4 biggest steals of 2024 NFL free agency so far: Steelers coup with Russell Wilson

Now that we've had time to reflect on the 2024 NFL free agency landscape, here are the four biggest steals, including the Kansas City Chiefs landing wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown.

Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders
Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

Now that we’ve turned the calendar from March to April, the 2024 NFL league year is shifting gears. First, it was free agency. Now, the draft is taking center stage.

However, several high-profile players switched teams this offseason, which could have implications on the outcome of the upcoming season that shouldn’t go unnoticed. 

These four players could be the biggest bargains of free agency considering their contractual value and what they bring to the table both on/off the field, including the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs landing speedy wide receiver Marquise Brown on a team-friendly deal.

4. Bobby Wagner, LB, Washington Commanders

Age is the only thing that prevented Bobby Wagner from receiving a lucrative multi-year contract this offseason. But the Washington Commanders won’t complain after signing him to a one-year deal with a max value of $8.5 million, including $6 million in guaranteed money.

Wagner has been arguably the most dominant linebacker of his generation, earning All-Pro First or Second Team honors in each of the past ten seasons, including 2023, when he recorded a career-high 183 combined tackles (which led the league), 3.5 sacks, three pass deflections, and a fumble recovery.

While many players start to regress and slow down as they enter the latter stages of their career, Wagner has aged like fine wine, still looking every bit the part of an elite field general as he enters his age-34 campaign – evidenced by him being one of PFF’s highest-graded linebackers in 2023 (82.4).

The Commanders desperately needed a veteran leadership presence to take command of the defense, and Wagner offers that and then some. Moreover, he is familiar with head coach Dan Quinn and his defensive scheme, which should make it a seamless transition for all parties involved.

As Quinn looks to establish a culture and identity in Washington, having a player of Wagner’s stature should help expedite the process, making his 2024 salary feel like an extremely reasonable cost for a high-end linebacker whose presence will also be felt in the locker room and within the organization.

Darious Williams
Jacksonville Jaguars CB Darious Williams / Perry Knotts/GettyImages

3. Darious Williams, CB, Los Angeles Rams

After a two-year stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars, cornerback Darious Williams is returning to the Los Angeles Rams, where he spent four seasons from 2018-21 before leaving via free agency in 2022.

The Rams signed Willams to a three-year, $22.5 million contract that includes $7 million in guaranteed money, a small financial commitment to make for such a productive player who is coming off arguably a career year and at or near the top of the open market at such a premium position.

Williams recorded 53 combined tackles, a career-high 19 pass deflections, four interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a defensive touchdown in 2023, earning the fifth-highest PFF coverage grade (85.3) among cornerbacks.

Los Angeles is making a concerted effort to bolster their secondary after losing arguably the best pass rusher in NFL history, Aaron Donald, to retirement this offseason. The team knows that his absence leaves a void along the defensive line that made life difficult for opposing quarterbacks, so they signed Williams, All-Pro corner Tre’Davious White, and safety Kamren Curl to counteract his decision.

The 17th highest-paid corner in terms of base salary for 2024, Williams will be a massive bargain for the Rams if he can replicate the success from last season.

2. Marquise Brown, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs signing Marquise “Hollywood” Brown to a one-year, $7 million contract (with a max value of $11 million) feels even more critical now, given the circumstances surrounding second-year wideout Rashee Rice and his legal matter.

Brown carries an $8.2 million cap hit for 2024, in line with receivers like Tim Patrick, Darius Slayton, and Darnell Mooney. Albeit they are talented players, they have not shown the same type of upside as the former 2019 first-round pick.

If not for a heel issue that derailed his season, Brown appeared to be on his way to a career year in 2023 with the Arizona Cardinals, serving as their primary pass-catching target. Now, he will have a chance to build on the pre-injury momentum he developed then, with the best quarterback in the NFL throwing to him.

After seeing the Tennessee Titans sign Calvin Ridley (who is two years older than Brown) to a four-year, $92 million contract, the Cincinnati Bengals slapping Tee Higgins with the franchise tag (which nets him roughly $21.8 for 2024), and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers extend Mike Evans at a $26 million annual rate as he enters his age-31 campaign, Kansas City has to feel good about the price they paid for Brown.

A young and talented receiver who thrives on all three levels of the field, the rich got richer this season when the Chiefs added Brown.

1. Russell Wilson, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Russell Wilson may not be the nine-time Pro Bowl, Super Bowl-winning quarterback he once was. But he has the potential to be one of the biggest bargains in recent memory for the Pittsburgh Steelers after signing a one-year, $1.21 million deal this offseason.

Wilson has a $1.21 million cap hit in 2024, which ranks 56th amongst signal-callers, sandwiched between Easton Stick and Desmond Ridder – he is being paid significantly less than several backups.

Having a starting quarterback at such a cheap cost has its benefits. It allows the Steelers to allocate financial resources elsewhere as they fill out the rest of the roster. That has proven a recipe for success over time, with Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers being the most recent example. 

The Steelers went 10-7 last season despite having treacherous quarterback play for most of the year. Wilson doesn’t need to turn back the clock and be the dominant player he used to be for this contract to be a bargain – he can game-manage his way to being a valuable free-agency addition.

With virtually nothing to lose and everything to gain, Pittsburgh taking a flier Wilson at such a low cost could have monumental implications on the AFC playoff picture.