Tag Archives: Javon Hargrave

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: AFC 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.

First up, the AFC North…

Best and Worst from the AFC North Free Agency

Baltimore Ravens

Best Move: Trading for Calais Campbell (and Signing Michael Brockers)

Yes, we are beginning by breaking the rules slightly. This is, obviously, a pair of additions to the perennial fearsome Baltimore Ravens front. But they’ll need both to make up for the loss of Michael Pierce, the mammoth defensive tackle who left for the Minnesota Vikings this offseason. Michael Brockers (6-5, 305 lbs) and Calais Campbell (6-8, 300 lbs) are bringing the beef.

One might have been enough, but after giving up 195 rushing yards to Derrick Henry in the playoffs, bringing in both is probably a good idea. What gives the addition of Campbell the edge? The fact that Baltimore was able to take advantage of the Jacksonville Jaguars and steal the massive run stuffer for a 5th-round pick; the same cost the Washington Redskins paid to the Carolina Panthers for Kyle Allen.

Worst Move: Marshal Yanda Retiring

This one is obviously not in the Ravens control. Marshal Yanda has been one of the most consistent guards in all of football over the last decade-plus. Initially drafted by Baltimore in the third round (86th overall) of the 2007 NFL draft, Yanda started no fewer than 12 games in 10 out of his 13 seasons.

An eight-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro, and a Super Bowl champion. Careers don’t get much more decorated than Yanda’s. It cannot be understated what he meant to the top-ranked rushing attack of the Ravens. And keeping pressure out of 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson’s lap. They placed a second-round tender on center Matt Skura, maintaining some continuity inside. But he’s no Yanda.

Next Move: Signing Matt Judon Long-Term

This move is really pending on where Matt Judon is playing next season. Baltimore slapped him with the franchise tag and the thought was “duh”. He led the Ravens with 9.5 sacks without much of a compliment and is just entering his prime. But rumors are swirling that he could be moved with the Ravens cap situation getting tight after landing Campbell, Brockers, et al.

16.5 sacks over two years aren’t eye-popping numbers. But he also has 67 pressures and 27 quarterback knockdowns over that same span. After Baltimore lost Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs last offseason, the next best pass-rushing “threat” of the last two years was Patrick Onwuasor. He has a whopping eight sacks over that time and was outplayed by Tyus Bowser last year.

Cincinnati Bengals

Best Move: Signing D.J. Reader to replace Andrew Billings

Usually, when teams lose a rotation player (as Andrew Billings was for the Cincinnati Bengals), they replace them with a cheap option later in free agency or via the draft. The Bengals went above and beyond by replacing Billings with a far superior version of himself in Houston Texans defensive lineman, D.J. Reader.

You might not know much about Reader because he plays defensive end in an odd (3-4) defensive front. He is mostly there to take up blockers and allow the pass-rush to get home. But he, conversely to Billings has seen his sack totals rise each of the last three seasons (to a lustrous 2.5) and increase his pressures from seven to 12.

Worst Move: Tagging A.J. Green

It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is for the Bengals next season. Andy Dalton or a rookie (sup, Joe Burrow?) will need weapons to throw to. And for much of the last nine years, A.J. Green has been the best to wear the stripes. Still, tagging him at $18 million seems a bit misguided. Nobody is trading for him at that number.

Green now narrowly edges Dalton for the highest cap hit on the team. That’s doubly bad because Dalton should be on his way out. Keeping a veteran receiver around to ease the burden on a rookie quarterback isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But when that receiver has only played nine games in the last two years, including zero last year, it’s fair to question the move.

Next Move: Draft a Cornerback

You won’t hear many suggesting this as a must for Cincinnati. After all, they just signed a pair of former Vikings corners in Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander. Waynes especially will be viewed as addressing the secondary simply by virtue of his three-year, $42 million ($15 million in guarantees) contract. That would be a mistake.

Waynes (75 percent) and Alexander (65 percent) gave up too many catches with the Vikings. They also both allowed passer ratings over 84 with Waynes allowing a healthy 107.9 rating. Luckily for the Bengals, neither has to be a shutdown corner. That responsibility falls on William Jackson… Draft a corner, Cincy.

Cleveland Browns

Best Move: Signing Jack Conklin

Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Baker Mayfield has been on the wrong side of a few statistical categories the past two seasons. Thanks to Jameis Winston’s record-setting 2019, not much attention was paid to Mayfield being second in interceptions with 21. He’s second (to Winston) over the last two seasons with 35 picks thrown.

So why is adding Jack Conklin (three-years, $42 million) a great move? At least part of what ailed Mayfield was having to be on the run much of the time. Greg Robinson is worried about the wrong kind of blocks at the moment, but Conklin is leaps and bounds above both he and Chris Hubbard. They still need to add at least one more lineman in the draft. But Conklin is a nice place to start.

Worst Move: Making Austin Hooper the Highest-Paid TE

This is less about the talent level of Austin Hooper than it is a reality check to the Browns that throwing money at the problem won’t fix it. They were already loaded with high-end weapons in Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry at wide receiver as well as a talented backfield duo in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Regardless of Hooper’s ability, there’s still just one football.

David Njoku, Cleveland’s first-round pick just two seasons ago, hasn’t developed as they wanted. But, in his defense, young tight ends tend to take a while to get acclimated to the NFL. Head coach Kevin Stefanski orchestrated a Vikings offense that was among the heaviest in two tight end usage. Still, if your quarterback needs all this, you might need a quarterback.

Next Move: Draft a Bookend for Myles Garrett

Myles Garrett fell short of his sack total from the previous year but arguably had a better year. His 10 sacks indeed fell short of the 13.5 he put up in 2018. But he did that with a full, 16-game schedule. Due to his own recklessness, he missed six games last season. That means he was averaging a sack a game before getting suspended. But he was almost literally a one-man show.

The next best pass-rusher in Cleveland was Larry Ogunjobi. His 5.5 sacks are respectable for an interior lineman. But they absolutely stink as the complement to such a dominant force like Garrett. Cleveland should address this early in the draft. With needs along the offensive line and at linebacker, though, they may have to rely on a rotation of players.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Best Move: Tagging Bud Dupree

It’s simple really. If you aren’t spending money on a quarterback or someone to protect him, targeting someone to make opposing passers uneasy. The Pittsburgh Steelers have that in Bud Dupree. Actually, they have two when you include T.J. Watt. But Dupree was far from a hit to begin his career as his running mate was.

Dupree had 11.5 sacks total the previous two seasons so it isn’t a surprise that Pittsburgh isn’t exactly beating down his door with a long-term extension. Detractors will rightfully point out that Watt’s presence cannot be overstated. That may be the case, but Dupree still had to get home and he did. Now he just has to do it again

Worst Move: Losing Javon Hargrave

Folks don’t usually stump for nose tackles but here we are. When the Steelers lost Javon Hargrave to the Philadelphia Eagles, they lost more than just a space-eater. After all, nose tackles aren’t supposed to sack quarterbacks. Hargrave has 10.5 sacks over the last two years; that’s notable with him playing alongside Watt, Dupree, Cameron Heyward, and Stephon Tuitt.

Granted, there was no way Pittsburgh could afford him at the price Philly paid. As much of an impact as he had, it’s not worth handing him the sixth-richest contract for a defensive tackle in terms of the average value. The saddest part of all of this is that Hargrave won’t be a Steeler for life like his predecessor in the Steel City, Casey Hampton.

Next Move: Draft Big Ben’s Heir Apparent

Pittsburgh found ways to win after Ben Roethlisberger went down. They did it with defense, though, because their trio of backup quarterbacks fell short of making up for the loss of Roethlisberger. They got eight starts out of Mason Rudolph, who went 5-3. They also got six starts out of Devlin Hodges; an undrafted rookie free agent who went 3-3. Neither is an option.

Unfortunately, the Steelers are without their first-round (Minkah Fitzpatrick) this year but they likely weren’t in the market for a top-tier passer anyway. But would they spend their second-round? Roethlisberger is 38 and has openly considered retirement in the past. He’s reportedly all in now, but Pittsburgh should be proactive here or risk repeating last year.