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Best Free Agent Fits, Most Unexpected Signings, and Biggest Bargains of the Legal Tampering Period

Best Free Agent Fits, Most Unexpected Signings, and Biggest Bargains of the Legal Tampering Period

The legal tampering period began at Noon EST on March 14, and though Free Agency and the NFL calendar year do not officially begin until March 16, a flurry of deals came together during the tampering period.

We have seen teams like Jaguars spend a lot of money right out of the gate, as they have spent over $205M so far on free agents. While other teams like the Raiders and 49ers have not spent very much at all. We have also seen some teams address their key needs, specifically in the trenches where the Bengals, Jets, and Dolphins all took big steps in bolstering the interior of their offensive line. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bills addressed their needs on the interior of the defensive line in a similar fashion.

While there has been some movement of star players like J.C. Jackson and Brandon Scherff, many of the more expensive contracts were given to players that were re-signed by their teams like Mike Willams, Emmanuel Ogbah, Jake Matthews, and Carlton Davis, who all agreed to multi-year contracts north of $15 M APY. 

There have not been many contracts that completely broke the bank, though there were two deals that reset their positional market. Aaron Rodgers’ recent extension, where he signed for just above $50 M APY, and Brandon Scherff's new contract that will pay him $16.5 M APY. Both Davante Adams and Chris Godwin, who are both currently set to play on the franchise tag, will both be looking for extensions that could reset the receiver market. 

Day two was much quieter than day one, as there are still several big-time veterans on the market like Stephon Gilmore, Von Miller, Allen Robinson, Bobby Wagner, and Chandler Jones. Additionally, with all the spending that has gone on, there have been a number of surprising cuts over the last two days including Myles Jack and JC Tretter, who will add to the pool of talented veterans.

In addition to seeing more signings commence over the next few days, talks of extensions may also heat up for certain players. The large contract extension that Maxx Crosby was just awarded may spark some interest between Nick Bosa and the Niners, who likely want to lock up their star pass rusher. While Aaron Rodgers just got his new contract and Davante Adams wanting one as well, it would be no surprise if Jaire Alexander also gets involved in the contract talks too, as he will be playing on his fifth-year option this season. Similarly, DJ Moore, who just saw a second-round receiver from his class in Christian Kirk sign a huge contract, will also want to get paid. 

Below we will take a look at some of the best fits, most surprising deals, and best bargain signings of the first two days. 

Best Free Agent Fits Thus Far:

  • Mitchell Trubisky and the Pittsburgh Steelers

This pairing was one we saw coming considering it was one of Mike Tannenbaum's Top 5 Free Agency Fits published on March 1. From that article:

"For the first time since 2004, the Steelers will be starting an NFL season with a QB not named Ben Roethlisberger. The answer to the Steelers’ QB problem this offseason is not in regard to their current roster. They need to look at the route of trade, free agency, or the draft.

In a perfect world, the Steelers would sign Mitchell Trubisky as their starting QB and they would draft a QB to develop for the future. Both Trubisky and the rookie would work out and have strength at the most important position in all of sports. In the end, Trubisky is a proven winner despite some obstacles. Since 2018, he has had the 4th highest winning percentage amongst active QBs behind only Mahomes, Jackson, and Rodgers with a minimum of 1000 pass attempts (per CBS)."

  • DL DJ Jones and the Denver Broncos

The Broncos have made headlines all off-season thus far, whether it was their trade for Russell Wilson or their signing of highly-touted pass rusher Randy Gregory. In the Wilson trade, they gave up Shelby Harris and had to fill the need upfront in FA. They did that and more by agreeing to a contract with DJ Jones, who has been one of the league’s best run stuffers and most underrated players in his time with the 49ers. Jones is undersized but possesses the quickness and has the upside as a pass rusher to have a lot of success in Denver. Jones is set to earn $30M over the next three seasons. 

  • OG Laken Tomlinson and the New York Jets

With the Jets' offensive line needing a boost, adding 49ers left guard Laken Tomlinson was an excellent fit, albeit at a high price. After coaching Tomlinson in San Francisco for four years, Head Coach Robert Saleh and Offensive Coordinator Mike LaFleur have a precise understanding of how he'll fit both within their wide zone scheme and locker room. Tomlinson is a mauling run blocker who will help open up holes for backs as LaFleur aims to establish the run and capitalize on the play-action threat of second-year quarterback Zach Wilson.

  •  CB J.C. Jackson and the Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers continue to bolster their defense for Brandon Staley, as they are going all in to contend with Justin Herbert still on his rookie deal. This signing is even more evidence of this commitment to improving the defense by any means after they traded for Khalil Mack and signed Sebastian Joseph-Day. Jackson is a very talented player and was a highly touted free agent on the market. He has been one of the most consistent and statistically impressive corners in the league. His performance this past year is what really got him paid, as he was able to play as a true number one corner, despite not playing opposite Stephon Gilmore. He has earned the nickname Mr. INT thanks to his 22 interceptions since 2019, the most in that time span. While this contract could have broken the bank, LA got Jackson at a good price at 16.5 APY, which ranks sixth-most among corners right now.

  • DS Marcus Williams and the Baltimore Ravens

Williams was another heavily desired free agent and was finally locked up in the early afternoon by the Ravens. Williams has been a consistent player every year he has been in the league and has developed into one of the game’s best safeties. The Ravens have a long history of talented safeties and fill one of their biggest needs with Williams. While his asking price was around the top of the market, Baltimore got him to sign on a relatively cheap contract given the expectation at $14 M APY, which currently ranks seventh among safeties. Baltimore will now have a secondary of Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Marcus Williams, and Chuck Clark. 

Most Unexpected Signings:

  • WR Christian Kirk Receiving $18M APY from the Jaguars

No team stole day one of the legal tampering period more than the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars were clearly looking to quickly turn their roster around and add several key players to help their young QB and roster. No signing they made was more surprising than Christian Kirk. 

Kirk, a former second-round pick, had a hard time breaking out in Arizona over the past four years. However in 2021, while DeAndre Hopkins was hurt, Kirk was forced into a bigger role and put up some nice numbers as he had 77 catches, 982 yards, and 5 TDs. That said, nobody could have guessed the contract that Kirk received. For a player that has never cracked 1,000-yards in season, Kirk was locked up for a 4 yr/$72 M contract, good for $18M APY, which ranks ninth in the NFL currently despite new contracts from Davante Adams and Allen Robinson still to come.

Jacksonville’s moves have been a surprise,” said former NFL General Manager Mike Tannenbaum. “They’ve improved themselves at linebacker and receiver, and assuming a productive draft you can see that they are heading in the right direction under head coach Doug Pederson.”

  • Cincinnati signing not one but two starting-caliber OGs

While we did expect Cincinnati to acquire help on the interior, it is a surprise that they would bring in two on the first day of the tampering period. In acquiring Alex Cappa from Tampa Bay for a 4-year, $40 million contract and immediately also bringing in Ted Karras from New England on a 3-year, $18 million contract, the Bengals have shored up their biggest weakness before the calendar year even begins. These two signings signify that the Bengals are not comfortable with their 2021 second-round pick, Jackson Carman, starting at guard after he struggled this year.

  • DT Al Woods re-signing in Seattle for 2 years at $4.5 million APY

Al Woods is a seasoned veteran and was a 16-game starter for the Seahawks in 2021, but signing a soon to be 35-year-old, two-down run stuffer to this type of deal was unexpected. It is likely that the Seahawks felt Woods' presence in the locker room and leadership among the position group justified this type of deal, but even then it is a surprising sum.

  • TE Will Dissly re-signing in Seattle for 3 years at $8 million APY

Dissly has been a good player for Seattle over the past two seasons, mainly as a blocker, so it is understandable why they wanted to keep him in house. That said, the Seahawks just acquired former first-round pick, Noah Fant, as a key piece of the Russell Wilson trade. It was surprising to see Seattle invest $8 million a year to a TE who caught just 21 passes last season. For reference, the Jets signed CJ Uzomah for the same exact price, who caught 49 passes last season.

Best Bargain Signings:

  • DS Justin Reid, Kansas City Chiefs  

Late on Monday, the Chiefs made one of the best signings of the entire day in Justin Reid. Reid has started 53 of 57 games in his career and has been a good player in Houston. He is only 25 years old and the Chiefs were able to address a huge need by signing him for just $10.5M APY, which ranks outside of the top 10 in safety contracts.

  • OG Connor Williams, Miami Dolphins 

The Dolphins were in desperate need of some more offensive lineman, and this move to get Connor Williams helps in a big way. Williams has been a reliable starter for Dallas, playing every game over the last two seasons. He also excels in pass protection where he allowed just 13 pressures last season. The Dolphins were able to get Williams at just $7M APY, which is a great price for a good starter.

  • EDGE Haason Reddick, Philadelphia Eagles

Reddick should have been paid last offseason, as he made that clear by impressing on his prove-it deal with the Panthers. Reddick has had 23.5 sacks and eight FF over the last two seasons, as he has developed into a consistent and disruptive pass rusher. 

Former Eagles President Joe Banner graded the Reddick signing as an “A” in his Day 1 Free Agency Grades:

“Looking at the EDGE market, Reddick’s contract is nearly identical to the deal Carl Lawson got from the Jets last offseason,” Banner writes. “But the cap was $182.5M then, and Lawson is an inferior player. 

We’re already seeing the impact of Reddick’s deal on the market. Chandler Jones has not signed yet because of how confusing this contract is from the player’s perspective. Unless Reddick took less to return home to Philly — he played at Temple and is from Camden, NJ — there’s really no explanation for this APY. It’s either a hometown discount or other teams were asleep at the wheel.” 

  • LB De'Vondre Campbell - Green Bay Packers

While Campbell will be staying in Green Bay, it would be silly to not mention this contract when talking about bargains. Campbell, who signed a 1yr/$2M contract before last season, put together a very good year, in which he earned an All-Pro selection. 

Campbell was clearly going to get paid as a result of his performance and did just that. However, the Packers got a bargain, as they locked him up for 5yr/$50M. Although it is a long contract, at just $10M APY, Campbell ranks outside of the top 10 LB contracts, lower than former Green Bay LB, Blake Martinez, who has not been anywhere close to as good as Campbell.