NFL

Best Offseason Pickups: One-Year Contracts

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In Part I of our Best Offseason Pickups series, we identified former head coaches taking on new jobs as positional assistants. In Part II, we looked at impactful free agents who left their teams but stayed within the division. In this third installment, we’re examining marquee free agents who settled for one-year deals.

Whether these teams are hedging their bets or the players are looking to reestablish their value and get back onto the open market quickly, these short-term agreements put a ton of pressure on the players to perform well out of the gates.

Without further ado, here are the best free-agent pickups on one-year deals.

1. WR Percy Harvin (Buffalo Bills)

GM Doug Whaley has been open about the fact the Bills don’t have a franchise QB, and with none available this offseason, Whaley did the next best thing: upgrade the talent around the quarterback position. He took a big step in that direction by getting Harvin to follow Rex Ryan from New York on a one-year, $6 million deal.

Harvin was unable to land a long-term deal because of his issues off the field, including moodiness and inattentiveness. But this “prove it” contract means the mercurial 27-year-old will have to act right if he hopes to reestablish his value before reentering the free agent market next offseason.

So far, so good, as Harvin has been effusive in his praise of his Bills teammates and coaches. And, predictably, he expects the 2015 season to be his best.

“Aside from the first two years I got in the league I’ve been just a gadget guy,” Harvin said. “I’ve been dying to just sit down with that one coach who will tell me what I’m doing wrong and what I need to do. Every day [WRs] coach Sanjay [Lal] is coming to me with different techniques I can use. I was dying to get with that coach who would sit with me and want to bring the best out of me. I think this year a lot of people are going to see the end result of it.”

2. DE Greg Hardy (Dallas Cowboys)

This signing wasn’t much of a risk, as it is unlikely Hardy will have any more domestic violence issues like the one that forced him to sit out 15 games last season (there can’t be two people in the world as dumb as Ray McDonald). The real issue was the public relations hit Hardy’s employer would take by giving big money to someone who beat his ex-girlfriend then bribed her not to testify against him. Enter Jerry Jones, a long-time believer that it doesn’t matter what they say about you as long as they’re talking about you.

Hardy is suspended for the first four games of the season, but his clever contract with the Cowboys pays him on a per-game basis, so that’s not too much of an issue. When Hardy gets back on the field in Week 5, Dallas will have a dominant edge rushers who posted 27 sacks in his last 32 games.

By pairing Hardy with second-round pick Randy Gregory, Dallas has a chance to go from finishing in the bottom-five in sacks in 2014 (28) to the top-five in 2015. Either that or Hardy and Gregory will just get high all of the time and go around punching women. Regardless, people are sure to be talking about Jones’ Cowboys yet again.

3. DT Henry Melton (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Dallas’ pass rush added Hardy and Gregory, but it lost Melton, who signed a one-year deal in Tampa Bay that reunites him with former head coach Lovie Smith. Melton did his best work under Smith during their time together Chicago: in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, he recorded 29 of his 35 career starts and rung up 13 sacks. He made the Pro Bowl in 2012.

Melton will join with two-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy and 2014 free-agent signing Clinton McDonald to give Tampa Bay one of the most dynamic defensive tackle rotations in the league.

There is a chance Melton (6’3”, 290 lbs.) could even see some time at defensive end, where the Buccaneers do not have the same kind of depth.

“They have brought that up to me and we’ve been messing with the rotation a little bit,” Melton said. “We’re just going to take it into training camp and see what works.”

4. LB Sean Weatherspoon (Arizona Cardinals)

This is a classic low-risk, high-reward signing. Weatherspoon was Atlanta’s best defender before knee, foot and Achilles injuries forced him to miss 25 games over the last two seasons. He is healthy now, but the obvious concern is whether he can stay that way. The last time he played a full 16-game schedule was in 2011, when he posted 115 tackles, four sacks and eight pass breakups.

On the bright side, all the time off means Weatherspoon feels fresh.

“I definitely think it saved my legs being off of them for the past two years,” Weatherspoon said. “So, I’m just looking forward to going out there and trying to re-establish myself as being the player that I am.”

When healthy, Weatherspoon is a versatile three-down linebacker and one of the league’s premier vocal leaders. He is someone who loves to fire up his teammates, which could prove critical for a Cardinals defense that lost the source of its swagger when defensive coordinator Todd Bowles left to take over as the head coach in New York.

5. DT Nick Fairley (St. Louis Rams)

There are plenty of reasons to doubt Fairley, from injuries to conditioning to motivation. But there is no denying the fact that when healthy and in shape, he is among the best defensive tackles in the league.

Fairley is certainly fit now. After changing his exercise and dieting routine this offseason, he dropped all the way down to 280 pounds.

“Nick’s changed his lifestyle, changed his diet,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “We’re trying to get some weight back on him.”

Fairley joins a defensive line that now includes five former first-round picks. He figures to come off the bench behind Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers, but will likely replace Brockers on most passing downs. If this line stays healthy, it will be scary good.

HONORABLE MENTION: DT Terrance Knighton (Washington Redskins), WR Michael Crabtree (Oakland Raiders), OT Joe Barksdale (San Diego Chargers) 


About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at Scout.com, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.