Carl Lawson was an excellent free agent signing for NYJ
Which good offseason pickups went unnoticed?
By Calvin K (Twitter: @Calvin_SGF)
The NFL offseason is winding down, and all 32 NFL teams are preparing for training camp with new-look rosters. As usual, there were plenty of splashy free agency signings that went down, but this article focuses on the impactful moves that have been overlooked. Below is my personal top 10 list of underrated free agent pickups.
10. Adam Humphries (WR, Washington Football Team)
Humphries cost Washington just $1.2 million for a one-year rental, but production could still be on the way for the 28-year-old slot receiver. Washington doesn’t have an established starter at the slot position, leaving the door open for him to potentially perform. Humphries fell off everyone’s radar over his last two injury-riddled seasons, but in 2018, he was actually relatively productive, catching 76 of 105 targets for 816 yards and five touchdowns.
Humphries hasn’t done anything special over the course of his six-year career, but he won’t have to in Washington, as the team already has two established WRs in Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel on the outside. Humphries could thrive in a low-pressure role for the team, as he’s likely to see very little defensive attention. His contract costs Washington very little, so he carries virtually no risk salary-cap-wise. However, he has shown some playmaking ability throughout his career, and if he produces even a little bit of production in 2021, he’ll be well worth the contract that he signed.
9. Tevin Coleman (RB, New York Jets)
The Coleman signing is one that flew quietly under the radar, but he could be a solid value for a Jets team that desperately needs help in the running game. New York drafted running back Michael Carter early in the fourth round of the NFL draft, but history shows that Day 3 RBs don’t tend to produce in the NFL, especially in Year 1. Coleman, with a contract worth up to $1.1 million, is a cheap, risk-free option who could help keep this offense afloat.
Coleman has had his share of injury struggles in recent years, but when he’s been on the field, he’s been quite solid. Coleman averaged 4+ yards per carry in each of his first five years in the NFL, missing the mark last year with just 28 attempts due to his place on the depth chart. He’s not amazing as a pass-catcher, but he has had four seasons with at least 30 targets, so it’s not like he can’t produce in that category. His efficiency has been consistent throughout his career, and while Carter did have a good minicamp, he’s not likely to be the starter in Week 1. Coleman should be a fine fill-in for the job, and if he plays well enough, he could easily hold onto the role for most or all of 2021.
8. Gus Edwards (RB, Baltimore Ravens)
The Ravens signed Edwards to a two-year, $10 million extension earlier this offseason, and while that might seem like a big contract for a backup RB, Edwards will be well worth the price. Edwards has been a very effective change-of-pace back for Baltimore, and he’s managed to put up numbers despite being in the starting role only rarely.
Edwards had over 700 rushing yards in each of the first three years of his career, and his career average of 5.2 yards per carry outlines just how good he’s been for the Ravens. Edwards’ production benefits his team when he’s on the field, but he’s also been crucial for the workload management of Baltimore’s starting RBs. It’s no coincidence that starter J.K. Dobbins averaged a whopping 6 yards per carry in 2020, and it’s also not a fluke that Mark Ingram averaged 5 and 4.7 in the two years prior. The running back by committee approach that Baltimore takes increases the efficiency of all of their backs, making their rushing more effective as a whole. Without Edwards’ help, that approach may not have been possible for this team.
7. Bashaud Breeland (CB, Minnesota Vikings)
Breeland signed a one-year, $4 million deal with a Vikings team that was marred by inconsistent cornerback play last season. The signings of Breeland, Mackensie Alexander, and Patrick Peterson helped to bolster a unit that was led by young guys such as Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney.
Breeland will have to fight for a starting role in Minnesota, but he has the boost of major starting experience in the past, as he has played significant time for three different teams in his career. Breeland played solidly for Kansas City in 2020, recording 38 tackles and two interceptions in just 11 games played. The eighth-year veteran isn’t a superstar, but his consistency over the years has been very good for a starting cornerback. Even if he doesn’t start, Breeland will provide a veteran locker room leader who could mentor guys such as Dantzler and Gladney. However, if he does end up playing significant time, he will almost certainly be a value on his inexpensive $4 million contract.
6. Markus Golden (OLB, Arizona Cardinals)
Golden signed a two-year, $9 million contract to return to the team that traded back for him in 2020, and he will start at outside linebacker for the Cardinals alongside Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt, who are both superstar edge rushers. The signing of Watt was the one dominating headlines, but Golden should be an impactful player as well, and he will likely thrive with the stud duo occupying much of the attention from opposing offensive lines.
Golden only put up 4.5 sacks in 2020, but those numbers came while playing with a still-developing Giants d-line, as well as a Cardinals line that was missing Jones for the entirety of Golden’s 2020 Arizona games. In 2019, however, Golden was excellent, piling up 10 sacks for New York. Golden missed lots of time in 2018 and 2017 due to injuries, but Cardinals fans likely have fond memories of 2016, his breakout year, in which he had 12.5 sacks. The production should flow again for Golden in 2021, and while Jones and Watt will take plenty of sacks for themselves, they’ll also open up space for easier pass rushing lanes on the rest of the line, benefiting the players around them. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Golden go for double-digit sacks for a third time in his career. That would give his contract incredible value as a cheap deal for a productive player at a premium position.
5. John Brown (WR, Oakland Raiders)
Brown signed a one-year, $3.75 million deal with the Raiders this offseason, which is a very cheap price considering his talent. Brown struggled with injuries for a lot of last year, but two years ago, he quietly put up a very good season as the Bills’ WR1.
In 2019, Brown played in 15 games, catching 72 of 115 targets for 1,060 yards while playing with Josh Allen, who had a 58.8% completion percentage that year, as his QB. Brown makes his hay on the deep ball, and he showed that in 2019, averaging 14.7 yards per catch. He was injured for much of 2020, but now, he joins a Raiders team in desperate need of a WR1 after the departure of deep-ball specialist Nelson Agholor.
Brown is certainly talented enough to fill Agholor’s role. However, unlike Agholor, Brown shouldn’t have a big problem with drops, allowing him to take advantage of Derek Carr’s usually accurate passes (Carr had a 67.3% completion percentage in 2020). Brown is a very good receiver when healthy, and he could easily put up another 1,000 yard year in 2021, which would make him a major value on the cheap contract that he received.
4. Marvin Jones (WR, Jacksonville Jaguars)
The two-year, $14.5 million deal is a very modest price to pay for a WR with Jones’ potential, but the Jaguars were still somehow able to get him for significantly less money than New England paid Nelson Agholor. The 31-year-old Jones has consistently been underrated during his time in the league, but last season, he played extremely well as the clear WR1 in Detroit’s offense, something that wasn’t necessarily expected of him when Kenny Golladay went down.
Jones’ stellar end to 2020 proved that he can lead a WR room, and he’ll have the opportunity to do that again in 2021. D.J. Chark has big-play ability, but Jones is a much more well-rounded receiver than Chark, and second-year pro Laviska Shenault is talented, but unproven. Jones will have an opportunity to immediately become rookie QB Trevor Lawrence’s favorite target, which could lead to one of the biggest seasons of his career. Jones has racked up at least 800 yards in every season where he’s started 13 or more games, so the production potential is there. The question now will be whether Lawrence will like him the most out of the WR group in Jacksonville, and he’s probably the safest bet for Lawrence’s favor given his proven talent.
3. Chris Carson (RB, Seattle Seahawks)
Carson has quietly been one of the game’s better running backs over the last few years, and he’s been effective as a three-down workhorse for Seattle. Carson had over 1,300 total yards in both 2018 and 2019, and in 2020, he had 968 despite missing four games due to injury.
The Seahawks’ offense became much more pass-first last year, but that resulted in many turnovers due to the predictable nature of their offense. As a result, the Seahawks fired offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and head coach Pete Carroll has pledged to return to a run-first system again in 2021. This means more work for Carson, who was rewarded for his past efforts with a two-year contract worth about $10.5 million in base salary. Carson should have his work cut out for him in 2021, but he’s shown that he’s capable of shouldering a heavy workload in Seattle’s offense, and if he produces like he has in the past, he’d be a bargain on his new deal.
2. Morgan Moses (RT, New York Jets)
The Jets got another steal in the 30-year-old Moses, giving him a one-year contract worth up to $5.3 million after he was released by the Washington Football Team. Moses had been a staple of Washington’s offensive line since 2014, but he was cut this offseason as a cap casualty after the team picked up multiple tackles in free agency and the draft.
Moses has been a consistently good blocker throughout his career, never allowing more than five sacks in a season. Penalties have been a problem for him, but his durability has been extremely impressive, as he hasn’t missed a game in the last six seasons. Now, he joins an improved Jets o-line led by massive left tackle Mekhi Becton, who should take another step forward in Year 2, and rookie left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, who should be a good boost for the running game. Moses isn’t exactly a superstar. However, at $5.3 million, he’s a major value as a one-year rental, and he’ll be a stabilizing veteran who should be a big help for the line’s development as a whole.
1. Carl Lawson (DE, New York Jets)
Unlike many of the acquisitions on this list, Lawson’s three-year, $45 million signings was one that came with a lot of hype. However, it’s still likely that even for $15 million a year, the Jets got an absolute steal. Lawson produced in spurts alongside a terrible Bengals defensive line, but defensive-minded Jets head coach Robert Saleh could develop him to the next level.
Defensive end is one of the most important positions in the NFL, and Lawson’s contract will make him the 11th-highest-paid defensive end in the NFL. He will join a Jets defensive line that struggled last year, but the offseason coaching change along with other additions (Sheldon Rankins, Vinny Curry) should help the group take a major step up in 2021. Rankins and Lawson will both be starters, and they will immediately take major pressure off of young talent Quinnen Williams, who also plays defensive end. Williams was the only potent force on that line in 2020, and as such, he finished with just seven sacks on the year.
Stepping into a role with other good defensive linemen should be very beneficial for Lawson, who should be able to consistently produce for the first time in his career in 2021. Lawson’s tape shows that he is an elite talent who possesses great explosiveness along with polished pass-rushing moves, and sometimes, all it takes are some additional pieces around a player to put them over the top. The Washington Football Team’s defense was a great example of this, as the acquisition of Chase Young helped their line (in particular, edge rusher Montez Sweat) take a massive step up in 2021. Lawson has all the tools to be a sack monster, and although he hasn’t shown it consistently, he has the potential to step into the elite tier of defensive ends. Elite talents at the position can cost north of $20 million per year, so if Lawson, who is still just 25 years old, breaks out, he would stand out as perhaps the biggest value of the entire NFL offseason.