5 biggest free-agency winners after one week
The first week of free-agent madness is in the books, and there has been no shortage of money splashed around. Cash, though, does not equal free-agency success, and the people that win during these crazy weeks are often not the ones that spend the most money, but those that invest most wisely.
Let’s take a look at the true biggest winners of free agency thus far:
1. Brock Osweiler
There was no greater victor of the first week of free agency than Brock Osweiler and his agent.
Osweiler decided to walk away from Denver when the bidding got high enough and signed with the Houston Texans for four years and $72 million. He has started seven career games. Seven. He has thrown 11 career touchdowns. His career (cumulative) PFF grade is +0.8, or almost exactly an average score of 0.0. We are talking about a player who, in the most generous way of describing it, is almost entirely a projection of upside and potential. A more realistic way of putting it might be that the Texans just backed up a few truckloads of money for a guy who looks rather average, and whose best quality is not being any of the quarterbacks Houston suffered through last season.
Defining Osweiler’s value after just seven games as a starter in a season that, for him, ended when he was benched for Peyton Manning—who seemed to be struggling at all times to rein himself back from just passing the ball straight to defenders—was always going to be tricky. The Broncos at least seemed to have a firm number above which they weren’t prepared to go, and they would probably know best. Houston just seemed prepared to open the checkbook to get him signed, but this is also a franchise that was upset a year ago that people were being negative about their depth chart of Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett.
2. Oakland Raiders
Don’t look now, but the Raiders have been moving in the right direction for quite awhile, and suddenly look like a pretty talented side top to bottom, albeit with a few more holes still in need of attention. None of them were exactly bargains, but adding Kelechi Osemele, Bruce Irvin, and Sean Smith to the team should provide three significant upgrades in three different areas of the roster.
Smith has allowed fewer than 60 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught every season of his career, and Osemele has been one of the best run-blocking guards in the league. The only concern with him would be how he holds up as a pass-protector if they intend to play him at tackle. Irvin is a versatile player that can rush the passer and get by on early downs as a stand-up linebacker. With the draft still to come, Oakland looks like a legitimate force in 2016.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
Often the best deals in free agency are with the players you can retain and prevent from going elsewhere, and the Chiefs did well in that area this year.
LB Derrick Johnson, edge rusher Tamba Hali, and DL Jaye Howard were all brought back without breaking the bank, and that gives Kansas City a healthy portion of a good defense back on the field again, and all likely producing at a pretty high level.
They also went out and addressed a big hole on the other side of the ball by signing RT Mitchell Schwartz—arguably the best right tackle in the NFL at this point. That’s particularly important for the Chiefs, given the division in which they play, because the right tackle (rather than left) is the guy who faces the elite pass-rushers in the AFC West. Schwartz held Von Miller to just a solitary pressure when the two met this season, and he will be facing Miller twice per season now, as well as Khalil Mack. The Chiefs got a huge upgrade at a crucial spot on the line.
4. Chicago Bears
The Bears have been quietly adding some impressive pieces to their team without breaking the bank. Linebacker has been a big issue for this team for awhile now, and they double-dipped in free agency, adding both Danny Trevathan from Denver and Jerrell Freeman from Indianapolis. That pair represents two of the top 11 off-the-ball linebackers at PFF last season, while the highest-ranked Chicago Bear in 2015 was 58th. To go along with that, the team added a nice depth-player to the D-line in the shape of Akiem Hicks. Hicks has a positive PFF grade in every season of his career, and has now been quietly productive for two different teams. He may not be an every-down starter for Chicago, but as a rotation-player for the line, he should be a significantly positive addition.
5. Olivier Vernon
Vernon signed a five-year, $85 million contract with $40 million guaranteed. Those are blockbuster numbers, but even more impressive when you consider that Vernon was initially transition tagged at a cost of $12.7 million. Miami quickly realized they were being priced out of negotiations, brought in Mario Williams from Buffalo instead, and rescinded the tag, unleashing Vernon upon the feeding frenzy of the open market.
Perhaps the most amazing part about this is that Vernon’s elite play really only spans eight games of last season. Over the first half of the season, his PFF grade was just +1.3, or almost exactly average (0.0). He had just two sacks and 24 total pressures over that time. Over the second half of the season his PFF grade was +53.6, which is a J.J. Watt-level of PFF production. He sacked the quarterback eight times and notched 57 total pressures. Vernon displayed all-world play, but really only for eight games, and yet parlayed that into a contract that suggests he has proven to play at that level long-term.
– Mohamed Sanu and his agent: Four years, $32.5 million with $14 million fully guaranteed. Why?
– Anybody negotiating with the New York Giants: Tom Coughlin is gone, and the strategy in New York is apparently to just throw money at the problem. All of the money.
– Chris Ivory: Running backs generally did well this free agency period, but Ivory in particular seemed like a player destined to get low-balled. Instead, the former Jet got big-time money from the Jaguars, and can split the load with second-year back T.J. Yeldon.
– Chase Daniel: Another beneficiary of the QB-starved market, Daniel signed a three-year, $21 million contract with $12 million guaranteed, and he’s still not in line to start. This is now the high end of the backup QB market, and if Daniel plays out this deal, he will have earned $31 million for six years of bench-riding.
– Indianapolis Colts: Sometimes free agency is about learning lessons, and the Colts at least figured out that loading up on aged veterans (as in a year ago) might not be a great idea.
– Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals somehow allowed almost their entire secondary to hit the open market in the same year, but have managed to at least retain Adam Jones and George Iloka to reasonable contracts for players that are playing well. This period could have been a disaster for them, but they did some nice damage limitation.
– Anybody with cap space to spare and a bit of patience: Players like Eric Weddle and Reggie Nelson are still available—two of the better safeties in the NFL. Nick Fairley is still on the market. Kelvin Beachum, Stefen Wisniewski, and Evan Mathis are all still there. There is still a lot of quality to be added to rosters for anybody that has kept their dollars close to their chest thus far.