Free Agency: Five Best Signings

Getting a quality player for a good price marks a free agency win. Steve Palazzolo highlights a handful here.

| 2 years ago

Free Agency: Five Best Signings

mooreSorting through the free agency buzz is always enjoyable, trying to picture players in new uniforms, projecting how they’ll fit in. The biggest names don’t always prove to be the best signings, particularly with the crazy price tags that come with “splash move” free agency.

Most often, the best moves are more under-the-radar as the Seattle Seahawks showed by signing our top two edge rushers in 2013 free agency, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, to favorable deals and both players became key cogs on their Super Bowl championship team. Last year, the New England Patriots made a shrewd move to sign a released CB Darrelle Revis, but avoiding a long-term deal allowed them to essentially rent Revis for a year on their way to a Super Bowl title of their own.

The best deals are often the ones that find good players at a bargain price, rather than finding the best player that will never live up to the expectations of an enormous contract. That said, here’s a look at the best free agent deals that combine a quality player with a quality price tag.

Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets

One of the few players worth the big money, Revis signing with the Jets not only strengthens a major need a cornerback, but it also weakens division rival, the Patriots. Revis has been as good as any cornerback in football since his epic 2009 season (+31.9 coverage grade, 32.2 passer rating against), and last year was no different as he was entrusted to man a side of the Patriots’ defense and was a key cog in their championship run.

Revis’ +15.0 coverage grade ranked fourth in the league last season as he was targeted only once every 7.7 snaps in coverage, second-fewest in the league behind Richard Sherman. His ability to play man coverage with little safety help allows resources to be used elsewhere, providing a valuable numbers advantage for the defense. For the Jets, this was a big move to bring him back into the fold and plug him into new head coach Todd Bowles’ defense, while for Patriots, it creates a massive void that allowed them to play an aggressive style of defense that was rarely seen since their previous Super Bowl teams of the early 2000s.

Terrance Knighton, DT, Washington Redskins

The defensive tackle market was surprisingly slow, allowing Washington to pounce on Knighton for a bargain-basement one-year, $4 million deal. Knighton has emerged as one of the league’s best nose tackles the last two seasons, especially against the run where he graded at +7.7 in 2013 and +11.2 last season. He also tacked on a +10.1 pass rush grade in 2013 including the playoffs and his play from Week 10 on was as good as any defensive tackle in the league.

Knighton fills a huge need on the defensive line for the Redskins where their linemen were a sea of red last season, surrounded by another strong effort from DE Jason Hatcher. He should be an upgrade over nose tackles Chris Baker (-3.4) and Barry Cofield (-9.2), both of whom have graded negatively against the run each of the last two years. When you throw newly-signed DT Stephen Paea into the mix, the Redskins have done well to revamp their defensive front.

Nick Fairley, DT, St. Louis Rams

Another underpriced defensive tackle, Fairley has the potential to be the biggest steal, and perhaps the most productive player, in this free agent class. Obviously there are some concerns — namely, his inability to stay on the field and some inconsistency that has plagued his career — but his talent is well worth the risk on a one-year, $5 million deal.

At his best, Fairley is a game changer against both run and pass, as evidenced by a +15.1 overall grade in 2012 (Ndamukong Suh was +15.2) and his +9.8 mark on only 297 snaps last season. To put it in perspective, his 10.0 Pass Rushing Productivity was tops among DTs with at least 150 pass rushing snaps while his Run Stop Percentage of 8.9 ranked 14th among the top 82 qualifiers.

Perhaps even more exciting is the prospect of Fairley lining up next to last year’s PFF Defensive Rookie of the Year, Aaron Donald. While Fairley may be best suited to play the 3-technique position that Donald mans, he played plenty of 2i- and 1-technique a year ago with the Lions, perhaps showing that both players can co-exist on the same line. Incumbent nose tackle Michael Brockers has posted -1.5, -7.1, and +0.4 overall grades in his three years in the league, leading to believe that Fairley has a good chance of cutting into his early-down snaps while creating a third-down pass rushing force of Fairley and Donald at defensive tackle combined with defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long coming off the edge. If the Rams find a way to get the most out of Fairley, they may have the most dangerous defensive line in the league.

Rahim Moore, FS, Houston Texans

A weak safety market and the re-signing of Patriots FS Devin McCourty left Moore as our top option for teams looking to upgrade at free safety. While less productive players signed big deals, Moore waited a few days before signing with the Texans for $12 million over three years. Moore and McCourty represented the only true free safeties on the market this offseason, so while Houston isn’t getting a do-it-all type of safety that other teams valued, they’re adding one of the few capable of being trusted in an every-down centerfield role.

Moore has graded positively in coverage each of the least three seasons, avoiding big plays in the passing game for the most part. Throw in the fact that he’s 25 years old and the Texans appear to be getting a steal in one of the league’s better free safeties as he enters the prime of his career, rather than sliding past it, as is the case with many free agents.

Pernell McPhee, DE/OLB, Chicago Bears

Coming off a strong season with the Baltimore Ravens, McPhee adds a valuable chess piece to the Bears’ front-7. It’s tough to pigeonhole a position for McPhee – he finished with the third-highest pass rushing grade among 3-4 OLBs at +23.1but it was his versatility up front that made him an attractive free agent commodity. He lined up at outside linebacker on 230 snaps, defensive end (3 or 4-man line) for 204 snaps and even playing inside linebacker for 149 snaps, showing that he can win in multiple roles. His ability to move around certainly helped his production as the Ravens used him to find favorable matchups, but that’s a big part of McPhee’s value. If the Bears continue to use him in this way, they’ll have added a pass rushing presence to go along with last year’s free agent signings Willie Young and Jared Allen.

We have some concerns internally that McPhee can hold up as an every down run stopper, but he may not need to. He’s certainly no slouch in that area with positive grades the last two seasons, but playing the run has been more of an afterthought in his situational pass rushing role. If the Bears try to get 800 or so snaps out of McPhee just to get their money’s worth, they may be disappointed, but if deployed in a similar manner as he was in Baltimore, McPhee should cause opposing offenses headaches while making the rest of the pieces in Chicago’s front-7 better in the process.


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| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Jason Williams

    I think adding McPhee and subtracting Conte makes the Bears defense a LOT better.

    I am optimistic about the Bears being a sneaky playoff contender. I think the Lions are in real trouble after losing Suh and I just don’t believe in what the Vikings are doing. Green Bay remains the perennial thorn in the Bears’ side.

    • Kyle Ferguson

      Hard to see Da Bears as a “serious” contender. They may have an improved defense but I don’t believe in their offense with Cutler at qb. They also lost Marshall this year. Agreed with lions (though I am a lions fan), their defense won’t be any better this year. Their O line held their offense back last year and they didn’t do much to improve on it and the draft can only help so much

      • Jason Williams

        I said sneaky not serious :)

        I see them like the Lions (or the pre-Alex Mack injury Browns) last year. Consistently not great and at times they make you scratch your head but they pull off just enough wins to get into position to contend.

        The thing that both of those teams have that the Bears don’t have is a really solid and proven defensive group.

        Are they going to win a SB with this group? Clearly not, but a 5 or a 6 seed would be a pleasant surprise.

        • Jaguars28

          I don’t see how adding McPhee makes them instant contenders. The defense still sucks (losing Paea only hurts it more.) The Offense is turnover-prone.

          And last years Lions team are nothing like the Bears, they had an amazing defense and a quarterback who played very well.

          • Jason Williams

            sneaky contenders, not world beaters :) Like a 7-5 team who needs to get on a roll in December to make it. I can see the Bears being that team.

          • Chris

            Defensive scheme changes usually take a year to get going. McPhee has been great as a situational rusher. But the Bears don’t exactly have a lot of true 3-4 personnel. Rotation between Young and Allen, and McClellan and McPhee? Does Houston stay at DE? Paea didn’t fit as a nose, but neither does Ratliff. The secondary is still pretty poor, although getting rid of Conte is addition by subtraction.

            On the other side of the ball, the offense is supposed to be more run based, but you still have a gunslinger QB and only 2 proven passing threats on the whole roster.

            The Lions could be in for a tumultuous year with all the defensive turnover, and I don’t really see the Bears being much better. I’d bank on the Vikings finished 2nd this year and the Bears coming back next year after they can draft a few more pieces for the new schemes.

          • Bob Howe

            Just signed 3 3-4 players yesterday. They’re getting the pieces.

      • Dale Holmgren

        The Bears had problems at OL. Jordan Mills, who was a low round pick to begin with, floundered at RT with a stress fracture, and they had zero depth, plus Garza was too old and Slauson tore his pec. If they can get some depth at OL, esp some competition for Bushrod at LT, they could be much improved, esp if they get a lightning quick WR like Kevin White. They have like 7 new players on D in FA; Rolle, McPhee, McDonald, and on and on. They can concentrate on offense. I say go WR, then OT, then RB, then C, then another TE.

    • Brian Dugan

      For me, the Vikings fit the profile of “sneaky playoff contender” way more than the Bears do, especially if AD comes back. As a Packers fan, I actually fear the Vikings. They’ve had a lot of good drafts recently and are pretty loaded with good young players, especially on defense. If Bridgewater takes a step forward next year and if Mike Wallace gives them anything, they have a chance for 10 wins. I actually think the Bears got worse so far this off-season, although they do have a very high draft pick on the horizon.

      • Jason Williams

        yes but I don’t like the Vikings =D

        Other than Kyle Long, I can’t remember the last time the Bears hit on a first round draft pick.

        • Chiryder

          it’s been awhile. Fuller is there too.

          had a nice little stretch with Benson, Olsen, and Harris.

  • tee

    If Nick Fairley wasn’t so immature I would agree with you, but this guy will start whining as soon as he has to get into shape. He will be hurt by the end of the first game, and he’s to big a chance to be a bust. What the Rams have going for him is he signed a incentive based contract, but not even that will work with Nick. The Lions had to embarrass him in front of the team for three weeks before he would even work out.

    • Jaguars28

      Nick Fairley should be a beast playing on a 1-year prove-it contract, on an already-stacked D-Line.

      • tee

        Yeah, until he stubs his toe and is out 6 games.

    • Helmet

      He actually showed up in St. Louis at 280 pounds. Said he was in the best shape of his life and was looking forward to adding some healthy weight before the season….

      • tee

        We’ll see come game time. You wait and see. He did it last year, and it was the final year of his contract. The Lions didn’t even miss him when he was out those 6 games for a big toe injury.

    • spacebo

      His attitude was never the problem; the man doesn’t whine. His issues all stemmed from his borderline offseason habits and his lazy recourse to fried carbs. That changed last year, dramatically. He has a chef who prepares all of his meals, as well as a nutritionist, which he himself sought out. A man’s got a right to grow up.

  • Ron Morisseau

    5 best signings and no mention of Suh…imbeciles

    • Jaguars28

      … Please, please tell me this is sarcasm.

      • Ron Morisseau

        You team still sucks

        • Jaguars28

          Better than the Dolphins… 62-7.

          • Teddy Tyson

            Nope, no super rings so not better than the Dolphins btw stop being the Texans and the colts hoe.

    • Spencer Engel

      They’re taking money into consideration. Suh has the most onerous contract in the league and would have to be all-world for 3 or 4 straight seasons to live up to it.

      • Jason

        Revis’s contract isn’t that far behind, plus he is older and plays a position that ages far less gracefully than a DT.

    • Darnell

      Just a monster contract for a non qb.

      Patriots, Seahawks, Packers, Colts, Steelers, Ravens, the class of the league – none of those teams have anyone other than the QB making 100m.

      He’ll have to be DMVP every season to come close to justifying the contract, and I doubt he wins it once.

      • Chris from the Cape

        (sorry for the late reply) But your comment points out [that while nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs]there ACTUALLY IS a system for winning in the NFL, and the priorities are generally 1:QB 2: (still) QB 3: DB 4: O-Line 5 OLB (4-3) or DE (3-4)
        Allocating resources drastically otherwise isn’t for the purposes of winning, but encouraging fan interest.

    • spacebo

      $60 million guaranteed. That is all.

  • Jeff

    I’m baffled why my Giants tried to put a load of cash on McCourty (9-10 mill a year), but didn’t compete with the 3 yr 12 mill dollar deal that Rahim Moore got.

    • Casey Jones

      You own the New York Giants?

  • Mike

    I actually think all five of these could/will end up being bad moves.

  • Anonymous

    Tell the Revis news to Sam Monson.

    Is he going to continue at that level? Who knows. As a Jets fan I certainly hope so, at least for 2 more years.

  • Jack Casey

    I’m kind of surprised with all the Jets DB signings… Obviously Revis is he best, but him Cromartie and Skrine? Are they giving up on Millner already? What about Dexter McDougal, he was supposed to be a good corner as well… At least Todd Bowles plays a ton of time..

    • Barry Chesla

      Ha HA ha Sheard is below average at best..he rushes from the outside they run inside of him,he trys an inside move and they run outside..he has no instincts ,no feel for the game…why do you think the browns defense was so bad? thats why they didnt even offer him or reuben a contract lol lol

  • Jack Casey

    A guy that a lot of people are saying could be one of the steals of this Free Agency period is Jabaal Sheard… I think he could be a really good player getting back to playing 4-3 DE..