While there are always big names in the NFL free agency pool who get big money deals, some of the best signings are guys that teams can sign for value. When I was an NFL manager with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins, I always went to March with a few players. This was especially true when I felt a free agent would outlive the contract we were signing. These smart moves can be more impressive than splash signings in a salary-constrained league.
So, for the second year in a row, I’m putting on my GM hat and breaking down the five current free agents I’d aim to sign this week if I managed the team. These are players who can help any roster, even if some of them are at risk. Here are five titles I’m looking for, the deals I’d recommend on them, and why I think each one is worth the money.
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The deal I offer: Four years, $72 million ($40 million guaranteed)
Dean is still only 26 years old and has 57 games of experience in his four-year career. At 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds, the 2019 third-round pick out of Auburn has great size for a corner and has proven durable and productive. Dean was solid again last season, throwing two interceptions and breaking up eight passes. He averaged over 10 interceptions per season in his career.
As for his potential contract, I would look at the recent extension of Javien Howard at $18 million per year as a rough example. Playmaking corners are valuable and there aren’t many on the market who are young, can stay healthy and have a deep resume of ball production.
If I were the Houston Texans, I’d take a closer look at Dean. They could also use another physical corner in DeMeco Ryans’ new scheme after drafting Derek Stingley Jr. last year, and Dean would be a perfect fit.
The deal I offer: Five years, $60 million ($28.5 million guaranteed)
Free agency and the upcoming draft are loaded with tight ends, but I think Gesicki rarely cares. In Miami’s new scheme under coach Mike McDaniel, Gesicki went from 73 receptions on 110 targets in 2021 to just 32 catches on 53 targets last season. He hit more than 21% of his routes in 2020 and 2021, but barely cracked 15% in 2022. So he strikes me as someone who needs a change of scenery, especially since he’s only 27 years old. Gesicki still scored five touchdowns last season, and he’s an obvious mismatch for the defense at 6-6 and 247 pounds. This is visible in the red area.
If I’m managing a team with a developing young quarterback — consider the Chicago Bears — it’s a no-brainer. I think he’ll make around $12 million per season, which is right around Hunter Henry’s deal in New England. It could be a great value considering its upside, features and age.
I’ll quickly throw out another tight end who is kicking the wheels: Dalton Schultz. He’ll get more attention and, ultimately, more money, but will likely check around $14 million per season.
The deal I offer: Five years, $90 million ($40 million guaranteed)
Bates, 26, has 477 tackles, 14 interceptions and 43 pass breakups in five seasons — and four of those came in 2022. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he has a minus-8.7% completion percentage on target throws last season. sixth best among safeties with at least 400 tackles. Bates can also stop the run. He has at least 70 games in all five seasons and has three 100-plus campaigns.
He’s coming off the franchise tag, and given his age and production, I’d expect Bates to make $18 million per year, similar to the deal I offered Dean. He should earn a salary in the same range as Derwin James Jr. and Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Detroit Lions are a team that makes a lot of sense. Imagine what Bates defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn could do when he moves him around on defense.
The deal I offer: Two years, $20 million ($12 million guaranteed)
The San Francisco 49ers acquired Omenihu from the Texans at the 2021 trade deadline for a sixth-round pick, and they got a lot of value in the deal. Omenihu ranked outside the top 25 in pass rush rate last season (16.5%, 26th), and he was third in sacks with 4.5.
He doesn’t turn 26 until the 2023 season, so with veterans like Frank Clark, Robert Quinn and Marcus Davenport dominating the headlines, Omenihu could be a steal for the team this season. I’m looking at Sam Hubbard as a compact for the contract, which would be a great value. A team like the Atlanta Falcons would be a perfect landing spot for Omenihu as well. Any team considering him should certainly do their homework. He was arrested in January on suspicion of domestic violence during the Niners’ playoff run.
I mentioned Davenport, and if you can sign him for $17 million a year, he’d be worth a look. But given Davenport’s struggles to stay healthy, Omenihu is a good value.
The deal I offer: One year, $1.165 million (fully guaranteed)
When managing a team, you need to look for cost-effective opportunities. Signing Wentz for the league minimum to serve as the No. 2 QB could be one of them.
Yes, I know Wentz finished 30th out of 31 qualified quarterbacks in Total QBR last season (33.0), throwing 11 interceptions and nine interceptions. Yes, I know he was benched and then cut after the season, ending up with his third team in three seasons. While we don’t know if Wentz can be a high-performing quarterback again, there’s no downside to signing him at rock bottom. Give him a fresh start as a backup, and if he can get his game a little closer to what it was in 2017-2019, then that’s a steal. Otherwise, the risk is not significant. You have to make some throws at QB in this league, but it’s something that doesn’t affect the outcome much if you miss it.
Your best-case scenario is that Wentz sits out a year and becomes the next thing, similar to what Geno Smith did in Seattle. This is a big deal for a small deal. I love Wentz’s fit with a team like the Kansas City Chiefs; They need a backup after Chad Henne retires, and he can work under coach Andy Reid to resurrect his career.