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Reflecting on the best and worst deals of free agency

Here are the five best and five worst free agent deals so far...and how the Denver Broncos compare.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans
Jackson was a surprisingly good deal, but still carries a lot of risk.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Every free agency, the market explodes with a ton of funny money getting thrown around. Every year people line up to grade the moves in before any of the details come out, flunking so and so for the “record” setting deal while praising a good player resigning. Then the details come out, and every one of those grades mean nothing.

So this year I thought it’d be fun to present some of my favorite deals. Somewhere along the way, I also found some stinkers that really were as bad as you thought, or even worse.

5 Best Free Agent Signings

NFL: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
The Packers threw a lot of money around, but came up with my favorite signing of the spring.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Adrian Amos to the Packers.

We heard it’s 4 years, $36 M but it’s really 2 years, 20.8 M with an out in 2021.

Amos is criminally underrated and gives the Packers a ton of help on the backend. It’s no secret that he was THE target for me this spring as I saw a 26-year old safety who was among the best in the league in coverage. We knew he was a scheme fit, but Elway signed Kareem Jackson who’s likely to start at corner in 2019.

Meanwhile Amos will only cost Green Bay 5.9 M against the cap this year and a fair $9.4 in 2020.

Matt Paradis to the Panthers.

We heard:

...but it’s really a 2-year, $18,237,500 deal.

I liked this one at the time because even if there’s worry about Paradis’ long term health, $9 million a year for one of the best centers in football is great value. Then I dug into the Spotrac numbers and saw that his cap hit is only $4 million in 2019. It blows up to a “gaudy” $8.8 million in 2020.

I suspect the Broncos were never all that serious about retaining Paradis. Elway made comments about his health at the Combine and a 1-year deal is a bit of a slap in the face to a guy who rushed back from hip surgery and played 3,850 consecutive snaps for the franchise. Now Sam Jones or Connor McGovern step into the void.

Tevin Coleman to the 49ers

Shanahan had a knack for finding ways to get Coleman into space when the two were last together.

It’s a 2-year $8.5 million deal.

Normally I hate the idea of giving money to free agent backs. It’s tends to be a lot like buying a used car but paying new car prices. The Coleman deal flies in the face of a lot of that.

First consider that the 49ers have more cap room than they really know what to do with. The biggest issue facing San Francisco is a lack of top end talent to compete in their division with the Seahawks and Rams. Then consider that Coleman electric when he played with Shanahan in Atlanta. It’s not as if it takes much squinting to imagine how the veteran fits his new offense. Finally, look at how much he’ll cost. The deal is 2 years, but if it doesn’t work out San Fran can walk away after 2019 with no repercussions.

While we’re here, it’s the same reason I’m not nearly as down on the Kwon Alexander as most. Sure, it’s a gamble to throw big money at a linebacker coming off a torn ACL. But give John Lynch a ton of credit: If Alexander isn’t worth keeping around the 49ers can move on after 2019 for a measly $3 million. That is really savvy.

Steven Nelson to the Steelers

NFL: AFC Championship Game-New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs
I’m pretty happy Nelson left the AFC West.
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

We heard it’s 3 years, $25.5 million, but there’s an out after 1 year.

Even before the Odell Beckham trade threw NFL Power Rankings on their head the Steelers desperately needed corner. Joe Haden has been decent but 2016 first rounder Artie Burns has been disappointing. Unfortunately, the dead cap hit formerly known as Antonio Brown and a top heavy roster left Pittsburgh without the money to splash around in $10 million+ corner waters. Enter Nelson. His deal carries a $4 million cap hit in 2019 and they can walk away in 2020 for $5 million if he busts.

The deal is a better version of a similar one the Broncos gave to Kareem Jackson, who’s really coming to Denver on a 2-year $23 million deal that has cap hits of $6 million in 2019 and $14 in 2020. Jackson was the better player last year, but he’s older and there’s more risk that Elway has egg on his face in year 2 than Kevin Colbert does.

Jesse James to the Lions

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers
James would have looked good in orange and blue.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We heard it’s a 4 year, $22.6 million deal, but it’s really a 2 year, 11.85 million deal with an out in 2021.

If you look around at what the rest of the tight end market looked like this spring James deal looks like a huge bargain. As I mentioned last week he was probably the best young, healthy tight end available. He’ll count for $1 million less against the cap than Nick Boyle this year.

While I was digging around for deals I really liked, I found there were a lot more I really hated. When I made this list, I tried to keep the team’s overall financial situation in mind. Bobby Hart was a bad deal because he’s a really bad player, but the Bengals made a bunch of really bad deals because they’re a terrible franchise. Even so, they had a lot of room under the cap to throw bad deals around. The team’s on this list either didn’t have cash to burn or made a move that defies all logic.

5 Worst Free Agent Signings

Landon Collins to Washington

We heard it’s a 6 year, $84 million deal, it’s more like a 3 year $45 million deal.

One of the things that really throws this deal at the top of this list is the length (and the fact I can’t find the details on Mosely’s contract with the Jets just yet). Not only is the deal monstrous, but unlike most FA signings this one is a 3 year commitment. It’s actually a really good move in year 1 as Collins will only cost $4 million against the cap which is good because Washington is pretty tight up on the cap. Where the deal starts getting onerous is year 3 when the hits balloon to a monstrous $17 million.

I will say that this signing looks better than the Dolphins laughable 2017 agreement with Reshad Jones because Collins is an elite player. Much like Broncos deal with Von Miller after 2015, Collins could represent great value if the rest of the market catches up to him.

Nick Boyle resigning with the Ravens.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens love tight ends.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We heard it’s a 3 year, $18 million deal. At best it’s a 2 year, $10 million deal.

So why exactly was this considered a terrible deal? Nick Boyle, mostly. He’s caught all of 75 catches for 613 yards and 0 touchdowns in his career. The deal is essentially a two year with a $2.3 million out in 2021, but that’s still roughly $10 million to a tight end who’s never scored in his career. Even more baffling, the Ravens just burned two draft picks on tight ends last year.

Nick Foles to the Jaguars.

The Jags paid for Foles gold.

We heard it’s a 4 year, $88 million deal. $50.125 million is guaranteed.

I get the fact that there is a so-called “QB tax” and that starting quarterbacks make huge money, even bad ones. (Hi Case Keenum.) I’ll also admit that I have yet to see the detailed structure of this deal, so maybe I’ll come around (doubt it, but still). But when you stop and consider the fact that no other team in the league was looking to make this kind of bid for Nick Foles’ services? Or when you stop to realize the Jags ate over $20 million in dead money this spring?

Anyone who’s read my work know’s I’m pretty tepid on Joe Flacco as the Broncos starting quarterback, but the Broncos made out like bandits if Elway’s alternative was to get in a bidding war for Nick Foles.

Bad Guards fly south to Atlanta

NFL: New York Giants at Washington Redskins
Barkley made Brown a lot of green.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons raid Gotham for guards. Left with less than $10 million in cap space.

Considering the team’s cap constraints this offseason is one big reason why Atlanta’s foray into free agency is so questionable. Thomas Dimitroff gave big contracts to both James Carpenter of the Jets and Brown of the Giants. Neither deal is as bad as the price tags, but Browns 3-year $18.75 million contract carries a higher 2019 cap hit. That’s an issue for a team that just slapped Grady Jarrett with the franchise tag.

Even more confusing is the fact that neither guard inspires much confidence. Both finished the 2018 season with PFF grades below 60.

Donovan Smith makes hay in Tampa Bay

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
People have been hating on the Ja’Wuan deal, but he just followed in Donovan’s footsteps.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If you read my most recent GIF Horse, you’ll notice I took the time to find national writers who immediately dinged Elway and the Broncos for giving out a 4-year $51 million deal. As I mentioned in the article:

This coming season James will count $8 million against the Broncos cap. A big number, but less than Ricky Wagner and Rob Havenstein cost the Lions and Rams, respectively. In 2020 the cap hit jumps to $13 million, but Spotrac currently projects Denver to sit a comfortable $64 million under the cap. That’s before you consider a move such as cutting Joe Flacco would free up an additional $20 million.

In 2021 Elway can walk away from James’ contract and save nearly $21 million if it hasn’t worked out. In 2022 the Broncos actually hold an option on the deal and could decline it to save $13 million if it’s in their best interest.

So while the contracts average per year is the highest for a right tackle in the history of the league, the reality is Denver signed Ja’Wuan James to a 2 year contract with options to pick up in 2021 and ‘22 if he’s panning out on the field.

But here’s the thing that I noticed as I looked at deals today. Donovan Smith’s average per year is $1 million more than James, and while I fully understand that blindside tackles generally make more per year than their counterparts, Smith has become the 5th highest paid left tackle in the league. All while floating under the national radar because he’s a resigning.

When you stop and consider that Smith has never been anywhere close to an elite player, or that this move and Winston’s 5th year tag are why the Bucs couldn’t do much else in FA? Or the fact that fans were openly questioning if he played hard a year ago? Coach, do you have a general way that you handle, if you’re watching film after a game, and you see a guy who took maybe a couple of plays off or didn’t play to the whistle, is there a way you handle that with everybody?

Bruce Arians: Yeah, I’ll show it up on film and ask him what he’s doing in front of the team. I don’t have a problem with that. If you can’t play hard, you can’t play here. That’s not acceptable. We’ll have an accountability sheet, I call it. Every mental error, every penalty in practice, that’s how we start every day, with the accountability sheet. Now if you’re up there too much, you’re either too dumb to play here or you don’t give a sh*t. Alright, so you can’t be a Buc.

The thing is, the Bucs are on the hook for $27 million over two years. Maybe Smith comes alive with Arians calling him out, but Tampa made a far more reckless overpay than Denver did.

What do you think Broncos Country?