Big-name free agents dominate March headlines on an annual basis -- but what about the lesser-known players whose signings go under the radar, often coming even later in the offseason, and who then proceed to produce at a premium level for their teams?
Below, I've rounded up 10 of the top free agency bargains in terms of current production. To be eligible, players did not have to sign in 2019 -- they merely needed to be veterans producing this season at a level outweighing their compensation.
1) Jamie Collins, LB, New England Patriots
Collins serves as yet another example of how the Patriots remain the gold standard in terms of teams that acquire premium talent without paying a king's ransom. After a strong first three-and-a-half seasons with New England, Collins was traded to Cleveland in October of 2016, as he and the Patriots were unable to agree on a contract extension. The Brownspaid up to keep him, but the partnership didn't work out as well as hoped, and when general manager John Dorsey -- who was not in town when Cleveland acquired Collins -- released him this offseason, the Pats scooped him up. Talk about a bargain: Collins currently leads New England's top-ranked defense in tackles (48) and sacks (6.0) while contributing three picks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. It will be interesting to see if the 30-year-old parlays this performance into a lucrative deal elsewhere as a free agent or if the Pats keep him in the fold.
2) Shaquil Barrett, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Broncos surely would have loved to re-sign Barrett, who played 61 games in Denver while logging just 15 starts and never notching more than 5.5 sacks in any season. But the 26-year-old saw the writing on the wall when the team drafted Bradley Chubb in 2018 to pair with veteran Von Miller, so he signed with Tampa. Now, he'll be headed back to the free agency market with plenty of momentum to land a big payday after posting 11.5 sacks -- including nine sacks in his first four games -- to sit atop the NFL sacks-leaders list alongside former All-Pro Chandler Jones in Arizona.
3) Richard Sherman, CB, San Francisco 49ers
The contract Sherman signed with the 49ers after his release by the Seahawks stirred some controversy, since he represented himself, and some critics thought he might have done better with an agent. San Francisco could have easily moved on from the veteran after a subpar 2018 season, his first since suffering an Achilles tear in Seattle, with Sherman logging a career-low four passes defensed and zero picks. However, neither side is complaining right now, with Sherman providing top-tier play -- 35 tackles, nine passes defensed, three picks and one score through nine games -- and leadership for a franchise that is dominating on defense and allows him twice annual chances for revenge against the Seahawks.
4) John Brown, WR, Buffalo Bills
With 680 receiving yards so far, Brown has the most receiving yards for a Bills players in the first nine games of a season since Lee Evans posted 700 in 2008. He's also already outpaced any Bills player from Josh Allen's rookie 2018 season, providing a real value to the team as the quarterback continues to develop. Brown's injury history with the Cardinals -- he missed five games in 2017, his final season in Arizona -- explains why he was available at such an attractive rate after spending 2018 with the Ravens.
5) Danny Shelton, DT, New England Patriots
The Patriots have a history of getting premium production out of former high draft picks who struggled with their first NFL teams. Count Shelton, who flopped out of Cleveland after being chosen by the Browns with the 12th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, among that group. Shelton was traded to New England in 2018, the final year of his rookie deal, then re-signed with the Patriots this May and has since shown significant growth as a player, logging 31 tackles, fifth-most on the team, and a career-high two sacks through nine games playing nose tackle in New England.
6) Richie Incognito, OG, Oakland Raiders
Incognito missed all of last season and had off-the-field problems that resulted in him being suspended for the first two games of 2019. Since returning, Incognito has produced at a high level for the Raiders. While he was out, Oakland averaged 113.5 rushing yards per game, but in the seven games since he's been back, that number has increased to a robust 134.6, accompanying rookie Josh Jacobs' breakout. Incognito is also a solid presence in pass-protection, as well.
7) Frank Gore, RB, Buffalo Bills
The amazing Gore is providing legitimate production as a 36-year-old running back, picking up 4.0 yards per carry with two scores this season, while also serving as a team leader in terms of preparedness and off-field success. His relatively modest compensation speaks as much to how teams tend to view the running back position as anything. With 15,197 career rushing yards, Gore is on the verge of passing Barry Sanders (15,269) for No. 3 on the all-time list, behind Emmitt Smith (18,355) and Walter Payton (16,726), and is surely headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If Gore plays long enough, he even has an outside chance of passing Payton.
8) Adrian Peterson, RB, Washington Redskins
There are a number of reasons the 34-year-old Peterson hasn't been raking in the dough in recent seasons, including his age, wear-and-tear and system fit. Some NFL coaches just don't want to commit to the kinds of offensive formations and rushing load that put Peterson in the best position to succeed. But while he isn't producing at the same level he did during his Vikings heyday, Peterson is still able to produce big totals, including 4.3 yards per carry this season, and he's on pace to log his 10th career season of 900-plus rushing yards, even after being declared inactive in Week 1.
9) Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Miami Dolphins
There is a chicken-or-the-egg quality to Fitzpatrick's career, who parlayed a hot start in Tampa last season into a starting spot in Miami. In 14 previous NFL seasons, not one of his teams has qualified for the playoffs. Is that because of Fitzpatrick's own limitations as a quarterback, the lack of quality supporting casts, or a combination of both factors? After starting Weeks 1 and 2, losing his job to Josh Rosen, then winning it back, Fitzpatrick has steadied a Dolphins team that was on the ropes following a horrendous start to the season, pushing Miami to two straight victories -- something no one on the outside would have thought possible back in October. Fitzpatrick could stick around in 2020 to mentor whoever the Dolphins end up selecting to play quarterback in the first round of the draft.
10) Lorenzo Alexander, LB, Buffalo Bills
Credit ex-Buffalo bosses Rex Ryan and Doug Whaley for seeing Alexander as more than just a backup and special-teams standout after 11 NFL seasons playing that role. Alexander excelled in Ryan's 3-4 scheme in 2016, earning a Pro Bowl nod, and has since displayed the versatility to adjust to current Bills coach Sean McDermott's 4-3 defense. He's a veteran role model on pace for 67 tackles while serving as a key rotation player on one of the NFL's top defenses.