The 2016 class of free agents was about as good as it gets. It was filled with talent on both sides of the ball, from a premier pass rusher to a three-down back. Teams doled out a lot of money to bring in those franchise-changing players, and for the most part, it paid off.
While some free agents flaked in Year 1 with their new teams, these 15 did not disappoint. When it comes to players who landed in new cities, they were the best of the best – whether they were found in the bargain bin or received top-dollar contracts.
With free agency just a few weeks away, let’s take a look at the best signings from last offseason (only players who signed with new teams).
Mohamed Sanu, WR, Falcons
Sanu didn’t have a 1,000-yard season or make the Pro Bowl, but he was an important piece in Atlanta’s offense. With Julio Jones on one side, Sanu doesn’t get targeted like a No. 1 receiver, but he makes plays when the ball does come his way. His numbers (59 catches, 653 yards) don’t tell the whole story.
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Brent Grimes, CB, Buccaneers
Grimes looked like he was on a steep decline after struggling in 2015, but he bounced back nicely this past season in Tampa Bay. The Bucs took a tiny risk on the veteran cornerback by paying him $7 million guaranteed over two seasons, and it was worth it as he pulled down four picks.
Rodney McLeod, S, Eagles
McLeod isn’t a turnover machine at safety, which is why he doesn’t get a great deal of attention as a top guy at his position. He was consistent and played very well this past season after a breakout 2015 season when he was ranked the No. 10 safety by Pro Football Focus. He’s not exactly cheap at $7 million per year, but he’s reliable.
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Nick Fairley, DT, Saints
Fairley played out his second “prove-it” deal in as many seasons, doing so to the tune of a career-high 6.5 sacks and 43 total tackles. The big defensive tackle is certain to get a lucrative long-term deal now after staying healthy and productive for all 16 games.
Marvin Jones, WR, Lions
Jones became more of a household name this past year in Detroit, setting a career high with 930 yards. He was a good complement to Golden Tate, and while he didn’t replace Calvin Johnson, he did provide Matthew Stafford with another weapon. He’ll be even better next season, his second in Detroit.
Zach Brown, LB, Bills
Zach Brown came out of nowhere to finish second in the NFL with 149 tackles. He filled the void at inside linebacker for the Bills, at a remarkably cheap price (one year, $1.25 million). The Bills will need to bring him back next season, but it’ll cost much more.
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Lamar Miller, RB, Texans
Miller finally got his due this season when the Texans utilized him as a true No. 1 back – something he never experienced in Miami with his workload being unfathomably limited. Despite missing two games, Miller still rushed for 1,073 yards and five touchdowns, giving the Texans a consistent ground game.
Kelechi Osemele, OL, Raiders
Osemele was a huge part of the Raiders’ outstanding offensive line, allowing zero sacks all season. Oakland made him the highest-paid guard in the league at $11.7 million per year, because he’s young, effective and protects the Raiders’ biggest asset: Derek Carr. Osemele was a game-changing signing for Oakland.
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Janoris Jenkins, CB, Giants
Jenkins started off slow with a lack of turnovers, but he finished with three interceptions and was a lockdown corner for the Giants. He was expensive and a decent risk for New York, but as long as he continues to play the way he did in 2016, he’ll be worth it for years.
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Lorenzo Alexander, LB, Bills
Alexander was a no-name guy before this past season. That didn’t bother him, though, as he turned in 12.5 sacks and one interception in 2016 for the Bills. That’s more than he had in his career prior to this season, which shows just how big of a surprise he was. Oh, and it cost the Bills only $885,000 for one year.
Alex Mack, C, Falcons
Centers don’t often get credit for being great free agent signings, but Mack transformed the Falcons’ offensive line. He was the best offensive line pickup of last offseason, elevating the play of everyone around him. The Browns are kicking themselves for letting a good one go.
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Josh Norman, CB, Redskins
The Redskins were fortunate that Norman hit the open market in a bizarre split with the Panthers after they rescinded his franchise tag. He was misused by the coaching staff early in the season, but as the year went on, he got better, finishing with three interceptions. Norman remains one of the premier cover men in the NFL, even if he is the highest-paid.
Eric Weddle, S, Ravens
Weddle’s exit from San Diego was a messy one as the Chargers clearly didn’t think he was still an elite safety. They were wrong. Weddle turned in one of his best seasons yet in his first with the Ravens. There are probably 20 teams that wish they had signed him, considering he’s just the 10th highest-paid free safety in the NFL.
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Olivier Vernon, DE, Giants
The Giants broke the bank to bring in Vernon, making him one of the highest-paid defenders ever. It was worth it. While his sack numbers (8.5) weren’t astronomical, he generated pressure so often that his presence was felt on a regular basis. He fit perfectly in the Giants’ revamped defense.
Casey Hayward, CB, Chargers
Hayward wasn’t just the best bargain of 2016 free agency, he was the best overall signing. One of the top cornerbacks in the NFL last season, Hayward led the league with seven interceptions. He did so by following No. 1 receivers, too, playing the second-most snaps in coverage against opposing No. 1 wideouts. That three-year, $15.3 million deal is a steal for the Chargers.