Black Monday: Evaluating the Job Security of Every AFC Team’s Head Coach

Tomorrow is the most dreaded day of the year for NFL head coaches, “Black Monday.” Each year head coaches hold their collective breaths as a handful of their peers are relieved from their duties. The end of 2017 observed seven new vacancies and this year another handful of vacancies are expected to be opened between now and Monday night. Let’s evaluate the NFL and attempt to predict what “Black Monday” and beyond holds for each NFL franchise in the AFC. As part of the analysis, each head coach will be given a grade of safe, hot seat or unsafe.

AFC EAST

New England Patriots (11-5) – Bill Belichick (261-123)

Job Security: Safe

At this point in his career, Belichick could burn down Gillette Stadium and still have a job. The weakness of the AFC East hasn’t hurt the Patriot’s unrivaled run of sustained excellence, but the most successful head coach in the history of the NFL won’t lose any sleep this offseason.

Miami Dolphins (7-9) – Adam Gase (23-25)

Job Security: Hot Seat

Gase’s Dolphins were plagued by injuries at the quarterback position this season (and last season). Ryan Tannehill missed a lot of time and was hampered by injuries when he able to play. Gase was hoping for a bounce-back season after winning only six games last year and ten in his rookie season but fell short of expectations for the second straight year. I don’t think his fate is tied to Tannehill’s (who may be on his way out in Miami), but a bad loss to the Bills to close out the season may have left a bad taste in the mouth of ownership. I think there is a chance he comes back in 2019, but he will need to compete next year to keep his job.

Buffalo Bills (6-10) – Sean McDermott (15-17)

Job Security: Safe

The Bills got off to a rocky start in 2018, with the continuation of the Nathan Peterman Chronicles highlighting their first half. Fortunately for second-year head coach Sean McDermott, the offense picked up in the second half with an emergent Josh Allen under center. McDermott still has the blessings of Bills Mafia after leading the bills to their first playoff berth in over a decade last season, so I anticipate that he will be back for 2019 but his job will be dependent on the growth of franchise quarterback Josh Allen.

New York Jets (4-12) – Todd Bowles (26-41)

Job Security: Unsafe

There are already reports suggesting that Jets head coach Todd Bowles has been informed by ownership that he will be relieved of his duties. Bowles has won 5 games or less in each of the last three seasons, and although franchise quarterback Sam Darnold showed Improvement at the end of the year, his progression isn’t enough to save Bowles’ job.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens (10-6) John Harbaugh (104-72)

Job Security: Safe

John Harbaugh only has one losing season in his 11 years as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. In a year in which his team won the division and took the bold step of starting rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson over veteran Joe Flacco, Harbaugh has silenced those that were suggesting he was on the hot seat earlier in the year. I don’t anticipate Baltimore’s offense being able to get them deep into the playoffs, but another division title ensures his future with the organization is solidified for at least one more year.

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6-1) – Mike Tomlin (125-66)

Job Security: Safe

In his 12 years as head coach of the Steelers, Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season.  After being eliminated from the playoffs following Sunday night’s game, it is the first time since 2013 that the Steelers have missed the playoffs. Mike Tomlin’s future is safe in Pittsburgh. Since 1969, the Pittsburgh Steelers have only had three head coaches and of those, Mike Tomlin has the highest winning percentage (Noll and Cowher being the other two). 

Cleveland Browns (7-8-1) – Interim HC Greg Williams (5-2)

Job Security: Hot Seat

Greg Williams has done enough as the interim head coach to earn himself an opportunity to interview for the position in Cleveland. I am confident that the Browns will explore all options before making Williams the head coach, with Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley being a top potential candidate as Baker Mayfield former college coach.  Williams only had one other season as a head coach which spend three unremarkable seasons in Buffalo but has become one of the game’s most prolific defensive coordinators. It’s unclear whether or not Williams would be given any control over the roster, but it’s clear that the Cleveland Browns play differently under Williams than they did under previous head coach Hue Jackson.

Cinncinatti Bengals (6-10) – Marvin Lewis (131-122)

Job Security: Hot Seat

Three consecutive losing seasons have landed Marvin Lewis on the hot seat. He’s the second-longest tenured head coach in the NFL and is known to have a great relationship with Bangles ownership, but a last-place finish in the division has cast doubt on whether or not the team is going in the right direction. Continuity is important in the NFL, but Lewis has failed to demonstrate that he can get the Bengals over the hump. He’s probably out.

AFC South

Houston Texans (11-5) – Bill O’Brien (42-38)

Job Security: Safe

After a dismal 4-12 campaign last season, O’Brien has led a resurgent Texans team to a  division title and the three seed in the playoffs. Despite starting the season 0-3, the Texans won their next nine games and solidified themselves as one of the best teams in the AFC. Propelled by the successful return of Deshaun Watson after suffering a season-ending injury last year, the Texans look to have the makeup of a team poised for success in the future.

Indianapolis Colts (9-6 [one game to play]) – Josh Mc-Frank Reich (9-6)

Job Security: Safe

With a win tonight against the Titans, the Colts will have secured a playoff berth in Reich’s first year as head coach. Luck is unquestionably going to earn comeback player of the year, and the tandem appears to have great chemistry. It will be exciting to see what Andrew Luck can do with continuity in his coaching staff, and Reich might just be the guy that can elevate Luck’s game to the next level. I suspect Reich has bought himself some credit this year by exceeding ownership’s expectations and will stick around even if the team fails to take a significant step in year two.

Tennessee Titans (9-6 [one game to play]) – Mike Vrabel (9-6)

Job Security: Safe

The AFC South is chock-full of talented new coaches. Vrabel (the latest branch of the Belichick coaching tree) has brought an energy to the Titans that the team and city have fed off of all season. Similarly to their counterparts in Indianapolis, a win tonight and they’re in the dance. In his first year as head coach, Vrabel has his team on the doorstep of the playoffs and capable of competing with any team in the NFL.  Further solidifying Vrabel’s role, since his arrival, he has silenced much of the doubt surrounding Marcus Mariotta’s future as the signal caller for the Titans.

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) – Doug Marrone (31-35)

Job Security: Hot Seat

It’s hard to place all of the blame for Jacksonville’s five-win season on Marrone’s shoulders. Jacksonville was cursed by some of the poorest quarterback play in the NFL and will look to address that need in this spring’s draft. I anticipate that Marrone will get a chance to help rebuild the franchise with a veteran or rookie signal caller in 2019, but he will need to address his locker room issues starting with star cornerback Jalen Ramsey first.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) – Andy Reid (195-124)

Job Security: Safe

Reid is known as the quarterback whisperer for good reason. Today, Patrick Mahomes reached 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns on the season. A feat reached by only two other players, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Reid hasn’t had a losing season since 2012, which was his last year in Philadelphia, and he has won less than 10 games only once during his tenure in Kansas City.

Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) – Anthony Lynn (21-12)

Job Security: Safe

It’s not very often you win 12 games and get saddled with the fifth seed in the playoffs. In almost any other division in football, the Chargers would’ve been the division winners and rewarded with a first-round bye. Lynn has the Chargers primed to go on the road to Baltimore in the wild card round and might even be favored to win despite losing to the Ravens at home a few weeks prior. With how well the Chargers have been playing under Lynn, this season might be Phillip Rivers’ best chance to win a Superbowl.

Denver Broncos (6-10) – Vance Joseph (11-21)

Job Security: Unsafe

Joseph will likely lose his job tomorrow. Broncos President of Football Operations John Elway is ultra competitive and anything less than excellence is grounds for change under his management. Joseph has been stuck with poor quarterback play during his tenure in failed former first-round pick Paxton Lynch and now veteran quarterback Case Keenum signed this past offseason.  Further compounding Joseph’s challenge, the Broncos are forced to play in one of the tougher decisions in football, but there were a number of games this season where the Broncos failed to be competitive. 

Oakland Raiders (4-12) – Jon Gruden (99-93)

Job Security: Safe

Ten-years and $100 million. After signing the largest coaching contract in NFL history, Gruden will oversee Oakland’s rebuilding efforts for the foreseeable future. Gruden is happy that 2018 is now in the rearview and he can begin his complete reconstruction of the Raiders roster which will be highlighted by three first-round picks, two of which acquired in blockbuster trades with Chicago and Dallas. 

Projecting the NFC East Playoff Race

Team Analysis:

The NFC East divisional race has become the most compelling storyline in the NFL. The Cowboys (7-5) sit atop the division after winning four straight games and have become one of the hottest teams in football after holding the most prolific offense in football, the Saints, to only 10 points on a nationally televised game. The Boys have risen from the ashes after starting the first half 3-5, and Head Coach Jason Garrett has been restored to life after fans were calling for his job only a few weeks prior. Carried on the shoulders of a re-energized running game and one of the most stifling defenses in the NFL, Garrett has found a way back into the ownership’s good graces. The Cowboys are the only team in the division with a positive point differential, and their biggest competition, the Philadelphia Eagles, have yet to beat a team with a winning record.

The Washington Redskins, on the other hand, are going in the wrong direction. Three weeks ago they looked like the clear favorites to win the division. They had just completed a dominant win against the Bucs and sat atop the division at 6-3. The loss of starting QB Alex Smith-who is now suffering from an infection following his leg surgery-all but assured the teams collapse, and the team’s misery was punctuated by the loss of backup QB Colt McCoy. The Redskins now have an uphill climb with a fresh face under center and a surrounding cast that has played flat the last three weeks.

The Giants are playing better, winning three of their last four. But, they beat a Bears team without starting QB Mitchell Tribusky and a Bucs team that almost came back to win after leading 24-7 in the third quarter. They aren’t statistically eliminated, but they might as well be. The Giants need more highlights of Eli throwing touchdown passes and less of OBJ.  This could be Eli’s last season in New York. Stay tuned for the obligatory where will Eli end up post… Probably Jacksonville mentoring a Will Grier or Drew Lock type?

The Eagles are the most perplexing team in the division. The defending Superbowl Champs have put together their first back-to-back wins of the season (albeit at home against the Giants and against an out-of-sorts Redskins team) and are looking like a much-improved roster. Their defense is finally returning to form, and Golden Tate appears to be up-to-speed on the offensive schemes. They still struggle to run the ball effectively, but their offense has enjoyed steadily improving play from QB Carson Wentz. He struggled a few weeks ago against New Orleans, but that game notwithstanding, the Eagles’ offense has been consistent. Despite concerns from other sports reporters suggesting that the Eagles are not high-powered enough to win in this year’s NFL (only scoring more than 30 once), it should be noted that during their Superbowl season only a year ago, they only scored more than 30 once in a 34-3 win over the Steelers in September. If their defense can return to form the rest of the way, and Carson Wentz can protect the football, they could make a run at the division. One thing is for certain, this weekend’s matchup with the Cowboys will be the deciding factor for the division title.

Projecting the Rest of the Way:

Eagles Remaining Schedule:

  • Week 14 – @ Cowboys
  • Week 15 – @ Rams
  • Week 16 – vs. Texans
  • Week 17 – @ Redskins

The Eagles NEED to win this week in Dallas. If they can’t come away with a victory, then kiss their playoff chances goodbye. It would give Dallas a two-game lead in the division, and give Philadelphia an uphill climb against two teams that will be doing everything in their power to secure first-round byes and home-field advantage in the Texans and Rams. Best case scenario they go 3-1 the rest of the way. Worst case, 1-3. Let’s call it 2-2, I think they surprise someone down the stretch.

Projected Record: 8-8

Cowboys Remaining Schedule:

  • Week 14 – vs. Eagles
  • Week 15 – @ Colts
  • Week 16 – vs. Buccaneers
  • Week 17 – @ Giants

The Cowboys are lucky, they play two teams who lack an identity in the Giants and Bucs and get the opportunity to control their destiny this week by playing the Eagles at home. The Cowboys are 5-1 playing at Jerry World this year, that has to mean something come Sunday. The Giants are better, but they may not have much to play for come week 17. I think they go 3-1 the rest of the way, the Colts might sneak up on them, or the Eagles could win a statement game. For Jason Garrett’s sake, I hope it’s the Colts on the road.

Projected Record: 10-6

Redskins Remaining Schedule:

  • Week 14 – vs. Giants
  • Week 15 – @ Jaguars
  • Week 16 – @ Titans
  • Week 17 – vs. Eagles

The Skins are down, but not out. I’m not as low on Sanchez as others. He’s a serviceable game manager and has been in the league for a while for a reason.  The Redskins enjoy the best turnover differential in the division, and if Sanchez can keep the ball secure and Jay Gruden can turn Adrian Peterson loose, their defense is good enough to keep them in a tight game. I don’t think they make the playoffs, but they might surprise a few of the teams left on their schedule. They might very well lose to the Giants this weekend, but if they win they could beat a floundering Jaguars team (who looks different each week) or an inconsistent Titans team. They will likely go 1-3 the rest of the way unless they can pull out a surprise victory or two.

Projected Record: 7-9

Giants Remaining Schedule:

  • Week 14 – @ Redskins
  • Week 15 – vs. Titans
  • Week 16 – @ Colts
  • Week 17 – vs. Cowboys

The Giants have a rough stretch ahead of them. I think they will beat this Redskins on the road this weekend,  but the rest of the stretch are games that they will be close to seven-point underdogs in.  The Titans and Colts are volatile, good teams that struggle with consistency. You never know which offense will show up on any given night, the team that will score 30 or the team that will score three. Prior to the Colts getting shutout by the Jags, they were averaging 30+ points a game during their five-game win streak, and the Titans are coming off a big Thursday night football win in which Derek Henry set the team’s single-game rushing record. Best case scenario the Giants finish 2-2. Unfortunately, I don’t think they make it that far. 1-3.

Projected Record:  5-11

Projected Final Division Standings:

  1. Cowboys – 10-6
  2. Eagles – 8-8
  3. Redskins – 7-9
  4. Giants – 5-11

I have the Cowboys winning the division. It might be worth it just to watch Stephen A. Smith agonize for a week or two until they get eliminated in the first or second round. The Eagles may find themselves on the outside looking in. Seattle seems to be running away with the first wildcard spot, and the Vikings and the Panthers are contesting Philly for the second. There are enough teams still in the hunt that week 17 might be a fun week of football to watch.

Commentary: 2018 NFL Mock Draft

With the NFL draft less than 24 hours away, it seemed only right to drop my latest mock. For this mock, I am presenting a clean first round without trades. Of course, we all know that’s never going to happen, with teams like Cleveland and Buffalo having more than enough ammunition to climb back into the first round, trade up, or trade down, and other teams, such as Houston and Kansas City being without picks on day one. The rumor mill has been flying the last few days, but let’s see if we can make sense of it all.    

1. Cleveland Browns – QB Sam Darnold, USC

It was reported that someone close to Browns GM John Dorsey all but assured the Browns would be selecting Allen with the first pick, but as of this week, Schefter’s source suggested Mayfield is in the mix for the Browns here. Maybe I should go back and watch Draft Day again and assume it’s, “Allen no matter what,” but my gut is telling me Sam Darnold is the top quarterback in the draft. Darnold played for two years in a pro-style offense at USC. He has the personality and demeanor to thrive in an often hostile market and can make all the throws. He doesn’t have the top end arm strength of Allen, nor the accuracy of Rosen, but he may have the highest ceiling of any quarterback in the draft.

2. New York Giants – QB Josh Allen, Wyoming

No player helped themselves more than Josh Allen during their pre-draft workouts. He has the size, arm strength, athleticism, and personality that GMs and coaches fawn over. He’s coming from the FCS and an offense that lacked prostyle complexity. If the Giants stay put at two, he could be a guy that could sit behind Eli Manning for a year or two and develop until he’s ready to take over.

3. New York Jets (from Indianapolis Colts) – QB Josh Rosen, UCLA

Josh Rosen is widely regarded as the purest passer in the draft. His touch and accuracy are what made him an early favorite to be the first quarterback drafted. His personality concerns and the workouts of Mayfield, Darnold, and Allen have depreciated his value, but his talent and the high demand at the quarterback position will undoubtedly carry him into the top five.

4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston Texans) – RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State

If Cleveland decides to stay at four and draft a player instead of trading down with a team like the Bills hungry to draft a quarterback like Baker Mayfield they have the opportunity to get the best athlete in the draft. Cleveland has revolutionized their offense by bringing in Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry, Carlos Hyde and will likely add their future franchise quarterback. Add a piece like Saquon Barkley to that puzzle, and the team will have weapons at every position on the field and give new Browns GM John Dorsey a strong foundation to build a competitive football team.

5. Denver Broncos – DE/LB Bradley Chubb, NC State

After signing QB Case Keenum their demand at the quarterback position is tempered for now. If the quarterback they want is available at five, then they may pull the trigger, but with the possibility and reports of the Bills trying to leverage their two first round picks to move up to Cleveland’s fourth overall pick, that hope is fading quickly. Instead, the Broncos select the most talented defensive player in the draft to learn from future Hall of Famer LB Von Miller.

6. Indianapolis Colts (from New York Jets) – LB Tremaine Edmunds Virginia Tech

Indianapolis hasn’t had a quality pass rush since Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were coming off the edge. Tremaine Edmunds is a versatile linebacker with enough athleticism to rush the passer or drop back into a soft zone coverage. He is still raw in some aspects of his game, but he has the potential to be exactly what Indianapolis needs to help out their struggling defense in a division filled with young quarterbacks that teams need to pressure.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

Tampa continues to struggle with their defensive backfield. They need help at the safety position and someone that can match up against versatile tight ends. Fitzpatrick is one of the few guys in this draft that meets that profile, and he is largely grouped among the top two or three defensive backs in the class. I could see Derwin James from Florida State here as well, but Fitzpatrick is coming from a talented Nick Saban defense that implements pro concepts.

8. Chicago Bears – G Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

If the Bears are sold on QB Mitchell Trubisky as their franchise quarterback, they will need to invest in protecting the young signal caller from a repeat of the abuse he took last season. Nelson is the best interior lineman in the draft and will provide a strong framework to continue to build the rest of the Bears line around.

9. San Francisco 49ers CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State

Even after adding CB Richard Sherman, San Francisco still needs to add talent to their secondary. I could also see LB Roquan Smith going to San Francisco following the legal troubles of LB Reuben Foster, but the NFL is increasingly becoming a pass-oriented league and Denzel Ward is widely regarded as the top coverage cornerback in the draft. The first round is stacked with defensive backs, and San Francisco could trade down and still secure a starting caliber corner or linebacker if they want to add to their value and recoup the second round pick they sent to New England for QB Jimmy Garoppolo.

10. Oakland Raiders – DB Derwin James, Florida State

Oakland has been looking for solid safety play since Charles Woodson’s retirement to play opposite Karl Joseph. Derwin James may be the most talented true safety at the top of the draft, and Oakland is in the perfect position to draft him.

11. Miami Dolphins – LB Roquan Smith, Georgia

Miami has struggled to get consistent play from their front seven. The addition of DE Robert Quinn helps them with their pass rush, but the team still lacks an elite linebacker that can play sideline to sideline. Smith might be the only backer in the draft that fits the bill and is certainly the most talented of the first-round graded linebackers.

12. Buffalo Bills from Cincinnati Bengals QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

A desperate team might try to trade up earlier in the draft if Mayfield gets past Denver, and that desperate team might be the Bills, but in a perfect world, the Bills can get their guy at 12. After trading QB Tyrod Taylor to the Browns the team is in the mix for drafting their franchise quarterback, even after signing AJ Mccarron. Mayfield’s size may work against him, but QBs Russell Wilson and Drew Brees who have combated the size stereotype may give teams the confidence to select Mayfield early in the first round.

13. Washington Redskins –  WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama

The Redskins are in need of a talented wide receiver and Ridley is the consensus number one available. As a freshman, Ridley hauled in 89 passes for over 1000 yards and seven touchdowns. Over the next two years, his production decreased, but he continued to be a reliable target, with 72 receptions as a sophomore and 55 as a junior. His numbers may have been impacted by the run-heavy offense at Alabama and I expect Ridley to produce at the NFL level.

14. Green Bay Packers – LB Harold Landry, Boston College

Even though he regressed during his senior year, Landry was the lone bright spot at Boston College this season.  He’s a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker that can get to the quarterback in a hurry and would be a perfect compliment to a linebacking corps that has Nick Perry and Clay Matthews already coming off the edge. Landry would add a new dynamic to the Packers pass rush, and would be a value selection in the middle of the first round.

15. Arizona Cardinals – CB Josh Jackson, Iowa

Jackson led the FBS in interceptions at Iowa and his superior ball skills could make him the first corner off the board. Arizona needs another corner to pair with CB Patrick Peterson and the two of them may have the best backfield.

16. Baltimore Ravens – WR James Washington, Oklahoma State

The Ravens added WRs John Brown and Michael Crabtree in the offseason to replenish their light wide receiver corps that struggled last season. Washington is a true deep threat that can complement the possession receivers of Brown and Crabtree and provide Flacco with a receiver that can take the top off a defense.

17. Los Angeles Chargers – OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame

Notre Dame produced the two best offensive linemen in the draft between McGlinchey and Nelson. McGlinchey is a tall framed tackle with quick feet who will be able to stand up against some of the more elite pass rushers in the NFL. His struggles will come against bull-rushing lineman that leverage strength and use his height against him to get low and drive to the quarterback. Much like Giants OT Nate Solder when he came out, McGlinchey needs to add to his frame to become an elite tackle in the NFL.

18. Seattle Seahawks – CB Mike Hughes, UCF

With the departure of CB Richard Sherman Seattle has a void at the cornerback position. Hughes plays physically and likes to press at the line of scrimmage despite his size and his aggression would fit in well with Seattle’s defense. He has shown good ball skills, but has lacked instinct in coverage and will need to be coached up before he can utilize his elite athleticism. I expect him to be a starting corner in the NFL and will contribute in the return game on special teams.   

19. Dallas Cowboys – WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M.

The departure of WR Dez Bryant leaves a hole at the wide receiver position. Kirk is a smooth route runner with good hands that can be a reliable target for QB Dak Prescott. Kirk consistently produced during his three years at A&M, catching 234 passes for nearly 3000 yards and 26 touchdowns. He may be a reach at 19, but the Cowboys have a need and Kirk can make an immediate impact as a returner on special teams.

20. Detroit Lions – DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan

Hurst is a three-technique that can keep his pads low and drive with quickness off the snap to beat interior lineman don’t get off the ball quickly. He lacks elite strength and can be handled by more aggressive and physical lineman, but has good hands and can separate and get at the quarterback. He will fit well in a 4-3, but won’t likely translate as a 3-4 end. Detroit needs a defensive tackle with his skill set, and I think there’s an opportunity for him to be on the board when the Lions are on the clock.

21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Buffalo Bills)  OL Frank Ragnow, Arkansas

Cincinnati needs help in the trenches and Frank Ragnow is a technically sound lineman who started for three years with the Razorbacks. He only put up 26 reps at the combine, but he plays with physicality on tape and as a team captain has leadership qualities that you look for out of a center.

22. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City Chiefs) – OL Isaiah Wynn, Georgia

Wynn played Tackle and Guard at Georgia, but his height and body type project him to be an interior lineman, which may be a better match for his skill set. Buffalo lost C Eric Wood and OG Richie Incognito in the offseason, and need to replenish the interior of their offensive line. Wynn is an athletic and strong lineman with good footwork that should be an immediate starter. He could play tackle, but if he can fill out his frame, and develop his strength, he should move to guard or even in the NFL.

23. New England Patriots (from LA Rams) –  LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State

The Patriots relied on a linebacking corps of Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts during the 2017 season as star LB Dont’a Hightower once again found himself on the injured reserve list. Leighton Vander Esch is a talented linebacker that can drop into coverage and play inside against the run. At Boise State, he tallied 141 tackles and projects as a prototypical 4-3 linebacker.

24. Carolina Panthers – OT Orlando Brown, Oklahoma

With the departure of Kelvin Benjamin I could see the Panthers targeting a big receiver such as the Notre Dame product Equanimeous St. Brown or SMU’s Courtland Sutton, but between their aging defensive line and porous offensive line, Carolina needs to strengthen their trenches. Despite his struggles at the combine, Brown is a versatile and talented lineman that can start on day one for the Panthers.

25. Tennessee Titans – DL Vita Vea, Washington

Vea is the best true nose in the draft that can effectively two-gap and plugs against the run. He would be a perfect fit in Tennessee’s 3-4 scheme if he falls this far and would provide DE Jurrell Casey with much-needed help at the point of attack.

26. Atlanta Falcons – DL Marcus Davenport, UTSA

Davenport is a raw pass rusher that has the potential to be one of the steals of the draft. He dominated Conference USA competition and performed well at the Senior Bowl. Aside from his handwork needing to be coached up and refined, his tall 6-6 frame limits his ability to get low and drive, but he has the versatility to play at end or as a 3-4 linebacker.

27.New Orleans Saints – QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville

Lamar Jackson is a talented quarterback who performed well against college football’s toughest competition, but his makeup concerns some teams. Mobile quarterbacks open themselves up to more opportunities for contact and staying healthy is paramount in the NFL. His feet will provide intrigue for coaches and general managers that want a true playmaker at the quarterback position, but he will need to become a pass-first quarterback to succeed in the NFL. Fortunately, Jackson has the arm talent to make that transition at the next level, and if he finds himself in the right opportunity where he isn’t forced to be the starter on day one where he can learn behind a veteran like Drew Brees, he will have a real chance to be a starting caliber quarterback in the NFL for a long time to come.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers – LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama

Star LB Ryan Shazier is on the road to recovery, but the odds are greatly stacked against him that he manages to get back on the field during the 2018 season in a meaningful way. Shazier was the Steelers best linebacker in coverage and one of the teams leading tacklers whose production cannot be replaced easily. Evans has the ability to play inside, drop into coverage, or move outside to rush the passer, and that versatility will likely make him an ideal target for a Pittsburgh team that needs help in their front seven.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars – WR Courtland Sutton, SMU

Sutton might be the second most talented Wideout in the draft. He has a good frame and attacks the ball at its highest point. The Jaguars lost WRs Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson to free agency and are needing to add another talented receiver to their corps. If Sutton slides to the bottom of the first round they could get a reliable big target that Bortles can rely on for a long time to come.

30. Minnesota Vikings – OL Billy Price, Ohio State

Price can only be described as a physical freak. He’s quick and strong with the ability to blow defenders off the ball without getting outside himself. Chances are that he will be available at the bottom of the first round due to an injury he sustained at the combine, but he should be ready for training camp, and Minnesota will need to upgrade their line to protect their $84 million dollar investment in Franchise Quarterback Kirk Cousins. The big knock on Price is that he is not as polished as some of the other interior lineman and has personality concerns that have depreciated his stock and flagged him for some teams.

31. New England Patriots – DL Harrison Phillips, Stanford

The Patriots defense was ranked 29th in yards allowed per game, but 5th in total points allowed. It’s hard to imagine another year where the defense gives up the similar yardage not resulting in more total points. Strengthening the defense has to be a priority. Alan Branch barely saw the field during the Patriots playoff run, indicating that the team may be ready to move on from the veteran defensive tackle. Phillips fits the profile of a Bill Belichick player. He’s an Academic All-American that performed well off and on the field for the Stanford Cardinals, leading the team in tackles as an interior lineman. He performed well in the pass rush, tallying 7.5 sacks and forcing two fumbles. He earned honors as a first-team all-conference player and AP third-team All-American. He would be a perfect compliment to Nose Tackle Malcolm Brown as a three-technique in the Patriots system. Alternatively, USC’s RB Ronald Jones may be a good selection for New England at the bottom of the first round to replace departing RB Dion Lewis.

32. Philadelphia Eagles – CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville

Alexander recently visited with the Eagles and reports are that the team is high on him as a target for the bottom of the first round. The Super Bowl Champion Eagles are in need of a well-rounded corner that can play physical and cover in the slot, and Alexander has the makeup that they are looking for.

Top 5 Players Available:

  1. DT Da’ron Payne, Alabama
  2. CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado
  3. C James Daniels, Iowa
  4. LB Malik Jefferson, Texas
  5. OL Connor Williams, Texas

Reaction: Patriots Trade WR Brandin Cooks to LA Rams for 1st Round Pick

Today, the Patriots traded their talented WR Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round pick to the LA Rams for their first-round pick (23rd overall) and a sixth-round pick. The deal comes only one season after the Patriots acquired Cooks from the Saints for the 32nd overall pick in last year’s draft. With the Patriots favorite target Julian Edelman on IR for all of last season, Cooks turned in a respectable 2017 performance, totaling 65 receptions for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns. The previous year with the Saints, he totaled 78 receptions for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns.

The trade comes as a surprise after WR Danny Amendola left for the division rival Miami Dolphins and questions regarding whether or not star TE Rob Gronkowski will continue to play remain open-ended. Recent reports suggested that the Patriots would be willing to trade the tight end given his supposed unhappiness with the culture in New England, but trading Cooks and letting Amendola walk suggests that Gronkowski will remain in New England for now. The 23rd overall selection opens up the door for the Patriots to select a lineman to replace departing OT Nate Solder, or a wide receiver such as Sutton, St. Brown, or Kirk. Their 32nd selection still gives them the opportunity to sure up their front seven or draft one of the tight ends projected at the end of the first round.

The Rams get a speedy deep threat wide receiver to replace departing Sammy Watkins (now with Kansas City) to pair with WRs Tavon Austin, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp. The Rams continue to make moves to sure up their position atop the NFC West and capitalize on the momentum that they have generated this offseason. If Jared Goff takes the next step in his development, this team could easily find their way into the NFC Championship game. The Rams moves indicate that they are acutely aware that their window may close quickly, as RB Todd Gurley and QB Jared Goff are still on their rookie contracts, and GM Les Snead is doing everything in his power to put the team in the best position possible to win within the next two years.  Cooks will play this season on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal. After which, the Rams will need to franchise or sign the wide receiver to a long-term deal.

 

Photo Credit: NESN

 

Commentary: Who Is Winning The NFL Free Agency So Far? Top 3 Free Agencies

It’s hard to quantify what a free agent or trade addition will do to help a new team in the coming year. You can never be sure how a player will fit into a new scheme, or play alongside different personnel. So what then becomes the metric to determine how well a team is doing in their offseason additions? Do we have to wait like Mike Mayock and refuse to give out grades? No, there’s no fun or intrigue in waiting to give out offseason grades and rating a teams additions. Instead, we have to assess whether or not the additions have helped make the team better than the previous iteration. For some teams like Cleveland with a lower floor, the additions mean a lot more than other teams that may have added a good player to an already competitive team. So with this in mind, I will begin the objective and abstract process of determining the top three offseasons to date.

Los Angeles Rams
Aqib Talib, Sam Shields, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Lamarcus Joyner, Ndamukong Suh and Marcus Peters. There’s not much else that needs to be said about that. Following the departure of standout Cornerback Trumaine Johnson, the defensive backfield became a question mark. They elected to use the franchise tag on Joyner instead of WR Sammy Watkins, but the team still had holes to fill at the cornerback position. That hole was quickly filled by veteran Aqib Talib, acquired in a trade from Denver, and rising superstar Marcus Peters. The retention of Nickell Robey-Coleman gave the unit their third corner, and veteran Sam Shields provides another reliable defensive back that can contribute on passing downs.
The team did elect to move on from talented Linebackers Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn, but both were casualties due to the team’s transition to a 3-4 defense. Quinn’s high cap number also contributed to his departure, and both were moved for mid-round picks that can be used to improve upon their weakened front seven. The retention of Defensive Lineman Dominique Easley alleviates some of those concerns if he can stay healthy, but the signing of Suh provides the team with their another standout 3-4 end to compliment Aaron Donald. If the Rams manage to draft or bring in a veteran linebacker, the team will have greatly improved an already strong Wade Phillips led defense.
The offensive unit still has some holes to fill and the team may be in the market for another receiver after losing WR Sammy Watkins to Kansas City. The Rams will likely pursue a veteran to add to their trio of Woods, Austin, and Kupp, but there have been rumors that the New York Giants are taking offers for Odell Beckham Jr. ODB has reportedly refused to set foot on the field until he signs a new contract, so the Giants may be best served by trading the talented wide receiver and there are few teams that are in the mix to compete now with the cap and desire to trade for Beckham who is not guaranteed to resign. The Giants, who appear to be trending down as the rest of the division trends up, need to seriously consider the impact of an ODB trade on their future, and the Rams are just the team that wants to exploit their weakness. As recently as today it was reported that ODB, “wants in,” on the Rams.

Cleveland Browns
Cleveland is the one team that you can point to that has added to their win total this offseason (which after last year wasn’t hard to do). Losing hall of fame Left Tackle Joe Thomas is a big blow to the teams offense, but the additions of RB Carlos Hyde, WR Jarvis Landry, QB Tyrod Taylor, OT Chris Hubbard on offense, and the defensive additions of CB T.J. Carrie, CB E.J. Gains, CB Terrance Mitchell, and S Damarious Randall have put this team in a position to compete in 2018 and beyond. They still sit comfortably with the number one overall pick in this year’s draft, with which they will likely draft their quarterback of the future, the fourth overall pick, and eight total picks in the first four rounds.
If you look around the division, Pittsburgh remains the far and away favorite until Ben Roethlisberger decides to retire, and indications are that it could be sooner rather than later after the star quarterback reportedly considered walking away prior to last season, but the rest of the division aside from Cleveland is not making any significant strides to improve. The long game of the Browns may very well make put them in a position to succeed by 2020, but much of their potential success rests on the shoulders of Head Coach Hugh Jackson and new General Manager John Dorsey. Renewing their commitment to Jackson came as a shock to much of the league after two straight seasons ending in last place finishes, but Cleveland, which has been a carousel for coaches and quarterbacks understands that continuity breeds success… Assuming they have the right man for the job.

Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears have quietly gotten better during a free agency which has seen the division rival Vikings reaching a historic agreement with their new Franchise Quarterback Kirk Cousins, the LA Rams moving former centerpieces and acquiring star defensive talent, and Cleveland bringing in playoff QB Tyrod Taylor, and elite WR Jarvis Landry, completely reshaping their offense. The Bears are currently at the bottom of the NFC North, a division which is quickly making a case as the most competitive in the NFL, but with a few key additions and the retention of some of their more impactful pieces, the bears are putting themselves in a position to compete in 2018 and beyond.
To do that, QB Mitchell Trubisky will need to take the next step in his development and improve upon his rookie campaign. This offseason, the Bears were able to move on from some of their more expensive contracts and bring in impactful players that can help on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Their most robust signing came in the form of a three-year $42M contract with WR Allen Robinson, who instantly improves the Bears passing game and gives Trubisky a legitimate #1 receiving option. To further cement their commitment to improving their offensive attack, they also brought in WR Taylor Gabriel on a respectable four-year $26M deal and TE Trey Burton on a four-year $32M contract. In moving on from QB Mike Glennon (who is now with Arizona), the team was able to bring in veterans Chase Daniel (two-years $10M) and Tyler Bray to compete as Trubisky’s backup. Daniel will likely secure the job in camp, but both are experienced guys who will positively contribute to the quarterback room and help Trubisky develop. The Bears may not be in the mix to win the division this year, but they are well on their way to fielding a roster that can make a splash in the division.

Analysis: Is AJ McCarron an Upgrade for Buffalo?

Tyrod Taylor departed Buffalo in what can only be described as unusual circumstances. There are not many teams that go to the playoffs, ending one of the longest active playoff droughts in major sports, only to then move on from the quarterback that helped get them there. There’s no denying that the relationship between the front office and Taylor was tenuous at best. At one point during the season, benching him in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman who had a historic first start, throwing five interceptions in 16 pass attempts, only to be removed for Taylor later in the game. It was clear that the front office wanted to move on, and Taylor’s playoff performance where the team only scored three points did nothing to help cement himself as their long-term option, and following his trade to the Browns, enter new Signal Caller AJ McCarron.
McCarron saw his quarterback market collapse around him. Following a trade deadline where the Browns reportedly offered multiple picks to Cincinnati in a botched attempt to secure McCarron’s services, many thought his market would be more competitive. Instead, Buffalo got great value with a minimal investment and McCarron settled for a two-year deal worth $10M with roughly $7.9M guaranteed to act as Buffalo’s interim starter. That role may be short-lived, as Buffalo could have propelled themselves into the mix to draft a quarterback after trading OT Cordy Glenn to move up to 12th overall, swapping first round picks with Cincinnati. Buffalo, with two first-round picks, has enough ammunition to move up in the draft, or select a quarterback at 12 (should one fall to them), but following the Jets trade with Indianapolis, Cleveland might be the only willing trade partner left, and it will likely cost Buffalo both of its first-round selections to leapfrog an interested Denver.
His future’s uncertainty aside, does McCarron provide an upgrade to Buffalo’s offense? It’s hard to compare body’s of work when judging Taylor and McCarron side by side. McCarron, who played behind Andy Dalton in Cincinnati doesn’t have the same amount of tape as Taylor, and much of his analysis is based off a small sample size and potential scheme fit. His historic college career demonstrates a winning pedigree and ability to exercise ball security, but he played for Nick Saban on an Alabama team with one of the most daunting defenses protecting his leads. Similarly, in Buffalo, McCarron will have a high performing defense that will keep games competitive, and if his past is any indication, should provide an upgrade over Taylor with regards to ball security. Taylor turned the ball over a respectable eight time’s last year (rushing and passing), and has a career interception ratio of 2.8:1, whereas if McCarron can maintain his limited sample of 3:1, it may limit the demand on Buffalo’s stellar defense to protect short field.
Taylor’s big arm and his persistent threat to run gave him the opportunity to throw the ball deep off play action, but Buffalo’s offense under Head Coach Sean McDermott was largely ineffectual on high percentage offensive plays. Attempting among the fewest short pass plays in the league which accounted for only 31.82% of their offense. Only Carolina had less of their offense come from these high-efficiency plays with 31.59%. It should be noted, that this metric is not necessarily a causal mechanism for judging offensive effectiveness, the New York Giants had a league-best 41.3% of their offense driven through short passing plays and they were one of the worst offensive teams in the NFL last season (15.4 ppg ranked second to last). But, the metric does show moderate correlation, teams who ran a high frequency of short pass plays such as New England, San Francisco, Los Angeles Chargers, and Pittsburgh averaged 28.9, 20.7, 22.2, and 26.4 points per game respectfully.
Adding to Buffalo’s offensive woes, Tyrod Taylor scrambled over 40 times on broken plays where he threw the ball (third behind Seattle and Cleveland), and his hesitation to release the ball resulted in only 15 of those plays being converted for first downs. His time to throw the ball on average ranked among the bottom of the league at 3.01 seconds after the snap in 2017, and 3.1 seconds in 2016. As a comparison, quarterbacks synonymous with success such as Brady, Rodgers, Brees, and Roethlisberger averaged 2.7, 2.64, 2.58, and 2.56 seconds respectively. Only four qualified quarterbacks had their time to throw longer than three seconds in 2017. Tyrod Taylor (3.01), Brett Hundley (3.0), Deshaun Watson (3.1), and Russell Wilson (3.05). Each of their teams missed the playoffs in 2017, although a significant knee injury hampered Watson’s promising campaign. Taylors slow release and willingness to move outside of the pocket likely contributed to his 46 sacks, which was 3rd highest in the league behind Jacoby Brissett (52) and Matthew Stafford (47), a number that is expected to decrease with the more conservative and quick firing McCarron under center.
It’s hard to determine what other factors contributed to Buffalo’s offensive stagnation last season, Taylor ranked 16th among qualified passers in quarterback rating (89.2), 13th in QBR (56.4), and 16th in completion percentage (62.6%). Where he fell out of the middle of the pack was in yardage, he ranked 25th with 2,799 yards. 1,778 yards behind the league passing leader and MVP Tom Brady. Much of the success in the NFL is symptomatic of the scheme, and while Taylor was unable to thrive under McDermott, he is uniquely suited for Cleveland’s offense under Head Coach Hugh Jackson. Jackson prefers playing to the strengths of a mobile quarterback, and I expect weapons such as Jarvis Landry, Duke Johnson, David Njoku and Corey Coleman, and a commitment to the running game with the addition of Carlos Hyde to help Taylor put together a better campaign in 2018.
McCarron, on the other hand, comes to a Buffalo team that has fewer offensive weapons than Cleveland. Much of Buffalo’s offense was generated through LeSean McCoy, but to develop offensive potency, Buffalo will need to add at least one more weapon in the passing game to complement a developing Zay Jones and big framed Kelvin Benjamin. I think McCarron will put up a better statistical year in 2018 than Taylor did in 2017, but it’s hard to assess whether or not the switch at quarterback will result in added wins. My gut says that Buffalo remains a 9-win team in 2018, but it’s hard to imagine Buffalo’s offense doesn’t improve from its mediocre 2017 showing, and if McCarron does take the next step, we could be looking at a second consecutive playoff berth for the Buffalo Bills.

FA Signing Grade: B+
McCarron’s contract makes him a good investment for Buffalo, even if they draft a quarterback, the team will still be spending less than most of the NFL on the position. McCarron has seen limited action in the NFL, but in his few regular season and playoff opportunities, he has looked more than serviceable. His time in the NFL should make him more polished than the player we saw at Alabama, and if Buffalo’s waiting game pans out and McCarron is their future quarterback or McCarron is an effective bridge for their future franchise quarterback, they would have secured him by playing it safe and allowing their funds to be allocated to needs elsewhere.

Statistics and Data retrieved and generated from NFL Savants, NFL.com, and Pro Football Reference.

Commentary: The Identity of the Patriots, and the Future

The Patriots under Bill Belichick have rarely been scrutinized during his eighteen-year tenure as the team’s head coach, but entering this offseason the tone around New England has begun to change. Following a year that saw what was reported as nothing less than a power struggle between the head coach, ownership, and the team’s star quarterback, New England may be struggling to maintain its identity. The trading of backup quarterback and rising star Jimmy Garoppolo prior to the trade deadline to San Francisco for what was viewed as below value (a second-round pick) was the first event in a string that attempted to stabilize the relationship between the Patriots leadership. Some NFL insiders had Garoppolo pegged as the future of the Patriots and the quarterback Bill Belichick most wanted to work with moving forward, but Garoppolo’s departure, reportedly spurred by owner Bob Kraft, was an attempt to keep Tom Brady and the nuclei of their success in New England intact.

The dynamic between the Patriots head coach and quarterback, like many relationships that last nearly twenty years, has become strained. The seemingly unlimited access of Tom Brady’s personal health guru Alex Guerrero to Patriots players may have contributed to the rift in the locker room where half the team consulted Guerrero at the TB12 facility, and the rest of the team relied on team doctors. The undermining of the Patriots training and conditioning staff was the first form of fractionalization in the locker room that Belichick had to contest. Guerrero’s access even landed him on the sideline of Patriot’s games and it wasn’t until the second half of the season that Guerrero was prevented from being on the Patriots’ sideline during games. Further complicating matters, at one point in time, Jimmy Garoppolo was prevented from seeing Guerrero and the training staff at the TB12 facility and was only seen two weeks after when reports of the incident landed in the media.

Belichick is known for his control over the holistic operations of the Patriots. Every aspect of the Patriots’ culture is monitored and carefully crafted, and Belichick has been remarkably successful in the face of an evolving social media that has drastically changed during his tenure. The access of fans to players has increased dramatically with the invention of platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, yet the Patriots have rarely had incidents where players have spoken out of line, even high profile players such as Randy Moss and Chad Ochocinco adhered to the norms established in the Patriots locker room for dealing with the media. When players come to New England there has been an expectation of normative behavior that was all part of a winning tradition, but there are signs of that culture changing in New England beyond what we saw during the 2017 campaign.

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All-Pro Tight End Rob Gronkowski used Twitter to wish former teammate Danny Amendola luck after the receiver signed a two-year deal with the division rival Miami Dolphins. The Tweet garnered attention due to the emphasis on “FREE” and “HAPPY”. Gronkowski, who many have reported has debated retirement since last year’s training camp due to concerns over health and his declining enjoyment in the game, has been the prominent story of the offseason for the Patriots who recently released talented Tight End, Martellus Bennett. Reading into Gronkowski’s comments of may suggest a confirmation that the businesslike culture in New England has worn on Gronkowski. Former players have made similar suggestions, and recently Lane Johnson spoke out against the Patriots’ culture, stating he wouldn’t sign with New England. Though he has never been a part of the Patriots’ locker room, he has played with former players LeGarrette Blount and Chris Long, and his opinions may be representative of some of the perceptions around the league.Perhaps after a few Super Bowl victories Gronkowski is looking for a change of scenery where he can play the game in a fun atmosphere at the expense of success, or maybe he just wants out altogether. The Patriots are of course hoping that an offseason provides Gronkowski with a much-needed break. If his strategy is to try to use his position to negotiate a new contract as it has been suggested by some, then he is likely out of luck, Belichick has rarely renegotiated deals, and when he does, the restructuring generally favors the Patriots (see Amendola’s contract restructure).

During the “Tom vs.Time” series, it was suggested that entrepreneur and wife of Tom Brady Gisele Bundchen had been diverting attention away from her career to take care of the family while Tom has devoted most of his time to focusing on his conditioning and playing career. In January, Gisele had reached out to friend and former NFL player AJ Feely in an attempt to convince Tom to stop playing. But, Tom has never been shy to suggest that he will play until his mid-forties if his play and body allows. Traditionally, players have broken down well before the age of forty. I am not willing to bet against him, but time always wins, and the only force more influential than time is a wife.

Bottom line, so long as the Patriots continue to be in the mix and favored to win the Superbowl, I don’t see Belichick struggling to recruit talent during the offseason. For veterans that have not had the opportunity to make a deep playoff run, six rings are an impactful negotiating tool, and the promise of success or career revitalization has allowed for New England to get better than market value contracts from many talented veterans or underperforming stars looking to prove their value on the market for the following year. New England is finally nearing the end of the back nine of their dynasty, but so long as they have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick we would be foolish to suggest anything is over now.  

Moving forward it is almost assured that the Patriots dynasty has been left in the hands of Jonathan Kraft and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels. McDaniels, who had accepted the Colts head coaching vacancy prior to backing out of the deal to return to New England was dropped by his agent who said the move was ‘career suicide.’ To go to such lengths to stay in New England indicates that McDaniels is confident that when Jonathan Kraft takes over, and Bill Belichick moves on, he will be slated as the next head coach of the Patriots. Given the continuity that the Kraft family has heralded as key to the team’s success, it makes sense that McDaniels would feel confident in a position with the Patriots being long term. He is not Belichick, but he has been around the organization long enough to understand what it takes to win in the NFL. Even if the Patriots culture is changing, the future beyond Brady, Belichick, and Bob Kraft seems secure. Can we expect the same levels of success that was enjoyed in New England during the Brady and Belichick era? I think that would be unreasonable, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that the Patriots will continue to compete. One new challenge that McDaniels will face is the fact that many players take a discount for the opportunity to play with Brady and under Belichick, once they are gone much of that leverage goes with them, but rings do talk, and once McDaniels is the Head Coach, the first couple years will be critically important to establish himself and maintain the organization’s prestige.

 

Analysis: Sam Bradford’s Fit In Arizona

With Carson Palmer’s retirement, Arizona sought out veteran quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon, inking Bradford to a surprising 1-year $20M deal with $15M guaranteed, and Glennon to a 2-year $8M contract to act as his veteran backup. While the signing of Bradford may not come as a surprise given his upside and ability to hit receivers, his inability to stay healthy makes his cap number surprising. But is Bradford a good fit in Arizona? Let’s break it down.

Al Holcomb steps in as Arizona’s new Offensive Coordinator, coming from Carolina with new Head Coach Steve Wilks. It’s hard to say how the offense in Arizona will change, but given the continuity of personnel and polarizing difference at the quarterback position between Carolina and Arizona, we should expect Arizona’s offense to remain largely similar in scheme to last season.

Arizona ran more plays (719) with the quarterback under center than any other team in 2017. Over 53% of their offense came from these formations, and when their quarterback was under center they threw (223 times) more than any other team. Bradford is well respected in the league for his ability to release the ball quickly, at times averaging two seconds from snap to release in 2016. Which plays well in Arizona’s offensive design.

With a versatile back like David Johnson, defenses will have to respect the run, and this will allow Bradford to run more play action while under center, giving a physical receiver like Larry Fitzgerald the opportunity to leverage five yards of contact and create separation for a quick hit.

Last season, Arizona threw 505 short passes, accounting for nearly 37% of their total offensive plays, generating 3050 yards. Bradford, who set an NFL record completing 71.6% of his passes in 2016 will benefit from a west coast offensive design in Arizona that allows for him to release the ball quickly to receivers running short and intermediate routes. If he can continue to maintain a high passing efficiency there’s no reason to believe that Bradford can’t manipulate his ball security and a well above average running game to keep Arizona competitive in an improving NFC West.

FA Signing Grade: B

A prove it deal is perfect for Bradford who may be acting as a stopgap for a possible rookie draft selection at 15. But, the cap number of $20M for an injury-prone quarterback who missed all of last year’s contests may be high. Either way, Bradford was at one time one of the highest rated quarterback prospects and has proven that when healthy he can be an effective NFL signal caller.

Graphics credit to NFL Savants.