Winners & Losers in Free Agency

24 03 2012

As free agency continues on its downward spiral towards mediocrity in player hype and team needs, the NFL draft will start to make major headlines. April is essentially a month for NFL teams to fact-check and interview the players they are interested in. A popular motto in the NFL is “Build through the draft, supplement through free agency.” That basic ideology has created a critical importance for the success in the NFL draft. Months of viewing tape, speaking to players and coaches culminates in a three day event where careers are defined and destroyed through that draftees success or failure.

Before we dive fully into the draft coverage, here is a list of teams who I feel like addressed key needs in free agency and teams who suffered a mass exodus of key players:

Buffalo Bills:

Before the injury of star defensive tackle, Kyle Williams, the Bills had a major weakness on their front four of their defensive line. They addressed that need by pairing Williams with Marcel Dareus in the 2011 draft, but still lacked a pass-rush. Lacking a pass-rush in the AFC East where you face Tom Brady twice a year is not only a big problem, it’s an insurmountable issue if the Bills want to contend for the division title. The Bills realized this weakness and acquired two key defensive ends in Mario Williams and Mark Anderson.

Dubbed ‘Super Mario’ while playing for the Houston Texans, the former number one overall selection in the 2006 draft was a cap and scheme causality for the Texans. The Bills swooped in and paid Williams big money (5 years, 96 million) to bolster their pass rush. Still unhappy with the opposite rushing end, they added Mark Anderson to provide a solid compliment to Williams.

In two shrewd acquisitions, the Bills made their defensive line a strength instead of a weakness. The combination of Anderson, ‘Super Mario’, Dareus and Williams makes a formidable group that Brady, Mark Sanchez (Jets) and whoever Ross wants to quarterback in Miami, very nervous.

Kansas City Chiefs:

The Chiefs dealt with more injuries this past season than almost any team in the league. From Eric Berry to Tony Moeaki, the Chiefs couldn’t stay healthy and it led to a massive collapse from their 2010 playoff season. Going into the draft, the Chiefs had major needs at running back, offensive tackle, corner and depth behind Moeaki. They addressed everyone of these needs by acquiring Stanford Routt (CB), Peyton Hillis (RB), Eric Winston (RT) and Kevin Boss (TE).

Each of one these players adds a valuable asset to the team and allows the Chiefs to select the best player available in the draft, instead of reaching for a player who fills a need. The Chiefs still need interior offensive and defensive line help, but the draft is absolutely loaded with talent and depth at those positions, so the Chiefs can bid their time and find valuable assets throughout the draft. Overall, just a great free agency for the Chiefs because they addressed their major weaknesses before the draft.

Unfortunately, as is in life, if there are winners there must be losers. Here is a couple of my losers from free agency:

Houston Texans:

The Texans rose from mediocrity to ascend to their first division title and a divisional playoff berth. It was the first time the expansion franchise made a playoff berth and the Texans were a popular Superbowl pick for next year. However, this was before the start of free agency and the lose of key contributors on the offensive and defensive line. Now before I am critical of the Texans, I want to say that I admire their ability to draft and reload on a nearly consistent basis. But, and there is always a but in free agency, the team lost two key contributors in the offensive line with the cutting of Eric Winston and the departure of guard Mike Brisiel.

The Texans major strength last year, besides the emergence of a young, stout defense, was their offensive line providing running lanes for Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Brisiel is replaceable, especially since they were able to retain the best center in the league last year in Chris Meyers, but Winston is one of the top right tackles in the league and is still in his prime. Finding a replacement for him will be difficult when the team has other needs to address in the draft.

The losses of DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams are overblown because both players don’t have a natural fit in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense, but Ryans was a proven leader on the field and will create a leadership gap in the locker room.

I fully expect the Texans to win the division next year and compete for a Superbowl berth in the AFC, but the biggest strength of the team is now a question mark and that’s why I consider them one of my losers.

Arizona Cardinals:

The Cardinals made headlines across the league when they were a potential landing spot for Peyton Manning. Pairing Manning with an elite wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald had snowbirds across the state drooling on their BMW’s. But Manning chose the Denver Broncos and the once imaginative minds of the Cardinal nation was reduced to enduring through Kevin Kolb part II in 2012.

Kolb is a small sting in the arm, the real gut-buster is the Cardinals have to watch Kolb try to scramble while Adam Synder and Levi Brown block for him. Levi Brown is one of the most inconsistent tackles in the league, and placing a highly inconsistent Adam Synder next to him just seems like Cardinals front office wants Kolb to be hit so hard and so often, that he rescinds his contract and moves to one of the luxurious retirement communities in the area.

I am still adjusting my mock draft because of the recent signings, but I should have it up this week. April arrives next Sunday, so be ready for four weeks of madness and rumors galore for all 32 NFL teams.

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NFL Free Agency Signings

17 03 2012

The first wave of the NFL free agency period is continuing to make noise throughout the league. Typically the high-priced free agents sign with teams while the lower echelon of players waits for the market to be set by the other contracts.

The free agency dictates the direction teams go in the NFL draft because positions of need or weakness can be addressed in free agency. For example, the Washington Redskins recently traded for the second overall pick in the draft; most likely to pick Robert Griffin III out of Baylor. Since RGIII addresses their quarterback need, they wanted to upgrade their receiver core to help the rookie quarterback. So, they added Pierre Garcon from Indianapolis and Josh Morgan from the San Francisco 49ers.

These acquisitions have changed their draft needs because instead of looking for a wide receiver in the draft, they now can focus on other needs.

Here is some of the recent signings and my take:

Rams Cortland Finnegan (5 years, $50 million):

The Rams were desperate for cornerback help. After losing 11 defensive backs to injured reserve last year, the position was decimated and needed a guaranteed starter to match-up with Larry Fitzgerald and Mike Williams of the Cardinals and Seahawks respectively. I love the signing and it reunited Finnegan with his old coach, Jeff Fisher.

Buccaneers Vincent Jackson (5 years, $55.5 million):

The Buccaneers have tried to surround quarterback Josh Freeman with weapons to supplement his growth. However, Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn both have failed to live-up to their draft positions and Williams character concerns have translated into a poor work-ethic. Vincent Jackson instantly provides Freeman with a true, legitimate number 1 receiver and a deep threat. Here is my only issue: Jackson has never caught more than 68 passes in a season and is one more personal conduct violation from a suspension.

Saints Ben Grubbs (5 year, $36 million)

Ben Grubbs replaces Carl Nicks, a superior guard, and continues the high-level of interior line play for the Saints. Drew Brees is only 6’ feet tall and needs a clean throwing lane to compensate for his lack of height. Grubbs provides this assurance and joins Jahri Evans to form a formidable interior offensive line. Overall, I love this acquisition and helps keep the franchise quarterback healthy and upright.

I will continue to react to the recent signings throughout the week. Be sure to check the updates and see the post free agency mock draft.





Free Agency Is Upon Us

10 03 2012

NFL free agency starts Tuesday March 13th at 4:00 p.m. Free agency is one of the most exciting periods of the NFL offseason because teams are able to add or subtract players to strengthen their perspective teams.

Players are divided into three categories during free agency:

Restricted Free Agent (RFA): A player who has accumulated three full seasons of playing time in the NFL and is still under contract to their individual teams. However, depending on the tender, tenders range from 1st to 7th round, dictates the availability and value of the player to their respective teams.

For example, a high level player will most likely receive a 1st round tender, so if a team wants to acquire said player, they must offer their 1st round draft pick in the upcoming draft to sign the player. The team who assigned the tender has the option to match the offer and if they do, they will be able to retain the player.

Mike Wallace, wide receiver of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Ladarius Webb, corner for the Baltimore Ravens, have been popular choices for teams who want to gain a high-level corner or wide receiver for a 1st round draft choice. To some teams, players like Webb or Wallace that will provide instant, proven playmakers in the NFL are more valuable than the draft choice they might receive in the 1st round of the NFL draft.

Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA): A player who has accrued four full seasons of NFL play. UFA players are exactly that, unrestricted. They are able to sign with any team and have control of their destinies in that regard. Many players in the NFL covet being an UFA because they are able to sign lucrative contracts that will most likely be the biggest contract of their NFL careers.

Carl Nicks, guard for the New Orleans Saints, is a perfect example of why players covet the UFA designation. Nicks will likely become the highest paid interior offensive linemen in the NFL because he isn’t restricted to a predetermined value chart like a RFA player would be.

Finally you the franchise tag: Which is a mix of UFA and RFA depending on which type of franchise tag a team places on a free agent. There is an ‘exclusive’ and ‘non-exclusive’ franchise tag. Both must pay the player tagged the average of the top five salaries of the players specific position or 120 percent of the players previous contract, whichever is higher. The main difference is a ‘non-exclusive’ free agent can negotiate with other teams to gain a larger contract, but the original team can match the offer and retain the player. So the franchise tag is closely related to UFA and RFA rules and distinctions.

Here is a list of teams who used the franchise tag and the players they tagged courtesy of Yahoo! Sports:

Arizona Cardinals: Calais Campbell, defensive end
Atlanta Falcons: Brent Grimes, cornerback
Baltimore Ravens: Ray Rice, running back
Buffalo Bills: Not used
Carolina Panthers: Not used
Chicago Bears: Matt Forte, running back
Cincinnati Bengals: Mike Nugent, kicker
Cleveland Browns: Phil Dawson, kicker
Dallas Cowboys: Anthony Spencer, linebacker
Denver Broncos: Matt Prater, kicker
Detroit Lions: Cliff Avril, defensive end
Green Bay Packers: Not used
Houston Texans: Not used
Indianapolis Colts: Robert Mathis, defensive end
Jacksonville Jaguars: Josh Scobee, kicker
Kansas City Chiefs: Dwayne Bowe, wide receiver
Miami Dolphins: Not used
Minnesota Vikings: Not used
New England Patriots: Wes Welker, wide receiver
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees, quarterback
New York Giants: Steve Weatherford, punter
New York Jets: Not used
Oakland Raiders: Tyvon Branch, safety
Philadelphia Eagles: DeSean Jackson, wide receiver
Pittsburgh Steelers: Not used
San Diego Chargers: Not used
San Francisco 49ers: Dashon Goldson, safety
Seattle Seahawks: Not used
St. Louis Rams: Not used
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Connor Barth, kicker
Tennessee Titans: Michael Griffin, safety
Washington Redskins: Fred Davis, tight end

Finally, here is my mock draft which now includes the 2nd round. I am currently working on the 3rd round, so check back soon to see free agent signings and my 3rd round mock:

2012 NFL Mock Draft
1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck QB Stanford

2. Trade with St. Louis: Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III QB Baylor

3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil OT USC

4. Cleveland Browns – Morris Claiborne CB LSU

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Trent Richardson RB Alabama

6. Trade with Washington:St. Louis Rams – Justin Blackmon WR Oklahoma St.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Michael Floyd WR Notre Dame

8. Miami Dolphins – Quinton Coples DE UNC

9. Carolina Panthers – Dontari Poe DT Memphis

10. Buffalo Bills – Melvin Ingram DE South Carolina

11. Kansas City Chiefs – Riley Reiff OT Iowa

12. Seattle Seahawks – Ryan Tannenhill QB Texas A&M

13. Arizona Cardinals – David Decastro G Stanford

14. Dallas Cowboys – Janoris Jenkins North Alabama

15. Philadelphia Eagles – Luke Kuelchy ILB Boston College

16. New York Jets – Mark Barron S Alabama

17. Cincinnati Bengals – Dre Kirkpatrick CB Alabama

18. San Diego Chargers – Courtney Upshaw OLB Alabama

19. Chicago Bears – Jonathan Martin OT Stanford

20. Tennessee Titans – Kendall Wright WR Baylor

21. Cincinnati Bengals – Lamar Miller RB Miami

22. Cleveland Browns – Nick Perry DE USC

23. Detroit Lions – Stephen Gilmore CB South Carolina

24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Adams OT Ohio St.

25. Denver Broncos – Fletcher Cox DE Miss. St.

26. Houston Texans – Peter Konz C Wisconsin

27. New England Patriots – Whitney Mercilus DE/OLB Illinois

28. Green Bay Packers – Devon Still DT Penn St.

29. Baltimore Ravens – Cordy Glenn OT/G Georgia

30. San Francisco 49ers – Stephen Hill WR Georgia Tech

31. New England Patriots – Alshon Jeffery WR South Carolina

32. New York Giants – Coby Fleener Stanford

Round 2

St. Louis Rams – Bobby Massie OT Ole Miss

34. Indianapolis Colts – Alameda Ta’amu DT Washington

35. Minnesota Vikings – Chase Minnifield CB Virginia

36. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Mohamed Sanu WR Rutgers

37. Cleveland Browns – David Wilson RB Virginia Tech

38. Jacksonville Jaguars – Brandon Thompson DT Clemson

39. Trade: St. Louis Rams – Rueben Randle WR LSU

40. Carolina Panthers – Alfonzo Dennard CB Nebraska

41. Buffalo Bills – Brandon Weeden QB Oklahoma St.

42. Miami Dolphins – Kendall Reyes DT UCONN

43. Seattle Seahawks – Chandler Jones DE Syracuse

Kansas City Chiefs – Vinny Curry OLB Marshall

45. Dallas Cowboys – Kelechi Osemele OG/T Iowa St.

46. Philadelphia Eagles – Kevin Zeitler G Wisconsin

47. New York Jets – Andre Branch DE Clemson

48. New England Patriots – Josh Norman CB Coastal Carolina

49. San Diego Chargers – Dont’a Hightower ILB Alabama

50. Chicago Bears – Dwayne Allen TE Clemson

51. Philadelphia Eagles – Zach Brown OLB UNC

52. Tennessee Titans – Lavonte David Nebraska

53. Cincinnati Bengals – Harrison Smith S Notre Dame

54. Detroit Lions – Ben Jones C Georgia

55. Atlanta Falcons – David Wilson RB Boise St.

56. Pittsburgh Steelers – Jamell Fleming CB Oklahoma

57. Denver Broncos – Trumaine Johnson CB/S Montana

58. Houston Texans – Nick Toon WR Wisconsin

59. New Orleans Saints (Forfeited)

60. Green Bay Packers – Ronell Lewis DE Oklahoma

61. Baltimore Ravens – Marvin Jones WR Cal

62. San Francisco 49ers – Brandon Brooks G Miami

63. New England Patriots – Jared Crick DE/DT Nebraska

64. New York Giants – Jerel Worthy DT Michigan St.

 





Post-Combine Reactions

3 03 2012

The NFL combine is wrapped-up and besides the college pro days, the NFL Draft is on the homestretch. The combine is a shorts-and-shirts event; where uber-athletes can show their elite athleticism and ability to run, jump and power through the workouts.

However, football isn’t played in shorts or shirts, so one has to be cautious with being over reactionary when evaluating the performances of particular prospects. Especially if an athlete doesn’t perform as well in the games as he does at the combine. This is where NFL evaluators have to cross reference the performances at the combine with the game tape.

Here are some ‘risers’ and ‘fallers’ from the combine:

Risers:

Cordy Glenn G/OT Georgia: The big man ran a sub 5.00 40 time, which is exceptional (and downright ungodly) for a man that stands at 6’5” and weighs 348 pounds. Glenn can play right tackle or guard in the NFL, and that versatility will be coveted by NFL teams.

Dontari Poe DT Memphis: Poe was perhaps the most impressive athlete at the combine. Out of 300 plus participants, Poe was an absolute freak-of-nature. Poe weighed-in at 346 pounds and ran faster than most prospects 100 pounds less at 4.87 second 40-yard-dash. Poe played at Memphis, which calls into question his level of competition, but his level of athleticism and size compares to NFL All-pro Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens. Yes, he can be that good.

Stephen Hill WR Georgia Tech: Before the combine, Hill was predicted to have a good showing at the combine, but exceeded expectations by running a 4.36 and having a vertical jump of 39.5 inches. Playing in a run-oriented offense at Georgia Tech, Hill only had 28 receptions for 820 yards, but he had a 29.3 yards per reception average, which is just an astronomical number. Hill has very little experience running an NFL route tree, and lacks strength to beat man-press, but his size-speed ratio will be too tempting to pass for NFL teams in the draft.

Fallers:

Vontaze Burfict LB Arizona St: The prospect who had the most to prove after a down 2011 season and numerous on-the-field problems, flopped like a Paul McCartney solo album. Burfict ran slow, jumped short and reportedly performed poorly in the interviews with teams. Once touted as a 1st round prospect, Burfict has a legitimate chance at dropping to the 4th or 5th round. Burfict has one more opportunity to showcase his incredible athleticism that he displayed his freshmen and sophomore year at his pro day.

Kendall Wright WR Baylor: When you are less than 6’ and only weigh-in at 196 pounds, you need to be fast and explosive. Wright, considered at top-ten pick, disappointed by running a 4.61 second forty. Now there needs to be a disclaimer for Wright: He looked explosive in drills, events and has a chance to redeem himself at his pro day. However, he needs to run a 4.4 to be selected in the 1st round.

The NFL Draft is less than two months away and each day will be filled with rumors and smoke-screens from teams trying to be surreptitious about the player they covet. Pro days will dot the calendar as universities will host scouts, coaches and general mangers to showcase their players who weren’t invited to the combine or need a second chance to perform.

Enjoy the ride because we are rapidly approaching the peak!