NFL free agency is an exciting time when most of the league's teams bid against one another for the services of one or another talented football player. The prize for signing a big name is not only the supposed impact on the field, but also the introductory press conference. Every owner wants to stand next to their new, superhuman employee for pictures and questions.
But not every free agent addition ends up a success. Sometimes, as was the case with the 2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team shells out unconscionable amounts of money on players only to cut most of them just a season or two later. In other cases, a club such as the New England Patriots invests in a free agent that pushes them over the top toward a Lombardi Trophy.
While it's often difficult to evaluate free agent signings so shortly after they occur, some of the contracts stand out as particularly great values or poor investments. Let's dive into the best and worst of the 2015 free agent period.
Jabaal Sheard - New England Patriots
Terms: Two years, $11 million ($5 million guaranteed)
Much like Jerry Hughes before him, Jabaal Sheard was miscast as a standup linebacker in a 3-4 defense, a position that limited his production. As such, there wasn't an avalanche of suitors when Sheard hit the market.
After Bill Belichick failed to reach an agreement with All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, he turned his attention to other areas of his defense. Sheard should provide the Patriots a solid compliment to Chandler Jones, and by improving the pass rush, the secondary should be less taxed.
Bryan Bulaga - Green Bay Packers
Terms: Five years, $33.75 million ($8 million guaranteed)
After missing most of 2012 and 2013 with a fractured hip and ACL tear respectively, Bryan Bulaga returned to form for the Packers this past season, reestablishing himself as one of the league's premier right tackles. More importantly, he proved that after two serious injuries he could remain healthy, starting 17 out of 18 possible games, including the playoffs.
Bulaga hit free agency this offseason as the best pure offensive tackle available. That alone would be grounds for a market-setting deal, but his leverage was aided by a lack of quality alternatives in the free agent pool. Capable-but-unspectacular tackles such as King Dunlap received more $7 million a year, suggesting that an even larger payday was in store for the 25-year-old Bulaga. While those offers were indeed on the table, the Packers were able to sign their right tackle for a mere $6.75 million annually.
Nick Fairley - St. Louis Rams
Terms: One year, $5 million ($1.5 million guaranteed)
Nick Fairley's four years in Detroit were characterized by weight problems and poor relationships with his coaches. Those concerns continue to dog Fairley, who didn't find a more enticing offer than the one-year "prove it" deal the Rams put on the table. If Fairley can show that he has matured and is committed to becoming the best player possible, financial awards await him a year from now.
While there aren't any football results to speak of thus far, it does appear Fairley is taking this mandate seriously. He reportedly showed up in St. Louis slimmed down to 280 pounds. With the weight dropped, he could have a monster season playing on the same defensive line with Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald and Chris Long.
Stephen Paea - Washington
Terms: Four years, $21 million ($7.85 million guaranteed)
Because of how little talent the Chicago Bears had on defense the last few years, defensive tackle Stephen Paea went largely unnoticed around the league. While he's not a star, Paea provides consistent pass rusher from the interior and has improved in run defense.
For Washington, a team that finished dead last in pass defense by Football Outsiders' DVOA, bringing in an inside presence such as Paea could help hasten the defense's turnaround.
Rahim Moore - Houston Texans
Terms: Three years, $12 million ($4 million guaranteed)
Quality safeties that can cover centerfield are an endangered breed in the NFL. Players such as Earl Thomas have never been easy to find, but it has become increasingly difficult with the proliferation of the spread offense turning would-be safeties into receivers at the college level.
That's why the Texans' deal for Rahim Moore is such a bargain. Moore isn't a special player, but he can adequately patrol the back of the secondary in single-high looks, allowing for Houston's dominant front seven to chase down the quarterback.
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Byron Maxwell - Philadelphia Eagles
Terms: Six years, $63 million ($22 million guaranteed)
To be clear, Byron Maxwell is a good cornerback. Even outside of Seattle's "Legion of Boom" secondary, he should remain a reliable starter who can match up with some of the bigger receivers in the game.
The problem is that there's almost no scenario in which Maxwell lives up to the expectations created by his new contract. He will earn significantly more guaranteed money than Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson or Joe Haden received on their most recent deals. While Maxwell can impact a game, it's a lot harder to take risks when Earl Thomas isn't stationed deep covering up your mistakes.
DeMarco Murray - Philadelphia Eagles
Terms: Five years, $40 million ($18 million guaranteed)
It's common to say the running game has been devalued in the modern NFL. That's not entirely true. Certainly, the Seattle Seahawks have built their offense around the skills of Marshawn Lynch and found success. What is accurate is that running backs have been devalued, at least the non-superstars.
The primary reason is running backs wear down quickly. Unlike receivers who can remain effective into their 30s, most running backs fall off around age 29 or after a season of being overworked, whichever comes first. That's bad news for DeMarco Murray, who led the NFL in carries over the past two seasons and is already 27 years old. While his career may not fall of a cliff this season, he'll likely see a dip in his productivity related to not playing behind the best run-blocking offensive line in football any longer. Still, the Eagles paid a premium for him, an unwise move considering the quality and comparative cost of the running backs available in this year's draft class.
Rodney Hudson - Oakland Raiders
Terms: Five years, $44.5 million ($12.6 guaranteed)
Like most centers, Rodney Hudson was a fairly anonymous NFL player. He played in the small market of Kansas City and didn't begin to hit his stride until the past two seasons. Such a player is rarely a candidate for a market-setting contract, but the Raiders needed to spend money somewhere this offseason.
The problem is that Hudson isn't an ideal fit for what Oakland wants to do. At 6'2, 299 pounds, he is best suited in a zone-blocking scheme. Unfortunately for the Raiders, they haven't employed one since 2012. Perhaps the team plans to change that this season, but even so, $8.9 million per year is a lot for a center.
Julius Thomas - Jacksonville Jaguars
Terms: Five years, $46 million ($21 million guaranteed)
Over the past two seasons, Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas has established himself as one of the league's elite tight ends. Any team with a great quarterback, a need for an reliable pass catcher in the middle of the field and excess cap room would have done well to land the former Portland State Viking.
However, the Jaguars do not possess the requisite signal caller to make the most out of Thomas' talents. To be fair, the team needed to spend money to reach the CBA-mandated cap floor and most of the top players weren't considering them as options. Still, $21 million is a lot to guarantee a player who Jacksonville will struggle to utilize.