NFL free agency: Tannenbaum picks five targets, potential new deals

While there are always big names in the NFL free agent pool who will make big money, some of the best signings are guys that teams can sign for a bargain price. When I was an NFL executive with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins, I always went in March with a few players I really wanted to sign. And that was especially true when I felt like a free agent would do better with the contract we signed. These sly moves can often be more effective than “splashing” signings in a league with a capped salary cap.

So, for the second year in a row, I put on the GM hat and smash the five current free agents I would be aiming to sign this week if I were in charge. I think these are players who can help any squad, even if some of them are risky. Here are the five names I would pick, the deals I would offer them, and why I think each of them would be worth the money.

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Jamel Dean, CB

Deal I would suggest: Four years, $72 million ($40 million guaranteed)

Dean is still 26 years old and has played 57 games in his four-year career. At 6ft 1m and 206lbs, 2019 third-round pick Auburn is the perfect size for a cornerback and has proven his endurance and productivity. Dean was at his best again last season, throwing two interceptions and throwing eight passes. During his career, he averaged over 10 passer breaks per season.

In terms of his potential contract, I would take Xavien Howard’s recent renewal as a ballpark model with a breakdown of $18 million a year. Playmaker full-backs are valuable and there aren’t many on the market who are still young, able to stay healthy and have a lot of experience with the ball.

If I were Houston Texans, I would take a close look at Dean. They could use another physical angle — even after picking Derek Stingley Jr. last year — in DeMeco Ryans’ new setup, and Dean would be perfect.

Mike Gesicki, TE

Deal I would suggest: Five years, $60 million ($28.5 million guaranteed)

Free will and the upcoming draft are full of challenges, but I think Gesicki brings rare value. In the new Miami scheme under coach Mike McDaniel, Gesicki went from 73 receptions on 110 goals in 2021 to just 32 catches on 53 goals last season. In 2020 and 2021, it hit the target on average over 21% of its routes, but barely cleared 15% in 2022. So he seems like someone who needs a change of scenery to me, especially since he’s only 27 years old. Gesicki was still scoring five times last season, and he’s clearly not the right fit for a 6-6 defense at 247 pounds. This is displayed in the red zone.

If I was running a team with a young, growing quarterback—think of the Chicago Bears—it wouldn’t be difficult. I expect him to make about $12 million a season, which is in line with Hunter Henry’s New England deal. This can be very valuable, given its merits, character traits and age.

I’ll quickly name another tight end I’d kick tires off of: Dalton Schultz. However, he will get more attention and eventually make more money, likely earning around $14 million per season.

Jesse Bates III, S

Deal I would suggest: Five years, $90 million ($40 million guaranteed)

The 26-year-old Bates has 477 tackles, 14 interceptions and 43 pass interruptions over five seasons, with four of those interceptions in 2022. sixth place among safes with at least 400 cover shots. Bates can also stop running. He has at least 70 tackles in all five seasons and over 100 in three campaigns.

He’s turning down the franchise, and given his age and performance, I expect Bates to make $18 million a year – similar to the deal I offered Dean. He should be paid in the same range as Derwin James Jr. and Minka Fitzpatrick. The Detroit Lions are a team that makes sense. Imagine what Bates could do if defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn moved him around the defense.

Charles Omenihu, Delaware

Deal I would suggest: Two years, $20 million ($12 million guaranteed)

The San Francisco 49ers acquired Omenija from the Texans at the 2021 trade deadline for a sixth-round pick, and they got a lot of value from the deal. Last season, Omenihu was not in the top 25 in winning pass percentage (16.5%, 26th) and was third on the team in sacks at 4.5.

He turns 26 shortly before the 2023 season, so with veterans like Frank Clark, Robert Quinn and Marcus Davenport dominating the headlines, Omenihu could be a trophy for the team this offseason. I look to Sam Hubbard as compensation for a contract that would be really lucrative. A team like the Atlanta Falcons would also be the perfect place to land Omenihu. Any team considering it will of course have to do their homework. He was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence in January during the Niners playoffs.

I mentioned Davenport, and if you could sign him for about $17 million a year, he would be worth your attention. But given that Davenport has struggled to stay healthy, Omenihu is the best value.

Carson Wentz, QB

Deal I would suggest: One year, $1.165 million (fully guaranteed)

When you manage a team, you must look for cost-effective opportunities. Signing Wentz at the league minimum to serve as a second QB could be one of them.

Yes, I know that Wentz finished 30th out of 31 Quarterbacks in the Total QBR last season (33.0) with 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. And yes, I know he was on the bench and then eventually retired after the season, ending his tenure with his third team in three seasons. But while we have no idea if Wentz will ever be a high-performing quarterback again, signing him for the bare minimum presents absolutely no downside. Give him a fresh start as a safety net, and if he can get anywhere close to where he was in 2017-2019, then it’s a steal. If not, then the risk is negligible. In this league, you need to hit a few shots at QB, but it won’t make much of a difference in the bottom line if he misses.

At best, Wentz sits for a year and could potentially turn into the next turnaround story, similar to what Gino Smith did in Seattle. That’s a big plus in a tiny deal. I love how Wentz approaches a team like the Kansas City Chiefs; they need support after Chad Henn retired and will be working under coach Andy Reed to try to revive his career.


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