Ten best value signings of NFL free agency thus far

Dec 24, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor (11) during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns won 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Vincent Frank
Written by Vincent Frank

Now three full days into NFL free agency, and a lot of the big-name players are already inked to deals. Such is the nature of the beast in a league where things happen incredibly fast during the offseason.

While a ton of the focus has been placed on what the New England Patriots have done, there’s been some remarkable value signings around the NFL over the past few days.

Wide receivers did not find a market to their liking, forcing two top-end free agents to sign short-term deals with new teams. Meanwhile, one quarterback took a relatively small deal for an opportunity to start for his former offensive coordinator.

All the while, some under-the-radar moves were made by teams in need of help on the defensive side of the ball.

These are among the 10-best value signings thus far in NFL free agency.

All contract figures provided by Spotrac.

1. Terrelle Pryor, wide receiver, Washington Redskins

Contract: one-year, $6 million

Not a whole lot has gone right for Washington since the end of the 2016 season. We already know about the Kirk Cousins’ situation. That’s been covered in detail over the past several weeks. Washington also fired its general manager in a move out of a Hollywood movie script. On top of this, the Skins lost their two starting receivers, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, in free agency.

There is, however, one good bit of information here. Taking advantage of a weak market for wide receivers, Washington was able to add a dynamic pass catcher to the mix on a one-year deal that’s worth $6 million guaranteed. That came in the form of Terrelle Pryor from the Cleveland Browns.

Pryor, 27, put up 77 receptions for 1,007 yards in his first full season as a wide receiver in the NFL. He did so after converting from quarterback and on a Browns team that lacked competent quarterback play.

The thought process all along was that Pryor would be able to sign a long-term deal with an average salary north of $10 million. Obviously, the former Ohio State standout’s agent Drew Rosenhaus overplayed his hand here.

The Redskins surely won’t be complaining, as they were able to add a true No. 1 receiver to the mix on the cheap. It now remains to be seen who will be tossing him the rock in Landover next season.

2. Chris Baker, defensive tackle, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Contract: three-years, $15.8 million

Baker was absolutely tremendous for Washington as a two-way player this past season. The former un-drafted free agent from Hampton was dominating against the run and still found a way to get to the quarterback to the tune of 4.5 sacks in 16 games, all starts. This led to speculation that Baker might receive a massive payday for his overall excellence.

It simply didn’t play out that way. While $15.8 million over three seasons is not horrible, it’s not the market that Baker was expecting. After all, he was among the best players at his position in all of football last season.

The details of Baker’s contract are also rather interesting. Baker will earn $6 million guaranteed for the 2017 season, pretty much making it a one-year deal. If he fails to live up to expectations, the Buccaneers can release the veteran without a dead cap hit in 2018.

On the field, Baker and Gerald McCoy now form one of the best one-two defensive tackle tandems in the NFL. They are going to be extremely hard to run against. Equally as important, the two combined for 11 sacks last season. That should be a major issue for opposing NFC South quarterbacks in 2017.

3. Brandon Marshall, wide receiver, New York Giants

Contract: two-years, $11 million

Brandon Marshall

Marshall was set to earn $7.5 million from the Jets prior to the team deciding to release him. He now remains in the same city, playing at an average annual salary of $5.5 million. The deal also pays him just $5 million guaranteed with a signing bonus of $2 million split over two seasons. If the Giants were to move on from Marshall following the 2017 season, they would then only be on the hook for a $1 million dead cap hit.

That’s a major steal for a team that now has two No. 1 caliber receivers in the form of Marshall and Odell Beckham Jr. Despite putting up a less-than-stellar 788 receiving yards for the Jets last season, there’s every reason to believe Marshall will return to earlier-career form with a better quarterback situation on the Giants.

Simply put, the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith and Bryce Petty were downright horrible for the Jets in 2016. That’s the primary reason Marshall struggled form a statistical standpoint. Remember, he’s just one year removed from putting up 109 receptions for 1,502 yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns.

Opposing NFC East defenses will now have to account for potentially the best trio of wide receivers in the game. Marshall’s presence means Sterling Shepard will move inside with Marshall and OBJ flanking him on the outside. That’s just scary.

4. Julius peppers, EDGE, Carolina Panthers

Contract: one-year, $3.5 million

This is a reunion everyone can get behind. After a near 10-year hiatus, Peppers returns to where it all started. The now 37-year-old nine-time Pro Bowler last played for Carolina back in 2009. During his first stint with the team, the future Hall of Famer recorded an average of 10-plus sacks in eight seasons.

Despite his rather advanced age, Peppers is still capable of providing a solid pass rush in a situational role. This was magnified last season when he tallied 7.5 sacks for the Green Bay Packers. All said, Peppers ranks fifth on the NFL’s all-time sack list with the top three well within his reach.

It’s a solid on-field move for Carolina, who now has Peppers to team up with the likes of Mario Addision and Charles Johnson. That’s not a bad pass-rushing trio right there. It also came on a one-year deal with a base salary of $3.5 million. Should Peppers reach certain incentives, he would then earn $750,000 more. Not a bad price to pay for someone who can still pack the heat from the outside rush position.

5. Nolan Carroll, cornerback, Dallas Cowboys

Contract: three-years, $10 million

With both Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne free agents, the Cowboys made a much-needed move here in bringing in Carroll from the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles. While he may fly under the radar a great deal, this seven-year vet has more than proven himself capable.

Last year saw Carroll start all 16 games for Philadelphia, recording 55 tackles, 10 passes defended and an interception. Relegated to reserve duty most of his career in Miami, Carroll has now started the past 28 games in which he has appeared. It’s this type of consistency that Dallas needs in the defensive secondary.

It also doesn’t hurt that Carroll came on a three-year deal that gives Dallas an out after the first season with just a $2 million deal cap hit. Whether Carroll starts or plays the slot, this was a tremendous value signing.

6. Brian Hoyer, quarterback, San Francisco 49ers

Contract: two-years, $12 million

Let’s be as clear as we can here. Hoyer is not the 49ers’ long-term solution at quarterback. Heck depending on what happens with the Kirk Cousins’ situation, he might not even be San Francisco’s starter in 2017. He was, however, the team’s best possible stopgap option on the free-agent market.

Surely, stats don’t mean a whole heck of a lot. Depending on them is the equivalent of being a box-score scout. That’s fine and dandy, but Hoyer has played the best football of his career over the past two seasons.

He also knows Kyle Shanahan’s offense almost as good as any quarterback not named Matt Ryan. That’s a big deal with Shanny himself looking to build something in San Francisco.

The deal calls for an average annual salary of $6 million, including a total of $10 million guaranteed. Hoyer can earn as much as $9 million per season when incentives are factored in. Considering Mike Glennon received $15 million annually from Tampa Bay, this is an absolute steal for the 49ers.

We wouldn’t put it past Hoyer to have a career season under Shanahan in 2017. Nearly 4,000 passing yards with 25 scores is not out of the question here. But even if he doesn’t live up to those expectations, this contract represents a tremendous amount of value.

7. John Simon, EDGE, Indianapolis Colts

Contract: three-years, $13.5 million

First-year Colts general manager Chris Ballard is definitely doing some work here. He has brought in three veterans in the front seven, including this former Houston Texans pass rusher. Simon, a fourth-round pick of Baltimore back in 2013, has recorded 8.5 sacks in 27 games (12 starts) over the past two seasons in Houston.

The Ohio State product may never each the double-digit sack plateau. He might only be a situational rusher moving forward in his career. That’s perfectly fine. Running a 3-4 scheme, Indy is in need of EDGE pass-rush help. That’s only magnified by the retirement of long-time star Robert Mathis.

Getting Simon for just north of $4 million per season and $5.5 million guaranteed was an absolute steal for Ballard. Add in the acquisitions of Barkevious Mingo and Jabaal Sheard from New England, and Indianapolis suddenly has a deep pass-rush group heading into 2017.

8. Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver, Philadelphia Eagles 

Contract: one-year, $9.5 million

Alshon Jeffery

Much like Pryor before, it looks like Jeffery took a one-year, prove-it deal in order to go back on the market again in 2018. He has not committed to Philadelphia over the long term. And that’s a darn good thing considering just how his market played out in the end.

Jeffery’s contract was originally reported to be worth $14 million for one season. And while he can still earn that sum, a total of $4.5 million comes in the form of incentives, including the receiver earning another trip to the Pro Bowl. He’s surely banking on himself here.

That’s most definitely great news for Carson Wentz and Co. Jeffery was by far the most-talented receiver on the free-agent market. He has struggled to an extent over the past two seasons, but the primary issue there has been poor quarterback play in Chicago.

Still only 27, it’s important to remember that Jeffery put up over 2,500 receiving yards and 17 combined touchdowns in 2013-14. With a strong-armed Carson Wentz tossing him the rock, there’s no reason to believe Jeffery can’t return to that level in 2017. Coming in as the 17th highest-paid receiver in the NFL, Jeffery’s one-year deal surely was a value for Philly.

9. Kendall Wright, wide receiver, Chicago Bears

Contract: one-year, $4 million 

We have to give credit where it’s due. Sure the Bears lost a whole heck of a lot when Alshon Jeffery signed with Philadelphia. They were never going to replace him in one fell swoop. Instead, general manager Ryan Pace and Co. targeted two highly talented receivers with a ton to prove.

Just one day after bringing on former Steelers pass catcher Markus Wheaton, Chicago added Kendall Wright from the Titans on a smallish one-year deal. Wright, 27, had fallen on hard times recently in Nashville. However, he still boasts the talent and upside to be a productive receiver in the NFL.

Over the course of his first two seasons in the NFL, back in 2012 and 2013, Wright put up a combined 158 receptions for over 1,700 yards. Since then, he’s averaging just north of 40 receptions over the past three seasons. A change of scenery could surely do the former Baylor standout well. After all, the talent is definitely still here. Let’s hope Mike Glennon is willing to utilize it.

10. Lorenzo Alexander, EDGE, Buffalo Bills

Contract: two-year, $9 million

Dec 18, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (57) against the Cleveland Browns at New Era Field. Buffalo beats Cleveland 33 to 13. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

With the emphasis on edge rush ability in today’s NFL, some figured that Alexander would find a much hotter market for his services. After all, here’s a dude that’s coming off a 2016 campaign that saw him record 12.5 sacks while finishing in the top-three in his position in quarterback pressures.

The issue here is that Alexander’s body of work prior to a breakout 2016 season included a grand total of 16 starts and nine sacks in nine NFL seasons. That surely scared some teams off. Seen as nothing more than a special teams performer throughout his career, some figured Alexander’s 2016 performance was a fluke.

While we won’t know the answer to this question until the fall, we do know that Buffalo was able to retain the veteran on the cheap. Alexander signed a two-year deal worth $9 million with just $4.1 million guaranteed on Saturday. Even if he produces half of what we saw last season, this is a win for Buffalo.

About the author

Vincent Frank

Vincent Frank

Editor-at-large, Sportsnaut.

“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?” Rumi