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NFL Free-Agent Signings: Analyzing Best Contracts for Under-the-Radar Players

Sep 22, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (69) celebrates a sack against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Sean ODonnellContributor IIIMarch 12, 2014

The 2014 NFL free-agency period began with a splash on Tuesday, as several big-name players received top-dollar contracts to join new teams for the upcoming season. However, there were also several under-the-radar signings over the first two days of free agency that should be recognized as well.

Winning free agency is not about spending tons of money. Rather, it revolves around finding players who are great schematic fits that will sign for the right price. Upgrading a roster in this way can improve a team instantly—and for the long run.

Now that plenty of signings have already occurred, let's take a look at the best contracts given to under-the-radar free agents through two days of action.

 

Zane Beadles, OG, Jacksonville Jaguars

Dec 8, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos guard Zane Beadles (68) and tackle Chris Clark (75) run block on Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill (94) and outside linebacker Zaviar Gooden (50) in the third quarter against the Tennessee Titan
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Caplan of ESPN.com reported on Tuesday that the Jaguars agreed to terms with former Denver Broncos guard Zane Beadles on a five-year, $30 million deal with $13 million in guarantees.

ESPN Insider Adam Schefter confirmed:

The Jaguars are looking to revamp their offensive line, and signing Beadles was a great step in the right direction. More of a finesse guard, Beadles' athleticism allows him to flourish when asked to pull for the run, get to the second level and block for the screen game.

Not too shabby in pass protection either, Beadles was instrumental in allowing only 20 sacks of Peyton Manning in 2013—the lowest of any NFL franchise.

Beadles' durability is one of his finest attributes, never missing a single one of his 70 games while in Denver.

The terms of this contract will make Beadles tied for the 10th-highest-paid guard in the league, according to Spotrac.com. However, he is just entering his prime at the age of 27, and he has a very high ceiling. This was truly a smart move by the Jaguars front office.

 

Clinton McDonald, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sep 22, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (69) sacks Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne (7) during the 1st half at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

It didn't take long for new head coach Lovie Smith to start revamping the Buccaneers defense. They added former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson in the beginning of the free-agency period, but they didn't stop there.

The Buccaneers' official Twitter account announced later on Tuesday that they agreed to terms with former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, pending a physical:

ESPN insider Adam Schefter tweeted the terms of the contract:

Four years and $12 million is an incredibly reasonable contract for McDonald's services. He finally got his chance to shine last season in Seattle and didn't disappoint. He finished the season with 35 tackles, 5.5 sacks, one fumble recovery and one interception.

With Johnson now in the fold, along with the elite play of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, McDonald has the pieces around him to continue his success in Tampa Bay.

 

Toby Gerhart, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 08:  Running back Toby Gerhart #32 of the Minnesota Vikings runs the ball in for a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 8, 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Larry French/Getty Images

Late Tuesday night, the Jaguars were at it again. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweeted that Jacksonville and former Minnesota Vikings running back Toby Gerhart agreed to a three-year deal:

Gerhart is still slightly unproven, spending his first four seasons backing up All-Pro Adrian Peterson. But the terms of the running back's new contract with the Jaguars reflects that notion. Gerhart will be making the same kind of money as Darren Sproles and Donald Brown, according to Spotrac.com—two running backs who share backfield duties.

However, when Gerhart has been given a chance, he has flourished. Last season, he only received 36 carries, but he made the most of them. Gerhart rushed for 283 yards—a fantastic average of 7.9 yards per carry—and two touchdowns in his limited attempts.

His signing appears to signify that free-agent running back Maurice Jones-Drew's days are over in Jacksonville. Jones-Drew couldn't get anything going last season, and Jacksonville appears to be taking more of a smash-mouth approach by signing the bruising Gerhart.

So far, the Jaguars are doing all the right things early on in free agency.

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