Thank god, all of those pointless football games are done with, and we can now focus on the one part of the NFL season that is actually interesting. It's time to start mindlessly flinging cash around for over-priced free agents, and speculating about college kids who will most likely end up disappointing us. It's the most wonderful time...oh, it's the most wonderful time...it's the most wonderful time of the year!
There seems to be a perpetual debate between some people's frenzy for quick free agent solutions, and the opposing crowd, that feels that teams need to build through the draft. While I love the draft, I really don't have a problem with signing free agents, as long as it is done rather cheaply. Free agency gets a bad rap because of legendarily stupid signings (Hello, Dan Snyder!) for high priced players, who often can't perform at the superhuman levels that would be required to justify their price tags. Still, there will be some players available at a halfway reasonable price, who I think might be able to outperform their contracts, or have small enough signing bonuses, so that potential 'dead money' hits should be of minimal concern even if they do end up as disappointments.
If there is one potential free agent who I am really salivating over, it would be the Raiders' left tackle Jared Veldheer. For some reason, a lot of sites seem to be ranking him below a number of other free agent tackles, that I find much less interesting, and I have to wonder how much of this is due to the low opinion that many people have of the Raiders. Personally, I think he is one of the top young OTs in the NFL, and has vast potential to get even better. Unfortunately, the Raiders are going to have so much cap space, it seems remarkably unlikely that they will ever let him go. Even if he was available, I have to suspect that he will end up getting an obscene contract that would be out of the Ravens' price range.
It's possible that I shouldn't put right tackle Rodger Saffold on this list, since I'm not sure how cheap he would be to sign, but as long as the Ravens are contemplating re-signing Eugene Monroe, I feel I should point to someone who I think is potentially a bit better. While Saffold has moved around from LT to RT to G, then briefly back to LT, I think he could probably play any position on the line better than any current Ravens' player, with the possible exception of Marshal Yanda. Still, I think this same versatility might hurt him in negotiating a new contract, as people might be unclear as to what position to play him at. I wouldn't be surprised if he signs a contract in the area of $4-5 million/ year, which I suspect will be less that what Monroe will cost. His value here is also being driven down by the number of games he has missed due to injury in the last few years (17 games missed in last 3 years). In the last 4 years Saffold has averaged 0.363 sacks allowed per game started, compared to Monroe's 0.440. The differences in where they line up really doesn't entirely justify these differences either, as the average number of sacks surrendered by right tackles, is virtually the same as the number given up by left tackles. In his last two seasons, however, Saffold has only allowed 0.113 sacks per game started, which is excellent. In the same 2 year time span, Monroe was at 0.338 sacks per game started. Saffold's athletic measurables also suggest a higher likelihood of maintaining/improving his current level of play, with a 0.918 Kangaroo Score, and a 0.819 Agility Score, compared to Monroe's more pedestrian 0.340 Kangaroo Score and -0.253 Agility Score. If the Ravens are going to insist on throwing money at a tackle, I would prefer that Saffold be the recipient since I think he is the most likely to continue to improve.
If there is one area in which the Cardinals do fairly well, it is in their drafting of wide receivers. So, why not poach Andre Roberts? For the last 4 years he has been an emerging talent, who only started to stumble a bit statistically in 2013, with Michael Floyd taking more of the targets in the passing game, while Roberts served as the third receiver. I still think there's a lot of upside here, and the computer considered him one of the top 5 receiver prospects in the 2010 draft. We can't change our minds now, can we? He's never going to be Calvin Johnson, but serving as a smaller secondary target, he could bring something different to the Ravens' offense. He'll be 26 at the start of the 2014 season, and I don't expect anyone to offer more than $3 million/year for his services, so it would be a rather low risk acquisition that might have some serious upside.
I have no idea what Chiefs' guard, Jon Asamoah, is going to attract as far as contract offers are concerned, but for the right price I would be interested. In the last 3 years his number of sacks allowed per game started has steadily improved, and he doesn't seem to commit many penalties. His combine measurables are in line with what we would hope to see for a guard, with a very average Kangaroo Score of -0.062, and an excellent Agility Score of 0.963. This just helps to calm any concerns I might have of how his skills would translate to a different team. In the last three years, Asamoah has allowed 0.162 sacks per game started, which is a better than average result. Honestly, I think Asamoah will end up getting offered significantly more than I would be willing to spend, as I would probably draw the line at $4 million/year. Still, a team might as well bid up his price, even if they can't acquire him, just to screw with an opponent's salary cap..
This particular player is no longer relevant, except for offering some perspective on where my thinking was directed prior to January 10th. Just to have as many offensive linemen options as possible I'd take a look at Bears's guard Matt Slauson. This 2009 6th round draft pick had a 1.337 Kangaroo Score, and a -0.425 Agility Score, which is somewhat peculiar, since guards don't tend to have these kinds of exceptional Kangaroo Scores. It might seem pointless to continue focusing on a player's combine measurables, even after they are supposedly known quantities as NFL players, but I think it helps to explain why a player is doing well, and gives a higher likelihood of their performance carrying over to a new team. In the last 3 years, Slauson's results in terms of sacks allowed per game started, have ranged from the exceptional (0 allowed in 2012) to the slightly above average (0.156 allowed/GS in 2011 and 2013). The Ravens may not think that a guard should be a priority, but at this point I would take any offensive linemen with decent potential. I would throw out similar offers to Slauson and Asamoah, and just see who was willing to sign for the least. Re-signed with Bears for average of $3.2 million/year. So, I would applaud that contract.
Unless the Bengals assign a 1st or 2nd round free agent tender to RFA linebacker Vincent Rey (there's a strong possibility they will do just that), a team could attempt to sign him without losing any draft picks. More than would probably make sense to most people, I would really like to see another team acquire Rey, because I find his potential to be incredibly intriguing, and would prefer that he isn't wasted on the bench. In 2013, Rey had 57 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 passes defended, and 2 interceptions, despite only starting in 3 games. While he went undrafted in 2010, the computer felt this was a mistake, and that his physical traits and statistical production in college suggested he was a more valuable draft prospect. He'll only be 27 years old at the start of the 2014 season, and seems to be a fairly versatile player. Even with his recent strong performances, I think teams are likely to undervalue him, since doing the opposite would mean acknowledging the possibility that they misjudged him back in 2010. Teams will probably want to see another year's worth of performance before changing their minds about Rey. I would try to swoop in now with a an offer of up to $2 million/year. If I had to bet, I think a team wouldn't even need to go that high with their offer. This might seem overly generous for a somewhat unproven player, but I don't think there is much risk in it. This would lock him up through the prime years of his career, and the signing bonus could probably be fairly minimal. This is a slight gamble, but if he continues to perform the way he did in limited playing time, which I believe he could, his price could skyrocket. If you're not willing to occasionally gamble on a hunch like this, then you are stuck paying exorbitant prices for more 'proven' players. Sadly, I think the Bengals will assign a 1st or 2nd round tender here, and Rey will squander most of the 2014 season on the bench..
I'm not quite sure what the Ravens are going to do about resigning Daryl Smith, but I would keep Chargers' linebacker Donald Butler on the radar as an option. Butler has the advantage of only being 26 years old at the start of the 2014 season, but has missed some games the last two years with injuries. It all comes down to who would take the least amount of money. I still prefer Vincent Rey over either of these other two options, since I think he will be the cheapest to sign, with the greatest likelihood of outperforming his contract. Most likely, Butler won't sign as cheaply as the aging Smith or the peculiar Rey, but you're better off having additional people to negotiate with.
While I would love to see Hakeem Nicks or Jeremy Maclin wind up in Baltimore, I don't see how the team will be able to afford either one of them, even with their injury histories suppressing their price tag. So, instead I will turn my eye to Kenny Britt. Yes, he may be a moron off of the field, but he was one of the computer's favorite receivers in the 2009 draft, and I think has actually done reasonably well when he isn't being suspended or getting benched for being an idiot. He's averaged almost 43 yards per game played, throughout his career, which is slightly above average, and this would work out to 688 yards in a 16 game season. Obviously, I'm mainly interested because I think he can be had dirt cheap, and if he screws up, you can just cut him.
Now, I'll toss in a couple of players who I think will be truly dirt cheap. These players would only be intended to provide depth, with the possibility that they might still have some untapped upside.
Louis Nzegwu is a bit of an oddball. Since he only averaged 7.25 tackles for a loss in his final two years at Wisconsin, we only viewed him as a late round prospect in the 2012 Draft, but one with intriguing physical potential. His 1.575 Kangaroo Score along with a 0.856 Agility Score are exceptional results for a 6'4" 252# player. In two 2013 preseason games, he accumulated 3 sacks, which were the first glimpses we saw of his pass rushing potential in action. Nobody seems to be interested in developing him as a player, and he should cost nothing. At one point in time NFL teams felt the same way about Cameron Wake, who similarly had shown little as a pass rusher in college, but also possessed physical traits that suggested he was worth keeping an eye on. Who knows whether history could repeat itself here? Ideally we would like to see him tried as a 3-4 OLB.
I have had a strange fascination with outside linebacker Frank Zombo for the past couple years, and it isn't just because of his brilliant website. I have rarely gotten to see him play, since he has almost always been used as just a backup, but his 0.483 Kangaroo Score and 0.358 Agility Score suggest he has pretty good physical potential. I'm not saying that there is anything mind-blowing about those results, but they are respectable. That combined with his 12.75 Avg TFLs in college would have made him a late 6th to early 7th round prospect for us, though he obviously went undrafted. He will be 27 at the start of the 2014 season, and whether there is any real upside to him is debatable, but he should at the very least provide good depth. In limited playing time, he has managed to show some flashes as a pass rusher, with 7 career sacks, despite only starting in 14 games. Considering he was only paid $640k in 2013, and people probably haven't changed their views on him to drastically, I would doubt that there will be much of a spending frenzy here. He strikes me as a nice and cheap acquisition to provide depth.
Since he has almost never gotten any real opportunity to play, Bengals cornerback Brandon Ghee probably won't get much attention in free agency. Going back to the 2010 Draft, he is listed as a 5' 11" and 192 pound corner, who ran a 4.37 40-yard dash (with a 0.15 2nd Gear Score). He also had a 0.737 Agility Score. So, he is an average sized corner with excellent speed, and pretty good agility. The problem, from the computer's perspective, was that he didn't get his hands on the ball very much while playing at Wake Forest, with only 1 interception throughout his college career, and only about 8 passes defended per year. Still, I think he has the athletic ability to at the very least compete for a 3rd or 4th cornerback spot, and will only be 27 years old at the start of the 2014 season.
I think it is probably fair to say that Buccaneers' DE/OLB Daniel Te'o-Nesheim hasn't set the world on fire with his play. The question for me is whether he would do better in a 3-4 defense. As a draft prospect, in 2010, he was intriguing to us because of his impressive athletic ability (1.071 Kangaroo Score, and a 1.109 Agility Score). Unfortunately, or perhaps not, the 12.75 TFLs that he averaged in his last two years in college, meant that he only merited a 4th round grade according to our system, while the Eagles selected him in the 3rd round. It is entirely possible that he will never live up to his physical potential, but before we give up on him completely, I'd be curious to see what he can do in a 3-4. Perhaps getting off of the line, and using his abilities in space, would resuscitate his career. He will be 27 years old at the start of the 2014 season. Either way, it wouldn't cost much to find out, probably near the veteran minimum $730k.
For a truly weird acquisition, I think it would also be interesting to take a look at Wade Jacobson, who is currently an offensive tackle for....hmmm....nobody. Athletically, this 2013 prospect from Washington State, is a marvel. His 1.788 Kangaroo Score, and 1.407 Agility Score, are just shocking and actually surpass Lane Johnson's numbers. Still, he went undrafted, and only stuck around for a brief time in the Redskins' training camp last year. If I thought that NFL teams knew what they were doing I would be more concerned about this, but I don't see any reason to take his dismissal too seriously. He did have some problems with a back injury in college, and I have no idea if that is a lingering issue. It is entirely possible that there are issues here that I am unaware of, but his physical potential seems to be pretty remarkable, and since he would cost nothing to bring into a training camp, I would give him a shot. Players with this kind of physical ability generally don't fail, so I would love to see if there is some potential here.
Finally, I have some minor interest in another Buccaneers' scrub, linebacker Dekoda Watson. In many was he is a shrunken down clone of the previously mentioned Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, with a 1.075 Kangaroo Score, and a 1.014 Agility Score, but he only weighs about 240 pounds. At this weight, he would probably be limited to providing depth at the ILB position for the Ravens. He will be 26 years old at the start of the 2014 season, and I would be willing to pay him 2, or perhaps 3, ham sandwiches for his services. This would purely be a salvage project.
Perhaps the most exciting move this off-season will be the eventual departure of Terrence "Mole-hill" Cody. There is definitely something to be said for addition by subtraction in this case, and Cody's departure would allow Brandon Williams (who I like as a prospect) to get more playing time.