Free agency, by its very nature, is designed to make teams pay too much money for a player. It's not an area where you want to build a roster, especially in the NFL, where franchises are handcuffed by the salary cap.
Not all moves are going to be bad. In fact, what separates the best teams from those trying to avoid having the No. 1 pick in the draft year after year is their ability to supplement their roster with solid free-agent investments.
While there is still much to be decided this offseason, a number of key free agents have already signed with new teams or returned to their old clubs. These are the best deals from the first day of offseason spending.
Broncos sign S T.J. Ward for four years, $23M ($14M guaranteed)
The Broncos had a busy day Tuesday that started with John Elway announcing the signing of safety T.J. Ward.
Excited to announce we've agreed to terms with strong safety T.J. Ward. He'll bring energy and toughness to our secondary.— John Elway (@johnelway) March 11, 2014
T.J. Ward gets 4 years, $23 million; $14 million guaranteed— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) March 11, 2014
This was a deep safety market that evaporated quickly. Donte Whitner reportedly agreed to a deal with Cleveland, Ward's old team, for $28 million over four years, according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Jairus Byrd went to New Orleans on a massive six-year deal. Antoine Bethea went to San Francisco for four years and $21 million.
In an oversaturated market, there figured to be bargains. But the Broncos struck gold with Ward. He's not as good in coverage as Byrd, but is a fierce, hard hitter who brings an attitude and swagger to Denver that has been missing since Peyton Manning got to town.
Pro Football Focus called him "the best run-stopping defensive back" in the NFL and a solid coverage man in the slot and underneath.
Ward has the same attributes as Whitner but is going to cost less money and is one year younger.
The Broncos needed to get more physical on defense, particularly in the secondary, if they want to get over the hump and win a championship before Manning retires. Ward's deal is a significant first step in the right direction.
That the team was able to sign him for less money than Byrd and Whitner, and slightly more than Bethea, is a cherry on top.
Chargers sign RB Donald Brown for three years, $10.5M ($4M guaranteed)
It's much easier to find a bargain running back because of how devalued the position has become in recent years. That's why the Chargers were able to steal Donald Brown away from Indianapolis, according to Ricky Henne of Chargers.com.
Bolts have reached a three year agreement with running back Donald Brown.— Ricky Henne (@ChargersRHenne) March 12, 2014
To help illustrate how good this deal is for the Chargers, here's what Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk said when discussing the terms of Brown's deal.
Donald Brown's deal with Chargers is Gerhart-esque—three years, $10.5 million, $4 million guaranteed, per source.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) March 12, 2014
Brown finally lived up this potential as a first-round pick in 2013, averaging a career-high 5.3 yards per carry with a career-best six rushing touchdowns, but it was his improvement in the passing game that really stood out.
He became a safety net for Andrew Luck underneath, catching a career-high 27 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns.
Brown will join Ryan Mathews in San Diego's backfield, giving the Chargers a dynamic two-back system to use. Brown has displayed better hands throughout his career, with just two career fumbles compared to 14 for Mathews, so he could see a lot more carries than initially expected.
The Chargers finished 13th in rushing yards last season, but 21st in yards per carry. It may not have been a position of need, but the team couldn't have done better to find value with Brown for the next three years.
Buccaneers sign CB Alterraun Verner for four years, $26.5M ($14M guaranteed)
When Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reported the Buccaneers signed Alterraun Verner, it was as definitive a statement to Darrelle Revis that he wasn't going to be around much longer.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com provided the financial terms of Verner's deal with the Buccaneers.
For new #Bucs CB Alterraun Verner, it’s four-year deal with $26.5M with $14M guaranteed— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 12, 2014
While those are steep terms, the Buccaneers are going to free up $16 million in cap space when Revis gets traded or is released. They also found a perfect cornerback for Lovie Smith's Cover 2 system.
Verner makes up for a slight frame with an aggressive, attacking style. He's as physical as any cornerback in the league who doesn't play in Seattle, reads receivers well enough to stay with them despite lacking elite speed and has shown excellent hands.
After seeing cornerbacks Aqib Talib get roughly the same amount in guaranteed money from Denver as Verner's entire deal and Vontae Davis get $20 million in guaranteed money from the Colts, the Buccaneers did well to get a player who fits their system and is just 25 years old for less than $15 million guaranteed.
Note: All stats courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise noted.
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