The NFL's Best Bang-for-the-Buck Free-Agent Signings

Marcus Mosher@@Marcus_MosherFeatured Columnist IMarch 23, 2019

The NFL's Best Bang-for-the-Buck Free-Agent Signings

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    Free agency is one of the most exciting times of the year for NFL fans.

    Rapid player movement occurs, but teams too often pay elite money for average to above-average players. 

    However, some squads can still find value in free agency, even during the first week of the league year when everyone is spending. Today, we'll look at eight of the best signings thus far.

    Without further ado, let's get into it. 

         

Safety Adrian Amos, Green Bay Packers

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    The Chicago Bears selected Adrian Amos in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL draft, but he's since started 56 games for the team at free and strong safety. Over the years, his consistency and versatility have made him one of the team's most valuable players.

    Amos doesn't give up many plays in the passing game. He's also a tackling machine who has racked up 230 solo tackles during the last four seasons. 

    Early in free agency, the Green Bay Packers signed Amos to a four-year deal worth up to $37 million.

    The 25-year-old is just starting to enter the prime of his career, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he continued to improve and made his first Pro Bowl with the Packers. Though he'll earn nearly $10 million per season, Amos is one of the best value signings this offseason. 

    He'll be an immediate upgrade over Kentrell Brice and Tramon Williams. 

EDGE Shaquil Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to steal an underused pass-rusher in free agency by signing Shaquil Barrett to a one-year deal worth up to $4 million. Only $3 million is guaranteed.

    That's about the same amount of money a team would spend on a lower-tier starting offensive lineman. 

    Barrett, who operated alongside Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in 2018, has been a part-time player for most of his career with the Denver Broncos. He played in a total of 61 games for the Mile High City but only has 15 starts to his name.

    However, he has been productive in a limited role, accumulating 35 quarterback hits and 14 sacks over those four seasons. Tampa Bay is hoping his numbers will only improve in a more significant role.

    Considering the price, this is a steal for the Buccaneers as they look to turn over every stone in search of a pass rush. Don't be surprised if Barrett ends up with seven or eight sacks next season as a full-time starter.

    If that happens, he should be able to secure a massive payday next offseason.

EDGE Markus Golden, New York Giants

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    Typically, pass-rushers are hard to find in free agency. Teams are forced to overpay for average players and can't usually sign quality ones to team-friendly deals.

    However, the New York Giants stole a productive pass-rusher within the first week of free agency. They signed former Arizona Cardinals linebacker Markus Golden to a one-year deal worth $4.75 million (only $2.25 million guaranteed).

    Golden has dealt with some injuries over the past two seasons and has started just 15 games since 2017. However, he proved he has double-digit sack potential when he recorded 12.5 in 2016. It's not a coincidence that his best season came under James Bettcher, who is now the defensive coordinator in New York.

    This is a great one-year gamble for the Giants. Golden, still only 28 years old, may well lead the team in sacks next season if Bettcher is able to maximize the former Missouri pass-rusher. 

Linebacker Jordan Hicks, Arizona Cardinals

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    Free-agent linebackers got paid this offseason.

    Players such as C.J. Mosley, Kwon Alexander and Anthony Barr all signed massive deals, and teams overpaid for above-average linebackers. Mosley signed a deal worth up to $85 million over five years, the most ever for a linebacker. Alexander signed a four-year deal worth up to $54 million despite missing most of the 2018 season with a torn ACL. 

    However, bargains at the position did exist after the first few days of the free-agency frenzy. 

    One such deal came courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals, who signed veteran linebacker Jordan Hicks to a four-year contract worth up to $36 million ($20 million guaranteed). While that number may still seem somewhat large for an off-the-ball linebacker, Hicks is one of the league's most underrated players at his position.

    According to Pro Football Focus, he was the top linebacker in free agency with an overall grade of 80.7. The Texas product started 12 games for the Eagles last season, totaling 61 solo tackles and three sacks. He has few holes in his game and can play multiple positions on defense.

    Now that he's finally healthy again, Hicks could make the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career. He's an outstanding fit in Arizona and one of the better value signings in free agency, especially when you consider his age (26). Look for him to be moved all over Vance Joseph's defense as he can start at a number of positions for the Cardinals. 

Defensive End Kerry Hyder, Dallas Cowboys

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    Former Detroit Lions pass-rusher Kerry Hyder was a forgotten player during free agency. 

    After a breakout season in 2016, he tore his Achilles tendon before the 2017 campaign even started and missed the entire year. In 2018, new head coach Matt Patricia turned him into an interior rusher, and his statistics and quality of play both suffered.

    Hyder totaled just one sack and six tackles during his final year with the Lions—a disappointing season for a player two calendars removed from showing so much promise. 

    However, the Cowboys signed him during the second week of free agency on a team-friendly deal. Hyder's one-year contract is worth up to $1.5 million, and he'll receive just $200,000 in guaranteed money.

    With a low base salary, he's not a lock to make the roster. But if Hyder can prove he's fully recovered from his Achilles tear, he could make a significant impact for the Cowboys—maybe even as a starter. 

    Expect him to find a way into Dallas' defensive line rotation as coordinator Rod Marinelli turns him back into a productive player.

Running Back Mark Ingram, Baltimore Ravens

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    Typically, paying older running backs in free agency isn't a wise move. That's especially true when the signee is already 29 years old.

    However, the three-year, $15 million contract agreed upon by Mark Ingram and the Baltimore Ravens still makes a lot of sense for both sides. 

    Per Spotrac, the Ravens can get out of the deal after two years with just $1.3 million in dead money, which means the pact would be worth a little less than $5 million per year over the first two seasons. That's not too bad for a veteran running back.

    But the fit makes this deal especially valuable for the Ravens.

    Ingram is one of the best inside runners in all of football and should complement quarterback Lamar Jackson's speed. He's been highly efficient over the last four years, averaging 4.8 yards per rush on 739 carries, and gives the Ravens a true workhorse between the tackles who can also play on third downs if needed.

    Considering how Baltimore wants to play football, Ingram is a perfect match. Don't be surprised if he enjoys a career year in 2019. 

Cornerback Jason Verrett, San Francisco 49ers

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    Finding a starting cornerback in free agency can be a rough adventure. Most teams don't allow good corners to escape, and the ones who do hit the open market are usually vastly overpaid.

    However, the San Francisco 49ers found a fit with Pro Bowl potential and didn't have to spend top dollar to acquire him.

    The Niners signed veteran cornerback Jason Verrett, formerly of the Los Angeles Chargers, to a one-year deal worth $3.6 million. That's virtually nothing for a player who has shown he can be one of the NFL's best at his position. In his last 19 starts, Verrett has tallied 54 solo tackles, 15 pass deflections and four interceptions. His ability to mirror receivers on both the outside and in the slot make him one of the most versatile cornerbacks in the league.  

    However, Verrett couldn't get more money on the open market because of his injury history. Though he was drafted in 2014's first round, he's played in only 25 games and dealt with multiple injuries throughout his career—most recently, a torn Achilles tendon in 2018.

    If Verrett can stay healthy—even for a few games—he'll be a steal for the 49ers. With a little luck, he could prove one of the league's best free-agent signings. 

Safety Eric Weddle, Los Angeles Rams

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    One of the offseason's best free-agent signings took place before the legal tampering period even started. After the Baltimore Ravens released him, Eric Weddle struck a deal with the Los Angeles Rams the Friday before the new league year began. 

    At that time, no one knew just how expensive the safety market would become.

    After the Washington Redskins signed Landon Collins to a record-setting deal (six years, $84 million), prices at the position skyrocketed. Lamarcus Joyner joined the Oakland Raiders on a four-year, $42 million pact. Tyrann Mathieu agreed to terms with the Kansas City Chiefs for three years and $42 million. Earl Thomas received a four-year, $55 million contract from the Baltimore Ravens. 

    However, the Rams were able to add the six-time Pro Bowler on a two-year, $10.5 million contract.

    The 34-year-old is older than most safeties on the market, but he's still proved himself a productive player and is coming off three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances for the Ravens. At that salary, he doesn't even need to make it four in order to justify his contract. So long as he continues to function as an adequate starter, the Rams should be more than happy.

    Expect Weddle to continue producing at a high level in Los Angeles.