There's an adage that the best teams in the NFL build through the draft and not free agency, but that took a hit when the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50 due largely to free agent acquisitions like Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware, Emmanuel Sanders and Aqib Talib, among others. But even the risk-taking Broncos sat on the sidelines during the 2015 free agency period and let other teams spend big.
A year later, it's the bargain shoppers that look like the biggest free agency winners of 2015.
The biggest whiffs of last offseason came from the Chip Kelly-led Philadelphia Eagles. After trading for Sam Bradford and Kiko Alonso, the Eagles doled out huge money to free agents like DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell. Since firing Kelly, the team has worked hard to undo many of those moves and have already traded away Murray, Maxwell and Alonso.
No running back received anywhere near the huge contract numbers that Murray did, but even high-priced players like C.J. Spiller and Frank Gore disappointed in 2015, while bargain shopping for guys like DeAngelo Williams and Darren McFadden proved to be the better option.
Ndamukong Suh shook off a slow start and eventually started performing like a player who received a $114 million contract, but the Miami Dolphins still finished near the bottom of the NFL in defense. As did the Jacksonville Jaguars, despite giving Jared Odrick a $42.5 million deal.
It seemed only wide receivers and interior offensive lineman truly made the impact that teams envisioned when given the top contracts in free agency. Jeremy Maclin racked up 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns for a Kansas City Chiefs, while most of the cheaper receivers didn't do much to standout -- although, Ted Ginn, Jr. carved out a solid season for the receiver-deficient Carolina Panthers.
However, other than those contracts, teams were better off with cheaper purchases. Tyrod Taylor at $1.1 million per year outplayed Josh McCown and Brian Hoyer, who each more than $4 million per year. Michael Oher on a two-year, $7 million deal helped the Panthers to a Super Bowl and outplayed Jermey Parnell, who signed a five-year, $32 million contract with the Jaguars.
Jabaal Sheard may have been the best pass-rushing addition of free agency last year, finishing with eight sacks for the New England Patriots, despite several players getting more money.
The rising salary cap coupled with a rookie pay scale has made misses in free agency less devastating, and has made free agency a more viable way to build a roster. And history suggests that the big spenders of 2016 like the New York Giants, Jaguars and Raiders probably got better this week, but it also says that those teams would have been better off digging through the NFL's thrift shop alternatives.
Ultimately though, there aren't many trends and there isn't much evidence to help predict which signings were poor and which ones will turn out to be solid additions. For the Broncos, winning the crap shoot of free agency helped the team to win Super Bowl 50, but in most cases, the cheaper team prevails.