There has been plenty of money thrown around to NFL free agents over the past few days. Some of the deals we have seen signed simply leave a lot to be desired. That’s primarily true for those teams who have invested in quarterbacks and cornerbacks.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are some notable signings that could easily be called bargains. From a speedy receiver in San Francisco inking a reasonable long-term extension to a future Hall of Famer in Carolina giving his team a hometown discount for another season, here’s a look at the 10 best bargains thus far in free agency.
Marquise Goodwin, wide receiver, San Francisco 49ers
Goodwin technically wasn’t a free agent. But one year after signing a short-term deal with San Francisco, the team locked up this speedster to a tune of a three-year, $20.3 million extension with $10 million guaranteed. Considering what we saw lesser receivers get once free agency opened, this was an absolute steal for the 49ers. Paul Richardson signed a five-year $40 million deal with Washington that guaranteed him $20 million. And in even a more shocking move, the Baltimore Ravens paid former Redskins pass-catcher Ryan Grant $29 million over four seasons with $14.5 million guaranteed. Grant put up 985 receiving yards in four seasons with the Skins.
On the other hand, Goodwin is coming off a breakout first season in San Francisco. He tallied 962 yards and caught 70 percent of the passes Jimmy Garoppolo threw in his direction once the young quarterback took over under center. Seen as a starter and potential 1,000-yard receiver moving forward, Goodwin’s average annual salary of $6.8 million is an absolute steal.
Avery Williamson, linebacker, New York Jets
In an early free agent period that has seen money thrown around more than a Vegas strip club, the Jets themselves have acquired some darn good players on team-friendly deals. Williamson is one of a couple examples. After starting 59 of a possible 64 games with Tennessee, the former Kentucky standout inked a three-year, $22.5 million deal with $16 guaranteed. The average of $7.5 million might be a bit hefty, but we expected Williamson to garner a longer-term deal with more guarantees.
Here’s a guy that has started all 16 games each of the past two seasons. According to Pro Football Focus, he came in as the third-best inside linebacker in the NFL last season. Still only 26 years old, Williamson offers a tremendous amount of upside for the Jets. We absolutely love this move for the young team.
Patrick Robinson, cornerback, New Orleans Saints
For a long while there it seemed like Robinson was going to re-sign with the defending champion Eagles. In fact, it was trending in that direction earlier in the week. But something changed heading into the start of free agency Wednesday. The two sides could not come to terms on a long-term deal to keep him in Philadelphia. Instead, Robinson returns to the Saints squad that selected him in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
It came in the form of a four-year, $20 million contract with just $10 million guaranteed. Yeah, that’s an average of $5 million per season. In a corner market that saw Malcolm Butler get $12.5 million per season from Tennessee and Trumaine Johnson receive $15 million per from the Jets, that’s an absolute steal. Robinson, 30, is coming off a career-best 2017 campaign that saw him record 45 tackles, 18 passes defended and four interceptions. He’ll team up with Marshon Lattimore to form a dynamic corner duo in Nola.
Isaiah Crowell, running back, New York Jets
After seeing Matt Forte announce his retirement, it was clear that New York had to go out there and get an experienced ball carrier. In a market that’s not necessarily strong at running back, the team dead just that. Still only 25 years old, Crowell has put up north of 1,000 total yards in each of the past two seasons and has tallied 2,306 yards during that span. These aren’t mind-blowing numbers, but they surely are indicative a larger contract than the three-year, $12 million deal the Jets inked Crowell to.
Consider this for a second. Dion Lewis had put up a total of 149 rush attempts in four NFL seasons prior to 2017. Despite this, he was still able to ink a deal with the Tennessee Titans that will pay him $5 million annually. Heck, San Francisco added Jerick McKinnon on a four-year, $30 million contract. In comparing the three deals, it’s rather obvious New York got itself a heck of a steal here.
Chris Baker, defensive tackle, Cincinnati Bengals
This happened prior to the start of free agency. In no way does it make the move any less significant for a Bengals team that’s usually very quiet in free agency. A full-time starter with the Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the past four seasons, Baker is among the better run-stuffing defensive tackles in the game. It’s not a sexy position, but it can change the entire dynamic of a defense.
Given that Cincinnati yielded the third-most rushing yards in the NFL last season, Baker was simply a targeted signing for the team. Coming in at just $3 million over one season, Baker might have been better served waiting it out a bit. But his decision to sign early in the process gave Cincinnati a huge level of value on a short-term deal.
Nickell Robey-Coleman, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams
Lost in th shuffle of the trades for Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, Los Angeles did a heck of a job to retain its primary slot corner on a meager three-year, $15.8 million deal with only $8 million guaranteed. Two seasons ago with Buffalo, Robey-Coleman yielded the lowest passer rating among slot corners when targeted. And in his first season with the Rams, the 26-year-old corner defended nine passes with two interceptions.
The ability to retain both Robey-Coleman and free safety Lamarcus Joyner is absolutely huge for the Rams. They now boast the newest variation of Seattle’s now defunct Legion of Boom. It really was an amazing signing for the team.
Julius Peppers, EDGE, Carolina Panthers
After returning to his original Panthers team last season, there was no real reason to believe that this future Hall of Fame pass rusher would even entertain signing with another squad in free agency. For Peppers, it was either a return to Carolina or retirement. Instead of hanging up his cleats, the nine-time Pro Bowler decided to sign a one-year, $5 million contract. That’s just all sorts of awesome for Carolina.
Here’s a guy that has recorded seven-plus sacks in each of his first 16 NFL seasons. He’s averaging nearly 10 sacks per season during that span and is coming off an 11-sack performance in 2017. Peppers might only be a situational pass rusher at this point in his career. That’s fine. But getting the dude locked up at a mere $5 million is an absolute coup for the Panthers.
Muhammad Wilkerson, defensive line, Green Bay Packers
Based on the amount of interest Wilkerson received after being released by the Jets, we definitely expected the former Pro Bowler to earn a lucrative long-term deal. After all, he met with a good half-dozen teams. Sure he struggled to the tune of eight sacks over the past two seasons, but the 28-year-old Wilkerson is still seen as one of the top interior linemen in the game. That’s why it was an absolute shock to see him sign a one-year deal worth just $5 million.
The addition of Wilkerson is going to be absolutely huge for Green Bay’s defense. Not only has this unit struggled from pressure out on the edge, the beef of its defensive line has failed to get much push. With an average of nearly eight sacks over the past five seasons, Wilkerson will definitely bring that.
Brandon Fusco, guard, Atlanta Falcons
Guards themselves are usually unheralded. That’s taken to a whole new level when someone at this position inks a smallish deal during the first wave of free agency. In no way does this mean the three-year, $12.8 million deal Fusco signed with Atlanta won’t pay off for the team. He started all 16 games at right guard for San Francisco last season, putting up the best performance of his career. In fact, one could say the veteran was San Francisco’s best interior offensive lineman.
With Wes Schweitzer struggling at that position as a rookie last season, the Falcons needed to find an upgrade here. They just didn’t have the cap room to target the top players available in free agency. Instead, GM Thomas Dimitroff and Co. pulled off a tremendous value signing. It also doesn’t hurt that Fusco has experience in this scheme having played under former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan with the 49ers last season.
Richard Sherman, cornerback, San Francisco 49ers
At first glance, a thee-year, $27 million contact for a soon-to-be 30 year old coming off an Achilles injury seems to be a bit absud. But that’s where 49ers cap genius Paraag Marathe comes into play. Much like he’s done with all three of the team’s big-ticket signings thus far, the executive killed the negotiations here. The deal includes virtually $7 million guaranteed and will result in a $6.2 million cap hit. So even if Sherman fails to recover from the injury, it’s technically just a one-year deal.
If Sherman does return to the Hall of Fame caliber player we saw throughout his tenure with the Seattle Seahawks, it will be an absolute goldmine of a deal fo the 49ers. After all, his cap hits for the 2019 and 2020 season are just north of $10 million. That’s well below market value. Oh and it doesn’t hurt that San Francisco stuck it to its chief NFC West rival with the signing.
Unless linked, all contract information provided by Spotrac.