Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Every Team's Free-Agent Class
2013 saw a new trend in free agency. Rather than the biggest and highest-priced free agents being the very first to sign, teams like the Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns made value signings early on as the higher-priced names like Mike Wallace, Jake Long and Steven Jackson were asked to wait just a little longer.
The old maxim is that the quicker a team acts in the offseason, the less success they will ultimately have. Signing players before the market sets can be disastrous. Overpaying for talent—either with money in free agency or with a pick in the draft—is the quickest route to needing to update one's resume in the NFL.
Some teams have already hit it big during this offseason, and others have stayed relatively quiet. Here's every team's best and worst signing.
Best: Drew Stanton, QB
Just hold on one moment, because I know this is probably a surprising start. Think about it this way: Stanton knows Bruce Arians' system really well, and the head coach is clearly a fan. Stanton is 28 and should get a real chance to compete in the desert.
Worst: Rashard Mendenhall, RB
This is less "comfort" signing and more desperation. Why not just keep Beanie Wells? Mendenhall isn't the guy he was early on in his Steelers career, and the Cardinals will need to replace him sooner rather than later.
Best: Steven Jackson, RB
The Falcons have only made one move in the free-agency market, and it was a biggie. I wrote up the signing when it happened.
To make a long story short, the Falcons should be playing late into January.
Best: Joe Flacco, QB
If you can get the Super Bowl MVP, do it. If he happens to play quarterback and is entering the prime of his career, even better. Whether or not Flacco performs and how much help the Ravens get him will determine this team's direction for the next decade.
Worst: Chris Canty, DT
A 30-year-old underachiever in a new system? Ozzie Newsome should've passed on this one.
Best: Manny Lawson, LB
The Bills haven't be able to lure many free agents to the cold Western N.Y. winter. However, grabbing a 28-year-old pass-rusher with elite physical tools is always a great start. Even better, the Bills reportedly plan to play him at 4-3 LB, which means he could end up stacked with Mario Williams and beguile linemen all over the AFC East.
Best: Drayton Florence, CB
Florence is a tough, physical cornerback who could fit in nicely as a nickelback for the Panthers. While they need to do a lot more work with that unit in the post-Chris Gamble era, Florence can be a mentor for Josh Norman and help bridge the gap.
Best: Martellus Bennett, TE
Kellen Davis failed at all the little things a move tight end is supposed to do. The Bears are banking on Bennett being more adept at creating matchup nightmares. He'll function as the Bears' sure-handed equivalent to Jermichael Finley.
Worst: Jermon Bushrod, OT
Upgrading at left tackle—good. Signing a middling pass protector who benefited from having one of the better timing offenses in the league—bad. Jay Cutler isn't Drew Brees, so this could be a textbook case of trying to put a square peg into a round hole.
Best: Rey Maualuga, ILB
With the standout play of Vontaze Burfict, the temptation here was to let Maualuga walk, but this is a good signing because the two players can clearly work together and Burfict can be a loose cannon. This is called hedging one's bet, and it's a good move.
Worst: Aaron Maybin, OLB
While Maybin was far better in New York than he ever was in Buffalo, that isn't saying much. Now, the Bengals plan on putting Maybin in as a SLB—a tricky proposition for a player who's had problems with both instincts and movement in space.
Best: Paul Kruger, DL/OLB
Did the Browns overpay a bit for Kruger? Yes. Is it a worthwhile expenditure as Ray Horton tries to put together a hybrid-front defense into which Kruger fits perfectly? Absolutely.
Worst: Quentin Groves, OLB
Using "worst" in a bit of a loose method here. If the Browns pass on a pass-rusher because of Groves, this would be a terrible signing. If the Browns still grab a pass-rusher and allow Groves to be a situational/rotational player, this is one of those value signings I was talking about, and it would be a great one.
Best: Phil Costa, C
Costa is 25 and still has a tremendous amount of upside. Plus, the Cowboys saved a ton of money by signing him to a new deal instead of tendering him. If Costa can stay healthy, this could go down as one of the biggest bargains of the offseason.
Worst: Anthony Spencer, DL
To be clear, I'm a huge fan of Spencer. He was one of the better OLBs in football last season and is a well-rounded defender. However, wherever he'll end up playing in the Cowboys' new scheme (I have a feeling he'll bounce around quite a bit) will end up being an odd fit.
It's difficult to let good players go, but the 'Boys should've thought about that before bringing in a radically different scheme.
Best: Louis Vasquez, OG
Wait, where's Wes Welker? The Broncos didn't have a problem passing the ball last season (fifth in the league), but the interior blocking was a mess for much of the year. Vasquez solves that problem and steals a great player from a divisional rival.
Worst: Stewart Bradley, LB
Middle linebacking was also a problem in 2013. Signing Stewart Bradley doesn't help, not one bit. He was washed out with the Cardinals—that's really all you need to know.
Best: Reggie Bush, RB
Bush came at an incredible bargain (especially compared to what the Titans paid for Shonn Greene), and he also fits a very specific need that the Lions have been looking for—a change-of-pace back with receiving skills out of the backfield.
Worst: DeAndre Levy, LB
For the most part, I've been trying to stay away from re-signings, but some are just too egregious to miss. Levy has been a disappointment since his solid rookie season (when expectations were low), and the return of Levy means that Justin Durant is likely a goner.
Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans
The Packers and the Texans have swung and missed on a couple of free agents, but neither have (at the point of this writing) made a significant free-agency signing.
Best: Greg Toler, CB
Toler was one of my favorite players to watch on a very good Cardinals defense last year. Moving forward with the Colts, his physicality and tenacity—bumping receivers off of routes, bodying them through the air, etc—will suit the defense well.
Worst: LaRon Landry, S
Meanwhile, Landry was one of my least favorite players on a bad Jets defense and a player I thought was consistently overrated by my peers. Big hits aside, Landry is an average safety. Will he make the Colts better? Sure. But he's getting overpaid when there were better options on the market.
Best: Geno Hayes, LB
Hayes is a player that should immediately endear himself to Jaguars fans. He was the Bears' top backup defender in 2012 and is an upgrade to any sub-package that the Jags put him in. As a three-down linebacker, he could struggle against the run, but in a passing league, he will help shore up a lot of the Jaguars' linebacking coverage problems.
Worst: Alan Ball, CB
Ball will likely find himself the subject of a lot of derision. While he would be a camp body on many other teams, chances are he gets pressed into duty at either safety or corner this season for the Jags and will quickly be looking for work a few months after that.
Kansas City Chiefs
Best: Sean Smith, CB
The Chiefs have done a great job rehabbing their secondary, but I love the addition of Smith more than most. While he's put up plenty of bad highlights in the past season, he does a lot of the solid things for most of the game that don't show up on tape. He also came in at a tremendous value on a very team-friendly contract.
Worst: Anthony Fasano, TE
Why? For what purpose does one sign Anthony Fasano? He's a good, but not great, blocker and an average receiver. He's not going to push (or really complement) Tony Moeaki, and he's getting paid a lot of money to be a subpar security blanket.
Best: Dustin Keller, TE
Keller had to deal with a lot of non-football things in 2012. While the rest of the Jets offense was butt-fumbling away, Keller went into a bit of hibernation. Not that he wasn't playing good football, it's just that everyone seemed to forget about him. He's quickly going to be a good friend of Ryan Tannehill.
Worst: Mike Wallace, WR
I have more developed thoughts on Wallace here, but the bottom line is that he's getting lots of money to take the top off of defenses. Will he suddenly develop the other receiving skills and reliability he lacked in Pittsburgh? Unlikely.
In a world of managed expectations, Wallace will need to be one of the best receivers in the league to live up to the deal that Miami gave him. He won't.
Best: Greg Jennings, WR
Percy Harvin has a lot of great traits, but he was not the receiver that the Vikings needed right now. He didn't have good chemistry with Christian Ponder, and the team was at its best while Harvin was on the sidelines.
Jennings stretches the field and provides a legitimate No. 1 for Ponder without having to be a focal point or add gimmicky plays to the offense.
Worst: Matt Cassel, QB
Cassel is the backup, period. Still, if you're going to find a backup, how about a guy with some semblance of upside? Or at least a guy who fits your system! Bill Musgrave loves to roll quarterbacks out. Ponder is great at that; Cassel can't throw on the run (or, for that matter, really run).
New England Patriots
Best: Danny Amendola, WR
Losing Wes Welker is a blow, but when Amendola was signed before Welker even left town, you can safely bet that Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels aren't losing too much sleep over it.
Worst: Leon Washington, RB/KR
This signing seems like Belichickian war strategy at its best. Is Washington better than other special teamers/deep running back reserves on the market? Probably not. Was he a Jet? Sign him up!
New Orleans Saints
Best: Junior Galette, OLB
This is one of those situations where a scheme change seems almost tailor-made for one specific player. Galette was just a rotational player in the Saints' 4-3 and wasn't much of a defensive end, but he could blow up as an outside/rush linebacker for Rob Ryan.
Worst: Keenan Lewis, CB
This signing, however, is a poor fit. Lewis excelled in the Steelers defense last season after Dick LeBeau found a groove with the young player. He's getting paid off for one good season and doesn't have a ton of ball skills to take advantage of an aggressive blitz package in front of him.
New York Giants
Best: Dan Connor, LB
Connor has had a rough go of his NFL career, as the Cowboys' scheme didn't really fit his strengths. Now, he's almost a lock to start somewhere in the Giants' linebacking corps that desperately needs a boost.
Worst: Aaron Ross, CB
Re-treads are the worst. Ross isn't that talented of a player. He was worth parting ways with the first time around, and then he washed out with the Jaguars.
New York Jets
Best: David Garrard, QB
He dealt with some health issues last season, but with so much poor quarterback play in the NFL (and much of it centralized in the Jets locker room) it's possible that Garrard is still one of the 32 best quarterbacks in the league. He'll get a chance to start for Gang Green and should make Tim Tebow expendable.
Worst: Willie Colon, OG
The difference between Brandon Moore and Willie Colon is minuscule. Colon is a good run-blocker, but he isn't a plus pass-blocker, is clearly slowing down and relies on mechanically poor play that results in a lot of penalties.
Best: Kaluka Maiava, LB
Can you smell what Reggie McKenzie is cooking? Maiava (who is The Rock's nephew) has been a talented reserve linebacker and a plus special teamer. Pressed into action for the Browns last season, he shined. He should immediately become a starter in Oakland and give the fans something to come to games for.
Worst: Pat Sims, DT
Sims does one thing—run-stuffing—and he doesn't even do it that well. Big, slow bodies are a dime a dozen in the NFL, and Sims would be great for a rotational signing on a contender, but he will have to drastically improve on a Raiders team that will need him to do more.
Best: James Casey, H-Back
When Casey was coming out of Rice, I called him a "Swiss Army Knife" and dreamed up all sorts of ways a talented offensive coordinator could utilize him. Then, Houston pretended he was a butter knife. Chip Kelly should have a field day, letting Casey run the ball, catch the ball and block in space.
Worst: Connor Barwin, OLB
Signing a pass-rusher without great pass-rushing skills is always a risk. Is Barwin a good athlete? Yes. Is he a hard worker? Absolutely. Should he have gotten a ton more pressure on a defense that featured J.J. Watt? Almost certainly.
I thought Houston should upgrade Barwin's position in the draft; I didn't know Barwin would get $36 million to be upgradable elsewhere.
Best: Bruce Gradkowski, QB
The Steelers have turned to a lot of older, less-talented quarterbacks in the past, but when Ben Roethlisberger misses so much time and plays so physically, the Steelers have needed a backup that fit their system. Gradkowski can make all of the vertical throws and can take a pounding as well.
Worst: William Gay, CB
Like Aaron Ross with the Giants, why keep going back to this well? Gay had a good season for the Steelers, earned his money and then got torn apart by NFC West quarterbacks. Move on.
San Diego Chargers
Best: Derek Cox, CB
If we're picking corners for a one-on-one competition, Cox might be one of the first off the board. He's big, has long arms and is physical as all get out. John Pagano tried to press last season, but he didn't have the players to do it. Now he does, and the Chargers should be a much better team for it.
Worst: Ronnie Brown, RB
What in the world is Ronnie Brown still doing on an NFL roster? He pass-blocks, that's about it. The Chargers' running back situation might be the biggest names with the least talent in the entire NFL.
San Francisco 49ers
Best: Glenn Dorsey, DL
We've talked about expectations already, and we've talked about fit. Dorsey is where those two concepts converge into a great signing. When Dorsey was asked to be an impact player on a Chiefs defense that didn't have a ton of talent, he floundered. Then, as the Chiefs amassed more defensive talent, Dorsey had trouble living up to his first-round billing.
Now, as a value free agent on a team with tons of linebacking talent, Dorsey should be a solid piece to the 49ers' continued success.
Worst: Craig Dahl, S
If the 49ers end up drafting a number of safeties or getting another (read: better) free-agent signing, this move makes a lot more sense. However, if Dahl is pressed into action as a starter—right now it looks like that will be the case—the Niners will suffer. He's average against the run and below average against the pass.
Best: Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, DE/OLBs
It's impossible to differentiate these signings because they were both great values in a weak end market and will have similar roles. They are "leos" in Seattle's scheme and will see plenty of time together in Seattle's pass-rushing packages.
With the addition of Bennett, Avril is sure to see some time at SLB as well.
St. Louis Rams
Best: Jake Long, OT
Sam Bradford must feel like he's won the lottery. He's had poor pass protection since his first day in the NFL, and now he finally has a competent blindside protector. While Long had a poor 2012 by his standards, he's still the best lineman on the Rams and could be due for a huge bounce-back.
Worst: Jared Cook, TE
Cook is a move tight end who struggles when asked to do all the little things that a move tight end should be good at. That leaves him as basically a one-route seam-buster, which seems like a waste of so much money.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Best: Dashon Goldson, S
The Buccaneers need some better play out of their back seven and (perhaps even more importantly) need a veteran with all the rookies back there. (Note: When I say veteran, I don't mean the shadow of Ronde Barber's former self.) Goldson should immediately improve the Bucs' coverage, but the extra impact should be seen in the eventual coverage sacks generated by the smaller zones he leaves open.
Worst: Kevin Ogletree, WR
Ogletree is the latest in the line of receivers that Tony Romo has helped to huge numbers (Ogletree's was just one fantastic game) and other teams hoped would develop for them. Don't be surprised if he ends up being cut before the first game.
Best: Andy Levitre, OG
The Titans came into the offseason needing interior run-blocking, and Levitre will go a long way toward furthering that end. It also allows them to take the best player available if they're not 100 percent sold on Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper in the first round.
Worst: Shonn Greene, RB
Greene was better (at times) last season than he's given credit for, but there are numerous backs in free agency and the draft (even undrafted free agency) that could give the Titans equal production for much, much less money.
Best: Logan Paulsen, TE
When teams run the zone blocking scheme, they don't need a do-it-all tight end (look at the Texans and James Casey). Fred Davis was an unnecessary piece in Washington, but Paulsen fits just right. He's a great run-blocker at both the initial and second levels, and he's just good enough of a receiver to be a benefit to RGIII.
Worst: Jeremy Trueblood, OL
Trueblood isn't a great lineman; he might not even be a good lineman. So if this were just a depth signing, that'd be fine. However, the Redskins are viewing Trueblood as a potential starter, and he's a terrible fit for the zone blocking scheme.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.