NFL Insiders predict free-agency impact: Best bargain deal so far

The Honey Badger can be a difference maker for the Texans (0:49)

Jeff Saturday joins SportsCenter to explain the positive impact Tyrann Mathieu can have for the Texans. (0:49)

With the first wave of 2018 NFL free agency in the books, our panel of ESPN NFL Insiders is breaking down all the action and what it means.

Next up: There have been plenty of eye-popping contract numbers, but what have been the biggest bargain deals?

Here are the other topics our panel has hit this week:

What has been the best bargain deal so far?

Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: Tyrann Mathieu, S, Houston Texans. Mathieu refused a contract restructure in Arizona that would have dropped his 2018 pay from $11 million to $8 million and signed in Houston for $7 million. This is a gift for the Texans, who counted the secondary among their top offseason needs and got a low-cost, one-year deal on a player who has been an elite performer at his position when healthy.

KC Joyner, NFL writer: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, New York Jets. Bridgewater was one of the rare elite prospects to pass all seven of the Parcells rules for drafting quarterbacks. If he is fully recovered from his brutal knee injury, the Jets could have a future franchise quarterback on their roster.

Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: Julius Peppers, DE, Carolina Panthers. Peppers is tied for the eighth-most sacks over the past three seasons (29) and had 11 in 2017. Yes, the 38-year-old is ancient by NFL standards, but he's coming off a double-digit sack season and will return on a one-year deal for $5 million.

Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders: Tyrann Mathieu, S, Houston Texans. Everyone in the NFL is trying to find flexible chess pieces that can move around and play different positions well. When he's healthy, Mathieu is a player who changes the way offenses have to game plan. Not bad for just $7 million for the year.

Field Yates, NFL Insider: Nigel Bradham, LB, Philadelphia Eagles. It was unclear whether Philly had much of a chance to retain Bradham -- a key cog -- this offseason as the team worked to balance the books with so much talent on the roster. But football czar Howie Roseman did exactly that, negotiating a terrific deal in the process. Bradham's five-year contract includes options from 2020 to 2022, meaning that Philadelphia has flexibility following a two-year, $14 million commitment. Based on how Bradham played last season, that's fantastic value.

What has been the biggest head-scratching move?

Graziano: Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears. A lot of what the Bears did seemed to fall into the "egregious overspend" basket. They guaranteed two years to kicker Cody Parkey, for goodness' sake. But the big one for them was Robinson, who is getting $15 million fully guaranteed this year and $3 million more fully guaranteed in 2019 after a season in which he tore his ACL in Week 1. Robinson was a very good player for Jacksonville three years ago, and it's possible the receiver market pushed his price this high, but it's an eye-popper either way.

Joyner: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Minnesota Vikings. Over the past two seasons, Richardson ranked 139th among defensive linemen in ESPN Stats & Information's disrupted dropback percentage metric. Rewarding this caliber of production with a one-year, $8 million deal is the definition of head-scratching.

Sando: Weston Richburg, C, San Francisco 49ers. Nothing against Richburg, who could be a good addition. The move was a head-scratcher because it forced out Daniel Kilgore, whom the team signed to an extension last month, holding him up to the rest of the locker room as a leader and building-block player.

Schatz: Danny Amendola, WR, Miami Dolphins. How do you give $12 million over two years to your fourth wide receiver? Do you know how often a team actually gets real usage out of four receivers? Last year, only two teams had more than 30 receptions from four different wide receivers (Oakland and Tampa Bay), and only four other teams had more than 21 receptions from four different wide receivers. The signing will look better if one of the other wide receivers suffers a serious injury, but in general, WR4 is a position you fill with a mid-round draft pick.

Yates: Miami's composite offseason. Where, exactly, are the Dolphins heading? The team seems to devise a blueprint before abruptly scratching said blueprint within a few years. While the value of culture cannot be overlooked within an NFL team, it's hard to say what the Dolphins are angling toward. True blue-chip talent departed this offseason in Ndamukong Suh (cut), Mike Pouncey (cut) and Jarvis Landry (traded), and while Miami spent aggressively at some spots (such as wide receiver), the team doesn't strike me as improved at this point.

What has been the best overall move?

Graziano: The Colts' trade with the Jets for three extra picks to move down in the draft. Disclaimer: I don't tend to like free-agent signings very much. They leave me cold. For instance, Nate Solder was a signing that will help the Giants, but the cost was insane. Trumaine Johnson improves the Jets, but they spent so much. Same is true for Kirk Cousins, Jerick McKinnon or basically any of the Bears' moves. So let's tip the cap here to the Colts, who badly need to reconstruct their roster depth and just added three second-round picks (two this year, one next) by moving down only three spots at the top of the first round. Nice to have the third overall pick and not need a quarterback.

Joyner: The Vikings signing Kirk Cousins. Famed Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi once said there is no price that is too high to pay for a franchise quarterback, so forget the big price tag for Cousins. Only Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan have posted a higher total for yards per attempt on vertical passes (aerials thrown 11 or more yards downfield) than Cousins over the past two years. This downfield prowess could be the push Minnesota needs to get back to the Super Bowl.

Sando: The Saints re-signing Drew Brees. With much of the focus on Cousins commanding a guaranteed contract, New Orleans retained a future Hall of Fame QB under team-friendly terms, freeing up resources to address other areas.

Schatz: The Colts' trade with the Jets. The Jets overpaid even on the traditional draft value chart, and they massively overpaid according to any modern analytical draft value chart. And given the need for quarterbacks at the top of the draft, that No. 6 pick will still turn into Bradley Chubb, Saquon Barkley or Quenton Nelson -- the same players the Colts would have been choosing among at No. 3.

Yates: The Rams trading for Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. In a time when cornerbacks are coveted and paid substantially on the open market, Los Angeles acquired a pair of potential Pro Bowlers for modest draft-pick compensation commensurate with their on-field abilities. While each has had some combustible moments on the field, the talent is undeniable and the Rams are confident such behavior won't repeat itself in L.A.

Which team is the most improved after the first wave of free agency?

Graziano: New York Jets. They landed the biggest prize on the free-agent cornerback market in Trumaine Johnson. They added Avery Williamson as a leader for the linebacker corps. They added Isaiah Crowell to their running back group. All upgrades. Now, to the matter of quarterback: Josh McCown isn't an improvement because he was already there. But the Jets' overall plan at the position is improved, as Teddy Bridgewater has more upside than anyone else the Jets had on last year's roster, and trading up to the No. 3 pick in the draft means they're likely to add someone else who does, as well.

Joyner: Houston Texans. The Texans ranked 29th in my blocking grades last season. They aimed to help solve this by signing three offensive linemen, the most valuable of which could be the highly versatile Senio Kelemete. They also added Tyrann Mathieu, who can play slot, outside cornerback or either safety position or even fill in as a speedy box linebacker.

Sando: Cleveland Browns. They had lots of room for improvement and should realize upgrades from multiple newcomers, especially at QB, which offsets Joe Thomas' retirement. However, NFL rosters are a little worse on the whole because so many depth players remain unsigned (free agents who have been added were signed at premium prices).

Schatz: San Francisco 49ers. Richard Sherman should still be one of the top cornerbacks in the league if he's fully healed from his Achilles injury, and is a big improvement for a pass defense that was 28th in DVOA last season. Weston Richburg is a nice improvement in the middle of the offensive line, although I might have kept Daniel Kilgore around at guard instead of dealing him away afterward. Jerick McKinnon's flexibility and ability to catch passes will help him play a role similar to the running backs Kyle Shanahan had when he was in Atlanta.

Yates: Chicago Bears. It was sometimes painful to watch the Bears' offense last season without any weapons and perpetually struggling. Adding Allen Robinson on a three-year contract along with the signing of versatile and talented tight end Trey Burton should bring a smile to the faces of new coach Matt Nagy and second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Whether it comes to fruition on the field or not, expect an offseason worth of parallels drawn between Nagy's relationship with Trubisky and Rams coach Sean McVay's relationship with quarterback Jared Goff.

Which team has the most glaring need now?

Graziano: Patriots at left tackle. Look, you trust New England figures these things out, and we're not about to pick any of the other three teams to win the AFC East. But honestly, who's playing left tackle in New England with Nate Solder off to the Giants? Tom Brady will turn 41 before the season starts, and as brilliantly age-defying as he is, they still need to make sure he's protected.

Joyner: Bills at quarterback. The only QBs on the roster are AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman, both of whom have third-string quarterback written all over them. Without a huge upgrade here, Buffalo's playoff streak will end at one season.

Sando: Bills at quarterback. Moving up in the draft for a QB seems like a near necessity.

Schatz: Bills at quarterback. Whomever Buffalo chooses in the first round of the draft instantly becomes the best quarterback on the roster. Honestly, if the Bills take a player at a different position, that player might still be the best quarterback on the roster.

Yates: Colts at cornerback. This wasn't an area of major strength for Indianapolis in 2017, as veteran Vontae Davis was cut late in the year after a season-ending injury, and the team relied mostly on a youth movement. Rashaan Melvin parlayed his surprising season into a $6.5 million deal from Oakland, leaving Indy with even more question marks at the position. After the Colts traded back to pick sixth overall in the upcoming draft, I'd expect many forecasters to peg Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward as their top selection (if he's still available).