Which Teams Invested in Defense in 2020?
Every offseason, once the main part of free agency is over, I compile all the defensive free agent signings to get a quantitative sense of which teams are investing on that side of the ball. One of the best measures of a player's value and ability is the contract that they sign, so I add up the Average Annual Value for each team's free agents in (players the team signed) and free agents out (players signed away by other teams) to come up with a net dollar value for each team.
A team with a large positive number means that they brought in significantly more talent than they lost and the team should be better on that side of the ball. Conversely, a team with a big negative number means that they lost significantly more talent than they brought in, and the team should be worse on defense. Quality coaching and the development of younger players can offset losses in free agency.
Last Season Overview
Let's take a look at the top three teams in "Net $ In" from 2019:
- The Packers led the way with +$27.1 million spent on a "Net # In" of negative one player. This means that they lost one net defensive player in free agency, but the net spent was $27.1 million. The bulk of this free-agent money went to Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Adrian Amos, who were all signed to four-year deals. In 2018, the Packers were 22nd in points allowed (400), and in 2019, they improved to 9th in that metric (313).
- The Raiders were second with a net of eight players signed for $21.3 million. Most of this was dedicated to free safety LaMarcus Joyner, but Oakland also signed Nevin Lawson, Vontaze Burfict, Benson Mayowa, Josh Mauro, Brandon Marshall, Curtis Riley and Ethan Westbrooks. Since the money was spent over a larger number of players, they didn't necessarily have the same type of impact that the Packers' free agents did. The Raiders were last in the league in points allowed in 2018 but improved to 24th in 2019.
- The Cardinals spent a net $17.7 million on two net free agents. Jordan Hicks, Robert Alford, Darius Philon and Terrell Suggs were the primary signees. Arizona was 26th in points allowed in 2018 and fell to 28th in 2019, so in this case, the investment in the defense didn't pay off.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Ravens (-3, -$29.3 M) and the Patriots (-1, -$23.7 M) were able to lose talent in free agency and still perform very well on that side of the ball in 2019, probably due to quality coaching and superior defensive depth. However, the next two teams, the Seahawks (-1, -$16.1 M) and the Giants (-3, -$15.5 M) dropped 11 and seven spots, respectively, in points allowed.
So this is another good data point to use to evaluate defenses as fantasy assets and from a strength of schedule perspective.
Below is a table of the 2020 net free agency investment by each team. I also included the number of draft picks used in the first three rounds on defensive players to see which teams were using draft capital to shore up that side of the ball.
|Team||Net # In||Net $ In||Defensive Draft Picks in First Three Rounds|
A Few Takeaways
- The Dolphins defense was brutal in 2019, allowing the most points and the third-most yards in the league. Not only did they sign four big free agents (CB Byron Jones, ILB Kyle Van Noy, DE Shaq Lawson and DE Emmanuel Ogbah), but they also used a first-round pick on CB Noah Igbinoghene, a second-round pick on DT Raekwon Davis and a third-round pick on S Brandon Jones. If defensive-minded head coach Brian Flores can pull this group together, they could be much improved in 2020.
- The Bengals were 25th in points scored and 29th in yards allowed in 2019. They signed DT D.J. Reader, CB Trae Waynes and SS Vonn Bell and used a third-round pick on ILB Logan Wilson.
- The Giants were 30th in points allowed and 25th in yards allowed. They signed CB James Bradberry and ILB Blake Martinez and used a second-rounder on S Xavier McKinney.
- The Jaguars were 21st in points allowed and 24th in yards allowed. They signed two big free agents in ILB Joe Schobert and DE Rodney Gunter, and used three of their first four picks on the defensive side of the ball (CB CJ Henderson, OLB K'Lavon Chaisson and DT Davon Hamilton). The Jaguars defense could get back to respectability in 2020.
- The Raiders were once again a big spender on defense in 2020. They signed ILB Cory Littleton, DE Carl Nassib and ILB Nick Kwiatkoski, and used a first-rounder on CB Damon Arnette and a third-rounder on S Tanner Muse.
- The Panthers were 31st in points allowed and 23rd in yards allowed in 2019, and lost CB James Bradberry, DE Mario Addison, and DTs Gerald McCoy and Vernon Butler. They did add DE Stephen Weatherly and used all of their draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, adding DT Derrick Brown, DE Yetur Gross-Matos and S Jeremy Chinn in the first two rounds.
- The Vikings lost CB Trae Waynes, DT Linval Joseph and DE Stephen Weatherly, but added DT Michael Pierce in free agency and CBs Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler in the draft.
- The Bears lost ILB Nick Kwiatkoski, OLB Leonard Floyd and DT Nick Williams, but added CB Jaylon Johnson in the draft.
- The Patriots were the top defensive unit in the league last year but lost ILB Kyle Van Noy and OLB Jamie Collins. They reloaded with S Kyle Dugger, DE Josh Uche and OLB Anfernee Jennings. I wouldn't worry too much about the New England defense unless the offense falls flat on its proverbial face.