Free Agency: Five Bargain Signings
Free agency can be a great tool to help improve a roster, but the importance of player valuation cannot be overstated. Many times teams over pay for players, especially in the first few days of free agency, which can cause cap problems down the road. It has seemingly become an annual event where teams are parting ways with players just a couple years into to lucrative free agent contracts.
We are going to take a look at the signings that are on the opposite end of the spectrum. These players typically won’t be top-tier players, but they can be solid contributors that were signed at a very reasonable price. While some teams were able to sign players like Terrance Knighton and Nick Fairley to one-year prove-it deals, this will focus on the best bargains among players signed to multi-year deals.
Rahim Moore, FS, Houston Texans
The Texans have been in the market for an upgrade at safety for a few years now and may have finally found their guy. Many will know Moore for his blown coverage in the 2012 playoffs, but he has been better in pass defense than the one play suggests. Moore has graded positively in coverage each of the last three years and his 40.5 coverage snaps per reception allowed ranked sixth among safeties last season. He isn’t an all-around safety, but he does play the middle of the field well and rarely allows big passes.
Despite there being many safety-needy teams in a weak market, the Texans managed to sign Moore to a three-year deal worth $12 million. Moore’s $4 million per year average ranks 25th among safeties and comes at a lesser price than other safeties signed this March, such as Nate Allen, Ron Parker, and Marcus Gilchrist. Moore isn’t a top-tier safety, but the 25-year-old is a dependable free safety who should be an upgrade in the Texans’ secondary.
Justin Forsett, HB, Baltimore Ravens
When Forsett signed with the Ravens last offseason, no one expected him to have the impact he had in 2014. He excelled in the Ravens’ zone blocking scheme and proved that he was capable of being a starting-quality running back. His +6.9 run grade ranked eighth while setting numerous career-highs statistically. His led the league in Breakaway Percentage and 17 rushes of 20-plus yards were tied for the most in the league.
Obviously the Ravens are not getting as big of a bargain on Forsett as they did last year, but his three-year, $9 million contract is still a great value and puts him roughly 20th in average money per year for running backs. His $3 million average is less than what Donald Brown and Toby Gerhart received last offseason, as well as the what the other best available backs were given this year.
Steve Johnson, WR, San Diego Chargers
The 49ers traded for Johnson last offseason hoping to give Colin Kaepernick another threat at wide receiver, but the two did not mesh as well as San Francisco had hoped. Johnson barely eclipsed 300 snaps after averaging nearly 900 over his last four seasons with the Bills. Despite the low snap count and low receiving totals, Johnson’s +6.6 pass grade edged out the other 49ers receivers for the highest pass grade. It was also his fourth-straight season with a positive pass grade.
Johnson will make less over his three-year, $10.5 million contract with the Chargers than what he was scheduled to make in the two years left on his contract with the 49ers. The Giants gave Dwayne Harris the same yearly average for total money just a couple weeks ago. Eddie Royal, whom Johnson is essentially replacing, signed a three-year deal with the Bears worth $15 million with $10 million guaranteed. Johnson’s $3.5 million per year average is a very friendly deal for one of the toughest wide receivers to cover one-on-one.
Jabaal Sheard, ED, New England Patriots
Sheard showed flashes of dominance during his time with the Browns, but he has been inconsistent on a weekly basis and even from year-to-year when separating his performance into pass rushing and run defense. As a rookie, Sheard’s +14.0 pass rush grade ranked tenth among 4-3 defensive ends, but he was a liability against the run where he ranked 62nd out of 67 at his position.
His progression since his rookie year has been strange, though. He has become a much stronger run defender to the tune of a second-ranked +9.4 run defense grade last year among 3-4 outside linebackers. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to combine that improvement with keeping same effectiveness as a pass rusher. Instead, he has regressed closer to average outside of one huge game in 2013.
Sheard gives the Patriots another edge defender who is solid against the run and that can rotate with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. If Bill Belichick and company are able to get Sheard to consistently perform closer to his potential, he could take on a bigger role and the two-year deal worth $11 million could be a steal.
Arthur Moats, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Moats is a player who hasn’t been given a lot of playing time during his career, but has generally put good performances on film when given the opportunity. In his first season with Pittsburgh, the Steelers utilized him more as a pass rusher similar to his first two years with Buffalo. He earned a career-high +7.7 overall grade last seasonand earned positive grades in both run defense and as a pass rusher. His only ‘red’ graded game last season was due to a missed tackle against New Orleans in which he played just three snaps. He has been a solid tackler who has missed just two tackles over the last four seasons.
With the uncertainty at outside linebacker for the Steelers, hopefully Moats gets more opportunities going forward. If he is going to have a starting role and can continue to play well with increased playing time, his three-year, $7.5 million contract will be low for good edge defender.
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