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2024 NFL free agency grades, Day 4: Jaguars, Dolphins ace signings; AFC contenders add much-needed playmakers

Another day of the NFL’s official free agency period is in the books. There wasn’t an eye-popping deal from a financial perspective like wide receiver Calvin Ridley’s four-year, $92 million deal with the Tennessee Titans on Wednesday, but there were still impact players changing teams Thursday. 

Here is a look at five of the most notable signings, each with some analysis and a grade for the team making the acquisition. 

Jaguars signing DL Arik Armstead  

Terms: 3 years, $51 million 

Jacksonville has completed its defensive line, making it one of the best in the NFL. Armstead tied for the third-most quarterback pressures (33) in then NFL when aligned as the left interior defensive lineman, something he did at the highest rate of his career since 2016, according to Next Gen Stats. Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Robertson-Harris (45 quarterback pressures) predominantly lined up as the right interior defensive lineman (81.4% of his snaps), also per Next Gen Stats.

Those two should fit together seamlessly plugging up the middle of the Jacksonville defensive front. Nick Bosa won the 2022 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award lining up next to Armstead, so perhaps his presence can elevate Jaguars Pro Bowl edge rusher Josh Allen to similar heights. 

Allen, 26, was one of the NFL’s best in 2023, as his 17.5 sacks set the Jacksonville single-season record and tied for the second-most in the entire league last season with Bengals Pro Bowler Trey Hendrickson. Only Steelers All-Pro T.J. Watt registered more sacks (19.0) than Allen in 2023. His 90 pressures were also the fifth-most in the league last year. Travon Walker, the edge rusher who went first overall in the 2022 NFL Draft, broke out in 2023 with 10.0 sacks and 59 pressures.  

That’s a fearsome foursome for the Jaguars, and Armstead also brings the playoff experience of participating in two Super Bowls.

Grade: A

Dolphins reel in Kendall Fuller  

Terms: 2 years, $16.5 million

The Dolphins entered free agency with a slim amount of salary cap space. They watched homegrown talents like guard Robert Hunt (five-year, $100 million deal with Carolina Panthers) and defensive lineman Christian Wilkins (four-year, $110 million deal with Las Vegas Raiders) leave as the salary cap tightened around them after carrying big contracts for a number of players, such as cornerback Jalen Ramsey, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, left tackle Terron Armstead, edge rusher Bradley Chubb and, of course, the impending high-dollar extension for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Miami also had to cut cornerback Xavien Howard.

However, general manager Chris Grier pulled a rabbit out of a hat by getting cornerback Kendall Fuller to agree to sign a two-year, $16.5 million pact with the Dolphins. Fuller fills a huge need opposite Ramsey on Miami’s defense. He forced a tight window throw on 48% of his targets in man coverage in 2023, the fourth-highest rate in the NFL among those with a minimum of 20 passes thrown their way, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. On the flip side, the Dolphins achieved that same feat on just 20% of opposing quarterback’s passes, which was tied for the ninth-lowest tight window throw forced rate in the entire league. 

High marks for the Dolphins for filling a critical need at a bargain bin price. 

Grade: A

Bills sign Curtis Samuel  

Terms: 3 years, $24 million ($15 million guaranteed)

The Bills needed a third receiver to go along with Pro Bowler Stefon Diggs and Khalil Shakir. Curtis Samuel is a threat as a receiver and a runner, and as a former Carolina Panther, he has worked with current Bills offensive coordinator Joe Brady before. However, for a player as inconsistent as he is dynamic and versatile, the price tag is an overpay. 

Yes, Josh Allen can make so much happen offensively just by scrambling and uncorking deep balls, but he needs help. Samuel will provide some wow plays, but only time will tell as to whether Samuel can be a difference-maker when Buffalo needs him to be. 

Grade: C+

Eagles sign Devin White  

Terms: 1 year, worth up to $7.5 million 

Have you heard of linebacker Devin White? Many casual football fans have. He was a part of a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense who shut down a Chiefs offense that had Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill on it in Super Bowl LV en route to a 31-9 Buccaneers victory. 

White was that Super Bowl’s defensive standout, racking up a game-high 12 tackles, including two tackles for loss, and an interception. Since that game, it’s been tough sledding for the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Here are his Pro Football Focus defensive grades in each of the last three seasons and where they ranked among off-ball linebackers, among those with at least 100 defensive snaps each season

  • 2021: 36.1 defensive grade (112th out of 126 linebackers)
  • 2022: 46.1 defensive grade (104th out of 116 linebackers)
  • 2023: 46.0 defensive grade (105th out of 111 linebackers)

He also got benched early in the Buccaneers’ season-ending playoff loss to the Detroit Lions in the NFC divisional round after a lapse in coverage. White is high-end athlete, and if new Eagles defensive coordinator Vic Fangio can clean up some of his technique lapses, Philly could have a gem on their hands. 

Grade: B

Packers re-sign AJ Dillon  

Terms: 1-year deal using a four-year qualifying offer (One-year deal that can be worth up to no more than $1.45 million more than the league minimum, but only the league minimum for Dillon’s salary, $1.125 million will be charged against the cap)

Quadzilla is back in Green Bay. Dillon returns to the backup running back role for the Packers, but he will be the sub for Pro Bowler Josh Jacobs, who led the NFL in rushing yards two seasons ago in 2022 with the Las Vegas Raiders. He was a second-round pick in 2020, and he has been decent in four seasons: 428 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns on 597 career carries.

However, he produced a career-worst 3.4 yards per carry in 2023, the first time he averaged less than four yards a run, and Dillon also tied a career-low in rushing touchdowns (two, also done his rookie year in 2020). Green Bay bringing back a running back it trusts to be Jacobs’ backup at nearly the minimum salary is a win. 

Grade: B

Chiefs snag Marquise Brown on a team-friendly deal 

Terms: 1 year, worth up to $11 million

In 2023, the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs’ wide receiver position group led the NFL in drops (28) and drop rate (12%), according to SportRadar.  They clearly needed to upgrade the position not only in the 2024 NFL Draft but also with another veteran presence. 

Brown, who will be 27 years old on June 4, racked up 118 catches, 1,283 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns in 26 games with the Arizona Cardinals after coming over via trade from the Baltimore Ravens, who selected him with the 25th overall pick in 2019. His last season catching passes from two-time NFL MVP Lamar Jackson in 2021 remains his career high-water mark as he produced career-bests in catches (91) and receiving yards (1,008) to go along with 6 receiving touchdowns. 

Kyler Murray’s inability to stay healthy for most of Brown’s time in the desert heavily impacted Brown’s tenure in Arizona. 

His top quality is his speed and the vertical downfield threat that speed provides. Alongside the soon-to-be second-year wideout Rashee Rice and Kelce, Mahomes’ pass-catcher arsenal will be even better in 2024. Brown represents an upgrade over Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore and Justin Watson

Grade: B+

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