While there are always big names in the NFL free agency pool that will earn big-money deals, some of the best signings are the ones the team can sign worth. When I was an NFL executive with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins, I always went to the marches with a few players I absolutely wanted to sign. And that was especially true when I thought a free agent would outperform the contract we were signing him to. Those savvy moves can often be more impactful than “splash” signings in a salary cap restricted league.
So for the second year in a row, I’m wearing my GM hat and breaking down five current free agents I would aim to sign this week if I were running a team. These are players that I believe can help any roster – even if some of them come with risks. Here are five names I’ll be following, the deals I’ll be offering them, and why I think each will be worth the money.
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The deal I will offer: Four years, $72 million ($40 million guaranteed)
Dean is still 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 from Auburn has great size for a corner and has proven to be both durable and productive. Dean was solid again last season, hauling in two interceptions and breaking up eight passes. He averaged over 10 pass breakups per season during his career.
As for his potential contract, I would look at the recent extension of Xavien Howard with a breakdown of $18 million per year as a rough model. Playmaking cornerbacks are valuable, and there aren’t many guys on the market who are still young, can stay healthy and have a deep resume of on-ball production.
If I were the Houston Texans, I’d be taking a close look at Dean. In Demeko Ryan’s new scheme — even after drafting Derek Stingley Jr. last year — they could use another physical corner, and Dean would be a perfect fit.
The deal I will offer: Five years, $60 million ($28.5 million guaranteed)
Free agency and the upcoming draft are full of tight ends, but I think Gesicki brings rare value. In Miami’s new scheme under coach Mike McDaniel, Gecicki has only 32 catches on 53 targets in 2021, up from 73 receptions on 110 targets last season. He averaged goals on just over 21% of his routes in both 2020 and 2021, but barely broke 15% in 2022. Gecicki still scored five times last season, and he’s an obvious mismatch on defense at 6-6 and 247 pounds. Which is visible in the red zone.
If I were running a team with a young developing quarterback – consider the Chicago Bears – it’s a no brainer. I expect him to come in at around $12 million per season, which is in line with Hunter Henry’s deal in New England. Given his attributes, qualities and age, it could be very valuable.
I’ll quickly throw out another tight end that I’ll kick the tires on: Dalton Schultz. He’ll attract more attention and ultimately make more money, though, with a check likely around $14 million per season.
The deal I will offer: Five years, $90 million ($40 million guaranteed)
Bates, 26, has made 477 tackles, 14 interceptions and 43 pass breakups over five seasons – and four of those interceptions came in 2022. Sixth best among safeties with at least 400 coverage snaps. Bates can also stop runs. He’s had at least 70 tackles in all five seasons, and he’s had three campaigns with over 100.
He’s coming off the franchise tag, and given his age and production, I expect Bates to make $18 million per year – just as I suggested for Dean. He should be getting the same salary as Darwin James Jr. and Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Detroit Lions is a team that makes a lot of sense. Imagine what Bates could do out there with defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn moving him around the defense.
The deal I will 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 he got a lot of value in the deal. Omenihu was outside the top 25 last season in pass rush win rate (16.5%, 26th), and he was third on the team 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 in the spotlight, Omenihu could be a steal for the team this season. I’m looking at Sam Hubbard as a comp for the contract, which would be a really good value. A team like the Atlanta Falcons would be an ideal landing spot for Omenihu as well. Any team considering him would of course have to do their homework. He was arrested during the Niners playoff run in January on suspicion of domestic violence.
I mentioned Davenport, and if you can sign him for around $17 million per year, he’s worth a look. But considering that Davenport has struggled to stay healthy, Omenihu is the better value.
The deal I will offer: One year, $1.165 million (fully guaranteed)
When you’re running a team, you should look for financially efficient 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 eligible quarterbacks in total QBR last season (33.0), with 11 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. And yes, I know he was benched and then ultimately cut after the season, ending his tenure with his third team in three seasons. But while we have no idea if Wentz can be a high-performing quarterback again, signing him for minimal productions isn’t a negative at all. Give him a fresh start as a backup, and if he’s able to bring his game somewhat closer to what he had in 2017-2019, it’s a steal. If not, then the risk is irrelevant. You’ll have to take a lot of ups and downs at QBs in this league, but this is one that doesn’t affect the bottom line much if it misses.
Your best case is Wentz sitting for a year and potentially turning into the next turnaround story, as Geno Smith did in Seattle. That’s a minor deal on a big upside. I love Wentz’s fit with a team like the Kansas City Chiefs; He needs a backup after Chad Henne retires, and he will work under coach Andy Reid to try to resurrect his career.