NFL Free Agency: Activity means nothing, value = everything

This is a tweet sent out by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay on March 30th, almost 3 weeks after Free Agency opened:

“We’re FIRED UP about our free agent pillaging and the potential for 5-7 new starters!!” Irsay said on Twitter.

Their free agent heist consisted of OT Gosder Cherilus, OLB Erik Walden, SS LaRon Landry, OG Donald Thomas, linebacker Lawrence Sidbury, CB Greg Toler, DT Ricky Jean Francios, QB Matt Hasslebeck and DT Aubrayo Franklin. Cherilus and Landry were the only full-time starters of the bunch. The rest consisted of backups that their original teams never wanted anyways (especially Walden and Toler). Now while I don’t condone this “pillaging”, the money they paid their respective “new starters”, is indefensible at best.

I’m all for collecting talent anyway you can, and free agency is a quick and dirty way to accomplish that. But just one quick look at the contracts doled out to these players proves that just throwing shit against a wall and hoping you get return on your investment is not a way to improve your team. Greg Toler and Erik Walden both got over $4 million/year…………. Let that sink in for a second. Toler was consistently the worst of the Cardinals defensive backs in all of 2012. He wasn’t even going to be asked back by Arizona, that’s how bad he played last year. As for Walden, good lord is he going to be stealing money from Irsay over the next 4 years. As a Packers fan I know everything their is to know about Walden. HE SUCKS. And that was putting it nicely. And if you think i’m biased, Pro Football Focus rated Walden THE WORST 3-4 OLB IN 2011 AND 2012!! Not one of the worst, but THE WORST. And he gets $4mill/yr?!

And that was just two examples. Believe me their whole “pillaging” act was just flushing money down the toilet. Now if the Colts were smart they would’ve spend their money more wisely and waited to make their splash on the ensuing days of free agency. Sean Smith got a $6mill/yr, Brent Grimes got $5mill/yr. Both of these guys are 3X the defender that Toler is. As for Walden, the smart move would be to draft a younger, cheaper and most assuredly better player. But if you had to get that veteran presence, James Harrison and Shaun Philips are still available and will come with 1/3 of Walden’s price tag.

My point in all this; the name of the game in any league, NFL, NBA, MLB, hell even fantasy sports, is VALUE. So in the following, I going to break down who improved themselves this off-season/free agency period and who over paid. Ever hear of quality over quantity, that’s the golden rule here:

GOT BETTER:

  1. Seattle Seahawks: Key Additions: Percy Harvin, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and trading Matt Flynn. Depending on which top free agency list you look at, they snagged two of the top 5 players; Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Avril at 2yr/$15million and Bennett for 1yr/$5million. Now you might look at the years and wonder what gives. But this is a smart move as opposed to locking either up over a long period of time. One you’re paying below market value for one of the rarest commodities, pass rush. And two, you pay for the players peak years. And not have to worry about being hamstrung by an albatross contract in year 5 or 6 (see Bills Mario Williams). I love the addition of Percy Harvin because in today’s NFL, you have to diversify your team, specifically offensively. Once a ground and pound ball-control offense, Seattle now has options on the outside and one of the more lethal slot receivers doing damage in the middle. And it never hurts to give young QB Russell Wilson more threats to play with. Speaking of QBs, the Matt Flynn trade was an underrated move. Yes you don’t have a capable back-up yet, but they got a 5th round pick for him (conditional pick in 2015 as well) and they gained an additional $3.5 million in cap space this year. It’s not smart to pay a back-up QB starter money, especially when you’re paying 3rd round money to a playoff caliber quarterback in Wilson. Value, value, value. Wilson is locked in for a couple years anyway, capitalize on that below market value and spend it else where, hence the contracts doled out to Avril and Bennett. Smart moves John Schneider.
  2. San Francisco 49ers: Key Additions: Anquan Boldin, Nnamdi Asomugha and trading Alex Smith. Already set with one of the top rosters in the NFL, Trent Baalke (GM) went to work and churned out singles and doubles. Not one of his moves screamed of blockbuster move but every single one of them improved the team at market or below market price. All ready set with a bevy of draft picks, trading Alex Smith to the Chiefs for a 2013 2nd (basically a first rounder) and 2014 conditional 3rd was genius. Now the 49ers have a chance to move up, down and all round to get Harbaugh guys who will impact an already deep foundation of talent. The trade for Boldin was highway robbery for a 6th RD pick (think John felt bad for little bro after the SB and shipped him Boldin to quell the feelings???). It also filled a need and keeps the identity of your football team. Boldin will be a willing blocker, a beast over the middle and his effort won’t be in question, unlike some guy name Moss. As for Nnamdi, right time right place. Only a one year deal, SF gets to find out what he has left. And at $1.5 million with escalators up to a max of $3 million, if he under-performs, gets hurt or wants to continue eating lunch in his car, he’s not a risk . All three moves give one of the NFL’s elite more balance, cap relief and upside, all at a reasonable price.
  3. Denver Broncos: Key Additions: Wes Welker and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Although they dropped the ball on Dumervil, the Broncos realize what they are. Only relevant as long as Peyton Manning is playing. So going for a win now approach is smart. Giving Manning a “Brandon Stokley on steroids” in Wes Welker (2 year, $12 million deal) was a savvy move. Not to mention it gave Bill and Tom a big “Eff You” in New England. They add to already potent passing attack and at the same time get DRC. They lock in a high caliber CB in his prime at only $5 million a year (one year deal though). If DRC performs well, they replace Bailey with him, if not, DRC goes somewhere else. In a pitiful AFC West and a weak AFC conference, Denver knows it’s window is closing and fast. Props to Elway on going all-in and not just “Irsaying” his money away.

Over paid

  1. Indianapolis Colts: Over paid: See above lead in. My opinion is that the Colts think they are better then they really are. Irsay, Griggs and Pagano probably envision a team that is knocking on the door to a AFC title game berth. When in fact the real truth is they are the classic regression team for 2013, ala the 2012 Detroit Lions. They overachieved in 2012 (FootballOutsiders.com ranked the Colts the worst 11-5 team ever), thanks in part to an easy schedule, unsustainable wins versus point differential(won a lot of close games) and Chuckstrong. All of that will not repeat in 2013. And to make matters worse, they brought in a bunch of high-priced veterans who were other teams rejects to put them over the hump. Don’t be like the Colts, be like the Seahawks and 49ers.
  2. Miami Dolphins: Over paid: Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler. Now I get why the Dolphins felt like they needed to make a splash, they haven’t been relevant since 2008, but, giving Mike Wallace $12 million per year is not the answer. Now they are getting him in his prime years, but $12 mill for a receiver who only runs a go route? Sounds a little steep. Better to go with someone like Greg Jennings, Amendola or Welker, who cost less and you can move them around the field. But if the Dolphins want to be winners in March instead of December, more power to them. As for Ellerbe and Wheeler, right idea as far as impact players, but instead of doling out those contracts on Day 1 or 2 of Free Agency, better to wait and see what the market value for them or similar players are. $5 mill/year for both those guys is over paying when you could have gotten similar players a week into Free Agency for $2 mill/year. But hey, it’s their money.
  3. Detroit Lions: Over paid: Chris Houston, Louis Delmas Glover Quinn and not addressing the OLine. Now there are some moves I did like with the Lions. Reggie Bush and Jason Jones were solid pick-ups. But the Lions acted WAY too fast on resigning CB Chris Houston. If they had let the CB market play out, they could had him or someone twice as good as Houston at half the price. It was a historical down year for the defensive back market. Instead of paying Houston (5yr/$25mill), Delmas (2yr/$9.5mill) and Quinn (5yr/$23.5mill), they could have waited for guys like Ed Reed, Nnamdi and Bernard Pollard and paid less for better players. Now while Detroit would be getting older players in those three mentioned, you know what the upside is and they all accepted short term deals, so there’s no risk of an albatross contract 5 years down the road if said player under-performs. One last line before we wrap up. Detroit spent a combined $58 million on their secondary, which isn’t good anyways (same one that already had Houston and Delmas in it) while choosing not to pay a “core-team-identity” player in Avril. They also chose not to beef up their offensive line, poor choice considering your quarterback is Matthew Stafford. Subtracting from your defensive identity and not protecting Matthew Stafford (DET only returns 1 O linemen from last years suspect group), spells disaster and maybe Jim Schwartz job. Not smart at all.

You notice the top three teams in the Value List are all playoff teams and the ones on the bottom are all outsiders looking in (sans the Colts, but they could be if this keeps happening). Something to consider going forward. Every team has the chance for acquiring talent, the best ones do it at their price.

-MikeV87

One thought on “NFL Free Agency: Activity means nothing, value = everything

  1. Michael Douglass-Harris

    Excellent article; I really couldn’t agree more with your observations. I liked that you gave credit where credit was due, like Bush to the Lions…I thought that was an underrated move that will help the team immensely. However, I did see one mistake. Nnamdi’s contract contains $0 guaranteed money. It’s all conditional upon him making the squad, which, let’s face it, could be difficult if the 49ers stack the secondary through the draft, and he doesn’t show up to compete in training camp. But I loved this article. Nice analysis. Spot on.

    Reply

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