Best, worst free-agency values

Mitchell to Steelers among top signings; Jackson to Falcons among worst

Updated: March 17, 2014, 12:16 PM ET
By Louis Riddick | ESPN Insider

MitchellDavid T. Foster III/Getty ImagesSafety Mike Mitchell, who signed with the Steelers, tallied 66 tackles and four interceptions in 2013.

Along with the NFL draft, unrestricted free agency is one of the two primary tools that owners, presidents and general managers have at their disposal when it comes to building their teams. Everyone involved with the process naturally wants to do something -- anything -- to make his team better, and hopefully into a championship contender.

History has shown that the internal and external expectations that come along with high-volume, high-dollar participation in the UFA market are often unrealistic (with the UFA signing period kicking off at the beginning of the new league year, optimism, expectations and hope are at maximum levels). And if the results aren't there, it can ultimately cost coaches, administrators and players their jobs.

Maximizing surplus value (performance value relative to cost) is the goal with every transaction that you make when constructing a team in the salary-cap era, with free agency presenting a difficult set of circumstances relative to achieving that goal, particularly within the first 24 to 36 hours of the beginning of the signing period, when players have their greatest amount of negotiating leverage. Decision-makers must balance the player's age, health, and organizational and locker-room fit to secure a reasonable deal within a marketplace that is less than rational due to every teams' desire to improve, and some teams' willingness to pay premium prices.

With all those factors in mind, here is my take on five deals that stand out as the best and worst values among UFA signings so far -- three that look good, and two that don't.


Best values

Mitchell

Mike Mitchell, free safety, Pittsburgh Steelers

Guarantees: $5.25 million ($4.75 million signing bonus; $500,000 roster bonus due April 14)
Average per year: $5 million over five years
Age: 26

If you look at how the Steelers deploy their safeties, it is evident that Troy Polamalu is what I like to call the "down" safety, or the guy who is usually in the box versus the run and responsible for underneath coverage responsibilities, while Ryan Clark in 2013 was the middle-of-the-field safety in their base three-deep looks. Well, Clark is a UFA and is not returning, and Mitchell pretty much had the same coverage responsibilities for Carolina that Clark had for Pittsburgh.