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Monday, 18 March 2013

Free Agency So Far: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

We're almost a week through free agency and while we haven't seen any contract nearing the $96 million mark that was given to Mario Williams last season there have been some staggering signings.

From Miami's spending spree and a flood of players leaving Baltimore it's been a fast-paced, action packed week that's had us glued to twitter (which was surely invented for NFL Free Agency!). There are still plenty of quality players out there for teams to pick up, but with the top of the market starting to thin out it's a good time to go over what I think were some of the best and worst signings of the first week of free agency.

Agree or disagree with what I've said? Or just have an opinion about who your team should go after next? Leave a comment or get on twitter (@PullingLinemen) and tell us!

The Good

  • St. Louis Rams sign Jake Long (4 years, $36M, Up to $20M guaranteed)

St. Louis' tackle play has been a mixture of awful and injured for the last several seasons. Sam Bradford has taken his lumps from it and suffered accordingly. With all the pass rush talent in their division the Rams simply had to upgrade, even if they nearly kidnapped him to get it done. The contract itself is also a bargain for someone with Long's reputation. Yes, his recent injury history has a lot to do with deflating his value, but given the 5 year, $50M that Ryan Clady turned down last year getting Long for a maximum of $9M a year is a steal.

  • Seattle Seahawks sign Percy Harvin (Trade + 6 years, $67M, $25.5M guaranteed), Michael Bennett (1 year, $5M), Cliff Avril (2 years, $13M, $6M guaranteed)

The Seahawks clearly had a plan entering free agency and have executed it beautifully. Because of the youth on their roster, and the cheap contract of their Quarterback (Wilson's rookie deal tops out at a cap hit of $950k in his 4th year) the 'Hawks had money to use. The trade for Percy Harvin was a good one given the lack of 1st round graded players in the draft this year and Harvin's versatile talent. The contract is also a nice one given the guaranteed money is less than $5M a year.

With their 1st rounder gone and Chris Clemons down with an ACL tear the Seahawks then pursued defensive ends and ended up with a pair of bargains. Avril turned down a 3-year, $30 million deal from the Lions last spring while Michael Bennett is vastly underrated and is a very, very good run defender. They now have a great rotation at defensive end to couple with a fast and aggressive secondary while Russell Wilson has another weapon to play with on an offense that needed some explosion on the edge.

  • New England Patriots re-sign Aqib Talib (1 year, $5M)

The cornerback market was very much a buyers one given the slew of veteran players available, but New England needed Talib back in a bad way given the issues they've had at corner recently. Yes, he's got a history of hamstring injuries and off-field red flags but Talib still has the potential to be an elite cornerback in the NFL and the Patriots have twice shown a willingness to believe in him where others haven't, which could pay dividends if he has a strong 2013.

  • Baltimore Ravens sign Chris Canty (3 years, $8M)

The Joe Flacco contract ate up a lot of money and has really handcuffed the Ravens during free agency as they had to watch a lot of players walk away. But signing Canty is a really nice move. He'll provide good push against the pass from the inside next to Haloti Ngata if he's fully recovered from a nagging knee injury. Even if he's not at 100% and able to be the player he used to be it's a great depth signing given the cheap price.

The Bad

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign Dashon Goldson (5 years, $41.25M, $22M guaranteed)

Goldson isn't a bad player. In fact he's good. But his life over the last few years has been made rather easy because of all the talent in front of him. This year's safety market was flooded, with Charles Woodson, Adrian Wilson and Ed Reed as well as many others hitting the market. Because of that it's very hard to defend giving $22M in guaranteed money to Goldson when players like Kenny Phillips are getting cheap and risk-free 1 year, entirely unguaranteed, contracts.

Goldson will make the Bucs better, and also make last years 1st rounder Mark Barron better, but the money used on this contract has already hurt them. After all they couldn't stump up $6M to keep Michael Bennett around.

  • Miami Dolphins sign Mike Wallace (5 years, $65M, $30M guaranteed)

$30M guaranteed is a hell of a lot of money for a one-trick pony coming off a horrendous year. Mike Wallace has the speed to be a great deep threat in the NFL. When he and Big Ben were clicking in Pittsburgh it seemed like once a game Wallace would break free over the top of the defense as he was just too fast to handle. His peak in 2010 saw Wallace rack up a massive 21 yards per reception. To put that in context, Rand Moss's career best season mark in 19 yards a catch in his rookie year.

But as good as that 2010 campaign was, his 2012 one was bad. His catch rate was roughly 10% lower in 2012 (numbers vary from site to site, but it averages out to a 64% rate in 2010 down to 54% in 2012) and those long bombs dried up as teams gave Wallace a bit more attention and a bit more of a cushion in coverage. Ryan Tannehill needed more targets in Miami if he was ever going to develop from a promising rookie season, but is Wallace that guy? Sure, he'll open up space and allow players like Davone Bess and new signing Dustin Keller more favourable looks, but at the price the Dolphins are paying I don't think they'll get what they expect from Wallace.

  • Tennessee Titans sign Shonn Greene (3 years, $10M, $4.5M guaranteed)

When you've got a ton of money invested in your starting running back the one thing you really shouldn't do is invest more in his backup. But like the Carolina Panthers (though not nearly as badly), the Titans decided to do just that. Worse, Shonn Greene is a mediocre player. As a fill-in to give Chris Johnson a rest he'll be ok, but that contract is ugly when you consider the amount of running backs that are available at the back end of the draft for tiny cap hits. And should Johnson go down? Well Greene's a career 4.2 YPC back which isn't good, and he lacks any kind of speed to break runs. It's not signing that will pay dividends for the Titans.

The Ugly

  • Indianapolis Colts sign Erik Walden (4 years, $17.5M, $8.6M guaranteed) Ricky Jean-Francois (4 years, $22M, $8.5M guaranteed) LaRon Landry (4 years, $24M, $14M guaranteed) Gosder Cherilus (5 years, $34M, $10M guaranteed)

Just what Jim Irsay and Ryan Grigson were thinking with these signings is something we may never know. Erik Walden started 10 games in 2012 because the guy the Packers drafted to replace him got hurt. And he completely failed to impress. The last time we saw Walden on the field he was looking entirely lost against the 49ers offense without a clue what he was meant to be doing. He's a rotational player at best, giving him nearly $9M in guaranteed money is craziness. Ricky Jean-Francois was ok as a rotational player in San Francisco, but the Colts are bringing him in to be an every-down player on their defensive line which is a huge risk.

LaRon Landry had a return to form in 2012, but his injury history makes a 4 year deal extremely worrying and I've already explained that is a bloated safety market this year. Gosder Cherilus is a very average right tackle, if that. At 28 he does have years ahead of him, but with quality right tackles like Andre Smith and Sebastian Vollmer and the contract Jake Long just got this is a terrible deal when protecting Andrew Luck better in 2013 should be priority number 1.

  • Cincinnati Bengals re-sign Rey Maualuga (2 years, $6.5M, $2.5M guaranteed)

Maualuga has never lived up to his billing after being drafted 38th overall in 2009. He's a liability in coverage and often disappears in run support. He's started 59 games for the Bengals in his 4 years of play, but if he's a starter in 2013 again Bengals fans will have a lot of reason for discomfort.

  • Miami Dolphins sign Dannell Ellerbe (5 years, $35M)

The Dolphins had a lot of positions they needed to fill this off-season, but inside linebacker wasn't one of them. Karlos Dansby is a top player, and while he's 4 years older than Ellerbe he's vastly more experienced, and while this signing saved some money for the Dolphins it's also a huge risk in breaking up what was a stellar run-stopping front 7. Ellerbe is very in-experienced for a player entering his 5th season in the NFL, and while he's shown a good level of talent he's not produced a full season of work that is near what Dansby has put together, nor has his production
suggested he can play up to a contract which would satisfy a pro bowler.

- Toby Durant (@TDonSport)
- The Pulling Linemen

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