MAQB – Free Agency Preview

by NFL Gimpy

We’re in the middle of the legal tampering period right now. Agents can talk to NFL teams, but contracts cannot be signed until tomorrow. A lot of players are already “signed” even though it’s not official. Starting tomorrow at 4pm EST, ink will start hitting paper. The reason the NFL did this is to try and distract fans from realizing that tampering (speaking with a player under contract with another team, which is technically forbidden) was rampant. This will give fans the illusion that Jake Long’s agent hasn’t been speaking with teams for weeks, no later than the Scouting Combine. To put it bluntly, an agent isn’t doing his job unless he has a very good idea as to what his client’s market value is and who the top suitors are well before free agency begins. I would love to put a quote here from an agent, player, or team employee, but none I asked would answer on the record. I can’t figure out why no one would admit to breaking NFL rules on the record though…

I’ll go over 3-7 players at each position who are an unrestricted free agent (UFA). I’ll have a few categories I’ll put those players in, such as best value, most likely to be overpaid, buyer beware, underrated, and tank almost empty. Obviously I won’t preview every player but I’ll do my best to cover ones that will actually attract real interest.

QB:

Best Value: Chase Daniel. When I started this column last week, I had a nice write up on Matt Moore here. I’m surprised Moore re-signed with the Dolphins, but I’m sure there’s a reason. Some have suggested Moore is content to be a backup, which if that’s the case, you don’t want him competing for a starting job. That leaves the best value as Chase Daniel. Chase has sat behind Drew Brees and only has 9 career attempts in real games. But the value is that Daniel has had an opportunity to learn from a QB who shares similar flaws. Both Daniel and Brees aren’t tall (both listed at about 6’) nor do they have great arm strength. Brees is great because of pocket presence, anticipation, and accuracy. If Daniel has improved from watching Brees, he could be a good guy to bring in and compete for a starting role on the Jets, Jaguars, or Raiders (if they release Carson Palmer).

Tank Almost Empty: David Garrard. Garrard has had opportunities to play and he simply hasn’t been able to stay healthy. A team may get a decent, veteran backup out of him if he can stay healthy, which is doubtful. The Jets could take a shot at Garrard; he had a tryout with them last month.

Don’t Bother: Brady Quinn, Matt Leinart, Byron Leftwich, and Rex Grossman. Do I really need to add anything here? These guys offer nothing a rookie couldn’t and with none of the upside. A rookie could come out of nowhere and be a decent player. There’s no way any of them amount to much.

Overall, the QB market, like most years, lacks a proven starter. Proven starters aren’t free agents too often, hence why the Chiefs traded for Alex Smith.  

RB:

Best Value: Reggie Bush. I’m not sure why people don’t view Reggie as a 3-down back. I think his reputation with the Saints and playing for a largely ignored Dolphins squad has hurt his ability to change that rep. He has averaged over 1,000 yards rushing and 290 yards receiving the past 2 years to go along with a total of 15 touchdowns. I wouldn’t let him carry the ball 25x a game, but he’s still a 3-down player with very little wear and tear. The Lions appear to be the top suitor for Bush, but don’t rule out the Cardinals, Rams, or Packers.

Injured but not done: Ahmad Bradshaw. Bradshaw is a solid but unspectacular back who could be a low end starter or great #2 back. He’s a decent receiver out of the backfield and will only be 27 when the season begins. If he can stay healthy, he’s a good bargain option. Bradshaw could stay in NY and go to the Jets who desperately need a cheap, effective RB.

Buyer Beware: Steven Jackson. Jackson has had a heck of a career since being drafted in 2004, but he has had a lot of wear and tear that he has surprisingly stayed relatively healthy through (2 missed games the past 4 years). But there’s a reason Jackson, Michael Turner, and Mewelde Moore are the only backs left in the NFL from 2004 class: it was a long time ago. Turner and Moore may stay unemployed, making Jackson the last man standing. He’s had a great career, but I don’t know if you can rely on him for even one season of good play.

Miscellaneous: Larod Stephens-Howling is a good 3rd down back and return specialist. He’ll be cheap and was the best RB in Arizona last season; that doesn’t say much, though. I’m not a fan of Rashard Mendenhall at all; bad attitude, didn’t look like he fully healed from a January 2012 ACL tear this past season. There are rumors that a few teams are interested, so we’ll have to see if I’m wrong. Shonn Greene may be begging the Jets to take him back when he realizes no one else really wants him.

WR:

Buyer Beware: Mike Wallace. Wallace is a speed demon and one of the best deep threats in the NFL. The reason I put him here is because he needs all of that speed to get open. You rarely see him catch a pass in tight coverage or take a hit immediately after a catch. If Wallace loses a little speed, he could instantly become a marginal WR. I think one of the reasons pure speed WRs don’t often succeed in the NFL is because they don’t learn how to get open without their speed. Look at Anquan Boldin. He’s slower than many LBs, yet he gets open through body positioning and smart routes. If you want a guy to run streaks and posts, Wallace is your guy. Short routes in front of LBs? Look elsewhere. Wallace is rumored to be headed to the Dolphins or Vikings, but don’t rule out the Patriots. They don’t need underneath WRs, they have TEs for that.

Best Value: Greg Jennings. I think Greg is a very underrated receiver. It’ll be a shame if Wallace gets a lot more $$ because Jennings is a much more well rounded player. Unfortunately for him the Packers have done a great job at drafting, developing, and re-signing WRs, so they can let him walk. He’s a solid route runner, hard worker, and while he doesn’t have great size (5’11 198) he does a good job locating the ball in mid air. Jennings would be best served signing with a team who has a good QB, he may not know how to thrive without one. Jennings could end up reuniting with former OC Joe Philbin in Miami, but San Diego, St. Louis, and Chicago are some sleepers who could come into play.

Miscellaneous: Wes Welker may be surprised to see how limited his market is. I think he’s a great WR, but his skill set is very specific and he needs to go to a team who will use it properly. If he’s used like most slot receivers, he won’t get even half of his normal reception total. Danario Alexander had an incredible run with the Chargers last year, but rumor has it his knees are on borrowed time, which may explain why the Chargers put the lowest restricted free agent tender on him.

TE:

Most likely to be overpaid: Jared Cook. Cook is an immensely talented player who hasn’t come close to his ceiling in the NFL. There are a lot of things that have held him back (QB play, poor offense around him) but he’s far and away the most talented TE on the market with several suitors rumored. If Cook goes to the highest bidder, he may end up one of the highest paid TEs in the NFL without ever producing like one. I suspect Cook does end up playing for the highest bidder, which could be the Eagles, Dolphins, Browns, or Buccaneers.

Best Value: Dustin Keller. Keller is in a similar boat as Cook and the only big advantage Cook has on Keller is size. At only 6’2, Keller’s height may scare off some teams, especially with some very good TEs in the draft. While he isn’t the tallest, he still had 5 red zone touchdowns in 2011. Keller could be signed for a lot less than Cook and will probably cry tears of joy in his first practice when he realizes Mark Sanchez isn’t throwing him the ball.

Miscellaneous: If you’re open to H-Backs, Delanie Walker and James Casey are available and vastly underrated players. Walker is likely to get more $$ than Casey due to who he played for last year (NFC Champ 49ers), but Casey is probably the better player. He was a key player for the Texans and they obviously missed him when he was out of the lineup.

OL:

Buyer Beware: Andre Smith. Smith is a player who has a lazy reputation. When a player with a lazy reputation starts playing great when free agency is coming up, you have to ask yourself if you want to pay this guy big $$ because there’s a good chance he’ll stop trying once he gets it. Smith looked dominant at times the past 2 seasons, especially in the running game. If you can get him to play at the consistent, high level he can, you’ll get a bargain. If he decides to slack off now that he got his $$, don’t blame me.

Injured but not done: Jake Long. Long has struggle the past 2 years with injuries and as a result the Dolphins are bidding him adieu. When healthy, Long was a top 10 LT in the NFL. He’s still young (only 27) and could easily play at a high level for 5-6 more years. Long could end up on the OT needy Rams or Bears.

Best Value: Andy Levitre and Louis Vasquez. It may seem odd to put OGs as the best value in a market full of OTs, but consider this. The upcoming draft is very deep with OTs. Several of the free agents may be fighting for scraps, who that will be remains to be seen. An NFL team could completely revamp their OL this offseason with 3 starters while only paying one market value. Pay Levitre or Vasquez market value, pick the scraps off of who is left as a free agent at OT, and draft one in the first two rounds. You see the value of one of those OGs now? It’s not the financial value; it’s the OL improvement value. If I knew which OT would be signed cheaply out of Loadholt, Vollmer, Cherilus, Bushrod, and Baker, I could give him the best value. But the truth is we won’t know what the market will look like until tomorrow evening.

DE:

Tank almost empty: Dwight Freeney and John Abraham. Freeney spent last season as a 3-4 OLB, but he’s a 4-3 DE. Both Freeney and Abraham are past their prime, but are still valuable as situational pass rushers. You can’t rely on them for 35+ snaps per game, but 10-12 pass rushing plays is doable. Freeney and Abraham will have to decide if a small contract is worth the effort. Freeney and Abraham are good fits for Seattle and Tennessee.

Best Value: Michael Bennett. Bennett is at his peak age (27), coming off of a career year (9 sacks, 3 forced fumbles) and has close to ideal size at 6’4 274 pounds. It is a bit puzzling as to why the Bucs aren’t making a strong effort to re-sign him, but without any inside knowledge, maybe they think Da’Quan Bowers can stay healthy. Bennett was part of a Bucs front 7 that was one of the best run defenses in the league in 2012 and could be signed for less $$ than Cliff Avril who is looking for a big payday.

Staying Home: Osi Umeniyora. I think Osi will quickly realize that the market for his services is not what he expected after the Giants voided his contract. Osi is on the downside of his career and like many vets, has more value for his current/former team than elsewhere.

DT:

DT is easily one of the deepest positions in free agency. There are numerous starter level players available and value is everywhere.

Most likely to be overpaid: Ricky Jean-Francois. Ricky is a versatile player who can fill numerous roles along the DL, but he has numerous teams fighting for his services if rumors are correct. He’s capable of being a solid starter, but the bidding war could end up going way above his value as a player. Ricky could end up on the Eagles, Browns, Titans, or several other teams.

Worth the risk: Desmond Bryant. Bryant was arrested recently for DUI and gave the world’s best mugshot in the process. Without that, Bryant would be widely considered an ascending player who’s scheme versatile. Without that DUI, Bryant could be looking at a big payday. It’ll be up to NFL teams to determine if this is a blip on the radar or a real problem. Bryant will likely have the same suitors as Ricky Jean-Francois.

Tank almost empty: Richard Seymour and Mike Patterson. Both are descending veteran players that still have a little bit left in them. If you need a veteran run stuffer, these are your guys.

Best Value: Roy Miller. Miller was a great run stuffer for the Bucs in 2012. He’s a young, ascending player (note the trend?) and while he won’t ever be a great pass rusher or a dynamic player, he’s great at his job. Miller is an ideal target for teams who need an interior run stuffer who can handle some double teams like the Eagles, Titans, or Bills.

3-4 OLB:

Most likely to be overpaid: Paul Kruger. Kruger was a big part of the Ravens’ success in 2012 and he’s hitting free agency at the perfect time. A LB who can rush the passer without looking lost in coverage from the 3-4 OLB spot is vital. The scheme simply will not work without at least one. This makes Kruger a very, very valuable player and even without a ton of individual accolades, he’s the best on the market and no one in the draft is going to blow you away either. This means Kruger is about to get top tier starter $$ without actually being one. Look for Kruger to go to Cleveland or Indy.

Best Value: Victor Butler. Butler has been stuck behind Anthony Spencer and Demarcus Ware. Spencer is a player the Cowboys think highly of, hence why he got the franchise tag. Many consider Butler to be a better player than Spencer and in many aspects he has outperformed Spencer while on the field. Obviously he’s no Demarcus Ware, but few ever could be. But Butler could offer a team a very good value proposition, even for a cash strapped team. Look for the Jets to make a run at Butler, hoping the rest of the NFL is chasing Kruger and Connor Barwin. If Indy and Cleveland are smart, they’re gauging the value between Kruger, Barwin, and Butler as well.

All other LBs:

Most likely to be overpaid: Dannell Ellerbe. Like Kruger, Ellerbe had a good run with the Ravens, but will probably be valued higher than his worth due to his place on a Super Bowl champion. Ellerbe also has the pleasure of playing behind a very big DL that keeps the OL away from him, something that extended Ray Lewis’ career by several years.

Buyer Beware: Rey Maualuga. The Bengals want Maualuga back, but he has had several off field incidents, including a DUI and misdemeanor assault charges that have to make teams nervous. Rey did not have a very good 2012 and teams who look at the tape and off field history are going to be hesitant.

Over the Hill: Brian Urlacher. The Bears are rumored to be interested in keeping Urlacher but I’m not sure why. Urlacher is slower than most OL these days and I don’t see him reacting as quickly as well. Ray Lewis looked like a liability last year. By the end of the season, Urlacher looked like he didn’t belong on the field.

CB:

Most likely to be overpaid: Sean Smith. While there are a lot of quality CBs on the market, none are worth top $$.There are either character, injury, or effort concerns with the rest of the crop. Smith is a solid player who is inconsistent and gives up too many big plays. But, as the player on the market with the fewest concerns and most suitors, expect him to get overpaid. Smith could end up in Philly, New England, Arizona, Tampa, or several other spots.

Worth the risk: Brent Grimes. I profiled Grimes last week when discussing how devastating the franchise tag can be to a player’s earning potential. Grimes is coming off of an Achilles injury but was one of the better CBs in the NFL before it. If he thinks he’s healthy, an incentive heavy contract is a good decision for a team to make.

Best value: Keenan Lewis, Derek Cox, and Bradley Fletcher. While it’s odd to put 3 players here, these are 3 players I firmly believe could be solid NFL starters for 4-5 years with a little luck. Lewis led the AFC in pass deflections. Cox and Fletcher have good upside but inconsistent health. One of these three could end up outperforming Sean Smith.

Buyer Beware: Aqib Talib and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Talib was a good solider in New England, but they don’t seem to want him back. DRC had an awful season in Philly and at times appeared to not even try. Both are immensely talented players that could seduce a coach into taking a risk.

S:

Most likely to be overpaid: Dashon Goldson. After William Moore re-signed with the Falcons, it left Goldson all alone as the top S on the market. With no competition, Goldson can be picky and let the bidding wars go on. Goldson could end up in Philadelphia, Cincy, or several other teams.

Buyer beware: Louis Delmas. Delmas has struggled to stay healthy and the most valuable ability in the NFL is availability. If you aren’t on the field it doesn’t matter how good you are. When healthy, Delmas has been a highly productive S. A team could get a great value or a lot of wasted $$ with Delmas.

Best value: LaRon Landry. Landry had an injury prone career and that resulted in a 1 year deal with the Jets for the 2012 season. After a Pro Bowl season, he’s set to hit the market. Landry can be one of the best in box safeties in the NFL and if a team believes his injury prone ways are in the past, Landry could be a great pickup.

All in all, expect there to be a lot of news starting about 4:30 pm tomorrow. Players can officially sign at 4:00, but it’ll take some time for everything to leak out.

Quick Hits

-Last offseason, I mentioned that I didn’t think the Ravens should pay Ray Rice big $$. On one of my random stat diggings, I took a look at rushing stats for playoff teams. I knew Ray Rice had struggled, but it was rather shocking to me. Rice had 84 carries for only 306 yards (3.6 ypc), 2 fumbles, and only 12 first downs. Let’s compare that to his backup, rookie Bernard Pierce out of Temple. Pierce had 39 carries for 202 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and 10 first downs. Pierce only had 1 run over 20 yards (a 43 yard run), so he doesn’t have one huge run skewing his stats (for comparison, Rice’s long was 32).

-Recently Mike Shanahan called 2nd year (and their backup) QB Kirk Cousins a first round talent. Translation: someone please offer me a 1st round pick next offseason for him. While a backup QB is valuable, a 1st round pick is worth a lot more than your backup. If Alex Smith is worth a 2nd and 2014 2nd or 3rd, Kirk Cousins could be worth a 1st. In limited work, I saw more from Cousins than I have in 2 seasons from Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker. Cousins could be a hot commodity in 2014 for teams who struggle at QB in 2013, which could be a lot of them.

-Percy Harvin to Seattle? Wow that was quick. We’ll get more details on his new contract sometime today or tomorrow, but Harvin offers one heck of a weapon for Russell Wilson to play with. Seattle fans have to be excited, even if he did cost a 1st rounder in 2013 plus a mid and late round pick.

-Deangelo Hall was released. This quick hit has been brought to you by the “they should have done this last year” foundation.

-Happy trails in retirement, Chris Gamble.

-The Blackhawks and their incredible start to the 2013 NHL season ended with a loss to the Avalanche. They followed it up with a 6-5 loss to Edmonton where they allowed 4 goals in the first period. Not good.

-Am I the only one who thinks former Colts GM Bill Polian has been a little off with a lot of his statements lately? His statements regarding Reggie Bush just don’t seem right to me and with the report recently that he wanted to trade Peyton Manning in 2004, it just doesn’t seem like he has a firm grasp on the NFL these days. There have been a few other comments that don’t feel right, but I can’t remember them off of the top of my head and I’m tired of typing.

Be sure to follow Gimpy on Twitter.  He’s more fun than a pack of Mentos and a 2-liter Diet Coke.  Well, almost more fun.

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