Five Great Free Agent Moves
Since free agency started we have been accused of hating every signing that is made, lampooning the excessive money thrown at marginal players and the poor value around the league. But we’ve also loved some, so I’m here to right the wrong and show some PFF love.
There have been some ugly deals in free agency, but some teams have made excellent signings and spent their money wisely.
Here are five of the best:
Wes Welker to Denver – 2-year, $12m
I always assumed that Wes Welker would return to New England, figuring his value there was always likely to be higher than it would be outside of Foxboro, but a little part of me always wondered what Welker could do in Denver given the success of Brandon Stokley last season.
Peyton Manning brought his offense to the Broncos and coaxed his safety blanket into signing with him. At 36-years old, and basically off the couch, Stokley caught 45 passes for over 500 yards and 5 TDs playing primarily in the slot. Wes Welker for all his faults might be completely uncoverable running a certain route tree of underneath patterns, and my mouth is watering at the prospect of the potential upgrade for Denver. Given the cost of the deal, this has the potential to take that offense to a different level, giving Manning a target he can guarantee will be open when he needs to pick up a short pass. Great move for both sides.
Chris Houston back to Detroit – 5-year, $25m
A lot of movement in free agency this year has been teams re-signing their own players either at the last moment before the hammer dropped, or actually after a few days of players testing the market. The Lions needed to move some money around in the contracts of their superstar players to get the cap room, but once they freed it up they invested in the wisest place they could, by bringing back Chris Houston.
Houston is one of the league’s most underrated corners, and has quietly progressed in his career, to the point that he has even begun to shadow receivers at times for the Lions, something very few corners league-wide can attempt to do. Last year he was thrown at 94 times but allowed just 53 receptions and was beaten for fewer than 12 yards a catch. Throwing at Houston last year yielded a QB rating of just 78.7 as he ranks as a tough nut to crack for opposing receivers and quarterbacks. To get him for $5m a season on a long-term deal is great business for the Lions.
Martellus Bennett to Chicago – 4-year, $21m
If there’s one thing the Chicago offense has been crying out for it’s a legitimate tight end. Last year they acted as if they had one, throwing deep down the seam to Kellen Davis regularly, but he just couldn’t haul in the passes, dropping eight of the 44 balls thrown his way. Martellus Bennett is every bit the athlete Davis is, if not moreso, but is a far more accomplished and dangerous receiver. Out from the shadow of Jason Witten last season in New York, he put up over 600 receiving yards and scored five touchdowns. The Bears will likely send him deeper than the Giants did, and he could be a candidate for a big season.
Perhaps the biggest plus to this deal though is that Bennett is a great blocker, and the Bears need their tight ends to be to make up for the issues they continue to have on the O-line. Jay Cutler gets a major upgrade to his passing options, but also a legitimate stud blocker to help him out too.
Geoff Schwartz to Kansas City – 1-year, $1.2m
Each year some of the best moves of free agency occur at the bargain end of the spectrum. I thought Schwartz moving to the Vikings last year had the potential to be one of those, but an injury derailed his chance to start at right guard, and he had to make do with being rotated in during the season for the underperforming Brandon Fusco. Despite clearly outplaying the starter the Vikings never made the switch and Schwartz moved on in free agency to Kansas City.
This might sound familiar, in that it is a story remarkably similar to that of Evan Mathis, an underrated player who split time but couldn’t buy the starting gig until he moved to a new team. The Chiefs have signed a player with legitimate Pro-Bowl potential if he can get a fair chance to earn the job on merit, and they have done so for peanuts.
For the last move I want to roll a few into one. For some reason teams aren’t too interested in paying linebackers any more. Just like last season some impressive players have been signing for outrageously cheap contracts, even if there have been some big-money exceptions this year.
• The Vikings re-signed Erin Henderson, an extremely talented player for two years costing them just $4m.
• Oakland added an impressive run-specialist in Kaluka Maiava for $6m over three seasons.
• The Jaguars took a chance at rediscovering Geno Hayes’ talent by signing him for two years at just $2m.
And there are still a whole host of talented LB bargains on the open market. For some reason teams don’t seem to value linebackers as much as other positions anymore, especially if those players have a limit to their game, but even two-down players are going to be on the field for almost 50% of defensive snaps, so if they can have a positive impact in their roles, then sign them up, and do it quick.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam