NFL Free Agents 2011: Power Ranking the 10 Best Signings of Week 1
When NFL free agency hit last Monday, the deals were being reported consistently left and right. Every 15 minutes it felt as if another name had found a new deal. The domino effect from contract signings was also felt more by most teams this year than others because of the time crunch.
This previous week of free agency was truly historic for the National Football League and an absolute delight for football fans and media personnel alike.
With the dust starting to settle and team rosters coming into focus, let’s take a look back at the first week of the 2011 NFL offseason.
This slideshow is to determine the top 10 best signings to date. Many different factors went into deciding what make a contract “great.” The list was compiled based off the signing’s length and finances of the his new contract, his immediate impact, his position as it pertains to filling a need, his versatility, his level of expectations and his role off the field.
There still plenty of valuable free agents awaiting new deals and only a small portion of the free agent class have signed next to the X. The 10 players are true free agents, not players acquired in trades (i.e. Kevin Kolb, Donovan McNabb, etc.).
Without any further ado, here are the best signings in NFL free agency from Week 1:
10. Takeo Spikes
For those who think Takeo Spikes is running on fumes, think again.
The 14-year veteran made the short trip from San Francisco to San Diego last week when he signed a three-year, $9 million contract to play for the Chargers.
Spikes still has value for defenses, especially in the 3-4 format. He still has speed, power and strength to deliver big blows.
The signing solidifies the linebacker crew of San Diego. Despite having the league’s best offense and defense in yardage for 2010, the Chargers missed the playoffs after another routine slow start to the season. The Bolts hope Spikes could be that missing piece early in 2011.
Spikes last year with the 49ers recorded 109 combined tackles, second on the team to linebacker Patrick Willis’ 128 take downs. San Francisco had the sixth-best run defense last year allowing 96.7 yards per game on the ground. Those two were a big reason why.
The Chargers certainly hope that success will carry over 500 southeast to San Diego.
9. Steve Breaston
Fantasy football owners know Steve Breaston as a consistent sleeper available in the ninth or 10th round of their drafts.
Defenses know him as a receiver who can contribute regularly and help the offense keep the chains moving.
Breaston is leaving Arizona to be reunited with former offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the current head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. The contract is reported to be a five-year deal worth $9 million.
This signing is one of the best not just because of the statistics Breaston puts up but because of the value and impact Breaston will have with the Chiefs.
Dwayne Bowe is the hands down go-to guy for Kansas City even though his bursts have been here and there. When he is double teamed by a corner and a safety, the Chiefs had a difficult time finding another down field target. Breaston fixes that problem and will complement Bowe nicely.
Don’t expect Breaston to go off the charts with his numbers, but recent history shows he is expected to catch 50 balls for 700 yards and a handful of touchdowns.
8. Davin Joseph
Tampa Bay turned a lot of heads in 2010 finishing with a 10-6 record. Doubters speculate the team is incapable of repeating such success this season.
The re-signing of Davin Joseph says otherwise.
Joseph, 27, has been described as a dominating guard who excels in run-blocking abilities. He is projected to be the starting right guard for the Buccaneers.
The seven-year, $53 million contract locks up arguably the best offensive guard who is just about to hit his prime from this year’s free agency talent pool.
With the signing, Tampa ensures the running offense will have the potential to carry the young Bucs. Cadillac Williams has yet to re-sign with Tampa Bay, so who exactly Joseph will be blocking for is unknown at the time.
The main guy at the present moment would be the troubled LeGarrette Blount who made the most of his limited playing time in 2010 rushing for 1,007 yards on 201 carries. If the Buccaneers can lure in an Ahmad Bradshaw or Ronnie Brown to be primary back, Tampa Bay could get a lot of use out of Joseph.
7. Santonio Holmes
The fourth quarter comeback hero for the 2010 Jets will be returning to New York.
Holmes agreed to a five-year deal worth $50 million to return to the Jets offense. By doing so, he almost ensured Braylon Edwards would not be returning. Sunday, the Jets announced the signing of Plaxico Burress to a one-year, $3 million deal to complement Holmes.
With a dependable receiver across from him, Holmes is set to have an explosive campaign for the J-E-T-S. Fans can expect more than just the 52 catches, 746 yards and six touchdowns he accounted for in 2010.
While the signing is certainly an impact for the Jets, it is ranked low on this list because of the amount of money involved. This deal ensures Holmes $24 million in guaranteed paper, second most by a wide receiver in the league only to Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals with $30 million.
The signing makes sense, solidifies a position and locks up a valuable asset. While the contract was a bit of a splurge, the Jets were able to find an inexpensive option to round out the receivers.
This contract will look great if Holmes can find a way to get the ball more often. He should target 80 catches this season.
6. Cullen Jenkins
One of the new faces of the Philadelphia Eagles “dream team” is former Green Bay defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins.
Jenkins, who missed the final four regular season games but played in all four Packers playoff games, may be remembered last season for wearing that odd club wrapping on his left hand. Even with that cast that prevented him from having full control of his hands, Jenkins recorded a career-best seven sacks in 11 regular season games for the Super Bowl champs.
The Eagles offered an aggressive five-year, $25 million deal to which Jenkins accepted.
Jenkins will line up at the defensive tackle spot while the Eagles are trying to solidify the rest of the line. Names line Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Juqua Parker and fellow free agent signing Jason Babin all have chances to start.
This signing provides a much-needed boost in the pass rushing department for Philadelphia. Overall, Philly was middle of the road in passing and rushing defense a season ago. Jenkins should boost those numbers rather quickly.
5. Matt Hasselbeck
Matt Hasselbeck has certainly seen younger days as the 13-year veteran prepares for a fresh start with the Titans compliments of a three-year, $21 million contract accepted last week.
The money would certainly imply Tennessee is dedicated to starting Hasselbeck under center. There’s more than just running the offense that makes this signing a very smart one for the Titans.
Hasselbeck will most likely serve as a mentor to first-round draft pick Jake Locker from the University of Washington. The two share a connection because of where Hasselbeck played for the last decade in Seattle and where Locker attended college.
Early word is that the two are thrilled to have the chance to share this experience and learn from one another.
Tennessee certainly has other issues in camp to worry about at the present moment. Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson is beginning a hold out from training camp due to contract extension talks. The fact that the Titans were able to draft a future quarterback and bring in a veteran to show him the ropes rather painlessly takes a load off Tennessee’s shoulders.
4. Mike Sims-Walker
Rams fans who wish to follow their new receiver on Twitter better get used to seeing this:
@MikeSimsWalker: “Olly olly oxenfreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!”
Sims-Walker begins every day by tweeting that very phrase. If that’s the only negative to this signing, then Rams fans have some of the best problems in the world.
What Sims-Walker brings to the Rams is a downfield home run threat but also has the frame at 6’2” to be a possession receiver. Depth at wide receiver crippled St. Louis last year. The team’s primary target—Donnie Avery—went on IR before seeing the field in a single game. Plenty more would follow.
The Rams signed Sims-Walker to a one-year, $3.7 million contract. Not only is he non-committal in the long run if he doesn’t work out, but also he’s rather inexpensive as well.
Sims-Walker is a versatile option for quarterback Sam Bradford in the passing game. Over the last two years in Jacksonville, he totaled 106 receptions for 1,431 yards and 14 scores. Playing in a climate-controlled dome, there’s no doubt Sims-Walker can keep on pace with those numbers.
3. Jonathan Joseph
When the going gets tough, the tough make smart financial decisions and look elsewhere.
Not exactly the catchiest thing ever written, but that was certainly the motto for the Houston Texans when signing cornerback Jonathan Joseph to a five-year, $49 million deal in free agency.
Houston was among the 49ers and Jets in a bidding war for the top tier corner on the market—Nnamdi Asomugha. When the Jets started getting serious about the huge numbers being throws at Asomugha, Houston stepped down a rung and grabbed Joseph.
Not only is Joseph three years younger than Asomugha, but also he ended up costing $11 million less over the same length on contract.
Joseph would be considered corner 1-A in free agency this year, so by no means did Houston lose out entirely. The need to find a solid corner was the team’s highest priority this offseason. Houston was dead last in the NFL in 2010 defending the pass, allowing 267.5 yards on average a game.
Joseph fills that need and saved additional money. Great signing by the Texans.
2. Ray Edwards
All defensive-minded coaches will tell you how much pressure you can apply at the line of scrimmage will make or break any given game.
Atlanta had been struggling to find a complement on the defensive line for John Abraham. Finally the search is over, as the Falcons agreed with former Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards on a five-year, $30 million contract.
Abraham and Edwards will bring plenty of pressure of the outsides. The best way to make a quarterback look bad is to force him into bad throws or taking his rhythm away in the pocket. This lesson is extra important in the NFC South with Drew Brees and Josh Freeman in the division.
Edwards picked up 16.5 sacks in his last two years with Minnesota. He decided to test the free agent waters and could not have landed in a better spot.
The deal makes sense for the Falcons because of the previously discussed need at defensive end and because the contract is not ridiculously overpriced. Overall, good pairing for both parties.
1. Nnamdi Asomugha
Who would have thought when Friday began that the Philadelphia Eagles would make the biggest splash in free agency by locking up the league’s premier cornerback when no rumors or whispers ever mentioned the Eagles being interested until the day of?
Nnamdi Asomugha, who inked a five-year, $60 million agreement to join Philadelphia, demands the respect of every offense he ever goes up against.
People who say number don’t lie are dead wrong when it comes it Asomugha. Statistically, he has just three interceptions over the last four seasons with Oakland. When one breaks down just how many plays he actually gets at balls, one will see no quarterbacks throw to his half of the field.
One of the largest reasons believed to have lured Asomugha to the Eagles goes back days before when the Eagles traded backup quarterback Kevin Kolb to Arizona for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick. In addition, Philadelphia is off the books for Kolb’s finances as he reworked his contract upon arriving in Arizona.
Philadelphia now had Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie and two-time Super Bowl champion Asante Samuel as the team’s top three corners. Lots of talks have emerged in the last 72 hours as to whether the Eagles should retain all three or shop Samuel.
What makes this contract signing fantastic in addition to Asomugha’s abilities and the overwhelming pass defense Philadelphia now features is that the Eagles prevented the Jets from getting the deal done. With no chance at Asomugha, the Jets re-signed Antonio Cromartie to a four-year, $32 million deal in the early hours of Monday morning.
The Eagles are coining this year as being the “dream team.” One could argue against that phrase being applied properly, but it’s an awfully hard argument to win.
The unexpected signing of Nnamdi Asomugha is hands down the best deal constructed in Week 1 of free agency.
Follow Brett Lyons on Twitter @BrettLyons670.