Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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2024 NFL free agency Day 2 grades: Ravens, Vikings earn an ‘A’ for star RB signings; Dolphins spend wisely

The free agency wheel continued to roll on Tuesday for Day 2 of the legal tampering period. While Monday’s unofficial opening of free agency brought with it a wide array of major names coming off the board (like Kirk Cousins, Saquon Barkley and Christian Wilkins), Day 2 also saw its fair share of stars find new homes. 

After the Cousins domino fell on Day 1, a large contingent of backups started to come off the board, including the top two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft in Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Meanwhile, Aaron Jones — fresh off his release from the Packers on Monday — opted to stay in the NFC North by agreeing to terms with the Minnesota Vikings

As we continue to see the free agent pieces fall into place, let’s go through all of the major agreements that were made on Day 2 and grade them. 

Vikings signing Aaron Jones

One of the mini themes of this free agent cycle is fan-favorite running backs landing with division rivals. It happened when Saquon Barkley agreed to sign with the Eagles on Monday and now it’s Aaron Jones turning in his cheesehead for a Vikings helmet. The veteran back agreed to terms with Minnesota after he was released by the Packers on Monday after they agreed to terms with Josh Jacobs. While Jones is creeping toward 30, he is still a highly impactful back judging by his five-straight 100-yard rushing games to end last season. On a one-year, $7 million deal, this is a tremendous get for Minnesota, which struggled to run the ball in 2023. 

Grade: A

Ravens signing Derrick Henry

This has been a marriage long in the making dating to the trade deadline and it has finally come to fruition. Henry has agreed to a two-year, $16 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens, forming one of the more lethal backfields in the NFL. The combination of Henry and Lamar Jackson gives Baltimore arguably the best rushing attack in the league. Henry’s ability to churn out hard yardage could prove to be vital come playoff time. 

Grade: A

Commanders signing Marcus Mariota

It’s weird to give this signing as high of a grade as I am especially considering that no Commanders fan hopes Marcus Mariota sees the field in 2024. However, I do think he is a quality backup and could be of particular value to Washington. The club possesses the No. 2 overall pick at this year’s draft and is widely assumed to select a quarterback. You know who knows a thing or two about being a No. 2 overall pick and handed the keys to an organization? Marcus Mariota. On top of serving as a veteran presence in that QB room, Mariota’s unique upbringing in the NFL could be exactly the type of sounding board the Commanders could use to set up their rookie for success, which makes this a good signing. 

Grade: B

Browns signing Jameis Winston

It’s a little surprising the Browns didn’t opt to bring Joe Flacco back after his heroics down the stretch last season, but Winston gives them a younger option at the position backing up Deshaun Watson with plenty of starting experience. 

Grade: B-

Jets signing Tyrod Taylor

The Jets desperately needed a capable backup quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers and found one in Tyrod Taylor. While he doesn’t present a high ceiling that a young QB possibly could, the floor isn’t as low as it was for them a year ago after Rodgers suffered his torn Achilles. Taylor was 2-3 in his five starts for the Giants last season and completed 64.4% of his passes with an 89.1 passer rating. 

Grade: C+

Vikings signing Sam Darnold

Minnesota was unable to retain Kirk Cousins and quickly pivoted to Sam Darnold as their next option under center. In reality, this is probably just the first step in what the Vikings plan to do at quarterback with a rookie likely on the way with a selection in the 2024 NFL Draft. Darnold spent last season as the backup in San Francisco and has largely struggled when given the reins as the starter, so if he ends up as the guy under center for Minnesota it’s hard to see them taking a step forward in the first year post-Cousins. 

Grade: C

Falcons signing Darnell Mooney

The Falcons solidified their quarterback position with Kirk Cousins on Monday and gave him a new weapon on Tuesday in Darnell Mooney. The former Bears wideout was in a tough situation over the last few seasons with Chicago’s lackluster passing attack, which helped lead to a decrease in production. However, Mooney is just 26 years old and already has a 1,000-yard season under his belt. With improved quarterback play and other talented skill-position players around him, this could prove to be a savvy signing by Atlanta. 

Grade: B+

Dolphins signing Shaq Barrett

Miami makes a move, adding the veteran on a one-year deal worth up to $9 million, according to his agent (via ESPN). It was a massive need for the Dolphins to add some depth to its pass-rushing unit, especially after the events of last season where they lost both Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb due to injury. Barrett comes to the Dolphins as a strong rotational piece who is a two-time Super Bowl champion and a former All-Pro. On top of adding depth behind Phillips and Chubb, he also cushions the blow of losing Andrew Van Ginkel in free agency as well.

Grade: B

Bengals signing Mike Gesicki

It wasn’t that long ago that Gesicki posted back-to-back 700-yard receiving seasons, but the tight end has fallen off in recent years. A chunk of that is simply due to a lack of playing time in his final year with the Dolphins in 2022 and then with the Patriots in 2023. If he can return to the form we saw back in 2021, he’ll be a solid option for Joe Burrow in the Bengals passing game, especially if they ultimately grant wide receiver Tee Higgins‘ trade request. On a cheap one-year deal, this is a worthwhile signing for Cincy. 

Grade: B-

Chiefs signing Irv Smith Jr. 

Smith has yet to live up to his second-round draft status, but he’ll have a tremendous opportunity to do so with Patrick Mahomes throwing him the football. He’s yet to top 400 receiving yards in a season and had just 115 receiving yards on 18 catches last season. That said, Andy Reid’s offense has been very tight end friendly over the years even outside of Travis Kelce, so there could be a window of opportunity here for Smith to have a career year. He’ll also only be 26 by the start of next season. 

Grade: C

Steelers signing Patrick Queen 

It wasn’t cheap, but the Pittsburgh Steelers made a notable move Tuesday with the signing of former Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen to a three-year, $41 million deal. 

A Pro Bowler last season and a former Ravens first-round pick, Queen fills what was a sizable need in the middle of Pittsburgh’s defense. Queen is a physical, hard-hitting player who is also versatile. Last season, he filled the stat sheet with 133 tackles, 3.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. 

The addition of Queen adds yet another Pro Bowl-level player to a Steelers defense that already includes T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alex Highsmith and Cam Heyward. 

The only thing preventing this from being an A is the amount of money the Steelers are paying at a position that most teams are not paying these days. Pittsburgh had success with much more affordable linebackers last season before injuries wiped out the unit. 

Grade: B+ 

Texans signing Danielle Hunter 

A massive signing for an up-and-coming team. Shortly after completing a trade for Joe Mixon, the Texans added another veteran after coming to terms with Hunter on a reported two-year, $49 million deal. This is a signing that you can afford to do with a quarterback under a rookie contract. 

Hunter, 29, comes to Houston after tallying 87.5 sacks during his nine seasons in Minnesota. He had a career-high 16.5 sacks last season while being selected to his fourth Pro Bowl in five years. 

Hunter brings talent and a veteran presence to a Texans defense that is looking to take the next step in 2024. The among of money associated with this team, however, makes it somewhat of a risk. Hunter will have to continue to play at a high level in order for this to be considered a success. 

Grade: B+ 

Saints signing Willie Gay Jr

New Orleans are signing the two-time Super Bowl champion linebacker to a one-year, $5 million deal, according to NFL Media. This is a good deal for a four-year starter who filled the stat sheet during his time in Kansas City. Gay, who just turned 26, should just be coming into his prime years. 

Grade:

Dolphins signing Jordan Poyer 

The former Bills safety is staying in the AFC East after signing a reported one-year, $2 million deal with the Dolphins. 

Yes, you read that right, the Dolphins actually landed the former All-Pro for $2 million. This will go down as one of the best bargains of the offseason barring Poyer plays up to his usual form. Poyer will be 33 next season, though, and failed to record a pick last season for the first time since 2016. 

The lack of money involved with this, though, made this a no-brainer for the Dolphins. 

Grade: A- 

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