LiveBall Sports’ Free Agent Favorites: Where may the value in the market lie?
This article aims to examine the NFL free agent market, and find where the money may not flow to the best talent.
Jason Campbell (30) – Campbell isn’t a young, improving quarterback anymore, but he had his best start in 2011, truncated by a collarbone injury in Week 6. He’s a good bet to be one of the best 20 quarterbacks in the NFL over the next three seasons, and any franchise that needs to get something going with a veteran guy who is good with younger players, this could be the signing you are looking for,
Kyle Orton (30) – Another guy who is likely good enough to be a starting NFL quarterback, and is relatively young enough so that you don’t have to go out and immediately draft his successor. Orton’s value is in his ability to throw for 300 yards regularly while protecting the football. What Orton has lacked as a starting quarterback in the NFL is a power running game that can make up for his physical deficiencies that originally caused him to drop to the fourth round and presently truncate his numbers against teams that play man-to-man defense very well.
David Garrard (34) – If the only concern your team has is who in this free agent class can give you the best return on a one year investement, David Garrard is the best possible signing in this class. Garrard’s age suggests that if he has a 16 game season left in him, it is going to be isolated. But Chad Pennington had that one season where he led a 1-win Miami team to the playoffs the following year, and if any NFL team picking near the top of the draft is looking for the same kind of shot in the arm, Garrard is the guy
Chad Henne (27) – The opposite of Campbell, but no less appealing as a prospect, Henne would benefit from going to a veteran team when his birthdate is favorable on a three year contract and he can win the starting job and lead a team to the playoffs. Miami was not the franchise for Henne to achieve success, but he was good in 2009, better than that in 2010, and had a lost contract year in 2011. Chad Henne can be the long term solution for your team at quarterback, but there’s a big difference between 27 and 29 years old and the other pieces must be in place. Henne would be a perfect fit in San Francisco replacing Alex Smith, though he would appear destined for New York to push Mark Sanchez.
Ray Rice is perhaps the best player hitting free agency this year at age 25, but one can only assume he will get paid as such.
Cedric Benson (29) – Benson may have to sign somewhere as a no. 2 back, but he was once again quite good in Cincinnati’s zone rushing scheme this year, and after three straight “prove it” years with the Bengals, Benson is an undervalued short term solution at running back who can give a team good years at starter production and not kill you in the passing game.
Mike Tolbert (27) – Tolbert offers great versatility having played both running back and fullback for Norv Turner. He’s probably overvalued on this market as a primary runner. But if you have a team like the Chiefs who uses two backs fairly regularly, Tolbert as a three-down player is good enough to justify a four year contract with guaranteed money in the $6-8 million range. He is not Darren Sproles on third down, but he can do everything you ask.
I believe this wide receiver class is mostly fools gold, and that there will be a lot of crazy money thrown around with not a whole lot of success. The Patriots are almost certain to get a good value to sign Wes Welker because they use him differently than any other team is capable of. What would be great value for the Patriots would mean overpaying for anyone else. The most interesting name is Mike Wallace, who is a restricted free agent with the Steelers and is probably worth the first round compensation it would take to sign him away, particularly if you are the Browns, Bengals, or Ravens.
Stevie Johnson (26) – Stevie Johnson might be the best unrestricted free agent in this class if Buffalo lets him get away. He’s not going to get paid like Dwayne Bowe or Marques Colston, and that’s why he’s the best value on this list.
Randy Moss (35) – Moss is going to sit on the back burner as younger players get paid, but he’s one of the better targets of this free agent class with regard to winning games with competitive people, and Randy Moss on a two year contract makes so much more sense than Plaxico Burress did at this time last year.
Johnson, Wallace, and Moss are all options for the New England Patriots, who need a receiver to replace free agent Deion Branch.
Jeremy Shockey (32) – With guys like Jermichael Finley and Fred Davis likely to wear the franchise tag because of the premium that is being put on tight ends right now as well as their favorable birthdates, don’t forget about Shockey, who was made expendable by the Panthers’ post lockout trade for Greg Olsen with the Bears. Shockey is still a starting tight end in the NFL, and if you don’t have a guy who can control the passing game between the numbers, you probably don’t have much of a passing game.
This is such a thin position that there are no values. Max Starks (Pittsburgh) and Jared Gaither (San Diego) are in line for big money contracts because they are free agents and can play tackle in this league.
The value signing is likely to be someone who is cut from a big contract, someone like Marcus McNeill of the Chargers.
Carl Nicks is going to get more money than every other guard on the market combined, and it is well deserved. Ben Grubbs is right behind him in the pecking order, and may not return to Baltimore because of the team’s cap situation; Grubbs, a former first round pick, was the second best guard on his own team this year.
Evan Mathis (31) – Mathis was a cost-free pickup by the Eagles who outperformed most of the players who are going to tax the Eagles salary cap situation over the next few years. The Eagles are expected to re-sign him, but if I’m the Redskins or the Giants, I’m not sure I would let that happen so cheaply. Actually, I know for a fact I wouldn’t. In fact, with OL coach Hudson Houck’s retirement from the Cowboys, they should get in on Mathis as well.
Chilo Rachal (26) – Came out of USC with excellent talent in 2008, and didn’t give the best return to the 49ers. Still quite young and a good bet to develop into one of the better lineman in the NFL over the next couple of years. The Redskins should be interested.
Scott Wells and Chris Myers are both great players who will cost a pretty penny to re-sign, but in my eyes, this class is headlined by a guy who was the Chris Myers of three years ago.
Dan Koppen (33) – The former pro-bowl center of the Patriots has become a forgotten man of sorts, and the Patriots are not anticipated to re-sign the player who started at center for two super bowl champion teams. He doesn’t have a lot of effectiveness left and is coming off of injury, but Koppen could be out there on the market around the draft. Look for him to be playing in Kansas City next season.
Samson Satele (28) – The Oakland Raiders have an awful cap situation, and a vested interest in keeping their interest in re-signing Satele quiet as not to drive up the price. If he could add guard to his arsenal, that would make Satele so much more valuable on a long term contract.
Will Montgomery (29) – Found a home at center with the Washington Redskins. Will get lost in this class and possibly re-sign for just over $1 million. This is exactly what the Redskins are hoping for. If he has to try the market again next year, he’ll be 30 years old, so Montgomery obviously has a vested interest in cashing in while he can.
For every time you hear a commentator declare that the key to a great 3-4 defense is a great nose tackle, just remember that when push comes to shove, NFL teams just don’t put their franchise tags on their nose tackles. They’re too interchangeable and don’t play enough snaps. Nose tackles can have a more direct impact on a game than nickle backs, but they essentially split snaps with each other between base and sub packages. Haloti Ngata didn’t get paid because he was a nose tackle, he got paid because he’s the toughest interior lineman to block in the NFL.
Arizona’s Calais Campbell is the cream of the crop at this position. Here’s someone who might sit on the market a little longer:
Kendall Langford (26) – Has been made expendable by depth on the Miami Dolphin DL and a scheme change back to a 40 front. Langford is one of the 30 best defensive linemen in the NFL, and is in a class where there just aren’t a great number of interior defensive linemen with expiring contracts. Despite this, his name has generated almost no publicity. Of course, the same issue didn’t prevent Stephen Bowen from getting a big 5 year contract with the Redskins.
Jason Jones (26) – A very dangerous part of the FA class for defensive lineman because he was sensational in the first three years of his career and was incredibly marginalized last year after the Titans let DL coach Jim Washburn go to Philadelphia. After seeing what Jason Babin did last year, Jones is going to have his suitors.
Amobi Okoye (25) – A first round pick of the H0uston Texans in 2007, Okoye has been around forever. He has just now exited the discussion of U-25 talent in the NFL. A good comp for him on the free agent market would be Randy Starks, who was signed in free agency by the Dolphins at age 25 in 2008, and has gone on to be one of the better interior defensive lineman in the NFL. Had a good year for the Bears on a one year deal, but wasn’t a primary headline maker.
Defensive Ends/3-4 Outside Linebackers
Anthony Spencer (28) – Spencer is a three down defensive player in a 3-4 scheme who is underrated because his primary value is that he takes on blocks well against the run, and turns action back inside. The Cowboys always talked about increasing his sack production, but his inability to do that across from DeMarcus Ware is going to affect how much he gets paid. Spencer can rush the passer as well, he just isn’t a good option as a third down pass rusher with other, better options typically available.
Ahmad Brooks (28) – Brooks was a supplemental draft pick of the Bengals in 2006 as a middle linebacker. He’s still in the league because he has re-invented himself as a pass rusher. Just 28, there’s still untapped potential here for some team looking to improve it’s third down defense. For the 49ers, the pick of Aldon Smith makes Brooks expendable.
Kroy Biermann (27) – Beat out Jamaal Anderson for playing time, but the free agent addition of Ray Edwards makes him expendable. With John Abraham also slated for free agency, the Falcons need to get Biermann back in the fold. Will any of their NFC South competition price them out of the market?
Jamaal Anderson (26) – Anderson was a first round bust of the Rich McKay-led Falcons, but he was a very young 21 on draft day, and he’s still just 26. His first season outside of Atlanta didn’t really change it. But for a guy who will be around in the bargain bin, Anderson hasn’t failed to flash the NFL skills to play multiple spots on the DL, and at 26, if you can get him to sign a three year contract, you can get the prime of Jamaal Anderson’s career for about two million per season, which seems like a good deal to me.
Antwan Applewhite (27) – He was a linebacker in San Diego for years, and was a defensive end for the pass rush starved Panthers last year. He’s a great option to have on third down.
Manny Lawson (28) – Remade himself as a true linebacker in the defensive scheme for Mike Zimmer’s Cincinnati Bengals, and now is a very interesting proposition as a 4-3 OLB on the free agent market.
David Hawthorne (27) – I really think the Seattle Seahawks would love to lock David Hawthorn up long term without paying him like a top five linebacker in the league, but I don’t think they’ll be able to. Hawthorne is one of the very best defensive players in the league, and if there is a free agent signing who can change the course of a franchise, Hawthorne might be the closest thing, at least on the defensive side of the ball. He’ll probably sign for about $5-7 million per season, with a lot of guaranteed money. I still like him a lot at that price
Erin Henderson (26) – Had just one season as a starter for the Vikings replacing Ben Leber. Still, having a season like Erin Henderson did at age 25 is a pretty nice positive indicator for future success. Not a safe signing my any means, but he doesn’t come with the injury history of his brother, fellow free agent E.J. Erin is probably the smarter investment at this point in time, even if he’s unlikely to enjoy the career E.J. has already had.
Gary Guyton (27) – Fell out of favor with the Patriots brass, but played a lot of football at a high level very early in his career and could be one of the best value signings on the entire free agent market.
Cortland Finnegan (28) – With his temperament, maybe isn’t the safest investment. It’s going to be tough for Finnegan to get paid in a market that features Brandon Carr, Carlos Rogers, Tracy Porter, and Brent Grimes.
Terrell Thomas (27) – A year ago, Thomas was one of the rising corners in the NFL, and in line for a big payday. Now, he’s coming of an ACL tear. Thomas was drafted by the defending super bowl champs, and had the misfortune of missing both of their Super Bowl Championship seasons.
Dashon Goldson is going to dominate headlines when he hits the market, but I’m not sure he’s one of the five best safeties in this class.
Tyvon Branch (26) – One of the best safeties in the league is just coming into his own. Oakland will do everything they can not to let him get away.
LaRon Landry (28) – Was one of the very best players in football in 2010. Has been hurt and on and off the field for the last two seasons. Washington is willing to let him walk and probably is making a mistake in doing so.
Michael Griffin (27) – Has struggled with year to year consistency, but has generally been worth his draft position out of Texas. Just 27, he’s likely to move on to a team who needs more range out of their free safety.