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2014 NFL free agency: Steals and deals in the latest wave of free agent signings

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Forget the splashy signings and big contracts, the most important moves in free agency happen during the second wave. So which teams made the kind of moves that will pay off in January? Jason Chilton looks at the best and worst and everything in-between from the latest round of additions and re-signings.

While the pace has slowed since free agency's frenetic first Tuesday, there was still a steady stream of notable signings over the last several days. Pass catchers and the men who cover them was an overriding theme, as receivers and cornerbacks saw a lot of action and high-dollar deals. No position was neglected, so let's review the last part of free agency's first big wave. As always, each player's contract highlights (when available) are presented alongside a comparison with that player's average Dollar Value Performance figure from the last three seasons.

Free Agent Grades: Wave 1 Wave 2

Offensive tackles

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Zach Strief NO NO 5 $20.5 $8 $4.1 $5.6 $1.5
Michael Oher BAL TEN 4 $20 $9.5 $5 $1.9 -$3.1
Donald Penn TB OAK 2 $9.6 $4.2 $4.8 $4.8 $0

The Saints did what was necessary in keeping RT Zach Strief in-house, signing him to a fair five-year, $20.5 million with $8.0 guaranteed that will see him through the remainder of the Drew Brees era. While Strief's impressive pass protection stats owe a good bit to Brees' quick trigger, you had only to look over at the Saints' failtastic left tackle rotation to see the kind of situation that New Orleans wanted to avoid by keeping Strief in black and gold.

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For another example of blocking gone bad, look no further than Michael Oher's career in Baltimore. Oher's name has outweighed his game for the past few seasons, and bad trend lines in the run and pass game culminated in a 2013 campaign that barely broke the $1 million mark in Dollar Value Performance. It's not the kind of show that should have drawn almost $10 million in guaranteed money, but at least Oher is unlikely to approach CJ2K levels of value destruction.

After losing Jared Veldheer and attempting to drastically overpay Roger Saffold, Raiders' GM Reggie McKenzie finally plugged the Raiders' massive gap at left tackle by reeling in Bucs castoff Donald Penn. The good news is that Oakland got out for a relative bargain, especially compared to the truckload of cash they were planning to dump on Saffold, and truly elite LT protection would likely be wasted on whatever quarterbacking fiasco Oakland trots out anyway. The bad news is that a ramshackle and sub-competitive team probably won't be the kind of environment that goads the frequently porky Penn into regaining - or even approaching - peak fitness.

Offensive guards

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Shelley Smith STL MIA 2 $5.5 $0 $2.8 $0.9 -$1.9
Willie Colon NYJ NYJ 1 $2 $0 $2 $3.9 $1.9
Kevin Boothe NYG OAK 2 $2.6 $0.3 $1.3 $2.6 $1.3
Charlie Johnson MIN MIN 2 $2.5 $0 $1.3 $2.4 $1.1

Bargain shopping was the order of the day at guard. Miami reeled in former Ram Shelley Smith for two years at $2.8 million per. Smith's limited usage to date doesn't make that figure look great from a DVP standpoint, but Smith showed the kind of serious pop in the run game that Miami's reality show of an O-line was sorely lacking last year. Smith's pass protection was frequently woeful, but at least Ryan Tannehill has experience in running for his life.

The Jets did well to bring back Willie Colon for another campaign. In his last two healthy seasons, Colon broke the $4.5 million mark in DVP thanks to strong work in pass protection. New York will hope his sub-par run blocking work in 2013 was a bump in the road rather than a signal of decline, but they're still likely to come out ahead on this deal.

Centers

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Evan Dietrich-Smith GB TB 4 $14.2 $7.2 $3.6 $2 -$1.6
Ted Larsen TB ARI 2 $2.6 $0.5 $1.3 $1.5 $0.2

After suffering through a Jeremy Zuttah/Ted Larsen combo meal at center in 2013, the Bucs upgraded significantly by luring Evan Dietrich-Smith away from the Packers. Dietrich-Smith is one of the position's more capable pass protectors, and he also acquitted himself well as part of Green Bay's resurgent run game. He'll now be paid towards the upper echelon of his position, but he's young enough to justify those dollars with a steady level of play.

Larsen himself got scooped up as a depth signing by the Cardinals. Larsen shouldn't be starting, but he did a fine job in pass protection from the pivot in 2012. He'll be a versatile reserve for a line that should stockpile as many bodies as possible.

Tight ends

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Brandon Pettigrew DET DET 4 $16 $8 $4 $2.7 -$1.3
Mike McNeill STL CAR 2 $1.5 $0.1 $0.8 $0.1 -$0.6

A thunderous ... "meh" emanated from Lions country upon re-signing of Brandon Pettigrew. He's not a terrible player, but he's very iffy in the run game while his pass game work features little explosiveness and a tremendous penchant for turning red zone targets into field goals. Joseph Fauria showed what simple competence can yield for a red zone option on a team that throws it THAT FREAKING MUCH. With Fauria back in the fold and the addition of Golden Tate at wideout, Pettigrew could be even more invisible in 2014.

Wide receivers

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Julian Edelman NE NE 4 $17 $8 $4.3 $2.3 -$2
Emmanuel Sanders PIT DEN 3 $15 $6 $5 $1.3 -$3.7
Andrew Hawkins CIN CLE 4 $12.2 $4.8 $3.1 $1.4 -$1.6
James Jones GB OAK 3 $10 $3.6 $3.3 $3.1 -$0.2
Steve L. Smith CAR BAL 3 $11 $3.5 $3.7 $6.9 $3.2
Brandon LaFell CAR NE 3 $9 $3 $3 $1.5 -$1.5
Jerome Simpson MIN MIN 1 $1 $- $1 $1.4 $0.4
Mario Manningham SF NYG 1 TBD TBD TBD $1.1 TBD
Tandon Doss BAL JAC 1 TBD TBD TBD $0.3 TBD

After a good deal of back-and-forth, Julian Edelman and the Pats reached an understanding that will keep the mighty mite in New England for the next several seasons. Edelman is the kind of quick-twitch, quick thinker that thrives in the Brady Spread. The ease with which he sneaks into soft spots in coverage is matched only by the ease with which he snuck into Danny Amendola's hospital room to steal the mantle of Wes Welker. Edelman will need a lot of target volume to justify his value, but with Brandon LaFail likely to flame out and Amendola a good bet to literally spontaneously combust, it's a good bet that Edelman will get plenty of love from Brady in 2014.

The Broncos replaced Eric Decker by nabbing ex-Steeler Emmanuel Sanders. His style is more duplicative of Wes Welker than of Decker's long-striding downfield prowess, but he should have no trouble ringing up stats even as Manning's fourth option.

With a wealth of cap space and a dearth of weapons, the Browns made the somewhat unusual move of trumping Cincinnati's tender offer on slot speedster Andrew Hawkins. Hawkins is delicate, but he's got a ton of zip and should find plenty of space to operate with all eyes on Josh Gordon. It's an overpay, but likely not much of one if Cleveland's new offense can properly deploy Hawkins' talents.

To commemorate James Jones' penthouse-to-outhouse Green Bay-to-Oakland move, we've updated the theme song from The Jeffersons in his honor:

Well I'm movin' on down,

To Oaktown,

To a decrepit stadium downtown.

I'm movin' on down,

To Oaktown,

But I've got ten million reasons not to frown.

Rodgers could thread that needle,

On the money on every route.

Here, throws sail on a deep post

And bounce on a ten-yard out.

My stats may go in the toilet,

But I raked in some pay.

I'll buy some Oakland real estate, orrrr...

I'll just live across the bay.

So I'm movin' on down,

To Oaktown,

With silver spike-clad wackos all around.

My QB's a clown,

Bad throws abound.

What I wouldn't give for Josh McCown.

It was the end of an era in Carolina, as the venerable Steve Smith finally parted ways with the only franchise he's ever known. He's in decline, but his fiery nature should coax forth a fanatical effort in 2014 that should pay dividends thanks to Flacco's accuracy and live arm.

The Panthers' wide receiver exodus continued as former first-rounder Brandon LaFell also found himself in new digs. LaFell has plenty of physical tools, but he hasn't even come close to putting it all together yet. The Pats' system could unlock LaFell's potential, but its intricacy has made washouts of far more accomplished receivers in the past.

Running backs

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Darren Sproles NO PHI 3 $10.5 $5.5 $3.5 $5.7 $2.2
Ben Tate HOU CLE 2 $7 $2.5 $3.5 $3.7 $0.2
Rashad Jennings OAK NYG 4 $10 $3 $2.5 $1.5 -$1
Anthony Dixon SF BUF 3 $3.5 $0.8 $1.2 $0.4 -$0.8
James Starks GB GB 2 TBD TBD TBD $3.1 TBD
Jonathan Dwyer PIT ARI 1 $0.8 $0.1 $0.8 $1.3 $0.5

While it was more properly a trade-and-sign than a true free agent move, Darren Sproles' arrival in Philadelphia might end up being the most impactful offseason happening at the whole of the running back position. Sproles has the kind of elusiveness and outsize pass game production that the DVP model loves, and he generated tremendous value during his Saints tenure. He may see a decrease in work rate with all-around stud LeSean McCoy in the Eagles' backfield, but Chip Kelly's fast-break creativity should still manufacture plenty of chances for Tiny Darren to get loose in space.

Another contender for the overall impact crown will be Ben Tate, whose powerful one-cut slashes should fit nicely in new OC Kyle Shanahan's attack. Unfortunately, impact cuts both ways - impact from onrushing defenders has proven hazardous to the oft-injured Tate. He toughed it out through an extremely painful rib injury last season, but Cleveland will need him at full strength as often as possible.

Coming off a resurgent season filling in for Run HMO in Oakland, Rashad Jennings has a shot at locking down feature back duties in an otherwise ragamuffin Giants' backfield. The price is right for New York to realize some surplus value here if Jennings commands 60 percent of the backfield touches and staves off an age-30 decline.

Quarterbacks

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Kellen Clemens SD TEN 2 $3 $- $1.5 $1.2 -$0.3
Brandon Weeden CLE DAL 2 $1.2 $- $0.6 $2.1 $1.5

The Titans saved some cap dollars by jettisoning Ryan Fitzpatrick and bringing aboard Charlie Whitehurst, but they sacrificed a ton of actual quarterbacking ability in the bargain. If Jake Locker isn't the answer (PRO TIP: He's not), the Titans are all the way back to square one at the game's most vital position.

You could say the same for the Cowboys' punchline-friendly acquisition of Brandon Weeden, but Dallas had few options given their wretched cap situation and Kyle Orton's potential retirement. $600K a season for a guy with a reasonable arm who's thrown actual, factual NFL TDs isn't a terrible get - if Romo goes down for any length of time, it doesn't matter who the backup is anyway.

Interior D-linemen

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Henry Melton CHI DAL 1 $5 TBD $5 $2.9 -$2.1
Antonio D. Smith HOU OAK 2 $9 $2.3 $4.5 $5.1 $0.6
Vance Walker OAK KC 3 $10.2 $3.8 $3.4 $2.2 -$1.2
Cam Thomas SD PIT 2 $4 $1 $2 $1.4 -$0.6
B.J. Raji GB GB 1 $4 $0.5 $4 $1.6 -$2.4
Antonio Johnson TEN TEN 2 TBD TBD TBD $0.5 TBD
Letroy Guion MIN GB 2 $1 $0.1 $1 $0.7 -$0.3
Jerrell Powe KC HOU 1 TBD TBD TBD $0.2 TBD

Savvy Cowboys fans targeted Henry Melton as the best possible get for a hideously cap-strapped team, and their hopes came to fruition on Monday. Melton came on the (relative) cheap thanks to last year's knee injury, but his youth and rare athleticism augur well for making a full return from a garden-variety ACL tear. The contract could become a four-year deal if Melton has a healthy and productive 2014, and Dallas had few other realistic options to acquire the kind of three-technique pass rusher that a Tampa Two-style scheme so desperately needs.

"Aging vet signs with Raiders" is basically a copy-paste in NFL writing, but Antonio Smith has looked to have plenty left in the tank during the past couple of seasons in Houston. Oakland got good value out of rent-a-DT's like Vance Walker last season, and if he ages with a bit of grace then Smith could provide an even greater impact.

Speaking of Vance, he parlayed an impressive two-way performance in Oakland into a reasonable three-year deal in KC. Having taken the "two slugs at five-technique" model of the 3-4 about as far as it can go, the Chiefs have wisely upgraded the pass rush pop with Walker.

Steady trench-toiling nose tackle Cam Thomas finds a new home in Pittsburgh, where his arrival could kick Steve McClendon over to five technique where the latter's athleticism can play up. Thomas may not lay a hand on a QB all season, but it's not a bad price for a competent run-D anchor.

Hopefully Aaron Rodgers can get B.J. Raji a Discount Double Check hook-up to save him hundreds, since Raji cost himself millions by wildly overestimating his market value and turning down a rumored $20 million extension from Green Bay last November. Raji should actually be thankful for what he got, since his past three seasons only TOTALED $4.9 million in DVP. Raji might want to stop dropping beats for State Farm and start dropping QBs - something he hasn't done since 2011.

Edge defenders

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Julius Peppers CHI GB 3 $30 $7.5 $10 $3.5 -$6.5
Calvin Pace NYJ NYJ 2 $5 TBD $2.5 $2.2 -$0.3
Israel Idonije DET CHI 1 $1 $0 $1 $3.8 $2.8

What the Packers haven't gotten in pass rush from B.J. Raji, they'll hope to get from new acquisition Julius Peppers. Peppers' game is far more power than speed at this point, so working as a five-technique end (and playing opposite Clay Matthews) could unlock some remaining pass rush potential. This deal gets ugly in a hurry if Peppers' game continues to decline, though - Green Bay will be on the hook for a $12.5 million cap charge in 2015 while having to swallow $5 million in dead money if they cut Peppers loose.

Rex Ryan just can't quit a salty veteran defender, so it's little surprise that OLB Calvin Pace is back for another go-round with the Jets. Pace actually enjoyed something of a pass rush Renaissance last season, so New York may see a reasonable bit of value from this deal before Pace's wheels fall completely off.

Poweful and versatile, 2012 Israel Idonije would have been a tremendous help to the beleaguered 2013 Bears D-line. How much 2014 Israel Idonije has in the tank is debatable, but he still generated some quality per-snap pressure (despite negligible sack totals) in Detroit last season. For a million bucks, it's not a bad roll of the dice.

Linebackers

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Daryl Smith BAL BAL 4 $16.1 TBD $4 TBD TBD
Wesley Woodyard DEN TEN 4 $16 $4.8 $4 TBD TBD
Brandon Spikes NE BUF 1 $3.3 $0.9 $3.3 TBD TBD
Jameel McClain BAL NYG 2 $4.1 $0.6 $2.1 TBD TBD
JoLonn Dunbar STL STL 2 $3.5 $0.1 $1.8 TBD TBD
Akeem Jordan KC WAS 1 TBD TBD TBD TBD TBD
Dane Fletcher NE TB 1 $2 TBD $2 TBD TBD
Spencer Paysinger NYG NYG 1 $1.4 $1.4 $1.4 TBD TBD

Pass-first linebackers led the way, with Daryl Smith bagging a $16 million deal to re-up with the Ravens and Wesley Woodyard getting a similar contract to join Ray Horton's new 3-4 in Tennessee. Smith in particular is getting on in years for a deal of this size, but he's still a plus player against the pass and the Ravens love their aging, savvy vets.

The run pluggers had their say as well, with Brandon Spikes netting a little over $3 million to make an intra-divisional move to the Bills. Flanked by elite pass defender Kiko Alonso, Spikes will be free to bust heads between the tackles.

Cornerbacks

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie DEN NYG 5 $39 $14 $7.8 $3.2 -$4.6
Brandon Browner SEA NE 3 $12.4 $- $4.1 $3.2 -$0.9
Captain Munnerlyn CAR MIN 3 11.2 4.4 $3.7 $4.1 $0.4
Cortland Finnegan TEN MIA 2 $11 $5.5 $5.5 $4.5 -$1
Walter Thurmond SEA NYG 1 $3.5 $2 $3.5 $2.3 -$1.2
Charles Tillman CHI CHI 1 $3.5 $3.5 $3.5 $4.2 $0.7
Tarell Brown SF OAK 1 $3.5 $3.5 $3.5 $2.7 -$0.8
Chris Cook MIN SF 1 TBD TBD TBD $1.3 TBD
Richard Marshall SD SD 1 $0.9 $- $0.9 $1.3 $0.4
Derek Cox SD MIN 1 $0.8 $- $0.8 $2.3 $1.6
Javier Arenas KC ATL 1 TBD TBD TBD $1.3 TBD

It was a busy spate for cornerbacks, and the last remaining A-lister found a home as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie struck pay dirt with the Giants. The Notorious DRC raised a few eyebrows with his post-Super Bowl retirement talk, but assuming he sticks it out he's got plenty in the tank to form a high-quality tandem with Prince Amukamara. He didn't come cheap, but for his physical skill set, his value compares favorably to the deals that guys like Revis, Brent Grimes and Vontae Davis hauled in.

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PED-hawk poster boy Brandon Browner struck pay dirt despite peeing dirty, landing in New England to form a potentially lethal tandem with Darrelle Revis. Browner's size is a unique asset against lanky jump-ball artists on the boundary, but his versatility will be tested if and when Belichick decides to move Revis around the formation.

A Vikings secondary in serious need of a talent infusion got one in Captain Munnerlyn as the raid on the Panthers' larder continued. Munnerlyn does most of his best work in the slot, and if he's positioned where he can thrive then he'll be a fine complement to young stud Xavier Rhodes.

Browner's former secondary mate Walter Thurmond joined the procession of new faces in New York. Despite concerns that no ex-Seahawk will match his level of play outside of Pete Carroll's nurturing biosphere, the Giants got a talented and versatile guy who could complete one of the league's top cornerback corps. Considering that corps was made up of corpses for much of the prior two seasons, it's a big turnaround in the Big Apple.

Safeties

Old Team New Team Years Total Contract Amount Total Guaranteed Money Average Annual Value 2011-2013 Dollar Value Performance Average Past Performance Surplus
Nate Allen PHI PHI 1 $2 TBD $2 $2.5 $0.5
Usama Young OAK OAK 2 TBD TBD TBD $1.7 TBD
Roman Harper NO CAR 2 $4.5 $1.5 $2.3 $1 -$1.3
Brandon Meriweather WAS WAS 1 $1 $- $1 $0.7 -$0.3
Craig Steltz CHI CHI 1 TBD TBD TBD $0.7 TBD

There wasn't as much action at the safety position, with low- to mid-range re-ups dominating the scene. The Eagles will content themselves with another season of Nate Allen, who is a fine, if unspectacular, player. The division rival Redskins will take a similar approach with the unspectacular and frequently fined Brandon Meriweather.

The only team change in the last few days was Roman Harper heading east to Carolina to replace the departed Mike Mitchell. You know how punt returners are frequently told to simply plant their heels at the ten yard line and not back up no matter what? The Panthers may want to take a similar approach with Harper - under no circumstances should he attempt to cover anyone more than ten yards past the line of scrimmage.