With the 2021 NFL season around the corner, teams are arranging their depth charts and planning how to best incorporate the talent they have on hand. While draft picks and high-profile free agents garnered plenty of attention over the offseason, I thought I'd take a closer look at a subcategory of players that sometimes goes a bit under the radar, but which contains real contributors every season: those that are signed to one-year deals.
Below, you'll find 12 players signed to one-year deals that I believe will pay off, with players thriving and providing their employers outstanding bang for the buck. To qualify, a player only had to be signed to a one-year deal that was not a franchise tag.
And, of course, a player's exclusion here does not mean I think they will have a bad season. It merely means I don't think they'll provide the same kind of return relative to the cost of their contract as the players listed below.
Note: All contract values and rankings were sourced from Over the Cap.
Signed for: $9.5 million. Rank in annual average value among CBs: 19th.
Though Fuller's being paid like a top-20 corner, his one-year pact could still end up being a tremendous value. The 29-year-old's availability after being released by the Bears was a pleasant surprise for the Broncos, who added him even after signing Ronald Darby to a three-year, $30 million deal. Denver coach Vic Fangio should have a pretty good idea of how to get the most out of Fuller, with whom he worked in his tenure as Chicago's defensive coordinator. Consider Fangio's last season in that role was also one of the best of Fuller's NFL tenure: In 2018, Fuller logged a career- and league-high seven picks and 21 passes defensed, earning both Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors.
Signed for: $5.1 million. Rank in annual average among QBs: 35th.
If rookie Mac Jones manages to seize the No. 1 job before the regular season starts, then this blurb will be moot. But while Jones is showing promising signs of taking over under center relatively soon, and Newton's recent absence from the team due to a mix-up over COVID-19 testing protocols was certainly a setback, I believe Newton will still ultimately be given the first chance to lead the offense. And, while I'll admit this ranking is a bit bullish, I'm optimistic the former MVP will rebound from a lackluster 2020 in his second season in coordinator Josh McDaniels' offense, with a far better supporting cast than he had last season. The cost of his one-year pact will be well worth it if Newton can orchestrate a revival in 2021, even if he does manage to boost his pay via incentives.
Signed for: $5.5 million. Rank in annual average among CBs: 31st.
The early portion of Verrett's career included flashes of promise clouded by injury -- from 2014 to '19, he appeared in just 26 games. But the former first-round pick rebounded in 2020, making 13 starts and earning Pro Football Focus' sixth-best defensive grade among cornerbacks with 800-plus snaps. He was easily the 49ers' best CB in 2020; in fact, using that same 800-snap qualifier, only Fred Warner finished with a better defensive grade in San Francisco last season. Verrett's always had outstanding coverage skills. If he can stay healthy for a second consecutive season, he can play a big role in helping the team jump back into the realm of NFC contenders.
Signed for: $8.38 million. Rank in annual average among OTs: 28th.
It was surprising to see Fisher released by the same team that made him the NFL's No. 1 overall draft pick in 2013. Fisher, who since signed with the Colts, is coming off a torn Achilles suffered in the AFC title game. But once he returns, it shouldn't take long for him to prove he's still one of the league's best left tackles on a team that could really use the help.
Signed for: $4 million. Rank in annual average among OTs: 47th.
The Bears' front office should be kicking itself. After the second-round selection of tackle prospect Teven Jenkins, Chicago released Leno -- only to learn later Jenkins needed back surgery that could threaten his availability this season. Jenkins' projected shift from right tackle to the left side was considered a gamble to begin with. The Bears' decision to part ways with Leno worked out for The Football Team, though. The 29-year-old Leno is a former Pro Bowler, even if he only made the team once so far (in 2018), and his offensive grade from PFF landed him in the top 20 (tied for 17th) among tackles with 1,000-plus snaps last season. Washington should rest easy with Leno protecting Ryan Fitzpatrick's blindside.
Signed for: $3.6 million. Rank in annual average among OTs: 48th.
Shortly after signing Leno, Washington said goodbye to its own solid veteran, releasing Moses, with second-round pick Sam Cosmi lined up to play right tackle. However, like Leno, the 30-year-old Moses has a healthy amount of tread left on the tires. And he'll have a chance to be plenty helpful on a Jets offensive line tasked with giving rookie quarterback Zach Wilson the protection he needs while learning the NFL ropes.
Signed for: $6 million. Rank in annual average among WRs: T-35th
For a list like this, I would not normally select a 33-year-old receiver with a recent history of declining production (since 2017, when he last hit the 1,000-yard mark, Green has averaged 48.7 receiving yards per game; he averaged 80.5 in his first seven seasons). But a healthy and rejuvenated Green has been drawing rave reviews in Cardinals camp. The seven-time Pro Bowler might not hit the statistical heights he used to routinely reach earlier in his career, but he should play an important role in Arizona, not least because of his ability to help draw defensive attention away from DeAndre Hopkins.
Signed for: $7.5 million. Rank in annual average among OTs: 32nd.
By choosing receiver Ja'Marr Chase over top-rated tackle prospect Penei Sewell with the No. 5 overall pick, Cincinnati was also betting that Reiff and left tackle Jonah Williams will be able to protect the outside edge for quarterback Joe Burrow's second NFL season. Reiff has spent all but one of his nine NFL seasons thus far at left tackle, switching to the right side only for the 2016 campaign, with Detroit. But he has nonetheless been a model of consistency throughout his nine-year career -- only 16 players have recorded 4,000-plus pass-blocking snaps since 2012, when he entered the league as a first-round pick, and his 32 sacks allowed in that span places him smack in the middle (No. 8) among that group, per PFF. He'll also provide insurance at left tackle in case Williams (who has appeared in 10 games since being drafted in the first round in 2019) is injured.
Signed for: $5 million. Rank in annual average among WRs: T-40th.
If he can stay healthy -- and that's a big if for a player who has played only one 16-game season in his seven-year career thus far, and who has missed time in camp this year -- Watkins should be the No. 1 receiving target for Lamar Jackson as the Ravens try to improve a passing attack that ranked 32nd in 2020. Watkins' catch rate above expectation (-2.9%) in 2020 ranked last among Chiefs receivers with 30-plus targets, but it would have slotted him easily above last year's top Baltimore receiver, Marquise Brown (-4.7%). After putting in three seasons of top-notch support work in Kansas City, Watkins is in position to shine with Jackson in Baltimore.
Signed for: $9 million. Rank in annual average among interior DLs: T-19th.
Suh helped carry the interior of the Bucs' defensive line during last season's Super Bowl-winning campaign, especially after Vita Vea was sidelined with a leg injury in Week 5. Though he is 34, Suh remains a force on what should be one of the NFL's top defenses in 2021. Not only did he top the five-sack mark for the first time since 2016 (when, as in 2020, he finished with 6.0 sacks), but Suh also finished with 30 pressures, 12th-most among interior defensive linemen, per Next Gen Stats. Like fellow veterans Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown and Leonard Fournette, Suh's decision to return on a relatively low-commitment deal was key to keeping the band together for Tampa's title defense.
Signed for: $10 million. Rank in annual average among QBs: T-19th.
Fitzpatrick is the only player in NFL history who has thrown a touchdown pass for eight different teams -- and he's about to make it nine in Washington. In the short term, the 38-year-old will help stretch opposing defenses with his willingness to go deep; ideally, he'll help ensure the offense can keep pace with (or at least not drag down) a defense that ranked second overall and fourth in points allowed. In the long term, Fitzpatrick's presence will buy the franchise time to assess whether Taylor Heinicke is the QB of the future or if the position will have to be addressed in 2022.
Signed for: $8 million. Rank in annual average among CBs: 24th.
Peterson is no longer an elite shutdown defender -- but he's still good enough to fill the CB1 role that 2020 first-round pick Jeff Gladney was expected to assume before Gladney's indictment on a felony domestic violence charge led to his release. With Gladney gone, Peterson is the only cornerback on the roster who played in 1,000-plus snaps last season (no one else even came close). He is accomplished (with eight Pro Bowls on his resume) and motivated, and it would not be a surprise if he helped lead a defensive renaissance in Minnesota while mounting a comeback of his own.