In the crazy days of March and April, every new NFL contract looks like a good one—or at least, no new contract looks like a bad one.
Big-name players, fans assume, will play like they always have for the length of the contract, up-and-down players will be up for the length of the contract, and unproven young veterans with just a handful of starts will blossom into Pro Bowlers.
Unfortunately, that's rarely how it works. Huge contracts are always signed in the first few days of free agency, and the vast majority end up as millstones around teams' necks.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers thought they'd secured the future at cornerback when they signed young veteran Eric Wright to a five-year, $37.5 million contract. One year later, the Bucs are shopping Wright on the trade market, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.
Which of this season's free-agent deals are clever buys, and which will be regretted before this time next year?
Instead of blowing their cap surplus in one monster signing, the Indianapolis Colts splashed a decent amount of money on a lot of second- and third-tier players. This is a sound strategy, as long as each contract still fits each player.
Four years and $16 million does not fit former Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Erik Walden.
Walden, replacing Dwight Freeney on the outside edge, has no knack for rushing the passer and was graded dead last among qualifying 3-4 outside linebackers by Pro Football Focus.
The Giants lost athletic tight end Martellus Bennett to the Chicago Bears after the Bears offered a massive contract that the Giants couldn't match.
Instead, the Giants landed Brandon Myers, a young, athletic tight end who turned in a very quiet 79-catch 2012 on the offensively moribund Raiders. Per Jenny Vrentas of the New Jersey Star-Ledger, though, Myers's four-year, $14.25 million deal isn't what it seems.
The last three years are all voidable, giving Myers a very low cap number for 2013 and no big commitment from the Giants going forward. If Myers, who isn't nearly the blocker Bennett is, doesn't work out, the Giants can easily wash their hands of him.
Jermon Bushrod and the Chicago Bears seemed to be a perfect fit. The Bears desperately needed an upgrade at left tackle, but they couldn't spare the cash for any of the big names like Jake Long. Bushrod wouldn't come with the premium, it was thought, but he would still be a massive upgrade.
Then the Bears paid Bushrod nearly as much as the St. Louis Rams ended up paying Long: $36 million across five years, with $17.7 million of it guaranteed.
This is a huge amount of cash for a left tackle who's been wildly inconsistent throughout his career—and who, when "off," is no better than the tackles he's replacing.
The Dolphins need to surround second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill with as many weapons as possible, and few weapons are as useful to a quarterback as a reliable pass-catching tight end.
Dustin Keller's one-year, $4.25 million contract gets Tannehill some immediate help—without overpaying for a player who may be about to hit the wall.
Let's get this out of the way: Greg Jennings is a very good receiver, and he should be a very good fit for the Minnesota Vikings offense.
Jennings, though, will turn 30 just after the season starts—and is two years removed from his last 1,000-yard season. That the Vikings made a five-year, $47.5 million commitment to him, with $16 million guaranteed, is shocking.
Furthermore, as good as Jennings is, he'll be going from an offense run by one of the best quarterbacks in football (the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers) to, well, Christian Ponder. The only way this contract makes sense is if Jennings produces like he did from 2008 to 2010, from 2013 until 2018.
That's not likely.
CBS Sports was not the only site that ranked Cliff Avril as the best available unrestricted free agent. Yet somehow, the Seattle Seahawks snagged the young pass-rusher with just a two-year, $13 million contract offer.
Despite the demand for Avril's services being much softer than expected, Mike Sando of ESPN.com reports it's more significant than that: Avril's contract is structured such that Seattle can easily get out of it after one year, depending on the recovery of end Chris Clemons, the progress of end Bruce Irvin and the performance of new end/tackle Michael Bennett.
There's no doubt that Danny Amendola has the combination of hands, quickness and route running that will allow him to succeed in the Patriots' offense. But Amendola isn't—unlike the man he replaces, Wes Welker—seemingly bulletproof.
Amendola has never started 16 games in a season. In fact, he's never started more than eight. He's only been active for all 16 games in one of his four career seasons.
A five-year, $31 million contract with $10 million in guaranteed money is a huge commitment to a player who can't get through a season healthy—especially one whose quickness is such a big part of his game. This is a big gamble by the Patriots.
There's no getting around it: Wes Welker is old, at least by receiver standards. He'll turn 32 in May, and he has caught over 100 passes in five of the last six seasons, leading the NFL in three of those five.
There can't be much tread left on Welker's tires, but he's still fast and fearless and smart, and his skills are a perfect fit for the Denver offense. There isn't much tread left on Peyton Manning's tires, either, so if Welker's two-year, $12 million contract wins the Broncos a Super Bowl before one or both of them blows a wheel, great.
If not, the Broncos won't be stuck making payments on him for the next five years.
Mike Wallace is a very talented No. 2 receiver, but he demanded to get paid like a No. 1—and the Miami Dolphins were eager to meet his demand.
Wallace is coming off a fourth season where his production didn't improve much from his rookie campaign. Worse yet, he's going to a team much weaker at quarterback with a less talented supporting cast.
For Wallace's services, the Dolphins are on the hook for $30 million guaranteed (whether he produces or not). The Dolphins have Wallace under contract for the next five years. All told, the deal is worth a whopping $65 million.
When the Steelers let a player walk, there's usually a reason for it. The Dolphins, it seems, were willing to pay through the nose to find that reason out.
There's another freakishly talented, inconsistent and occasionally moody skill position player who left the Pittsburgh Steelers as a free agent this offseason: tailback Rashard Mendenhall.
Yet, rather than lavish him with a monster contract and hope he fixes their problem at the position, the Cardinals did a very smart thing: They signed Mendenhall to a one-year, $2.5 million deal.
The Cardinals couldn't have gotten a back as talented as Mendenhall for any less, and they couldn't have gotten a back much more talented than Mendenhall without spending much more. If he doesn't produce, who cares? The Cardinals are rebuilding and haven't committed to anything past this season.