New Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Russell Wilson Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

6 NFL Free-Agent Contracts That Will Prove to Be Biggest Value in 2024

Brent Sobleski

High-profile free-agent signings dominate the NFL's offseason coverage. But history has showed again and again that teams considered offseason winners don't typically translate to field, at least on a championship level. Instead, a concentration should be placed on smart investments, which help complete a roster.

Free agency is a supplementary piece of roster-building, not a quick fix for a lineup in desperate need of upgrades.

Aside from landing Tom Brady or Peyton Manning on the very rare occasion that Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks wade into free agency for the first time, most individuals aren't going to make the type of impact that turns a team into a legitimate championship contender.

However, certain additions can help elevate a roster after the organization didn't overspend on their services. Six signings this offseason should be viewed as tremendous values, with the potential to pay massive dividends.

QB Russell Wilson, Pittsburgh Steelers

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Some may snicker at Russell Wilson's inclusion as one of the best free-agent values with the potential to create an impact, but he simply has to be a step above terrible to significantly improve the Pittsburgh Steelers offense.

It's safe to say that no one views Wilson the same way today as his time with the Seattle Seahawks, nor should they. Even as poorly as some view his recent play, he's still a massive upgrade over what the Steelers experienced at quarterback last season.

Take a moment and realize that the Broncos were willing to take on the biggest dead salary-cap hit in NFL history to get him out of the building. Even coming off the lowest passing output of his career, Wilson still managed 281 more yards and 17 more touchdowns than Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph combined to produce for the league's 25th-ranked passing offense.

The Steelers simply need average play from the quarterback position to be a major threat after finishing 10-7 a year ago and somehow making the postseason.

"I even texted [head coach Mike Tomlin] right after they signed Russell [Wilson]," veteran defensive back Patrick Peterson said during an interview on The Jim Rome Show (h/t SB Nation's Jarrett Bailey). "I said, 'Now you finally got you a quarterback that has credibility. A guy who's going to be in the lineup that you can count on. Being in the lineup week in and week out. Now [it] is going to be putting the right pieces around him.' They have the pieces for Russell to be successful."

The price tag on Wilson's acquisition makes his acquisition even more tantalizing. Because of Denver's willingness to let him go despite his massive salary figures, they'll eat the majority of Wilson's contract this season while the Steelers pay him the veteran minimum of $1.2 million.

No one is saying that Wilson will be a great starter for the Steelers or that he'll be the guy beyond this season. However, the risk in his investment is minimal, with the potential to be easily maximized.

RB Zack Moss, Cincinnati Bengals

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Zack Moss took an opportunity with the Indianapolis Colts, as the organization squabbled over a contract with lead back Jonathan Taylor, and ran with it.

Taylor was also dealing with the lingering effects of an ankle issue from the previous season. All the while, Moss emerged as a legitimate starting-caliber ball-carrier. Through the first four weeks of the 2023 campaign, Moss carried the ball 89 times for 445 yards and four total touchdowns.

Unsurprisingly, the 26-year-old running back looked for a starting opportunity elsewhere this offseason since Taylor is clearly the Colts' present and future. Moss signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the Cincinnati Bengals knowing the organization already asked its starting running back Joe Mixon to take a pay cut eight months earlier, which he obliged.

The Bengals traded Mixon to the Houston Texans two days after signing Moss. Prior to that point, Cincinnati's lead back provided four 1,000-yard campaigns over the last six seasons. That production will now fall to Moss, who's more than capable of picking up the slack.

"One-cut and downhill," Moss told reporters when asked about his running style. "I try to be aggressive, set the tone. No wasted movements, really."

The Bengals basically signed a quality starting option for a third of what Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs got with their average annual salaries. Moss also came in under the likes of fellow free agents D'Andre Swift, Tony Pollard, Devin Singletary, Derrick Henry, Antonio Gibson, Austin Ekeler and DeeJay Dallas in total contractual value.

WR Tyler Boyd, Tennessee Titans

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Familiarity greatly helps during the transition teams experience with new coaching staffs. Case in point, wide receiver Tyler Boyd agreed to a one-year, $4.5 million deal to join the Tennessee Titans.

Boyd inked his deal nearly two weeks after the NFL draft, which tends to happen with slightly older free agents who aren't swept up in the first wave of free agency. They wait hoping to get a contract representative of their value. Instead, organizations tend to only hand out one-year, prove-it contracts at that point.

So the Titans landed one of the league's best slot receivers, who has an extensive working partnership with new head coach Brian Callahan, at a discounted rate. Boyd spent the last five seasons as one of the Cincinnati Bengals' starting wide receivers, while Callahan served as the squad's offensive play-caller.

During that time, Boyd averaged 828 yards and just over four touchdowns per season. It's true that his receiving yardage has decreased in each of the last three seasons. That downturn coincides with Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase joining the squad. Also, last season's 667-yard output was due, in part, to the season-ending wrist injury that quarterback Joe Burrow suffered.

In Tennessee, Boyd will immediately slide into the lineup alongside the Titans' big free-agent addition of Calvin Ridley and longtime veteran DeAndre Hopkins. He can easily fill a similar role as he did in Cincinnati while helping in the development of quarterback Will Levis.

Tennessee spent less than half than the New York Jets did for Mike Williams (one-year, $10 million deal), who is the same age and coming off a torn ACL.

OG Laken Tomlinson, Seattle Seahawks

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The Seattle Seahawks didn't have one starting-caliber guard on their roster entering the offseason, let alone two. Laken Tomlinson's addition, albeit later than expected, will go a long way to helping the entire offense.

Initially, the Seahawks didn't sign anyone of note to address their offensive line. Well, that's not entirely true since George Fant rejoined the team after being gone for four seasons, because the organization is worried about right tackle Abraham Lucas' lingering knee issue. Tomlinson joined the squad a month after free agency began.

The New York Jets cut Tomlinson earlier in the offseason after two years with Gang Green. He agreed to a miniscule one-year, $1.2 million free-agent deal.

Keep in mind that Tomlinson is a proven blocker, with 138 current starts under his belt, including all 17 regular-season contests last year. His veteran presence alone will help stabilize what could be an entirely reworked offensive interior.

With Tomlinson projected at left guard, the Seahawks will also have a new starting center in either Olu Oluwatimi or Nick Harris, with third-round rookie Christian Haynes vying to start at right guard.

Tomlinson's play took a step back or two during his time with the Jets. Still, his experience and reliability make him well worth the minimal investment made by the Seahawks. It was the smart move when other organizations were in the market paying exorbitant prices for Robert Hunt, Jonah Jackson, Damien Lewis and Jon Runyan—each whom are now counted among the top 16 guards in average annual salary.

DT D.J. Reader, Detroit Lions

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The defensive tackle market exploded this offseason. One of the game's best didn't fully benefit, though.

The top four deals at the position were all signed within the last few months. The Kansas City Chiefs' Chris Jones, Las Vegas Raiders' Christian Wilkins, Baltimore Ravens' Justin Madubuike and Carolina Panthers' Derrick Brown all inked new deals at or above $96 million in total contractual value, with Jones leading the way at $158.8 million.

Meanwhile, D.J. Reader was signed to a two-year, $22 million contract with the Detroit Lions.

To be fair, the 29-year-old veteran is recovering from a season-ending torn quadriceps tendon. Still, he can be a wrecking ball in the middle of a defense when healthy. Yet his average annual salary ranks 22nd among defensive tackles. His salary-cap hit this season is even more team-friendly since it ranks 31st overall.

A healthy Reader can change the entire complexion of the Lions defense. The 335-pound nose tackle is a load to move at the point of attack and can collapse the pocket on passing downs.

A year ago, the Lions lacked a true nose capable of controlling the middle of the line of scrimmage. Alim McNeill is excellent at shooting gaps, but Reader can eat and beat double-teams to take pressure off everyone else.

His presence in the middle should create a ripple effect by taking more attention away from other defensive linemen and keeping the squad's linebackers clean. With the improvements the Lions also made on the back end, Detroit has the personnel to be a top-10 defense this coming fall.

S Jordan Poyer, Miami Dolphins

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Jordan Poyer emerged as one of the NFL's best safeties during his seven seasons with the Buffalo Bills. But the Bills decided to get younger this offseason while cutting costs. Thus, the team released Poyer (among others).

The veteran defensive back wasn't without a home for long. Poyer signed with the Miami Dolphins 12 days after his release.

Miami was moving on from Brandon Jones and needed a running mate for Jevon Holland.

"Jevon is a young player and he just wants to work," the 33-year-old Poyer told reporters. "I want to be here to help him as much as I can to become the best player that he can be so in a couple years when I'm sitting on the beach retired after the Dolphins have maybe won a Super Bowl or two. I can be like, 'Yeah man, that's my dawg right there. No. 8, you see him, we came up a little bit together.' Whatever I can do to help this team win football games, that's why I'm here."

Jones signed a three-year, $20 million free-agent deal to join the Denver Broncos. Comparatively, Poyer signed a one-year deal for just $2 million.

Last season, Miami finished 15th in pass defense. The Dolphins are going to give up yards because of explosive their own passing attack is. But Poyer's value derives from how he can keep the entire secondary on the same page.

"Yeah, I think a lot of success come from just the communication part especially on the back end," Poyer said. "If you want to be successful, you've got to know who you're playing with essentially. You've got to know the guys on and off the field. In the fourth quarter, I want to know the guy I'm playing with."


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