2013 NFL Free Agent Class: The Best Early Steals
Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
The NFL began its free agency period on Tuesday. Teams with cap space looked to fill their roster holes and sign elite players that were no longer affordable for their former teams.
Not every signing is a good one, however.
In an effort to bring big-name players to their teams, front offices often enter into bidding wars for players and end up overpaying for their services.
Players are also less likely to be signed to a relatively cheap deal—especially this early in free agency.
However, there are three teams that have signed impact players to excellent contracts this week. Here they are.
Detroit Lions: Reggie Bush
Consider the stat lines for two different running backs over the past two seasons:
31 GP, 2, 072 YDS rushing, 586 YDS receiving, 4.7 YPC and 15 TD.
27 GP, 2,091 YDS rushing, 830 YDS receiving, 4.6 YPC and 10 TD.
The first player is Reggie Bush, who signed a four-year, $16 million deal with the Detroit Lions on Wednesday. The second is Matt Forte, who signed a four-year, $32 million deal with the Chicago Bears last year.
Very few people would consider Bush to be a better football player than Matt Forte, but there is little doubt that Bush has a much more appetizing contract. Bush offers the Lions almost everything that Forte does with the Bears, but for half the cost.
In fact, Bush has been just as effective of a runner as Forte over the past two seasons. The two have nearly identical total yards and yards per carry statistics.
Where Forte has been superior to Bush has been in the passing game.
He has 244 more yards receiving than Bush; however, Forte was playing with a better quarterback than Bush both years.
Also, Bush excelled at receiving the ball before he got to Miami, averaging 428.4 yards per season with the Saints.
The Lions managed to sign the best available running back at an excellent price compared to what other backs have gotten in recent years.
Chicago Bears: Martellus Bennett
The Bears used the first day of free agency to give quarterback Jay Cutler another big target in the passing game.
They signed tight end Martellus Bennett away from the Giants with a four-year, $20 million deal, according to ESPN. Bennett should be a huge upgrade opposed to the tight ends on the Bears' roster last season.
While Bennett's contract might not look cheap, it is significantly less than what the St. Louis Rams signed for Jared Cook on Tuesday. His five-year deal is worth a reported $35 million, according to ESPN.
While that alone does not make Bennett a free agent steal, he outperformed Cook in 2012.
Here are their stat lines:
Bennett: 55 REC, 626 YDS and 5 TD.
Cook: 44 REC, 523 YDS and 4 TD.
Sure, Bennett had Eli Manning throwing to him, but nothing about the 2012 season shows that Cook deserved $3 million more per season than Bennett. The two are less than three months apart in age and should have a very similar upside.
Credit the Bears for making a sound financial move with Bennett.
Denver Broncos: Wes Welker
Wes Welker agreed to a two-year, $12 million deal with the Denver Broncos on Wednesday, according to ESPN.
Despite recording his fifth season with 100 receptions, Welker did not get the big money he was expecting this offseason.
Two other receivers earned significantly bigger paydays than Welker. Mike Wallace got a reported five-year, $60 million deal with the Dolphins, and the Patriots replaced Welker with Danny Amendola for five years and $31 million.
Wallace and Amendola got longer deals because of their youth. Last season, Welker had 518 more receiving yards than Wallace and 688 more than Amendola, yet Wallace will make twice what Welker does per season and Amendola will make roughly the same.
With Peyton Manning at 36 years old, the Broncos are in "win now" mode. So signing Wes Welker for two years was an absolute steal.
He turns 33 in May and may begin to regress as he ages, but he is still an elite wide receiver. Signing him for just $6 million per season has been the biggest steal so far in NFL free agency.
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