The action came fast and furious as the new NFL league year opened Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m. EST., starting with some blockbuster trades in a league not known for them.
The biggest trade of all involved the New Orleans Saints sending tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks for center Max Unger and a first-round pick. Then it was the St. Louis Rams trading Sam Bradford to the Philadelphia Eagles for Nick Foles in an exchange of quarterbacks. The last trade was the Baltimore Ravens sending defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to the Detroit Lions for draft picks.
The NFL knows how to own early March, right? Free agency. Trades. Cuts. It is nuts.
Here's a look at the three trades, with a grade for each.
The Trade: Graham and a fourth-round pick to the Seahawks for Unger and this year's first-round pick, 31st overall.
What it means to the Seahawks: It means they have an elite tight end, a player who can create real matchup problems for a defense. Graham has a special skill set, possessing receiver-type ability and yet his size makes him a matchup nightmare. In Seattle's offense, with all the play-action and plays with the quarterback outside the pocket, Graham will be such a threat. He played last season with a shoulder that was banged up, but he toughed through it, catching 85 passes for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns. I asked him at the Pro Bowl how bad he was hurt, and he said, "You have no idea." When he's healthy, he is capable of lining up anywhere on the field. That's his value. He does carry a huge contract after signing a four-year, $40-million deal with the Saints last year. The Seahawks will lose roughly $7 million in cap room with the deal. With Unger done, the Seahawks will need to find a center, although that could come in the draft. The players on the roster don't look like long-term answers.
Seahawks Grade: B+
What it means for the Saints: They are losing a star tight end on a team that lacks great playmakers outside. That will be felt. They do get a good center in Unger, and they had major problems inside last season. When Drew Brees gets pressure inside, it shows up in a big way because he is a short quarterback. That was the case in 2014. Unger will help alleviate that. It appears the Saints will be moving to more of a ball-control offense with Mark Ingram as the featured back. They do get some cap relief down the road from the Graham deal, but not this year. He is on the books for $9 million because of the signing bonus. This is a weird deal. But who is calling the shots. The word is that it's coach Sean Payton. Is this a desperation move? Is his job on the line? Time will tell. I just think it's odd that a team that is so pass-happy can get rid of a big-time playmaker like Graham.
Saints Grade: D
The Trade: Bradford and a fourth-round pick to the Eagles with Foles and a fifth-round pick and conditional second-round 2016 pick going to the Rams.
What it means for the Rams: It means the talk that Bradford was their guy, which Jeff Fisher said over and over again at the combine, was all hot air. They decided to get rid of the injury-plagued Bradford for the younger Foles. Both have one year left on their deals, but Bradford's contract is in the $12 million range. Foles is much cheaper at $1.45 million. But Bradford was playing his best football two years ago before suffering a knee injury. In Foles, the Rams will be getting a 26-year-old passer who seemed to regress last season. He threw 27 touchdown passes and two picks in 2013, but those numbers fell to 13 and 10 in eight games last season before Foles broke his collarbone. His mechanics were bad when he was on the field, and it showed up in his turnovers. In the Rams' run-heavy offense -- isn't that the Jeff Fisher way? -- Foles will be asked to hit deep passes off play action. At times, he has struggled with that. This might be a one-year test. Who knows? Maybe the Rams still make a move to go up and get Marcus Mariota? If Bradford starts eight games for the Eagles, the Rams will also get a 2016 second-round pick.
Rams Grade: C-
Rams Grade: C-
What it means for the Eagles: I though the Eagles would be the team to get Mariota, but this likely takes them out of it after getting Bradford on the heels of re-signing Mark Sanchez. Bradford is coming back off a second knee injury he suffered in the preseason last year. So there are obvious durability questions. Bradford threw a combined 35 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions in 2012 and 2013 in 23 games. There is talent there -- if he's on the field. In Chip Kelly's offense, where the ball gets out quick, Bradford could be better. The word is Kelly loves Bradford. This could lead to Bradford having a career rejuvenation. I would expect the Eagles to give him a short-term extension to alleviate the big cap number.
Eagles Grade: B
The Trade: Ravens trade Haloti Ngata to the Lions for draft picks -- fourth and fifth-round picks this year.
What it means for the Ravens: It means the Ravens are rid of a contact that took up $8.5 million in cap room on a player who turns 32 this year. Ngata has been a force for the Ravens in the run game, but age is starting to become a factor and the Ravens have young players they like, which is why he was expendable. They love second-year player Tim Jernigan as his replacement. Now they can use the picks and space to try and improve the secondary and get help outside at receiver.
Ravens Grade: B
What it means for the Lions: It means they have a one-year replacement for Ndamukong Suh, who signed with the Dolphins. Ngata isn't in the same class as Suh, but he will be good against the run in the middle. But Ngata has been a 3-4 end, and if the Lions are not switching to a 3-4 scheme, which is rumored, he will play inside for the first time since he was a rookie. That doesn't mean he can't do it. He is plenty capable. But don't expect near the same production that the Lions got from Suh. Ngata is good. Suh is great.
Lions Grade: B
More free-agent musings from Day 1
• Getting older is never something you want to do as a team. Yet we had the Colts signing Frank Gore, who turns 32 in May, to a contract and they are in pursuit of receiver Andre Johnson. The Colts got rid of Reggie Wayne because he couldn't run and Johnson has slowed down in a big way as well. Why not get younger players to grow with Andrew Luck? It wasn't the Colts offense that was the problem last season. It was the defense. I know Chuck Pagano and Pep Hamilton want to run the ball more, and Gore is a tough inside runner, but the move to sign Gore isn't one that I would have made.
• When the Eagles released corner Cary Williams, he left town with a lot of Eagles fans glad that he did. Williams, who always talks a big game, signed with Seattle, giving the Seahawks two brash corners, pairing him with Richard Sherman. Williams will compete with Will Blackmon, signed from Jacksonville, and Tharold Simon, who is entering his third season, to be the starter. But with Williams getting $6 million per season, it's his job. Maybe Williams can play well in a secondary with three talented players, but that sure seems like a lot of money for a corner who struggled big time last season. I asked some general managers about the deal, and they were stunned at the money Seattle paid to Williams. So was I.
• The Cardinals added defensive tackle Corey Peters from the Falcons to replace Dan Williams. Peters came off a 2013 torn Achilles tendon to play well last season. He came on late in the season and will give the Cardinals more push inside than Williams provided. He isn't as good in the run game, but Peters will help get inside pressure, which is key in a division where the best team has a 5-foot-10 quarterback named Russell Wilson.
• The Colts needed to add a veteran pass rush and signing Trent Cole is a nice addition. When Robert Mathis missed last season, the Colts really struggled to get edge pressure. Jonathan Newsome, a rookie, came on late, but they needed more. That really showed up in the loss to the Patriots in the AFC title game. I like the move to sign Cole, who can still get after the quarterback, even if he might not be what he was a few years ago. I also like the addition of Kendall Langford up front on their defense. He did some good things for the Rams the past couple of seasons, but was expendable with the emergence of Aaron Donald last season.
• With the Jaguars adding Packers corner Davon House on a four-year deal that will pay him $6 million a year, coach Gus Bradley now has four corners with good size to compete to start in his secondary. Demetrius McCray played well last season and should be locked in as one starter. That would leave House outside opposite McCray with Aaron Colvin and Dwayne Gratz likely competing to be the starting nickel. McCray is 6-feet tall, while House is 6-1. There was some talk of moving Gratz inside to free safety, and the team did discuss it, but it appears he will stay at corner. Sergio Brown was signed to compete at free safety.
• The Packers had two key free agents on offense entering the period in receiver Randall Cobb and right tackle Bryan Bulaga, and they are keeping them both. That's smart. General manager Ted Thompson loves to draft and develop and that's what he did with those two. It seemed unlikely they could keep both, but after Cobb agreed to stay Saturday, Bulaga agreed to a new deal Tuesday that will pay him close to $7 million a season. When he's on the field -- and he's missed time -- he's been a good player for the Packers. The Green Bay line is one of the best in the NFL, and handled the Seattle front in the NFC title game. Aaron Rodgers has to be happy.
• The Bengals are worried about the return to health of linebacker Vontaze Burfict, so signing A.J. Hawk as a potential replacement fits. Burfict is coming off micro-fracture surgery in his knee, and there is always a tough rehab from that. The only thing that makes me wonder about the Hawk signing is because I thought the Bengals would try and add more speed. Hawk isn't fast.
• I like the Giants signing of running back Shane Vereen. In Ben McAdoo's offense, he will catch a lot of passes. All you need to do is look at the Super Bowl to see his value. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield was huge for the Patriots.
• The Jets needed to get better at guard, which is why they signed Seattle's James Carpenter. He is a good run player, and can be dominant at times. But he has major lapses where he struggles. Consistency is an issue. He will play left guard next to D'Brickashaw Ferguson. The Jets also paid a pretty penny to Browns corner Buster Skrine. He did some good things last year, but there were games where he looked lost. But he's still young at 26 and upgrades a corner spot that needed it.