The Best and Worst Contract Values of the 2014 NFL Free-Agency Period
The 2014 NFL free-agent period is nearly two weeks old, and with a veritable cavalcade of players having crisscrossed the football map, we can now step back and assess which contracts represent the best and worst values.
Free agency is a huge part of the NFL's business season, and a series of bad contracts can serve as an albatross for a franchise's financial prospects.
The last thing that a general manager wants is for a signing to blow up in his face down the road because it will not only affect on-field results but also potentially hamstring the team's ability to manage the salary cap in a successful fashion.
Many factors were taken into account with these rankings, including how much money comparable players at the same position received, the number of years on the deal in relation to a player's age, whether the signing represented low or high risk or whether the deal is simply a classic case of overpaying for talent not commensurate to the greenbacks doled out.
Here are the best and worst contract values of the 2014 NFL free-agency period.
Best: Cardinals OT Jared Veldheer
Out of all the teams that signed an offensive tackle to a big-money deal, the Arizona Cardinals came out looking like geniuses.
On Day 1 of free agency, the Cardinals lavished Veldheer with a five-year, $35 million deal, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported that Veldheer received $17 million in guaranteed money.
The 26-year-old Veldheer is an ascending player with 48 career starts in four seasons. While a triceps tear limited him to only five starts last season, he started a full 16 games in 2012 and finished that season ranked as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 12th-best tackle.
Veldheer's contract represents one of the best values of the free-agent period because of the money doled out to the other top tackles who were snapped up on Day 1.
The Cardinals have had major issues along the offensive line for years, with the unit resembling a moldy piece of Swiss cheese more often than not. Signing Veldheer will help solidify the line, and the Cardinals got him at a great price.
Worst: Browns LB Karlos Dansby
On Day 1 of free agency, the Cleveland Browns inked soon-to-be 33-year-old linebacker Karlos Dansby to a four-year, $24 million contract with $14 million guaranteed, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The fact that Dansby's contract made the "worst value" list has nothing to do with his on-field performance, as he was spectacular last season in Arizona. He finished 2013 ranked as Pro Football Focus' fifth-ranked inside linebacker.
The reason is because the Browns gave a soon-to-be 33-year-old linebacker a four-year deal.
This doesn't mean that Dansby won't perform well in 2014; he probably will.
It just means that it's nearly impossible to comprehend the logic (or lack thereof) behind giving him a four-year contract.
New Browns general manager Ray Farmer struck out with this contract. The value is abysmal.
Best: Colts WR Hakeem Nicks
There's no sugarcoating the fact that Nicks was an abject disaster in 2013. He failed to catch a single touchdown pass and never got on the same page with quarterback Eli Manning, an astounding feat when you consider it was their fifth year together in the same offense.
Nicks finished the year ranked as Pro Football Focus' 69th-best receiver, coming in behind luminaries such as Jarius Wright, Andre Holmes and Drew Davis.
Other than that, Nicks had a wonderful campaign.
But it's also true that Nicks has shown flashes of dominance in the past, particularly when he helped the Giants to triumph in Super Bowl XLVI following the 2011 season. It's not outside the realm of possibility that he could dazzle once more.
The bottom line is that the Colts got Nicks for a bargain price, especially given the money that Eric Decker got from the Jets (five years, $36 million with $15 million guaranteed) and Emmanuel Sanders received from the Broncos (three years, $15 million with $6 million guaranteed). It's a low-risk, high-reward addition for Colts general manager Ryan Grigson.
That's what makes Nicks' contract one of the best values of the 2014 free-agent period.
Worst: Broncos CB Aqib Talib
Like the bounty hunter Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back, there was no way Denver Broncos general manager John Elway was going to let his guy leave the building.
But rather than freeze former Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib in carbonite, Elway instead signed him to a six-year, $57 million contract with $26 million guaranteed.
In retrospect, maybe carbonite was the correct choice.
While only $11.5 million is truly guaranteed, per Tom Pelissero of USA Today, it's still a horrible deal.
If the Broncos choose to cut Talib after one year, the contract becomes very similar to the one New England gave cornerback Darrelle Revis (more on that later), and Revis is a far superior player to Talib.
The move is intelligent in the sense that the Broncos needed to sign a top-flight corner in an effort to win a Super Bowl while Peyton Manning remains under center.
But as far as value is concerned, it's one of the worst contracts in the 2014 free-agent period.
Best: Patriots CB Darrelle Revis
Now, before you get bent out of shape looking at Revis' high salary, consider these facts:
The Colts signed cornerback Vontae Davis to a four-year, $39 million contract with $20 million guaranteed.
The Broncos signed cornerback Aqib Talib to a six-year, $57 million contract with at least $11.5 million guaranteed.
The Packers signed cornerback Sam Shields to a four-year, $39 million deal with $12.5 million guaranteed.
Is there any question that Revis is markedly better than Davis, Talib and Shields?
No. No, there isn't.
The fact that the Patriots got Revis for less guaranteed money than Davis and Shields and about the same guaranteed greenbacks as Talib is startling, especially when you consider the fact that Revis is still the best cornerback in the NFL. He finished 2013 ranked as Pro Football Focus' top corner.
The NFL is the ultimate year-to-year league, and Revis represents a worthy gamble by Belichick, especially considering what chief AFC rival Denver has done in the free-agent period.
Simply put: This was a masterstroke by Belichick and one that definitely represents one of the best values of the 2014 free-agent period.
Worst: Titans OT Michael Oher
New Tennessee Titans tackle Michael Oher might be the most well-known offensive lineman in America, thanks to his life story being told in the movie The Blind Side.
The problem is he's not nearly as good as the general public likely thinks he is.
Oher finished 2013 ranked as Pro Football Focus' 68th-best tackle, and he was one of the main reasons why Baltimore's rushing attack only managed 3.1 yards per carry.
For more on why the Oher signing represents one of the worst values of the 2014 free-agent period, read what Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport penned on the subject.
Best: Raiders WR James Jones
But credit has to be given where credit is due, and McKenzie's signing of former Packers receiver James Jones to a three-year, $11.3 million deal represents tremendous value.
Jones is a quality receiver who caught 14 touchdown passes in 2012. While that number dipped to three in 2013, some of that can certainly be attributed to the fact that quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed seven games with a broken collarbone.
Jones will bring credibility and playmaking ability to an offense in dire need of it, and that makes him worth the price that McKenzie paid.
For more on why this contract represented great value, check out this piece from Bleacher Report's Brad Gagnon.
Worst: Jaguars G Zane Beadles
Earlier this week, I wrote that the Jacksonville Jaguars are on the up-and-up under coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell.
While I believe that to be true, it doesn't change the fact that their signing of former Broncos guard Zane Beadles to a five-year, $30 million deal with $13 million guaranteed, per ESPN's Adam Caplan (h/t ESPN's Adam Schefter), is puzzling.
Committing that much money to a left guard is odd, especially considering the team's long-term future at quarterback is nebulous at best.