Grading every AFC team after 1st wave of free agency

With more than a week of free agency in the rearview mirror, theScore dishes out grades for each team's activity so far.


AFC West

Denver Broncos

Patrick McDermott / Getty Images Sport / Getty
Key players signed Key players lost
RB Melvin Gordon QB Joe Flacco
DT Jurrell Casey (trade) CB Chris Harris Jr.
CB A.J. Bouye (trade) FB Andy Janovich (trade)
S Justin Simmons (tag)  
C Graham Glasgow  
TE Nick Vannett

The Broncos traded for Casey and Bouye to add significant defensive reinforcements, only giving up a seventh-round pick for the former and a fourth-rounder for the latter. The five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle is a great addition alongside pass-rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.

Denver also acquired some help for second-year quarterback Drew Lock with two major moves - one of which was far better than the other.

Glasgow received a big payday ($44 million over four years) after not allowing a sack for the Lions last season. His pass-protection skills and versatility are sorely needed on an offensive line that's struggled for years.

Gordon, on the other hand, is a waste of resources. Phillip Lindsay produced back-to-back 1,000-plus-yard seasons and will only make $750,000 in 2020 as an undrafted running back. Lindsay's backup, former third-rounder Royce Freeman, has disappointed through two seasons. But the Broncos could've found an upgrade without shelling out $16 million over two years for Gordon, essentially negating the value of a cheap starter at the position.

Grade: B

Kansas City Chiefs

Key players signed Key players lost
DT Chris Jones (tag) DE Emmanuel Ogbah
RB Damien Williams (option)
OT Mike Remmers
QB Chad Henne
DT Mike Pennel
QB Jordan Ta'amu

With little cap space, the reigning Super Bowl champions have been quiet to begin free agency.

The Chiefs' only major move thus far was slapping the franchise tag on Jones. The defensive tackle was key to Kansas City's title run, and he likely would've been the most sought-after free agent if allowed to hit the open market. Working out an extension to lower Jones' cap hit and free up money to help their title defense should be the Chiefs' top priority.

Picking up Williams' option was a no-brainer after his standout performances. Remmers, meanwhile, will replace Cameron Erving as the swing tackle, and former XFL star Ta'amu should provide solid competition for Henne's backup job.

Grade: C-

Las Vegas Raiders

Key players signed Key players lost
LB Cory Littleton S Karl Joseph
QB Marcus Mariota
CB Eli Apple
TE Jason Witten
WR Nelson Agholor
LB Nick Kwiatkoski
DE Carl Nassib
DT Maliek Colllins

Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock continued to remake the Raiders' roster in their image with an aggressive start to free agency.

Littleton is the big prize. Las Vegas signed the linebacker, who excels in coverage, to a three-year, $35.25-million deal that was cheaper than most projected. Adding the former Rams standout along with Kwiatkoski all but fixes the Raiders' biggest weakness.

The AFC West team took some intriguing low-risk, high-reward swings on Agholor, Collins, Apple, and, most notably, Mariota. At worst, those moves will give the Raiders some much-needed depth. The biggest blemish on Las Vegas' offseason so far is the team's decision to guarantee $3.5 million to a 37-year-old Witten just to back up breakout star Darren Waller.

Grade: B+

Los Angeles Chargers

Key players signed Key players lost
CB Chris Harris Jr. QB Philip Rivers
TE Hunter Henry (tag) OT Russell Okung (trade)
G Trai Turner (trade) RB Melvin Gordon
OT Bryan Bulaga
DT Linval Joseph
RB Austin Ekeler (re-sign)

The Rivers era is over for the Chargers, and it's not clear what the plan is moving forward. The team says it's happy with Tyrod Taylor for 2020, but with its desperate need to make cultural inroads and grow the fan base in Los Angeles, the team must add a more exciting quarterback. The best options seem to be either signing Cam Newton or using the sixth overall pick on Justin Herbert.

Whoever lines up at quarterback should benefit from improved protection thanks to the additions of Turner and Bulaga, though losing Okung to land the former means left tackle is now a major need. The Chargers did the right thing elsewhere by re-signing Ekeler, who caught 92 passes in 2019, over Gordon.

Harris is still a top-tier slot cornerback, and signing the veteran means Los Angeles can field one of the league's most imposing secondaries. Tagging Henry, meanwhile, was the smart play given his untapped potential and long injury history. If the Chargers find a quarterback upgrade over Taylor, they'll have put together one of the league's best offseasons.

Grade: A-

AFC East

Buffalo Bills

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty
Key players signed Key players lost
WR Stefon Diggs (trade) DE Shaq Lawson
CB Josh Norman DT Jordan Phillips
DT Vernon Butler LB Lorenzo Alexander (retirement)
DE Mario Addison
LB A.J Klein
S Jordan Poyer (re-sign)

Signing receivers Cole Beasley and John Brown last offseason helped spark moderate improvement from Josh Allen in 2019. But the young quarterback still struggled to throw downfield despite his arm strength, and at times he clearly needed a No. 1 option in crucial situations. Enter former Vikings star Diggs.

While the bizarre DeAndre Hopkins deal makes it seem like Buffalo overpaid, the club actually snagged Diggs for a fair price, giving up the 22nd overall pick plus three mid- and late-round picks in 2020 and 2021. Moreover, the wideout carries a below-market $47.5 million over the last four years of his contract. The only issue is Diggs' history of publically airing his frustrations with Kirk Cousins. Imagine how he'll react to Allen's erratic accuracy.

Elsewhere, the Bills retooled their defensive line after losing two key contributors. They also took a low-risk gamble that Norman can find the fountain of youth under head coach Sean McDermott, his former defensive coordinator.

Grade: B

Miami Dolphins

Key players signed Key players lost
CB Byron Jones S Reshad Jones
LB Kyle Van Noy
RB Jordan Howard
DE Shaq Lawson
G Ereck Flowers
DE Emmanuel Ogbah

Miami has been one of the big spenders during the early portion of free agency, dropping nearly $220 million to snag Jones, Van Noy, Howard, Lawson, Flowers, and Ogbah. Jones is the marquee signing and eats up $82.5 million of that spending.

The Dolphins made the ex-Cowboys standout the league's highest-paid cornerback, and he'll form a scary combo with Xavien Howard, who previously held that distinction. Paying $31 million per year to your top two cornerbacks is a nearly unprecedented strategy. But after New England's defense dominated opponents by prioritizing pass coverage over pass rushing in 2019, it's easy to follow Miami's logic.

The rest of the Dolphins' work has been mixed. Lawson is a solid pass-rusher, and paying $10 million per season to see if the 25-year-old has more untapped potential is a risk worth taking. The same goes for Ogbah, who cost $7.5 million. But the expensive Van Noy might just be a product of Bill Belichick, Flowers is nowhere near worth $10 million annually, and giving anything of significance to a running back is never a smart idea, especially one as limited as Howard.

Grade: B-

New England Patriots

Key players signed Key players lost
G Joe Thuney (tag) QB Tom Brady
S Adrian Phillips LB Jamie Collins
S Devin McCourty LB Kyle Van Noy
WR Matthew Slater (re-sign) DT Danny Shelton
QB Brian Hoyer S Duron Harmon (trade)
DT Beau Allen K Stephen Gostkowski

It's a new day in New England. You might have heard, but Brady is no longer a member of the Patriots, and the six-time Super Bowl winner's replacement remains unclear. Without Brady, New England faces a quarterback battle between Hoyer and 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham. Unless Belichick is gunning for Trevor Lawrence, signing or drafting another quarterback needs to happen.

Brady isn't the only significant loss for the Patriots. Belichick was never going to pay market value for Collins or Van Noy, but that doesn't mean the losses won't be felt in the center of New England's defense. In addition to quarterback, kicker has long been a position Belichick never needed to worry about. But with Gostkowski cut after 14 seasons, a new long-term solution is required.

Retaining both McCourty and Thuney boosts the Patriots' grade, and Belichick is sure to have a plan at quarterback. But until the head coach reveals that plan, it's hard to be happy with New England's offseason to date.

Grade: D+

New York Jets

Key players signed Key players lost
OT George Fant WR Robby Anderson
CB Pierre Desir CB Maurice Canady
CB Brian Poole (re-sign)
G Connor McGovern
G Alex Lewis (re-sign)
WR Breshad Perriman
LB Jordan Jenkins (re-sign)

Prioritizing improved protection for quarterback Sam Darnold was the right plan, but the Jets' execution of it has been underwhelming.

Fant has only started 16 games at offensive tackle and has never played like someone who's worth $10 million a season. The 28-year-old looked serviceable last year, but Darnold deserves better than serviceable protecting his blindside.

McGovern is a more proven player and an understandable signing for the Jets. He's expensive ($27 million over three years), but he allowed just one sack and had zero penalties for the Broncos in 2019. McGovern will give Darnold a reliable presence in the middle of the offensive line, and his ability to also play guard should be useful.

Some of New York's more shrewd decisions include bringing back a pair of useful defensive contributors in Jenkins and Poole on relatively cheap one-year deals. Scooping up Desir, who struggled with the Colts in 2019 but was above average the year before, and Perriman, who should mitigate the loss of Anderson, are decent moves, too.

Grade: C+

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Michael Reaves / Getty Images Sport / Getty
Key players signed Key players lost
DE Calais Campbell (trade) DT Michael Pierce
LB Matthew Judon (tag) G Marshal Yanda (retirement)
P Sam Koch (re-sign) TE Hayden Hurst (trade)
S Chuck Clark (re-sign) CB Brandon Carr
CB Jimmy Smith (re-sign) DL Chris Wormley (trade)
S Tony Jefferson

The Ravens pulled off one of the best moves of the offseason by trading just a fifth-round pick for Campbell. The pass-rusher will turn 34 before the start of the season, but he's still a difference-maker and will help fix Baltimore's most glaring flaw from a year ago. This is exactly the kind of aggressive move the AFC North champs should be making while Lamar Jackson is on his rookie deal.

The Ravens also easily won the Hurst trade, as they shipped out the underperforming former first-round pick and a fourth-rounder for a second and a fifth. Considering the poor trade returns for most teams this offseason, getting such strong compensation for a player with 43 catches in his first two seasons was a masterstroke.

Tagging Judon, Baltimore's sack leader in 2019, was a necessity even with the addition of Campbell. However, the defense took a substantial hit with the loss of a premier run defender in Pierce, while a deal with free-agent defensive tackle Michael Brockers' fell through over a medical issue.

Grade: B+

Cincinnati Bengals

Key players signed Key players lost
DT D.J. Reader OT Cordy Glenn
WR A.J. Green (tag) CB Darqueze Dennard
CB Mackensie Alexander G John Miller
CB Trae Waynes
G Xavier Su'a-Filo

The Bengals are widely expected to anoint Joe Burrow as their next franchise quarterback with the top pick in the draft, but they used the start of free agency to bolster the defense instead of finding help for the incoming rookie.

Reader earned the biggest payday. The former Texans nose tackle got $53 million over four years - a massive investment for a position considered to be one of the least valuable. Reader made leaps and bounds in his progression as a pass-rusher in 2019, which likely helped his market. But it's his run-defense skills that will help Cincinnati most after the team ranked last in rushing yards allowed last season.

The Bengals also bolstered their secondary, signing two former Vikings in Waynes and Alexander. The former landed a top-five contract at his position despite having never played like a No. 1 corner, while the latter inked a one-year deal.

Burrow did get some good news with the team using the franchise tag to retain Green, but it's imperative Cincinnati inks the star receiver to an extension to ensure he's present for the rookie's early years.

Grade: C-

Cleveland Browns

Key players signed Key players lost
OT Jack Conklin LB Joe Schobert
TE Austin Hooper LB Christian Kirksey
QB Case Keenum S T.J. Carrie
S Karl Joseph TE Demetrius Harris
RB Kareem Hunt (tender) S Morgan Burnett
FB Andy Janovich (trade) S Eric Murray
LB B.J. Goodson
DT Andrew Billings
CB Kevin Johnson
S Andrew Sendejo

After a hugely disappointing 2019, the Browns worked aggressively to upgrade their offense. On the first day of the legal tampering period, they agreed to make Hooper the league's highest-paid tight end and give Conklin $42 million over three years.

Will both players be upgrades for Cleveland? Most likely. But there's a chance the AFC North team paid premium prices for less-than-premium players; Hooper isn't a big-play weapon and Conklin has struggled in pass protection before. Still, it's hard to criticize the Browns too harshly for trying to help Baker Mayfield as much as possible.

On defense, Cleveland allowed Schobert to walk after balking at his asking price and signed Goodson as a replacement. The former is the better player and was the Browns' leading tackler in 2019, but his skills aren't enough to outweigh the value of the latter on a one-year deal.

Grade: B-

Pittsburgh Steelers

Key players signed Key players lost
LB Bud Dupree (tag) DT Javon Hargrave
TE Eric Ebron LB Mark Barron
G Stefen Wisniewski LB Anthony Chickillo
DL Chris Wormley (trade) S Sean Davis
FB Derek Watt

The Steelers usually don't jump into the frantic early portion of free agency, and this year was no exception. Aside from Ebron, Pittsburgh has yet to make a splash ahead of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's return from injury.

Ebron joins Vance McDonald to give Pittsburgh a top tight-end duo. The former Colts standout shouldn't be expected to replicate his 13 touchdowns from a Pro Bowl year in 2018, but he's a great fit for the downfield-minded Roethlisberger and is only signed for $12 million over two years.

Pittsburgh's biggest loss is Hargrave, who blossomed in a diverse role following Stephon Tuitt's season-ending injury in October. But the Steelers will still field an imposing defensive line, which added some depth with the acquisition of Wormely.

Grade: C+

AFC South

Houston Texans

Tim Warner / Getty Images Sport / Getty
Key players signed Key players lost
RB David Johnson (trade) WR DeAndre Hopkins (trade)
WR Randall Cobb DT D.J. Reader
CB Bradley Roby (re-sign)
CB Vernon Hargreaves (re-sign)
S Eric Murray
CB Phillip Gaines (re-sign)
K Ka'imi Fairbairn (re-sign)

The Texans entered the offseason without a first-round pick in this year's draft. Following the stunning trade of Hopkins to the Cardinals, Houston somehow still doesn't have one. It's not hyperbolic to say head coach and de facto GM Bill O'Brien concocted one of the worst transactions in NFL history.

Not getting a first for arguably the game's best receiver was already a bitter pill for Texans fans to swallow. Taking on Johnson's albatross of a contract as well should have them reaching for the pitchforks. Worse still, the running back is a shell of his former self and will likely only be good for a third-down receiving role (O'Brien also seems to have forgotten he traded a third-rounder for pass-catching back Duke Johnson last year).

The Texans bolstered their wideout group with Cobb, who bounced back during his lone season in Dallas and will be a solid complement to the deep threats of Will Fuller and Kenny Stills. But the veteran got $18.75 million guaranteed one year after landing a one-year, $5-million deal, and the Texans already had an underused slot receiver in Keke Coutee.

Houston did retain important members of its secondary, but even those positives are overshadowed by the loss of nose tackle Reader and a confusing overpay for Murray. All in all, it's easy to argue the AFC South champs had the worst start among AFC teams.

Grade: F

Indianapolis Colts

Key players signed Key players lost
DL DeForest Bucker (trade) OL Joe Haeg
QB Philip Rivers TE Eric Ebron
OT Anthony Castonzo (re-sign) QB Brian Hoyer
CB Pierre Desir

The Colts made one splash that most saw coming (the addition of Rivers) and one that most didn't (the blockbuster trade for Buckner).

Signing the former Chargers quarterback makes a ton of sense on paper. Rivers worked with head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni in San Diego, only required a one-year, $25-million commitment, and is just one season removed from top-level play.

Buckner, meanwhile, fills the three-technique position that drives Indy's system, albeit at the steep price of the 13th overall pick. And convincing Castonzo to put off retirement and to return on a reasonable deal (relative to the contracts signed by offensive linemen on the open market) is one of the offseason's most underrated moves.

However, the Colts still have no long-term answer at quarterback and are now without a first-round pick. Moreover, while acquiring a 26-year-old All-Pro will undoubtedly make the defense stronger, it's questionable if Indy's roster is one impact player away from seriously competing in the AFC.

Grade: B-

Jacksonville Jaguars

Key players signed Key players lost
LB Joe Schobert QB Nick Foles (trade)
DE Yannick Ngakoue (tag) DE Calais Campbell (trade)
TE Tyler Eifert CB A.J. Bouye (trade)
CB Rashaan Mevin DT Marcell Dareus
DE Rodney Gunter TE Geoff Swaim

The Jaguars smashed the reset button this offseason by trading or offloading key pieces of their formerly dominant defense along with last year's marquee free-agent signing.

While the logic of moving on from the likes of Campbell and Foles is understandable, Jacksonville's fire sale didn't produce significant assets - a fifth-round pick for Campbell and a fourth for each of Bouye and Foles. Getting any kind of compensation for the former Super Bowl MVP's bloated contract was a win, but overall, the Jaguars got pennies on the dollar for their best talent.

It's also hard to see the team's other moves as positives. Schobert is a solid linebacker, but $53 million over five years was an overpay at a position the AFC South team has already invested in (Myles Jack earns $14.25 million annually). The money would've been best spent elsewhere.

Finally, while tagging Ngakoue was a must, the young pass-rusher had made it clear he doesn't want to be in Jacksonville after years of watching the team mismanage its talent. His exit, whether via trade or as a free agent in 2021, appears inevitable.

Grade: D

Tennessee Titans

Key players signed Key players lost
QB Ryan Tannehill (re-sign) DT Jurrell Casey (trade)
RB Derrick Henry (tag) OT Jack Conklin
LB Vic Beasley QB Marcus Mariota
OT Dennis Kelly (re-sign) TE Delanie Walker
LB Cameron Wake
RB Dion Lewis
K Ryan Succop

The Titans went all-in on the backfield that led them to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 2002, and the decision wasn't cheap. Tannehill was rewarded for his Comeback Player of the Year campaign with a deal that made him the league's ninth-highest-paid quarterback, while Henry was hit with the $10.28-million franchise tag to become only the fourth running back in the NFL to earn more than $10 million.

While giving Tannehill $62 million in guarantees is a big commitment, the deal is essentially a two-year contract with a possible out in 2022 that would leave $10 million in dead money. A regression from Tannehill's spectacular play in 2019 should be expected, but it was the right call to choose the quarterback over the running back given the recent returns for teams that have paid up for the latter position (though an extension could still be coming for Henry).

Outside of their two big moves, the Titans shipped off Pro Bowler Casey to the Broncos for a shockingly small return (a seventh-rounder), lost starting right tackle Conklin to the Browns, cut ties with a host of former key players who no longer held important roles, and bolstered their pass-rush corps with the addition of former sack leader Beasley.

Grade: B-

Grading every AFC team after 1st wave of free agency
  Got something to say? Leave a comment below!
Daily Newsletter
Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox