Philadelphia safety Walter Thurmond | Former team: New York Giants | How acquired: Free agency (one year, $3.25 million, $2M guaranteed)
A cornerback during his first five years in the NFL, Thurmond has made a nice adjustment to the safety spot in Philadelphia following a 2014 campaign with the Giants cut short after just two games by a season-ending pectoral injury. Thurmond already has accumulated career highs in tackles (69), sacks (two), forced fumbles (two) and interceptions (two).
Getty ImagesGregory Shamus
Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor | Former team: Baltimore | How acquired: Free agency (three years, $3.35 million, $1.15M guaranteed)
After serving as a backup behind Joe Flacco the past four seasons, Taylor won the starting spot in Buffalo during training camp and solidified himself at the position ever since with prudent decision-making (18 TD passes, just five interceptions). Taylor’s playing time also voided the final year of his contract, making him set to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2016 campaign.
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY SportsKevin Hoffman
Tennessee outside linebacker Brian Orakpo | Former team: Washington | How acquired: Free agency (four years, $31 million, $13.5M guaranteed)
Finally free of the pectoral muscle injuries that ruined his 2012 and 2014 seasons with the Redskins. Orakpo has a team-high seven sacks for the Titans, bolstering what was one of the NFL’s worst pass-rushing defenses.
Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY SportsScott Galvin
New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick | Former team: Houston | How acquired: Trade
Considering the quarterbacking situations of both teams, the Jets stole Fitzpatrick from the Texans for a mere sixth-round draft choice. Fitzpatrick has tossed nine touchdown passes without an interception in New York’s current three-game winning streak and has 25 scores overall for the season.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsBrad Penner
New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis | Former team: New England | How acquired: Free agency (five years, $70.12 million, $39M guaranteed)
At age 30, Revis may no longer be the NFL’s best shutdown cornerback. Revis, though, is still a top talent whose return to the Jets (8-5) helped transform a downtrodden franchise into a bona fide playoff contender.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY SpoVincent Carchietta
Chicago outside linebacker Pernell McPhee | Former team: Baltimore | How acquired: Free agency (five years, $38.75 million, $15.5M guaranteed)
McPhee is one of the rare players who has gotten better after leaving Baltimore. No longer serving as a backup, McPhee had five sacks in Chicago’s first seven games. Unfortunately for him and the Bears, McPhee’s production has plummeted in recent weeks because of a knee injury that may ultimately land him on injured reserve.
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY SportsJerry Lai
Oakland linebacker Malcolm Smith | Former team: Seattle | How acquired: Free agency (two years, $7 million, $3.75M guaranteed)
The MVP of Super Bowl 48 with Seattle, Smith followed new Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. from the Seahawks with impressive results. Now a full-time starter, Smith has made a team-high 96 tackles to go along with a career-high four sacks.
Getty ImagesThearon W. Henderson
Oakland defensive tackle Dan Williams | Former team: Arizona | How acquired: Free agency (four years, $25 million, $15.2M guaranteed)
Williams took no time adjusting to Oakland’s 4-3 defensive system. Williams is just five tackles away from tying his career high of 44 posted in 2012. Oakland also is on track to finish with its best run defense (101.1 yards a game) since the 2002 Raiders squad that reached Super Bowl 37.
Getty ImagesDavid Banks
Arizona right guard Mike Iupati | Former team: San Francisco | How acquired: Free agency (five years, $40 million, $22.5M guaranteed)
It wasn’t cheap. But by signing Iupati, the Cardinals greatly weakened a division rival’s offensive line while bettering their own. Arizona’s offensive line has provided ample time for quarterback Carson Palmer to throw deep, which has helped the Cardinals field the NFL’s top-ranked offense at 417.5 yards a game.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY SportsKyle Terada
New England defensive end Jabaal Sheard | Former team: Cleveland | How acquired: Free agency (two years, $11 million, $5.5M guaranteed)
Sheard joins a long list of players who have improved since joining the Patriots. No longer miscast as a 3-4 outside linebacker, Sheard is flourishing as a 4-3 end in New England’s defensive line rotation. He forced two second-half fumbles in last Sunday’s 27-6 win over Houston.
Getty ImagesBrett Carlsen
Oakland center Rodney Hudson | Former team: Kansas City | How acquired: Free agency (five years, $44.5 million, $20M guaranteed)
Hudson has become the centerpiece of a greatly improved offensive line under new position coach Mike Tice. Quarterback Derek Carr has gotten sacked only 19 times as Oakland (6-7) already has its highest win total since the 2011 season.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsBrad Rempel
New York Jets guard James Carpenter | Former team: Seattle | How acquired: Free agency (four years, $19.1 million, $7.5M guaranteed)
He didn’t always show it with the Seahawks, but since joining the Jets, Carpenter has finally proven why Seattle took him with the No. 25 overall pick in the 2011 draft. Carpenter is generating Pro Bowl buzz at left guard playing on an offensive line that has allowed an AFC-low 18 sacks.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsKirby Lee
Arizona running back Chris Johnson | Former team: New York Jets | How acquired: Free agency (one year, $2 million, $400,000 guaranteed)
Johnson’s 2014 season with the Jets was so disappointing that he entered training camp unsigned. The Cardinals aren’t complaining. Johnson rushed for 814 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games before suffering a fractured tibia. Arizona placed Johnson on the injured reserve list with a designation to return, which means he could be back if the Cardinals reach Super Bowl 50.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
Carolina safety Kurt Coleman | Former team: Kansas City | How acquired: Free agency (2 years, $2.8 million, $600,000 guaranteed)
Like fellow safeties Mike Mitchell and Roman Harper, Coleman’s NFL career has received a much-needed boost after signing with the Panthers. Coleman ranks second in the league with seven interceptions and has registered his highest tackle total (69) since playing with Philadelphia in 2012.
Getty ImagesRonald Martinez
Carolina left tackle Michael Oher | Former team: Tennessee | How acquired: Free agency (two years, $7 million, $2.5M guaranteed)
Although the signing initially raised eyebrows, Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman was convinced that Oher’s disastrous 2014 season with Tennessee was the result of the Titans’ offensive system rather than his talent. Gettleman was proven right – and got a bargain in the process – as Oher has done a nice job helping to protect star quarterback Cam Newton.
Getty ImagesWesley Hitt
Carolina wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. | Former team: Arizona | How acquired: Free agency (two years, $4.2 million, $1.7M guaranteed)
After an ill-fated season with Arizona, Ginn returned to the Panthers and has emerged as the franchise’s top receiver thanks to his game-breaking speed. Ginn has scored five of his eight touchdowns in the past three games.
Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY SportsSam Sharpe
Kansas City wide receiver Jeremy Maclin | Former team: Philadelphia | How acquired: Free agency (five years, $55 million, $22.5M guaranteed)
One of the most anemic wide receiving corps in NFL history – the unit failed to generate a touchdown catch in 2014 – has received a monster boost from Maclin. Reunited with his former Eagles head coach Andy Reid, Maclin is on pace for the most productive season for a Chiefs wideout since 2011 with 72 catches for 935 yards and five touchdowns through 13 games.
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
Pittsburgh running back DeAngelo Williams | Former team: Carolina | How acquired: Free agency (2 years, $4 million, $1.13M guaranteed)
Coming off a season in which he averaged only 3.5 yards a carry in six games with Carolina before landing on injured reserve (foot), it appeared the 32-year-old Williams didn’t have much left in the tank. Williams has instead done a stellar job replacing the injured Le’Veon Bell (knee) as Pittsburgh’s featured running back. With three games left, Williams is 223 yards away from his first 1,000-yard rushing campaign since 2009.
Getty ImagesJoe Sargent
Oakland wide receiver Michael Crabtree | Former team: San Francisco | How acquired: Free agency (one year, $3.2 million, $1.3M guaranteed)
After suitors failed to meet his free-agent asking price, Crabtree agreed to a one-year deal in Oakland believing that he would prove himself worthy of a larger deal in 2016. Crabtree’s faith in himself has paid huge dividends. He recently signed a four-year, $35 million extension that included $19 million guaranteed. Crabtree earned the cash by posting better receiving numbers through 13 games (70 catches for 779 yards and seven touchdowns) than all of last season with the 49ers.
Getty ImagesFrederick Breedon
New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall | Former team: Chicago | How acquired: Trade
The Bears were so disenchanted with Marshall because of the drama he caused in the media and behind the scenes last year that he was dealt to the Jets for a fifth-round pick during the offseason. Marshall has flourished in his new surroundings with 89 catches for 1,187 yards and 11 touchdowns.