Hundreds of millions of dollars will be thrown around in a few weeks when NFL free agency begins on March 9. Players will sign lucrative deals to change cities, while others will sit on the market longer than they probably should.
That doesn’t mean they’re not great players. It just means there are bigger names available more deserving of $100 million contracts.
These nine players won’t break the bank and cash in on contracts that pay them north of $15 million per year. They’ll be bargains on the open market who will be difference-makers in Year 1 with their new teams. When it comes to getting the biggest bang for the buck, teams should look no further than these underrated players.
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WR Cordarrelle Patterson (Vikings)
Patterson has been a disappointement in the NFL up to this point. He hasn’t carved out a consistent role in Minnesota and is more of a gadget player than he is a true wide receiver. That’s OK. Because of his struggles thus far, his cost will be lower than it probably should be. Someone like the Patriots or Colts can figure out a way to utilize his skill set to suit their offense best, while also benefiting from his ability to return kicks. Heck, he could be converted to full-time running back and thrive in that role. He just needs the right team to take a chance on him.
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LG Ronald Leary (Cowboys)
Leary was viewed as a backup guard before this season. When La’el Collins went down with an injury, though, Leary stepped in and proved to be every bit a starter in the NFL. Though he won’t be “cheap,” per se, he also won’t break the bank the way Kevin Zeitler and T.J. Lang will. As a full-time starting guard, he’ll be a reliable pass blocker and a solid blocker in the running game. He just needs an opportunity. A team like the Jaguars would benefit from adding Leary to its line.
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OLB John Simon (Texans)
The Texans are loaded on the defensive line, from Jadeveon Clowney to J.J. Watt. Simon has seen his snaps limited a bit as a result, but he can rush the passer and provide a boost as an outside linebacker. He’s not big enough to be a full-time defensive end, but in sub-packages he can certainly get into a three-point stance and get after the QB.
QB Brian Hoyer (Bears)
A team looking to add a veteran quarterback at a low cost – *cough* the Jets – should give Hoyer a close look. He started five games for the Bears this past season before breaking his arm, throwing for 1,445 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. It’s the second straight year he’s played relatively well in spot duty, proving he can be a reliable backup for some team out there. He played on a one-year, $2 million deal in Chicago, and while he’ll likely get more than that this offseason, he won’t be terribly expensive.
TE Jack Doyle (Colts)
Doyle had a good season with the Colts in 2016, catching 59 passes for 584 yards and five touchdowns. He won’t make as much as Martellus Bennett in free agency, which is why he’ll be a good bargain. For someone like the Giants or Jets who need a pass-catching tight end, Doyle would be a nice addition at a relatively low cost. He’s not a great blocker, but he’s good enough to hold up at the line of scrimmage.
S Duron Harmon (Patriots)
Because the Patriots are so deep at safety, Harmon never really got an opportunity to play meaningful snaps. When he has, though, he’s made an impact. In four seasons (just 12 starts), Harmon picked off seven passes in his role as a center field safety. He has good range and ball skills to eliminate plays over the top, and he figures to get even better as his role increases. With Eric Berry and Tony Jefferson the top safeties available, Harmon is a good second-tier guy.
CB Kayvon Webster (Broncos)
Webster played only 59 snaps this past season, but that was because he was blocked on the depth chart by the strongest cast of starting cornerbacks in the NFL. He’s been forced to resort to being a special teams contributor, but by changing teams this offseason, he’ll be given a much bigger role. The former third-round pick has talent, which he showed as a rookie in 2013 -- he just needs an opportunity. He won’t get that behind Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby, which is why he’s bound to leave Denver.
WR DeSean Jackson (Redskins)
Jackson is one of the top big-play receivers in the league, and has been for years. Some teams may be turned away by his age, but his skills haven’t deteriorated much at all. He can still step in right away and completely change an offense by providing it with a guy who can blow the top off of a defense, draw safeties deep down the field and open up underneath routes for other receivers. That alone makes him a valuable addition, even if he only catches 55 passes. The threat to score anywhere on the field is huge.
DB Micah Hyde (Packers)
Hyde isn’t often discussed among the top free agent DBs but he deserves to have his name mentioned. A Swiss army knife in the secondary, Hyde can do it all: play center field, cover the slot, move down into the box, blitz the quarterback. There isn’t much he can’t do on the football field, and he’s a valuable special teams guy who can return punts and kickoffs. Oh, and he just turned 26 years old.