Five Moves that Make Sense
Nathan Jahnke looks deeper into five early free-agent moves that have caught his eye.
Five Moves that Make Sense
We’re just into Day 2 of free agency and it has already been a very interesting 24 hours. For the most part trades have been the highlights and a lot of the best deals have been re-signings. Outside of those, there have been a number of players switching teams that should make immediate positive impacts on their new teams.
Here are five such moves that have caught my eye as particularly interesting.
Trent Cole – Indianapolis Colts
The Colts were a game away from the Super Bowl, and it seems like they are ready to make a few moves to try and get them there in 2015. Without Robert Mathis last year, the pass rush was not nearly as good as it had been in years past.
Erik Walden is better against the run than the pass. Former first-rounder Bjoern Werner managed just 27 pressures on 416 pass rushes, and saw a significant drop in playing time by Week 16 due to ineffective play. Fifth-round rookie Jonathan Newsome was the most efficient player with seven sacks and five hits. The Colts tried to use players like Andy Studebaker and Shaun Phillips to help as well but with not much success.
With Trent Cole they are getting a player who can play against both the run and the pass. He had a Pass Rushing Productivity of 10.3 which was in the Top 10 for all 3-4 outside linebackers in 2014. If Mathis isn’t healthy, then the duo of Newsome and Cole can give the Colts a successful 1-2 pass rush punch. If Mathis is healthy, then we could see all three players at the same time — late last year the Colts started using formations with three or four outside linebackers on the field to rush the passer. Even though he is getting up there in age, he can bring an immediate impact to the front seven.
Orlando Franklin – San Diego Chargers
For the last few years the Chargers have been attempting to upgrade their offensive line. They haven’t always had a lot of success in adding solid pieces, but this time they were able to bring someone in who can make the line a lot better.
With Orlando Franklin they are getting a player who didn’t allow a single pressure in 11 of 17 games over the 2014 season. From Week 10 on, Franklin had a +11.0 Run Block Rating which was tied for the second-best mark among guards. In contrast, both of the Chargers’ guards in 2014 were among the six lowest-graded guards, making Franklin a huge improvement over what they had.
Franklin also has the versatility to play multiple positions. While that is said about plenty of linemen, few have proven they can do it at as high of a level as Franklin has. In 2013 he was the Broncos’ right tackle and was the fourth-highest graded in that year. In each of the past three years he has graded above a +5.0 in both pass blocking and run blocking. This allows the Chargers to put other offensive linemen in their best position to succeed.
Roy Helu – Oakland Raiders
The biggest concern for a number of running backs on the free agent market was their injury history. For Helu, his market was limited because his experience was as a receiving back. In 2014 he had 477 receiving yards, which was fourth-best for all backs in the NFL, and he did this on 44 targets. The Raiders targeted their running backs 77 times and only had 484 from them.
One reason for the difference is 95.5% of passes thrown Helu’s way were caught. Helu also has performed well after the catch. His 11.7 yards after the catch per catch led all backs with more than 15 targets.
He hasn’t been given many opportunities to run, but recently when he has, he has succeeded. His 3.4 yards after contact per carry was among the best for backs. This helped him to an Elusive Rating of 108.6 which was the best for backs with over 50 touches. In Oakland they have Latavius Murray who has shown himself as a decent runner but not much of a receiver. Helu can have a bigger role than he had in Washington and should be able to make a bigger name for himself.
Darrelle Revis – New York Jets
Revis returning to the Jets is arguably the biggest move of free agency. You shouldn’t need my convincing to believe Revis is one of the best players of this generation. I like the move because I think it could lead the Jets toward being one of the best defenses in the league in a different way than they were in the past.
When Revis was first with the Jets, they had one of the best run defenses in the league as well as a great secondary thanks in large part to Revis. The problem is they never had the pass rushers to make the defense elite. In each year from 2009 to 2011, the only player with at least 250 pass rushes and a positive pass rush rating was Shaun Ellis in 2010. Since leaving the Jets, Gerald McCoy in Tampa Bay and Chandler Jones in New England gave the team Revis was on one piece of the pass-rushing puzzle, but one pass rusher can only do so much. A good secondary helps a good pass rush and vice versa, but in Revis career it was only the secondary helping the pass rush getting late pressure.
Revis is now going to a team that still has a great run defense, but also will have the best pass rushers he has played with. Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson and Jason Babin all had a pass rush grade above +5.0 as well as over 250 pass rushes. If the Jets can keep these pieces in place, it could be the making for a special defense.
Da’Norris Searcy – Tennessee Titans
Here is an example of a player who has made the most of the opportunities given to him. Now he is about to have an even bigger opportunity. After playing less than 300 snaps his first two seasons he played in over 600 each of the last two.
In 2014 his Run Stop Percentage when he was within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage was the best in the league at 13.2%. His 12.8 Tackling Efficiency was among the top 20% for safeties. Even in coverage, his Yards Per Coverage Snap of 0.23 was fifth-best at the position. The metrics all seem to favor him, and now he just needs to prove he can do it on a larger sample size.
In Tennessee he should get that opportunity. Bernard Pollard was their strong safety before getting injured early in the 2014 season, and then getting released in the offseason. George Wilson took over but he is a free agent and about to celebrate his 35th birthday. The strong safety job looks like it is his for an every-down role, and it will be up to him to continue making the most of his chances.
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke