One of the most exciting moments of any sports season, is when the start of free agency opens. Deals fly at you with rapid speed, and before you know it, your team has decided to completely revamp their offense or defensive scheme. The 2016 offseason was no exception, and while free agency is still young, there have already been some monumental deals struck.
The cap is continuing to rise in the NFL, making these contracts all the more alarming to the casual fan. One thing is for sure though, the 20 names on this list all have the chance to be a significant difference maker for their team. Not to mention the overall impact that free agency can have on your necessary needs. The Broncos may have hoped to have Brock Osweiler to replace Peyton Manning, until Houston came and woo'd him away. Now the defending Super Bowl champs are reeling, and rumors are heavily circulating that Colin Kaepernick could be coming to the Mile High City.
The free agents this year (including Osweiler), may have cost a pretty penny, but I’ll outline not only what contract they received, but the role or impact that they could potentially have in their new spot. Plus that big number may look intimidating, but we all know it is the guaranteed money that matters to these players, so that is also outlined below.
Not every player that signed is going to be an impact player, and sometimes teams will bust hard on a free agent signing, but it doesn’t make it any less exciting for fans as they will remain optimistic.
While it is not possible to look into the future and see who on this list is going to end up being a smart choice, there were a lot of deals struck in the first few days of free agency that should lead to a shake-up in who the top teams in the NFL may be.
20 Jeremy Lane - Seattle Seahawks
I am going to open with the fact that I am a huge Seahawks fan, but that doesn’t make this deal any less exciting. Jeremy Lane re-signed with Seattle for 4 years, at 23 million with 11 million of that being guaranteed. Lane has outstanding experience as a slot corner for Seattle, but with his new contract, fans are hoping he’ll be able to slide into the number two CB slot. The big factor of the deal is the fact that it is for four years. While many would have expected a one year 'prove it" deal because Lane missed half of this past season with injury, Lane clearly displayed that he was comfortable in settling down in Seattle. As a result, by the end of this deal, Lane may end up looking like a steal.
Given that Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor are also all locked down, Lane allows the Seahawks to know they are solidified in their secondary going into this years draft.
19 Mario Williams - Miami Dolphins
Mario Williams could have had himself a nice career in Buffalo. In 2012, he signed a ridiculously huge six year, 100 million dollar contract.
Instead he got lazy, openly complained about Rex Ryan’s system and found himself cut and a free agent in 2016. There’s no doubt he’s talented, but he’s also getting older and it’s never great to see an awful attitude be so openly displayed. The Dolphins signed Williams for two years, at $17 million and 11.9 million of that is guaranteed. There’s no doubt that getting cut from Buffalo is going to cost Williams some serious coin, so let’s hope he’ll fix his attitude and be able to contribute to Miami. With Ndamukong Suh (and potentially Cameron Wake) by his side, Williams should have all the tools necessary to succeed.
18 Chris Ivory - Jacksonville Jaguars
T.J Yeldon is an incredibly talented running back, but going into his second year the Jacksonville Jaguars felt they needed someone else to help take the load off. Enter Chris Ivory, who excelled with the Jets in New York playing a similar role to Bilal Powell. Ivory was one of the best running backs in football last year, excelling in yards after contact and even though he had his down games, he should excel in Jacksonville. Blake Bortles is continuing to evolve as a passer, and they have one of the youngest and most explosive receiving cores out there. Ivory is going to make sure that teams are focusing on all elements of their game. He signed with the Jags for five years and 32 million, but only 10 million dollars of the deal is guaranteed.
17 Sean Smith - Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders are clearly not afraid to do some spending this offseason. They brought in several key pieces to bolster their team (see below for more), including the talented cornerback Sean Smith. Smith was a shutdown corner for most of his time in Kansas City, and is joining an Oakland team that should not struggle to get pressure on the quarterback. Raider fans will always miss Charles Woodson, but Smith is still going to be dependable. He signed a respectable four year contract, worth 40 million with 20 million of that being guaranteed.
16 Lamar Miller - Houston Texans
If you are going to try and revamp your offense with a new quarterback, why not try and get a new running back while you are at it? Lamar Miller came to Houston on a reasonable four year deal, worth 26 million, with 14 million guaranteed. The deal is also written in a way that allows for a buyout after two years.
For Texans fans, they need to hope for a healthy running back after seeing Arian Foster struggle to stay on the field. Miller is a talented running back, but he was horribly used at times in Miami. But he’s also versatile, able to catch out of the backfrield, and is a talented back near the Red Zone, which is an area of concern for Texans fans in the past (after all, they can’t just throw it to J.J Watt every time!).
15 Doug Martin - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If you have a young quarterback, as you do with Jameis Winston, one of the big things that you need to hope for is a strong running game to help take the pressure off. Doug Martin isn’t the best back in the league, but he runs hard and has spent his entire career with Tampa Bay. The Bucs re-signed him to a five year $35.75 million dollar deal with 15 million guaranteed. While it’s great to see Martin back in a Bucs uniform, I cannot imagine he’ll still be their guy in five years. A shorter contract would have been more advantageous for the Bucs, but you can’t blame Martin for trying to get some longer term security.
14 Danny Trevathan - Chicago Bears
Danny Trevathan is one of the best linebackers in football, and is just starting to enter his prime. This past season he racked up over 100 tackles for the Denver Broncos, and was arguably the best linebacker to hit free agency this season. The Bears were able to snatch him up for four years at 28 million with 12 million guaranteed. If Trevathan continues to improve, that contract is going to look like a steal by the end of it. It definitely won’t hurt that his former head coach, John Fox, is the head guy in Chicago. Given that he’ll have to face Aaron Rodgers at least twice a year, Bears fans can rest easy that Trevathan is also becoming one of the better coverage linebackers in football.
13 Matt Forte - New York Jets
If you want to talk about things that are going to be weird to see next year, how about the fact that Matt Forte is going to be suiting up in a Jets uniform? Forte was the face of the Bears, but age has caught up to him and he’s not the player he once was. The emergence of Jeremy Langford in Chicago also played a factor in Forte’s departure. In New York, he steps into a running back role that will presumembly be shared with Bilial Powell. He signed with the Jets for three years at 12 million with 8 million guaranteed. The Jets clearly had to do something after losing Chris Ivory, and you also can’t downplay the veteran presence that Forte is going to bring.
12 Jermaine Kearse - Seattle Seahawks
Before the free agency period opened, there were heavy indications that Jermaine Kearse was expected to leave the Seahawks. Looking for his first real NFL contract, Kearse clearly wasn’t happy enough with the other suitors, and agreed to return to Seattle on a three year 13.5 million dollar deal with 6.3 million guaranteed. Kearse can disappear at times, but he’s also made major impact plays in high stakes moments. It takes one NFC Championship game winning catch again, to make all Seahawk fans glad they took him back. Lets just hope he’s able to stop his drops and is able to be a more consistent player.
One thing you also can’t downplay is the role of chemistry that Kearse has displayed with Russell Wilson. There is no doubt that the Seahawks will get the best out of Kearse, and there is not a better fit for him anywhere in the league, then in Seattle.
11 Marvin Jones - Detroit Lions
When Calvin Johnson announced that he was going to retire, the Detroit Lions clearly knew they needed to do something to help their wide receiving core. They have Golden Tate, but he can only do so much. The Lions may have overpaid, but bringing in Marvin Jones will hopefully seem like a smart move. Jones is 25-years-old, and signed a five year contract, worth 40 million with 8 million of that in guaranteed money. While this may seem high to people who don't recognize Jones, he is still developing and was considered by many to be the top free agent wide receiver. For the Bengals in 2015, Jones recorded 65 catches and 816 yards. Respectable numbers, especially when you consider he was playing alongside A.J Green.
10 George Iloka - Cincinatti Bengals
One of the most integral parts of your defense, is making sure you have a talented safety. Especially as the league continues to move into passer-friendly rules, it only takes two or three big deep plays to have you cursing whoever your safeties are. It’s clear that the Cincinnati Bengals organization realizes this, and worked hard to make sure that their own player, George illoka, was not going to leave town.
Originally drafted in the fifth round, Iloka is a proven starter in the league and received a five year contract, worth 30 million dollars with 5 million guaranteed. The deal is front-loaded to have him earn 18 million in the first three years, so don’t be shocked to see a re-negation once he outperforms that deal.
9 Travis Benjamin - San Diego Chargers
The Cleveland Browns have not been a good football team for quite some time. That may have been why Travis Benjamin didn’t seem too heartbroken to leave them and sign with the San Diego Chargers. Benjamin is coming off a season where he posted 966 yards with five TD’s over 68 receptions. There is no doubt that Philip Rivers is not a better quarterback than whoever they’ll have in Cleveland, and Benjamin could form a great tandem with Keenan Allen.
Benjamin signed with the Chargers for four years worth 24 million with 13 million guaranteed. Benjamin has only had one great season, so hopefully it won’t be a flash in the pan, or Charger fans are going to have another reason to be sad.
8 Janoris Jenkins - New York Giants
The New York Giants were not afraid to spend some money this offseason. They went after strong pass-rushers, but one of the biggest difference makers is going to come in Janoris Jenkins. The former St. Louis Ram, Jenkins was the best coverage player available. He clearly knew that, and commanded a whopping five year, $62.5 million dollar contract with 28.8 million guaranteed. After signing with the Giants, Jenkins came out and said he needs to "stop being so lazy at the end of games." It’s easy to see why he would mentally check-out when playing for the terrible Rams, but it’s also clearly unacceptable at the professional level. Giants fans better hope that Jenkins is going to be able to improve his focus, as well as continue to be a big playmaker.
7 Alex Mack - Atlanta Falcons
Alex Mack was clearly not happy with his time in Cleveland, so it shouldn’t have come as a huge shock to Browns fans that he opted out of the last three years of his contract, especially with what he got offered as a free agent. Mack joins the Atlanta Falcons on a five year contract worth 42 million with 18 million guaranteed.
Mack is a three-time Pro Bowl player, and will be an anchor on a Falcons team that needs a turnaround. Helping his decision may have been the ability to reunite with Kyle Shanahan, who was formerly the offensive coordinator in Cleveland before taking over that role in Atlanta.
6 Jason Pierre-Paul - New York Giants
How many questions do you think Jason Pierre-Paul had to answer about the infamous firework injury, that cost him most of the season and part of his hand? Perhaps he re-signed with New York just because at least they already knew all the details He’s one of the best players in football, but only recorded one sack after returning to the field wearing a "club" on his injured hand. He is clearly looking to try and rebound strongly in 2016, and signed a one year contract worth 10.5 million with 8.5 million guaranteed. He was reportedly incredibly close to a deal with the Arizona Cardinals, so keep your eye on them in the next offseason. The real question here is whether or not JPP is going to be able to put together a strong sixteen games? If-so, you can expect him to be one of the biggest free agents next year.
5 Kelechi Osemele - Oakland Raiders
Kelechi Osemele might not be a household name, but there is little doubt that he did not deserve his five year contract of $58.5 million that he signed with the Oakland Raiders. Osewele also has roughly 25 million dollars of that contract in guaranteed money.
Coming from Baltimore, Osemele is a talented guard, who is going to play a huge role in allowing Latavius Murray to continue to develop as a running back. Not to mention it may be helpful keeping Carr on his feet. The offensive line can be some of the toughest positions to develop players at, and Osemele is solid. Oakland got a proven player, with a great deal and will go a long way to building stability along the line.
4 Bruce Irvin - Oakland Raiders
Oakland had a ton of cap space going into the start of free agency, so it should be no surprise that they appeared multiple times on this list. One of the smarter moves they made on the defensive side of the ball, was pulling in Bruce Irvin from the Seahawks. Irvin isn’t a gamechanger, but he’s got an attitude and is able to set the edge wonderfully as a pass rusher. He has experience working with defensive coordinator, Ken Norton, and will be an outstanding tandem with Khalil Mack. Irvin is locked in for four years, at 37 million with a guaranteed salary of 12.5 million but he’s shown significant improvement in each of his seasons. If Oakland makes a playoff run, Irvin’s experience could also come in handy with the young team.
3 Brock Osweiler - Houston Texans
How much do you pay a quarterback that has only played 18 games? How about $72 million over four years, with 30 million of that being guaranteed. The Broncos may be in panic mode after Brock Osweiler has stepped away from the city of Denver and into a Texans uniform. There was no doubt that the Texans weren’t going to be scrambling for a quarterback, especially after Hoyer’s performance last year. Is Brock going to be that answer? He’s had some nice moments, but also some maddening moments. Statistically, Brock’s numbers were not all that better than Hoyer’s last year, but the upside is clearly significantly better with Brock, so at the very least the signing should put sense of optimism back in the fanbase.
2 Olivier Vernon - New York Giants
There is no doubting that Olivier Vernon can get at the quarterback. This past season, he registered 36 Quarterback Knockdowns with the Miami Dolphins. The Giants are hoping he'll be able to work alongside Jason Pierre-Paul, as they signed him to a five year contract worth 85 million dollars. On top of this, Vernon is going to be making a guaranteed $52.5 million dollars, which is more then J.J Watt was guaranteed when he signed his contract. Buyer beware as well, as Vernon has spent part of his career playing with either Cameron Wake or Ndamukong Suh. While he’s still got some talent around him, with players such as the aforementioned Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants better be hoping that Vernon is going to continue evolving into one of the best defenders in the game, and I just don’t see it.
1 Malik Jackson - Jacksonville Jaguars
In case you were living under a rock, the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50 this past year. Their success is much more attributed to their stingy defense than their offense, but they received a huge blow when Malik Jackson signed with Jacksonville. Jackson is one of the top defensive tackles in Football, and is only 26-years-old, so you need to hope he’s only going to keep improving. Ranked as the top difference maker as a free agent, by NFL.com, Jackson earned himself a six year contract for $90 million, with $42 million guaranteed. Let’s hope he’s going to be able to still be effective without Demarcus Ware or Von Miller by his side.