We are about to wrap up the first week in free agency and a vast majority of the big names have locked up contracts. Starting today, it’s all about the second wave. This is when those teams who normally build through the draft and only supplement in free agency start to make their noise.
Of the big names that have signed, there were some real stinker contracts out there. On the other hand, teams really capitalized to make the most of their salary cap space and sign solid veterans to cap-friendly deals.
Let’s take a look a the five-best free-agent signings of the 2014 NFL free agency period thus far.
1. Alterraun Verner, Cornerback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (four-years, $26 million)
Someone please explain to me how Aqib Talib got the same amount of guaranteed money from the Denver Broncos as Verner received from Tampa Bay in total? This makes absolutely no sense.
First and foremost, Verner is the better all-around cornerback. Second, he’s had zero off-field issues in the NFL. As it is, the Buccaneers got an absolute steal here at $6.5 million per and $14 million guaranteed. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Verner was the 12th-ranked overall cornerback in the NFL last season. He allowed just two touchdowns and intercepted five passes in route to allowing a 55.8 opposing quarterback rating.
Say what you want about how the Buccaneers handled the Darrelle Revis situation, they got a solid replacement on the cheap. It’s not about the mistakes you made in the past. It’s all about recognizing them and then making the decision to rectify them. This signing does just that.
2. Linval Joseph, Defensive Tackle, Minnesota Vikings (five-years, $31.5 million)
Low key and necessary. That’s the best possible sentence to describe Minnesota’s signing of this former New York Giants defensive tackle. Some may look at $31.5 million over five seasons as a bit excessive for an interior lineman with nine sacks in 46 career games. That’s what happens when you fail to look a bit further into how good of a player Joseph is.
The former second-round pick from East Carolina has been among the best run-stuffing defensive tackles in the NFL over the past three seasons, which is something the Vikings sorely needed after finishing in the middle of the pack against the run last year.
The deal isn’t even anywhere near the $31.5 million in total value. If for some reason Joseph bombs out, the Vikings can get out of the deal after two seasons with just $11 million paid to him and a dead money hit of $1.5 million. Not too shabby.
3. Jared Veldheer, Offensive Tackle, Arizona Cardinals (five-years, $35 million)
Finally. I can just envision fans in the desert doing some sort of weird dance under the moon right now. It’s been what seems like generations since the Cardinals have had a franchise left tackle to call their own. Maybe since before they were uprooted from St. Louis. Okay I kid…kinda.
Veldheer has been a damn good football player when he’s on the field. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he finished as the seventh-best pass-protecting offensive tackle in the NFL in his last full season back in 2012.
While Veldheer did struggle to an extent this past season in the five games that he saw action, there is no reason to believe he can’t be a tremendous upgrade over whoever and whatever the Cardinals have been throwing out there since and before the failed Levi Brown experiment (sorry for the bad memories).
It quickly became a necessity for the Cardinals to upgrade the left side of the line, especially having to face three of the top defensive fronts in the NFL within the NFC West six times per season. Arizona might have backloaded this deal, which could cause issues down the road, but it won’t matter too much if he plays at the level he did back in 2012.
4. T.J. Ward, Safety, Denver Broncos (four-years, $23 million)
I may not be a big fan of all the Broncos signings this offseason, but this Ward deal was pure aces. The fact that John Elway was able to acquire a young Pro Bowl safety in the prime of his career for under $7 million per season is ridiculous. It’s even more ridiculous when you look at the money Mike Mitchell (five-years, $25 million) and Donte Whitner (four-years, $28 million) received on the open market.
Ward finally received league-wide praise last season after flying under the radar for a fledgling Cleveland Browns organization the previous three years. He put up 100-plus tackles, seven passes defended, two interceptions and 1.5 sacks on the season. While not necessarily the greatest in coverage, Ward more than makes up for it with his superior athleticism and hard-hitting mentality…two things that the Broncos needed in the back end of their defense.
A total of $14 million is guaranteed to Ward with cap hits of just $3.25 million in 2014 and $7.75 million in 2015. This means that he’s nearly guaranteed to play out of the length of the deal. It’s also another reason why we should pay more attention to guarantees than total dollar values. In any event, Ward is well worth the money Denver doled out to him.
5. Malcolm Jenkins, Safety, Philadelphia Eagles (three-years, $16.25 million)
— Malcolm Jenkins (@MalcolmJenkins) March 13, 2014
After originally being selected in the first round of the 2009 draft by the New Orleans Saints to play cornerback, Jenkins moved to safety the following season and has been an above-average performer from that position. Eagles fans have absolutely no idea that “above average” and “safety” could possibly be used in the same sentence. This is what makes the signing such a big deal for the defending NFC East champions.
Their safety play has been downright atrocious since Brian Dawkins left. Yeah, that’s been some time now, hasn’t it?
Jenkins doesn’t only offer superior coverage skills, he possesses a tremendous amount of upside and continues to improve as a free safety. Getting him for less than $6 million a year was a great move for Howie Roseman and Co. What makes this deal even better is that it’s pretty much a two-year contract at over $8 million based on guarantees.
Photo: Kim Klement, USA Today