We are two weeks removed from the start of NFL free agency and while it’s slowed down, teams are still adding important pieces. Earlier, I wrote about the waves of free agency. The first wave — the big-money days — came and went. Then comes the second wave. This is where the value tends to be for teams.
Let’s look at last season’s big free agency signings. Kirk Cousins inked a fully guaranteed $84 million contract with the Vikings. The Chiefs shelled out $48 million for Sammy Watkins. Andrew Norwell got $66.5 million from the Jaguars. Malcolm Butler and Nate Solder both left New England and got paid a lot for maybe not the production expected for that money. That seems fairly typical of these early signings.
Again, I’m glad when guys get paid. I love it. But when it comes to team value, there’s rarely any.
Now, look at the second wave of value deals last offseason. Tyrann Mathieu with the Texans and Eric Ebron for the Colts come to mind — excellent one-year (or two-year) deals for the team. Both players were coming off injuries and/or poor play and needed to sign short-term deals.
This is how the second wave works. Players are looking for one-year deals to rehab their image and get a big pay day, while teams are willing to pay a small price for the potential of these players being their old self.
There were plenty of these signings that happened over the last two weeks. These are the four that I liked most.
Devin Funchess, WR, Colts
Deal: 1 year, $10 million
Funchess, the former second-round draft pick of the Panthers, never lived up to the hype. He was supposed to be a big-bodied target for Cam Newton and a reliable red zone target.
It just never seemed to work in Carolina.
His first two seasons were injury-filled and the next two weren’t terribly productive. His best season came in 2017, when he recorded 840 yards on 63 catches. However, his catch rate was only 56.8 percent.
So now he gets a chance to rehab his play with Andrew Luck and Frank Reich:
Frank Reich was elated watching Devin Funchess on film. Loved the fact a big, "physical monster" has the feet he does & runs routes like he does.— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) March 28, 2019
Turns out Funchess was absolutely OUTSTANDING (80% success) on the 2 routes Luck threw the most last year under Reich: curls & outs. pic.twitter.com/rC6qRgIZuR
We all laughed last season when the Colts signed Ebron to a short contract, and Reich said he was one of the better tight ends in the NFL. Well, Ebron and Reich had the last laugh. So if Reich believes Funchess can be successful, I’ll trust him.
Randall Cobb, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Deal: 1 year, $5 million
I used to mock, and as we all did, how the Cowboys would spend large sums of money in free agency. Going for the buck instead of the bang. Over the last few seasons, they’ve been the opposite of that, and there are two examples this offseason.
First, Cobb for one season is fantastic for them! Cobb can be an explosive pass catcher and now teams can’t double-team Amari Cooper. It gives Dallas another weapon in the slot and will allow the Cowboys’ brass to properly evaluate Dak Prescott with a full allotment of talent around him.
Cobb will be motivated to play well and get that second contract next season.
George Iloka, S, Dallas Cowboys
Deal: 1 year, $930,000
This is the other great signing by the Cowboys. IIoka is a high-IQ safety with excellent box skills. He can tackle well and rarely blows a coverage. He’s a veteran safety the Cowboys have been waiting for, and at the fraction of how much Earl Thomas would’ve cost. I love this signing.
Jared Cook, TE, Saints
Deal: 2 years, $15.5 million
On Wednesday, Jared Cook finally signed with the Saints. After Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement, the Patriots made a push to change Cook’s mind but weren’t successful. Cook isn’t a young player, like most signings during the second wave, but his value for the Saints will be tremendous.
Cook can run, and the Saints need a tight end who can run in the slot. They love to hit those seam shots with a middle-of-the-field runner. Now they have someone besides Michael Thomas who defenses must focus on.