Free Agency in the NFL is in full swing as teams look to fill different needs with one goal in mind, making it to Super Bowl XLIX championship. The first day of free agency saw a ridiculous excess of one billion dollars spent by teams looking to snag the best available talent on the market. Adding to the talent that was already set to become free agents, impact players such as DeMarcus Ware and shutdown corner Darrelle Revis, among others, were made available via cuts. The first day or two of free agency is always the most exciting before the hype calms down and teams then are looking to add depth and a starter or two.
Plenty of teams took advantage of free agency and made themselves instantly better before the NFL Draft scheduled to take place in May. However, this article isn’t about that. This article, however, is about those who didn’t fare well or simply didn’t take advantage of free agency. From players turning down offers and having to settle for lesser deals, to franchises that can’t seem to get it right, this list contains 10 of the early free agency losers.
10. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
When the Super Bowl runner-up and team reloading for another run at the Lombardi Trophy offers you a 6 year, $54 million dollar deal, you take it. No questions asked. Unfortunately for Rodgers-Cromartie, he chose to test the market thinking he could get a better or at least comparable deal to the one the Broncos offered. WRONG. Instead Rodgers-Cromartie had to sit and watch former Patriots CB Aqib Talib gladly take the money that was allotted for him in the form of a 6 year, $57 million dollar deal with $26 million guaranteed. Other CBs that cashed in included Sam Shields (4 years $39 million; Packers) Vontae Davis (4 years $39 million, $20 million guaranteed; Colts), Alterraun Verner ( 4 years $26 million, $14 million guaranteed; Bucs) and Darrelle Revis (1 year, $12 million, team option $20 million 2nd year; Patriots).
Rodgers-Cromartie was able to draw a bidding war between both teams that play in the Meadowlands before eventually settling for a 5 year deal with a max value of $39 million, with $15 million guaranteed with the Giants. And yes, it’s settling considering the offer Denver reportedly had on the table for him. Less money on a team not expected to go nearly as far as the other. That, explains itself.
9. The Kansas City Chiefs
It took all of 90 minutes into the start of the 2014 free agency period for the most improved team in 2013 to lose five players. The Chiefs lost 3/5ths of its starting O-Line from last season with LT Brandon Albert signing with the Dolphins, G Jon Asamoah signing with the Falcons and G Geoff Schwartz signing with the Giants. The Chiefs will miss the run stuffing presence of DE Tyson Jackson who also signed with the Falcons and the multi-faceted Dexter McCluster on punt returns who signed with the Titans. If the Chiefs can get O-Line help and a much needed threat at WR, the team should be in good shape heading into the season.
8. Eric Decker
The Jets lose on this deal also. Now Decker may not be a loser in terms of the money that he was able to get on the free agent market (5 years, $36.5 million $15 million guaranteed), but when you’ve gone from having a no-doubt-about-it first ballot Hall of Famer throwing you the rock to Geno Smith, you’ve lost before even taking the field. Now I understand that Decker is only 26 and at that age a player should take as a much as they can get on the open market, but I’m a big fan of winning. Sure Denver was blown out in Super Bowl XLVIII, but the team seems like it is all-in to make another run at the big game. Why not take a bit less and go have an opportunity to win a ring instead of signing with a team with a sub-par QB situation. Decker will not see the same numbers he saw in Denver last season (1,288 yards and 11 TDs) or even 2012 for that matter (1,064 yards and 13 TDs) and he will be exposed for not being the number one receiver he is being paid like. He will face CBs like Brent Grimes, Darrelle Revis, and Leodis McKelvin twice a year who are all excellent in coverage. And in turn, the Jets will see first hand that Decker is not the number one receiver the team is paying him to be.
7. Hakeem Nicks
From the moment the Giants’ season ended and Nicks had a big 0 in the touchdown department, you had to figure that free agency wouldn’t treat him well. Nicks entered the 2013-14 season in the last year of his rookie deal and needed to have a big season if he wanted to cash in. It should have been added motivation for Nicks that his WR mate Victor Cruz was viewed as a priority over him when it came to receiving a new deal. Nicks was a dud for the Giants last season, totaling 56 catches for 896 yards and of course, no TDs. The G-Men were willing to let him walk and Nicks settled for a one year, $3.5 million dollar deal with the Colts. Not the ideal contract for a 26 year old, former first round pick with the tools to be a dangerous number one receiver. To rub salt in his wounds, Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin, who didn’t play a single down in 2013, was able to sign a higher one year deal than Nicks. He’s due to receive $3.5 million guaranteed and the contract can go as high as $6 million.
With Andrew Luck throwing him the ball for the upcoming season, Nicks will have no excuses going into the 2015 free agency period.
6. Jared Allen
The Rhinestone Cowboy continues to sit and wait for a team to come calling for his services. But not only that, it has to be for what he deems as a fair deal or Allen has said he is ready to walk away from the game altogether. Allen, along with a lot of others, figured he would be one of the first DEs signed, but that hasn’t been the case so far. According to CBS.com, Allen had a deal on the table from the Denver Broncos at one point very early in free agency. That is until DeMarcus Ware became available and Denver switched all of its attention to signing him to a 3 year, $30 million contract. That has to hurt for Allen, who was probably going to accept the deal and have the chance to compete for a ring. Add that to the fact that other DEs around the league such as Michael Bennett, Lamarr Houston, and even aging vet Julius Peppers have all cashed in, while Allen continues to wait for a contending team to throw some serious cash his way. If that’s the case, he may want to get those retirement papers ready. It’s still early however and teams like Dallas and Seattle seem to be interested, so we’ll see what happens here.
5. The Cleveland Browns
The Browns have traded younger and better for simply older. The leaders of the defense, S T.J. Ward and LB D’Qwell Jackson, will be suiting up elsewhere next season. The Browns shocked a lot of people with the sudden release of Jackson before free agency started and have replaced him with 32 year old Karlos Dansby on a 4 year, $24 million dollar deal that includes $12 million guaranteed in the first two years. That’s a lot of money guaranteed to a player his age, by a team who is not in contention for anything in January. The Browns also let the enforcer of their defense, T.J. Ward, walk (signed with Denver) and replaced him with Donte Whitner, who signed a four-year, $28 million dollar deal. Ward signed for $5.5 million less overall and has more upside than Whitner.
The Browns have yet to address the glaring holes on the offense including QB and at WR opposite of stud Josh Gordon. They were able to upgrade at RB by signing Ben Tate, but the team does have two first round picks and good positioning in each round, so the team can more than salvage its offseason.
4. Running Backs
Free agency so far has not been kind to the guys who tote the rock. The highest offers that any RB has seen so far are the identical $10.5 million dollar deals signed by Toby Gerhart (Jaguars) and Donald Brown (Chargers) and the four-year, $14 million dollar deal signed by Rashad Jennings (Giants). Ben Tate recently signed with the Browns, but for only 2 years and $7 million. Those are very low numbers and don’t serve as good news for the backs still on the market. Knowshon Moreno who had the best year of his career in 2013 (1,038 yards , 10 TDs), still waits to strike a deal with a team. Also, Jaguars career leader in rushing TDs, Maurice Jones-Drew, remains in waiting.
3. Reggie McKenzie/Roger Saffold
The good teams in the league usually take care of their homegrown players before looking elsewhere in free agency or through trades. Reggie McKenzie had the perfect opportunity to do so with DE Lamarr Houston and LT Jared Veldheer but instead chose to let both walk.
However, perhaps McKenzie didn’t value these players enough for their price tag. Fair enough. Now for the embarrassing part. The team’s new solution at LT? Oakland thought it had landed oft-injured, soon-to-be 30 year old Roger Saffold on a ridiculous five-year, $42.5 million dollar deal with $21 million guaranteed, but after a failed physical, the team pulled the plug on that deal. It had been said that Saffold could have had surgery on his shoulder and would have been ready for camp but I guess the team realized how bad of a signing it was and said “on second thought, no thank you.” The whole situation was just bizarre from the start.
On the other hand, the Raiders have rebounded well. They signed the Giants’ DE Justin Tuck to a 2 year, $11 million dollar deal to replace Houston (who signed with the Bears). While Tuck did total more sacks than Houston last season (11 to 6) Houston would have been the better solution over the long haul, as Houston will be 27 by season’s start compared to Tuck being 31 by the start of the season. The Raiders also signed Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley to upgrade the pass rush, but Woodley has not totaled double-digit sacks since the 2010-11 season. Regardless of their dip in production recently, they are players who have a pedigree and can help bring a winning attitude to Oakland.
RB Rashad Jennings provided a nice boost to the Oakland running game last season rushing for 733 yards and 6 TDs but he’ll be suiting up for the New York Giants next season. Instead, the Raiders decided to bring back the injury prone Darren McFadden on a one year deal.
The Raiders also signed the highly rated CB Tarrell Brown along with WR James Jones, DE Antonio Smith and LT Donald Penn. As much as the Raiders have rebounded, the Raiders and McKenzie still must be terribly embarrassed by the Saffold situation.
2. Jerry Jones
If the Cowboys plan to have any consistent, long term success, Jerry Jones may have to relinquish his GM duties. Jones has handed out his fair share of lucrative contracts over that past few seasons and it has come back to bite America’s Team in a big way. Dallas, at one point before free agency started, was $20 million over the cap, giving the team no room to be players in free agency unless it subtracted from within. In a move that surely had to be painful for most within the Cowboys’ organization and nearly all of its fans, the Cowboys were forced to part ways with franchise sack leader DeMarcus Ware. Jones described the the move as “extremely difficult.”
The team also watched its defensive line get thinner as 2013 sack leader DT Jason Hatcher signed with the rival Redskins. Anthony Spencer remains unsigned, which leaves George Selvie as the most experienced player on the D-Line of a team that switched form a 3-4 to a 4-3 last season. Jones also had to demote the man he picked to run the defense in 2013, Monte Kiffin, in favor of defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. Not looking good for a team that surrendered the most yardage in franchise history and finished last in total yardage in 2013.
Jones will have to be nearly flawless in maneuvering around his team’s cap problem from here on out if he want the Cowboys to not finish 8-8 for a 4th straight season. Or worse.
1. Cam Newton
The Panthers offseason began with the retirement of 3-time Pro Bowl LT Jordan Gross who had a stellar year protecting Cam Newton‘s blindside. From there, the offseason has gotten worse for the team, especially for Newton. The team’s WR situation at this point is laughable, as EVERY WR who caught a pass for Carolina in 2013 is gone. Ted Ginn Jr. signed with the Cardinals, Brandon LaFell signed with the Patriots, Domenik Hixon signed with the Bears, and the heart and soul of the Panthers since 2001, Steve Smith, was cut and signed with the Ravens. That is 1,983 yards and 15 TDs of the Panthers’ 3,379 yards and 24 TDs receiving stats last season. Granted the Panthers receiving corps wasn’t the best to begin with, but one has to wonder how a position is made better by totally eradicating it. For a team rebuilding that may be the best choice, but for a team with a stout defense and a young star QB in Newton who led Carolina to a second seed in the NFC playoffs, that may not be the best option.
Former Packers WR James Jones who has been very productive the past two seasons (64 catches, 784 yards, 14 TDs in ’12) came out and basically lobbied for an opportunity to join the team. “I would love the opportunity to play for the Carolina Panthers. I would love to play with Cam Newton.” He would have been a great start to rebuilding the receiving corps but signed with the Raiders.
Carolina also has holes on the O-Line with the Gross retirement and Travelle Wharton remains unsigned. Carolina needs to act, and act fast, because the last thing you want is an unhappy franchise QB.