Best, worst NFL free agency deals so far

By Jesse Reed
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

There are still plenty of good players left in NFL free agency, but after the first wave has passed it’s clear some teams are better at this than others.

We recently dove into the biggest winners and losers from the free agency frenzy that was last week’s initial surge. Now it’s time to take a look at the best and worst individual moves from NFL free agency this year.

Best: Jack Conklin, offensive tackle, Cleveland Browns

It was pretty surprising to see the Tennessee Titans let Jack Conklin hit free agency to begin with. He’s been their best offensive lineman the past few years and has been a catalyst in the run game at right tackle. Cleveland was smart to swoop in and take him off the market. The Browns have to protect Baker Mayfield, and Conklin gave up just four sacks last year. He’s going help to make the Browns’ offense better in every way.

Worst: Robert Quinn, EDGE, Chicago Bears

On the one hand, it’s easy to understand how the Bears convinced themselves Robert Quinn was worth a monster contract (details here). At times, he’s been utterly dominant (four 10-plus-sack seasons) and last year was a prime example. Playing on a one-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys, Quinn had 11.5 sacks. The issue here is that Quinn has been inconsistent throughout his career, and the Bears had other, bigger fish to fry. Hopefully, this won’t come back to bite them. We’re not convinced it won’t.

Best: Byron Jones, cornerback, Miami Dolphins

In today’s NFL, the most pressing concern every team has is stopping opponents’ passing games. The modern rules are in favor of the offenses, after all, and despite some outliers, the air-it-out era is here to stay. That’s why what Miami did, bringing stud cornerback Byron Jones to play with Xavien Howard, was so awesome. The Dolphins now have two of the best cover corners in the game. If they find the quarterback of the future in this year’s draft, they could become very good, very fast.

Worst: Trae Waynes, cornerback, Cincinnati Bengals

It’s not all that surprising that the Bengals spent big money on a cornerback. They needed secondary help in a big way. But Cincinnati essentially traded Darqueze Dennard for Trae Waynes and paid Waynes $9.5 million more per year than what Dennard got in Jacksonville. And let’s be honest, the former first-round pick out of Michigan State has been mediocre at best for most of his NFL career. Truly a baffling free agency deal by Cincinnati.

Best: Philip Rivers, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts

Not a universally loved signing, to be sure. Many are convinced Philip Rivers’ best days are behind him, and based on what happened last year in Los Angeles, that’s easy to understand. But after trading for All-Pro DeForest Buckner the Colts have a roster that’s capable of challenging the best teams in the AFC, provided they get strong quarterback play. Rivers can still sling it with the best of them and is reuniting with some of his old Chargers coaches this year. We’re taking an optimistic approach to this signing and believe it will propel Indianapolis to the top of the AFC in 2020.

Worst: Halapoulivaati Vaitai, offensive tackle, Detroit Lions

Just three years after making a big play for right tackle Ricky Wagner (who was released this offseason), the Lions are at it again with another baffling overpay for another middle-of-the-road right tackle. Inking Halapoulivaati Vaitai to a five-year, $50 million deal is just bonkers. He started just 20 games for the Philadelphia Eagles since coming out of TCU as a fifth-round pick in 2016 and is not a top-tier player. For Matthew Stafford’s sake, I hope I’m wrong about this free agency deal.

Best: Eric Ebron, tight end, Pittsburgh Steelers

It’s going to be fun watching the Pittsburgh Steelers again in 2020 with Ben Roethlisberger’s return to the staring lineup looking more promising by the month. He’s throwing without pain for “the first time in years,” and now he’ll have an elite pass-catching tight end to add more potency to a dynamic passing attack that features young, speedy talent on the perimeter. Ebron caught 13 touchdowns in 2018 with Andrew Luck. He’s going to have another huge year in 2020 with the Steelers.

Worst: George Fant, offensive tackle, New York Jets

George Fant has enticing physical tools, but there’s a reason the Seattle Seahawks were willing to let him walk. He’s a mediocre pass-protector who started 27 games the past three seasons with Seattle and was routinely dominated by elite edge rushers during his stay in the northwest. Now, he’ll be tasked with protecting Sam Darnold’s blind side at left tackle after the Jets doled out a three-year deal worth $30 million. Not exactly a great way to help your young quarterback develop.

Best: Emmanuel Sanders, wide receiver, New Orleans Saints

Talk about a perfect fit. Emmanuel Sanders is one of the savviest route runners in the NFL and has a knack for getting open and making big catches in big moments. Once a top target for Peyton Manning in Denver, he will now play opposite the best receiver in the game today, Michael Thomas, and will catch passes from Drew Brees in New Orleans. The Saints have the pieces in place to crush Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl hopes, and perhaps get Brees back to the big game once more, in 2020.

Worst: Blake Martinez, inside linebacker, New York Giants

You like linebackers who make a lot of tackles nowhere near the line of scrimmage? Blake Martinez is your guy. The Green Bay Packers could have retained him but instead chose to let him walk in free agency, despite having a dire need at the inside linebacker position. That should tell you all you need to know about his true value. Needless to say, it’s pretty crazy that the Giants gave him a deal that averages $10 million per year.