As always there is big names in NFL free agency pool to earn from big money dealsome of the best signings are the ones teams can make sign in value. When I was an NFL executive with the New York Jets and Dolphins in Miami, I always go into March with a few players I really want to sign. And that’s especially true when I feel like a free agent is going to be more than the contract we signed him to. Those smart moves are often more impactful than “splash” signings in a salary cap restricted league.
So for one second year in a row, I’m putting on my GM hat and breaking down the five current free agents I’d target to sign this week if I were running a team. These are players that I believe will help any roster — even if some of them have risks. Here are the five names I want to pursue, the deals I’d offer them and why I think each one is worth it.
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The deal I will offer: Four years, $72 million ($40 million guaranteed)
Dean is still 26 years old and has 57 games of experience in his four-year career. At 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds, the 2019 third-round pick out of Auburn has great size for a cornerback and has proven to be both durable and productive. Dean was solid again last season, hauling in two interceptions and breaking up eight passes. He averaged over 10 pass breakups per season in his career.
As for his potential contract, I’ll see Xavien Howard‘s recent extension as a rough model, with an $18 million per year breakdown. Playmaking cornerbacks are important, and there aren’t many on the market who are young, can stay healthy and have a deep resume of on-ball production.
If I were Houston Texans, I’ll take a closer look at Dean. They could use another physical corner — even after drafting Derek Stingley Jr. last year — in DeMeco Ryans new scheme, and Dean would be a perfect fit.
The deal I will offer: Five years, $60 million ($28.5 million guaranteed)
Free agency and the upcoming draft are loaded with tight ends, but I think Gesicki brings exceptional value. In Miami’s new scheme under coach Mike McDaniel, Gesicki dropped from 73 receptions on 110 targets in 2021 to just 32 catches on 53 targets last season. He averaged a target on over 21% of his routes in both 2020 and 2021, but barely broke 15% in 2022. So he strikes me as someone who needs a change of scenery, especially since he Only 27 years old. Gesicki still scored five times last season, and he’s a clear mismatch for defenses at 6-6 and 247 pounds. That’s coming out of the red zone.
If I’m running a team with a young developing quarterback — consider Chicago Bears — it’s a no-brainer. I expect him to come in around $12 million per season, which is in line with Hunter Henrydeal with New England. That can be of great value, given his opposite, characteristics and age.
I’ll quickly throw in another tight end where I’ll kick the tires: Dalton Schultz. He’ll get more attention and ultimately more money, though, likely checking in at around $14 million per season.
The deal I will offer: Five years, $90 million ($40 million guaranteed)
Bates, 26, has 477 tackles, 14 interceptions and 43 pass breakups over five seasons — and four of those interceptions came in 2022. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, his minus-8.7% percentage of completions was more than expected on target throws last season. sixth best among safeties with at least 400 coverage snaps. Bates can also stop the run. He had at least 70 tackles in all five seasons, and had three 100-plus campaigns.
He’s coming off the franchise tag, and given his age and production, I expect Bates to make $18 million per year — similar to the deal I proposed for Dean. He should be paid in the same range as Derwin James Jr. and Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Detroit Lions is a team that makes a lot of sense. Imagine what Bates could do there with defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn moving him around the defense.
The deal I will offer: Two years, $20 million ($12 million guaranteed)
The San Francisco 49ers acquired Omenihu from the Texans at the 2021 trade deadline for a sixth-round pick, and they got a lot of value in the deal. Omenihu ranked just outside the top 25 in pass rush win rate last season (16.5%, 26th), and he was third on the team in sacks with 4.5.
He won’t turn 26 until before the 2023 season, so with veterans like Frank Clark, Robert Quinn and Marcus Davenport dominating the headlines, Omenihu could be a steal for a team this offseason. I look at it Sam Hubbard as a comp for a contract, which is really good value. A group like Atlanta Falcons would be a perfect landing spot for Omenihu, too. Any team considering him would of course have to do its homework. He was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor domestic violence in January during the Niners’ playoff run.
I mentioned Davenport, and if you can sign him for around $17 million per year, he looks worth it. But since Davenport has struggled to stay healthy, Omenihu is the better value.
The deal I will offer: One year, $1.165 million (fully guaranteed)
When you run a team, you must look for economically efficient opportunities. Signing Wentz for the league minimum to serve as the No. 2 QB could be one of those.
Yes, I know Wentz finished 30th out of 31 qualified quarterbacks in Total QBR last season (33.0), threw 11 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. And yes, I know he was benched and in the end cut after time, ending his tenure with his third team in three seasons. But while we have no idea if Wentz can be a high-performance quarterback again, signing him for the minimum gift has absolutely no downside. Give him another start as a backup, and if he can get his game even remotely close to what it was in 2017-2019, it will be a steal. Otherwise, the risk is not significant. You have to make a bunch of QB swings in this league, but this is one that won’t affect the bottom line too much if it misses.
Your best case scenario is Wentz sitting out a year and possibly being the next turnaround story, similar to what Gene Smith made in Seattle. That’s big-time upside on a small deal. I love the fit of Wentz with a team like that Kansas City Chiefs; they need a backup after Chad Henne retires, and he will work under coach Andy Reid to try to revive his career.