10 best free agent signings through Week 8

Eric Eager gives the best 10 free agent signings in terms of production and value this season.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

10 best free agent signings through Week 8

For NFL teams and their fanbases, NFL’s annual free agency period is a time of year filled with opportunity and hope. Some of this hope is realized, while some signings leave teams looking forward to next year’s opportunity to try it all again. As we close the book on Week 8 of the NFL season, PFF takes a look at the top 10 free agent signings this season, in terms of value.

1. Pernell McPhee, OLB, Bears (five years, $40 million, 87.9 overall grade)

The Bears are in the middle of a rebuilding effort, while at the same time staying competitive in almost every game. Much of this dynamic can be attributed to McPhee. While he didn’t come cheaply, he has truly been an elite edge rusher, leading 3-4 OLBs in pass rush productivity. McPhee is tied for third amongst 3-4 OLB in QB hits (seven), fourth in QB hurries (27), and has added an interception.

2. Richie Incognito, G, Bills (one year, $1.1 million, 91.3 overall grade)

The Bills acquired Incognito for practically nothing in the offseason, and he has responded by producing the third-best PFF grade among guards. Incognito has been almost equally good as a run blocker (89.7) and as a pass protector (87.9), allowing just three QB hits and hurries, tied for sixth among guards is pass blocking efficiency.

3. Michael Crabtree, WR, Raiders (one year, $3 million, 85.3 overall grade)

In a year where many free agent WR have struggled, Crabtree has been a revelation across the bay, finishing Week 8 as PFF’s 13th-highest graded WR. Derek Carr has a 93.3 passer rating when throwing Crabtree’s way, and he has produced 2.14 yards per route run, both good for 12th best among WRs thus far.

4. Evan Mathis, G, Broncos (one year, $3.25 million, 85.6 overall grade)

A PFF favorite for years, and for good reason, Mathis appears to be settling in nicely for the undefeated Broncos. Acquired relatively cheaply in August, Mathis has been Denver’s highest-graded offensive player by a wide margin, and the only starting O-lineman with a positive grade, despite a slow start in Weeks 1 and 2.

5. Dan Williams, NT, Raiders (four years, $25 million, 83.3 overall grade)

While he has graded positively every season since 2012, Williams may be due for his best season ever in his first stint as a Raider. Solid versus the run (82.2) and the pass (78.3), he has been a big part of Oakland’s gradual restoration of credibility in 2015. Williams is third among DT/NTs in run stop percentage (12.2) through the first eight weeks of 2015.

6. Greg Hardy, DE, Cowboys (one year, $11 million, 84.8 overall grade)

Despite being suspended for the first four games of the season, Hardy still ranks ninth among 4-3 DEs, tied for 10th among all edge defenders. He has been a big reason that Dallas has been competitive even without Tony Romo, producing three sacks, six hurries, three QB hits, and seven stops in three games.

7. Tyrod Taylor, QB, Bills (three years, $3.35 million, 78.0 overall grade)

PFF’s 12th-highest rated QB through eight weeks, Taylor may be on this list as much for how the Bills have missed him than for his above-average play on the field thus far. Taylor has posted a 75.8 accuracy percentage under pressure, which is good for second among NFL QBs through Week 8. Meanwhile, the Bills are 0-2 without Taylor, with E.J. Manuel posting a 46.4 overall grade in his absence.

8. Walter Thurmond, S, Eagles (one year, $3.25 million, 88.1 overall grade)

While Byron Maxwell got the money in the offseason, Thurmond is a bigger reason why the Eagles’ secondary has been so good this year. The converted slot corner has produced two QB hurries, 11 stops, and three interceptions this season.

9. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Dolphins (six years, $114 million, 89.4 overall grade)

Suh was expensive, but he has produced the fifth-highest grade amongst interior defensive lineman thus far this season, earning a positive grade in every game. Despite heightened attention from opposing offensive lines, Suh has posted the ninth-best pass rush productivity among DT/NT through eight weeks, recording two sacks, six QB hits, and 17 hurries thus far.

10. Nick Fairley, DT, Rams (one year, $5 million, 80.3 overall grade)

While playing only 156 snaps through eight weeks, Fairly is tied for the 22nd-best grade amongst DT/NTs. Solid both as a pass rusher (76.8) and a run stopper (80.5), Fairley has proven a solid complement to Aaron Donald inside, grading positively in all seven games this season, increasing his snaps in all of the past five weeks.

To see the worst 10 free agent signings so far this season, click here.

| Analyst

Eric Eager joined Pro Football Focus in 2015. He is currently working on a number of analytics projects, primarily focused on the NFL.

  • Ronk

    Why no Delvin Breaux?

    • Eric

      Only considered guys transitioning from one NFL team to another.

      • Scott Kohler

        Where do you think he would be if he transitioned?

        • Eric

          Slightly out of the top 10. Three games with grades below -1.4. Still very good.Thanks for reading.

          • https://m.facebook.com/?_rdr Dexter

            Eric how would you rate Derrick Morgan, Brian orakpo, perrish cox, and searchy

          • Megan Blume

            How about Max Unger?

          • Eric

            Under came to NO via trade

          • Eric


          • Eric

            Orakpo was actually 11th out of FA in raw grades (+8.4), so close. Searcy is close too with a +5.3. Morgan’s at a 2.0 (but not a FA) and Cox a -1.6, so not totally horrible but not close to making this.

          • Scott Kohler

            Ok thank you for your feedback

  • Brian Rogers

    Where’s Rodney Hudson?

    • Eric

      Hudson’s had one really, really good game, and the rest have been average/below average. We’ll see come week 12! Thanks for reading.

      • Leagle243

        Yet your fellow PFF writer had this to say today:

        “The center with the best pass blocking efficiency is Rodney Hudson, at
        99.3. On 112 pass blocks in the past four weeks, the only pressure he’s
        allowed is a single hit.”

        Pretty good for an average/below average player.

        • Eric

          Run block grades of -1.3, – 0.5, 0.3, -1.4, 0.6, 5.3 (the aforementioned good game), – 2.4 so far this season. All pass block grades have been >= 0 so far this year, yes. Thanks for reading

          • justaguest

            Your grading system is fucking retarded.

          • Mike Tice

            ^^ hahah I knew this discussion was too sophisticated and civil to be an NFL board. When Rodney Hudson sees this list week 12, Oakland will have put 3 players into the top 10, and Hudson is the only one with a “big” contract.

      • Brian Rogers

        Appreciate the feedback, Eric. Keep up the good work.

  • Lord Father

    Eric why do you have Walter Thurmond so low? His price to performance ratio should see him in the top 3?
    Also Kurt Coleman over Nick Fairlley

    • Eric

      Kurt Coleman was close, especially after last night, but he had been uneven for about month before then. Fairley’s grades are 1.8, 3.0, 0.2, 1.4, 0.6, 1.2 and 1.4, all with increasing snaps. Thurmond’s lower because he has given up 12-16 for 2 TD in coverage (which he has partially made up for by forcing TOs). Thanks for reading.

  • Salty Dog

    I don’t understand this list. If it’s based on value, Suh can’t possibly be in there. He’s being paid like a guy who’s expected to produce like he’s producing. Nick Fairley is a quarter of Suh’s annual price (probably less since we can assume Suh’s deal was written with the expectation it’s actually more like a 4 year deal) and is producing at least in the ballpark of Suh on the field. He’s clearly a much, much, much better value than Suh. If Suh keeps up this level of play, at best he’s worth his contract. If his play falls off, or he gets injured, you’re on the hook for several years at high dollars.

    Also, since NFL contracts almost never end up being fulfilled to the end, you should probably mention what the contract is likely to actually be. Appears to me McPhee’s contract is equivalent in MLB terms to a 2 year/$16.35 million deal with 3 ~$7 million team options since nothing beyond 2016 is guaranteed. That’s a pretty nice deal since if his play falls off after 2016 they can cut him with a minimal hit. Suh’s deal is more like a 4 year/$59.55 million contract with since it makes very little fiscal sense to release him in the first 4 years.

    You’d look at them and at a glance thing they’re in the same ballpark, but they’re not at all. McPhee’s is much, much team-friendlier since it’s a short minimum length (2 years/$16.35 million) if he gets injured or his play falls off but he’s under team control for up to five years at reasonable salaries if he continues to play well. Suh’s is twice as long minimum (4 years/$59.55 millon) and there’s very little upside. They’d have to pay him close to $30 million a year for years 5 and 6. They’re never going to exercise those.

    That analysis might shed some light on why one contract is better than another long-term. It’d help people to understand value a little better when they understand the true cost of the contract, not what’s reported.

    • Tyler Ferree

      Suh’s deal is bigger than that, more like 76 and change over those 4 years and will leave 19.1 dead to release in 2019 due to the fact the contract will have to be restructured at least twice.

      Though due to the way the contract it structured there is room for value in this year alone since he only counts 6.1 against the cap to make it fit, beyond this year he will need to make an impact equivalent to an above average starting Quarterback for there to be any room for value.

  • Sturm Davenport

    how is Fairley in and Chris Johnson not?

    • Jim Winslow

      Chris Johnson was terrible last sunday

      • chango666

        based on 8 weeks not just last Sunday , , ,

      • Sturm Davenport

        so 1 bad game nullifies 5 great games

        • Jim Winslow

          it can based on grades, also he might be like at 11 or something

  • PackMaster

    Nice article Eric! Can’t wait for the 10 worst lol. Would like to see a couple honorable mentions if possible.

    • Eric

      Thanks. A few former Packers in there for you.

  • Vitor

    McPhee signing is even more impressive when you consider the lack of success some former Ravens had outside of Baltimore (Ellerbe, Arthur Jones, Redding)

    • Eric

      McPhee has been awesome for years in a limited role. It’s been fun watching him this year so far full-time. Thanks for reading.

      • Vitor

        Oh, so strange a columnist here responding the feedback. My pleasure, it’s a well written list

  • Autumn_wind

    Where’s Rodney Hudson??

    • truthteller

      Decent question, considering he has an 85.6 grade so far, good for 5th best at his position. He is also the highest rated pass blocking center in football, which is a HUGE part of Carr’s ascension…too many times last year, Wiz allowed pressure up the middle in Carr’s face.

      • Eric

        See the comment below on Hudson. Been good, but has had a lot of negatively-graded games in run blocking. We’ll see if he makes it week 12! Thanks for reading.

  • Paulvr

    Value? It’s spelled D-i-o-n L-e-w-i-s

    • Jim Winslow

      He was close

    • Chris from the Cape

      He’s exactly what the 07′ Patriots were missing: An elite scat back who can take advantage of an over-pursuing D-Line.

      • Paulvr

        Good point. Maroney was such a stiff (although SB XLII was probably one of his ‘better’ games). Lewis could be that x-factor that separates this team from the other great teams.

  • Brandon

    Great article! What about Jeremy Maclin?

    • Eric

      Thanks for reading. Maclin has been a bit above average so far in our grades, but not as impressive as someone like Crabtree. He may be in play for this list week 12.

  • Robert Anasi

    Interesting but I’d be like more information about how value is determined. A $40 million free agent is probably going to put up better numbers than a $2 million free agent. Dion Lewis is getting paid $600,000 this year, and, given his performance, must be one of the top value signings in the league.

    • Akash Mehta

      Dion Lewis and Jabaal Sheard have both been great value signings. If Jabaal played the last 2.5 games, I’m confident his grade would be high enough to include him on this list.

  • dgcoons

    How about Dion Lewis? He didn’t make the cut?

    • Chris from the Cape

      I’ve watched every snap of the Belichick era, and they’ve never had a back like him: only Dillon in 04′ was more impressive.

  • Jon Mann

    The League’s second leading rusher (Chris Johnson) is not on this list because???

  • Phildogg

    Chris Johnson????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
    Veterans Minimum???????????????????????????????????????????????????
    2nd in rushing????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

    • Jim Winslow

      Its about da grades man

      • General Butt Naked

        “Eric Eager gives the best 10 free agent signings in terms of production and value this season.”

        Production and value this season. Chris Johnson should be on it, I think they just forgot about him because who cares about Cards fans right?

  • Bx007

    Dolphins, with two of the worst guards in football, could have had BOTH Incognito and Mathis. Chose to cut Incognito and not sign Mathis. Hell of an organization down there.

    • Jack

      Nothing they could do about Incognito. The media pretty much ruined that deal for us.

      • Bx007

        Yeah, they could have shown backbone. Everyone on the team supported the guy. EVERYONE. There would have been no problem if management weren’t a bunch of morons. Al Davis would have kept him. Kraft too.