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The Winners and Losers of NFL Free Agency

March 16, 2013

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With week 1 of NFL Free Agency in the book I thought now would be a good time to recap the wheelings and dealings around the league and sort out who made the right moves and who made the wrong ones.

The Winners

Mike Wallace: In a free agency year where few teams spent money lavishly on a single player Mike Wallace was still able to get a $12 mil a year contract from the Dolphins. Regarded by me and many others as the #1 player in free agency this year it didn’t surprise me but when the #2 WR available, Greg Jennings, landed a deal far south of Wallace’s it showed that Mike was in a class of his own. He’s known as a pure deep threat but the reality is he has solid hands, decent size, and runs good routes. He was pigeonholed at times by the Steelers due to them having two other talented wideouts in Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders but I expect him to be more active with the Dolphins and prove that he was deserving of the top dollar contract he was given.

Seahawks: I remember vividly how 2 years ago Trent Dilfer ripped into Seahawks management for their poor drafting and free agent signings. “I’m sitting next to two very very smart men in Mel Kiper and Todd McShay who work very hard at what they do and you overdrafted almost every single position…..you totally whiffed on this draft.” By the way the Seahawks drafted John Moffitt (starting OG), KJ Wright (starting SLB-dominant young player), and Richard Sherman (All Pro CB, arguably best CB in the NFL today) in that draft which just proves how worthless, albeit entertaining Trent Dilfer is. Yet I digress as the Seahawks haven’t just dominated the draft the past two seasons but have dominated free agency this offseason. With a risky but very intriguing trade for Percy Harvin in the books they continued their win now mentality and added Cliff Avril (#2 free agent in my eyes) on a killer deal (2 yr $15 mil) as well as added Michael Bennett on an even more impressive deal/steal (1 yr $5 mil). Going into the offseason the Seahawks’ two biggest needs were playmakers in the passing game and pass rushers. They solved both of those problems and still have most of their draft picks to work with if they feel they need depth at other spots. The way the Seahawks attacked free agency was masterful as they both added elite talent to win now but also kept their salary cap flexibility for the future when they will need it to re-sign their young stars like Richard Sherman, KJ Wright, Russell Wilson, and Earl Thomas. The NFL season is 5 months away from starting but I can tell you right now I’ll probably be picking the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl.

Broncos: While the Seahawks likely will be my pick to come out of the NFC I could very well see the Broncos coming out of the AFC as a dominant and well rounded roster just got better through a few value based signings. Wes Welker at 2 yr $12 million is a great deal and will be a perfect complement to the outside threats of Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. Louis Vasquez is a capable run blocking OG who should improve their already upper echelon offensive line and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at $5 million a year is good value. Those three deals combined will only cost the Broncos $17 million a year which is great value considering it addressed the three biggest needs for the Broncos. The Dumervil fiasco was confusing and they now appear to be headed for a downgrade at the position with the addition of either veteran John Abraham or Dwight Freeney but otherwise the offseason has been a huge success for the Broncos. My one other complaint would be that I thought they’d make a big run at Steven Jackson as he fit their running style and the short time frame they are working with due to Peyton Manning’s age. They must trust Knowshon Moreno more than I do as I thought they were a perfect match and the 3 yr $12 mil contract he signed with Atlanta was hardly unreasonable. Overall though the Broncos were winners this offseason as they added quality players at need positions for reasonable prices. If only Jerry Jones signed and drafted a little more like John Elway…sigh.

Time Will Tell

Dolphins: While Mike Wallace was a huge winner, the team that signed Mike Wallace made some very curious acquisitions this offseason that I question. I loved the Wallace signing and thought it was a great one yet the Dannelle Ellerbe signing confused me. They gave him a $7 mil a year contract, which was far too rich in my opinion for a player that has never had a +100 tackle season, and then promptly cut Karlos Dansby who was and still is a far superior player. Yes Dansby was being paid $8.6 mil a year but Ellerbe’s best season was in 2012 when he had 92 tackles, a number that Dansby has surpassed each of the past 6 seasons. Dansby is a faster, stronger, and more versatile player yet they chose to move on from him for an inferior but younger player. It made no sense short term and long term I don’t think Ellerbe’s contract will look like good value so I highly question both the signing of Ellerbe and the subsequent cutting of Dansby. Another issue I have with the Dolphins offseason is why they chose to make all of their contracts low salary cap hits for 2013. Per profootballtalk.com (great website by the way for any football junky) the Dolphins signed 5 players (Brian Hartline, Matt Moore, Wallace, Ellerbe, and Phillip Wheeler) with cap numbers in 2013 of only $12.75 million. In 2014 those same 5 contracts bloat to a cap number of $43.275 million which insinuates that the Dolphins are on a win at all costs type 2013 season. Those type of contracts would make sense for the Patrios, Broncos, or Ravens who have a veteran team on the cusp of a Super Bowl but the Dolphins are a young team that shouldn’t be wrecking their 2014 cap to improve in 2013. It all adds up to poor management decisions from a franchise that has made plenty of them in the past few years. While I think the Dolphins have improved tremendously as an offense with Wallace, Jared Cook, and Brandon Gibson I wonder if in 2014 when they have to cut a number of talented players that they look back on this offseason with regret. Time will tell.

Losers:

Cowboys: Yes the Cowboys haven’t signed anyone except Anthony Spencer due to a tough cap situation but I still consider them losers for two reasons. First off is the fact that they franchised Anthony Spencer. In the past 3 seasons Spencer has 22 sacks yet has been franchised for a second season at an overpriced salary of $10 million. Spencer is a solid player but hardly deserving of an 8 figure yearly salary and shows how once again Jerry Jones overvalues his own players. In a similar situation Denver’s John Elway saw Elvis Dumervil’s $12 mil a year salary (a player by the way with 37.5 sacks his past 3 seasons-aka much better player than Spencer) and considered it “out of whack.” He demanded Dumervil reduce the salary and eventually cut him when it wasn’t agreed to. Players around the league of Spencer’s production level or better have continued this trend this offseason with Atlanta cutting John Abraham (32.5 sacks the past 3 seasons), Indianapolis cutting Dwight Freeney (23.5 sacks the past 3 seasons), and Seattle signing Cliff Avril (29 sacks the past 3 seasons) to a 2 yr $15 mil deal. While Spencer is a very good run stopper a defensive ends main role on a defense is to sack the quarterback and each of the 4 players I mentioned have outperformed Spencer the past 3 seasons yet they all will be paid less in 2013 than him. Jerry Jones never should have franchised Spencer as Avril on a 2 year deal would have given the Cowboys more long term security, a better player than Spencer, and more salary cap room than Anthony’s franchise deal. My second argument for why the Cowboys are losers this free agency period is how they’ve handled their underperforming players. Doug Free, Orlando Scandrick, Miles Austin, and Mackenzie Bernadeau all struggled in 2012 yet none of them have been forced to take a pay cut by the club. Teams all around the NFL have demanded high priced, underperforming players take a pay cut yet the Cowboys have been unwilling to use this highly effective tactic. With the glut of veteran offensive tackles and cornerbacks on the market there is no way that Free and Scandrick would get a comparable salary on the open market and an adjustment in salary would surely have worked if the Cowboys had stayed tough. Just this week Antoine Cason, starter in San Diego for 49 games, signed with the Arizona Cardinals for 1 year $2 million which is far below Scandrick’s 5 year $27 million deal. It’s a deal that didn’t make sense in 2011 when he signed it and makes even less sense now that it hasn’t been renegotiated. Mike Jenkins, who started ahead of Scandrick throughout his career, has yet to sign with an NFL team and will likely have to accept a similar deal to Cason’s yet the Cowboys have continued to let Scandrick steal money from them. Free’s contract is even worse as some stat based websites placed Free as the worst performing tackle in the NFL in 2012 yet he will continue to be paid as one of the Top 10 at $8 million a year. That is below what Phil Loadholt (4 yr $26 mil), Jermon Bushrod (5 yr $35.9 mil), and Sam Baker (6yr $41.5 mil) all signed this offseason despite the fact that Free was bordlerline benched last season. It all adds up to Jerry Jones completely mismanaging his roster’s salary and is the reason why the Cowboys are in salary cap purgatory this offseason.

Ravens: I understand the reasoning behind Ozzie Newsome letting numerous aging players leave because the salary cap mess he got himself into last time he tried to repeat as Super Bowl champs set the team back for years. Yet from all accounts Ed Reed is not demanding a big contract yet has still been shown the door and teammate Bernard Pollard was on a very reasonable 4 yr $10.25 mil deal yet was cut. It’s confusing to me as he not only let overpriced players like Paul Kruger and Dannelle Ellerbe leave but an up and coming youngster like Cary Williams and a core player like Ed Reed go. I’m wondering if Newsome is accepting that the Ravens have too many holes to fill in one offseason and will struggle in 2013 so he’s going with a full fledged youth movement or if he’s purposefully purging all of the “leaders” from the Ray Lewis era to show that this is his team and he was the reason for the success not Lewis and Reed. Either way it looks very apparent that the Ravens won’t be competing for anything substantial in 2013 and I suspect that very quickly the media will turn on the defending champs and start pointing out how much the Ravens overpaid for Joe Flacco. Flacco was an above average quarterback the past few seasons yet is currently the highest paid player in the NFL. I know that he had a very good postseason but the fact is he’s never made a Pro Bowl or All Pro team in his career, has never been in the Top 5 in QB Rating in his career, and only once in his 5 seasons has he even been in the Top 10 in QB Rating. 3 seasons ago people were making the same argument about Mark Sanchez’s “greatness” as they are currently about Joe Flacco (“ignore all the stats just look at his postseason win total”). When Mark’s dominant defense and strong running game broke down he was forced to carry the team on his back and it resulted in disastrous results. I expect a lesser version of that to occur in 2013 as Flacco has lost Lewis, Reed, Kruger, Ellerbe, and Bolden with many of those names being irreplaceable. Enjoy your money in 2013 Flacco because I don’t see you finishing up that contract.

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