Free agency is a big part of the NFL offseason. It’s not the determining factor in which teams will make the playoffs and which won’t – just look at the Jaguars – but there are a boatload of players who will contribute right away for their respective teams.
Unfortunately, there were also some bad signings that are bound to backfire. Every team has good signings and poor decisions, they just hope the positives outweigh the potential negatives.
With free agency nearly in the rear-view mirror, let’s take a look at the best and worst move for each team.
Best: Signing Antoine Bethea
The Cardinals lost Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger in free agency, but they attempted to remedy their departures by signing Bethea. He’s not as explosive as those two players, but he does have experience.
Worst: Letting Calais Campbell walk
Campbell has been a staple of Arizona’s defense, and losing him will seriously hurt them on that side of the ball. He’ll be tough to replace.
Best: Signing Dontari Poe
The Falcons needed a big body-mover up front to pair with Grady Jarrett, and Poe is a perfect fit. At $8 million for one year, he’s a low-risk, high-reward signing for the defending NFC champs.
Worst: Not bringing back Patrick DiMarco
DiMarco was a big part of Atlanta’s offense last season, largely thanks to Kyle Shanahan. Steve Sarkisian runs a similar offense, and having DiMarco back as a fullback would have helped Atlanta’s running game.
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Best: Signing Tony Jefferson
Jefferson was the best safety available after Eric Berry re-signed with the Chiefs, and he fits perfectly next to Eric Weddle. He’s an ideal box safety who creates turnovers with ease.
Worst: Allowing Ricky Wagner to get away
Wagner is one of the best right tackles in the league, and losing him will hurt the offensive line. The Lions took him out of Baltimore’s price range, but that doesn’t make it an easier pill to swallow.
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Best: Reworking Tyrod Taylor’s contract
The Bills had to bring Taylor back, and doing so on a cheaper contract was a huge win for them. It keeps some continuity on offense.
Worst: Not targeting a No. 2 receiver
New head coach Sean McDermott said the team’s No. 2 receiver is already on the roster. That’s hard to believe, considering Buffalo's lack of talent beyond Sammy Watkins. The Bills should have signed a future starter in free agency to minimize the need to draft one.
Best: Reuniting with Julius Peppers
This was an offseason of reunions for Carolina, bringing back Peppers and Captain Munnerlyn. The Panthers also re-signed Charles Johnson and Mario Addision, solidifying the defensive line.
Worst: Giving Matt Kalil $55.5 million
Kalil was injured for most of 2016, and before that, he was not very good. Yet, the Panthers thought it’d be smart to give him $55.5 million, tying them to him for at least two years for $25 million.
Best: Paying Prince Amukamara $7 million
Amukamara settled for yet another one-year deal, which is a win for the Bears. He’ll be a solid starter at a position that Chicago was desperate to upgrade. If he plays well, it can lock him up long-term.
Worst: Giving Mike Glennon $45 million
Really, it’s only $18.5 million deal, and the Bears can get out of it after one year, so it wasn’t a terrible signing. But expecting him to start is a bad move. The Bears still need to draft a guy.
Best: Signing Kevin Minter
This is about as good as it gets for Cincinnati. The Bengals overpaid for Dre Kirkpatrick, their biggest re-signing. They’ve had a disastrous offseason so far.
Worst: All of it
What’s been good? They lost Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, and didn’t get better in any facet of the game. They’re poised for a third-place finish in the AFC North.
Best: Signing JC Tretter
Kevin Zeitler was also a good addition, but Tretter was the better value. He has the potential to be a Pro Bowl center for the Browns, especially with Joel Bitonio, Zeitler and Joe Thomas around him.
Worst: Not bringing Terrelle Pryor back
Pryor will be replaced by Kenny Britt this season, but that won’t be an upgrade at receiver. He won’t be cheaper, either, as Pryor will only cost Washington $6 million for one year. On the other hand, Britt will run them $32.5 million for four years.
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Best: Re-signing Terrance Williams
Dallas got an absolute bargain with Williams, who signed a four-year, $17 million contract to remain with the Cowboys. He’s a perfect fit as a No. 2 receiver, and at just over $4 million per year, that’s surprisingly cheap.
Worst: Losing four secondary players
Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church all left in free agency, leaving the Cowboys with four holes to fill in the secondary. They did very little to replace them, but the upcoming draft class is strong.
Best: Adding Ronald Leary
Leary solidifies the left guard position for years to come in Denver, which is crucial. He’s an up-and-coming player and is still relatively young. Leary was the Broncos' biggest signing of the offseason, but perhaps Tony Romo will be next. Speaking of No. 9 …
Worst: Not trading for Tony Romo (yet)
The Broncos aren’t desperate for a quarterback like the Texans are, but surrendering a late-round pick – if that’s what it’ll take – to land Romo would be smart. Stop waiting, Mr. Elway.
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Best: Signing T.J. Lang
Lang fills a void left by Larry Warford and could easily be an upgrade in that department. Ricky Wagner was also a great signing, so it’s essentially a toss-up between those two. Value gives Lang the edge, though.
Worst: Cutting DeAndre Levy
Yes, Levy is 30 years old and has injury concerns, but the Lions are in need of a player of his caliber. When healthy, Levy is a tackling machine. Now Detroit needs to find someone who can viably take his place.
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Green Bay Packers
Best: Signing Martellus Bennett
This was big. The Packers lost Jared Cook but replaced him with a much better tight end – one who Mike McCarthy said could “potentially” be the best in the NFL. Bennett is going to work wonders for Aaron Rodgers.
Worst: Losing Micah Hyde
The Packers lost Lang, Tretter and Peppers, but Hyde will be the biggest loss of their offseason. He’s a versatile weapon in the secondary and a player who will be sorely missed by them.
Best: Trading Brock Osweiler
Need I say more? It cost them a second-round pick, but getting his salary off the books opens the door for Tony Romo.
Worst: Remaining completely idle
The Texans didn’t sign a single outside free agent with their only notable contract move being a three-year deal for tight end Ryan Griffin. That’s it. And yet they have plenty of cap space.
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Best: Landing Jabaal Sheard
Sheard landed a $25.5 million deal, but it’ll work out in the Colts’ favor. He’ll be a good pass rusher for them, whether it’s from a stand-up outside linebacker spot or kicking inside as a defensive end.
Worst: Not signing a right tackle
The Colts are set at left tackle with Anthony Castonzo, but the right tackle spot is a big need. They failed to sign one in free agency, forcing their hand in the draft.
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Best: Signing A.J. Bouye
Bouye will provide a big lift to the secondary with Prince Amukamara gone and will pair nicely with Jalen Ramsey. He was expensive, but the Jaguars are going all in on defense, and this was the perfect move.
Worst: Giving Calais Campbell $30 million guaranteed
Campbell is a great player, there’s no doubting that. However, he’s also 30 years old, and the Jaguars are now committed to $30 million with him. It’s not that he wasn’t worth it, that’s just a lot of money for a player his age over four years.
Berry is one of the three best safeties in the NFL right now, and prioritizing him over Dontari Poe is a decision that will pay off in the long run. They needed to lock him up with a long-term deal.
Worst: Losing Dontari Poe
Since they signed Bennie Logan, losing Poe won’t hurt much. However, during an offseason in which they didn’t have any really bad moves, Poe was the biggest loss.
Los Angeles Chargers
Best: Keeping Melvin Ingram
Ingram is a budding star at outside linebacker, and it was crucial that the Chargers kept him around for 2017. It remains to be seen how he’ll fit in Gus Bradley’s defense, but if he doesn’t work in it next season, the Chargers can move on.
Worst: Giving Russell Okung $53 million
Okung proved he can stay healthy last season, even if his play wasn’t what it once was. It’s obviously a good sign that he may have put his injury concerns aside, but $53 million is a lot of money for a guy of his caliber.
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Los Angeles Rams
Best: Signing Andrew Whitworth
Whitworth gives the Rams and Jared Goff peace of mind that their second-year quarterback won’t have his head ripped off by a blindside hit. He’s among the best left tackles in the game, even if he is older than most.
Worst: Signing Robert Woods to a $34 million contract
Woods is not a No. 1 receiver, even though the Rams paid him like one. He’s never been more than a No. 2, which is what makes this contract so questionable. The Rams still need to add players at wideout, even after signing Woods.
Best: Signing Lawrence Timmons
The Dolphins were relatively quiet in free agency, focusing on re-signing their own players. Adding Timmons brings a physical presence to their linebacker core alongside the newly re-signed Kiko Alonso.
Worst: Giving Kenny Stills nearly $20 million guaranteed
Stills is a good receiver – a solid deep threat. However, to give him $31 million ($19.95 million guaranteed) is a bit ambitious. He now needs to take his game to another level to prove he’s worth $8 million a year.
Best: Signing Riley Reiff
Reiff will move back to left tackle for the Vikings after playing right tackle last season. He’s not going to be a top player at his position, but he’ll be an upgrade over what they had there in 2016.
Worst: Losing Captain Munnerlyn
Munnerlyn didn’t get a great deal of attention in Minnesota’s star-studded secondary, but he was a good nickel back. He could cover the slot and play well against the run, so losing him will hurt in that regard.
New England Patriots
Best: Re-signing Dont'a Hightower
There are a number of different ways you could go here, but bringing back Hightower after he drew interest from the Jets and Steelers was key. He keeps the center of the Patriots’ defense intact as a leader in that department.
Worst: Giving Stephon Gilmore $65 million
The Patriots didn’t really have any bad moves, per se, but $65 million ($40 guaranteed) was bold. He’s had injury concerns in recent years and struggled a bit in 2016, so the Patriots are banking on him improving next season.
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New Orleans Saints
Best: Retaining Nick Fairley
Fairley worked his way to a long-term deal after playing on one-year contracts the past two seasons. He was one of New Orleans’ best defenders last season, and if you’ve seen that defense lately, you know how badly they need playmakers.
Worst: Not signing a starting CB
The cornerback market dried up pretty quickly, but New Orleans not addressing that position will hurt next season. That is, unless the Saints don’t trade for Malcolm Butler, which would be a good move.
New York Giants
Best: Signing Brandon Marshall
This was one of the best signings of the offseason, taking into account his fit and tiny contract. Marshall will have a huge impact on the offense.
Worst: Failing to sign a starting LT
As good as the Giants’ receiving corps are, they still have one glaring need: left tackle. Ereck Flowers looks to be on track to start there once again, which is bad news for Eli Manning and the running game.
New York Jets
Best: Signing Morris Claiborne
Claiborne is a boom-or-bust signing for the Jets, though they only committed $5 million to him – so the risk isn’t overwhelming. If he can play the way he did early in 2016, they’ll be getting a No. 1 cornerback.
Everything besides signing Claiborne. It was all bad. They cut veteran starters, didn’t add any surefire difference-makers, and they’re still the worst team in the AFC East – maybe in all of football.
Best: Signing Jared Cook
Cook played extremely well in Green Bay’s pass-happy offense. Now, he joins another team that loves to throw the ball. Look for the tight end to put up even better numbers in Oakland now that he’s fully healthy.
Worst: Losing Latavius Murray
With a deep draft class and Marshawn Lynch considering un-retiring, this isn’t a huge deal. They still need to find a first- and second-down back, though.
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Best: Adding weapons for Carson Wentz
Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith bring much-needed talent to a receiving group that was one of the worst in the NFL last season. Their additions will help Wentz’s development and give him reliable playmakers on the outside.
Worst: Losing Bennie Logan
Logan got a bit overlooked in Philly playing next to Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox, but he was a terrific run-stopper. His presence in the middle will be missed next season, especially when the Eagles play Ezekiel Elliott.
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Best: Keeping Le’Veon Bell and re-signing Antonio Brown
Priorities Nos. 1 and 2 were taken care of early, and while Brown wasn’t a free agent, keeping him around for the distant future was key. They had to make sure both would be there in 2017.
Worst: Remaining relatively quiet otherwise
Outside of retaining Bell and Brown, the Steelers did almost nothing in free agency. They lost Lawrence Timmons and Jarvis Jones, which isn’t a huge deal, but their additions were minimal.
San Francisco 49ers
Best: Signing Brian Hoyer as insurance
Going into 2017 with Hoyer as the starter would be a mistake, but that’s unlikely to happen. However, signing him was a smart move, seeing as he’s one of the best backups in the NFL.
Worst: Making Kyle Juszczyk the NFL’s highest-paid fullback
I get that Kyle Shanahan likes fullbacks and used Patrick DiMarco a great deal last season, but paying Juszczyk more than double the next highest-paid fullback was shocking.
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Best: Signing Eddie Lacy
Lacy will get a chance to prove he can stay healthy (and in shape), competing with Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise for the starting job. He was a low-risk signing with big upside.
Worst:Adding Luke Joeckel
Joeckel was a huge draft bust for the Jaguars, but the Seahawks are trying to revive his career. That won’t happen. Giving him $8 million for one year will probably prove to be a mistake, but for a team desperate for offensive line help, perhaps it was necessary.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Best: Signing DeSean Jackson
The Bucs needed a complement to Mike Evans, and they got just that in Jackson. He’ll open up the rest of the offense by taking the top off of the defense with his speed, which will in turn help the running game, too.
Worst:Not adding a true free safety
Signing J.J. Wilcox and Chris Conte helps a bit, but the Buccaneers still don’t have a true starting-caliber free safety – especially with Bradley McDougald departing. They’ll have to address that in the draft.
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Best: Signing Logan Ryan
Ryan will be an immediate upgrade at cornerback, a position where the Titans desperately needed help. They’ll still need to draft one or two more, but he brings some much-needed talent to that spot.
Worst: Not improving at WR
The Titans need a wide receiver. There’s no way around it. It’ll likely be their first pick in the draft, and then probably a few more selections after that. Adding Alshon Jeffery would have been perfect.
Best: Signing Terrelle Pryor
Pryor signed for dirt cheap in Washington, which was great for the Redskins. He’ll be a No. 1 receiver with Josh Doctson stepping in as the No. 2. Unfortunately, they lost two receivers, too. Speaking of them …
Worst: Losing DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon
Yeah, this one will hurt. They were both huge weapons for Cousins, and reliable players, too. There are far more question marks that come with Pryor and Doctson.