NFL Free Agency: Ranking the seven smartest signings so far

Martellus Bennett Giants

The Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Tennessee Titans, Philadephia Eagles and Denver Broncos feature

NFL free agency is underway and already five teams can congratulate themselves for doing some smart business. This list focuses on those signings, rather than some of the big-money moves that otherwise dominate the headlines.

7. Chris Canty, DE, Baltimore Ravens

Free agency did not start well for the defending Super Bowl champions. They lost a premier pass-rusher to a division rival, when Paul Kruger joined the Cleveland Browns.

Worst still, dynamic, young inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe took the money and ran to the Miami Dolphins. At least the Baltimore Ravens made a smart addition to their defensive line.

They picked up former New York Giant Chris Canty, who is ideally suited to their hybrid schemes. He has thrived in both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts.

Canty is a powerful force against the run. That's something the Ravens need after their usually stout rush defense slipped to 20th in 2012.

6. Andy Levitre, G, Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans have shown a real commitment to get running back Chris Johnson back to his best. It started with moving quickly to secure arguably the best guard in free agency, Andy Levitre.

The former Buffalo Bills standout is a savvy and reliable interior blocker. He is a major boon to a running game, thanks to a nice combination of size and mobility.

Levitre will knock open greater holes for the Titans' best offensive weapon.

5. Jermon Bushrod, OT, Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears had to find help for their offensive line, particularly at left tackle. Jermon Bushrod is a decent solution.

He has spent his career as the blindside protector for Drew Brees with the New Orleans Saints. That should be welcome news for Jay Cutler, who has been terrorised by pass-rushers from that side since joining the Bears.

Bushrod is also an excellent run-blocker. He will help ensure Matt Forte doesn't go to waste in new head coach Marc Trestman's West Coast offense.

4. Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans

The Titans made another move that should please their star running back. Utility tight end Delanie Walker proved to be an invaluable blocker for the San Francisco 49ers' powerful running game.

He can take up a variety of positions and supplement the offensive line. Walker is also a dependable receiver with above-average big play potential.

He will not only help Johnson, but also be a useful weapon for developing quarterback Jake Locker.

3. Martellus Bennett, TE, Chicago Bears

The Bears have needed a credible tight end for too long. They certainly found one in Martellus Bennett. He enjoyed a solid season with the New York Giants in 2012, proving his potential as a prolific receiver.

That's just what any West Coast offense needs from the tight end position. Bennett has the size to overpower and out jump defenders, along with underrated speed.

He also improved his route running with the Giants. With Bennett to aim for underneath, Cutler won't always feel he has to force deep passes into coverage.

Bennett's days of being an underachiever appear set to end and the Bears have pounced for him at the right time.

2. Isaac Sopoaga, NT, Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles have sent out a clear signal they intend to switch to a 3-4 defense this season. The one thing every credible 3-4 defense needs is a powerful nose tackle to dominate the middle.

That's just what the Eagles acquired when they snared Isaac Sopoaga in the early hours of free agency. The ex-San Francisco 49er is the classic immovable force in the middle.

He is a bruising run stuffer who will overpower the interior of offensive lines and close off rushing lanes. Sopoaga will also regularly occupy double teams and keep the inside linebackers free to attack.

The Eagles were wise to move quickly for the best pure nose tackle in this year's market.

1. Louis Vasquez, G, Denver Broncos

Speaking of wise decisions, the Denver Broncos certainly made one when they opted to increase the protection for their biggest investment.

Guard Louis Vasquez will be an invaluable addition to the offensive line in front of ageing passer Peyton Manning. One of Manning's few issues has always been his lack of mobility.

As a result, interior pressure has often disrupted his rhythm-based, precision game. Vasquez is an outstanding interior pass-protector.

The Broncos should know, having faced the former San Diego Charger for the past four seasons. Further solidifying an already capable offensive line, was the smartest the Broncos could make, with Manning under center.

There have been more high-profile moves and bigger names remain on the market. But these seven signings represent the smartest free agency moves so far.

image: © marianne oleary