Best value NFL free agency signings: C.J. Uzomah headlines with 3-year Jets deal
The NFL began the new league year in dramatic fashion.
NFL stars Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady announced their returns, while Russell Wilson headed to the Denver Broncos. Carson Wentz joined to the Washington Commanders, and Deshaun Watson rejected, and then accepted, the Cleveland Browns.
All but the Watson trade happened before the NFL officially opened its free-agency doors.
On Wednesday, what started as a moderate snowstorm morphed into a cascading avalanche of new deals and contract extensions.
The Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t waste time in free agency. They spent over $200 million in new deals to revamp the roster under new coach Doug Pederson. Jacksonville added receiver Christian Kirk, guard Brandon Scherff and linebacker Foyesade Oluokun among others.
The Buffalo Bills and Las Vegas Raiders were also big spenders. Buffalo added eight-time Pro Bowler Von Miller to a six-year deal worth $120 million. Las Vegas signed Chandler Jones and swung a massive trade for Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams.
COST OF BUSINESS: Bills paid a hefty price to land eight-time Pro Bowler Von Miller
The big signings drew all the headlines. However, there were some smaller deals that are primed to pay major dividends.
Here are the best free-agent deals that you may have missed:
Miami Dolphins form new backfield tandem
It’s been business as usual for the Miami Dolphins. However, Dolphins general manager Chris Grier made a pair of shrewd moves that should offer a solid return on investment. The Dolphins signed free-agent running backs Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds to team-friendly contracts.
Edmonds signed a two-year deal worth $12.6 million. Last season, he recorded 903 total scrimmage yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. He also added 43 receptions and hauled in 81.1% of passes thrown his way.
Mostert agreed to a deal to reunite with new Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel. Both were together with the San Francisco 49ers. Although Mostert played in just one game during the 2021 season, he’s shown an ability to be effective within a running back committee.
The Dolphins ranked 30th in rushing yards per game last season. McDaniel is expected to bring a zone-running scheme to boost the backfield group.
Expect solid campaigns from Edmonds and Mostert this year. Both players provide solid value alongside starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
DJ Chark finds opportunity in Detroit
It’s not often that a young Pro Bowl receiver hits the open market. But this is the case for 25-year-old wideout DJ Chark.
Chark joined the Detroit Lions on a one-year deal worth close to $12 million. He will step into a prime spot alongside second-year receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown.
NEW ADDITION: DJ Chark expresses excitement to join Detroit Lions
The former LSU product missed 13 games with an ankle injury last season. However, he offers a rare set of traits that will mesh well with Lions quarterback Jared Goff. Chark is 6 feet 4 inches and has blazing vertical speed. He can line up across the formation and be a red-zone option as needed.
In 2019, Chark hauled in 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. It earned him his first Pro Bowl nomination.
The Lions did not have a 1,000-yard receiver last season. In fact, just three players eclipsed 500 receiving yards. Chark is a welcome addition with a prime opportunity to shine.
C.J. Uzomah signs 3-year deal with Jets
The New York Jets have a lot invested in second-year quarterback Zach Wilson. The Jets utilized the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to select him.
While the rookie quarterback class saw strong contributions from Mac Jones, Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence, the Jets are left needing more from Wilson. A solid sophomore campaign can silence those initial concerns.
This offseason, the Jets went out and got Wilson some high-end playmakers. They signed former Cincinnati Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah in free agency. They also added tight end Tyler Conklin.
Both players are massive security blankets for Wilson. However, Uzomah might be the best value pick. He immediately steps into a top role within the offense. The Jets struggled to move the football and Uzomah will help generate more offensive flow.
He hauled in 49 receptions for 493 yards and five touchdowns last season. He was also instrumental in helping Joe Burrow reach elite quarterback status. The Jets ranked 28th overall in points per game and didn’t have a player eclipse 600 receiving yards.
Uzomah will provide a new dynamic next season. Expect to see a difference in the Jets' offensive attack with Uzomah being the catalyst for the renewed effort.
Falcons add NFL veteran Casey Hayward
The Atlanta Falcons are cash-strapped, leading to Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot shopping in the bargain bin once again. Last year, Fontenot got top-quality production out of offensive dynamo Cordarrelle Patterson.
On Thursday, the Falcons reportedly agreed to a free-agent deal with NFL cornerback Casey Hayward. The veteran is expected to sign a two-year, $11 million contract.
Hayward fills a major need opposite emerging NFL star A.J. Terrell. NFL teams simply went away from Terrell and picked on the other corners last season. As a result, the Falcons ranked 29th in points allowed.
Given Hayward’s experience, he should bring a new mentality to the secondary group. The two-time Pro Bowler played at a high level for the Las Vegas Raiders last season. He had 46 tackles, nine pass deflections and one interception.
His veteran leadership will prove valuable just as much as his on-field production to a young Falcons secondary.
Rodger Saffold upgrades Bills offensive line
The Buffalo Bills are knocking on the Super Bowl doorstep. However, if there is one Achilles' heel it’s their offensive line play.
In the AFC Championship, Bills star quarterback Josh Allen was sacked four times, forcing Allen to make plays outside of the pocket.
As a result, the Bills made a few changes this offseason. Aaron Kromer was hired as the new offensive line coach and the organization released former linemen Darryl Williams and Jon Feliciano.
The moves opened the door for free agent Rodger Saffold. The Pro Bowl guard is familiar with Kromer and his system. He is also reliable in both pass and run blocking. Saffold played in 15 games and handled 82% of the snaps with the Tennessee Titans last season.
He will help keep Allen clean in the pocket and could be a true value signing for the organization.
Justin Reid adds firepower to Chiefs defense
The Kansas City Chiefs let popular safety Tyrann Mathieu walk in free agency. However, they didn’t waste time finding his replacement. The Chiefs agreed to a three-year deal with former Houston Texans safety Justin Reid.
Reid, 25, is a talented defender and steps into a better system. He can elevate his game alongside his new supporting cast. Reid totaled 66 tackles, four passes deflections and two interceptions last season. He brings a tenacity needed with the high-level quarterbacks in the AFC West.
This could be a value signing for the Chiefs. Reid can thrive under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. He likes to mix coverages with his secondary.
Expect Reid to move across the defensive schemes. His best years are still on the horizon with the Chiefs.