Now that the NFL free agency frenzy has died down, media outlets are taking stock of the signings. Which signings were good value? Which ones made no sense? ESPN ran through such an exercise recently and while no Cowboys free agent signing made the list, some of their ex-players did.
The first category was: What was the most head-scratching signing of free agency?
The Jaguars signing of Christian Kirk won the day here as that outsized contract for what Kirk had done in the NFL had many of us scratching out heads, too. Especially when you compare it to the team-friendly deal the Cowboys worked out with Michael Gallup.
But an ex-Cowboy did show up in this category.
Eric Moody, fantasy football writer: DE Randy Gregory to the Broncos. Denver is paying him like a top-level pass-rusher. Despite his talent, though, Gregory is an inconsistent edge rusher with durability issues. He has never played a full season in his career. While defense is definitely an area where the Broncos need to improve, there are better ways to do so.
This argument was part of the discussion when the Cowboys lost Gregory to the Broncos. While Gregory appears to be the ideal pass-rush specimen, his production falls short. Even given the fact that he’s missed so much time due to suspensions, the sacks are jut not there. And unlike DeMarcus Lawrence who brings so much more to his game than just sacks, Gregory is sort of a pass-rush specialist. Yet in 12 games last year he only registered six sacks. The elite pass rushers are producing roughly a sack a game.
And those six sacks matched Gregory’s previous season-high (2018) and that came in 14 games. The size of the contract of five years, $70 million is big even though it’s more like a three-year $42 million deal looking at the guarantees. Still, it’s a lot for that kind of production. We all shook our heads at the Christian Kirk contract, but the Gregory deal was pretty much an overpay based on production.
And this doesn’t let the Cowboys off the hook, either. They were willing to pay Gregory that much to stay, so if he had signed back with the team they would have overpaid based on historical production.
The other other ex-Cowboys player to figure in this evaluation of free agent signings was La’el Collins. He was on the other end of the spectrum.
What was the best overall free-agent signing?
Clay: OT La’El Collins to the Bengals. The offseason doesn’t get much better than watching a team identify and successfully fill a clear problem area. After watching franchise quarterback Joe Burrow take 70 sacks in 20 games last season, Cincinnati was aggressive in upgrading a weak offensive line. That included a pair of solid interior players in guard/center Ted Karras and guard Alex Cappa, as well as Collins, the highlight of the group. Add in 24-year-old left tackle Jonah Williams and 2021 second-rounder Jackson Carman at left guard, and the Bengals’ line suddenly has a chance to be an asset rather than a major liability.
Reid: OT La’El Collins to the Bengals. Even though the Bengals reached the Super Bowl, it was clear that the offensive line needed significant upgrades. The signing of Collins took their offseason upgrades over the top. Reuniting with Frank Pollack, his offensive line coach for the first three seasons of his career, Collins is the rock-solid starter at right tackle who Cincinnati sorely needed.
This one was interesting because even though everyone is praising the Collins signing because of the value of the deal, you have to wonder why the deal was so low? Collins was out on the open market and could have taken his time to sign. It was rumored there were multiple teams courting him so why did he take such a team-friendly deal?
Per Over the Cap, Collins’ three-year deal is worth $21 million, but only $5 million of it is guaranteed. There are annual per game bonuses in each year of the contract that total $7.1 million over the next three years, so the Bengals will save money if he ever misses time (Collins missed all of the 2020 season with a hip injury and five games in 2021 due to suspension).
Where other teams wary of the same things that seemed to precipitate the Cowboys releasing him? It’s obvious the Cowboys were overpaying him ($10.5 million cap hit in 2022) based on what the rest of the league thought. His deal in Cincy is nowhere close to what Dallas had given him. Yet everything you read about him is his talent is near the top of right tackles.
It really does make you think that the rest of the NFL may not trust Collins just like the Cowboys didn’t.