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Free Agency: A Look Back at recent Winners and Losers

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NFL: Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals
This man was considered a D+ signing in 2016
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bears are in the midst of free agency, and so far fans seem to think it’s going well. After all, the Bears picked up one of the best wide receivers on the market, a solid tight end, and generally made a series of strong acquisitions.

However, it’s time to take a look at past “winners” of free agency and see how they fared when all was said and done.

ESPN reviewed the 2017 free agent class and gave every team at least a C-. That seems overly generous (really, nobody failed free agency?), especially when 9 teams were ranked below Chicago a year ago. That means that there were teams that failed free agency, even if ESPN didn’t want to admit it. These grades (call them the “I guess we’ll offer a C- so as not to annoy any fanbase’ grades) went to Cincinnati, Green Bay, and Cleveland. Meanwhile, ESPN’s free agency winners were Jacksonville (A), Detroit (A-), and New England (A-). It’s hard to argue with the relative positions, even if it seems strange that Kansas City landed at a C, only a partial letter grade above the Browns.

Likewise, Alshon Jeffery was NFL.com’s top free agent for 2017, and that seems to have worked out. They also considered Adrian Peterson the #8 free agent, so there might be some mis-estimation going on.

A year earlier, ESPN was lauding the Jets for signing Matt Forte. Sean Smith was also supposed to bolster the Raiders by signing a 4-year, $40-million contract and Alex Boone was supposed to improve the Vikings with a 4-year presence. None of those players are with those teams anymore, although the reasons vary. However, ESPN has nothing on CBS Sports. Pete Prisco gave the Houston Texans an ‘A’ for the 2016 free agent class, more or less because they signed Brock Osweiler (the same Brock Osweiler who later cost them a draft pick to get rid of). Closer to home, here’s a gem from Greg Bedard of Sports Illustrated:

BEARS SIGN DE AKIEM HICKS. Details: Two-year, $10 million deal. Hicks had a career resurgence with the Patriots last season after he was acquired in a trade from New Orleans. On the surface, this is a good fit with the Bears, who are desperate for strength in the defense line. But like Jerrell Freeman, it may end up a bad fit. Hicks is 6-5 and 324 pounds, perfect for a 3-4 end that is usually asked to play two gaps and free up the linebackers to make tackles. The problem is that Hicks actually has the skills and mentality of an attacking three-technique, so he’s better in a one-gap system. Grade: D+

The Bears have had a lot of problems since 2016, but getting Hicks for $10 million is not on that list. The reality is that the Bears seem to be winning free agency right now, but games are not played in March.

So, a lot of the news is exciting. There’s a lot of frustration to go around. However, no team wins the off-season. More importantly, a great signing in March can be an awful move by November, and a ‘D+’ in the media can be a building block for the future.

It’s too early to grade this free agent class. For now, Ryan Pace seems to be getting aggressive, and the offense is looking revitalized. It’s going to be a long wait to see how the pieces come together.