2014 NFL Free Agency
The opening weeks of NFL free agency are always an interesting time of year. The NCAA basketball tournament is in the rear view mirror, the NHL and NBA are in the middle of playoffs, and it’s beginning to feel like baseball weather. The red-headed step child of April, the NFL, still gets an insane amount of attention for what might be the league’s quietest month of the year now that the draft has moved to May. Moves like DeSean Jackson signing in Washington garnered more attention than MLB’s second full day of games by far. Coverage of Darrelle Revis and Aqib Talib’s landing spots were all anyone could talk about, especially in New England, even while the Bruins were in the middle of a 17 game unbeaten streak.
Football is the undisputed king of American sports right now. Now that all the frantic moves have stopped, let’s catch up on what’s happened so far in free agency with an eye toward the draft in two weeks.
Tampa Bay Bucs to New England Patriots
I can’t help myself, I had to start here. The crown jewel of free agency in 2014. The Patriots’ main weakness since the days of Ty Law and Asante Samuel has been at cornerback. Yes, Devin McCourty had a good rookie year and Aqib Talib, when healthy, held the position well, but it’s been forever since teams feared the New England secondary. Assuming health, Revis will be holding down one half of the field. That is a huge advantage for a team that hasn’t had a true number one corner in a long time, because the biggest problem for that defense was forcing guys who weren’t top tier corners to match up against other teams’ best receivers. Revis may only be in Foxboro for one year, but his impact will be immediate. When healthy and on his game in man coverage, there may be no one better.
Philadelphia Eagles to Washington Redskins
Leave the alleged gang rumors out of it. DeSean Jackson can still be an elite talent when he has his head screwed on right and he has a competent quarterback throwing to him. In year six of his up and down career as a deep threat burner, DeSean set career highs in receptions and yards, in part due to the ultra hurry-up style of Chip Kelly. No one is entirely sure how Jay Gruden will fare as Redskins’ head coach, but Gruden is no stranger to fast, athletic, elite receivers. He found a way to get AJ Green the ball effectively. Jackson needs to be willing to learn to adapt to a new scheme, and he needs RG3 to be the RG3 of 2012, not 2013. I’m putting this in “wait-and-see” territory, not only for Jackson, but for Jeremy Maclin returning from an ACL injury now being a main target in Philly, and Pierre Garcon, who was a slot machine as the only real asset in Washington’s receiver corps. I think Jackson and Garcon can co-exist since they’re not the same type of receiver, but again, a lot rests on RG3 and the offense to make sure there are enough passes to go around this year.
New England Patriots to Denver Broncos
Cash that check, baby. The biggest piece of the Broncos’ offseason moves fills an immediate need for the AFC champions, and you can feel the desperation in the contract. 6 years, $57 million, a little less than half guaranteed. If he stays healthy, he’ll be a similar upgrade as Revis will be in New England. With the additions of T.J. Ward and DeMarcus Ware, Denver is loading up. They know they won’t have Peyton Manning forever. I just don’t think Talib makes it through the year healthy. This move was the best opportunity to replace former all-world corner Champ Bailey whose play had fallen off dramatically, and it addresses a big need for the team with the most prolific offense in NFL history that couldn’t stop a nosebleed in the Super Bowl.
Denver Broncos to New York Jets
Let’s just get this over with right away. This doesn’t hurt Denver. They have three great receivers. This is infinitely more important for the Jets, who were trotting out guys in 2013 that some diehard fantasy football owners barely knew. I just don’t think it’s a great fit. A team is only as good as their Quarterback. Granted, Geno Smith was a rookie and he had no one to throw to, but I don’t think Eric Decker is the answer. The Jets already have guys who can run dig routes and out routes. Decker is a great complimentary receiver who demands coverage, but the Jets need to be looking for more receivers. It feels like Decker will be that guy who falls to the 6th-7th round of a fantasy draft until someone decides, well, it’s still Eric Decker, right? That person is bound for disappointment.
Buffalo Bills to New Orleans Saints
A couple seasons ago, the Saints gave up the most total yards in NFL history. The year after, they drafted Kenny Vaccaro and improved greatly, giving up the fourth least yards in the league. Now, they’ve given Jairus Byrd nearly the same contract Aqib Talib received. The Bills are always a team that people think will improve because they have great individual talent, and every year the Bills finish 6-10 or 7-9. Now, one of their great talents coming off an All-Pro year is going to an established and effective defense to replace the likes of Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper. Byrd is hard hitting and can impact the run game, and also has 22 interceptions in his career. I realize Safety isn’t the most glamorous position in football, but this weakens the Bills and further strengthens the Saints, in a division where they have to see Roddy White, Julio Jones and Vincent Jackson twice a year.
Oakland Raiders to New York Giants
Jennings goes from being the best Running Back on a bad Oakland team, to the best Running Back on a slightly better Giants team until or if David Wilson figures things out. At least Oakland gets the other former Jacksonville RB Maurice Jones-Drew as a consolation prize so they’re not stuck with Darren McFadden. I think this is a relatively underrated move. Jennings isn’t world-class, but unless they add another piece, Jennings is “the guy”. That’s usually a phrase reserved for workhorse backs that will touch the ball 300 times a year. Assuming nothing changes, Jennings gets his first crack at being the workhorse for a full year for a Giants team that was so bad on offense last year, they can only go up. He’s worth a flier on your fantasy team if you wait on Running Back. I could see 280 carries, 1,000 yards and 7 TDs.
I’m not going to waste many words here. Knowshon Moreno had a fantastic run being the lead back in a Peyton Manning offense behind a great offensive line. He’s now going to a significantly worse team, with a worse Quarterback, behind an offensive line that charitably could be called “troubled” even after the addition of Branden Albert. You’re going to see some regression here. For a one-year, $3 million contract, he most likely won’t even be the full-time guy. I just wonder how many people will be fooled by the name value this year. Denver will be fine, as it seems like Peyton Manning and company are content with putting their faith in last year’s fantasy hype monster Montee Ball.
Houston Texans to Cleveland Browns
One of the more hyped running backs to move, Ben Tate finally gets a job all to himself after backing up Arian Foster in Houston. This will be Tate’s 5th year in the league and he has 479 total touches to his name after a training camp injury his rookie year led to Arian Foster’s monster break out. He’s effective when on the field, which hasn’t been often. He’ll have no competition in Cleveland, as of now. They have a good offensive line, and jumped through hoops to keep Alex Mack at center. This is my dark horse for a top five breakout year. It reminds me a bit of Michael Turner being behind LaDainian Tomlinson for years in San Diego. Once he got a chance to be the guy, Turner had some great seasons.
I’ll be juggling NHL 2nd round coverage along with NFL Draft reactions in the next couple weeks!