The free agency spending spree is typically associated with overpaying talents and resetting the market each year. But the teams who typically avoid buyer's remorse are the ones that use their discretion to find good steals among the chaos and ink bargain deals.
Who are some of the promising early returns this year? Here are a few of the NFL's best bargain buys in the first wave of free agency.
Michael Pierce, NT, Minnesota Vikings
Contract terms: three-years, $27 million ($18 million guaranteed)
The Minnesota Vikings have been trying to get the defensive tackle spot right for a while now. This is a great step in the right direction. For my money, getting Michael Pierce at a rate of $9 million per season versus the cost of some of the other nose tackle dollars across the rest of free agency is well worth the three-year investment. He should thrive as the anchor of a front seven that features stud defenders like linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr and defensive end Danielle Hunter.
Malcolm Jenkins, S, New Orleans Saints
Contract terms: four-years, $32 million ($16.5 million guaranteed)
It should be a happy homecoming for Malcolm Jenkins, who started his career in New Orleans. Now six seasons, three Pro Bowl appearances and one Vince Lombardi Trophy later, Jenkins returns.
Jenkins' annual average salary of $8 million per season pegs him as the 15th highest-paid safety. While Jenkins is beginning to slow down, he's a bargain at this rate to serve as a savvy veteran and field general in the secondary for the Saints. His experience should prove more than worth his price to mentor and lead fellow safeties Marcus Williams and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
Gerald McCoy, DT, Dallas Cowboys
Contract terms: three-years, $18.3 million ($9 million guaranteed)
The Dallas Cowboys securing Gerald McCoy at this rate is a nice steal for a team that could use a veteran to mentor 2019 draft selection Trysten Hill. McCoy, in his first season outside of Tampa, played in 696 snaps for the Carolina Panthers — his lowest figure since he missed three games and played in 665 snaps in 2014. His play is beginning to tail off, but sticking him on a line that possesses Demarcus Lawrence should keep him freed up to win with that patented quickness in one-on-one scenarios.
McCoy's annual average salary of $6.1 million comes in less than Star Lotulelei, David Onyemata, Tyrone Crawford and Sheldon Richardson — McCoy outperformed all of them in 2019.
Jordan Howard, RB, Miami Dolphins
Contract terms: two-years, $10 million (guaranteed not available)
Don't look now but Jordan Howard has quietly become "that" guy. He's going to his third team in as many seasons despite logging 4,532 yards from scrimmage and 32 total touchdowns in his first four years. And yet here are the Miami Dolphins, in desperate need of a running back upgrade, scooping up Howard for an average of $5 million per season. Some backs who currently own a higher annual average salary then Howard's new $5 million per season?
- Duke Johnson, Houston ($5.2 million per season)
- Kenyan Drake, Cardinals ($8.4 million per season)
- David Johnson, Houston ($13 million per season)
Howard owns more yards from scrimmage and touchdowns than Johnson (in 23 fewer games), Drake (five fewer games) and has more yards from scrimmage and four fewer touchdowns than Johnson in the four seasons both have been in the pros.
Andrew Billings, NT, Cleveland Browns
Contract terms: one-year, $3.5 million ($3.5 million guaranteed)
Alright, I'll bite. What are we missing here? Productive nose tackles like Javon Hargrave and D.J. Reader each came off the board for $13 million or more in annual average salary. Billings couldn't seem to drum up quite the same level of interest and doesn't have the pass rush upside of Hargrave or the consistency of Reader. But the difference in quality is not equivalent to $10 million in a season.
Each of the three talents played approximately the same amount of snaps (between 620 and 680 snaps) yet Billings couldn't seem to drum up long-term interest. That's probably perfectly fine with the Cleveland Browns, who will get a marginally less impactful nose tackle for eight figures less in 2020 than the Eagles and Bengals paid for.