NFL Free Agency: 7 best contracts of first wave include J.C. Jackson, DeMarcus Lawrence, and James Daniels

The first wave of NFL free agency is over. Which teams found the best value in some of the more high-profile signings throughout the league?

The NFL free agency period is riddled with overpayments for players on the open market. However, a few of the deals completed during the first wave of free agency were for outstanding players and outstanding value. A few stood apart, but these seven contracts were all wins for the team they signed with.

NFL Free Agency: Three S-tier contracts

Some of the contracts signed during the first wave of free agency could make even the harshest critic of how much NFL players make blush.

G James Daniels, Pittsburgh Steelers

Contract: Three years, $26.5 million

After landing at No. 52 on Pro Football Network’s Top 100 Free Agents, the former Bears guard signed a ridiculously lopsided contract early in free agency compared to what other older guards were making.

James Daniels is only 24 years old and was the 39th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He’s outstanding and young yet will make less than $10 million annually. The Steelers have done an excellent job finding value, but this contract feels unreal.

CB Casey Hayward Jr., Atlanta Falcons

Contract: Two years, $11 million

The Falcons haven’t done much right over the past few seasons. Their roster is in shambles, and now they’re without their franchise quarterback, who they only managed to receive a third-round pick for.

But Casey Hayward Jr. was the 26th-ranked player on the Top 100. He’s older, so he would never make much on the open market, even on a short-term deal. But for just $5.5 million annually, the veteran cornerback is a steal.

Hayward is a perfect schematic fit for what Atlanta likes to do in coverage. If they were a man-heavy team forcing him into 1-on-1 situations down in and down out, he wouldn’t be as valuable. But he fits into a perfect slot to succeed in Atlanta.

LB Haason Reddick, Philadelphia Eagles

Contract: Three years, $45 million

Haason Reddick’s contract doesn’t look like some S-tier free agency contract on the surface. But when we dig in to see his cap hit in 2022 is only $4 million — and 2023 is only $6.8 million — we’re looking at one of the most cap-friendly deals in the NFL.

Reddick will most likely align as a SAM in base and slide down into a traditional EDGE role in nickel. He’s an excellent complement to Brandon Graham and Josh Sweat.

NFL Free Agency: Four A-tier contracts

These four contracts weren’t as one-sided as the S-tier signings, but they still felt low for the player and good for their team.

CB J.C. Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers

Contract: Five years, $82.5 million

Between J.C. Jackson’s ridiculous ball production and his ability to force incompletions in both man and zone coverage, coming in with just the sixth-highest cornerback contract is unbelievable. He has market-setting ability in free agency, but he didn’t reset the market the way we thought he could.

At just $16.5 million annually and a cap hit that’ll never touch $20 million with a restructure, the Chargers got a deal for possibly the most talented cover corner in the NFL. Los Angeles also won on deal length. Jackson’s five-year deal offers ample flexibility for the franchise.

CB Carlton Davis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Contract: Three years, $44.5 million

Similarly, Carlton Davis was undoubtedly affected by Jackson’s low-cost signing. Davis is one of the most underrated defenders in the NFL. His route recognition is top-notch, and he possesses the size and athleticism to carry receivers vertically.

In the final year of his three-year deal, the Buccaneers could cut him and save $14 million against the salary cap. He will hit the NFL’s free agency again at 28 years old.

LB De’Vondre Campbell, Green Bay Packers

Contract: Five years, $50 million

De’Vondre Campbell’s deal relative to his play last season is highway robbery. However, because he’s only had one year of elite production, his $10 million annual value over five seasons feels fair for both sides.

But Campbell was a first-team All-Pro in 2021, and he’s a great athlete for the position. It’s unlikely his play dissolves much over the next few seasons barring his body deteriorating early. On a per-year basis, he’s just the 11th-highest paid linebacker in football.

WR Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys

Contract: Five years, $57.5 million

In relation to what other receivers on the free agency market received, the Cowboys’ five-year contract with Michael Gallup is outstanding. He’ll make just $11.5 million annually, and that five-year deal is just a two-year deal.

It gives the Cowboys flexibility only a gymnast possesses. The only thing keeping this from being an S-tier contract is his ACL injury and a dip in production over the past two seasons. But with Amari Cooper now in Cleveland, Gallup won’t have to contend for targets with Cooper and CeeDee Lamb.

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