Free Agency: Five Biggest Losses

Kev Connaghan lists some of the most damaging losses teams suffered since the free agency period opened.

| 2 years ago
graham-losses

Free Agency: Five Biggest Losses


graham-lossesFor most teams, free agency is about adding key pieces to strengthen their rosters or to address a pressing need. Every team hopes to exit free agency either stronger than before, or after losing only the players they were willing to lose. However, every year there are teams that lose an irreplaceable star, and find themselves scrambling for a way to minimize the damage caused by that departure.

So let’s take a look at the five biggest losses this year.

Ndamukong Suh, DI (Detroit Lions)

It’s exceedingly rare that an elite talent such as Ndamukong Suh hits the open market. Over the past three seasons only three interior defensive linemen have exceeded Suh’s +75.5 cumulative overall grade; and only one of those (Gerald McCoy) has bettered Suh’s +77.1 pass rushing grade. There are few more naturally disruptive players in the NFL, and while Suh was sometimes liability against the run early in his career, he has become a more savvy player over time, as discussed in our Free Agent Profile.

In many respects the Lions are the unfortunate victims of drafting Suh prior to the introduction of the rookie wage scale. The final year of his rookie deal was exorbitant, meaning that it would have cost the team close to $27M (with a $36m total cap hit) to use the franchise tag. Instead they were forced to let him test the market in the hope that they could match any offer. That didn’t go to plan, leaving the Lions’ with a Suh shaped hole in the middle of their defensive line. A problem compounded by the loss of Nick Fairley to the St. Louis Rams.

The Lions have responded to their departures by trading for Haloti Ngata (+18.4 overall in 2014), and signing Tyrunn Walker (+8.0), both of whom impressed in 2014. The 31-year-old Ngata has the name recognition value the Lions required to appease their fans, a little at least. However Ngata’s +25.7 cumulative grade over the last three years pales in comparison with Suh’s; as does his tally of 10 sacks and 73 total pressures in that span, when compared to Suh’s 22 sacks and 187 total pressures. The Lions may also look to add a little more interior line talent through the draft, but it’s hard to see them emerging from this offseason with anything other than a net loss of talent at the position.

DeMarco Murray, HB (Dallas Cowboys)

DeMarco Murray was terrific in 2014, leading the league with 1,845 rushing yards (489 yards clear of the second-placed Le’Veon Bell), and tied for the lead with 13 rushing touchdowns. A lot of the credit for that has been given to the Cowboys’ excellent offensive line, our second-best run blocking unit in the league; some of that credit sharing is justified, but certainly not all of it. For all the clean running lanes that were opened ahead of him, Murray still led all running backs with 998 rushing yards after contact, and forced 67 missed tackles in the run game (second behind only Marshawn Lynch). Murray finished the season with a +16.8 run grade; you don’t get that if all your production comes from the play of line. Moreover, Murray has graded positively as a runner in each of his four seasons in the NFL, yet he hasn’t always been blessed with an elite line to run behind.

Murray has had durability issues through his first four seasons, 2014 was the first in his career that he managed to play every game, and even then he finished the season playing through injury. There is also concern over his workload. Including the playoffs, Murray had 498 total touches in 2014; few backs can sustain the beating that comes with that workload and continue to produce at an elite level. Murray is only 27, though, and his career workload is less than that of most other star running backs, as discussed in one of our PFF Shorts. So while a downturn is possible, there is little reason to expect that it will come in 2015.

The team has added Darren McFadden, whose brilliant college career hasn’t translated well at the professional level. They may also dip into a seemingly strong running back draft class, however no rookie back has ever matched Murray’s 2014 production, and the odds of finding another Eric Dickerson (1,808 yards as a rookie) are incredibly slim.

The Cowboys unquestionably made the fiscally sound move, but however smart it was, it will still hurt them on the field, particularly when they face the Eagles. In an ideal world the Cowboys would have kept Murray, he was a perfect scheme fit, but they were unwilling to pay the going rate to do so; you can’t have your cake and eat it.

Jimmy Graham, TE (New Orleans Saints)

There is method behind the madness in New Orleans. Unsettled, unwanted or expensive players have been shipped out, and in their place the team has gathered extra draft collateral. If used wisely, that should result in an influx of young, and very affordable talent. It’s conceivable that the Saints could enter the 2015 season at least as talented as they were at every position in 2014, well every position bar one, tight end.

Jimmy Graham is an elite receiving tight end, and the Saints hit a home run when they drafted him in the third round in 2010. With few attractive options left in free agency, and a seemingly weak draft for tight ends, the team must either manage to catch lightning in a bottle once again, or find a way to compensate for the loss through increased production from other facets of the offense.

Graham flashed talent toward the end of his rookie season, then starred over the four seasons since, leading all tight ends as a receiver in 2013 with a +18.2 grade. In those four years Graham has more catches (371), receiving yards (4606) and receiving touchdowns (49) than any other Saint, catching 28.8% of all touchdowns thrown by Drew Brees in that span. That’s is a significant amount of production to lose.

Darrelle Revis, CB (New England Patriots)

The Darrelle Revis sweepstakes could not have ended worse for the New England Patriots. They found themselves priced out of the market by a divisional rival, paving the way for Revis to return home to the New York Jets. Revis’s stay in Foxboro was brief, but also a complete success. It brought him his first Super Bowl victory, and helped the Patriots to their first Championship in a decade.

However, despite the ephemeral nature of his stay, Revis was such a success that his departure leaves a hole that cannot easily be filled. His +15.0 coverage grade was the fourth-best mark among corners in 2014, it was also the best grade recorded by a pure corner for the Patriots since our records began back in 2007. There were no obvious in-house replacements waiting in the wings, nor were there corners on the open market with the talent and body of work to match Revis. In the absence of any available outstanding talents, the Patriots have tried to address their need through numbers, signing Robert McClain (-11.7 coverage grade in 2014), Chimdi Chekwa (-2.0) and Bradley Fletcher (-12.7), and hoping that at least one of them can step up.

As for Revis himself, he will be 30 by the time the 2015 season begins and Sam Monson suggests that there are early signs of a declining skill set. Age slows us all, but even if Revis has lost a little of his physical edge, remains an excellent corner and should be better in 2015 than any corner on the Patriots roster. His absence will be felt in New England.

Patrick Willis, LB (San Francisco 49ers)

While the Patrick Willis retirement caught the general public as a surprise, it was likely expected by the team. However, the subsequent retirement of his in-house replacement, Chris Borland, leaves the 49ers in a quandary they could not have foreseen, magnifying the fallout caused by the Willis departure.

That’s not to say that Borland for Willis would be a seamless transition. Borland’s +20.8 rookie campaign was terrific, the second-best mark recorded by a rookie inside linebacker since our records began in 2007. Of course the best rookie mark was the +22.2 mark posted by Willis in 2007. Borland excelled as a run stopper, but while competent in all aspects of the position, he lacked Willis’s elite athleticism and natural cover skills.

Including the postseason, Willis played 120 games across eight seasons, finishing his career with a ridiculous +186.5 cumulative overall grade. He finished each of his first six seasons as either our top-ranked or second-ranked inside linebacker, and never finished a year with a negative coverage grade. Whether his career proves worthy of the Hall of Fame is likely to be a question of longevity, but he played at a Hall of Fame level for as long as he was in the league.

Replacing that level of performance precisely will be next to impossible. Even so, the 49ers would have felt pretty confident entering 2015 pairing Borland with Navarro Bowman in the middle, but without Borland to step in, replacing Willis becomes an extremely tall order.

 

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| Analyst

Kevin has been an analyst at Pro Football Focus since 2014, with a particular focus on college football.

  • Dr__P

    The salary cap means that you have to let players walk if they get too expensive, EVEN IF THEY ARE TALENTED.

    Every dollar spent in one area is one dollar less to spend elsewhere. Pay too much and you have to skimp on quality elsewhere. When the inevitable injury occurs, then there are holes that the other teams can exploit.

  • AloysiusMcFudd

    Willis was already out last season. Bowman will replace him and is the only guy as good. Borland will be replaced by Willhoite who started every game last season and is highly rated.

    • Tim Edell

      I wouldn’t say Wilhoite is highly rated but he did do an adequate job last year.

    • Bill Doerr

      Wilhoite ranked 48th out of 60 ranked ILBs and was one of the worst 3-4IL’s VS the run …….. He sucks and certaintly isn’t ranked highly

  • socialism101

    Jimmy Graham runs like he’s got fudge in his pants.

    • Jimmy Graham SEA80

      I make money and smash more hoes than you ugly bum ass. BTW GET ON MY LEVEL BITCH!

      • socialism101

        Your level is infested with herpes bitch

        • Jimmy Graham SEA80

          GET OFF MY DICK BITCH. SEAHAWKS WILL WIN RING HOE ASS Fag and I will WIN MVP GET ON MY LEVEL BITCH!

          • socialism101

            They got bitch-slapped by the Patriots. Whoo oho! Cry on that turd burglar!

          • Jimmy Graham SEA80

            BITCH BLAME RUSSEL BUM ASS WILSON FAG. WE WILL WIN THE SUPER BOWL DUMB BITCH BTW WHO IS YOUR TEAM BITCH. I Didn’t SEE THEM IN SUPER BOWL CRACK HEAD PROSTITUTE.

          • RealNigga Patriots Fan90

            You ain’t winning shit bum Patriots win again trash Graham.

          • socialism101

            Oh the Patriots weren’t in the Superbowl? You’re as dumb as dirt. Dirt, meet Jimmy Graham’s brain.

          • Jimmy Graham SEA80

            STFU BITCH I GET MONEY. YOU GET DICK FAG. DEFLATE GATE HOE ASS NIGGA. STOP FUCKING ROGER GOODELL FAG. STOP CHEATING BITCH.

          • socialism101

            I got your number bitch. Lay down, you’re dead.

          • socialism101

            Tell that gender confused bitch of a momma to stop calling me. I don’t swing that way like ya’ll do.

          • Jimmy Graham SEA80

            YOU MAD BRO???????? WHY SO BUTT-HURT DEFLATE GATE, TUCK RULE, AND SPY GATE LAY DOWN, YOU’RE HUMBLED BITCH BY IRON SHIEK

          • socialism101

            Who cares about any of that. I’m butt hurt cuz of your gender confused momma.

          • RealNigga Patriots Fan90

            Bitch go back to school nigga I’m tired of gay Niggas trying to jump on my team’s bandwagon. Patriots are going to repeat again and again.

          • socialism101

            The only thing the repeat AGAIN AND AGAIN is your dad tongue punching your fart box.

          • RealNigga Patriots Fan90

            Of course a gay fag nigga would say some gay ass shit bitch. Go to school hoe or get a job gay nigga.

          • socialism101

            Get educated and recognize that its YOU performing homosexual activities.

          • RealNigga Patriots Fan90

            Disgraceful patriot fan smh.

          • socialism101

            Turd burglar smh.

  • John

    Jimmy Graham was traded, and Patrick Willis retired. They didn’t leave as FA’s.

    • bobrulz

      It should’ve been titled “biggest losses of the free agency period”. They were still lost during that period of time and are still huge voids to fill.

  • Kevin

    Jimmy Graham wasn’t a free agent. Trades are offseason moves, not free agency moves. When you lose someone in free agency, you don’t get a First Round pick in the same year’s draft and a former pro-bowl center.

  • Tim Edell

    Not sure why this article was title Free Agency

    • Chiryder

      because it has to do with Free Agency.

      • Tim Edell

        Jimmy Graham wasn’t a Free Agent thus it shouldn’t of been titled Free Agency .. your very slow aren’t you?

        • RandomGuy

          wow, what’s with the insults.

          It still has to do with the free agency period. Chill.

          Also, it’s you’re not your.

  • McGeorge

    Is Revis worth the money he’s being paid? Probably not.

    But the Jets were in a weird (self inflicted) situation where they were forced to spend a huge amount of money. Better to sign Revis, than two David Harris’.

    • Chiryder

      look what he did in NE. I’d say so.

  • Terry Welsh

    You would think the Ford family would at least give us fans cheerleaders to gaze at, but they won’t give us fans anything but higher prices for seats, and worse food then last year for a higher dollar.

  • MosesZD

    I ****ing swear to God I am so tired of Willis being thrown in the face of the 49ers like they’re ‘losing free agency.’ He retired because he wasn’t the same guy as he used to be and he recognized it.

    In the meantime the other (and possibly better in the past few years) half of the inside duo, Bowman, is coming back.

    So, effectively, the 49ers are at ILB pretty much at the same position at the beginning of 2015 as they were at the beginning of 2014. And with Smith finally out of the woods and Lynch upgrading over Brooks, there’s no reason to believe this unit is, in any meaningful way, ‘worse’ than at the 2014 opening and is, arguably, better than 2014’s opening day LB corps.

    Yet we have 1,000% more whinging from the fans and press.

    • Tito Puente

      all that whining and you can’t even get it right?

      i believe you this is talking about inside linebackers, so stop trying to move the goalposts for misdirection..

      and how is a guy returning from one of the worst injuries of all-time next to an unproven player to be named later anywhere near as good as the best middle linebacker of his generation lined up next a DPOY candidate like bowman was before his injury that may have already ruined his career?

      I love how you skim over Bowman’s injury like it’s a slamdunk he’ll be the same player, they left a roster spot for him, he would’ve played last fall if his rehab was ahead of schedule.. but it ain’t…

      typical San Jose 49er fan — how’s that santa clara curse treating you?

    • SeattleFan85

      Enjoy being Seahawks’s, Cardinals, and Rams hoe. You 49er whiner bum ass fan

      • socialism101

        No worse that being the Patriots bitch.

      • SeattleFan85

        Well, this upcoming season you will be the BILLS’s, and Dolphin’s Bitch while we will be in the playoffs and #1 in our division again. Enjoy Suh stomping on that bitch Brady’s vagina and neck

        • socialism101

          Brady’s vagina is worth 10x more than anything that volleyball head Wilson has to offer. One bad scramble and they’ll be carrying him out on a stretcher. Your team is doomed.

        • SeattleFan85

          All right man will see lol

          • socialism101

            Thank God. We agree on something.

      • NYC Craig

        NO worse that being the Giants bitch twice.

        • socialism101

          Time for you to flush. Eli is starting to get ripe.

          • NYC Craig

            Be scared of ODB and Victor Cruz be very afraid

          • socialism101

            I ain’t afraid of no NFC East cellar dweller. The Cowboy and Eagle are gonna stomp you this year, just like last year, and the year before…

          • NYC Craig

            Lol Eagles and the cowgirls ok just like the Dolphins and the Bills are gonna destroy you this year. Btw every time the giants face the Pats we own you.

          • socialism101

            I’ll believe it when i see it. Until then, enjoy fairy land, fairy boy.

          • NYC Craig

            Enjoy your boy being suspended pansy boy

          • socialism101

            Brady could get suspended and do prison time and still outshine, outsmart and out quarterback the real pansy in the conversion who wears number 10. Your jealousy, hate, and resentment for any teams that has everything big blue lacks is why you’re still on here. You’re a pathetic sack of deflated footballs. How your boyfriend diddles those raisenettes, i dunno…

          • NYC Craig

            Well tell fag brady to try not to be Eli’s bitch. Also tell Bill Bellicheck stop being Tom Couglin’s bitch. The Giants killed you cheating fags in two super bowl’s you jealousy little hoe. The patriots and fan-base are disgraced to the N.F.L.

          • Bostonsports guy

            That was over 5 yrs ago get over it man

          • socialism101

            Wait til Dallas and Philly knock you into the NFCE cellar.

          • NYC Craig

            Never going happen hoe ass. Bitch stop sucking off belicheat and hoe made brady.

          • socialism101

            Bwahahaha! More injuries! Youre doomed!!!!!

          • NYC Craig

            Hey bitch the refs sucked you off fags. Giving you gay ass penalties.

  • Bill Doerr

    49ERS are going to hate life this season now that Arizona has the best & elite ILB Core n the NFC-W !!! They will be getting Elite 6″2 230 pound ILB Daryl Washington back from suspension who is one of the top 3 or 4 ILBs in the NFL …… They also just signed a now 100% 6″2 1/2 235 pound Elite ILB Sean Weatherspoon who is a absolute BEAST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Huge upgrades at ILB for AZ , both excel in coverage & are elite rushing the passer , both combined are good for 16 sacks. You add that to last years sack total and we would of 50. Taking into account how much Arizona has improved along the defensive line as well coming off the edge at OLB, Arizona’s defense would of easily had 70 sacks last year had the players AZ has added played for AZ last year

  • NFL Buddha

    I cannot imagine anyone more likely to pull an Albert Haynesworth than Donkey Kong Suh.

    • John C

      Only Snyder would have given Mr. head case a contract for $100 million ..Fat Albert played one year for the Redskins and after one year in NE he was out of football and laughing all the way to the bank …..

  • Jimmy Graham SEA80

    THE ONLY ONE CONFUSED IS THE PATS GAY ASS FANBASE FROM JUMPING FORM PEYTON MANNING’S DICK TO TOM SPY GATE, DEFLATE GATE BRADY’s DICK.

  • socialism101

    That’s all you got? You’re on fumes pencil dick.

  • Jimmy Graham SEA80

    STOP SUCKING OFF BILLICHEAT AND GOODELL TRANNY

  • socialism101

    Can’t wait for the other teams in the NFCW to light you up.

  • Jimmy Graham SEA80

    Ready to be the bill’s and the jets;s bitch.