Free agent defensive backs can make big Year 1 impact, but receivers are a mixed bag

Every offseason, teams desperate to upgrade their rosters turn to free agency for answers. And those answers come at a premium, which predictably leads to fans and media predicting that said desperate team overpaid for the player(s) they just signed. But that's not always the case.

Typically, quarterbacks are at the top of the free-agent wish list for obvious reasons. But only two quarterbacks made Pete Prisco's top 50 list of 2017 free agents -- Kirk Cousins was franchised by the Redskins, and Jay Cutler retired to become a broadcaster -- so we're instead looking at wide receivers and defensive backs, two of the most sought-after groups this offseason.

After all, a team may have its franchise quarterback, but it means little if he doesn't have someone to throw to (obvious exception: Tom Brady). And likewise, teams need playmaking cornerbacks and safeties to thwart those aforementioned franchise quarterbacks and wide receivers.

First things first. Here's a partial list of the top 2017 free-agent wide receivers and defensive backs:

  • CB A.J. Bouye, 25 years old, No. 6 in Prisco's free-agency rankings. Signed five-year deal with the Jaguars;
  • WR Alshon Jeffery, 27, No. 12 in Prisco's free-agency rankings. Signed one-year deal with the Eagles;
  • CB Stephon Gilmore, 26, No. 14 in Prisco's free-agency rankings. Signed five-year deal with the Patriots;
  • S Tony Jefferson, 25, No. 16 in Prisco's free-agency rankings. Signed four-year deal with the Ravens;
  • WR Terrelle Pryor, 28, No. 23 in Prisco's free-agency rankings. Signed one-year deal with the Redskins;
  • WR DeSean Jackson, 30, No. 26 in Prisco's free-agency rankings. Signed three-year deal with the Buccaneers

So what can we expect from these players? There's a lot to consider -- teammates, scheme, schedule and sheer luck -- but for an idea of how free agents do in the first year with a new team, we looked to the recent past.

Below are some of the biggest-named wide receivers and defensive backs to sign free-agent deals in recent years. We compared how they performed in the final year with their old team to what they did in Year 1 with their new club.

2016 signings

Eric Weddle, safety, 31 years old when he hit free agency

2016 CBSSports.com free-agency rank: Fifth. Weddle signed a four-year, $26 million deal with the Ravens after spending nine seasons with the Chargers.

  • Last year in San Diego (2015): 13 games, 6 passes defended, no interceptions, 0.5 sacks. Ranked 12th among all safeties, according to Pro Football Focus' metrics.
  • First year in Baltimore (2016): 16 games, 13 passes defended, 4 interceptions, 1 sack. Ranked second among all safeties, according to Pro Football Focus' metrics.

How good was Weddle? Not only did he fill the gaping void left by Ed Reed (Baltimore drafted safety Matt Elam in first round of the 2013 draft and he became the biggest bust in team history), TheRinger.com's Danny Kelly said he was the most underpaid veteran on the Ravens' roster.

Sean Smith, cornerback, 28 years old

2016 CBSSports.com free-agency rank: Seventh. Smith signed a four-year, $40 million deal with the Raiders after spending three years with the Chiefs.

  • Last year in Kansas City (2015): 13 games, 12 passes defended, 2 interceptions. Ranked 17th among all cornerbacks, according to PFF.
  • First year in Oakland (2016): 15 games, 11 passes defended, 2 interceptions. Again ranked 17th among all cornerbacks, according to PFF.

Things couldn't have gotten off to a worse start for Smith in Oakland. He was benched in his debut thanks in part to what Brandin Cooks did to him:

But Smith rebounded to have a good season, though he wasn't quite what the Raiders expected when they signed him. This helps explain why the team used its first-round pick on Ohio St. cornerback Gareon Conley

Janoris Jenkins, cornerback, 27 years old

2016 CBSSports.com free-agency rank: Eighth. Jenkins signed a five-year, $62 million deal with the Giants after spending four years with the Rams.

Last year in St. Louis (2015): 15 games, 16 passes defended, 3 interceptions. Ranked 24th among all cornerbacks, according to PFF.

First year in New York (2016): 15 games, 18 passes defended, 3 interceptions, 1 sack. Ranked seventh among all cornerbacks, according to PFF.

Jenkins went from a top-10 Rams defense to a Giants group that was No. 2 only to the Broncos in 2016. And along with Eli Apple, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Landon Collins, New York has one of the league's best secondaries.

Marvin Jones, wide receiver, 25 years old

2016 CBSSports.com free-agency rank: 16th. Jones signed a five-year, $40 million deal with the Lions after spending four years with the Bengals.

  • Last year in Cincinnati (2015): 16 games, 65 receptions, 816 yards, 4 touchdowns. Ranked 25th in total value among all receivers, according to Football Outsiders.
  • First year in Detroit (2016): 15 games, 55 receptions, 930 yards, 4 touchdowns. Ranked 20th in total value among all receivers, according to Football Outsiders.

Jones saw his yards-per-catch average increase from 12.6 to 16.9 as he became the Lions' big-play threat in a post-Megatron world. Similar to Mohamed Sanu below, the Bengals missed his production as soon as he left Cincy.

Mohamed Sanu, wide receiver, 26 years old

2016 CBSSports.com free-agency rank: Not among top 50. Sanu signed a five-year, $32 million deal with the Falcons after spending four years with the Bengals.

  • Last year in Cincinnati (2015): 16 games, 33 receptions, 394 yards, no receiving touchdowns, 2 rushing touchdowns. (Didn't have enough catches to qualify for Football Outsiders' rankings.)
  • First year in Atlanta (2016): 15 games, 59 receptions, 653 yards, 4 touchdowns. Ranked 43rd in total value among all receivers, according to Football Outsiders.

Sanu became a reliable option for Matt Ryan, which was something of a surprise because he had been something of an afterthought in Cincinnati. The Bengals didn't realize what they had in Sanu until he was gone, and have spent the last two offseasons trying to replace him and Marvin Jones.

2015 signings

Darrelle Revis, cornerback, 29 years old

2015 CBSSports.com free-agency rank: Fifth.  Revis signed a five-year, $70 million deal with the Jets after spending a year with the Patriots.

  • Last (and only) year in New England (2014): 16 games, 14 passes defended, two interceptions, no sacks. Ranked No. 3 among all cornerbacks, according to PFF. Revis' production slipped in 2015 and fell off a cliff in 2016 and now he's a free agent.
  • First year in New York (2015): 14 games, 9 passes defended, five interceptions, no sacks. Ranked 31st among all cornerbacks, per PFF.

Revis ranked 63rd in 2016, and unless he's willing to play for the veteran minimum, and perhaps move to safety, his NFL career could be over. Upside: No non-quarterback worked the system as well as Revis; in 10 seasons, he made $118.2 million, according to Spotrac.com.

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Revis's play fell off a cliff with the Jets this time around. USATSI

Byron Maxwell, cornerback, 26 years old

2015 CBSSports.com free-agency rank: 16th. Maxwell signed a six-year, $60 million deal with the Eagles after spending four years with the Seahawks.

  • Last year in Seattle (2014): 13 games, 12 passes defended, 2 interceptions. Ranked 44th among all cornerbacks, according to PFF.  
  • First year in Philly (2015): 14 games, 19 passes defended, 2 interceptions. Ranked 69th among all cornerbacks, according to PFF. 

It's also worth noting that Maxwell went from a Seahawks pass defense that ranked third in 2014 to an Eagles unit that ranked 14th in 2015. Almost a year to the day after signing with the Eagles, Maxwell was traded to the Dolphins. He improved to 18th among all cornerbacks last season.

Torrey Smith, wide receiver, 25 years old

2015 CBSSports.com free-agency rank: 19th. Smith signed a five-year, $40 million deal with the 49ers after spending four years with the Ravens.

  • Last year in Baltimore (2014): 16 games, 49 receptions, 767 yards, 11 touchdowns. Ranked 9th in total value among all wideouts, according to Football Outsiders.
  • First year in San Francisco (2015): 16 games, 33 receptions, 663 yards, 4 touchdowns. Ranked 32nd in total value among all wideouts, according to Football Outsiders.

It got worse last season when Smith fell to 89th, though to be fair, the 49ers went from 5-11 to 2-14. There was plenty of blame to go around. It's almost impossible to think that he won't improve -- and perhaps substantially -- in Philly, where he'll play alongside Alshon Jeffery in an offense that also includes Zach Ertz, LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles and, of course, second-year quarterback Carson Wentz.

Jeremy Maclin, wide receiver, 26 years old

2015 CBSSports.com free-agency rank: 22nd. Maclin signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Chiefs after spending five years with the Eagles.

  • Last year in Philly (2014): 16 games, 85 receptions, 1,318 yards, 10 touchdowns. Ranked 18th in total value among all receivers, according to Football Outsiders' metrics.
  • First year in Kansas City (2015): 15 games, 87 receptions, 1,088 yards, 8 touchdowns. Again ranked 18th in total value among all receivers, according to Football Outsiders' metrics.

Maclin struggled with a groin injury last season, missing a month, and the Chiefs decided he was too expensive to keep around. He has a chance to be the final piece of the passing puzzle from the slot in Baltimore, alongside deep threats Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman.

2014 signings

Aqib Talib, cornerback, 28 years old

Talib signed a six-year, $57 million deal with the Broncos after spending two years with the Patriots.

  • Last year in New England (2013): 13 games, 14 passes defended, 4 interceptions. Ranked 55th among all cornerbacks, according to PFF.
  • First year in Denver (2014): 15 games, 16 passes defended, 4 interceptions, 1 sack. Ranked 14th among all cornerbacks, according to PFF.

Talib dropped to 36th in 2015 but was No. 4 last season. During that time, the Broncos had a top-five defense and a Super Bowl title following the '15 season.

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Talib has paid dividends for the Broncos USATSI

Jairus Byrd, safety, 27 years old

Byrd signed a six-year, $54 million deal with the Saints after spending five years with the Bills.

  • Last year in Buffalo (2013): 11 games, 6 passes defended, 4 interceptions, 1 sack. Ranked eighth among all safeties, according to PFF.
  • First year in New Orleans (2014): 4 games, 2 passes defended, no interceptions, no sacks.

A knee injury cut short his first season with the Saints, and while Byrd appeared in 26 games over the next two seasons, he ranked 46th and 45th among all safeties before being released in March.

Darrelle Revis, cornerback, 28 years old

Revis signed a one-year, $12 million deal with the Patriots after spending a year with the Buccaneers.

  • Last (and only) year in Tampa Bay (2013): 16 games, 11 passes defended, two interceptions, one sack. Ranked No. 1 among all cornerbacks, according to PFF.
  • First (and only) year in New England (2014): 16 games, 14 passes defended, two interceptions, no sacks. Ranked No. 3 among all cornerbacks, according to PFF.

Revis' production slipped in 2015 and fell off a cliff in 2016. He's now a free agent.

DeSean Jackson, wide receiver, 27 years old

Jackson signed a four-year, $24 million deal with the Redskins after spending six years with the Eagles.

  • Last year in Philly (2013): 16 games, 82 receptions, 1,332 yards, 9 touchdowns. Ranked sixth in total value among all wideouts.
  • First year in Washington (2014): 13 games, 56 receptions, 1,169 yards, 6 touchdowns. Ranked 10th in total value among all wideouts.

Jackson played in just nine games in 2015 but appeared in 15 games last season and had 56 catches for 1,005 yards and four scores.

Eric Decker, wide receiver, 27 years old

Decker signed a five-year, $36 million deal with the Jets after spending four years with the Broncos.

  • Last year in Denver (2013): 16 games, 87 receptions, 1,288 yards, 11 touchdowns. Ranked 4th among all wideouts in total value, behind only Demaryius Thomas, Jordy Nelson and Anquan Boldin. 
  • First year in New York (2014): 15 starts, 74 receptions, 962 yards, 5 touchdowns. Ranked 24th among all wideouts in total value

Perhaps most impressive, as then-Jets coach Rex Ryan pointed out on the prospects Decker could be a legit No. 1 receiver after his 2014 signing: "He did catch eight touchdown passes when [Tim] Tebow was the quarterback" in 2012 with the Broncos. Decker was just OK in his first year with the Jets but improved in Year 2 (15 games, 80 catches, 1,027 yards, 12 TDs). Injuries limited him to three games in 2016. He was released this offseason and signed a one-year deal with the Titans.

Conclusion

At defensive back, the positives outweighed the negatives in Year 1. Darrelle Revis' demise started after inking a long-term contract that followed two one-year deals, Jairus Byrd suffered a serious injury and was never the same, and Byron Maxwell struggled even more than he did with his former team. But Eric Weddle and Janoris Jenkins immediately turned into elite options at their positions, while Revis stayed elite while on his one-year deal in New England and Sean Smith turned in a consistent performance with his new team.

The same can't be said at receiver. Marvin Jones saw a slight uptick, DeSean Jackson was good enough to stay in the top 10 and Jeremy Maclin remained consistent (though he would eventually crater and get released this offseason), regression from Eric Decker and Torrey Smith did more than enough to cancel out the small positives from those other signings.

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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