2024 NFL free agency: Ranking five smartest deals so far, including 49ers and Jets making quality signings

Written by on April 3, 2024

The new NFL season is four weeks old, as free agency is well into its second wave. With the NFL Draft approaching, the focus shifts from signing free agents to filling holes on the roster. The available free agents will sign at some point, but free agency has cooled down. 

What were the smartest deals thus far in free agency? What teams are not only getting the bang for their buck, but getting the most production from the contract they signed the player for? These are the five smartest deals teams made in free agency. 

5. Mike Williams (New York Jets)

Deal: 1 year, $10 million 

The Jets added four void years to this contract, which is why Williams has a cap number of $2.724 million for 2024. Williams is averaging 15.6 yards per catch since his rookie year in 2017, trailing only A.J. Brown amongst receivers (minimum 500 targets).

Williams is coming off a torn ACL (suffered in Week 3 last season), but he’s going to be a deep ball receiver in an offense with Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball and Garrett Wilson as the No. 1 wide receiver. 

If Williams is fully recovered, the Jets are getting a deep threat in an offense full of playmakers. Williams could be in line for a 1,000-yard season at a discounted rate. 

4. Austin Ekeler (Washington Commanders)

Deal: 2 years, $8.34 million

There are smart deals for free agent running backs, and paying Ekeler $4.17 million a year is one of them. Ekeler never received the contract he wanted with the Los Angeles Chargers, and those days of getting major money for his position appear to be past him at 29 years old. 

The highest cap number for Ekeler is $5.11 million in year two of the deal, and this is just one year removed from leading the NFL in touchdowns in 2021 and 2022. An ankle injury in Week 1 limited Ekeler to 3.1 yards per carry after the opening week (third worst in the NFL), so the Commanders were able to get him at a reasonable price.  

If Ekeler is fully recovered from the ankle injury, the Commanders are getting a player that had 3,195 scrimmage yards and 38 scrimmage touchdowns combined in 2021 and 2022. If Ekeler performs near that level in 2024, his contract will be one of the biggest steals in the NFL.

3. Geno Stone (Cincinnati Bengals)

Deal: 2 years, $14 million

In a deep safety market, paying Stone $7 million a year appears to be one of the best deals in free agency. Stone had a career year with the Baltimore Ravens in 2023, having seven interceptions as the beneficiary of playing next to Kyle Hamilton.

Stone had an excellent season, as opposing quarterbacks completed 60.5% of their passes with a 40.9 passer rating targeting Stone (only having two touchdowns). He had nine passes defensed while playing both free and strong safety. 

Based on the structure of the contract, the Bengals are taking a one-year gamble on Stone (they only have a $1.5 million dead cap hit in year two of the deal if they decide to cut him). A big year from Stone will significantly increase his value, as his best football is still to come at just 24 years old. 

2. Leonard Floyd (San Francisco 49ers)

Deal: 2 years, $20 million

The 49ers decided to move on from Chase Young this offseason in favor of Floyd, who is 31 years old and still one of most productive pass rushers in football. Floyd is one of three players with 9+ sacks in each of the last four seasons (Myles Garrett and Haason Reddick are the others), and is coming off a season in which he had 10.5 sacks, 19 quarterback hits, and an 11.3% pressure rate.

With Nick Bosa on the other end, the opportunities will be there for Floyd to live up to that $10 million average salary (and $12 million of the contract is guaranteed). The highest cap number San Francisco will even have is $10.108 million, in 2025. 

Paying a 31-year-old pass rusher can be risky, but Floyd is a smart investment for being a No. 2 pass rusher on a defensive line with Bosa and Javon Hargrave

1. Danielle Hunter (Houston Texans)

Deal: 2 years, $49 million

The Texans are paying $24.5 million a year for one of he best pass rushers in football. Hunter has double-digit sacks in the last four seasons in which he’s played 10+ games and is coming off a season during which he finished fifth in the NFL in sacks (16.5) and led the league with 23 tackles for loss. He finished the 2023 season with 83 tackles, 80 pressures and a pressure rate of 13.4%.

His six seasons with 6+ sacks trail only Khalil Mack for the most in the league since 2015 (Hunter’s rookie year), showcasing he consistently gets to the quarterback. The Texans are also pairing Hunter for the next two seasons with Will Anderson Jr., so he’ll get a golden opportunity to still consistently get to the quarterback. 

Hunter will be playing his age 29 and 30 seasons in Houston, as the Texans will still be getting two seasons of his prime. Houston didn’t overpay for Hunter nor committed to a contract into his 30s, which is a major win for the front office. 

The post 2024 NFL free agency: Ranking five smartest deals so far, including 49ers and Jets making quality signings first appeared on CBS Sports.

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