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Friday, October 18, 2019

20 NFL free agent signings who have paid off most this season

Calais Campbell

The 2017 NFL regular season is nearing the end with only three games remaining. With so many games having been played, evaluating previously signed free agents becomes a bit easier. And more often than not, the mid-season and post-season grades for such signings vastly differ from their pre-season grades.

Case in point: Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the Washington Redskins. It didn’t appear to be much of an investment on the surface, and some could have considered the deal a steal. But after substantial struggles early in the season, Pryor was lost to injury and the Redskins were out $6 million. Needless to say, not every high-profile deal is a good one.

Though the Pryor signing turned out to be a bust, many others yielded excellent results for their teams this season. Here’s a look at 20 free agent signings that have paid off this season (in no particular order):

20. Barry Church, S, Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have been wheeling and dealing in recent years, so they’ll be well featured on this list. First up is safety Barry Church, who was signed to a four-year, $26 million contract this offseason. Although he’s playing slightly worse than a season ago, he’s still been a solid addition to Jacksonville’s defense. In 13 games, Church has recorded 60 tackles (47 solo), one sack, five passes defensed and two interceptions. He’s also warranted a 83.7 Pro Football Focus grade.

19. Rick Wagner, OT, Detroit Lions

Wagner signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal this offseason and has rewarded the Lions with 12 starts through 13 weeks. And while he hasn’t been perfect, he has earned a 81.7 PFF grade, which is good for 10th-best among tackles in the NFL. Needless to say, for a team that struggled along the offensive line in 2017, Wagner has helped provide some much-needed stability.

18. Logan Ryan, CB, Tennessee Titans

The Titans signed Ryan to a three-year, $30 million deal this offseason, which is essentially a one-year deal with an out in 2018. Whether or not Tennessee chooses to exercise that right remains to be seen, but given how he’s played this season, that seems increasingly unlikely. To go along with an 81.3 PFF grade, Logan has recorded 59 tackles (47 solo), 11 passes defensed and two stuffs. The one knock against Ryan is that he’s yet to record an interception.

17. Ted Ginn, WR, New Orleans Saints

Ginn signed a modest three-year, $11 million deal with the Saints this offseason and expectations varied. On one hand, Ginn is aging, but on the other, Drew Brees became his quarterback. The latter proved to be most valuable as the receiver has seen his catch percentage rise to 77.2% and his yards per game hit a career-high of 52.2 through 13 games. He’s also on pace for a ninth season with 1,000-plus all-purpose yards.

16. Antoine Bethea, S, Arizona Cardinals

After signing a three-year, $12.75 million deal with the Cardinals, expectations were somewhat high for Bethea. Not through the roof mind you, but high enough that he needed to play better than his career average. To date, Bethea has done exactly that, earning a PFF grade of 82.5, while recording 51 tackles (41 solo), one sack, seven passes defensed and three interceptions.

15. Nickell Robey-Coleman, CB, Los Angeles Rams

The Rams signed Robey-Coleman to a one-year, $855,000 deal to add depth to their secondary. Rather than a warm body taking up space on a depth chart, Robey-Coleman has turned into a more than serviceable player for Los Angeles, earning a 81.4 grade from PFF. In 12 games, Robey-Coleman has recorded 39 tackles (31 solo), one forced fumble, nine passes defensed and tied a career-high with two interceptions. It’s not always about big names or flash; sometimes it’s just about remarkable value.

14. Stephon Gilmore, CB, New England Patriots

The Patriots went far outside their norm when they signed Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million deal this offseason. It was one of the richest contracts they’ve given out and it didn’t look good when Gilmore struggled early on. He has since rebounded, recording 34 tackles (32 solo), seven passes defensed and two interceptions. Gilmore has also boosted his PFF grade up to 86.0 through 14 weeks.

13. Robert Woods, WR, Los Angeles Rams

There was a bit of shock when the Rams signed Woods to a five-year, $34 million deal considering he had never reached 700 or more yards and his career high for touchdowns was five in 2014. Los Angeles saw a fit however, and they made the leap. Woods has subsequently rewarded them with 47 receptions for 703 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games. If not for a few lingering injury issues, Woods’ numbers would be even better.

12. Julius Peppers, DE, Carolina Panthers

When the Panthers signed Peppers to a one-year, $3.5 million deal it felt nostalgic. Few expected him to produce in any real way as a reserve, but he’s done exactly that from a sheer pass rushing perspective. His run defense may be lacking, but with 9.5 sacks on the season in limited reps, he’s more than earned that relatively minor contract.

11. DeSean Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers spent a significant chunk of change to add DeSean Jackson to a group that included Mike Evans, inking him to a three-year, $33.5 million deal during free agency. Through 14 weeks, Jackson has earned an 83.2 PFF grade, which is 12th-best among all receivers league-wide. And in what’s been an under-performing offense, Jackson has hauled in 49 receptions for 657 yards and three touchdowns. He’s still got it even if the Bucs offense doesn’t.

See Nos. 10-1 on Page 2

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