NFL Free Agent Signings: Under-the-Radar Deals Sure to Pay Huge Dividends

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2014

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 08:  Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks #88 of the New York Giants looks on prior to the start of the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 8, 2013 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Every NFL team wants to make a splash in free agency. Generating headlines serves the purpose of creating fan interest, which sells tickets and merchandise, and moves a franchise one step closer to the postseason or Super Bowl. 

However, while the temptation to add impact talent on the open market is great, teams are limited by the salary cap, either now or in the future. That is why the best strategy is always to wait things out, then get a cheaper deal for a player with upside. 

Taking a shot on a player past his prime or coming off a down season has the potential to pay huge dividends right off the bat. Here are the best deals that have flown under the radar so far this offseason. 


Julius Peppers to the Green Bay Packers (Three years, $30M, $7.5M guaranteed)

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 1:  Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings is tackled by Julius Peppers #90 of the Chicago Bears on December 1, 2013 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettc
Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Julius Peppers and the Packers agreed to a deal early Saturday morning, the weekend when all sports fans are focused on college basketball, so this was always destined to fly under the radar. 

ESPN's Josina Anderson reported the deal as being for a maximum of three years and $30 million. 

Source: Julius Peppers has agreed to terms with the Green Bay Packers on a 3-year deal.

— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 15, 2014

Filed to ESPN: Agent Carl Carey adds Julius Peppers' 3-year deal to Green Bay is "for $30M max, $7.5M guaranteed & $8.5M in tot 1st yr sal."

— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 15, 2014

It's an excellent deal for Peppers, considering he was just released from Chicago and came after the huge run on pass-rushers seemed to dry up the market. Even Jared Allen, who had 11.5 sacks last season, hasn't found a home. 

Peppers, 34, isn't the edge-rusher he used to be, but could be rejuvenated playing in Dom Capers' 3-4 defense.

Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk noted that one reason Peppers wanted out of Carolina so bad was to play in a 3-4 scheme, though he was happy to take the huge money Chicago offered to put that wish on the backburner. 

One reason the Packers have taken a step back on defense is lack of toughness up front. Clay Matthews is the only player in their front seven opposing teams have to plan around, leaving gaping holes on the outside and in the secondary. 

Peppers doesn't magically solve everything, especially given his age, but as a pass-rushing specialist, he can still serve a critical function for the Packers in 2014. 

A bold move for a team that doesn't usually dabble in free agent deals. 


Hakeem Nicks to the Indianapolis Colts (One year, $3.5M)

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 27:   Hakeem Nicks #88 of the New York Giants is tackled by   Cary Williams #26 of the Philadelphia Eagles  during their game at Lincoln Financial Field on October 27, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Al Bello/Gett
Al Bello/Getty Images

It's no secret that the Indianapolis Colts value the wide receiver position this offseason. As good as T.Y. Hilton was down the stretch, the loss of Reggie Wayne to a torn ACL in October left a huge hole that not even Andrew Luck could completely cover up. 

ESPN's Adam Schefter broke the news about Hakeem Nicks' deal with the Colts, while CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora provided specifics of the agreement. 

Colts and WR Hakeem Nicks reached agreement on a one-year deal, per source.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 14, 2014

Hakeem Nicks' deal, in fact, is ax expected - $3.5M for 1 year. Chance to earn another $2M is he maxes out incentives

— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 14, 2014

Nicks is coming off two down years in New York. He's caught 109 passes for 1,588 yards since 2012 and had zero touchdown catches in 2013. But it's important to remember he's just 26 years old and averaged a strong 16 yards per reception last season. 

If a player like Eric Decker, who only thrived under Peyton Manning, can get five years and $15 million guaranteed at the age of 27, getting Nicks for one year is a steal. 

Going from the always-erratic Eli Manning to the still-developing, immensely talented Andrew Luck is only going to help Nicks' numbers. 


Brandon Spikes to Buffalo Bills (One year, $3.25M)

Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

In their quest to catch the New England Patriots, the Buffalo Bills decided to go after one of their best, if unreliable, defensive players, Brandon Spikes. 

John Wawrow of the Associated Press first reported the deal, with ESPN's Adam Schefter providing specifics of it. 

Person familiar with talks has confirmed to AP that LB Brandon Spikes has agreed to deal with #Bills.

— John Wawrow (@john_wawrow) March 15, 2014

Former Patriots LB Brandon Spikes signed a one-year, $3.25M deal with Buffalo, per source. Spikes' agreement first reported by @john_wawrow

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 15, 2014

Spikes is as volatile as any linebacker in football, having missed time in the regular season in each of his first three years and ending last year on injured reserve with a knee injury (and reportedly being late to practice before the AFC Divisional Playoff game against Indianapolis). 

An aggressive, attacking defender, Spikes is a stout run-stopper who moves all over the field and knows how to tackle. He's one dimensional, getting burned in pass coverage, but as a one-down linebacker, it's hard to argue with what the 26-year-old is capable of doing. 


Note: All stats courtesy of unless otherwise noted. 

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