Tag Archives: Darius Slay

Free Agency Best and Worst: NFC East

Continuing on our trip around the NFL to explore the best, worst, and next move for every team in free agency. We began by going over the Norths; both AFC and NFC. Our last installment covered the AFC East; a division rife with change the past 18 months. Next up, we will dissect the NFC East where it appears to still be a two-team race.

Free Agency Best and Worst: NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

Best Move: Replenishing the D-Line

The phrase “the rich get richer” comes to mind with this. After the Dallas Cowboys ranked 10th in opponent rushing yards per attempt and 11th in total rushing yards in 2019, the need for interior defensive linemen didn’t seem immediate. While they lost Maliek Collins to the Las Vegas Raiders, they have Antwaun Woods returning and drafted Trysten Hill in the second round.

That didn’t stop them from snatching up Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, both of whom played with the Carolina Panthers last season. The other interesting point about the signings is the scheme. It’s been reported that Dallas won’t be changing schemes but these signings (Poe in particular) signify there will be at least some clear 3-4 principles.

Worst Move: Ignoring the O-Line

NFL life giveth and it taketh away. That has to be the mantra for Cowboys fans who had to watch their All-Pro center, Travis Frederick, suddenly retire after seven years in Texas. Frederick (who missed all of 2018 with Guillain-Barre) is not the only loss on the line either, just the most significant.

Dallas also lost guard Xavier Su’a-Filo and tackle Cameron Fleming. Both are reserves but they do have 18 starts over the past two years between them for Dallas. Interior lineman Joe Looney was brought back. But with a guaranteed hole at center, Looney’s role off the bench needs filling in addition to those other guys. Once a strength, the offensive line is now a huge question mark.

Next Move: Find a Pass-Rusher

With Dallas signing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, fans can finally cross ‘playmaking safety’ off their wishlist. However, they lost 19.5 of their 39 sacks in just Quinn, Collins, and Michael Bennett. Dallas has largely ignored their pass rush outside of signing Aldon Smith who hasn’t played since the 2015 season and hasn’t recorded double-digit sacks since 2012.

DeMarcus Lawrence only had five sacks in 2019 after tallying 25 over the past two seasons combined. Their next best pass rusher still on the roster was defensive back Jourdan Lewis who had four followed by Jaylon Smith who had 2.5. Dallas will need to find a complementary rusher even if Lawerence returns to form.

New York Giants

Best Move: Tagging Investments

Free agency was ugly for New York Giants fans expecting to be aggressive in trying to upgrade the talent around Daniel Jones for his sophomore season. At least they didn’t let an investment walk for nothing. Leonard Williams was acquired mid-season and while that always made his return likely, it still wasn’t a given.

Williams hasn’t been all he was cracked up to be leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft when he went sixth overall to the New York Jets. He has just 17.5 sacks in six years and his career-high is just seven back in 2016. As a down lineman, huge sack totals aren’t to be expected but he was touted as a game-changer. The Giants mostly tagged him because they traded for him.

Worst Move: Not Adding Weapons

New York will return their top three receivers from 2019 in Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton. That should be a boon, and perhaps it will be. None of those three saw all 16 games, started more than 10 games, or even cleared 750 yards. Evan Engram has seen less and less game action due to injury as each year passes.

Levine Toilolo and Eric Tomlinson are nothing more than backups. Lewis is a scat back. Where are the playmakers? Giants brass is putting a lot of faith in a group that has dealt with injuries of varying severity throughout their careers. That is counter-intuitive to the notion that a young quarterback like Jones needs to be surrounded by talent. Maybe this situation is the exception.

Next Move: Protect the Franchise

Jones took tied with Mitchell Trubisky and Josh Allen for ninth in sacks taken with 38. He did so while playing in 13 games (12 starts). Only Kyle Allen of the Panthers took more sacks (46) in as many games as Jones. Their offensive line was middling at best and they just lost both of their starting tackles.

New York has attempted to replace one of those starting tackles with Cameron Fleming. Stealing a piece from the rival Dallas Cowboys is sweet burn, but Fleming has all of six starts in his career. Counting on him to step in and be a bookend might be too tall of an ask. They have Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler at guard, but tackle is a weakness.

Philadelphia Eagles

Best Move: Bolstering the Secondary

This was a tough call that almost resulted in a tie. Pairing former Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Javon Hargrave with Fletcher Cox should have interior lineman worried. But the Philadelphia Eagles defensive line, even in down years, has been formidable. Their secondary has been the total opposite of that. Darius Slay was brought in to change that.

Philly ranked third in rushing yards allowed but was 19th against the pass, further illustrating the deciding factor in praising Slay’s addition over that of Hargrave. His 55.9 percent completion percentage allowed is better than any Eagles corner from 2019 and that was a down year for him. He also got out of a bad situation in Detroit so he could look to show out for his new team.

Worst Move: Ignoring the Offense

Carson Wentz made it through an entire 16-game slate for the first time since his rookie season. He was the only one as only three eagles total even appeared in every game. The receiving corp was especially hard hit last season by injuries so the lack of movement is surprising. By year’s end, Wentz was leaning on converted college quarterback Greg Ward.

This offense leans on tight end Zach Ertz and a multi-faceted ground attack. But Wentz still needs more, reliable weapons. Especially if the ultimately moves on from disgruntled receiver Alshon Jeffery, who has dealt with his own injury woes throughout his career. Most mocks have taken note of this and have the Eagles targeting the position early in the draft.

Next Move: Find Another EDGE

Philly ranked 14th in sacks last season; very average. Signing Hargrave should do wonders for their already stout run defense. But they are wafer-thin on the edges. Their top pass rusher, Brandon Graham, is 32 years old and Vinny Curry just walked. That just leaves 2017 first-rounder, Derek Barnett, and 2018 fourth-rounder Josh Sweat behind Graham.

Picking 20th, the Eagles are in prime “best player available” territory. Many mocks have them taking a receiver in the first, but the position is considered to be as deep as it’s been in years. That opens the door to not only a position that isn’t necessarily a need but could still be a great value. They could also trade down if they aren’t in love with anyone.

Washington Redskins

Best Move: Revamping the Secondary

The Washington Redskins finished 2019 ranked 18th in passing yards allowed, marking the third straight year they regressed from the previous season. Redskins brass responded accordingly, moving on from starters Josh Norman and Quinton Dunbar, as well as reserve Aaron Colvin, and replacing them with Kendall Fuller and Ronald Darby.

Safety isn’t an issue with Landon Collins and Montae Nicholson but cornerback was clearly a different story. The issue is that neither Fuller nor Darby had particularly good seasons. Fuller’s was the better of the two, but he allowed 77.8 percent completion of throws in his coverage and dealt with injuries.

Worst Move: Ignoring D-Line

What’s worse than having the 18th-ranked passing defense? Having the 31st ranked run defense is a pretty good guess. Washington found themselves scraping the bottom despite having invested plenty into the position in the last three-plus years. Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne are both former first-round picks but only Payne played like one last season.

Matthew Ioannidis was their best lineman. The former fifth-round pick led Washington in sacks with 8.5, an impressive number from a lineman in an odd front. It could simply be a matter of not being able to play any worse, and the switch to Ron Rivera should help. But with Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley in the division, they need to up their run stuffing.

Next Move: Figure Out QB

Dwayne Haskins couldn’t seem to catch a break as a rookie. Rumors started immediately after he was drafted about not everyone in Washington not being on board with the selection. Then, during the season, video surfaced of Haskins pleading with his offensive line to block only to be met with apathy. Even this offseason he has dealt with former coaches questioning his intelligence.

This is an interesting age in the NFL. Quarterbacks used to get every chance to prove they weren’t the guy before a team admitted they gaffed in taking them. In Haskins’ case, the buyer’s remorse seemingly happened before he was even taken. If the Redskins are going to commit to him, they need to say so in no uncertain terms. How do you get a proper evaluation if you aren’t even looking to conduct one?

Free Agency Best and Worst: NFC North

Free agency opened in the NFL with the legal tampering period and the deals came in furiously. Most teams had a pretty clear idea of who they wanted and at what price. Of course, not all activity is created equal. Some of the teams did very well on paper. Others, however, were not so fortunate.

So who’s who? Well, that is the fun part. Adding talent isn’t a shoo-in way to a passing mark. Some teams would have been better off embracing the chance to rebuild and others passed on the chance at that one difference-maker. Others still seemed to be operating in a different world.

Last time, we went over the AFC North. This time we shift our focus to their NFC counterpart…

Best and Worst From the NFC North Free Agency

Chicago Bears

Best Move: Finding Another Pass Rusher

After quarterback, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace has had one other glaring weakness in putting together this roster. That is finding a proper compliment to stud pass-rusher Khalil Mack. Enter Robert Quinn; owner of the highest Pass Rush Win Rate over the past two years. After recording 11.5 sacks opposite DeMarcus Lawrence, he could have a big year in Chicago.

Quinn’s predecessor in Chicago, Leonard Floyd, never developed as a pass rusher and often found himself unable to finish. That isn’t an issue with Quinn, though his deficiencies defending the run could be. Perhaps with Akiem Hicks back healthy next to Eddie Goldman, opposing offenses will be forced to run sideline-to-sideline for the Bears speedy linebackers to clean up.

Worst Move: Bidding Against Themselves

A theme of Pace’s tenure has been the Bears seemingly overpaying for players, be it in free agency or the draft. Trading up for Mitchell Trubisky is the most notable move and he may have just repeated himself trading for Nick Foles. The journeyman cost a (valuable) mid-round pick and $15 million. Pace could have waited for Foles to be released like Cam Newton was.

A logical argument can be made for overpaying for a quarterback, but what about an aging tight end? That’s the scenario with Jimmy Graham who the Bears signed to a two-year, $16 million deal with $9 million in guarantees. Graham hasn’t been useful between the 20s for several years, but he even saw a dip in his red-zone usage last season with the Green Bay Packers.

Next Move: Unearth More Gems

This is, of course, pending any trade that moves Mitchell Trubisky. If that happens, their next move should be to try finding their quarterback of the future. That’ll be tough with no pick until the second round without a passer falling. Outside of that, they’ll need to do what Pace and company have been best know for, discovering talent in the later rounds.

Free agency isn’t over, but the Bears are pretty cash strapped. That means holes at right guard and strong safety need to be addressed via the draft. Alex Bars will have his shot on the line, but Chicago needs offensive line depth across the board. And what about Deon Bush at safety? They at least have thrown bodies at their second cornerback spot.

Detroit Lions

Best Move: Moving On

When the Detroit Lions signed Desmond Trufant, it helped pave the way for their moving on from Rashaan Melvin. The late-bloomer went undrafted in 2013 and didn’t start until his second season and even then still only had two starts before 2016. He turned a couple of good years with the Indianapolis Colts into a pair of one-year pacts with the Oakland Raiders and the Lions.

Trufant arrives in Detroit on a two-year deal. Melvin’s play tailed off last season as he allowed 63 percent completion and a 104.1 passer rating; up from 54.8 percent and a 96.2 rating in 2018. Trufant spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Atlanta Falcons. He missed much of 2019, but in 2018 he allowed 59.2 percent completion and an 87.6 passer rating.

Worst Move: Moving On

A little double talk here as the Lions basically stayed in place. They upgraded from Melvin, but they also traded Darius Slay to the Philadelphia Eagles. Slay has been Detroit’s best corner since his arrival in 2013. His play dipped compared to 2018, but he still only allowed 55.9 percent completion and 81.6 passer rating. In a down year!

The fact of the matter is, Trufant was really brought in to replace Slay. But the only reason a replacement is needed is because of friction between Slay and Lions head coach, Matt Patricia. Per Slay, Patricia made offensive remarks in regards to a picture of an opposing wide receiver Slay posted on social media. If true, the Lions are in more trouble than needing a cornerback.

Next Move: Win or Go Home

Patricia has done his best to recreate what he experienced with the New England Patriots. He’s even gone so far as to try and take on the persona of his mentor, Bill Belichick, with the media. He’s even chastised press members for being late; an infraction he himself is guilty of. Unfortunately, for Patricia, he isn’t Belichick so his antics aren’t being overlooked.

What’s more, if he is indeed bumping heads with players over such things his tenure in Detroit might not last the entire 2020 season. This isn’t to say an organization is always wrong for choosing the coach over a player (though they usually are). But it is suggesting that Patricia hasn’t done enough (nor does he have a leash long enough) to be running off players.

Green Bay Packers

Best Move: Free Agency Restraint

2019 saw a very different gameplan from the Packers in the offseason. General manager Brian Gutekunst used his second go to further distance his image from that of predecessor Ted Thompson. Green Bay addressed its leaky defense both in free agency and the draft, signing Adrian Amos and pass rushers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith and drafting Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage.

2020 has been a return to normalcy. Green Bay has added inside linebacker Christian Kirksey, offensive tackle Ricky Wagner, and wide receiver Devin Funchess from the outside. And those deals all pale in comparison to what was spent last year. Fans might have been disappointed by the overall lack of aggressiveness. But they needed much less this time around.

Worst Move: Questions at WR2

Davante Adams has worked his way into becoming Aaron Rodgers’ favorite weapon. He entered last season fresh off of his first 1000-yard season in 2018 but injuries limited him to 12 games. He still managed to accumulate 997 yards, tying his second-highest single-season mark, and grab five touchdowns. Adams’ 83 grabs by far led the team.

The second-leading receiver was Allen Lazard with his 35/477/3 stat line. He was bested by running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams as well as tight end Jimmy Graham. The only addition so far, Funchess, missed all but one game last year. With so much youth at the position already, another rookie doesn’t make sense so it’s a bit surprising they didn’t do more.

Next Move: Draft Rodgers Heir Apparent

Green Bay only has one pick this season and it’s not exactly a premium one. They’re currently slated to pick 30th in the first round of the April 23rd NFL Draft. That spot can be used for a myriad of things from simply taking the best player available to trading down to gain more draft capital to fill more holes.

While the Packers could certainly use the pick on a receiver (see above) but a savvier move might be to select a quarterback should one slide. No, they don’t have an immediate need for one, but that shouldn’t stop them from taking one should the opportunity arise. After all, Brett Favre was 36 when the Packers took Rodgers (also 36) in 2005.

Minnesota Vikings

Best Move: Blowing Up the Secondary

This is a bit of an exaggeration. What the Minnesota Vikings actually did was start over at cornerback. Xavier Rhodes (Colts), Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander (both Cincinnati Bengals) will all suit up elsewhere as the Vikings revamp their 15th-ranked pass defense.

Rhodes’ release is the biggest reason this is a good move. His completion percentage allowed ballooned from a mediocre 61.3 percent last season to a whopping 81.5 percent. He had to go. It remains to be seen if Minnesota rolls with Kris Boyd and Mike Hughes plus a rookie. But they will need to draft at least one corner. How early and often are the only real questions.

Worst Move: Losing Diggs and Griffen

Hey, a twofer! Both Stefon Diggs and Everson Griffen will find themselves in different uniforms in 2020 for very different reasons. Diggs’ frustration has often been visible on the sidelines and social media; though he has often denied the latter were ever anything serious. Minnesota traded him for a draft haul to the Buffalo Bills. Adam Thielen could struggle without Diggs taking the top off.

Griffen’s departure is a little more sentimental, and not just because he was longer tenured. Griffen went through some mental health issues that cost him five games in 2018. The Vikings stood by him through that and he came back in 2019 with eight sacks opposite Danielle Hunter. They’ll need Ifeadi Odenigbo to take a major leap.

Next Move: Win or Go Home

Vikings brass finds themselves in a similar situation to the Lions. They have put together a team they’ve felt were contenders for the past couple of years only to fall short. Their saving grace has been making the playoffs three of the last six seasons. But how long can just getting there be enough? Especially when the peak was reaching the NFC Championship game back in 2017.

This shows worst on two individuals in the Vikings organization. Head coach Mike Zimmer and quarterback Kirk Cousins. Zimmer is in his sixth season and obviously owns the successes and failures of this group. Cousins has failed to elevate them above the heights they reached with Case Keenum, but he just got an extension. It looks like the powers that be in Minnesota have picked a side.