, but his arrival will almost certainly spell the end for Darrelle Revis, who will surely leave Tampa Bay this week despite them giving up a first round pick for him last season. Grade: A

Jairus Byrd, S – Buffalo Bills → New Orleans Saints

Whilst most fanbases wanted their team to sign three-time Pro Bowl safety Byrd, not many envisaged him signing for the Saints, who were pressed up against the salary cap. I'm still not quite sure how New Orleans have managed to sign Byrd to a six year, $54m ($28m guaranteed), but he forms a terrifying tandem with 2013 first round pick Kenny Vaccaro. Grade: B

Aqib Talib, CB – New England Patriots → Denver Broncos

Twitter basically went into meltdown when this deal was announced. Talib was expected to sign for Washington before New England made a bid to keep him...and then out of nowhere swooped John Elway to take Talib to Colorado. Talib has had his fair share of off-field problems which are a big negative to signing him to a long-term deal, but as with Ward, Denver needed to improve their secondary – and they have, weakening an AFC rival in the process. The money is a little gaudy, but given the bargain they got with Ward, it's basically a wash. Grade: B

Donte Whitner, S – San Francisco 49ers → Cleveland Browns

Cleveland moved to replace TJ Ward with a safety who has had a deep playoff run three years in a row. Whitner, a Cleveland native, moves back home on a four year deal worth $28m ($11m guaranteed), which is a decent deal but they paid more for an older, worse alternative to Ward. It's not a bad deal nor a great deal, so Browns fans can't be too upset with this move. Grade: C

Antoine Bethea, S – Indianapolis Colts → San Francisco 49ers

Whitner's replacement arrived soon after, with Bethea leaving Indianapolis for a move to the Bay Area. Bethea missed just six games during an almost eight year spell with the Colts, but has considerably slowed down recently and struggles in coverage. He still plays the run very well, but a four year, $23m contract seems a little pricey, thoguh he should team up with first round pick Eric Reid well in the 49ers secondary. Grade: C

Linval Joseph, DT – New York Giants → Minnesota Vikings

It's been suggested in the build up to free agency that Minnesota would look to bring in a space-eating defensive tackle to replace long-serving Kevin Williams, and Joseph provides just that. Joseph had a great season for the Giants and offers much more than just run-stopping ability, as he can also get into the opposition backfield to disrupt the passing game. Grade: B

Jon Asamoah, G – Kansas City Chiefs → Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons had to improve a turnstile offensive line, and guard Asamoah should do that. Assistant general manager Scott Pioli drafted Asamoah out of Illinois in 2010, and will be plugged straight in at right guard for Atlanta. He will earn around $4.5m a year which is a great deal considering what Beadles went for, and will offer better protection to quarterback Matt Ryan. Grade: B

Tyson Jackson, DT – Kansas City Chiefs → Atlanta Falcons

Another player drafted by Pioli in Kansas City, Jackson was considered a bust until resurrecting his career under Andy Reid – which makes it slightly strange to see the Falcons give him a five year, $25m contract. The idea in Atlanta was to get bigger and tougher on both lines, and they did that with this signing too but at a big price. Grade: C

Mike Mitchell, S – Carolina Panthers → Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers finally add some youth to an ageing defense/secondary. Mitchell was another player who was considered a bust after a tough time in Oakland, but a great season with the Panthers has seen Pittsburgh offer up a five year, $25m contract. It seems a little pricey for somebody who has had one good season, but Pittsburgh got younger and better for it. Grade: C