2015 NFL Free-Agent Signings: Ranking the Top 50 Adds from 1st Week

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterMarch 13, 2015

2015 NFL Free-Agent Signings: Ranking the Top 50 Adds from 1st Week

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    The NFL free-agency seismograph is still rattling with aftershocks.

    The Tuesday afternoon transactionquake had Pro Bowlers criss-crossing the continent in a matter of minutes and record-breaking money falling from the sky. Trades, cuts and signings tore rifts and spurred upthrusts in divisional balances of power; in less than three days' time, the NFL landscape has been forever reshaped.

    These moves made some teams dramatically better, while they made others worse. Some teams were aggressive in securing their targets, while others reacted to quickly fill sudden holes. A few franchises appear to be playing the long game, making counterintuitive moves.

    Of all the big-deal transactions of the first week of 2015 free agency, I took the 50 biggest, most earth-shaking moves and ranked them, worst to best.

    These rankings consider the player's age, production and scheme fit, as well as the price paid to acquire him. A second- or third-tier free agent might be a better value than a cap-busting All-Pro—or a worse one.

    Some of these are big-money free-agent additions from one team to another. Some are always-rare NFL trades. Some are unexpected re-signings, and others are quieter deals that will have big on-field impact.

    There are more tremors yet to come, with a few big names unsigned and a lot of cap dollars unspent. But these are the 50 first-week additions that have rocked the NFL's foundations the hardest.

    Note: This list includes moves made official as of Thursday, March 12.

50. QB Mark Sanchez to Philadelphia Eagles

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Original Team: Eagles

    Contract Years: Two

    Contract Average Annual Value: $4.5 million

    Guaranteed Money: $5.5 million

    This. Makes. No. Sense.

    Nothing about this deal is wise. Mark Sanchez proved beyond a shadow of a doubt last season that he's a strict backup who can't be trusted to play well for more than a game or two. The market was rich with comparable players who signed (or will yet sign) for much, much lower numbers.

    The Eagles gave Sanchez starter money at the same time they were working the phones to trade for a starter with serious question marks in Sam Bradford.

49. QB Nick Foles to St. Louis Rams

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    Original Team: Philadelphia Eagles

    Trade Terms: Received Nick Foles, 2015 fourth-round pick and 2016 second-round pick; sent QB Sam Bradford, 2015 fifth-round pick

    Wait, what?

    On the heels of Rams head coach Jeff Fisher affirming they're "counting" on Bradford to start the 2015 season, per Mary Kay Cabot of Northeast Ohio Media Group, the Rams dealt Bradford to the Eagles in return for Foles.

    Foles, despite a sparkling 2013 debut that many (correctly) suspected had more to do with the lack of tape on him and the Eagles offense than Foles' ability, wasn't a clear part of the Eagles' plans going forward. Whereas Bradford has consistently flashed improvement when healthy, Foles has struggled more the longer he's played.

    It's hard to blame the Rams for moving on from Bradford, a perennial disappointment, but going into the season with Foles atop the depth chart is a big step back. Fisher and general manager Les Snead better have bigger plans for addressing this position.

48. CB Byron Maxwell to Philadelphia Eagles

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Original Team: Seattle Seahawks

    Contract Years: Six

    Contract AAV: $10.5 million

    Guaranteed Money: $25 million

    The Eagles needed a good, physical, man-coverage cornerback, and Byron Maxwell is one. At an outrageous $10.5 million per year, though, the Eagles have ludicrously overpaid Maxwell. He's now the fifth-highest-paid corner in the NFL, per Spotrac.com, making millions more than superstars such as Vontae Davis, Chris Harris Jr. and Brent Grimes.

    He's an upgrade over the departed Cary Williams but only arguably so—and a very similar player, with physicality and penchant for penalty flags intact.

    The contract's inordinate length and guaranteed money compound the huge dollar-value mistake. Given the unlikelihood Maxwell earns that per-year salary, and head coach Chip Kelly's fickleness, it's all but certain the Eagles will be eating this contract well before 2020.

47. OT Michael Oher to Carolina Panthers

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Original Team: Tennessee Titans

    Contract Years: Two

    Contract AAV: $3.5 million

    Guaranteed Money: $2.5 million

    Michael Oher, subject of the brilliant book The Blind Side, has never quite lived up to his bestselling hype. After earning a minus-20.2 Pro Football Focus grade as the Titans' part-time right tackle, Oher's utility is strictly as a depth swing option.

    After the beating quarterback Cam Newton took in 2014, Panthers fans have to hope Oher stays safely on the shelf in 2015—and the Panthers pursue more talented tackles.

46. ILB Curtis Lofton to Oakland Raiders

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Original Team: New Orleans Saints

    Contract Years: Three

    Contract AAV: $6 million

    Guaranteed Money: $6.5 million

    This low rating isn't necessarily a knock on Curtis Lofton. Set to turn 29 this summer, he's a decent two-down inside linebacker. He was a captain and leader for one of the NFL's worst defenses in 2014, for whatever that's worth.

    Here's knock No. 1: A decent two-down inside linebacker isn't worth $6 million a year.

    Knock No. 2: The Raiders have to spend a ton of money this spring to get up over the salary floor, have to overpay for top-notch talent and are still collecting past-it third-tier veterans.

    Lofton's deal very closely resembles disastrous 2014 signings such as LaMarr Woodley and Maurice Jones-Drew. If Raiders owner Mark Davis doesn't already regret giving general manager Reggie McKenzie one last chance, he should start regretting it now—and hard.

45. ILB Josh Mauga to Kansas City Chiefs

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Original Team: Chiefs

    Contract Years: Three

    Contract AAV: $2.67 million

    Guaranteed Money: $2.25 million

    Sometimes, a player's value is higher to his own team than to any other. This is the case with Josh Mauga.

    Despite struggling to get and stay on the field since signing with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2009, Mauga was a willing reserve for the Chiefs during a season of injuries and uncertainty at the inside linebacker position. He's been rewarded with a three-year year deal with $2.25 million in guaranteed money.

    It's not quite starter money for a guy who, frankly, is a replacement-level player. He was a street free agent, signed in July 2014, and Pro Football Focus graded him 54th of 60 qualifying inside linebackers. Good for the Chiefs for taking care of someone who performed for them, and good for Mauga for getting his, but there are a lot of other Josh Maugas out there.

44. QB Sam Bradford to Philadelphia Eagles

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    Original Team: St. Louis Rams

    Trade Terms: Received QB Sam Bradford, 2015 fifth-round pick; sent Nick Foles, 2015 fourth-round pick and 2016 second-round pick

    Sam Bradford has the tools, talent and potential to be a difference-making NFL quarterback. Bradford should execute Eagles head coach Chip Kelly's offense at a higher level than Foles or Mark Sanchez did.

    However, caveat No. 1 is, obviously, Bradford's health. He's blown the same ACL in back-to-back seasons. Per former San Diego Chargers trainer Dr. David Chao, chances for a full-performance recovery are significantly worse for a repeat reconstruction.

    The second cause for concern: The Eagles just paid Sanchez low-end starter money, presumably as a hedge against Bradford's health. Even if Bradford goes into the season as the presumed No. 1, he'll have to consistently outperform Sanchez in practice—and play well in games—to hang on to that role. If there's one thing Bradford's never shown, it's consistency.

    Given how low the "should be better than Foles or Sanchez" bar is, this doesn't feel like a solution to the Eagles' quarterback problem. It feels like a step toward something even more surprising—but if there's nothing else in the works, this move makes little sense.

43. WR Eddie Royal to Chicago Bears

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Original Team: Chargers

    Contract Years: Three

    Contract AAV: $5 million

    Guaranteed Money: $10 million

    It seems like it was a decade ago Eddie Royal was wearing orange, catching passes from Jay Cutler and playing second fiddle to Brandon Marshall. After a splashy 2008 rookie season, though, Royal spent five straight years without topping 60 catches or 650 yards. He slipped under the radar of all but the most fanatic fantasy football players. 

    Royal had a revival in San Diego. His 15 touchdowns in the last two years put him back in NFL highlight packages on a near-weekly basis.

    Now, it's time to party like it's 2009: Chicago dealt Marshall, and Cutler again needs Royal to play second banana to his big, fast No. 1 receiver (Alshon Jeffery).

    This contract, though... $10 million guaranteed? To a guy about to turn 29? Whose best year ever was a 91-catch, 980-yard, five-touchdown rookie season? Who's only started at least 12 games in a season twice in seven years?

    I'm a fan of Royal's redemption story, but this is a bizarre first-week signing.

42. ILB Bruce Carter to Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Original Team: Dallas Cowboys

    Contract Years: Four

    Contract AAV: $4.25 million

    Guaranteed Money: $4.25 million

    The Cowboys had a numbers problem. With the return of injured star linebacker Sean Lee and the surprise standout play of Lee's replacement (Rolando McClain), there were just too many good linebackers—and too many of them due to be free agents—for the Cowboys to sign them all.

    No matter how good 4-3 outside linebackers are, they have little impact on the game and are rarely worth big contracts. Nevertheless, the Buccaneers had a need, and Carter's familiarity with the Tampa 2 defense (via Cowboys coaches Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli) made him a fit.

    The Cowboys never really seemed interested in locking up Carter, and this is why: Those are big dollars for a guy whom Pro Football Focus ranked 34th out of 40 outside linebackers in 2014.

41. OG James Carpenter to New York Jets

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Original Team: Seattle Seahawks

    Contract Years: Four

    Contract AAV: $4.8 million

    Guaranteed Money: $7.5 million

    Carpenter, the No. 25 overall pick of the 2011 draft, is the latest in a line of Alabama products to not quite live up to their billing in the NFL. Nevertheless, the Jets made a healthy four-year, $5 million-per-year commitment.

    The 6'5", 321-pound monster struggled with injuries in the early part of his career. Across his four years in Seattle, even with a career-high 13 starts in 2014, he only managed to answer the bell for 45 of 64 possible games. Even when Carpenter was on the field, he didn't excel; his minus-6.6 Pro Football Focus grade slotted him 47th out of 78 qualifying guards.

    The Jets can still hope Carpenter's best football is in front of him. His 2014 grades were largely positive before missing three games due to an ankle injury (and almost entirely negative after).

    A contract of $20 million must buy an awful lot of hope.

40. ILB David Harris to New York Jets

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Original Team: Jets

    Contract Years: Three

    Contract AAV: $7.2 million

    Guaranteed Money: $15 million

    David Harris is a good linebacker, a solid starter in a physical 3-4 defense like the one former Jets head coach Rex Ryan ran and his replacement, Todd Bowles, will run.

    At age 31, Harris still has a few years left in the tank, but a guy with "a few years left in the tank" as a serviceable run-stopping linebacker is now the 10th-highest-paid at his position per year (with a whopping 69.8 percent of it guaranteed).

    Guaranteeing top dollar to a player on the wrong side of 30 is never a great idea—especially when, as charted by Pro Football Focus, he finished as the 29th-best overall starter out of 60 at inside linebacker last year.

    Again, Harris is a good linebacker, one who would have had interest elsewhere. But he's never been to the Pro Bowl in eight NFL seasons. For the Jets to pay him like he'll make his first trip at age 32 doesn't add up.

39. CB Buster Skrine to New York Jets

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Original Team: Cleveland Browns

    Contract Years: Four

    Contract AAV: $6.25 million

    Guaranteed Money: $13 million

    Buster Skrine is an athletic cover corner whose 2014 numbers (four interceptions, 18 passes defensed, 55 solo tackles, 12 assists) do a lot better job of passing the eyeball test than Skrine's play ever has.

    Skrine, during what was by far the best year of his career, graded out as Pro Football Focus' 82nd-best cornerback out of 108 qualifiers. He's nowhere near as good as Antonio Cromartie, whom the Jets signed to a contract with a fatter base salary but less guaranteed money, and he's not on the same planet as Darrelle Revis.

    As the slot corner, with those on the outside, Skrine could actually be a lethal mismatch against the Danny Amendolas of the world. Even in this inflated cornerback market, though, it's borderline outrageous to see Skrine get paid like Alterraun Verner.

38. WR Cole Beasley to Dallas Cowboys

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Original Team: Dallas Cowboys

    Contract Years: Four

    Contract AAV: $3.4 million

    Guaranteed Money: $7.4 million

    This is another brick in the "Why Won't the Cowboys Pay Dez Bryant?" wall.

    Under owner/general manager Jerry Jones, the Cowboys have often overpaid to keep the players they drafted and developed. Beasley's the latest (and an egregious) example.

    At 5'8", 180 pounds, with fewer than 40 catches in each of his three seasons, the utility receiver and backup returner just got a huge commitment. Either his role is set to dramatically expand in 2015, or he got a huge incumbent premium.

37. ILB Rey Maualuga to Cincinnati Bengals

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Original Team: Bengals

    Contract Years: Three

    Contract AAV: $5 million

    Guaranteed Money: $4.5 million

    Rey Maualuga has never been the dominant beast his 255-pound frame and No. 38 overall draft status suggested. His struggles with health and difference-making production make this multiyear deal with significant guaranteed money an eyebrow-raiser.

    Yet, as ESPN.com's Coley Harvey wrote, the guaranteed money is all up front, leaving the Bengals without a dead-money obligation to Maualuga should they choose to move on after 2015.

    In the end, Maualuga's a serviceable veteran who can play outside or inside for the Bengals, depending on Vontaze Burfict's availability. It's not a terrible deal but not a great one, either.

36. DL Darnell Dockett to San Francisco 49ers

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Original Team: Arizona Cardinals

    Contract Years: Two

    Contract AAV: $3.75 million

    Guaranteed Money: $2 million

    A possible counterweight to the 49ers' loss of Mike Iupati, longtime Cardinals talisman Darnell Dockett leaves the desert for Santa Clara.

    Considering the 49ers' sudden lack of talent and depth on the defensive line when Glenn Dorsey went down and Tank Carradine failed to step up, the signing makes perfect sense for the 49ers. So, too, does the relatively cheap deal, considering Dockett's age (he turns 34 in May) and his current recovery from ACL surgery.

    If he can return to form, Dockett will have a big impact in San Francisco, but with the way the Cardinals defense held steady during his 2014 absence, he might not be as big of a loss for the Cardinals as Iupati will be for the 49ers.

35. S Antrel Rolle to Chicago Bears

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Original Team: New York Giants

    Contract Years: Three

    Contract AAV: $3.75 million, per ESPN.com's Dan Graziano

    Guaranteed Money: $5 million

    Safety play has been an ongoing issue for the Bears, who've cycled through underwhelming options each of the past few seasons.

    Antrel Rolle, the No. 8 overall pick of the 2005 draft, has been an excellent two-way safety for much of his career. He has three Pro Bowl nominations to his credit, the latest in 2013.

    However, the 32-year-old suffered through a relatively ugly 2014 season, especially against the run. Pro Football Focus graded him 81st out of 87 qualifying safeties. The Bears are betting $5 million in guaranteed money that was an aberration—and given his quality 2013 and the firing of Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell after the 2014 season, it probably was.

    Probably.

34. DT Terrance Knighton to Washington

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Original Team: Denver Broncos

    Contract Years: One

    Contract AAV: $4 million

    Guaranteed Money: $2.95 million

    Wait, what?

    This is a record-scratch deal, a warning-bells deal. Terrance Knighton was presumed to have a healthy market of teams coming after him, including the loaded Oakland Raiders. After Knighton told ESPN's Josina Anderson the Raiders' offer was "not close to what I was looking for," he signed a one-year, $4 million deal with Washington, per Anderson on Twitter.

    What did the Raiders offer, league minimum?

    This is similar to 2013, when defensive end Cliff Avril was supposed to have teams lining up for his services and instead he got just $13 million over two years from the Seattle Seahawks, after turning down a three-year, $30 million offer from his prior team, the Detroit Lions.

    Something odd is going on here, but the on-field fit of Knighton with Stephen Paea and Jason Hatcher is incredible.

33. TE Jordan Cameron to Miami Dolphins

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Original Team: Cleveland Browns

    Contract Years: Two

    Contract AAV$7.5 million

    Guaranteed Money: $5 million

    The Dolphins took the free-agency poker game to incredible new heights Thursday night, when they hosted Jordan Cameron while the Buffalo Bills hosted Charles Clay, the Dolphins' own transition-tagged tight end. After splashing massive cash on Ndamukong Suh, the Fish played hardball with Clay.

    Clay then flew to Buffalo, trying to elicit a multiyear offer from either the Bills or Dolphins. Miami applied leverage by jumping in on Cameron—already announced as re-signed with Cleveland—and, eventually, landing him. If you weren't keeping up with the drama on Twitter, you missed some heady stuff.

    Ultimately, per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Dolphins inked Cameron. Per Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News, the Dolphins aren't just going to let Clay leave; they're going to try to keep him, too. ESPN.com's Clay Walker reports the Dolphins won't rescind Clay's transition tag, either.

    What does any of it mean? The Dolphins will have at least one, and maybe two, talented pass-catching tight ends in 2015—but for all Cameron's talent, his struggles with concussions cause concern.

32. DE Jerry Hughes to Buffalo Bills

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    Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    Original Team: Bills

    Contract Years: Five

    Contract AAV: $9 million

    Guaranteed Money: $22 million

    OK, Jerry Hughes was going to get paid by somebody, regardless of the wisdom of said payment. It's wrong to say Hughes only produced because he was the fourth head of a defensive Cerberus. It's wrong to say he only flourished because now-departed head coach Jim Schwartz found an ideal role—a role that won't exist in Buffalo anymore.

    However, it's right to say the Bills could have afforded to, and would have been wiser to, have some other team bet $22 million Hughes will play just as well under totally different circumstances.

31. OT Derek Newton to Houston Texans

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Original Team: Texans

    Contract Years: Five

    Contract AAV$5.3 million

    Guaranteed Money: $10 million

    For the past few years, media types have rightly sung the praises of Texans left tackle Duane Brown. Much of the rest of the Texans offensive line, however, has been unsettled.

    2011 seventh-round pick Derek Newton finally unlocked the potential in his 6'6", 313-pound frame last season, putting together a strong streak of dominant run blocking through the second half of the season. Newton finished as Pro Football Focus' fifth-best right tackle with at least 14 starts. The Texans now have the 27-year-old's services locked up throughout his prime.

30. CB Antonio Cromartie to New York Jets

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Original Team: Arizona Cardinals

    Contract Years: Four

    Contract AAV: $8 million

    Guaranteed Money: $20 million

    The other guy in the Jets' stunning attempt to put the Rex Ryan Band back together, Cromartie joins the big man himself, Darrelle Revis, and newcomer Buster Skrine, in completely rebuilding 2014's most depleted unit in football.

    With the strokes of three different pens, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Jets went from having the worst, most decimated cornerback depth chart to the best. Even by the standards of this crazily inflated cornerback market, Skrine and Cromartie got at least a little bit overpaid, but the Jets had cash to spend, and they spent it rebuilding a monster of a defense.

    I don't like this signing in a vacuum, but together with all the other additions, the impact will be huge.

29. S Da'Norris Searcy to Tennessee Titans

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Original Team: Buffalo Bills

    Contract Years: Four

    Contract AAV: $5.9 million

    Guaranteed Money: $10.5 million

    Wonder how a little-known safety on a mostly overlooked defense can spend three of his first four seasons on the bench and pull down $10.5 million in guaranteed cash?

    Simple: He just has to be really, really good in that fourth year.

    That was Searcy, who had just 10 starts in his first three seasons. In 2014, he started 13 games and played in 15, racking up three interceptions, five passes defensed, 44 solo tackles and 21 assists. He was Pro Football Focus' 18th-ranked safety of 87 qualifiers. His ability to play strong or free safety, and even a little cornerback, makes him all the more valuable.

    Of course, the Titans got Searcy because the last Bills safety they signed in free agency, George Wilson, failed to pan out. All the indicators are positive, this time, but it still boils down to betting $10.5 guaranteed million on one good season.

28. RB Shane Vereen to New York Giants

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    Original Team: New England Patriots

    Contract Years: Three

    Contract AAV: $4.1 million

    Guaranteed Money: $4.75 million

    There are very, very, very few bargains to be had in free agency. Shane Vereen to the New York Giants on a three-year, $12.3 million deal just might be one of them.

    Vereen, a 2011 second-round pick of the Patriots, has always been a talented runner and receiver. The 5'10", 205-pound all-purpose back just celebrated his 26th birthday and his first Super Bowl championship.

    Of course, despite being a talented member of the always-hard-to-figure-out Patriots running back committee, he was never able to put a stranglehold on the job. 2014 was the first time in his four seasons he started more than one game.

    Neither Rashad Jennings nor Andre Williams proved himself a difference-maker in 2014, so Vereen should again get plenty of situational touches with the Giants—and since he's making the going rate for starting running backs this year, $4.1 million, Vereen should have every opportunity to make the gig his own.

27. RB Mark Ingram to New Orleans Saints

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Original Team: Saints

    Contract Years: Four

    Contract AAV: $4 million

    Guaranteed Money: $7.6 million

    For a little while, it looked like Mark Ingram was just another high-profile Alabama bust.

    Coming into 2014, the former first-round pick's best season had been a 156-carry, 602-yard, five-touchdown effort in 2012. Even 2014's redemption campaign featured three entirely missed games, and despite being named to the Pro Bowl (after enough running backs declined to go), Ingram didn't even crack 1,000 rushing yards.

    All that being said, those missed games made it painfully clear how badly the Saints' passing offense relies on a credible run threat. Ingram's return sparked the flagging Saints back to life, driving wins over the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers, a one-point loss to the Detroit Lions and an overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

    The team's decision to lock up Ingram for the next four years, as well as trade for center Max Unger, might just be a little insight into the Saints' future on offense.

26. Matt Prater to Detroit Lions

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Original Team: Lions

    Contract Years: Three

    Contract AAV: $3 million

    Guaranteed Money: $750,000

    A kicker? How'd a kicker make this list?

    A kicker made this list when the 2014 Detroit Lions made just 25 of their 38 field-goal attempts. Rookie Nate Freese and veteran Alex Henery combined for a shocking 4-of-12, before the Lions dealt for Prater.

    Had the Lions had the benefit of Prater's services all season, given his career success rate of 81.5 percent, they'd have converted six more field goals. Two specific losses, at the Carolina Panthers and at home against the Buffalo Bills, were widely pinned on the combined 0-of-5 performance of the Lions kickers.

    Winning those two games would have made the Lions the NFC's No. 1 seed and dramatically reshaped the 2014 playoffs.

25. Mike Iupati to Arizona Cardinals

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    TONY AVELAR/Associated Press

    Original Team: San Francisco 49ers

    Contract Years: Five

    Contract AAV: $8 million

    Guaranteed Money: $22.5 million

    Mike Iupati and the 49ers offensive line got off to a very rough start in 2014, but by the end of the year, he regained his spot among the best in the business at his position.

    Not only did Iupati make the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive time, but he finished as Pro Football Focus' fifth-best left guard with at least 14 starts.

    Per Spotrac.com, Iupati is now the third-highest-paid guard in the NFL (per average annual value). Even if he's not, strictly speaking, the third-best guard in the NFL, he's close. Any premium the Cardinals paid is more than worth it.

    Not only is Iupati a massive upgrade at a position that's been a liability for years, but he's a huge swipe away from a divisional rival. In the cutthroat NFC West, a talent such as this moving from one team to the other is enormous.

24. CB Kareem Jackson to Houston Texans

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Original Team: Texans

    Contract Years: Four

    Contract AAV: $8.5 million

    Guaranteed Money: $20 million

    This appeared to be a bad deal. It was way too much money, with way too much of it guaranteed, for a player who's been nothing more than a quality No. 2 cornerback for each of his first five years in the league.

    Then Byron Maxwell got a much bigger pact, and suddenly this one looked much better.

    Try to forget, if you can, that the Texans just gave Jackson a contract that pays him every bit as much as Pro Bowler Chris Harris Jr., one of the best corners in the NFL. The 5'10", 188-pound corner is coming off a season where he played at least as well as his partner, Jonathan Joseph—and arguably, even better.

    There's no doubt Jackson is a superior cover corner to Maxwell. At 26, he's also younger. Considering he'll be pulling down $2 million less per year, Houston's locking him up to this deal before free agency started looks downright miserly.

23. OLB Brandon Graham to Philadelphia Eagles

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Original Team: Eagles

    Contract Years: Four

    Contract AAV: $6.5 million

    Guaranteed Money: $14 million

    OK, this is a good signing. Graham is a criminally underrated player who does nothing but produce when he gets on the field, despite being miscast in the Eagles' 3-4 system.

    Here's the problem: Graham is criminally underrated because he doesn't get on the field as often as he should, which in turn is because he's miscast in the Eagles' 3-4 system.

    Why the Eagles paid Graham more overall than Trent Cole, a natural 3-4 outside linebacker who plays full time, got from Indianapolis is hard to understand, though not as hard to understand as why Graham didn't seek his fortune with a team whose system is a better fit for his talent.

22. RB Frank Gore to Indianapolis Colts

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    Original Team: San Francisco 49ers

    Contract Years: Three

    Contract AAV: $4 million

    Guaranteed Money: $6.5 million

    It's not surprising when a 31-year-old power back is given the cold shoulder by his current team. It's shocking, though, when that back is Frank Gore and that team is the 49ers.

    Gore's been a rock for the up-and-down 49ers. A throwback to the days of offenses being built on the broad shoulders and steady legs of a workhorse tailback, Gore has been a 49er through and through.

    Now, after the spectacular flop of Trent Richardson and uninspiring playoff work of Dan "Boom" Herron left the Colts a running game (and, OK, a defense) shy of a Super Bowl berth, Gore could finally win that long-elusive ring in Indianapolis. 

21. OG Orlando Franklin to San Diego Chargers

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Original Team: Denver Broncos

    Contract Years: Five

    Contract AAV: $7.3 million, per Mike Klis of The Denver Post

    Guaranteed Money: $16.5 million

    "When you don't get offered a deal," Orlando Franklin told Kils, "They're telling you they don't want you. They didn't even humor me with an offer."

    Considering Franklin is a 2011 second-round pick who just turned in a fantastic season for the Broncos, it's probably not that John Elway and Co. have no interest in the 6'7", 320-pounder's services.

    Instead, Pro Football Focus' fourth-ranked left guard to play at least 14 games, hitting free agency at age 27, would have busted the Broncos' budget. Just like tight end Julius Thomas, it seemed the Broncos had long since decided Franklin was going to have far too rich a market for what little cap room they had.

    They were right. Franklin will be making a very healthy $7.3 million per year for the division-rival San Diego Chargers, either at guard or tackle—and he'll be able to use this perceived slight as fuel twice a year for the next five seasons.

20. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to New York Jets

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Original Team: Houston Texans

    Trade Terms: Sent conditional seventh-round pick that can become a sixth-round pick; received Ryan Fitzpatrick

    This is a flat-out steal.

    I know, I know. The world is generally over Fitzpatrick, his glorious beard, his Harvard matriculation and his phenomenal Wonderlic score. But the Jets—a team a quarterback away from being a serious contender since, like, energy drinks were invented—just got a guy who completed over 60 percent of his passes with a better than two-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 95.3 NFL passer efficiency rating...for a conditional seventh-round pick.

    If Geno Smith played like Fitzpatrick did in 2014, the Jets might have won enough games to keep Rex Ryan employed. Granted, Smith didn't have the playmakers Fitzpatrick did, but this is a capable starting quarterback in a league almost comically desperate for such.

19. TE Jimmy Graham to Seattle Seahawks

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    Bill Haber/Associated Press

    Original Team: New Orleans Saints

    Trade Terms: Sent OC Max Unger and first-round pick to New Orleand; received Graham and fourth-round pick

    The NFL world exploded at the news of this tradeand rightly so. Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman even wrote the addition of Graham makes the Seahawks good enough to go undefeated.

    I'm a little more skeptical.

    For starters, it's arguable that the 6'5", 251-pound, 4.46-second-40-yard-dash-timed Luke Willson was already the Seahawks' best size/speed downfield threat. Willson isn't anywhere near the player Graham is, but the Seahawks' biggest problem was a lack of quality outside receivers. Graham, for all the "pass catcher" kerfuffle, is not that.

    Moreover, there's a building body of evidence to show Graham disappears in big moments, from a low WPA relative to his production to a few crucial drops in 2014. Graham is a huge addition, but did the Seahawks get a net win with the addition of Graham and a fourth-rounder and subtraction of Unger and a first-rounder?

    The answer isn't a slam dunk.

18. DT Jared Odrick to Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Original Team: Miami Dolphins

    Contract Years: Five

    Contract AAV: $8.5 million

    Guaranteed Money: $22.5 million

    The Dolphins addressed a hole by signing Ndamukong Suh, while Jared Odrick replaces the just-released disappointment Red Bryant in Jacksonville.

    Odrick had just one official sack in 2014, but Pro Football Focus charted him with nine quarterback hits and 18 hurries. Odrick finished 19th overall in PFF's tackle grades and 16th in pass rush (Suh was third and seventh, respectively).

    The 6'5", 304-pounder just turned 27 in December and has the positional flexibility Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley covets. Jacksonville paid Odrick well for a guy whose glamour stats are lacking, but the Jaguars had plenty of money to spend on a talented young player who happens to be a perfect fit.

17. OC Rodney Hudson to Oakland Raiders

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    Associated Press

    Original Team: Kansas City Chiefs 

    Contract Years: Five

    Contract AAV: $8.9 million

    Guaranteed Money: $20 million 

    When I asked people around the league to name a player media types weren't talking about but teams were lining up for, Hudson's name came up.

    Hudson finished as Pro Football Focus' third-best center of 2014, despite working between two woeful guards. Now, the Raiders haven't just filled the hole left by the departing Steve Wisniewski; they may have upgraded over him.

    The 2011 second-round pick, who turns just 26 in July, could be one of the very best under-the-radar signings of this free-agency period—despite it being so outrageously massive it makes Hudson the highest-paid center in football (by average annual value).

16. DT Haloti Ngata to Detroit Lions

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Original Team: Baltimore Ravens

    Trade Terms: Sent fourth- and fifth-round picks to Baltimore; received Haloti Ngata and seventh-round pick

    Ngata is not Ndamukong Suh. He knows that better than anyone.

    "I don't see myself as Ndamukong Suh," Ngata said, per ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein. "I'm a different player, and you know he's made Pro Bowls, I've made Pro Bowls." So he has.

    The 6'4", 340-pound Ngata has made five Pro Bowls and two first-team All-Pro squads in nine seasons, compared to four and three such nominations in Suh's five years. Ngata just turned 31 in January, while Suh just turned 28 in the same month. Suh's a little smaller, a little younger and a little better, especially at rushing the passer.

    When you combine Ngata's one remaining contract year at $8.5 million, though, and Suh's $9.7 million dead-money hit on the Lions' cap, Ngata will still cost the Lions significantly less than Suh's $25.5 million signing bonus.

    The question is: With Suh gone and Nick Fairley headed elsewhere, how will Ngata line up, and whom will he line up beside? The Lions couldn't have gotten a better defensive tackle cheaper, but they have more work to do to prevent the NFL's second-best defense from collapsing into the hole Suh left.

    Might Ngata be the foundation of a 3-4, or hybridized, defense in Detroit?

15. WR Torrey Smith to San Francisco 49ers

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    Original Team: Baltimore Ravens

    Contract Years: Five

    Contract AAV: $8 million

    Guaranteed Money: $22 million

    This is a lot of money for a receiver who's never caught more than 65 passes in a season.

    This is a lot of money for a receiver who's only cracked 900 receiving yards once.

    But Torrey Smith was the scariest deep threat available in a Dez Bryant-less free-agency market, and as I wrote earlier in the week, the gutted 49ers roster is much improved by his addition.

    They're paying him a little more than the Indianapolis Colts are paying Andre Johnson and a little less than the Pittsburgh Steelers are paying Antonio Brown, but if Smith and new offensive coordinator Geep Chryst can get quarterback Colin Kaepernick throwing confidently downfield again, it's worth it.

14. DT Stephen Paea to Washington

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    Brian Kersey/Getty Images

    Original Team: Chicago Bears

    Contract Years: Four

    Contract AAV: $5.25 million

    Guaranteed Money: $7.9 million

    New general manager Scot McCloughan is doing solid work in his first offseason, picking up a talented young veteran at a position of need at an affordable price.

    Stephen Paea, who turns 27 in May, was the unsung heart of a revamped Bears defensive line in 2014. In his first full season as a starter, Paea racked up six official sacks—and per Pro Football Focus, 11 quarterback hits and 31 hurries. In fact, Paea finished 11th in PFF's defensive tackle ratings, ahead of better-known free agents such as Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton.

    How Paea combines with beastly defensive end Jason Hatcher, another converted 4-3 defensive tackle, in new defensive coordinator Joe Barry's defense will be something to keep an eye on. Barry has history with both the 3-4 and 4-3 alignments. Head coach Jay Gruden told Mike Jones of The Washington Post they're likely to run a hybridized, one-gap 3-4.

    Could the 6'1", 300-pound Paea have a Justin Smith-type impact?

13. OLB Trent Cole to Indianapolis Colts

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    Evan Habeeb/Getty Images

    Original Team: Philadelphia Eagles

    Contract Years: Two

    Contract AAV: $7 million

    Guaranteed Money: $8 million

    This is a perfect, straight-down-the-middle fit: The Indianapolis Colts could not get heat on opposing quarterbacks for love or money in 2014, and Trent Cole is a very solid pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker.

    The two-time Pro Bowler had 6.5 official sacks, which matches Colts' situational rusher Jonathan Newsome's total—but Pro Football Focus charted Cole with over twice as many quarterback hits and nearly twice as many hurries as Newsome. Cole finished with PFF's 12th-best pass-rush grade out of 46 qualifying 3-4 outside linebackers; Newsome was 22nd. Best of all, Cole's an every-down player.

12. WR Andre Johnson to Indianapolis Colts

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    Original Team: Houston Texans

    Contract Years: Three

    Contract AAV: $7 million

    Guaranteed Money: $10 million

    Andre Johnson has spent much of his incredible Houston Texans career standing around waiting for a quarterback who could throw it to him. Save for a brief window where Matt Schaub was feeling his oats, the seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro's been making bad quarterbacks look decent and decent quarterbacks look good for 12 seasons.

    Now, after a second straight year of total protonic reversion at the quarterback position in Houston, Johnson is coming off a "down year," in which he had 85 catches for 936 yards. It's true that Johnson isn't the deep threat he used to be, but catching passes from Andrew Luck? With T.Y. Hilton to draw coverage? And Frank Gore running the ball?

    It's very, very easy to imagine Johnson doing what the theoretically washed-up Anquan Boldin did for the San Francisco 49ers in 2013 and 2014. The only downside to this deal: If Johnson doesn't find the fountain of youth and the all-in push to get back to the AFC Championship Game (and win it) flops, this is a very unwieldy pact.

11. OT Bryan Bulaga to Green Bay Packers

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Original Team: Packers

    Contract Years: Five

    Contract AAV: $6.75 million

    Guaranteed Money: $8 million

    This is one of the best signings of the offseason. Not the biggest, not the boldest, not even the most impactful. Just one of the best.

    All winter long, popular wisdom had Packers general manager Ted Thompson set to pick his poison: Would he re-sign receiver Randall Cobb, keeping quarterback Aaron Rodgers happy, or Bryan Bulaga, keeping Rodgers upright?

    Through clever contract work (and Cobb's willingness to take the always discussed, rarely seen hometown discount), Thompson has kept his cake and eaten it, too.

10. WR Jeremy Maclin to Kansas City Chiefs

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    Original Team: Philadelphia Eagles

    Contract Years: Five

    Contract AAV: $11 million

    Guaranteed Money: $22.5 million

    There are a lot of very good reasons why you wouldn't pay Jeremy Maclin $11 million a year for five years or guarantee $22.5 million of that: Before one magical year in Chip Kelly's unique offense, Maclin was an underwhelming, one-dimensional deep threat who didn't crack 1,000 yards receiving in the four seasons before he ruptured his ACL.

    Here's the reason you do: He is everything the Kansas City Chiefs have desperately needed and painfully lacked since head coach Andy Reid took over. Maclin's 85 catches, 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014 topped the best Chiefs receiver (Dwayne Bowe) in each category by 42 percent, 75 percent and infinity percent.

    The Chiefs offense just got much, much better, and the team paid the going rate for an offensive difference-maker.

    Oh, and Reid drafted Maclin in Philadelphia, so he knows exactly what he's getting.

9. S Devin McCourty to New England Patriots

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Original Team: Patriots

    Contract Years: Five

    Contract AAV: $9.5 million

    Guaranteed Money: $28.5 million

    This contract looked pretty crazy before the other top defensive backs started hitting the market. Now that mediocre secondary patrollers are breaking the eight-digit-AAV barrier, McCourty's deal looks almost thrifty.

    Pro Football Focus' eighth-ranked safety of 2014, who'll turn 28 in August, worked with Darrelle Revis to lock down opposing passing games while the Pats steamrolled down the stretch and clinched yet another Super Bowl title.

    It always looked like the Patriots might have to choose between McCourty and Revis; given the contracts the two ended up signing, and the improvements the Patriots have already made to their flagging pass rush, letting Revis—stud though he may be—walk in favor of locking up McCourty already looks wise.

8. DT Ndamukong Suh to Miami Dolphins

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    Original Team: Detroit Lions

    Contract Years: Six

    Contract AAV: $19 million

    Guaranteed Money: $60 million

    Ndamukong Suh is not the best defensive player in football, but the Dolphins paid him like it.

    That's OK, because the Dolphins aren't just paying for a generational talent, a one-of-a-kind interior athlete with four Pro Bowl nominations and three first-team All-Pro nods in just five incredible seasons. They're paying for excitement, for jersey sales, for sending a message to the rest of the NFL they mean business.

    Full credit to the Dolphins for stepping up to the plate and getting a deal done, but with the mass exodus of talent at wide receiver and the necessary reshuffling of an already stout defensive front, there's no guarantee the addition of Suh makes the Dolphins that much better on the field.

    If the Dolphins have another almost-but-not-quite playoff season in 2015, it could spell the end of the Joe Philbin era. Whoever takes over after that will be stuck with a defensive tackle eating $28.6 million in cap space.

    This could mark the beginning of a new Dolphins dynasty, or it could mean another few seasons of tantalizing mediocrity.

7. TE Julius Thomas to Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Original Team: Denver Broncos

    Contract Years: Five

    Contract AAV: $9.2 million

    Guaranteed Money: $24 million

    Don't let the naysayers fool you: This is a great move.

    OK, Thomas is not an invincible all-around monster like Rob Gronkowski. He's not a complete receiving threat like Jimmy Graham. In fact, the only dominant facet of his game is his size (6'5", 250 lbs), strength and verticality in the red zone. Paying this kind of money didn't make any sense for the Broncos, which is why they never showed any sign of doing it.

    A) That's fine, because the Jaguars desperately needed that element added to their offense.

    B) That's fine, because the Jaguars have plenty of money to throw around.

    This is a great fit for the Jaguars and a great boost for sophomore quarterback Blake Bortles. Thomas will be just 27 when the season starts, and he'll have only two years' playing experience. His best football is almost certainly in front of him. 

6. RB DeMarco Murray to Philadelphia Eagles

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    Richard Lipski/Associated Press

    Original Team: Dallas Cowboys

    Contract Years: Five

    Contract AAV: $8.4 million

    Guaranteed Money: $21 million

    *Throws up hands*

    *Rips up article*

    Gentle readers, the Eagles have so thoroughly scrambled this free-agency period, your humble analyst is at a loss as to how to evaluate this move, announced by the team on Twitter.

    By itself, the Eagles have paid a significant premium—more than double this market's going rate for starting running backs—to lock up the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year. That would be a solid signing by any metric—a bold one but a solid one.

    But does it retroactively justify jettisoning LeSean McCoy? What about the stunning addition of San Diego Chargers tailback Ryan Mathews? Do Murray, Mathews and Darren Sproles make Philadelphia any better than it was with McCoy and Sproles?

    If so, why'd it let Jeremy Maclin walk? Why is Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News reporting the Eagles are about to trade All-Pro guard Evan Mathis? What about the whole quarterback fiasco? Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?

    Sigh. In the end, this move was the last the Eagles could make for a true offensive weapon. Without knowing any of the rest of Kelly's plan, outbidding the field for a player who could at least ensure no falloff of Kelly's run game was a must-do, and the Eagles deserve credit for doing it.

5. DE Jabaal Sheard to New England Patriots

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Original Team: Cleveland Browns

    Contract Years: Two

    Contract AAV: $5.5 million

    Guaranteed Money: $5.5 million

    The Browns drafted Jabaal Sheard as a 4-3 defensive end with the No. 37 overall pick of the 2011 draft. Since then, the team has cycled through three head coaches, three defensive coordinators and an alignment switch in Sheard's four-year career.

    The 6'3", 264-pounder was miscast as a 3-4 outside linebacker under Ray Horton, then buried on the depth chart under big-money free-agent Paul Kruger and 2013 No. 6 overall pick Barkevious Mingo.

    Going to the Patriots to be deployed as a Rob Ninkovich-style hybrid linebacker/end made so much sense for Sheard that all of football Twitter despaired at the Patriots rooking the league once again.

    ESPN's Adam Schefter quoted a league source guaranteeing the Sheard acquisition would prove to be a "top-five signing." One person put it a little more succinctly: "Pats signing Sheard to a good deal is why I hate the Pats."

4. OC Max Unger to New Orleans Saints

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Original Team: Seattle Seahawks

    Trade Terms: Sent TE Jimmy Graham and fourth-round pick to Seattle; received Max Unger and first-round pick

    The Saints just made Graham the highest-paid tight end in football this past offseason, per Spotrac.com; now they're getting rid of him? The Saints are shopping nearly every player on the roster, per multiple reports, including this from Jeremy Fowler of ESPN? What a disaster!

    Or, you know, not.

    Unger is a two-time Pro Bowler and was first-team All-Pro in 2013. The Saints might have gotten more points out of improved pass protection and run blocking than from having Graham. Moreover, the first-round pick the Saints have coming back to them could give them the ammo to finally acquire Drew Brees' successor, as NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported way back in November was their plan.

    If the Saints are in rebuilding mode, at least they're rebuilding right.

3. OLB Pernell McPhee to Chicago

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    Original Team: Baltimore Ravens

    Contract Years: Five

    Contract AAV: $7.8 million

    Guaranteed Money: $15.5 million

    This is one of the craftiest free-agent moves and best free-agent fits we've seen in a while.

    Terrell Suggs was the man, Elvis Dumervil got the sacks and C.J. Mosley got the hype, but Pernell McPhee, to those who were paying attention, had a no-less-fantastic season than any of the other Ravens linebackers. In fact, McPhee was Pro Football Focus' second-ranked 3-4 outside linebacker, behind only Kansas City sackmaster Justin Houston.

    With his size (6'3", 280 lbs), speed, versatility and tenacity, he'll be a perfect fit in new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's defense no matter where he lines up on any given down. When we look back on this crazy free-agency period, the relatively quiet signing of McPhee will be remembered as one of the best.

2. WR Randall Cobb to Green Bay Packers

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    Original Team: Packers

    Contract Years: Four

    Contract AAV: $10 million

    Guaranteed Money: $13 million

    Though the Packers' best move was finding out a way to keep both Randall Cobb and right tackle Bryan Bulaga, Cobb was always going to be the tougher get. His 91-catch, 1,287-yard, 12-touchdown Pro Bowl season would have made him the most productive receiver on the market had he left Green Bay.

    Many outlets, including Pro Football Talk, speculated Cobb took less money to stay in Titletown—a rare occurrence, indeed.

    "I want to win championships," Cobb told Mike Spofford of the team's official site. He, Bulaga and quarterback Aaron Rodgers will have a chance to do exactly that.

1. CB Darrelle Revis to New York Jets

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    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Original Team: New England Patriots

    Contract Years: Five

    Contract AAV: $14 million

    Guaranteed Money: $39 million

    The Jets' landing of Revis ranks No. 1 for a lot of reasons.

    It's not just because it's a monster contract with a huge amount of base and guaranteed salary. It's not just because the Jets convinced the biggest difference-maker on the reigning Super Bowl champions to walk away from a chance at repeating to join the struggling Jets. It's not just because it's the Jets putting one over on their hated rivals or because it reunites Darrelle Revis with the fanbase that always loved him best.

    It's No. 1 for all those reasons, and it dramatically changes the landscape of the AFC East.

    Of course, the Patriots will cobble together a contending roster—but the Jets were already one of the best run-stopping teams in football, with a decent pass rush. Corner was the one true hole, and with Revis and Antonio Cromartie back, it's bound to be one of the strengths.

    No matter what happens with the offense (and some things will have to happen with the offense), the Jets should have the kind of lockdown defense that will keep them in every game.

    Ty Schalter is a member of the PFWA. Catch him on B/R Radio Sundays at 11 a.m. ET; follow him on Twitter . Save where noted, contract values are per Spotrac.com and stats are via Pro Football Reference.

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