With a week and a half of NFL free agency in the books, the winners and losers are becoming clear. Teams like the Buccaneers have loaded up on top talent while keeping their spending relatively efficient. Others have failed to fill areas of need or committed boatloads of money in head-scratching deals.
Taking into consideration team needs, quality of player and value of the contract, we take a look at the five best and five worst signings of the free-agent period so far.
Bradley Sowell was the worst offensive tackle in football last season, at least according to Pro Football Focus. So grabbing Veldheer to replace him on Carson Palmer's blind side is a big win for the Cardinals. Palmer had a strong first season in Arizona, and actually giving him some protection should increase his effectiveness even more. What's more, the Cards are paying Veldheer significantly less than what the other big left tackle free agents are making. Veldheer, Branden Albert and Eugene Monroe all signed five-year deals, but Veldheer's guaranteed money is roughly half of that of each of his peers.
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Tate didn't come cheap (5 years, $31 million), but he fills a big hole on the Lions' offense. They needed a compliment to Calvin Johnson at the No. 2 receiver spot and Tate provides them with a legitimate playmaker. His 898 yards and five touchdowns in 2013 don't blow you a way, but keep in mind those numbers came in Seattle's ground-and-pound offense. He should thrive in Detroit's pass-happy attack, especially when you consider the favorable matchups Megatron's presence will provide.
The Trent Richardson trade left a gaping hole in the Browns' backfield, which didn't feature a single back that went over 400 yards rushing. They landed arguably the top rusher on the market in Tate, who finally gets the chance to get out from under Arian Foster in Houston. The only concern is Tate's unremarkable performance when given the opportunity to start down the stretch last season following Foster's injury. In fairness, the Texans were in full-fledged free fall at that point, so it's difficult to expect much production from Tate. The deal is only for two years and $2.5 million guaranteed, so Cleveland isn't risking much here.
The bullying scandal ripped apart the Dolphins' offensive line, and Miami desperately needed a left tackle to replace both Jonathan Martin and the man who replaced him, Bryant McKinnie (whose contract expired this month). They got their man in Albert, who was a solid anchor on the Chiefs' line for years. He struggled a bit in run blocking last season, but the Dolphins are paying him to protect Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill was the most sacked quarterback in the league in 2013, so he's happy to have the help.
Sproles is an absolutely perfect fit for Chip Kelly's offense in Philadelphia. Kelly loves getting his backs involved in the passing game (LeSean McCoy had over 50 receptions last season), particularly on screens. Small and shifty, Sproles excels in the type of open space he'll see in Philly. He's had over 70 receptions in each of the last three seasons with the Saints. You can't have a better quarterback than the one he had in New Orleans, but you could do a lot worse than Nick Foles.
Finnegan must be one hell of a negotiator, because he managed to wrangle an unbelievably favorable deal with the Dolphins without using an agent. Finnegan, who never came close to living up to his massive deal in St. Louis, inked a two-year contract that includes a $2 million signing bonus and $3.5 million guaranteed. That means Miami is betting $5.5 million (he'll count $4.5 against the 2014 cap) that Finnegan will have a bounce-back season. That's a lot riding on a guy who graded as the second-worst corner in the league last season by Pro Football Focus.
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Why did the Chargers need to sign a running back? Ryan Mathews is coming off his best season as a pro and Danny Woodhead has the third-down back position locked up. Sure, Mathews has a long history of injury problems, but 1) he didn't miss a single game last year and 2) the Chargers could have grabbed a much cheaper insurance policy through the draft. Three years, $10.5 million ($4 million guaranteed) is a lot to invest in a third-string back.
The Broncos needed a cornerback and Talib is a good one, but they're paying him far too much money. In fairness, the six-year, $57 million deal isn't quite as unwieldy as it sounds thanks to some fancy contract writing that could allow the Broncos to cut him after one year without much financial repercussion. But even then he would be making $12 million for one year of work. For context, that's the exact contract Darrelle Revis signed with New England, and Talib is no Revis.
The re-signing of draft bust Peria Jerry had Falcons fans up in arms, but details of his contract revealed he's costing the team virtually nothing, even if they choose to cut him before the season. That financial efficiency doesn't extend to Jackson, who landed a five-year, $25 million dollar deal with a healthy $11 million guaranteed. Jackson admittedly made big strides with the Chiefs in 2013, but he's been considered an average player at best for most of his career. He fills a need as a 3-4 end, but it's hard to imagine the Falcons couldn't have found someone better for that kind of money.
Geoff Schwartz, the top offensive guard on the market, got four years and $16.8 million from the Giants. Lauvao got four years and $17 million from the Redskins. Schwartz was the eighth best guard in the league in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. Lauvao was the 70th best.