With every team having played at least eight games I wanted to look back at free agency and look at how some of the signings have fared. For this post we will look at who, thus far, looks to be the best signings of the year (my selections for worst can be viewed here). Many of these signings were pretty under the radar when they happened which goes to show how unpredictable free agency is. In order to qualify, a player had to switch teams this year in free agency, so a free agent opting to return to his former team would not count (i.e. Geno Smith) nor would a contract extension (i.e. Maxx Crosby).
10. Von Miller, Bills- 6 Years, $120M, $45M guaranteed
I was a little hesitant to include Miller because his contract is massive and there is a great deal of guaranteed money still to come for an older player, but Miller has certainly impacted the Bills defense and given them a consistent presence for their pass rush. Miller is on pace for 14 sacks and while there have been better value signings I think Miller has hit most of the expectations of the Bills so far. Probably not a contract for the long haul that works out but short term it has been a winner.
9. Mack Hollins, Raiders- 1 Year, $2M, $700k guaranteed
Hollins is a standout special teams player and paid for that role but has developed into a vital piece of the Raiders offense. Hollins is playing 93% of the Raiders offensive snaps this year and is on pace for an 800 yard season. He has outplayed the far more expensive Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller when they have been healthy and has likely set himself up for a big raise in 2023 if he continues to establish himself as a number two receiver.
8. Ethan Pocic, Browns- 1 Year, $1.2M, $1M guaranteed
Many teams subscribe to the belief that center is a position that can get good production from lower cost players and that has certainly been the case for the Browns and Pocic, who the team signed in late March to compete for the job. He has been outstanding- PFF grades him second among all centers and we have him valued as the third best center on the season. His stock should increase significantly in next years free agent group, but for this year it was incredible value for the Browns.
7. Jacoby Brissett, Browns- 1 Years, $4.7M, $4.5M guaranteed
The Browns had no idea how many games Brissett would be needed for when they made this signing but they did a good job in targeting him. Brissett is earning millions less than what he earned as a Colt and even a few dollars less than his run with the Dolphins and he has had the best season of his career, averaging over 230 yards per game, a QBR of 61.5, and a PFF passer grade over 70. While the Browns are only 3-5 he isn’t the reason for their record and is giving the team great value at his salary.
6. Steven Nelson, Texans- 2 Years, $9M, $4.5M guaranteed
While the Texans are slowly fading into oblivion Nelson is quietly having a Pro Bowl level season allowing around 10 yards per reception on a 60% reception rate. You can easily make the case that he has been a top 15 player at the position and the Texans have some terrific cost certainty with Nelson also under contract for the 2023 league year.
5. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chiefs- 1 Year, $3.8M, $2.5M guaranteed
The Chiefs were interested in Smith-Schuster in 2021 and he turned them down to return to Pittsburgh but the Chiefs remained interested and took a chance this year and it has really paid off for the team so far. Smith-Schuster is second to only Travis Kelce in targets, receptions and yards and has shown a much better connection with Patrick Mahomes than any of their other free agents or draft selections. He is on pace for well over 1,000 yards which will reduce the “value” in the contract (odds are he will earn at least $4.5 million in incentives) but this has been a major pickup for the powerful Chiefs offense.
4. Uchenna Nwosu, Seahawks- 2 Years, $19.1M, $10.6M guaranteed
The Seahawks envisioned an expanding role for Nwosu when they signed him away from the Chargers and he has already more than earned his contract for the year. Nwosu is playing 80% of the Seahawks defensive snaps and has produced 35 pressures, 8 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. He has just about matched his career high in every possible statistical category and he still has 8 games left in the season.
3. James Bradberry, Eagles- 1 Year, $7.3M, $7.3M guaranteed
The Giants tried to trade Bradberry this offseason and found no takers, allowing the Eagles to swoop in and take a one year flier on Bradberry to see if he could recapture what once made him one of the hottest free agent cornerbacks a few years ago. Bradberry has dominated since becoming an Eagle this year. His 38.4 passer rating against is the third best in the NFL and we have him valued at nearly $18M in production. This is arguably the best non-QB value free agent in the NFL with the only negative being that he is under contract for one season and will likely command a major raise next year.
2. Za’Darius Smith, Vikings- 3 Years, $42M, $11.5M guaranteed
Smith has been an outstanding pickup for the Vikings. His 46 pressures lead the NFL and he has 8.5 sacks on the year. I’m not sure anyone saw this coming as he entered free agency off injury and was making the turn to 30 this year. We have him providing the Vikings with $25M in value with his performance this year which is basically top of the line production for an edge rusher. The only reason I didn’t put him at number 1 is simply because of all the incentives in this contract. While nobody is going to complain about him earning them, his effective cap charge next year will be over $22M following adjustments and LTBE valuations on the cap.
1. D.J. Reed, Jets- 3 Years, $33M, $21M guaranteed
While all of the attention on the Jets defensive turnaround has been focused on the great play of 1st rounder Sauce Gardner, it has been the addition of Reed that has prevented the opposition from taking advantage of the matchups across from Gardner. Reed has been fantastic this year allowing under 9 yards per reception and building on his breakout season in Seattle last year and has yet to miss a snap. Reed is the 18th highest paid corner in the NFL and is ranked 11th in coverage by PFF and carries the 5th highest OTC CB valuation at just under $20 million. An incredible bargain paying immediate dividends for the Jets.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.