NFL Free Agent Signings: Players Who Will Justify Lucrative Contracts

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIMarch 18, 2013

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 05:  Wide receiver Greg Jennings #85 of the Green Bay Packers is pushed out of bounds by strong safety Mistral Raymond #41 of the Minnesota Vikings after a catch during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Lambeau Field on January 5, 2013 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It's easy for franchises to be victimized by free agency in the form of overpaying for players whose performance doesn't come close to matching up to their exorbitant contracts.

However, several standouts on the open market in the 2013 offseason were rightfully locked up to lucrative long-term deals. Their new teams will reap the benefits of their massive impact immediately and in the seasons to come.

Here is a breakdown of the players who are most likely to live up to their new top-dollar label.


LaRon Landry, S, Indianapolis Colts

15 missed games in his last two years with the Washington Redskins resulted in Landry struggling to find work. Once he inked a one-year deal with the New York Jets, though, it was clear that his injury-plagued past wouldn't hamper him from being a premier safety talent.

Landry was awarded for his exceptional 2012 campaign with a Pro Bowl selection, and will be involved in a similar 3-4 defensive alignment in Indianapolis.

Antoine Bethea will line up at free safety, while Landry—one of the hardest hitting safeties in the NFL—will lower the boom against the run and also help out in coverage on the back end.

GM Ryan Grigson had plenty of cap space to work with and made a lot of upgrades, but Landry should prove to be the biggest acquisition of all. The reigning Executive of the Year absolutely raved about Landry once the four-year, $24 million deal was signed:

We’re ecstatic about this signing. We feel LaRon is an absolute game changer and a true impact player. We’re talking about a 220-pound safety that runs 4.3 and plays to that speed. His approach to the game and his style of play are lights out and embody the culture we’re building on the defense and this team in general.

Look for Landry to be a roaming playmaker and a frequent mainstay in the box, while also coming in on the occasional blitz to give the Colts many more new looks in 2013.


Desmond Bryant, DL, Cleveland Browns

Perhaps more known for an unfortunate mugshot than his underrated, strong play for the perpetually struggling Oakland Raiders, the Browns picked up a wonderful talent in Bryant.

ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter provided the contract details:

In Ray Horton's new attacking 3-4 defensive scheme, the combination of size and athleticism that Bryant brings at 6'6" and 311 pounds will allow Cleveland to have a lot of flexibility. Bryant is strong against the run and an exceptional pass rusher from the inside.

Head coach Rob Chudzinski elaborated on Bryant's versatility as he was introduced at a press conference this past week in Berea (h/t Cleveland Plain Dealer).

[Bryant]'s played a lot of different positions up front, both sides, inside, outside, so that versatility will give us some options, but I see in our base package him being more of the defensive end type, and in sub, the ability to move inside and even play defensive end in sub, which he's done as well.

Bryant has the ability to get his hands into passing lanes and overpower offensive tackles on the edge, which will give Cleveland a needed boost in pressuring opposing quarterbacks.

With a defensive front likely to start him, Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin on the opposite defensive end spot, the Browns will consistently throw three 300-plus-pounders at opponents.

No matter who else joins the team's linebacker corps to round out the 3-4 look, the acquisition of Bryant was the biggest key. He will be a cornerstone on what should be a much-improved Browns defense moving forward.


Greg Jennings, WR, Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota desperately needed a new No. 1 target for third-year QB Christian Ponder, and were able to nab Jennings away from the arch-rival Green Bay Packers.

The team's official Twitter page captured Jennings signing his five-year, $47.5 million contract alongside GM Rick Spielman.

Softening an NFC North foe makes this pickup all the more wonderful for Minnesota, but it also fits precisely what Ponder and Co. need. The Vikings ranked 31st in passing offense in 2012, and lost Percy Harvin in a trade.

It seemed very likely that the Vikings would choose a wide receiver with one of their two first-round picks prior to the acquisition of Jennings. They still might, but his signing gives the team even more options in April.

Jennings can be a deep threat on the outside and also make the difficult catches over the middle. His route running and finesse is unique for a player of his raw athleticism and speed.

Adrian Peterson simply can't asked to shoulder the type of burden he did this past season, even though he was absolutely sensational. For the Vikings to get over the hump, they need a more balanced offense, and Jennings makes that imminently possible.

Dashon Goldson, S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs had the worst pass defense in the NFL this past season, so upgrading the secondary was of optimal importance. Bringing in an All-Pro like Goldson, who anchored the defensive backfield of the vaunted San Francisco 49ers defense, was just about the best move Tampa Bay could have made.

Plus, Goldson will be paired alongside 2012 No. 7 overall pick Mark Barron to form one of the most exciting safety duos in the league.

Although general manager Mark Dominik should still make it a priority to find depth at cornerback, the coverage ability and experience that Goldson brings to the table should help mask that deficiency.

Goldson may play free safety, but he's shown a willingness to get very physical and punish receivers and even ball-carriers that get to the second level of the defense.

The deal Goldson inked is worth $41.25 million over five years, and will indubitably turn out better than the inexplicable move last offseason to acquire CB Eric Wright for five years and $37.5 million (h/t

This investment in the 28-year-old should allow the Bucs to slow down the NFC South's explosive passing offenses in New Orleans, Atlanta and Carolina enough to seriously compete for the playoffs in the near future.