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Biggest bargain contracts of NFL free agency 2024: Derrick Henry, Austin Ekeler lead list of best signings | Sporting News

NFL free agency moved as fast and as furious as ever in 2024. Within the league’s two-day negotiating period, most of its top free agents agreed to deals for the upcoming season and beyond.

Many of these players got top-dollar contracts thanks, in part, to the NFL setting its salary cap $10 million higher than most projections. Being on the open market and having the ability to create bidding wars also helped drive up the prices of various players.

Not every free agent signee got a big-money contract, though. Some agreed to smaller-than-expected deals that they should easily be able to outplay.

Per usual, NFL teams were able to take advantage of a depressed running back market and land some starters on reasonable deals. Other teams inked stopgap starting quarterbacks for reasonable prices.

Here’s a look at some of the best bargains of the 2024 free agent period so far.

NFL FREE AGENCY 2024: Live grades | Top 75 rankings

Best bargain signings NFL free agency 2024

Austin Ekeler

Ekeler is coming off a down year, averaging a career-worst 3.5 yards per carry and just six total touchdowns. He still recorded 1,000-plus scrimmage yards for the fourth time in five years despite a nagging ankle injury he suffered in Week 1 against the Dolphins.

Ekeler has bounce-back potential if he can get healthy, and the Commanders are risking very little to see if he can return to the form that saw him lead the NFL in total touchdowns in both 2021 and ’22. Sure, he’s entering his age-29 season, but if he can regain some of his burst on a healthy ankle, he should complement Brian Robinson well and provide passing-game support to whoever Washington starts at quarterback.

Derrick Henry

Is there a better player-and-team fit than Henry and the Ravens? Baltimore needed a reliable, bruising running back, and Henry has led the NFL in carries in four of the past five seasons. He will pair well with the speed of Lamar Jackson and Keaton Mitchell to keep defenses off balance.

The Ravens getting Henry for just $8 million in average annual value (AAV) is a real coup. No NFL player is injury-proof, but Henry figures to be a good bet to reverse the plague that has hung over the Baltimore running back room in recent seasons.

MORE: Breaking down the Ravens’ RB depth chart behind Derrick Henry

Jacoby Brissett

  • Team: Patriots
  • Contract: One year, $8 million

The Patriots are expected to draft a quarterback with the No. 3 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, but they still needed a veteran to serve as a potential bridge to that rookie.

Brissett is an excellent option for that role. He has started in difficult situations throughout his career, taking over after Andrew Luck’s retirement in Indianapolis and starting during Deshaun Watson’s 11-game suspension with the Browns in 2022. He fared particularly well during the latter campaign, completing 64 percent of his passes for 2,608 yards, 12 touchdowns, and six interceptions.

The Patriots drafted Brissett in 2016, so his familiarity with the organization is an added asset along with his solid resume. Getting him as a rental for the relatively low price of $8 million is a strong move that guarantees New England will have stable quarterback play even if its rookie draft pick needs time to develop.

Gardner Minshew

  • Team: Raiders
  • Contract: Two years, $25 million

Minshew’s deal is similar to Brissett’s in that it’s a good value for one of the NFL’s premium backups.

Minshew nearly led the Colts to the playoffs last season despite an injury to Anthony Richardson. The new Raiders quarterback completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 3,305 yards, 15 touchdowns, and nine interceptions in 13 starts for Indianapolis last season, helping the Colts to a 7-6 record.

Minshew is a steady, accurate passer who avoids turnovers when he’s at his best. He’s an upgrade over the Jimmy Garoppolo-Aidan O’Connell-Brian Hoyer trio that the Raiders used last season, and he should be a good stopgap if they can’t land a rookie passer they like in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft.

MORE: What Raiders signing Gardner Minshew means for team moving forward

Patrick Queen

  • Team: Steelers
  • Contract: Three years, $41 million

Fun fact: Queen is the most expensive free-agent acquisition in Steelers franchise history. Pittsburgh hadn’t even given $30 million total to an external free agent before agreeing to a deal with Queen during this year’s free-agent period.

Queen is a linebacker with few weaknesses in his game. He was an All-Pro second-teamer in 2023, totaling 133 tackles, 3.5 sacks, six pass defenses, and an interception. Per usual, he was strong in coverage and figures to add a defender with a nose for the ball to Pittsburgh’s defense.

Queen getting a $13.7 million AAV is a solid bargain, as he is now just the seventh-highest-paid off-ball linebacker in the NFL. Add in that the Steelers can easily get out of the contract after each season if things don’t work out, and this team-friendly pact looks like an excellent one for Pittsburgh.

Tyler Biadasz

  • Team: Commanders
  • Contract: Three years, $29.25 million

The Commanders made several smart signings in free agency, and Biadasz was one of them. They poached him from their arch-rival, the Cowboys, but didn’t even have to give him a $10 million AAV to do it.

Biadasz has been a full-time starter since 2021 and has played 49 of 51 games since that time. He has allowed just four sacks in his four NFL seasons and while penalties have been an issue for him at times, he committed just three in 2023, a career-low mark.

Biadasz is one of the NFL’s most consistent centers and will provide Washington with a massive upgrade over their primary starter from last season, Nick Gates. Getting Biadasz for just $9.25 million per year seems like a steal given the rapidly increasing value of interior offensive linemen at the NFL level.

Nick Allegretti

Nick Allegretti

  • Team: Commanders
  • Contract: Three years, $16 million

Biadasz wasn’t the only good offensive line signing by the Commanders. They also got Allegretti from the Chiefs to be the team’s starter at left guard.

Allegretti has just 13 career starts in 74 games, but he is one of the toughest linemen in the league. He started in Super Bowl 58 for the Chiefs and played the entire game despite tearing the UCL in his elbow during it.

Allegretti will add much-needed competition to the guard positions on Washington’s roster. He may not ultimately win the starting job, but his wealth of experience for a championship-winning team makes him a bargain at just $5.33 million per season.

NFL FREE AGENCY 2024: Winners & losers | Most overpaid

Andrew Van Ginkel

  • Team: Vikings
  • Contract: Two years, $20 million

Van Ginkel was a versatile, do-it-all player for the Dolphins and generated a ton of pressure when played on the edge. He did so on 18.9 percent of his pass rushes, good for the third-highest mark in the NFL, per Sports Info Solutions.

Why is that important? The second-highest pressure generator, Bryce Huff, signed a deal worth $51.1 million over three years while Van Ginkel got a year less and $31 million more.

Huff had more sacks than Van Ginkel, but the former Dolphin had a more well-rounded game in 2023, generating 69 tackles, six sacks, and an interception for Miami. Vikings DC Brian Flores should get the most out of Van Ginkel, and the fact that he’s getting $7 million less in AAV than Huff makes him a terrific value, even if the two don’t play the exact same position.

Geno Stone

  • Team: Bengals
  • Contract: Two years, $14 million

Stone wasn’t a full-time starter for the Ravens last season, but he was highly productive in 11 starts. He had a whopping seven interceptions with 68 tackles and nine pass defenses.

Stone is an instinctive ballhawk in coverage, and that’s something that the Bengals could use. Their defense missed Jesse Bates III last season, and while Stone may not be the All-Pro that Bates is, the newest Bengal can still be a high-quality starter.

The Bengals are paying just $7 million annually to get Stone while also stealing him from a divisional rival. If he can generate even half as many turnovers as he did last season, that will make this deal a win for Cincinnati. 

Gus Edwards

Gus Edwards

  • Team: Chargers
  • Contract: Two years, $6.5 million

Speaking of former Ravens going to new teams, Edwards looks like a nice pickup for the Chargers. They lost Ekeler in free agency but managed to add the former Baltimore back as he moves from one Harbaugh brother to the other.

Edwards is coming off a season during which he posted a career-high in carries (198), rushing yards (810) and rushing touchdowns (13). His 4.1 yards per carry average was the worst of his career, but it was still respectable for the 6-1, 238-pound back. His career mark is still a robust 4.9 yards per carry.

Edwards will provide the Chargers with a nice power back who has familiarity with Greg Roman from their time together in Baltimore. He can handle a 200-carry workload, so getting him for just $3.25 million a year was a good move by Los Angeles. At the very least, he’s a good short-term replacement for Ekeler.

QBs | RBs | WRs | Defense | Overall

A.J. Epenesa

  • Team: Bills
  • Contract: Two years, $12 million

Epenesa served as a rotational pass rusher in his first four seasons with the Bills. Despite having just four total starts, he generated 6.5 sacks in each of the past two seasons and showcased that he could be a double-digit sack artist in a larger role.

The Bills still managed to bring Epenesa back for the relatively low price of $6 million per season. Epenesa could easily exceed that contract value, especially if he is pushed into a starting role by the departure of Leonard Floyd.

Kendall Fuller

  • Team: Dolphins
  • Contract: Two years, $16.5 million

Here’s another smart defensive signing. The Dolphins needed some help at cornerback after releasing Xavien Howard. Enter Fuller, who is 29 but has been one of the more consistently solid cornerbacks in the NFL over the past four seasons.

Fuller has averaged 71 tackles, three interceptions, and 13 pass breakups per 17 games played over his last four years with the Commanders. He missed just five games over that span and has played both outside and in the slot during his NFL career.

The Dolphins will benefit from Fuller’s experience and versatility as they reconfigure their secondary in new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver’s image. That they are getting him for less annually than the $10 million AAV contract he played on with Washington is a terrific value.

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