Free Agent Dividends
Hundreds of players were signed and re-signed by teams this offseason. With six weeks in the books, let’s highlight some players who have rewarded their teams so far, and some ...
Free Agent Dividends
If the best way to build a Super Bowl champion roster is through the draft, then free agency is a shortcut. And like most shortcuts, there is always the risk of the unknown. A shrewd acquisition could put a team over the hump, but an unwise investment could set it back for years. Hundreds of players were signed and re-signed by teams this offseason. With six weeks in the books, let’s highlight some players that have rewarded their teams so far, and some that haven’t.
Best Big-Dollar Investment
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (5 Years, $96 Million)
This is an obvious choice, but also a deserved one. Peyton Manning’s 99.44 PFF QB Rating is second only to Aaron Rodgers. His 80.1% Accuracy rate ranks third in the league. And for all the concern about his arm strength, Manning leads the NFL with a 56% accuracy rate on passes over 20 yards downfield. He has also has typically lifted the play of his teammates; Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are both on pace for career years, and even Brandon Stokley has an eye-opening +8.3 grade. That’s not to mention the positive impact he’s had on the offensive line. The same player? No. One of the best out there? For sure.
Cortland Finnegan, CB, St. Louis Rams (5 Years, $50 Million)
Reunited with Coach Jeff Fisher in St. Louis, Cortland Finnegan (+9.2) has continued to distinguish himself in all three phases of the game: pass coverage, run defense, and goading his opponents into stupid penalties (see: Josh Morgan, Week 2). Quarterbacks have tested Finnegan often, with little success. He’s surrendered just 8.8 yards per catch on 40 targets, and QBs have a 51.9 passer rating when throwing into his coverage. One of the few cornerbacks who can cover outside and then move into the slot seamlessly.
Honorable Mention: Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5 Years, $55.5 Million)
Some thought that Jackson (+10.5) would miss San Diego, but so far it’s the other way around. The Chargers’ offense is floundering while Jackson has helped re-energize Mike Williams and Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay.
Worst Big-Dollar Investment
Mark Anderson, DE, Buffalo Bills (4 Years, $19.5 Million)
Mario Williams (-1.5) is the poster child for the Bills’ disappointing defense, as he should be given his enormous salary and pedestrian play. However, no defensive lineman has graded worse this season than Mark Anderson (-12.5), who is looking like yet another player who can’t recapture his magic outside of New England. Now sidelined with a significant knee injury, it looks like Anderson’s debut season will go down as an example of not getting value for money.
Dishonorable Mention: Laurent Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (5 Years, $32.5 Million)
Robinson’s lack of impact this season (-3.0, 91st among WRs) is not exonerating the Jaguars for giving a big-money contract to a journeyman receiver.
Best Budget Signing
Philip Wheeler, OLB, Oakland Raiders (1 Year, $700,000)
The latter years of the Al Davis era in Oakland were marred by disappointing free agents with bloated contracts. But in his first offseason with the Raiders, General Manager Reggie McKenzie may have found the exact opposite in Philip Wheeler (+10.2). Oakland’s new strongside linebacker has excelled on all fronts, with a +7.6 pass coverage grade, 17.9 Pass Rush Productivity, and 44.0 Combined Tackle Efficiency. And that’s all with a salary just above the veteran minimum. It’s been a long time since we could say that the best free agent bargain in the NFL plays in Oakland.
Honorable Mention:Terence Newman, CB, Cincinnati Bengals (1 Year, $825,000)
Newman (+4.1) and his 4.3 Stop Percentage is a far cry from the player who resembled a human hurdle in his last game for the Cowboys.
Worst Budget Signing
Demetress Bell, OT, Philadelphia Eagles (5 Years, $34.5 Million)
I can’t blame the Eagles too much for signing Demetress Bell (-14.4), as they were forced to scrape a dried up free agent pool after star left tackle Jason Peters (+36.9 in 2011) ruptured his Achilles tendon in March. And this contract isn’t nearly as big as its reported numbers, with guarantees making it essentially a small one-year deal. Even so, Bell has been one of the biggest downgrades at any position this season. He’s ranked 64th out of 68 tackles, and his 24 QB pressures surrendered is already more than Peters gave up all last season.
Adam Snyder, OG, Arizona Cardinals (5 Years, $17.5 Million)
The Cardinals were admittedly in need of some offensive line help this offseason, but tying their hopes to Snyder (-21.6 this season, -21.2 in 2011) was a bad move. The guard has yet to record a grade better than -1.3 in any game this season, and Kevin Kolb can blame many of his weekly beatings on Synder’s shoddy 93.9 Pass Block Efficiency. Hoping to bring some relief to the trenches, Arizona has instead compounded their problems by acquiring Snyder.
Dishonorable Mention: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (3 Years, $9 Million)
After being lauded for not having fumbled once in his professional career, Green-Ellis (-8.3) has already coughed up the ball three times this season.
Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts (3 Years, $17.5 Million)
As free agency arrived in March, many assumed that Reggie Wayne would follow Manning to whatever city he landed in. But while less-accomplished receivers like Robinson, Pierre Garçon and Robert Meachem cashed in with big contracts, the veteran Colt decided to stay put with a rookie QB and a rebuilding defense. So far, his loyalty has been rewarded. Wayne’s +14.0 grade is second among all wide receivers, and he’s third in the league with 593 receiving yards. Nothing helps a rookie passer like an elite wide receiver, and Wayne’s 212-yard effort versus the Green Bay Packers showed how much Andrew Luck leans on his.
Honorable Mention: John Abraham, DE, Atlanta Falcons (3 Years, $16.7 Million)
The Falcons knew what they were getting when they resigned their 34-year old defensive end. Abraham continues to be one of the league’s best pass-rushers (+14.5).
London Fletcher, LB, Washington Redskins (2 Years, $10.8 Million)
Father Time is undefeated, but Fletcher (-6.7) was giving him a good enough fight that the Redskins were willing to invest in their cornerstone LB one last time. Unfortunately, it may be one time too many. Fletcher’s 328 yards surrendered in pass coverage is the most of any LB in the NFL. But even more disconcerting is that the man who built a career as a tackling machine has missed a whopping 10 of them this season. After so many years of consistency, Fletcher’s decline always seemed another year away. At age 37, that time may have finally arrived.
Best Trade Pickup
Winston Justice, OT, Indianapolis Colts (1 Year, $1.5 Million)
Known for being embarrassed by Osi Umenyiora on national TV in his first NFL start, Justice’s years in Philadelphia included stretches of dominance spoiled by longer stretches in the training room. Indianapolis acquired Justice by merely swapping sixth-round picks with the Eagles (it’s not known whether the Colts included a bag of balls in the deal). However, the change of scenery has done wonders for the tackle (+8.2). He’s surrendered just two QB pressures all season en route to a 99.1 Pass Block Efficiency.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago Bears (5 Years, $47.3 Million)
Marshall’s (+8.4) 2.92 Yards Pre Route Run is highest in the league among all WRs with over 20 targets.
Worst Franchise Tag
Michael Griffin, S, Tennessee Titans (5 Years, $35 Million)
Not wanting to lose both Finnegan and Michael Griffin, the Titans decided to franchise-tag their talented, yet inconsistent, safety. But after years of up-and-down play, Griffin’s performance has been simply down this season (-15.1). He’s missed a league-high 13 tackles and opposing QBs have a 150.0 passer rating when targeting him. He’ll need to improve on his league-worst -10.4 coverage grade if he wants to reward Tennessee for its investment in him.
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