Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Free Agency - Day 4

Four full days have passed in free agency and the signing are starting to slow down. The majority of the top flight guys have signed, and teams are starting to sort through the scrap heap to identify players who fit their scheme and can help out as role players.

In my opinion, this is where teams get the best value from free agency. Sure the 1st few days are fun for fans, signing that big name is exciting, tracking the movements of the big name players keeps the NFL at the forefront of the daily sports news cycle. But the money spent is rarely matched by the on field performance. When you look a little deaper at the signings, you are left to wonder if the teams really improved themselves dishing out these huge contracts, while teams who have sat on the sidelines while the big money was spent, now are free to bring in players who fit their schemes and will make a bigger impact for their team.

For example, look at Justin Smith’s signing in San Francisco. Smith was the premier free agent DE. His signing in San Fran was a big splash as they outbid other suitors like Minnesota for his services. But take a closer look at Smith. He has played base end in a 4-3 defense in Cincy. He is under sized for the role of DE in the 3-4 that Nolan has been installing in San Fran. I have trouble seeing how he is an upgrade at the position for Nolan. Are the Niners going to run more 4-3 this season and move to the hybrid scheme? Or are they going to force a round peg into a square hole?

A similar thing has occurred in New York. The Jets traded with Carolina for DT Kris Jenkins. Jenkins has played a one-gap technique in Carolina where it was his job to penetrate the backfield and wreak havoc on the offense. Now he has a shiny new contract in New York. Where he is going to be asked to play nose in a 3-4 hybrid D. Once again, how does he fit? Sure it’s a big splash move that gets the fan base excited, but how is he an upgrade over Robertson? You know the DT who has been miscast as a NT the last two seasons in the Jets D.

That said, there are teams who are standing pat that lead me to scratch my head and wonder why they haven’t jumped into the pool. Tennesse is at the top of my list. This team seemed poised to compete for a playoff spot coming out of a tough AFC South. Sure I’m not a big believer in Vince Young, he is way too erratic in the pass game for my taste, and they have signed a big TE in Crumpler who is used to a QB with Vince’s limitations, but he was signed on the cheap and the Titans have taken steps backwards everywhere else.

I compared the Titan’s receiver core to the Raider’s last season following their game. If I’m comparing your receiving core to the Raiders, you know you are in trouble. Young needs help at WR, if you believe in this kid you need to find him somebody to help. The Titans have just watched from the sidelines as the top FA wide receivers have signed elsewhere. Maybe they believe that changing their OC will fix the problem, somehow I doubt it.

But the more confusing thing in Tennesee has been how they have allowed their own free agents to leave at an alarming rate. Both Odom and LaBoy are gone from what was a formidable DL rotation when Haynesworth was healthy. Jacob Bell was allowed to leave on the Oline opening up yet another hole to address in the offense. The Titans have taken two steps back so far this off season, and are now not only looking up at the Jags and Indy, but could also be looking up at an improving Houston team in the AFC South.

The Oakland WR situation

What, you thought I’d write about free agent movement without addressing the Raiders, common, what were you thinking.

The Raiders WR depth chart currently looks like this:

Ronald Curry
Johnnie Lee Higgins
Tim Dwight
Chris McFoy
Will Buchanon
Todd Watkins

Well there is a group sure to strike fear into opposing DC’s. Now I may not be as down on this group as some Raider fans. Curry can be an excellent possession receiver, I’d like to see Higgins used much like Wes Welker in NE as a slot receiver using his speed in the slot on slants and crosses rather than trying to go deep every play. Buchanon has shown flashes as a downfield threat in preseason. But overall I have to admit this group is weak.

As for what was available in FA, I know that most of Raider nation was clamoring for Berrian or Stallworth, but I’m not upset that neither of them came to Oakland. Berrian got way more money than he is worth from Minnesota. He would have been a great signing for a team with an established #1 wideout. But he is not a #1 threat, and for a team like Oakland he would have been just another incomplete part.

The same goes for Stallworth, once again he has shown exciting flashes, but he cannot stay healthy when he is given a heavy workload. He went to a team where he will fit in, Cleveland, but he was not a fit in Oakland.

Fortunately there are still two WR’s who could improve Oakland’s pass attack on the market. First is the free agent I have liked the most since I started looking at potential signings, D.J. Hackett. Hackett would have been the premier FA wide out had he been healthy last season. Fortunately those health concerns have left him unsigned through the crazy money stage of free agency. The Raiders could now swoop in and sign him to a reasonable contract and he will immediately improve the Raiders core. He knows the west coast system; he has the speed to stretch the field, and is an excellent rout runner. Hackett would also demand double coverage opening up Curry, Miller and Hackett on intermediate routs.

The second option out there is less proven than Hackett. Bryant Johnson has been buried on the depth chart in Arizona behind Fitzgerald and Johnson. But has performed well when given the opportunity to start. I have my doubts whether or not he can be a true #1, but he would be an upgrade over the Raiders current cast.

New England stems the blood loss

Well if I’m going to continually point out how NE is loosing key pieces, its only fair to point out when they manage to keep one. Resigning Moss was essential to New England staying near the top in the AFC. I still think they will fall back to earth, but this was the 1st step towards keeping the team in the hunt.

Now the Pats will do what got them to the top in the 1st place, not the crazy grab every name Daniel Snyder free agency spree they tried last year, but the careful evaluate and sign process that Pioli excelled at in previous years. There are plenty of solid linebackers to be had and it shouldn’t be too hard to replace Randall Gay.

Sirius NFL Radio Gets it Right

In my last diatribe I called the NFL blitz the worst show on Sirius NFL radio. And what do I here when I turn on my Radio Monday. They have lost the prime afternoon drive slot and have been moved to earlier in the day. And while I’d love to take credit, I know that my criticism was too recent to have had any bearing on the move (plus I only have 2 readers).

And while I would have preferred the insipid Adam Schein have been fired outright, at least he is no longer on when I listen the most.

Damn, work is calling, so I’m cutting it there for today. Thoughts on Big Ben getting paid, Favre retiring, why Schein sucks and wideouts in the draft will have to wait.

Leave a comment.

1 comment:

Arkansan Raider said...

Outstanding post on an outstanding blog, Brick.

Thanks much for your contribution!