By Chris Burke
March 15, 2013

Jared Cook has yet to play like an elite tight end, but he's being paid like one now. (Rick Stewart/Getty Images)Jared Cook has yet to play like an elite tight end, but he's being paid like one now. (Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

As is always the case once free agency opens, teams have been throwing money around left and right. That rush to the checkout line does not guarantee success, however.

And, already, some franchises appear as if they have done a better job than others hunting for deals. We take a look at the best and worst contracts handed out thus far ...

Free Agent Tracker & Grades


Cliff Avril (two years, $15 million); Michael Bennett (one year, $5 million), Seattle: Was every other team asleep at the wheel here? Avril, arguably the premier free agent available this year, at $7.5 million per season was one thing. But Bennett on a deal that looks befitting a player trying to prove himself after injury?

The Seahawks obviously do not have an endless supply of available money under the cap, but consider the contracts of some of their most important players: Russell Wilson (cap hit of $681,000 in 2013), Bobby Wagner ($979K) and Richard Sherman ($601K), for example (all numbers courtesy Those deals allow them to go after short-term solutions like the two pass rushers in a win-now attempt.

Eventually, Seattle will have to pay up to keep those players. But Avril and Bennett will be off the books by the end of 2014.

Steven Jackson (three years, $12 million, $4 million guaranteed), FalconsFeel free to include Reggie Bush's contract here, too, as the standard for running back deals -- Bush received an average of $4 million over four years, with $9.5 million guaranteed.

Consider this on Jackson's deal, though: Jackson, who will take over for Michael Turner as the Falcons' No. 1 back, received less guaranteed money than did Shonn Greene ($4.5m) to be Chris Johnson's backup.

Wes Welker (two years, $12 million, fully guaranteed): It's rare to see a free agent ink a fully guaranteed contract, but the Broncos are pretty confident that they're getting their money's worth in Welker.

The longtime Patriot is not a No. 1 receiving option -- he has to play a pretty specific role out of the slot -- so he was never going to get paid like one. But his contract came in at a little less than what Brian Hartline just signed for in Miami; Welker made 44 more catches than Hartline last season.

Keenan Lewis (five years, $26 million, $11 million guaranteed), SaintsPick just about any of the recently signed cornerbacks and drop them in here -- Chris Houston, Dunta Robinson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Greg Toler and Derek Cox all came in at or around $5 million per season.

Lewis, though, stood above those players in the free-agent pecking order heading into March 12. So, even at $11 million guaranteed, the Saints have to feel like they scored a nice deal.

Chris Canty (three years, $8 million, $2.8 million guaranteed), Ravens; Cullen Jenkins (three years, $8 million, $3 million guaranteed), GiantsJenkins, released by the Packers, actually signed prior to the start of full-fledged free agency -- a benefit afforded him by his release in Philadelphia. Canty could have done the same after being cut by the Giants but needed until the 12th to find a home.

Either way, both deals are solid and cap-friendly. The Giants wanted to move on from Canty and, in Jenkins, found a reliable replacement at a nearly identical price.

Canty, meanwhile, helped the Ravens stem the tide against the ongoing exodus of former defensive starters. The 30-year-old appears to be a terrific fit for the Ravens' 3-4 front (New York plays a 4-3).


Jared Cook (five years, $38.5 million, $19 million guaranteed), RamsJared Cook has never made more than 49 catches in a season and he has eight career touchdowns. Yet, the Titans are paying him like an elite tight end -- a max of $7.7 million per season puts Cook right in the same neighborhood as Aaron Hernandez, Vernon Davis, Jason Witten and others.

So, the bar is high, to say the least.

Cook was one of the more intriguing players on the market, because there's long been a belief that he could thrive outside Tennessee, where he was somewhat underutilized. The Rams had better hope that opinion is correct.

Jermon Bushrod (five years, $35.9 million, $22.5 million guaranteed), BearsBushrod should send Drew Brees a fruit basket or something for this deal.

Bushrod is an upgrade over J'Marcus Webb on Jay Cutler's blindside, but anyone expecting him to be Joe Staley or Ryan Clady is going to be sorely disappointed. In fact, Bushrod was not even that much better than Webb last season -- Bushrod rated out as the 44th-best tackle on Pro Football Focus; Webb at No. 47.

A lot of Bushrod's success can be attributed to Brees' penchant for getting rid of the football quickly. Cutler is not cut of the same fiber, in that regard. Bushrod will improve the Bears' line, but he needs to be borderline elite to justify that contract.

Erik Walden (four years, $16 million, $8 million guaranteed), Colts: I ... don't get it.

Walden recorded 3.0 sacks in each of the past three seasons with Green Bay, so the Colts will use him as a pass-rushing linebacker in their 3-4. But Walden was probably the worst Packers' defender last season, and possibly in 2011 as well. By all accounts, Green Bay barely even budged when Walden his free agency. Indianapolis might know something we all don't, but this feels like a costly miss.

Mike Wallace (five years, $60 million, $27 million guaranteed), Dolphins: Before we get too far into this, the Dolphins had to have a No. 1 receiver. Without getting a legit top guy to play alongside Brian Hartline, this offense and QB Ryan Tannehill had no chance.

But, wow. The $27 million guaranteed alone is enough to make you take a step back, especially when considering how contentious Wallace's final year in Pittsburgh was. And, broken down even further, the contract revealed that while Wallace will stand as a mere $3.25 million cap hit in 2013, he'll count $17.25 million against it in 2014.

That is, to say the least, staggering. Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland has gone all-in to try to turn around this team. If they don't win in 2013, though, Ireland likely will be out of a job, and the new general manager will inherit a bit of a salary mess.

Jerome Simpson (one year, $2.1 million), VikingsThat may not sound like a lot, until you consider that Simpson missed three games to suspension last season, caught just 26 passes for all of 274 yards, did not score a touchdown ... and received a raise over his 2012 contract.

Percy Harvin

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