Evaluating the best values in free agency by our Total Points metric
It’s highly recommended that you read this article to get an understanding of our Total Points stat, which forms the basis of the evaluations below. Read it here.
By Bryce Rossler
Despite rumors that the NFL was considering pushing the start of its league year back, Roger Goodell and the owners ultimately decided that the show must go on. And even though the teams ultimately got started on schedule, the ensuing action was very much not your regularly scheduled programming.
Allow us to summarize the most noteworthy items:
Tom Brady announced he will not be re-signing with the Patriots, signalling the end of an era (dynasty?) in New England. We’ve also seen two big-ticket receivers traded.
After months of cryptic tweets, the disgruntled Stefon Diggs was finally traded by the Vikings in exchange for a 2020 first-round pick, a 2020 fifth, a 2020 sixth, and a 2021 fourth. This occurred just hours after Bill O’Brien traded Deandre Hopkins and a 2021 fourth for the Cardinals’ 2020 second, a 2021 fourth, and David Johnson, who, apparently, is not retired. Now that you’re all up to speed, we’d like to highlight some of the best signings in free agency so far.
Using our proprietary Total Points metric (read about it here) in tandem with average annual values (courtesy of Spotrac), we will assess the best values according to 2019 performance. Players are not always signed based on their most recent seasons, and age and guaranteed money play a factor, as well. However, this is a useful exercise for identifying deals of quality that is readily apparent. All values are expressed in dollars per Total Points/1,000 Snaps.
While Byron Jones was the crown jewel of the cornerback market, the Jaguars’ Darqueze Dennard (3 years, $4.5M/year) is one of the best values of free agency thus far at a price tag of $125K/TP1000.
Dennard has been very consistent the past three years, ranking 46th, 13th, and 45th in Total Points/1,000 in 2017, 2018, and 2019, respectively. As such, the Jaguars front office appears to have acquired a reliable and cost-controlled corner through his age-30 season.
Elsewhere in Florida, the Dolphins killed two birds with one stone by stealing a young, productive edge rusher from the Bills. His 6.5 sacks in 2019 don’t pop off the page, but Shaq Lawson (3 years, $10M/year) ranked 10th in pressure rate (16%) among players with at least 200 pass rushing snaps. Furthermore, he ranked in the top ten at his position in Total Points/1,000 in both 2018 (9th) and 2019 (3rd).
His cost of $135K/TP1000 looks particularly good when you consider what other edges got and how they compared in Total Points/1,000: Dante Fowler, Jr. ($341K/TP1000, 45th), Robert Quinn ($256K/TP1000, 11th), and Vic Beasley, Jr. ($282K/TP1000, 47th).
The Raiders’ acquisition of Nick Kwiatkoski (3 years, $21M) is an under-the-radar signing for a team that needed to fortify its linebacker unit. Kwiatkoski had a breakout season for Chicago last year, ranking 24th in Total Points/1,000 at his position.
At just $130K/TP1000, Kwiatkoski appears to be a better value than Christian Kirksey ($229K/TP1000), Joe Schobert ($269K/TP1000), Cory Littleton ($363K/TP1000), and Blake Martinez ($420K/TP1000), all of whom cost considerably more and were less efficient in 2019. It should be noted that Littleton was also signed by the Raiders and will join Kwiatkoski in Las Vegas.
Moving to the NFC, the Lions have made not one, but two of the best value signings. While the Eagles and Bengals spent big on Javon Hargrave ($468K/TP1000) and DJ Reader ($448K/TP1000), respectively, the Lions poached a divisional rival to shore up their defensive interior. Former Chicago Bear Nick Williams (2 years, $10M) ranked sixth among defensive tackles in Total Points/1,000 in 2019 and was a comparatively huge bargain $101K/TP1000).
At the second level, Detroit acquired a name that is more familiar to both the average fan and Head Coach Matt Patricia. Jamie Collins (3 years, $30M) ranked fourth among linebackers in Total Points/1,000 and cost the Lions just $138K/TP1000. Collins will turn 31 in October, so it remains to be seen how well the contract will age, but he should be able to immediately contribute to a defense that desperately needs linebacker help.
It is purely coincidental that the five signings highlighted herein happened to be defensive players. The offensive market has not been as active (or as efficient), but there are still some big dominoes that have yet to fall. It may be that teams simply pay more for offensive production, but this nevertheless merits further investigation. Once the dust settles on free agency, we’ll circle back to put a bow on things.