The best and worst of NFL free agency’s opening weekend

Brandon Marshall gives the Giants offence the big-bodied receiving option New York has lacked in the Odell Beckham era. (Julio Cortez/AP)

Making a splash in NFL free agency rarely pays immediate dividends, but that didn’t stop teams from handing out some serious cash over the last four days.

According to Spotrac, as of early Monday morning more than $1.7 billion worth of contracts have been signed since the official opening of free agency on March 9. That amount includes nearly $750 million in guaranteed money.

The San Francisco 49ers ($141M), Jacksonville Jaguars ($136.4M) and Cleveland Browns (109.3M) have been most active, while wide receiver ($244.1M), left tackle ($235.5M) and cornerback ($222M) are the positions teams have spent most on thus far.

With that much cash flying around, there are going to be some deals general managers will come to regret, as well as a select few that help teams take the next step.

(All contract numbers via Spotrac)


Tony Jefferson, S

Signed with: Baltimore Ravens
Term: Four years, $34 million

The Ravens quietly had one of the better starts to free agency, and Jefferson is the crown jewel.

The best safety on the market, the former Arizona Cardinal will make up half of one of the league’s top safety tandems alongside four-time Pro Bowler Eric Weddle. Jefferson is especially stout against the run, ranking as Pro Football Focus’s best at the position last season.

Jefferson is also no slouch in pass defence, and at just 25 years old likely has his best seasons ahead of him. Combined with the re-signing of nose tackle Brandon Williams (also a top-notch run stopper), the Ravens will probably field one of the league’s top defences next season.

Brandon Marshall, WR

Signed with: New York Giants
Term: Two years, $11 million

In Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard, New York has two of the best young receiving options in the NFL — Beckham’s resume speaks for itself, while Shepard’s rookie season gave Giants fans plenty to be excited about.

But something was missing from New York’s receiving corps, which became painfully clear when Tavarres King was targeted six times in Big Blue’s wild-card loss to the Packers in January.

Enter No. 15.

Yes, last season was one of the worst statistical of Marshall’s 11-year career. Of the 48 players with at least 100 targets in 2016, Marshall ranked dead-last in catch rate. But the fact is, at six-foot-four, Marshall is the big-bodied target the Giants have lacked in the Beckham era to help relieve the pressure on No. 13. Marshall has eight 1,000-yard seasons and four with 10 TDs or more, including a 1,500 yard, 14 TD output in 2015.

The price for Marshall was right, and his impact on the Giants’ offence should be immediate.

Martellus Bennett, TE

Signed with: Green Bay Packers
Term: Three years, $21 million

For all of the success the Packers have had in the nine seasons since Aaron Rodgers took over, consistency at tight end has been an issue. Last season, Jared Cook led Green Bay’s tight ends with just 377 yards. In fact, since Rodgers took the reins as starter in 2008, only one tight end has recorded more than 600 receiving yards in a season: Jermichael Finley, who did it three times (2009, 2011, 2012).

The addition of Bennett should change all that. The 30-year-old is fresh off a Super Bowl-winning season in which he filled in for one of the the league’s best (Rob Gronkowski), and had a hell of a year doing so.

Not only is Bennett a solid receiving and blocking addition in Green Bay, he comes at a reasonable price. Overall, Bennett’s three-year deal is the richest of the tight ends who have signed new contracts this off-season, but both Dion Sims ($10 million) and Rhett Ellison ($8 million) got more guaranteed money than Bennett ($7.2 million), and Bennett’s $7 million per season ranks 12th among tight ends.

Last season, Bennett had more TDs than all 11 of those pricier tight ends, and more yards than five of them.


Kenny Britt, WR

Signed with: Cleveland Browns
Term: Four years, $32.5 million

The Browns have made a lot of intriguing, significant moves. Cleveland has rebuilt the interior of its offensive line, which includes signing the top guard on the market, Kevin Zeitler, to a five-year, $60-million deal. Oh, and they acquired Brock Osweiler and his $16-million salary along with a 2018 second-round pick from the Texans, a never-been-done-before deal that brought the Browns’ “Moneyball” strategy to the forefront.

All of these moves make sense for the team, but the Britt contract does not.

Britt is getting money comparable to the top receivers who just hit the market; at an average salary of $8.125 million, the 28-year-old trails only Alshon Jeffery, Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson in yearly average. The difference between Britt and the rest? The other three have all produced consistently throughout their pro careers.

Entering his ninth NFL season, Britt has recorded just one 1,000-yard season and it was last season with the Rams. Before that, he hadn’t eclipsed the 800-yard mark or caught more than 48 passes (he had 68 last season). Maybe that had something to do with the quarterbacks Britt played with, but that’s not going to get any better in Cleveland. Not this season.

Considering Terrelle Pryor, who had 1,007 yards in only his second season as a receiver, reportedly gave the Browns an opportunity to match the eventual one-year, $8-million contract he signed with Washington, Cleveland’s deal with Britt makes little sense.

Matt Kalil, OT

Signed with: Carolina Panthers
Term: Five years, $55 million

Among offensive lineman, only Zeitler and Riley Reiff (Minnesota) got bigger contracts than Kalil, whose $55-million deal with the Panthers includes $25 million guaranteed. But the first two guys played last season; Kalil missed the last 14 games of 2016 after suffering a season-ending hip injury.

But that’s not all: according to Pro Football Focus, Kalil was one of the worst at the position before his 2016 season was cut short, and he wasn’t much better the year before.

After a solid rookie season, Kalil has struggled in the four since. He’s now been brought in as the fix for a team that struggled mightily to protect Cam Newton.

It’s a $55-million investment that could go bad fast.

Dre Kirkpatrick, CB

(Re-)Signed with: Cincinnati Bengals
Term: Five years, $52 million

It’s not that Kirkpatrick’s deal is particularly bad — an annual average of $10 million, $3 million less than top free agents Stephon Gilmore and A.J. Bouye — although there are parts of the 27-year-old’s game that could use some work.

No, the problem here is that it’s the only significant move the Bengals have made so far this off-season. After losing two essential receivers in Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu — who both had big impacts with their new teams in 2016 — Cincinnati lost its two best offensive lineman in the aforementioned Zeitler and left tackle Andrew Whitworth, a leader and stalwart on the Bengals line for the last decade.

On a roster with holes to fill along the offensive and defensive lines, at wide receiver and in the secondary, re-signing a starting cornerback simply won’t be enough to compete in 2017.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.