It’s the big money deals that make us ooh and aah, isn’t it? After all, they’re what grab the headlines. However, it’s often the case that the biggest impact signings are of the smaller, more under-the-radar variety. This is especially true in football. While bona-fide stars infrequently hit the free agent market, the resulting scarcity driving up the price of comparative also rans to comical levels, savvy GMs are targeting quality if unflashy veterans to do what they always do – put in a solid shift and help the team.
Here are the five best of the unheralded signings of the free agent market so far.
Honorable Mention: Corey Bojorquez
This is cheating a little bit, hence why he’s included here instead of on the actual list, but whomever signs Corey Bojorquez is going to get a hell of a punter. The 24-year-old California native averaged just below 51 yards per punt for Buffalo last season, which is absurd. Buffalo signed Matt Haack, who isn’t terrible, in a weird move. With the enhanced attention paid to analytics in football, and the resultant emphasis on field position, it’s weird that the Bills would let a guy who flips the field better than anyone else go. And given his youth, one can realistically expect Bojorquez to continue to improve.
5. John Brown, WR. Las Vegas Raiders
The Patriots have certainly opened some eyes with their spending spree on pass catchers, a certain departure from the last two decades of free agent philosophy under Bill Belichick, it is after all the post-Tom Brady era in New England. But while they snagged the headlines for shoveling well north of 100-million dollars in multi-year deals to the likes of Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, the Raiders got Brown for less than four million on a one-year deal. Yes, Brown does come with a bit of an injury history but he’s one season removed from a career year. If he can stay healthy, an admittedly big if, he’s as good of a deep threat as there is in the game. If he doesn’t, the Raiders risked little and will have lost little.
4. Yannick Ngakoue, DE. Las Vegas Raiders
I swear, we aren’t Raiders fans. But for all of the deserved criticism they’re getting for dismantling their offensive line, you cannot argue with the value here. While Shaquille Barrett, Leonard Floyd, Bud Dupree, Trey Hendrickson and others are signing huge money deals for four plus years, the Raiders inked Ngakoue for two years and a modest 26 million. It can be argued maybe Ngakoue isn’t quite in the class of a Barrett, but you can make a strong case that he’s better than Bud Dupree, who is both older and three times as expensive.
3. Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB. Washington Football Team
Quick reminder, the FT made the playoffs last season. They accomplished this in spite of a 7-9 record, and ruinously bad quarterback play from the likes of Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen. It’s true, the team performed better under the leadership of Alex Smith, but if we’re being honest, the heartwarming story of his comeback from a limb and career-threatening injury somewhat obscures the fact that he didn’t play that well either. It wasn’t until Taylor Heinicke emerged from the very definition of nowhere that the team got any kind of inspired play at the position. While he makes for another nice story, a team with playoff aspirations may want to see more than a couple of inspired performances before hitching their wagon to him. Enter Fitzpatrick, the beloved veteran of now his ninth team. Fitz’s occasional turnover problems are well known, but he’s a tough guy, a leader, and every single team he has every played for has been better because he was on it. While teams like the Rams and Colts shelled out draft capital to upgrade their lots in life at the QB position, the FT did it for one year and ten million. Solid business.
2. Malcolm Brown, RB. Miami Dolphins
There’s an old saying about never having too many running backs. There’s also a saying about not paying top dollar for running backs. And if there isn’t, there should be. There were and still are some big names on the running back market. Aaron Jones re-upped with Green Bay, but household names Chris Carson, Leonard Fournette (fresh off a dominant Super Bowl performance) and Kenyan Drake remain out there. The Dolphins snagged Brown, a productive and dependable veteran for one year at less than two million.
1. Alex Mack, C. San Francisco 49ers.
It’s not often that a 35-year-old center clearly in the twilight of his career is the signing that moves the needle. But while the headlines are on the gazillion dollar deal the Niners reached with Trent Williams, replacing the injured Weston Richburg was of tantamount importance. So they got the best guy available. (Note, Rodney Hudson ended up being traded before he was released, so he was never technically available.) Mack may not be the dominant force of nature anymore that he was early on with Cleveland, but he’s still been good for Atlanta the last few years, and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue to be. The one year deal Frisco gave him is well worth the risk to find out. Also, fun fact. Mack’s real first name is Javon, making him the only white guy named Javon in NFL history. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I didn’t feel like looking up an image history of every NFLer ever named Javon.
Did we miss anyone? Let us know on Twitter @thestainsports. Thanks for reading.