NFL teams have spent much of the last two weeks sending superstars criss-crossing around the league. Every day, it's seems like one star player or another is on the move. Russell Wilson to the Broncos. Amari Cooper to the Browns. J.C. Jackson to the Chargers. Von Miller to the Bills. Davante Adams to the Raiders. Matt Ryan to the Colts. Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins. It seemingly never ends.
Our team here at CBS Sports has been endlessly cataloguing each and every move, and we've got all kinds of news and analysis stories up on the site right now, where you can read about each of those players and many, many more. We're not here today to talk about the bright-neon-lights moves, though. We're here to talk about the value signings.
In the space below, we're taking a look at 10 (really 14, but you'll see) of our favorite bargains in free agency, including only players who signed for an average annual value of less than $10 million.
Alex Cappa and Ted Karras, Bengals
Cincinnati came into this offseason with an obvious weakness, and moved aggressively to address it early in the free agency period. But rather than handing a monster-sized deal to one offensive lineman (like, say, the Jaguars and Brandon Scherff), the Bengals split their investment between two players on the interior, locking up probable starters at center (Karras) and guard (Cappa). In signing them to affordable deals (four years, $35 million, $11 million guaranteed for Cappa; three years, $18 million, $5 million guaranteed for Karras), the Bengals left over enough money to go out and sign La'el Collins. All of a sudden, one of the worst position groups in the league might just be league average or better next year. Given how often Joe Burrow has been hit during his first two seasons, the line was an absolute must-fix this offseason, and Duke Tobin and Co. did a great job of it.
Sebastian Joseph-Day, Chargers
Speaking of obvious areas of weakness that needed to be addressed... the Chargers' run defense was a disaster last season. L.A. ranked 30th in run defense DVOA at Football Outsiders, as well as 28th in Adjusted Line Yards, 25th in success rate in power situations, and 25th in the share of opponent rushing attempts that were stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. So, they went out and got Brandon Staley one of his old friends in order to fix these issues. Joseph-Day signed for three years, $24 million, $16.5 million guaranteed, giving the Chargers the gap-eater they desperately needed up front. Now, if, say, Staley calls a timeout before the biggest play of his team's season to get his run-defense unit on the field, he can do so with much more confidence.
The Ravens are just better at this stuff than most other teams. Last year, Baltimore moved to sign Alejandro Villanueva to fix its right tackle issue. But Villanueva's struggles switching from left to right, as well as Ronnie Staley's lingering injury recovery, forced the Ravens to change their plans. With center Bradley Bozeman (more on him later) on his way out the door, the Ravens can move last season's fill-in tackle, Patrick Mekari, to the inside, and slot the dependable Moses in as a bookend opposite the returning Stanley. That they landed Moses on a three-year, $15 million, $5.5 million guaranteed contract makes no sense, given how much money other offensive linemen have signed for.
The Cowboys almost never invest premium resources into the safety position. That's one of several reasons the position had basically been a wasteland for them ever since Darren Woodson hung up his spikes. But two of last season's cheap investments actually paid off, with Kearse having a true breakout season that worked out so well that he eventually became the team's defensive play-caller, and Hooker returning from injury to gradually ramp up to his prior form. It took a while, but Dallas got Kearse back for 2 years, $10 million, $5 million guaranteed and Hooker for 2 years, $7 million, $2 million guaranteed. Getting your starting safety tandem for less than $9 million per year is the kind of investment that makes a lot of sense — especially for a team that will need its defense to stave off regression to make up for talent losses on the offensive side of the ball.
At first glance, a player with 13.5 career sacks across four seasons getting a three-year, $13.5 million, $6 million guaranteed contract might not seem like a bargain. But Martin has done his work in extremely limited opportunities, and has a chance to break out if given a larger role. He played only 23 percent of the Texans' defensive snaps as a rookie, followed by 24 percent in Year 2, 39 percent in Year 3, and finally 61 percent a year ago. Martin generated pressure nearly as often on a per-pass-rush-snap basis nearly as often (9.5 percent) as Chandler Jones (10.1 percent) last season, and did so on a defense where there were very few other threats to divert attention away from him. With Carl Lawson returning from injury for New York this year, Martin likely won't be the defense's primary focus when he's on his way to the quarterback.
Jamison Crowder, Isaiah McKenzie, and O.J. Howard, Bills
Buffalo cut ties with incumbent slot man Cole Beasley, and replaced him with three players. Crowder (one year, $4 million) received the largest financial commitment, followed by Howard (one year, $3.5 million, $3.195 million guaranteed) and McKenzie (two years, $4.4 million, $1.25 million guaranteed). Crowder can fill the same role Beasley did as a short-area chain movie. McKenzie can see his gadget-guy role expand a bit to include more snaps as a downfield route-runner. And Howard can provide the flexibility for Buffalo to utilize two-tight end sets, which were a rarity last season. As if Josh Allen needed more weapons...
We go here from the Bills signing players, to a team signing a former Bills player. Wallace is a solid No. 2 corner that the Steelers got for sub-package player money. He signed for only two years, $8 million, $2.965 million guaranteed. He can fill the slot across from Joe Haden and help Pittsburgh maintain its status as one of the league's best defenses.
K'Waun Williams, Broncos
The Broncos have employed some really good slot corners in recent seasons, between Chris Harris Jr., Bryce Callahan, and Kyle Fuller. Williams is another in that line, albeit not as high-end a player. He just keeps getting signed on short-term, low-money deals, and playing well. Denver got him for two years, $7 million. Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero will get quality play out of him, and he'll probably wind up signing another below-market deal a couple years from now.
The Chiefs are going to need this one to work out, huh? When they signed Smith-Schuster it seemed like he would be a complementary option in the passing game. That may still be the case (he's not passing Travis Kelce in the pecking order) but with Tyreek Hill now calling South Florida home, JuJu's importance has suddenly skyrocketed. The Chiefs are likely to add more help at wideout in the draft, free agency, or both, but Smith-Schuster looks like a key player in the offense now. He got a one-year, $3.25 million deal that can be worth up to $10.75 million with incentives. That's not a lot of money.
Bradley Bozeman, Panthers
It was quite surprising to see the Panthers land a quality starting center for just one year, $2.8 million, $1 million guaranteed. Carolina badly needed to overhaul its offensive line, and landing Bozeman, along with Austin Corbett, should help a great deal.