Jeremy Fowler, ESPN Staff Writer 41d

Early NFL free-agency grades: Rating the impact of high-priced signings in 2021

NFL, Washington, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans

NFL free agency remains as unpredictable as the end of Seahawks games.

Teams are conflicted about giving big money to a player whose original team didn't try hard enough to re-sign him. "Giving 'A' money to 'B+' players" is a familiar phrase among some scouts and execs who prefer building through the draft. Taking on a player who has been in another system for four years comes with inherent risk.

There are plenty of success stories -- with delayed gratification of at least a season, in some cases. Take Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave and Bears pass-rusher Robert Quinn, big-money players who shrugged off poor 2020 seasons in their new spots to combine for 11.5 sacks through the first six weeks of Year 2.

Hargrave is a byproduct of a team drafting too well. He priced himself out of Pittsburgh because the Steelers had to pay All-Pro Cam Heyward. Same for pass-rusher Bud Dupree, who is in Tennessee because the Steelers had to pay T.J. Watt. There are numerous such examples, and many teams are more than happy with their investments back in March as several 2021 free agents are producing in a big way.

After talking to execs, coaches and scouts this week, let's give out early grades for 10 high-profile free-agent acquisitions, plus four outstanding value pickups. These 10 aren't necessarily the biggest deals from last March, but each player comes up often in conversation when I'm making calls. The full picture won't come for a few years on these players, but consider this a progress report through the first one-third of the season.

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