NFL free agency is right around the corner, with the negotiating window starting Monday before players can be signed at the start of the new league year on Wednesday, March 15. This results in multiyear contracts worth millions of dollars, news conferences and giddiness from fans and front office people alike.
Sometimes that excitement turns into big plays and epic victories. Sometimes it goes completely the opposite direction. Our goal was to capture both sides of the free agent spectrum, so we had our NFL Nation reporters pick one free agent signing since 2018 from the teams they cover that really hit, and another that missed badly.
Some names will make you smile, and others will have you muttering under your breath, but either way, it’ll set you up for the free agent frenzy to come.
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LAC | LAR | LV | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH
Best signing: Mitch Morse, C, 2019
While Von Miller is without a doubt the Bills’ flashiest free agent signing of the past five years — and arguably beyond that — playing in only 11 games leaves him out of this category. Instead, it’ll go to the anchor of the Bills’ offensive line, who was originally signed in 2019 and has been a consistent presence on the line since, even through injuries and the issues at the positions around him. Morse took a pay cut in 2021 but signed an extension last offseason and, most importantly, works well with quarterback Josh Allen and is one of the leaders in the locker room.
Worst signing: Star Lotulelei, DT, 2018
The Bills signed Lotulelei to a five-year, $50 million contract, but the high-priced deal didn’t yield the production that Buffalo hoped. While Lotulelei had valuable moments, the team had to restructure his contract in 2020. He played only three seasons in Buffalo after opting out in 2020 because of concerns surrounding COVID-19 and was impacted by testing positive for COVID in 2021 before being released during the 2022 offseason. The defensive tackle finished his Buffalo career with five sacks, 53 tackles and a run stop win rate of 27.2%. — Alaina Getzenberg
Best signing: Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, 2021
While the addition of tackle Terron Armstead in 2022 is an honorable mention, Ogbah was the centerpiece of the Dolphins’ aggressive pass rush after signing a two-year, $15 million deal, recording nine sacks in each of his first two seasons with the team and leading the league with 48 disrupted dropbacks in that span. He signed a massive four-year, $65 million contract minutes before free agency began last offseason but was limited to just nine games in 2022 after tearing his triceps muscle. Miami traded for and subsequently signed linebacker Bradley Chubb last season, and he will form a formidable pass-rushing trio with Jaelan Phillips and Ogbah once Ogbah returns.
Worst signing: William Fuller V, WR, 2021
Coming off a 2020 season with the Texans in which he set career highs in every major receiving category, Fuller signed a one-year, $10.6 million deal with the Dolphins. However, he also earned a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy — a suspension that carried over into his lone season with Miami. He served the final game of his suspension in Week 1 but was inactive for Week 2 for personal reasons. He played in the team’s next two games but sustained a finger injury in Week 4 that kept him out for the remainder of the season. In total, Fuller finished with 26 yards on four receptions — earning a whopping $2.5 million per catch. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Best signing: Matthew Judon, OLB, 2021
Judon is one of the team’s biggest signings from its 2021 spree, coming over from the Ravens on a four-year, $56 million deal. Judon is coming off a 2022 season in which he set a career high with 15.5 sacks after notching 12.5 in his first year with the club. He has been voted to the Pro Bowl on the original ballot each of the past four years, including his two in New England.
Worst signing: Antonio Brown, WR, 2019
It will be hard to top this one when it comes to blown money, as Brown played in one game in 2019 and earned a $9 million signing bonus for it. He created more headlines off the field than on it, as the franchise had to deal with the fallout of his brief stay in town. Four receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown were his only on-field contributions in his 13 days with the Patriots. — Mike Reiss
Best signing: D.J. Reed, CB, 2022
The Jets hit the free agent jackpot with Reed, who teamed up with rookie sensation Sauce Gardner to form one of the best cornerback duos in the league. Reed ranked fifth in completion percentage (55%) among corners as the nearest defender, per Next Gen Stats (minimum: 500 coverage snaps). Playing bigger than his size (5-foot-9), Reed did a terrific job against some of the NFL’s top receivers. He’s well worth his three-year, $33 million contract.
Worst signing: Le’Veon Bell, RB, 2019
The Jets thought they were hot stuff after signing the former Steelers star to a four-year, $52.5 million contract in 2019, but it was a total disaster. Bell had lost a step after sitting out the 2018 season in a contract dispute and wound up playing only 17 games for the Jets in two seasons. He clashed with then-coach Adam Gase, who never wanted to sign him. Bell, cut early in the 2020 season, walked away with $28 million after four TDs and zero 100-yard rushing games. — Rich Cimini
Best signing: Mark Ingram II, RB, 2019
There was a lot of fretting from the Ravens’ fan base in 2019 when Baltimore signed Ingram instead of Le’Veon Bell. But Ingram became an integral cog and leader for the NFL’s highest-scoring offense, setting the tone with his physical and explosive running. After signing a modest three-year, $15 million deal, he ran for 1,018 yards, tied a franchise single-season record with 15 total touchdowns and coined the team’s mantra “Big Truss.” Not bad for someone who wasn’t among the 10 highest-paid running backs that season.
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Worst signing: Earl Thomas III, S, 2019
The Ravens knew they were getting a highly volatile defender when they signed Thomas to a four-year $55 million contract, which was the largest deal they had ever given a free agent defender. One year later, Baltimore abruptly cut Thomas three weeks before the start of the regular season because he punched a teammate at practice. He also missed or was late to several meetings during his 17 months in Baltimore. One of the lasting images of Thomas with the Ravens was him getting stiff-armed by Titans running back Derrick Henry in a shocking playoff loss to Tennessee. — Jamison Hensley
Best signing: DJ Reader, DT, 2020
Reader is arguably the best signing in an era filled with valuable additions, which speaks volumes to his performance. While the sack numbers might not show it, Reader has been an absolute force on the line of scrimmage. His ability to eat gaps, be disruptive and free teammates up to make plays factored into the team’s defensive success since he signed a four-year deal worth $53 million.
Worst signing: Trae Waynes, CB, 2020
Waynes, a former first-round pick of the Vikings in 2015, was a big splash signing for the Bengals. But after he missed the entire 2020 season because of a torn pectoral, a hamstring issue allowed him to play in five games in 2021 before he was ultimately released. Waynes went unsigned in 2022, as he indicated he was retired. — Ben Baby
Best signing: Jack Conklin, OT, 2020
Conklin has played in only 21 games over the past two years because of a torn patella injury. Still, when he has been healthy, he has solidified the right tackle position, which was a major issue for the Browns before he arrived from the Titans on a three-year, $30 million deal. Conklin was an All-Pro selection in 2020, and the Browns clearly believe the 28-year-old has plenty of ball left, as they gave him a four-year extension in December worth $31 million fully guaranteed.
Worst signing: Austin Hooper, TE, 2020
The Browns signed Hooper to a four-year deal worth $23 million guaranteed. But after producing 75 receptions in his final season in Atlanta, Hooper combined for only 84 receptions in his two seasons in Cleveland. The Browns wound up releasing Hooper last offseason, creating a dead cap hit of $11.25 million. — Jake Trotter
Best signing: Mason Cole, C, 2022
The Steelers don’t take big swings in free agency, instead opting to lean heavily on drafting and developing their own players. Cole, who signed a three-year, $15.7 million deal last year, can be considered the best of a small crop of outside players signed in free agency because of how he helped the offense transition from Mitch Trubisky to rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett. With his constant presence at center, Cole also helped the line improve as the season progressed and establish a steady run game in the second half of the season.
Worst signing: Eric Ebron, TE, 2020
Because they’re among the least aggressive teams in free agency, the Steelers’ worst signing is also a bit tempered. Ebron signed a two-year, $12 million deal in 2020 to be an addition to Ben Roethlisberger’s offensive playmakers. Ebron didn’t replicate the Pro Bowl numbers he put up in 2018 with the Colts, instead making 56 catches for 558 yards with five touchdowns in 2021. Plagued by drops and inconsistency in his blocking game, he was quickly eclipsed by 2021 second-round tight end Pat Freiermuth. Not only did Ebron finish his final season in Pittsburgh on IR after sustaining a knee injury scoring his lone touchdown of the year, he finished with 12 catches and 84 yards. — Brooke Pryor
Best signing: Tyrann Mathieu, S, 2018
The Texans haven’t signed a Pro Bowl caliber player in a while. But in 2018, they signed Mathieu to a one-year, $7 million deal. In his lone season, he finished with two interceptions, three sacks and 89 tackles, third most on the Texans. He played a vital role on a defense that held opposing offenses to 19.8 points per game that year, tied for fourth fewest in the NFL.
Worst signing: Randall Cobb, WR, 2020
The Texans signed Cobb to a three-year deal worth $27 million after Cobb finished with 828 yards receiving in 2019 with the Cowboys, the fourth most in a single season in his career. That success didn’t translate in Houston, though, as Cobb caught only 38 passes for 441 yards in 2020. The Texans parted with Cobb the following season, trading him to the Packers for a sixth-round pick. — DJ Bien-Aime
Best signing: Denico Autry, DE, 2018
In the three seasons Autry was on the Colts, no player on the team had more tackles for losses (26). It was the perfect example of Autry’s impact as a disruptive force in the Indianapolis front seven, from pass rush to run stopping to his ability to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage. From a contract vs. production standpoint, Autry’s three-year, $17.8 million deal was a relative bargain.
Worst signing: Devin Funchess, WR, 2019
The Colts were looking to fill a need for a big perimeter wide receiver, and signing Funchess from the Panthers seemed like a good bet. But the one-year contract worth around $10 million went for naught when Funchess sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 1. It was his only appearance in an Indianapolis uniform. Last we heard from Funchess, he was talking about making a run at the NBA. — Stephen Holder
Best signing: Christian Kirk, WR, 2022
The Jaguars’ decision to give Kirk a four-year deal worth $72 million with $37 million guaranteed was criticized pretty heavily — until the season ended. Kirk put up career highs in receptions (84), receiving yards (1,108) and TD catches (eight) in the first year of coach Doug Pederson’s offense. Kirk, QB Trevor Lawrence and Pederson have said they’re expecting the offense to be even better in their second year together in 2023. The addition of WR Calvin Ridley will take some attention away from Kirk and allow him to play more in the slot, where he’s at his best.
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Worst signing: Nick Foles, QB, 2019
It’ll be hard for the Jaguars to ever “top” the Foles signing. They gave him a four-year, $91 million contract with a franchise-record $50.125 million guaranteed — a lot for someone who had never started a full season. He broke his collarbone after 11 offensive snaps, played poorly when he returned and was benched after three turnovers and three three-and-outs in the first half of his third game back for sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew. The Jaguars traded him to the Bears the following spring for a fourth-round pick. — Michael DiRocco
Best signing: Rodger Saffold, OG, 2019
Saffold signed a four-year, $44 million contract with the Titans and became a stalwart on the offensive line, missing only two games in three seasons. While with the Titans, Saffold was named to the Pro Bowl twice. Teaming Saffold with left tackle Taylor Lewan gave the Titans a strong tandem that paved the way for Derrick Henry’s record-setting postseason en route to the AFC Championship Game in 2019. Saffold also played a big part in Henry’s 2,027 rushing yards in 2020.
Worst signing: Vic Beasley, Edge, 2020
The Titans signed Beasley to a one-year contract that guaranteed him $9.5 million, but he proceeded to not report to camp on time, causing him to be placed on the reserve/did not report list. When he checked into camp, Beasley was placed on the active/non-football injury list and was activated a week before the season opener. Tennessee released Beasley in early November after he recorded three tackles in five games. Beasley played only 34% of the defensive snaps in 2020 and is currently in the XFL. — Turron Davenport
Best signing: Kareem Jackson, S, 2019
One signing that has worked out well for the Broncos despite their recent struggles was Jackson’s three-year deal. Jackson has since signed two more one-year deals, played 61 games in the past four seasons, had three 80-tackle seasons and been an important voice in the team’s locker room. The Broncos will look to keep him given he is an unrestricted free agent again.
Worst signing: Ja’Wuan James, OT, 2019
It was a combination of bad luck and a stretch of time when the Broncos struggled to get it right in free agency. But after James signed a four-year, $52 million deal as the solution at right tackle, he played in just three games over two seasons because of injuries. James was released before the 2021 season after he had suffered a torn Achilles in a workout away from the team during the COVID-19 pandemic. James later filed a grievance against the Broncos. — Jeff Legwold
Best signing: Tyrann Mathieu, S, 2019
Mathieu was a key player for the Chiefs as they went to back-to-back Super Bowls in his first two seasons with the team. In 2019, he helped lead a renovated defense that featured several new starters, a new coordinator and new staff. Toward the end of that Super Bowl-winning season, the Chiefs had one of the best defenses in the league.
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Worst signing: Anthony Hitchens, LB, 2018
He wasn’t a bust, but Hitchens rarely had the impact the Chiefs hoped for in his four seasons with them after he signed a five-year, $45 million deal. He frequently came out of the game on third downs. The Chiefs’ linebacker play picked up dramatically after they invested draft picks in Willie Gay in 2020 and Nick Bolton a year later. — Adam Teicher
Best signing: Mack Hollins, WR, 2022
A career complementary player who was also comic relief in the locker room, Hollins found himself thrust into a starting role in 2022 with receiver Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller missing a ton of time. Indeed, Hollins finished with career highs in catches (57), receiving yards (690) and receiving TDs (4), all of which ranked second on the Raiders. Plus, he doubled as one of the most feared special teams gunners in the league, downing punts near the goal line.
Worst signing: Cory Littleton, LB, 2020
Littleton proved unproductive and uninspiring for two seasons despite signing a massive three-year, $35.25 million free agent deal with $22 million guaranteed. He had 0.5 sacks and a fumble recovery without an interception among four passes defended in starting 27 of 31 games in Vegas before losing his job to rookie linebacker Divine Deablo. He was released following the 2021 season. — Paul Gutierrez
Best signing: Corey Linsley, C, 2021
The Chargers signed Linsley to a five-year, $62.5 million contract, and the nine-year veteran center has since provided consistency and leadership not only on the offensive line, but for the entire offense and most importantly quarterback Justin Herbert. The only knock on Linsley? He missed three games last season because of various issues, including a knee injury, illness and a concussion, and as he prepares for a 10th season, it’s reasonable to question whether he will remain healthy for the remaining three seasons of his contract.
Worst signing: Bryan Bulaga, OT, 2020
Bulaga signed a three-year, $30 million contract and was expected to anchor the line at right tackle. But after playing nine seasons in Green Bay, Bulaga could not remain healthy with the Chargers. In 2020, he missed six games because of various injuries, including a back injury, a concussion and a foot issue. In 2021 Bulaga played 43 snaps in Week 1 before he suffered an injury that required season-ending core muscle surgery and was placed on injured reserve. With one year remaining on his deal, the Chargers released Bulaga after the season. The Chargers’ search for stability at right tackle continues. — Lindsey Thiry
Best signing: Jayron Kearse, S, 2021
When the Cowboys signed Kearse to a minimum salary benefit contract two years ago, they didn’t think he would become one of the key players of their defense, but he has outperformed any expectation. He then signed a two-year, $10 million deal in 2022 and finished third on the team in tackles and added two sacks, five tackles for loss, six pressures, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, an interception and five pass deflections — despite missing three games. And he will have this piece of history: He is the last player to intercept a Tom Brady pass — provided Brady does not come out of retirement again.
Worst signing: Dontari Poe, DT, 2020
This actually could’ve been a number of members of the Cowboys’ 2020 free agent class, but Poe was cut after seven games after being guaranteed $3.5 million on a two-year, $9 million deal. He was expected to be a key part of Mike Nolan’s defense with his size but was credited with seven tackles and one pressure on a defense that ended up allowing the most points in franchise history. While defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and defensive back Daryl Worley also underperformed from the 2020 class, Poe gets the nod. — Todd Archer
Best signing: Graham Gano, K, 2020
This was a move made in the middle of training camp in 2020. Gano was 33 years old at the time and coming off a serious injury. All he has done since is make 92% of his field goal attempts, including a ridiculous 20-of-25 from at least 50 yards. He made the Pro Bowl in 2022.
Worst signing: Kenny Golladay, WR, 2021
There were lots of options here. It’s hard to imagine anyone surpassing former Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder, but Golladay did just that. He collected almost $1 million per catch and scored one touchdown in two seasons, and it came in a meaningless Week 18 game. A parting gift? The Giants still owe him $4.5 million this year. — Jordan Raanan
Best signing: Haason Reddick, Edge, 2022
The Eagles signed Reddick to a three-year, $45 million deal last March and received immediate return on investment. He was arguably the best player on a loaded Philly defense in 2022, finishing second in the NFL with 16 sacks while forcing five fumbles. He produced in the playoffs as well, racking up 3.5 sacks and six QB hits to help the Eagles advance to Super Bowl LVII.
Worst signing: Malik Jackson, DT, 2019
The Eagles inked Jackson to a three-year, $30 million deal from the Jaguars, and it just didn’t work out. Jackson was sidelined for all but one game in ’19 because of a Lisfranc injury, and had 2.5 sacks over 15 games the next year before being released the following offseason. — Tim McManus
Best signing: Taylor Heinicke, QB, 2020
There have been other hits — tight end Logan Thomas among them — but Heinicke way overplayed the status he held upon signing. He signed in December 2020 — he was living with his sister, sleeping on her couch — as a fourth quarterback who would play only if COVID-19 impacted the position. But when he did play at the end of the month, he provided a spark. Over the past two years, Washington tried to find a quality starter but thanks to injuries, Heinicke was always needed. He started 24 games, throwing for 32 touchdown passes to 21 interceptions. Heinicke wasn’t great, but he kept Washington competitive. The team went 12-11-1 in his starts compared to 3-7 with anyone else.
Worst signing: William Jackson III, CB, 2021
After losing Ronald Darby to free agency, Washington quickly signed Jackson to a three-year deal worth up to $42 million with $21 million guaranteed. But Jackson was a poor fit in Washington’s defense. The Commanders wanted to expand their coverages, so Jackson’s ability to play man was desirable — but they did not anticipate how much he’d struggle while playing zone. He made too many mental errors that resulted in big plays. Washington finally admitted the fit was bad for both sides and traded him to Pittsburgh in October along with a conditional 2025 seventh-round pick in exchange for a conditional 2025 sixth-round pick. — John Keim
Best signing: Robert Quinn, Edge, 2020
The Bears signed Quinn after he posted the second-most sacks of his career with Dallas in 2019 (11.5). He became a staple of the Chicago defense over the next two seasons and set the Bears’ single-season franchise sack record with 18.5 in 2021. The additions the Bears made to create one of the league’s best pass-rushes came through free agency and trades with Quinn, Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack.
Worst signing: Trey Burton, TE, 2018
Burton came to Chicago with major expectations attached to his name after playing an important role in Philadelphia’s 2017 Super Bowl win. He posted a career year in Chicago in 2018 (76 catches, 569 yards, 6 TDs) and was a primary target of former Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, but a groin injury the following season limited him to eight games. Burton was released two years into his $32 million contract and replaced by another free agent TE in Jimmy Graham. — Courtney Cronin
Best signing: Jamaal Williams, RB, 2021
Williams enjoyed the best seasons of his career in 2021 and 2022 after signing with the Lions as an unrestricted free agent on a two-year, $6 million deal. After thriving in a complementary role for the Packers for his first four NFL seasons, Williams led the league in rushing touchdowns (17) this past year while rushing for 1,066 yards, the first 1,000-yard season in Detroit since Reggie Bush in 2013.
Worst signing: Jesse James, TE, 2019
James signed a four-year, $22.6 million deal and was released after two seasons after failing to live up to that deal. He recorded just 30 receptions for 271 yards in those two seasons. In his first year, he went without a touchdown in a season for the first time in his career, which started in 2015. — Eric Woodyard
Best signing: Preston Smith, Edge, 2019
Early on, fellow outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith looked like the better signing when he and Preston Smith came to Green Bay in GM Brian Gutekunst’s robust 2019 free agency class that also included safety Adrian Amos and offensive lineman Billy Turner. But Preston Smith outlasted Za’Darius Smith in Green Bay and proved more consistent, as Za’Darius Smith was released after a back injury ruined his 2021 season. While Za’Darius Smith bounced back with the Vikings last season, Preston Smith has provided a consistent presence with 35.5 sacks and 77 quarterback hits over the past four seasons while missing only one game. The Packers extended his contract after the 2021 season — a year after he took a pay cut — paying him an average of $13 million per year.
Worst signing: Jimmy Graham, TE, 2018
After then-GM Ted Thompson made a big mistake by signing Martellus Bennett in 2017, Gutekunst compounded it by giving another veteran tight end big money. The Packers paid Graham $22 million over his two years in Green Bay and got all of five touchdowns out of someone they thought would be a big-time playmaker in the red zone. They cut him in 2020 before the final year of the three-year, $30 million deal. — Rob Demovsky
Best signing: Kirk Cousins, QB, 2018
Judging Cousins’ time in Minnesota must include the context of what preceded him. The Vikings had used 10 primary starting quarterbacks in the 12 seasons since Daunte Culpepper’s career-altering knee injury in 2005. Since his arrival, Cousins has brought the Vikings a rare level of stability. In short, Cousins is the Vikings’ most reliable and best performer at the position over the past two decades.
Worst signing: Cousins
The premium nature of the Cousins acquisition gave him extraordinary leverage over his future, regardless of performance, while requiring the Vikings to accept that they were playing elite money — three years, $84 million fully guaranteed — to a player who was good but not transcendent. Cap considerations forced the Vikings to extend the contract twice in five seasons, and they are now mulling a third. No NFL player consumed more cap space ($136.4 million) between 2018 and ’22, and only two (Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers) earned more cash than Cousins’ $155 million. — Kevin Seifert
Best signing: Cordarrelle Patterson, RB/KR, 2021
Signed on a reasonable one-year, $3 million deal in 2021, Patterson had the best year of his career with 1,186 scrimmage yards, finding a role as a do-it-all rusher-receiver-returner for Atlanta. He parlayed it into a new two-year, $10.5 million deal with the Falcons last season, when he battled injuries but still had 817 scrimmage yards — the second best of his career — and became the NFL’s all-time kick return touchdown leader, with nine. A runner-up here would be kicker Younghoe Koo, who became a Pro Bowler in 2020 and has made 90.8% of his kicks in four seasons with Atlanta, but Patterson has had the more overall impact.
Worst signing: Dante Fowler Jr., Edge, 2020
The Falcons signed Fowler to a three-year, $45 million deal in free agency –with the hope he’d finally solve Atlanta’s pass rush issues. Fowler made it through two seasons with the Falcons, in part because the contract was difficult to move on from after 2020. Fowler had 7.5 sacks in two seasons with Atlanta, not reaching in two years what he had done in his best season in Jacksonville (eight sacks in 2017) or with the Rams (11.5 sacks in 2019), the latter helping land him the big deal with Atlanta. — Michael Rothstein
Best signing: Frankie Luvu, LB, 2021
Haason Reddick could have been the choice here because he had a team-leading 11 sacks on a one-year, $8 million contract in 2021, but Luvu turned out to be a long-term solution on a less-costly contract for a team in rebuild mode. After an initial one-year, $1.1 million deal, he played well enough to get a two-year, $9 million extension. He responded with a career-high 111 tackles and seven sacks.
Worst signing: Gerald McCoy, DT, 2019
The Panthers signed McCoy to a one-year, $10.25 million deal in 2019. He had only five sacks, his lowest total since 2012, and 37 tackles. You could have put wide receiver Robbie Anderson here, but he had a career year in 2020 after getting a two-year, $20 million deal that led to a two-year, $29.5 million extension that was Carolina’s worst extension in the past five years based on what Anderson did in 2021 and ’22 before being traded. — David Newton
Best signing: Demario Davis, LB, 2018
This was true several years ago and still holds true today. The Saints got a steal when they signed Davis to a three-year, $24 million deal. He has started 81 games in New Orleans, earning one first-team All-Pro nod, three second-team All-Pro honors and his first selection to Pro Bowl this season. Davis helped turn a struggling defense into one of the top units.
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Worst signing: Cameron Meredith, WR, 2018
Meredith’s big 2016 season with the Bears (66 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns) convinced the Saints to sign him in 2018. Meredith missed the 2017 season in Chicago because of a torn ACL and spent most of his time in New Orleans injured as well, catching nine passes before he was released after one season. — Katherine Terrell
Best signing: Tom Brady, QB, 2020
This will go down as the best free agent signing in franchise history. The Bucs hadn’t been to the postseason since 2007 and had never won back-to-back division titles, but Brady got them to the playoffs in each of his three years and won them a Super Bowl in 2020, the second in franchise history. Brady ended up throwing for 14,643 yards and 108 touchdown passes in his three seasons in Tampa.
Worst signing: Julio Jones, WR, 2022
The early years for GM Jason Licht were rough in free agency but in the past five, you’d be hard-pressed to find a truly bad move in free agency. The Bucs did away with long-term deals and, instead, found a lot more success in short-term deals. But if you’re looking for a recent gaffe, it would be signing Jones and expecting him to help replace Rob Gronkowski’s production at age 33. He showed, starting in 2020, that he just couldn’t stay healthy, which really impacted his ability to practice consistently in Tampa. — Jenna Laine
Best signing: James Conner, RB, 2021
There were a number of signings that could’ve qualified — linebacker Jordan Hicks came to mind immediately — but Conner gave the Cardinals stability at running back, a position that hasn’t had much stability in a while. He was also a core piece of what Arizona did offensively — 782 rushing yards and seven touchdowns this past season after scoring 18 combined touchdowns in 2021– which made his signing all the more valuable.
Worst signing: Sam Bradford, QB, 2018
Bradford was given $15 million guaranteed to be the Cardinals’ bridge quarterback before they traded up to draft Josh Rosen. Bradford started three games before Rosen replaced him late in Week 3 and started in Week 4, when Bradford was inactive. He was released by November. — Josh Weinfuss
Best signing: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, 2021
The Rams made several big moves to bring them closer to winning Super Bowl LVI, but two of the biggest (quarterback Matthew Stafford and linebacker Von Miller) were through trades. The Rams added Beckham after he was released by the Browns and cleared waivers, and he was a key part of Los Angeles’ Super Bowl run. In 12 games between the regular season and playoffs, Beckham had 48 catches for 593 yards and seven touchdowns.
Worst signing: Allen Robinson II, WR, 2022
It has only been one season, but Robinson’s first year in Los Angeles didn’t live up to the three year, $46.5 million contract he signed. Robinson had 33 catches for 339 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games and finished the year on injured reserve after fracturing his foot and needing surgery. Robinson is a trade candidate for the Rams, but if he does stay in L.A. next season, getting to spend OTAs and a full training camp on the field with Stafford could make a big difference for the wide receiver going into the 2023 season. — Sarah Barshop
Best signing: Richard Sherman, CB, 2018
Upon returning from a torn Achilles suffered in 2017, Sherman had a solid 2018 season and returned to All-Pro form in 2019 as the Niners surged to an NFC championship. Sherman also provided strong off-the-field return on the three-year, $39 million investment the 49ers made in him after Seattle released him. Sherman’s influence is still felt in a locker room that looked to him for guidance in the early days of building a winning culture under coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch.
Worst signing: Jerick McKinnon, RB, 2018
The Niners had big plans for McKinnon when he signed a four-year, $30 million deal in 2018. But injuries prevented him from getting a chance to realize his potential in San Francisco. A torn ACL and some recovery setbacks cost him the entire 2018 and 2019 seasons. He finally got on the field in 2020, but his three-year tenure with the 49ers ended with just 572 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns. — Nick Wagoner
Best signing: Uchenna Nwosu, Edge, 2022
The Seahawks signed Nwosu away from the Chargers to a two-year, $19.055 million deal, making him their highest-paid free agent addition in terms of APY since GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll arrived in 2010. It looks like money very well spent after Nwosu delivered a career year with 9.5 sacks (tied for team lead), 26 quarterback hits (team high) and 12 tackles for loss (team high) while starting every game. He isn’t just their best UFA addition of the past five years, he’s their best since Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril in 2013.
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Adam Schefter details why Geno Smith was always expected to return to Seattle and what his signing means for the rest of the quarterback market.
Worst signing: B.J. Finney, C, 2020
The Seahawks signed Finney to a two-year, $8 million deal in 2020 to be their starting center, but with COVID-19 rules restricting team physicals, he dialed back his offseason training regimen out of fear that an injury would forfeit his $2 million signing bonus. Finney showed up to camp out of shape and lasted only six games with Seattle without playing a single offensive snap, making $3 million in the process. — Brady Henderso