Highlighting the Best Offseason Move at Every Position so Far
Free agency is a wild free-for-all in the NFL. The league year opens up and there is an annual feeding frenzy that sees scores of players on new teams.
The goal, of course, is to address needs—or make splashes and energize fanbases, if some pundits are to be believed.
With all the moves teams made, which ones were the best at each position? Some of these were simply the best values at their positions based on contract size and past performance. Others were the best of a meager offering—there was simply nothing at a couple of positions.
The quarterback market is typically low-key in free agency. The best quarterbacks are almost always re-signed, leaving backups and low-level starters as the only available targets.
Hence, this year's best move at the position was made by the New York Jets. You read that correctly—after all, quality hasn't exactly been the name of the game under center in recent years for the Jets.
Granted, the Jets traded one backup quarterback for another after they let Mark Sanchez go, but it was a big upgrade. Vick may have been inconsistent throughout his career, but don't expect any butt-fumbles from him.
Of course, that is if he gets on the field. Vick was brought on as a backup to second-year man Geno Smith. Vick is not only a backup, he is a mentor with a host of experience in overcoming adversity. Sanchez faced his share of adversity, but succumbing is the opposite of overcoming.
Should Smith get hurt or drastically underperform, Vick has shown he is still capable of big things at 33 years old. Who knows what he might accomplish if given the chance to play for New York?
By far the worst position to play if you were a free agent this year was running back. The laws of supply and demand combined with an increasingly pass-happy league conspired to depress the market at the position.
Ben Tate was a fantastic pickup for the Cleveland Browns, who were all but devoid of talent at the position last season. That was before they traded Trent Richardson away.
Cleveland was 28th in the league in rushing and 23rd in rushing average behind the attack of the incomparable Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya, Edwin Baker and Richardson.
Tate was signed to rectify that situation, a great pickup for the Browns. He had a down season with the Texans last year, but who didn't? He is still averaging 4.7 yards per carry for his career.
The best part is Tate's price tag, a mere two years and $6.2 million. The 25-year-old might have gotten four or five times that much if we were in the year 2010 or earlier, but these are dark times for running backs.
Tate's job was immediately threatened by rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. Even so, it's hard to argue with the bargain Cleveland got on the best running back on the market.
Some quality receivers swapped jerseys this offseason. The question is: Which one was the best value?
Eric Decker was a huge upgrade for the New York Jets, but is he really capable of being a No. 1 receiver? He signed the richest contract of the offseason at the wide receiver position, but his production undoubtedly benefited from the Peyton Manning factor.
Hakeem Nicks was a great deal at one year and $3.5 million with the Indianapolis Colts, but his 2013 season wasn't exactly inspiring.
The answer lies in the middle—James Jones, who signed a three-year, $11.3 million with the Oakland Raiders.
Jones isn't a No. 1 receiver, but he has been an underrated commodity in Green Bay for the past few seasons. He has stepped up when other receivers have been injured and has done a good job of keeping himself on the field—he's played in all 16 games in five of his seven seasons.
Touchdowns are finicky for receivers—a big year doesn't necessarily predict future success, as his subsequent season proves—but it's hard to believe a guy who scored 14 touchdowns two seasons ago got so little on the open market. Besides, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was out for nearly half the season.
Jones will be a solid, veteran option for whoever lines up under center in the coming years.
Much like it was at quarterback, free agency was a desolate wasteland at the tight end position.
With Jimmy Graham getting slapped with the franchise tag, there wasn't much to go around on the open market. The relatively good options stayed put—Garrett Graham is still in Houston, Brandon Pettigrew is still in Detroit and Andrew Quarless is still in Green Bay, for example.
Graham's contract extension came after the Texans cut his starting predecessor, Owen Daniels, despite a productive career in Houston. The fact he played just five games last season likely sealed his fate.
Daniels landed in Baltimore with the Ravens on a one-year, $1 million deal. He will be second banana to Dennis Pitta, but Daniels brings a solid game with nice potential to produce at the second tight end position.
Again, the tight end position wasn't particularly good in free agency.
Big money was spent on offensive linemen this offseason.
Rodger Saffold and Austin Howard are going to play guard for their respective teams, and they both got contracts of at least $30 million.
One guard who didn't cash in as much, despite deserving it more, was Jon Asamoah, who signed a five-year, $22.5 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons.
The former Kansas City guard should be a big improvement in the middle of that offensive line.
Asamoah has been among the better offensive guards rated by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in recent years. He was 20th-best guard in the league last season despite being hampered by injuries that ultimately kept him out of four games.
With so many big deals being signed by offensive linemen, Asamoah's practically went unnoticed. The Falcons needed to upgrade their offensive line and Asamoah was an excellent start.
Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher was shown the door in Dallas after eight solid seasons as a Cowboy. It's not that Hatcher wasn't good—he did have his best statistical season in 2013, after all—but the Cowboys couldn't afford to keep him.
It was going to be tough for the Cowboys to replace Hatcher. That is, of course, until Henry Melton came calling. Well, the Cowboys did the calling, but Melton answered.
The big defensive tackle was among the best in the league heading into the 2013 season, amassing 13 sacks over the previous two seasons. He was the seventh-best defensive tackle in the league in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus.
He was lost for the season early with a torn ACL, however. His injury was a big blow to that Bears defense, which was rather soft in the middle.
It was an unfortunate result for Melton, who was playing on a one-year deal after being hit with the franchise tag last year. His long-term security may have been impacted as he was only able to secure a four-year, $29 million deal that is essentially a one-year deal with a three-year club option.
Of course, if all goes well, Melton will be a Cowboy for the next four seasons and possibly beyond. Based on his performance prior to the injury, he should earn that option if he can stay healthy.
Linebacker is a bit tricky, given there are several types. There are run-stuffing thumpers, coverage savants, pass-rushers and jacks of all trades.
Regardless, there weren't many big names changing teams this year.
Brandon Spikes is an aforementioned thumper in the middle, and the Buffalo Bills made a great move when they snagged him on a one-year deal after the New England Patriots released him.
The best move at the position? That is a tough call, but let's roll with Lamarr Woodley.
The former Steeler was cut by Pittsburgh because of salary cap issues, and he took his talents west to the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Oakland Raiders had many areas to address in free agency, and Woodley was part of the massive overhaul on the defensive side. He signed a two-year, $12 million deal to team up with fellow newcomers Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith on that defensive front.
Woodley has been hampered by injury for a few years now, which is a big reason why the Steelers finally let him go and his new contract was relatively small. Despite those injuries, Woodley has been among the best 3-4 outside linebackers in recent years according to Pro Football Focus.
He just hasn't been on the field as much as his fans would like.
Signing Woodley brought more than just a good pas-rusher to Oakland. Aside from a quality player, the Raiders got a great mentor for incoming rookie linebacker, Khalil Mack.
Most of the players on this list made it because they were such great deals. This one was simply a great signing in a vacuum.
Darrelle Revis is arguably the best cornerback in the league. Despite recovering from a torn ACL and playing in a Tampa Bay defense ill-suited for his particular set of skills, Revis was rated as the top cornerback last season over at Pro Football Focus.
The fact the Patriots had to spend $12 million to sign him to a one-year deal is just the cost of doing business with a guy like Revis. Head coach Bill Belichick is going to be able to scheme around Revis, who is capable of locking down one side of the field.
The flexibility this move afforded Belichick cannot be underestimated.
The Patriots have dealt with subpar secondary play for years now, despite his best efforts to improve that area of the team.
New England can even keep Revis for a second year, but it will have to exercise a $20 million option to do so. Even if Revis fully delivers in his first season, it's difficult to believe anyone will pay him $20 million.
Still, the Patriots have the inside track on signing Revis to a long-term deal after next season, an added bonus to nabbing him for $12 million.
Before free agency opened up, Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward were easily the two best safeties available. They are very different safeties, but both have ranked among the best in the league for the past several seasons.
While nobody could fault the New Orleans Saints for inking Byrd to a six-year, $56 million contract, that number seems mind-bogglingly huge when compared to what Ward got.
The Denver Broncos scored Ward for a mere four years and $22.5 million, a steal of a deal in comparison. That is the case when juxtaposing Ward's deal to what other safeties got.
Donte Whitner got four years and $28 million—though Ward got a bit more guaranteed—and his replacement in San Francisco, Antoine Bethea, signed a $21 million deal.
To put that into perspective: Ward was the sixth-best safety in the league last season according to Pro Football Focus. Whitner and Bethea were 59th and 69th, respectively.
The Broncos solved their safety problem while staying financially flexible.
They say special teams are one-third of the game. If that's the case, the Atlanta Falcons got a whole lot better this offseason.
The Falcons weren't particularly good in the return game last season. Jacquizz Rodgers was 22nd in kickoff return average, while Robert McClain was 10th in punt return average.
Devin Hester—one of the best returners in the history of the NFL—still has it, however, ranking seventh and fourth in those categories, respectively.
He may not have much use outside the return game, but any small edge could be the difference between victory and defeat on any given Sunday.
All salary cap information courtesy of Spotrac.com.
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