FA Special: 4 Questions, 4 Analysts
It’s been a hectic week in the NFL as a cap rise created an excellent market for some of the top players in the NFL. It’s allowed some teams to reshape their rosters, others to cut some deadwood and the staff at PFF to develop some strong opinions.
Well four of those staff have been asked for their thoughts on some of the moves that have gone down and they’ve come back with answers loaded with their own slant on things. So you can sit back and enjoy a very special “Four Questions, Four Analysts” free agency special with Steve Palazzolo, Sam Monson, Ben Stockwell and Khaled Elsayed. Feel free to make them aware of your disagreements through their twitter selves.
Which Team Has Improved the Most During Free Agency?
Steve: When evaluating free agent “winners,” both long and short-term goals must be considered. While many moves often help in the short-term, the long-term effects of overpaying for declining players catches up to most organizations. With that said, focusing on just the short term, I like what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have done to improve themselves for 2014. Granted, losing Darrelle Revis is not ideal, but turning his salary into a handful of useful players should make for a better-rounded team. Adding Michael Johnson to perhaps the worst defensive ends in football in 2013 will immediately upgrade the run defense with potential to provide some pass rush, while new defensive tackle Clinton McDonald should help in that area as well. Signing CB Alterraun Verner to replace Revis is about as well as they could have done on the open market. Finally, adding QB Josh McCown may be the biggest risk as they’ve already declared him the starter for next season. As much as we loved McCown’s play with the Bears last year, it remains to be seen whether or not he’s a one-year wonder, but he certainly earned the chance to prove otherwise with a string of stellar performances for the Bears.
Sam: Talk about going all-in. The Denver Broncos are heading into potentially their last season of the Peyton Manning window and are doing everything they can to ensure they can make the most of it before it closes. They have spent big on moves for big-name free agents like Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware, but they have also added depth and replaced players they allowed to walk. The best part is that they are still in a healthy spot under the cap and when Manning finally does go they won’t be crippled in cap-hell.
Ben: In a tumultuous period for the franchise as a whole the Cleveland Browns have quietly gone about their business quite nicely in free agency. They haven’t made any astronomic leaps to give the team a “quick fix” but they have engineered some solid upgrades that should solidify the team and hopefully the franchise around it. For only $2million more in total they made a sizeable upgrade at inside linebacker with Karlos Dansby better than D’Qwell Jackson in every facet of the game. At safety though it will have been tough to say goodbye to T.J. Ward if they get the 2013 version of Donte Whitner I would say they have upgraded in terms of coverage at safety. While in Andrew Hawkins they have capitalized on some miss-management by a division rival to upgrade in the slot. The shadow looming over the entire team is the quarterback position but as of right now they’re making some impressive strides without breaking the bank.
Khaled: Sometimes keeping as status quo as possible is all it takes. Nobody would say the Seattle Seahawks were not the best team last year, yet they managed to retain key free agents. I’m chiefly talking about Michael Bennett who was a revelation as a nickel tackle capable of causing havoc. Pairing him and Cliff Avril together ensures production in key situations. Sure losing Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Golden Tate will hurt, but those guys are either aging or replaceable. Let’s not forget Percy Harvin missed nearly all of the regular season while they have been as productive as anyone in the draft.
What move have you liked the most?
Steve: It feels like the search for a Calvin Johnson-complement has stretched over a decade, but the Detroit Lions may have finally found their man in Golden Tate. He’s one of the league’s best with the ball in his hands and he’s more than capable of joining Johnson and tight end Joseph Fauria making contested catches when covered. Tate should be a big asset in Detroit’s short and intermediate passing game.
Sam: I can understand why the Bucs let go of Darrelle Revis. Sure it makes the trade look terrible in hindsight, but with the new regime in place, Revis just doesn’t fit. That’s not to say that he couldn’t do a job for them and do it well, but the dropoff from him in that Tampa-2 defense to Alterraun Verner in the same role isn’t huge, but the price difference is around $10m. In New England Revis gives Bill Belichick a chess piece to play with and the best corner in football still. It’s going to be exciting to see how creative they get schematically now they have the option.
Ben: It’s not often that one of the first signings in free agency is one of the best but in the case of Geoff Schwartz going to the Giants I think it definitely is. Consider the sort of deals that some top guards have got in recent years and Schwartz’s 4yr $16million looks a great deal for the Giants. Now playing healthy for the first time in years Schwartz showed the ability to be one of the league’s best with the Chiefs last year and offers a sizeable upgrade for the Giants at guard. His best position is guard and it’s where the Giants should play him but his position flexibility allows the Giants the leverage to add competition at tackle either by threatening to move Justin Pugh over to left tackle (as a threat to the underperforming William Beatty) or to shift Pugh inside to guard if that’s where he fits best. The Giants’ line needed an injection of talent and motivation. The Giants got all of this at $4million per year with Schwartz, an excellent deal.
Khaled: I figured the Ravens would lose Eugene Monroe in free agency but it appears the market never really developed for him. That’s all sorts of off. Monroe isn’t an elite left tackle but he’s pretty close. He might not be standing out during live viewing but if Baltimore are to have success then they need to keep Joe Flacco clean. He’s a mess when the pressure is constant and so having a top tier tackle is essential.
Which team looks set to drop off next year based on their work in free agency?
Steve: Any time three offensive linemen move on in free agency, it’s going to be a tough re-build, and that’s what the Kansas City Chiefs are facing. They’ve lost two guards, as well as left tackle Branden Albert, leaving them with two positively-graded holes up front as well as key depth gone. When you throw in the losses of role players Tyson Jackson and Akeem Jordan, the Chiefs find themselves in the less-than-ideal situation of heading toward the draft with needs still remaining on the roster.
Sam: It was somewhat inevitable given the cap situation they found themselves in but the Dallas Cowboys have gotten significantly poorer on paper. They have allowed three quarters of their starters to walk (Spencer was injured last year, but he would still have that role healthy) and replaced them with Jeremy Mincey, Henry Melton and Terrell McClain. That’s not a net win for the Cowboys no matter what way you slice it.
Ben: Before people start to get irate this is judging these teams right now in mid-March, there’s plenty of time to turn the corner and fill holes. But as of right now the Carolina Panthers have the furthest to fall and have lost the most pieces to open the potential of a fall. Cap pressure has played a significant part in the Panthers’ difficulties this month but it still can’t change the fact that multiple linemen have retired, their top receivers are gone and they’ve lost their excellent slot corner just for starters. The bright spot is the retention of Greg Hardy but they need to sort a multi-year deal sorted soon if that franchise tag isn’t to be a hindrance in filling the holes that litter the roster.
Khaled: In recent years the Tennessee Titans haven’t been shy about handing out loads of money in free agency. In fact some might say the agents have had a field day with them, and I wouldn’t disagree with them based on this year. They cut the possibly retiring David Stewart which made sense, but then replaced him with a tackle who has got worse every year since his excellent rookie season. They’ve brought in another linebacker who struggles against the run, a slot receiver they’ll use at running back no matter how undersized he is and lost a starting corner. The AFC South is hardly an arms race but the Titans aren’t making it easy for themselves.
Who is your favorite free agent still out there and where would you like to see him end up?
Steve: Though he’s not the most spectacular player, Robert Ayers is useful when used in the proper role. He always grades positively against the run, but last year he even showed well as a pass rusher picking up 42 hurries on 330 rushes. Ayers is a perfect example of draft position unfairly defining a player’s career. The former first rounder certainly hasn’t lived up to those lofty expectations, but taking draft position out of it, he’s found a nice niche in the league. He’d be a nice fit in Dallas where he can join former Broncos teammate Jeremy Mincey in shoring up some of the Cowboys’ woes against the run.
Sam: Everybody is looking to copy the Seattle defense, and one of the most vital components for that is a rangy free safety that can play the deep middle and influence plays. Chris Clemons is no Earl Thomas, but he is one of the few safeties in the NFL with the range to be able to play that role and effect the game. I’m surprised he hasn’t been snapped up already. Green Bay have been trying to fill Nick Collins’ spot for a while now – they should be all over Clemons.
Ben: Assuming he is returned to full health then I think Jermichael Finley is one of those rare talents at tight end who has the ability to really stress NFL defenses as they try to find ways to counter the athletic, receiving tight ends. Having just lost Tony Gonzalez to retirement the Atlanta Falcons are short of a proven talent at tight end and Finley’s receiving skills would give a buffer for Levine Toilolo to continue to learn.
Khaled: Age is but a number. I’ve always been a big fan of Lance Moore but feel that in the Saints offense a ceiling was put on where he could be most effective. I don’t blame Sean Payton for that but rather the incredibly amount of talent they had that could operate from the slot. I’m asking Dave Gettlemen to make this guy a Panther who can start on the outside and move to the slot in nickel. Give him the chance to show the Saints he’s not done.