Free Agency 2011 – Finding Value

| August 2, 2011

Following up on the bit we provided Sports Illustrated’s Peter King for his Monday Morning Quarterback article yesterday, let’s have an expanded look at who is finding value in this year’s abbreviated free agency period.
We’ve seen teams that are bringing in targeted talent with sensible deals, players landing terms well beyond a logical point, and some situations that really make sense for both sides.
Here are some of the highlights:


Everyone’s a Winner

Danieal Manning, Texans (4 year, $20m, $9m guaranteed) and Johnathan Joseph (5 year, $48.75m, $23.5m guaranteed)

Talk about a couple of players that makes a team a contender. Everyone knows Houston had a terrible secondary last year, so they went out and addressed it with two guys. When you consider some of the money going to safeties, getting a guy with the range of Manning was superb. For that to be a secondary move after bringing in Joseph, gets the Texans a big pat on the back. Joseph had a tough 2010, but you only need to look at 2009 (six interceptions and 13 passes defenced) to see what he can bring to a team.

Jason Babin, Eagles (5 year, $28m, $6m guaranteed)

The Eagles got a great deal here considering what Babin can do. The real beauty for them is that Babin, if his play declines with age or if he was a one year wonder, can be cut relatively simply. It’s great for Babin because of the Jim Washburn connection. He knows how to get the best out of him. Last year Babin picked up pressure on 14.8% of pass rushes. Pair that with Trent Cole (pressure on 15.1%) and teams may not even get a chance to throw at Asomugha.

Santonio Holmes, New York Jets (5 years, $50m, $24m guaranteed)

The question marks about Holmes are off the field, but on the field he’s about as complete a wide receiver as there is. Can line up in any area, run all the routes and makes some of the best catches you’ll see. It was more important for the Jets to sign Holmes, than bring in Asomugha so Jets fans should stop fretting about that. Holmes makes Mark Sanchez a better player.

Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers (6 years, $76m, $32m guaranteed)

You know why this move is so great? Because the Panthers made a statement of intent and followed up on it. Johnson isn’t good value like Ray Edwards, but there’s something to be said for being aggressive, getting your guy and establishing the foundation to bring back other players. When you factor in age, there’s an argument that Johnson was the top free agent available. Some say he’s a one year wonder, but in both 2008 and 2009 he consistently got pressure too (68 QB disruptions on 610 pass rushes).

Justin Durant, Lions (undisclosed 2 year deal)

The Lions have a front four that is excellent at getting up the field and making plays. They’ll make tackles for losses and harass quarterbacks. But what happens when running backs get beyond them? Well last year we found out that the linebackers won’t do all that much to help them. So they’ve gone out and found one of the very best linebackers when it comes to shedding blocks and making plays. Durant isn’t going to excel every down (he’s not great in coverage), but he’s a superb two down thumper and exactly what the Lions needed.

Great Value for the Teams

Nnamdi Asomugha, Eagles (5 year, $60m, $25m guaranteed)

The Eagles haven’t just picked up a great player; they got him at a great price. The simple facts of the matter is the NFL is short on shut-down corners. Well Asomugha is just that. Teams are scared to throw at him. Consider this – in three years he’s been thrown at 87 times. 25 cornerbacks were thrown at that more in 2010 alone!

Ray Edwards, Falcons (5 year, $30m, $11m guaranteed)

It’s a mystery why the market for Ray Edwards never developed. He’s young, consistently productive and a true two-way defensive end. Edwards is effectively getting half of what Charles Johnson did and while Johnson does have a higher ceiling, Edwards was one of the most productive pass rushers in the league last year with 69 combined sacks, hits and hurries on 416 pass rushes (by way of comparison Johnson had 81 on 481).

Josh Wilson, Washington Redskins (3 year, $13.5m, $6m guaranteed)

How did the Redskins pull this one off? They’ve upgraded on Carlos Rogers (like Rogers, Wilson can also play outside and move into the slot in sub packages) and done so without shedding a lot of money. Wilson’s excellent play last year got lost playing with names like Lewis, Reed, Ngata and Suggs, but he was superb once he cracked the starting lineup. Allowed just 46.9% of passes to be completed, intercepted three balls and had nine pass break ups.

Takeo Spikes, San Diego Chargers (3 year, $9m, $3m guaranteed)

You know, even if Spikes only plays one year he’s near enough worth that amount. The surest tackler in the league (he’s missed just four in three years), he’s been playing in the shadow of the excellent Patrick Willis so long most people have forgotten just how good he is. He’s also one of those rare inside linebackers that not only can get off blocks and make plays, but is effective dropping into coverage too. He’s an upgrade on both Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett.

Quintin Mikell, Rams (4 year, $28m, $11m guarantees)

Mikell has long been one of the best safeties in the league no one has heard about. He can play the run as evidenced by his safety-leading 27 defensive stops (a tackle considered a defeat for the offense). He can play the pass with 11 pass defenses being more than any other safety. He can do it all including bringing some leadership to a talented defensive backfield.

Players Who Did Well

Davin Joseph, Buccaneers (7 year, $53m, $19m guaranteed)

That’s a lot of money to pay someone who hasn’t done much for so long. Now sure they’re changing blocking schemes to something that should suit Joseph more, but that doesn’t excuse his past three years. It doesn’t excuse giving up that this much pressure. It doesn’t excuse being a bad enough run blocker that the Bucs essentially needed LeGarrette Blount to lead the league in missed tackles and yards after contact per attempt to get their run game going. You shouldn’t pay veterans based on what they might do, you should pay them on what they have done.

Quincy Black, Buccaneers (5 year, $29m, $11.5m guaranteed)

Let’s get this straight. Black is a good player. But he’s not a great one (yet). The Bucs simply overpaid for him when you compare him to the other outside linebacker deals. What makes this worse is that Black has never been an every down linebacker (including penalties he played just 530 snaps last year). He will get his chance this year, but again, it’s an awful lot of money to pay on potential.

Chris Chester, Redskin (5 year, $20m, undisclosed guarantees)

Chester isn’t a bad player, but there is a reason why the Ravens were prepared to let him go, and a reason why they’ve never seen him as anything more than back up. He’s probably athletic enough to play in Shanahan’s system but he’s just not so good that you can afford to spend $4m a year on him. He does make the Redskins better, but not by so much that they should overpay by that amount.

Clint Session, Jaguars (5 year, $30m, $11.5m guaranteed)

If the Quincy Black move was a bad one, this was straight out terrible. Let’s break it down, they paid big money for Paul Posluszny, and they already have one of the best linebackers in the league (Daryl Smith) on their roster. So Session is likely to be a two down contributor (unless they use Smith at end on passing downs – something they’ve done before). But more than that, he’s just not a $6m a year player. Plus, he’s coming off a season where he missed a lot of time and wasn’t that great when he was on the field. About the only thing Session brings consistently is blitzing ability, getting pressure on 29.1% of the 79 times he’s blitzed over the past three years. But you shouldn’t be paying a linebacker $6m a year to do that.

Jeromey Clary, Chargers ($4 year, $20m, undisclosed guarantees)

It seems like the Chargers were so desperate not to lose any more starters that they massively overvalued some of their weaker free agents. Clary is coming off a year where he gave up eight sacks, and a total 49 quarterback disruptions. His run blocking wasn’t much better so it makes no sense to pay him so handsomely over the next four years (with $8.6m in Year 1). In 2009, he wasn’t too bad, but even at his best, he wasn’t worth this sort of cash.

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