Team-friendly free-agency deals: Drew Brees leads the way

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After nearly a week of free agency spending, it's time to take stock of what's happened. Gregg Rosenthal examines the best contracts handed out thus far -- from the team's perspective. All contract figures are from Over the Cap or from numbers filed to the NFL Players Association and the NFL.

Drew Brees, Saints quarterback: The Saints' front office was vulnerable -- and Brees chose not to make them pay. Instead, he settled for $27 million guaranteed on a two-year, $50 million contract. That's an incredible bargain when a clearly inferior option to Brees like Kirk Cousins was worth $84 million guaranteed. The Saints quickly dropped some of the leftover guap on veteran defenders like linebacker Demario Davis, defensive end Alex Okafor and slot cornerback Patrick Robinson in an effort to win another title during Brees' infinite peak.

Michael Crabtree, Ravens receiver: It's safe to say John Harbaugh had an in-depth scouting report on Crabtree after his brother coached him in San Francisco. Still only 30 years old, Crabtree has proven time and again he's at his best on money downs, with 25 touchdowns over the last three seasons.

Crabtree's three-year, $21 million pact ultimately came in with less guaranteed money ($11 million) or average per-year salary than other far less proven free agents, like Paul Richardson ($20 million guaranteed and $8 million per year from the Redskins), Marqise Lee ($18 million guaranteed and $9.5 million per year from the Jaguars) and Albert Wilson ($8 million per year from the Dolphins), received. The Ravens essentially gave Crabtree the money that was ticketed for former Redskins receiver Ryan Grant before Grant failed his physical with the Ravens. No matter what happened with Grant, it's fair to call the Ravens lucky for how it all shook out. An average season from Crabtree is similar to Grant's entire career production.

Sheldon Richardson and Tyrann Mathieu, Vikings defensive tackle and Texans safety: Prove-it deals are the new inefficiency. With the market not ready to hand Richardson or Mathieu the guaranteed money they desired, both players settled for one-year contracts that can be wins for all parties.

Richardson will earn $8 million to play on one of the most intimidating defensive lines in football, a championship contender that figures to bathe in prime-time lights. If he can't earn a huge long-term contract from a year in Minnesota, it's not going to happen.

The Honey Badger's market didn't develop as hoped, perhaps because of concerns as to whether he has fully regained his explosiveness after ACL surgeries. Mathieu's one-year deal with Houston gives him a chance to prove he can still cover wideouts in the slot. It also gives the Texans a jump on signing him to a long-term deal if he proves front offices around the league wrong once again. As proved to be the case with 2017 free agents Alshon Jeffery (who signed a four-year extension with the Eagles after landing there on a one-year deal) and Dontari Poe (who parlayed his one-year deal with the Falcons into a three-year pact with the Panthers) a year ago, these one-year deals could just be the beginning for Richardson and Mathieu.

Teddy Bridgewater, Jets quarterback: New York general manager Mike Maccagnan got all upside and no risk with this deal. Bridgewater only received $500,000 guaranteed on what amounts to a one-year, $6 million contract. It was essentially an insurance policy that already looks unnecessary after the Jets traded up to the No. 3 pick in the draft. If Bridgewater wows the Jets in practice, great. But if the Jets like what they see out of the rookie quarterback they presumably select in April, Bridgewater could wind up getting flipped for a late-round draft pick in August.

Dion Lewis, Titans running back: Twenty million dollars sounds like a lot for an injury-prone player -- before you examine the details. In reality, the Titans only guaranteed Lewis' $5.75 million 2018 compensation. That's half as much as a similar -- arguably inferior -- player, Jerick McKinnon, will earn this year from the 49ers.

More importantly, Lewis landed on a team that should have more than money for him. It has a plan. New offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur will create mismatches with Lewis, just like LaFleur's coaching mentors Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay have done for pass-catching backs. Incumbent Derrick Henry can handle many of the Titans' inside carries, providing Lewis a better chance to reach the later years in the contract.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jaguars tight end: It's rare to find a 25-year-old in free agency with a Pro Bowl ceiling, but that's what Seferian-Jenkins represents for the Jaguars at the cost of $10 million over two seasons. After losing wideout Allen Robinson in free agency, the Jags' front office rebounded well by furnishing Blake Bortles with fine low-cost pass catchers like Seferian-Jenkins and Donte Moncrief.

Julius Peppers, Panthers defensive end: I included him on this list last season when he took a one-year, $3.75 million deal. Peppers responded by notching 11 sacks in only 531 snaps. Peppers' return on another one-year contract is a victory for all football fans and a Panthers front office that wasn't going to find cheaper pass-rush skills anywhere in free agency.

Marcus Peters, Rams cornerback: Peters wasn't technically signed in free agency, but the rookie contract the trade acquisition is still playing on made him the best value addition of the offseason. For $1.7 million this season and a fifth-year option estimated at $9.5 million a year from now, the Rams picked up Pro Bowl-caliber coverage skills. That two-year total is less than half of what Jets cornerback Trumaine Johnson will make in 2018 alone.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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