The window of NFL free agency opened on March 9, and, by the end of the day, there had been 17 contracts of $30 million or more signed — including two apiece by the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars, as teams scrambled to find that player who could push them over the top as a Super Bowl contender.
But there’s a precautionary tale here. In 2016, Jacksonville game defensive end Malik Jackson the biggest contract in free agency at $85.5 million, with $42 million of it guaranteed. With Jackson in their lineup, the Jaguars finished 3-13 last season. In 2015, the Miami Dolphins gave defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh the biggest contract in free agency at $114 million, with $60 million of it guaranteed. With Suh in their lineup, the Dolphins went 6-10 that season.
The spending was again lavish this offseason. But was there impact to be found in all of those dollars? That’s the subject of our weekly Talk of Fame Network poll — who was the best free agent signed this offseason. We’re offering eight options. Vote on the one you like best:
Martellus Bennett, TE, Green Bay. (Three years, $18.75 million, $7.2 million guaranteed). The Packers signed Jared Cook in free agency last offseason, and he made some big catches for Green Bay … just not enough of them (30 on the season). Bennett brings a downfield element to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. He caught 55 passes for 701 yards and a career-high seven touchdowns last season in Rob Gronkowski’s New England offense. He went to the Pro Bowl with the Chicago Bears in 2014 when he caught 90 passes for 916 yards and six touchdowns. He just turned 30 in March.
A.J. Bouye, CB, Jacksonville. (Five years, $67.5 million, $26 million guaranteed). The Jaguars fielded a Top-10 defense in 2016, and it seemingly got better with the signing of Bouye to the NFL’s biggest free-agent contract this offseason. Undrafted out of Central Florida in 2013, Bouye became a starter in his fourth season in 2016 on a Houston defense that led the NFL and finished second against the pass. Bouye led the Texans with 17 passes defensed but intercepted only one pass. He has six career interceptions in his four NFL seasons, including one for a touchdown. He’s a 6-foot corner and only 25 years of age.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, New England. (Five years, $65 million, $40 million guaranteed). Of the 13 most expensive free agents signed this offseason, only three of them have been to a Pro Bowl and only one of them went in 2016 – Gilmore. The 10th overall pick of the 2012 draft by Buffalo, Gilmore became a five-year starter for the Bills, intercepting 14 career passes. Five of them came in 2016. Like Bouye, Gilmore has size (6-1) and youth (26) on his side. The Bills may have struggled last season with their 7-9 finish, but a pass defense led by Gilmore didn’t. Buffalo finished sixth in the NFL against the pass.
Mike Glennon, QB, Chicago. (Three years, $45 million, $18.5 million guaranteed). Despite becoming a third-round pick, Glennon started for Tampa Bay as a rookie and showed promise with 19 touchdowns and only nine interceptions in his 13 starts. Glennon backed up Josh McCown in 2014 but started five games as an injury replacement and again showed promise, passing for 10 touchdowns against six interceptions. But when the Buccaneers used the first overall pick of the 2015 draft on James Winston, Glennon’s career in Tampa Bay was doomed. He didn’t take a snap in 2014 and then threw only 11 passes in 2016. So the quarterback-needy Bears signed him in free agency this offseason hoping he can inject some life into the offense of a 3-13 team.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Philadelphia. (One year, $9.5 million). Unfortunately for Glennon, his best weapon left the Bears in free agency when Jeffery signed his one-year deal with the Eagles. He brings a trusted pair of hands to a very young receiving corps. His presence should help accelerate the development of quarterback Carson Wentz, who struggled as a rookie without a 1,000-yard receiver in his huddle. Now he has one in Jeffery, who caught 1,421 yards in passes in 2013 and 1,133 in 2014 before injuries the last two seasons cost him 11 games. He’s only 27. If he’s healthy, he’s dangerous.
Terrelle Pryor, WR, Washington. (One year, $6 million). This departure was puzzling. The Browns had very little on offense last season as they shuffled through five quarterbacks. But their best weapon was Pryor, a former Ohio State quarterback who knocked around for four NFL seasons as a backup before being converted to wide receiver by the Browns in 2016. He caught 77 passes for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns in the NFL’s 30th-ranked offense and 28th-ranked pass offense. He’s a size receiver (6-4, 223 pounds) with speed (4.38). If he put up those type of numbers without a quarterback, what kind of numbers could he put up with a quarterback like Kirk Cousins, who finished third in the NFL in passing yards last season with 4,917? The Redskins will find that out this season.
Andrew Whitworth, OT, Los Angeles. (Three years, $33.75 million, $15 million guaranteed). The Rams claimed Jared Goff with the first overall pick of the 2016 draft and then let him sit for nine games rather than play him behind a line that could protect him. Goff became a starter with seven games left and took a beating over those final two months with 26 sacks. He wound up throwing more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (5) as the Rams finished dead last in the NFL in offense. To maximize the skills of Goff, the Rams need to protect him – and hope to do that with the signing of Whitworth, a three-time Pro Bowl left tackle for the Bengals. He’s 35 but was a Pro Bowler last season with a great lockerroom presence.
Kevin Zeitler, G, Cleveland. (Five years, $60 million, $31.5 million guaranteed). This was addition by subtraction. Cleveland allowed an NFL-leading 66 sacks, which helps explain why the Browns ran through five quarterbacks a year ago. By signing Zeitler, the Browns upgrade their blocking front at the expense of the team Cleveland is chasing in the AFC North (Cincinnati). Zeitler played his college ball at Wisconsin, one of the NFL’s top offensive line producers. He became a first-round pick of the Bengals in 2012 and a walk-in starter. He remained at right guard for his first five NFL seasons, starting 71 games, before signing with the Browns.