Three Up, Three Down from Recent NFL Free Agency Signings

Justin Hussong@@HeatChecksHussContributor IIIMarch 15, 2014

Three Up, Three Down from Recent NFL Free Agency Signings

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    Steve Smith left the Carolina Panthers on bad terms after 13 seasons.
    Steve Smith left the Carolina Panthers on bad terms after 13 seasons.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    The NFL free agency wheels continue to spin with a seemingly endless pool of talent available to teams who didn't blow all their cap room on the initial shopping spree.

    This is a deep crop of free agents with a surprising number of high-end players hitting the market due to roster cuts. Prior to free agency, it did not look like this would be a season of high-profile signings, but that has been anything but the case.

    We are going to examine three good moves as well as three bad moves from the past day or two, taking into account the the overall ability of the players in question, how well they fit with their new teams and, of course, the contracts themselves.

Up: Hakeem Nicks

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Hakeem Nicks has fled the purgatory that was the 2013-14 New York Giants and found greener pastures with the Indianapolis Colts, exactly the team he wanted to go to.

    Mutual interest sparked this deal, and the Colts were able to corral their man for a measly one year and $3.5 million. A rejuvenated Nicks, who specifically targeted Indy even before he hit free agency will now have a "prove it" contract on his hands and every opportunity to earn a massive deal next offseason.

    Nicks famously did not find the end zone in 2013, but he did shake the big monkey off his back: his constant injury concerns. Nicks was the victim of some extremely erratic play from Eli Manning, who at times appeared to show some favoritism and threw more balls towards Victor Cruz and Reuben Randle.

    The deal is a virtual no-risk deal for Indy. The 26-year-old Nicks is still very young and now has every incentive to post a monstrous season to restore his value and reputation. This was a classic buy-low move that should pay huge dividends for a team that was depleted at wide receiver after Reggie Wayne went down with a torn ACL.

    Nicks still averaged 16 yards per catch in 2013, tops on the Giants. His big-play ability should have a profound impact on the Colts, who found their offense to be rather methodical down the stretch.

Down: Brandon Pettigrew

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Just as tight end Brandon Pettigrew was starting to generate more and more interest on the open market, the Detroit Lions panicked and handed him a startling four-year, $16 million contract to retain his services.

    Pettigrew has all the talent in the world for the tight end position, but that sort of money for a guy who has seen his production shrink three consecutive years across the board, bottoming out at just 41 catches and 416 yards this past season with a measly two touchdowns is a bit of a reach.

    The 6'5" tight end runs good routes, but he has questionable hands and struggles mightily when it comes to blocking. Pettigrew consistently gets pushed back off the line on running plays.

    His production from earlier in his career is unlikely to return at age 29. He has failed these past couple of sesasons to take advantage of the opportunity of playing in a very dynamic, pass-happy offense.

    This deal only pans out if the new Lions coaching staff can coax more production out of Pettigrew and get him to be more consistent and commit fewer penalties. Detroit now owes a hefty amount of money to a tight end who is average at best.

Up: Steve Smith

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    MIKE MCCARN/Associated Press

    Steve Smith to the Baltimore Ravens is a match made in heaven.

    Baltimore brought in the veteran receiver for just three years and $11.5 million. Smith admitted he no longer is a legitimate No. 1 receiver at the advanced age of 34, but he has shown he can still bring an extraordinary amount of explosiveness to an offense.

    Smith will be filling a void that Baltimore has had since the departure of Anquan Boldin. The team lacked grit at the receiver position last year and had a dire need to fill that slot with a veteran leader. Smith is never hesitant to go over the middle to make a tough catch but still possesses the ability to take the top off a defense.

    Having Smith in the slot as opposed to being split out as a number one option will do wonders for his production. Joe Flacco now has a shifty interior receiver to complement home run hitters Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith on the outside.

Down: Cortland Finnegan

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    There is a reason the St. Louis Rams cut Cortland Finnegan in the midst of his hefty free-agent contract. The Miami Dolphins just did not seem to pick up on that.

    Two years and $11 million is far too much money to give a fringe starting cornerback. Finnegan is coming off an absolutely abysmal season for the Rams during which he allowed a 136.0 passer rating on balls thrown his way.

    Finnegan is nowhere near the All-Pro player he was with the Titans back in 2008. He has declined significantly and become more known for his mouth than his production on the field.

    Miami will not even be handing him a starting spot, which just makes the thinking behind the signing all the more questionable. Finnegan will have to fight to be a starter on the Dolphins, which is the only way he can live up to this contract.

    Giving $5.5 million a year to a rapidly declining player hurts even more when there is such a deep crop of corners on the market this year. Tarell Brown signed a deal worth just $3.5 million total with the Oakland Raiders, a guy who this past year was considerably better than Finnegan,

Up: Brandon Browner

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Three years and $17 million for troubled cornerback Brandon Browner may be the tiniest bit of an overpay, but if there is one coach who has proven time and time again that he can get the most out of a player with a little bit of baggage, it's Bill Belichick.

    Browner must serve a suspension for the first four games of next season, but this move shores up an already stout secondary even more. Browner's versatility is what this defense needs to become an elite unit once again.

    New England's acquisition of cornerback Darrelle Revis to replace the departed Aqib Talib's ensures that one side of the field will be off limits to opposing QBs. And adding the 6'4" Browner on the other side alleviates some of the glaring need for a strong safety.

    Browner is likely to see time at both strong safety and corner for New England, but the move gives the Patriots an extraordinary amount of depth, as Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard all picked up some significant experience this past season.

    We have seen what kind of impact Browner can have when lined up as a second corner. There are only a handful of corners who would relegate Browner to number two status, but Revis is one of those guys. Browner, having come from a similar situation in Seattle where he lined up across from Richard Sherman, should have few adjustments to make with his new team.

Down: Michael Oher

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    One of the most questionable decisions in free agency lately has been the Tennessee Titans giving tackle Michael Oher four years and $20 million.

    Oher has been the target of some much-warranted criticism over the past couple of seasons due to his underwhelming performance. Since being drafted in the first round in 2009, Oher has been consistent but never not developed into the player that he was projected to be.

    For $20 million, the Titans should be getting a surefire right tackle who can bolster their young offensive line and seamlessly replace nine-year veteran right tackle David Stewart.

    But there is a lot of doubt that Oher can make this happen.

    Maybe not having him bounce back and forth between left and right tackle will help him reclaim his game, but even so, $20 million is a lot to spend on an average right tackle. He allowed ten sacks this past season, a number that will not fly with the Titans, especially with the fragile Jake Locker under center.

    Perhaps the Titans believe that removing uncertainty as to which tackle position he'll be playing will help Oher fulfill his potential. Otherwise, it appears that Tennessee general manager Ruston Webster just threw a lot of money at a false-start machine. He's also is taking a big risk with a very young offensive line and an extremely injury-prone quarterback.