Don’t feed me that crap about how free agency doesn’t matter. Sure, there are plenty of examples of teams investing foolishly in players and restricting their flexibility to improve the overall roster with a bad contract. With that said, there are also numerous examples of teams intelligently adding pieces that help them compete and even win Championships. The foundation of every team should be through the draft and retaining its best players, but teams should take every opportunity - draft, free agency and trades - to build the team. It’s not always as simple as “these players are available for a reason”. Those shortsighted comments fail to take into account important context that matters to every individual unique situation. Teams whiff on draft picks just as much, if not more, than they do free agent signings.
So with that rant out of the way, this week I want to detail my six favorite free agent signings so far.
I hope that this column has become a staple for you each week, but just in case you are new, 6-Pack Thursday is my weekly brain dump on six football-related things that involve the NFL, College Football or NFL Draft
Let’s crack this thing open!
Packers Sign S Adrian Amos
Staring at a big need at safety entering free agency, Green Bay quickly filled it with one of the most sound back end defenders in football. A fifth-round pick in 2015, Amos immediately became a quality starter for the Bears and the arrow has pointed up in every season.
The Packers made sizable investments to improve its pass rush by signing Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith, adding to the quality interior duo of Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels. Having a reliable safety in Amos lurking over top of what can be a dynamic and aggressive pass rushing situation maximizes the investments up front and improves the unit as a whole. Lastly, the value of Amos’ deal really pops. Inking a 4-year, $37 million deal looks like a tremendous value, especially compared to what Washington gave to Landon Collins.
Jets Sign RB Le’Veon Bell
I normally wouldn’t praise a team for committing big money to a free agent running back, especially given the sour negotiations Bell had with the Steelers for two years. With that said, the Jets situation is different and if there was any team that it made sense to invest in Bell, it was New York.
With Sam Darnold on his rookie contract, the time is now to bulk up the roster and spend where it normally doesn’t make sense. Bell’s receiving ability will be a tremendous asset to the Jets’ scheme and Darnold. The Jets do need to fortify its offensive line to maximize Bell’s patient running style. Not since Curtis Martin and then Thomas Jones for a three-year stretch from 2007-2009 has the Jets had anything dynamic at running back.
Panthers Sign C Matthew Paradis
I entered the off season with a great deal of concern regarding Carolina’s offensive line. Outside of Taylor Moton and Trai Turner, there was very little to be enthusiastic about with the unit, especially with long-term center Ryan Kalil retiring. While all indications were that Paradis would sign with the Jets, Carolina swooped in and inked Paradis to a 3-year, $27 million, securing one of the league's best centers to a value contract.
The Panthers will go as far as Cam Newton takes them. Cam Newton is only going as far as his protection holds up and that’s why offensive line was such a top need for the Panthers. Despite fairly limited resources in terms of cap space, Carolina wisely used it to bolster the front five. Carolina complemented the Paradis signing by re-signing Daryl Williams and suddenly the unit is in much better shape than it was a week ago.
Rams Sign S Eric Weddle
Weddle has been one of the NFL’s most consistent defensive players and he’s done it for 12 consecutive seasons. Coming off arguably the best season of his career in coverage last year with Baltimore, Weddle is a versatile defender and lights out tackler. LA securing his services for a modest 2-year, $10.5 deal is a tremendous value, especially with Lamarcus Joyner bolting for for $42 million over four years from Oakland.
Value deals for veterans still looking to compete will likely be the norm for a team like the Rams that is loaded with star power and inevitable holes will need to be patched on a yearly basis. Weddle is that guy this year.
Eagles Sign DT Malik Jackson
Philadelphia quickly eased concerns on the defensive line by snatching up Jackson after the Jaguars released him. Fletcher Cox’s running mates in Haloti Ngata and Tim Jernigan have expired contracts and the Eagles traded Michael Bennett to the Patriots. Jackson has been among the league’s best interior pass rushers and should give the Eagles quality production across his three-year contract.
It’s ironic that Jacksonville had to release Jackson to make room for former Eagles QB Nick Foles and Philadelphia then signed Jackson.
Bills Sign C Mitch Morse
Buffalo has been serious about upgrading its offensive line in free agency and rightfully so. Not only did the Bills sign Morse to a 4-year, $44 million deal to make him the NFL’s highest-paid center, Buffalo also signed Spencer Long, Ty Nsekhe and Jon Feliciano to bolster the unit. A position of weakness in 2018 is now a deep unit full of starting-caliber and rosterable players to provide quality depth. The task ahead for Buffalo is determining the best five to start, but the unquestioned starter at center is Morse.
With Josh Allen entering Year 2 of his career, having a reliable center to serve as the glue up front and handle the line calls will enable him to focus on the secondary. Morse is an elite pass blocker which is exactly what the Bills need given the vertical elements to the passing game. Making sure there is time available for routes to develop and Allen to uncork the football comes easier knowing the depth of the pocket is consistently set.