Most multi-year contracts in the NFL are truly one-year deals, then wait and see. If teams are guaranteeing money into a second season, they better evaluate well. Below is a collection of the best contracts in free agency from a team perspective. These deals do the best job of combining talent with value at a time of year ripe for regret.
NOTE: All contract figures are from Over The Cap or from numbers filed to the NFL Players Association and the NFL.
Le'Veon Bell, RB, New York Jets: I don't know whether to be heartened or annoyed by the exhaustive tweets in the wake of Bell's contract, trying to figure out exactly how much his holdout cost him. On one hand, this is the dorky contractual nitty gritty that has kept me away from my children in March for years, dissecting the difference between guaranteed vs. "rolling guarantees." On the other hand, the transformative talent Bell brings to the field has been too lost in the shuffle.
Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio broke down the full contract, which fully guarantees $27 million over the next two seasons. That's equal or less money in the first two years than Mitch Morse, Ja'Wuan James, Trent Brown and Za'Darius Smith received last week. You can repeat your position scarcity and running back value arguments from now until when Ben Roethlisbergerwins another Steelers team MVP award and I still won't believe them. There are only a few other running backs with the three-down assets Bell possesses, so he'll provide the Jets an advantage every time he's on the field. It's cool to pay for a running back when it's the right one.
Tevin Coleman and Mark Ingram, RB, San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens: Every veteran running back wasn't underpaid in free agency, but the best ones were. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan already knows he can cook up big plays for Coleman, who is at home in Shanny's zone scheme, as evidenced by their time together in Atlanta. He's due less than $9 million over the next two years, which he'd be worth at just 125 touches. The Ravens' signing of Ingram is a perfect match of team identity and skill set, providing some stability to a backfield that has included too many questions in recent years. It was curious to see the Saints pay Latavius Murray nearly as much total cash (four years, $14.4 million) as Ingram got a day later (three years, $15 million), because Ingram is far superior.
Earl Thomas, S, Baltimore Ravens: $32 million fully guaranteed is not too much when a defensive scheme and a future Hall of Famer's skill set complement each other this beautifully. So many of the best free-agent signings in NFL history weren't about value contracts, but simply being right about an elite player fitting into a new situation. Thomas in Baltimore fits like a glove.
Daryl Williams and Matt Paradis, OL, Carolina Panthers: I listed so many bad offensive line signings in the "worst contracts" half of this exercise that it's worth noting there were some values. Williams, a second-team All-Pro in 2017, has a great chance to turn his one-year, $6 million contract into a big extension a year from now. Making calculated risks on injured players has long been a source for free-agent value. Paradis, who inked a three-year deal that will earn him an average around $9 million annually, is coming off a broken leg, an injury that typically doesn't present as many long-term issues as a ligament or Achilles tear. The Panthers got better up front without breaking the bank.
Bradley Roby, CB, Houston Texans: The Texans and Broncos swapped cornerbacks in free agency, with Kareem Jackson heading to Denver. Houston got the younger, more talented player at this stage of his career on a one-year, $10 million contract. The tricky part for the Texans will be if this contract goes too well. Their one-year deal for Tyrann Mathieu made my "best contracts" list a year ago, but they weren't able to keep him.
Ronald Darby, CB, Philadelphia Eagles: You'll notice a trend on this list. These one-year, "prove it" deals are a smart way for players and teams to do business in the ultimate year-to-year league. Pacts like Darby's one-year, $8.5 million contract help explain why the Philadelphia front office folks are so comfortable with the unknown, dealing with a snug salary cap each year. They always find a way.
Jordan Hicks, LB, Arizona Cardinals: Sometimes value comes in comparison to rest of the market. Hicks is an awfully similar player to C.J. Mosley, yet he received less than half the guaranteed money ($20 million, on a four-year, $36 million deal). Kwon Alexander also got more money, yet is coming off a torn ACL and is not as consistent as Hicks down to down.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Chicago Bears: Two years ago, Clinton-Dix would have been making top-shelf free-agent money. While he might not have the upside once believed, he is remarkably durable and can provide average starting snaps (at worst) for an extremely low $3.5 million in 2019. The Bears smartly waited out an insanely deep safety market.
Odell Beckham and Michael Bennett, WR and DL, Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots: I wanted to include these vastly disparate players here as a reminder that contracts accepted in trades can be bargains, too. By avoiding Beckham's big signing bonus a year ago, the Browns got even more value because they received the best part of his reasonable $90 million extension. It seems like only a matter of time until he'll require an upgrade, but the five years left on the deal means that the Browns have OBJ as long as they want him. In Bennett, the Patriots got a quality starting defensive end under contract for only $7.2 million this season. His production would be worth at least $10 million on the open market.
Shaquil Barrett, DE/OLB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Barrett's one-year, $5 million contract is the type of low-risk, high-reward deal that more teams should make in free agency. Barrett has rare edge-rushing skills and is just entering his prime at age 26. He doesn't even need to outplay his established role as a super sub to be worth this money -- and there's a chance he provides much more.
Malik Jackson, DT, Philadelphia Eagles: Jackson's three-year, $30 million contract with the Eagles is part of a trend throughout the NFL of 30-something pass rushers staying in form longer in their career. In this age of rotations, Jackson's ability to play multiple positions at a high level, even if only for 500-to-600 snaps, still has incredible value in a league built around pass rushers. And actually, he doesn't turn 30 until next January.
Most everything the Tennessee Titans did: Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson targeted logical players to fill specific needs and didn't overspend. Slot receiver Adam Humphries, defensive end Cameron Wake and guard Rodger Saffold all addressed huge needs without sacrificing long-term flexibility. Few teams improved more than the Titans over the last week.