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Top 16 free-agent signings of 2016: Giants landed talented trio

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As we slide into the NFL's eBay this week, oodles of yarn will be spun about who is the right fit for which organization. GM phone calls will jack up market value, somewhat analogous to you randomly getting in a bidding war with a truck driver over a beer stein from the 1988 Octoberfest. Hey, if it helps the Bears or 49ers or another team win, all good.

Predicting which team will hit or miss with, say, Alshon Jeffery? Not always good. Ahh, but a year's reflection makes evaluating GM moves easier. With that in mind, below are the top 16 free-agent acquisitions of the 2016 offseason -- based on productivity, relative cost and team results. There were so many fruitful signings that solid contributors like Jared Cook and Josh Sitton failed to make the list. Let us know if this rundown is solid: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

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16

Anquan Boldin, WR, Lions

Like DeAngelo Williams a couple of years ago, Boldin's signing flew largely under the radar. Boldin's uncanny ability to get himself open allowed him to catch eight touchdown passes from Matthew Stafford, including the game-winner against the Redskins (without that, the Lions don't make the postseason). While Marvin Jones racked up more receiving yards, he didn't score a touchdown after Week 6.

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15

Jerrell Freeman, LB, Bears

Freeman, based on the way he played while he played, should be higher. Unfortunately, he was suspended four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances, which pushes him a little lower in our ranking of the top free-agent signings of 2016. The season can still be characterized as a banner year in terms of production: 110 tackles in abbreviated duty is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering Chicago got him on the cheap. Wearing No. 50 for the Bears is pretty sweet, too. #SamuraiMike

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14

Malik Jackson, DT, Jaguars

The Jaguars spent big money on Jackson, tossing out an $85.5 million payload (with $42 million guaranteed) that initially raised some eyebrows. One year in, it looks like it was a smart move. Olivier Vernon received more guaranteed money because he is a "sack guy." Well, Jackson, despite playing on the interior, tallied just two fewer sacks -- and he is a space-eater in the run game. Had the Jags gotten any better in 2016, this signing would rank higher. (You could write that type of sentence for the last five years with this franchise. Sigh.)

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13

Lamar Miller, RB, Texans

Houston signed Miller with the hope that he could provide more offensive balance than the team had received in recent years from a consistently banged-up Arian Foster and Alfred Blue. Miller was indeed far more productive, though somewhat inconsistent. There were times Miller was the best Texan on the field, and other games where an increased workload seemed to catch up with him. Miller posted 1,073 rushing yards, making him a certified free agency success story, but also averaged more than half a yard less per carry than his career average in Miami.

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12

Josh Norman, CB, Redskins

Was Norman the premier shutdown corner in pro football last year? No. Did teams avoid him and pick on Bashaud Breeland whenever it tickled their fancy? Yes. While the Redskins ranked 25th in pass defense for the second year in a row, they allowed fewer touchdowns while intercepting more passes in 2016. Norman cost the team a bundle, but despite some ref-induced (and attitude-induced) episodes, his was a successful signing.

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11

Olivier Vernon, DE, Giants

Maybe Vernon got off to a slow start stat-wise, and his $52.5 million guaranteed was a pretty steep price tag, but there is no question he made a huge impact on throwing downs for a team that sorely needed pass rush. Vernon actually was pretty stout against the run, as well, which contributed to New York improving by leaps and bounds defensively. He isn't the only member of the Giants' defense on this list, either. In one year's time, that unit went from 30th in points allowed to second. That's unbelievable.

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10

Nigel Bradham, LB, Eagles

For a relatively cheap contract, the Eagles found themselves a linebacker who outplayed a lot of bigger names around the league. Bradham eclipsed 100 tackles while securing two sacks, five passes defensed, two forced fumbles and an interception. He also started all 16 games for the first time in his career. Bradham and fellow free-agent acquisition Rodney McLeod (who just missed this list) helped Philly's defense rise 16 spots in terms of points allowed.

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9

Zach Brown, LB, Bills

Another bargain free-agent find. The Bills were able to sign Brown on a one-year deal worth a paltry $1.25 million. Well, paltry for a professional football player who tallied 149 tackles, four sacks, four passes defensed and a pick in his first year in Buffalo. Granted, Rex Ryan's defense struggled mightily at times last season, but Brown and another free-agent steal (see below) were two of the best players on the team.

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8

Brent Grimes, CB, Buccaneers

Grimes came to the Bucs on an affordable deal for a quality cornerback (two years, $13.5 million) and proceeded to play at a Pro Bowl level. Ironically, Grimes made the Pro Bowl three straight years in Miami, but I felt he was better in Tampa last season despite not receiving that honor.

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7

Damon Harrison, DT, Giants

Can a two-down player be dominant? Absolutely. Damon "Snacks" Harrison completely changed the tenor of the Giants' defense by making offenses lean toward being one-dimensional. The guy was damn-near impossible to run on. Better luck hitting the edges on the Giants (although that wasn't much easier). New York ranked third in rushing defense and second in yards-per-carry allowed because of the defensive line. Did Harrison play well against the run because of Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul, or did the latter two improve because of Snacks? I'll give you three guesses, and the first two don't count.

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6

Lorenzo Alexander, OLB, Bills

Imagine buying a 1983 Nissan Pulsar for $800, then finding out afterward it has a new V6 engine, a DVD player and a sound system that'd make Vince Vaughn proud. That's what the Bills got in 33-year-old Lorenzo Alexander, a bargain in free agency if there ever was one. Buffalo paid less than $900K, then watched Alexander go out and rack up 12.5 sacks. Amazing.

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5

Eric Weddle, S, Ravens

While Weddle had a market last offseason, it's not like he went for huge money or was one of the sexy signings of the free agency period. All the guy did in the fall was earn Pro Bowl honors while picking off four passes, forcing a fumble and amassing 89 tackles. The Ravens gave up 80 fewer points last year than in 2015. Put another way, this was a great free-agent acquisition.

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4

Janoris Jenkins, CB, Giants

Jenkins makes this list for the same reason Harrison and Vernon did: The Giants' amazing defensive turnaround was one of the more underreported developments of the 2016 season. Enough people recognized Jenkins' quality play for him to earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl. His near-shutout ball vs. Dez Bryant allowed Big Blue to sweep the Cowboys, victories that were integral to the Giants making the postseason.

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3

Kelechi Osemele, G, Raiders

The Raiders spent a bundle on Osemele, but they received All-Pro-level play from their left guard. Teamed with Donald Penn, Osemele made that side of the line a strength of the team, allowing Derek Carr to shine -- the young quarterback rarely had to worry about pressure from his blind side. Oakland's immense success this past season, particularly on offense, is why Osemele ranks high on this list.

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2

Casey Hayward, CB, Chargers

Hayward led the NFL in interceptions, despite coming at a much cheaper price than bigger names like Janoris Jenkins and Josh Norman. In fact, combining price, production and the intense difficulty GMs have finding solid cover corners, you could put Hayward at No. 1 on this list. Unfortunately, the lack of team success rendered this signing slightly less impactful.

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1

Alex Mack, C, Falcons

If the whole point of free agency is to acquire players who spawn team success, then how can you argue with Mack topping this list? Much like Martellus Bennett (who was acquired by the Patriots via trade), Mack played a key role in getting his new team to the Super Bowl. Remember those center-quarterback exchanges that were problematic for the Falcons in 2015? (SEE: the game in New Orleans.) Not anymore. Mack helped Atlanta lead the NFL in scoring.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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