The 2018 NFL free agency period is in full swing now, and many top names, including Kirk Cousins, Malcolm Butler and Allen Robinson have found their new homes. Each team in the league is trying to better itself before the draft in April. Although every move is made with the right intent, some free agent signings can become total busts or budding stars in their new location. The 2017 NFL free agent class didn’t have the number of big names this year has, but many players made huge impacts on their new teams. In retrospect, here are the top-five free agent signings of the last offseason, in no particular order.
1. Julius Peppers returns to Panthers (1 year, $3.5 million)
Peppers has proved himself as a bit of an ageless wonder. Carolina originally drafted him with the second overall pick in 2002, and Peppers, a North Carolina alumnus, returned home in 2017 after stints with the Bears and Packers. The Panthers got Peppers, an NFL veteran, for a great price of $3.5 million, and Peppers became worth every penny, totaling 11.5 sacks in 499 snaps. The sack total was his most since 2012, and he did it at age 37. After the season, Carolina gave him a raise, and he will play again in 2018, this time for $5 million.
2. Rick Wagner to Lions (5 years, $47.5 million)
The Lions have always seemed to have problems along the offensive line, especially at the tackle position. That’s why last year in free agency, they made a splash and went after former Ravens’ right tackle Rick Wagner. A fifth-round pick in 2013, Wagner started 62 games in four years for Baltimore and brought immediate legitimacy to the Lions’ offensive line. Pro Football Focus graded him as the No. 11 tackle in all of the NFL last year. Wagner still has four years left on his contract and will look to hold down the right side of Detroit’s line for years to come.
3. A.J. Bouye makes Jacksonville’s defense even stronger (5 years, $67.5 million)
The Jaguars’ defense was already on the rise in 2016 behind the play of Jalen Ramsey and Telvin Smith, among others. When they splurged and landed A.J. Bouye in spring 2017, the whole NFL was put on notice. A former undrafted free agent out of UCF, Bouye slowly became a top shutdown corner in the league during his time with the Texans. When he went to Jacksonville, his play didn’t miss a beat. Pairing Bouye with Jalen Ramsey in the secondary proved disastrous for opposing offenses, and Bouye had a career-high six interceptions, helping lead the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game. He is still under contract for four years, and the dominance of the Jacksonville defense doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon.
4. Alshon Jeffery to Eagles (1 year, $14 million)
Alshon Jeffery was an interesting case in 2017 free agency. Jeffery, a wide receiver, flashed superstar potential in the past, but injuries and poor quarterback play in Chicago held him back. The Eagles were looking for weapons to add to the Carson Wentz-led offense, and they believed Wentz would make a huge leap in his second year. The match seemed too good to not happen, so the two came to a one-year agreement. Jeffery overcame the injury bug and played every game of the Eagles’ Super Bowl-winning season, catching 57 balls for 789 yards and nine touchdowns. The scoring total was his highest since one of his breakout seasons in 2014. The performance earned him a four-year, $52 million extension in December, and Jeffery looks to become the receiving leader in Philadelphia for the immediate future.
5. Case Keenum to Vikings (1 year, $2 million)
Not much buzz was generated in the 2017 offseason when Case Keenum signed with the Vikings to back up Sam Bradford and presumably a returning Teddy Bridgewater. When the season rolled around and Bradford’s knee got hurt again, Keenum became the center of attention. Keenum, a former undrafted free agent, played lights out all season, exponentially outplaying his price tag. Tossing 22 touchdowns and running for one more, Keenum and the Vikings cruised to a 13-3 record and made it to Minnesota’s first NFC Championship Game since 2009. Keenum came out of nowhere and led the Vikings on a magical run when hardly anyone expected it. Because of his 2017 efforts, he recently landed a two-year, $36 million contract with the Broncos as their starter. This is a huge pay increase from his previous season.