10 best free agent signings through Week 13

Eric Eager examines 2015's top-performing free agent signees, naming the teams that have seen the most value from their investments.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

10 best free agent signings through Week 13


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 again. As we close the book on the 13th week of the NFL season, we take a look at the top 10 free agent signings, in terms of value. 

1. Richie Incognito, G, Bills (one year, $1.1 million, 91.5 overall grade)

The Bills acquired Incognito for practically nothing in the offseason, and he has responded by producing the second-best PFF grade amongst guards, with only one negatively-graded game all season. He also owns a 91.5  run blocking grade, while posting the fifth-best pass blocking efficiency among guards, with a 97.8. 

2. Pernell McPhee, OLB, Bears (five years, $40 million, 87.6)

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. He’s been slowed a bit recently by injury, but still leads all 3-4 OLBs in pass rush productivity, and has added 15 stops in the run game. 

3. Dan Williams, DT, Raiders (four years, $25 million, 83.3)

While Oakland has struggled recently, it’s not because of Williams. PFF’s 11th-graded interior defender after 12 games, he has put together arguably his best season to date. He is currently third among defensive tackles in run stop percentage, and has earned a positive grade in all but two games this season. 

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

Acquired relatively cheaply in August, Mathis has been Denver’s highest-graded offensive player by a wide margin, and only starting offensive linemen with a positive grade, despite a slow start (-3.3 and 0.5 in Weeks 1 and 2, respectively). His 94.8 run blocking grade is the second-best among guards. This is Mathis’ seventh straight season with a positive PFF grade.

5. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Steelers (two years, $4 million, 83.2)

Williams has seen a rebirth in his game this season, stepping in for the injured Le’Veon Bell (94.0 overall grade) to post the sixth-best grade among RBs through 12 games. He has been the highest-graded running back in the NFL in weeks where Bell was either injured or suspended, all while being one of two qualifying RBs to not allow a pressure in pass protection over the first 12 weeks.    

6. Jabaal Sheard, DE, Patriots (two years, $11 million, 83.3)

Sheard has missed some time with injury, but when he’s been on the field, he’s been terrific. Despite playing only 370 snaps, Sheard is eighth among 4-3 DE in hurries (28), leaving him trailing only Ziggy Ansah in pass rush productivity among that group. He’s also added 15 stops on the season, as well. 

7. Joe Barksdale, OT, Chargers (one year, $1.095 million, 84.0)

Barksdale has been a rare bright spot for the Chargers, manning the right tackle spot for every game this season and posting the 15th-best overall PFF grade for tackles. He has held up well both as a pass blocker (85.2 in 558 pass-blocking snaps) and as a run blocker (79.2 in 296 run-blocking snaps). 

8. Darian Stewart, S, Broncos (2 years, $4.25 million, 87.0)

Signed in the offseason to replace Rahim Moore, he has given the Broncos more than they bargained for. He currently holds the sixth-best PFF grade among safeties for the best defense in the NFL, adding 12 stops, three pass break-ups, an interception, and a QB hurry. 

9. Patrick Robinson, CB, Chargers (one year, $3 million, 82.1)

Robinson has vastly outplayed his more celebrated (and paid) teammate Brandon Flowers (33.7 overall grade), posting the second-best yards per coverage snap amongst CBs (0.61).   He has surrendered just a 70.9 passer rating on passes thrown into his coverage, while posing the 17th-best run stop percentage among CBs (2.2). 

10. Rodney Hudson, C, Raiders (five years, $44.5 million, 84.3)

Hudson has been a big part of the development of Raiders’ QB Derek Carr.  He owns the top pass blocking efficiency among qualifying centers (98.7), allowing just five pressures on 318 pass-blocking snaps. He is currently fourth among centers in PFF pass blocking grades (83.4) and sixth in run blocking grades (82.3). 

  • crosseyedlemon

    How can you not love an offensive lineman named Incognito? Richie is having a pro bowl type season and the Bills would be crazy not to extend his contract.

    • Dollar Flipper

      Because he’s literally a bully and is a terrible example of the type of player you want in the league.

      • Josh Coryell

        Or he’s a great redemption story?

        Personally I think there was a lot more to that story than met the eye, and it’s telling that the Dolphins rallied around him until the voice-mail with the n-bomb (which is understandably radioactive today) dropped.

        • Dollar Flipper

          I guess it’s hard to stomach something that I’d get fired for at my place of work. Literally every team knows what a lowlife he is. He’s a good player, terrible person. Death threats, racial slurs, and threats against family all in one voicemail. Not the best role model.

      • crosseyedlemon

        Flipper wants a league where players say “Excuse me kind sir, but would you mind terribly if I were to block you” but this is American football and not the football played by Euro poofs.

        • anon76returns

          LOL! There is a pretty wide gulf between “excuse me kind sir” and the type of shit that Incognito pulled. To refresh your memory, here was how he represented the organization in a public establishment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SW9C4qi5Y80.
          And that’s before you get to to incidents where he bullied a fellow lineman, bullied and directed racial slurs towards the training staff, suspensions and charges of assault in college, getting cut from teams for behavior detrimental to the team, and being voted the dirtiest player in the league.
          If he’s truly cleaned up his act, then great for him, I applaud his efforts. But lets not pretend his past behavior was just a case of him having bad table manners.

  • Vitor

    I never understood (and still) why Mathis was so cheap when Denver signed him. He is not that old that it doesn’t worth the risk when he played so well in recent years (best lineman overall by PFF almost every year)

    • anon76returns

      Mathis’ implication when he signed on is that he took a discount to play for Denver. No way to know if that was true or not, but other teams had been courting him, and it’s possible that in the end he wanted jewelry over $.

      • Vitor

        Makes sense, but no other contenders tried to sign him?

        • anon76returns

          My recollection was Cleveland and Miami, but it’s been a while. Miami had visions of contention last summer, but it appears Mathis made a more accurate appraisal.

          • Vitor

            Yeah, MIA spent a ton of bucks with Suh too. They wouldn’t possibly overpay 2 players in the same offseason

          • anon76returns

            They certainly had a need to upgrade the OL, though.

    • Jonathan Seidman

      he’s 34…maybe that’s not ‘old’ for a QB, but that’s pretty dang old to be playing any other position.

    • Jonathan Seidman

      34 makes him the oldest OL in the NFL it seems :/

  • anon76returns

    LOL! For as few big signings as there were by the AFCW, there sure were a lot of smart signings: 6 of the top 10! None by the Chiefs, although I imagine Maclin would be somewhere in the vicinity of the list, if just a tad pricey.

    • Brandon

      Jeremy Maclin should be up here consider who we had before in Bowe. Maclin id the best WR KC has had since Otis Taylor.

      • anon76returns

        I would imagine that the thing keeping Maclin off the list is his price tag. The other guys on this list are all overperforming relative to their price tag compared to the average paid at their position (i.e. they’re performance is in the top 10% of their position group, but their price tag is not in the top 10%). Maclin is the 10th highest paid receiver in football, and while his #s are good, he’s only 12th in yards, 12th in receptions, 25th in TDs, and I have yet to see Maclin ranked in the top 10 at WR in PFF’s player grades. He’s close, just not as good of a deal in terms of FA signing as these other guys (though doubtlessly a HUGE improvement over who the Chiefs had at WR before).

        • Brandon

          Which is absurd! How is it that a WR that has only dropped one pass this year out of the top 10? This site is a great site for information but as I further read things on here its getting harder and harder to not argue with some of these things. He would be top 10 in both yards and receptions if he didn’t sit out one game. If it was strictly based on price tags then the former chief Kurt Coleman should be on here. You can’t factor just one thing in “best” free agent signings. And that’s price tag to performance. Team need should play a factor. Like I said what is Maclin doing so wrong that he isn’t ranked in the top wr? Pff should also take off players like Steve smith who only stay up there because of injury(who would of no doubt kept his spot if he didn’t get injured but still)

          • anon76returns

            There’s no way I’m paying for player grades, so I have no idea how close Maclin is to cracking the top 10. I can say that a lot goes into player grades, beyond just drops (though drops will quickly hurt a player’s grade). Is Maclin running the routes well? Is he consistently gaining separation? Is he making amazing catches (see ODB, Hopkins, Jones, Watkins, etc)? Other WRs that have missed time have made up for it in spectacular play upon their return (e.g. Jeffries). That’s all before you even get to the steadily amazing play of guys like Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, or Calvin Johnson. WR is a position with a ton of talent right now, and it would be very difficult for anybody to crack the top 10.

          • Brandon

            Yes and yes. If there is one thing that’s holding Maclin back its his QB Alex smith who plays a conservative game rather then an aggressive one. He is making amazing.catches when his QB underthrows him and he has to adjust his route to catch it. PFF does not favor the chiefs. That was obvious on this weeks power rankings where Oakland (a team they just beat!!) and Houston(a team they beat in the beginning of the year) above them in the rankings. How do you beat a team especially Oakland sitting at 5-7 and PFF says oh they are still a better team then you guys. I don’t get it. Sometimes this site makes no sense at all.

  • Scott Kohler

    Where’s Delvin Breaux? He’s been a top 10 CB this year and he’s making under 900K.

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      he wasn’t a 2nd contract free agent, he was an udfa

  • sgtrobo

    lots of good deals. Out of these folks, I bet that DeAngelo Williams has to be the “MVP” of the signings, based purely on LeVeon Bell’s injury. Funny that Incognito is now playing the best ball of his career though.

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    d. stewart has brought the nasty to denver, esp when compared to the guy he replaced, rahim moore. rahim got 20mil to be benched by houston too, ouch

  • Adam Erlich

    Kurt Coleman?

    • Brandon

      Agreed, Kurt Coleman is a beast. He played for my chiefs last year and was really good. I really hoped we would resign him but chose Ron Parker Vs him. Big mistake even if Parker can play corner.

  • Tellytubby

    2 of these guys are ex Rams that the Fisher regime (4 consecutive losing seasons, likely to be 4-12 this year) didn’t deem good enough…

  • Nik Hildebrand

    I’d imagine that Revis must’ve been close to making the top 10. OTOH, Cromartie might make the list of 10 worst FA signings.

    • Josh Coryell

      Revis is getting paid monster bucks and isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire this year.

      • anon76returns

        Exactly! Revis is the highest paid CB in the league, and that’s just from what he’s making from the Jets. In addition to the $16M that he counts against the Jets’ cap, he also counts $5M against the Pats’ cap this season, which in total is top tier QB money. But Revis isn’t playing as a top 10 CB. He’s still very good, but more like top 15 to top 20 good, which doesn’t match the paycheck. The Jets got a very good CB, but they overpaid.

  • dd

    How about Dwayne Harris? Makes me sick as a Cowboy fan watching him have a great season on the Giants. The guy makes big plays and Dallas misses him badly. Thankfully there are other things that make me more ill as a Cowboy fan.

    • Josh Coryell

      He just looks like a WR the Pats pick up on the cheap and makes around 2 to 3 impact receptions a game.

      • dd

        He’s been great on PR too. We’ve got a guy named Lucky Whitehead who isn’t bad, but I’d rather have Dwayne back. Lucky kind of looks like Dwayne and there are probably a few Cowboy fans who don’t realize that we have a different player now. Jerry tried this trick a few years ago when he drafted Demarcus Lawrence. Somehow, cutting my favorite plater, Demarcus Ware and replacing him with another guy named Demarcus would soften the blow with fans.

  • Cyteria Knight

    What about Kurt Coleman with the Carolina Panthers?

  • JoJo Savy

    Jets need to a SB win to justify Revis’ salary..

  • Johnny Rotten

    Remember all the angry Raider fans who were crying because we didn’t give Wiz a big contract and instead we “overpaid” for Rodney Hudson. LOL

  • ejt14211

    You gotta love the discussion about the bills on cover1.net