Sports

Diehl ’18: Quick slants — Your go-to guide for NFL free agency

By
Sports Columnist
Sunday, March 15, 2015

NFL free agency is an overrated time period in which experts and fans overreact to teams overpaying players to lure them away from their previous homes. This doesn’t make it any less exciting, as it’s one of the most closely followed and exciting parts of the NFL offseason. But as ESPN’s John Clayton notes, only 15 out of the 143 players who signed from the unrestricted free agent class of 2012 remain with the teams that signed them. So while it’s exciting in the meantime to be a Miami Dolphins fan, one should take these signings with a grain (or 128) of salt.

This low sticking rate notwithstanding, teams that succeed in free agency tend to do well the following season, such as this year’s champion, the New England Patriots, which picked up Darrelle Revis, Patrick Chung and Brandon Browner in free agency. Meanwhile, teams that made bad decisions, such as the basement-dwelling Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which picked up Josh McCown, Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins, have suffered. With the NFL investigating all 32 teams for tampering before free agency even began, it has been a wild ride.

Making a splash in Miami?

Ladies and gentlemen: your newest highest-paid NFL defensive player and Miami Dolphin, Ndamukong Suh. His contract in the state income tax-free state of Florida is for six years and $114 million. Detroit Lions fans will be sad to see him go after he dominated the line of scrimmage and headed the league’s number one rushing defense.

But with a colossal $20 million cap figure in each of his first three seasons, Suh will be paid more than even most franchise quarterbacks. Franchise quarterbacks can account for three to five wins on their own, so for Suh to live up to his contract, he should have to reach that total.

Is that possible? Miami thinks so. For the best defensive player to hit the open market since Reggie White, some team was going to have to pay a king’s ransom to get Suh.

My biggest concern with Suh doesn’t even have to do with him — it’s the rest of the Dolphins’ defense. Their defensive backs are a mess: Only Brent Grimes is a credible NFL starter. They also lack an outside linebacker to complement Koa Misi. The Dolphins are asking Suh to provide enough destructiveness to offset their weaknesses on the second and third levels.

The Dolphins could have kept their competent defensive tackle duo of Randy Starks and Jared Odrick and invested more money elsewhere. I understand the argument that to be an elite defense, there needs to be a game changer, which Suh undoubtedly is. But I’m not sure this signing will make the defense elite, given its deficiencies elsewhere.

Flying too close to the sun?

The Eagles will live or die by Chip Kelly’s decisions this offseason. The team’s quarterback, running back and number one wide receiver will all be different this year, which demonstrates Kelly’s confidence in his up-tempo offensive system. After exchanging Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy for Sam Bradford and Kiko Alonso, respectively, Kelly will need his new pieces to fit soon — assuming Bradford can usurp the Sanchise  from the starting job.

The most controversial signing the Eagles have made so far is Byron Maxwell from the Seahawks on a six-year, $63 million deal with $25 million guaranteed. This is a risk, since Maxwell’s body of work as a starting corner consists of 17 games. He also had the added benefit of playing with three other starting defensive backs who were more talented than he was.

Furthermore, Maxwell only assumed the starting job for the Seahawks when fellow Eagles signee Walter Thurmond tested positive for marijuana in the 2013 season. He’s getting paid like a top-tier corner without ever really proving himself as one, as he has always started opposite Richard Sherman. They’re asking a lot of him.

The other notable free agent who signed with the new-look Eagles is former Chargers running back Ryan Mathews. His whole problem has been staying healthy, since he’s only completed one full season in his five-year career. In that season, however, he rushed for more than 1,200 yards and has shown the talent that got him drafted at number 12 overall. At three years and $11.5 million, he could be a bargain.

Kelly made one final splashy signing by snagging DeMarco Murray away from the rival Dallas Cowboys. Nevertheless, Eagles fans should be wary after the spectacular flop that was the “Dream Team.” Either way, they will be a compelling team to follow throughout next season.

A Jet flying home?

Revis Island is coming home to the tune of five years and $70 million. There are not too many insights to glean from this one. Revis is one of the two best corners in pro football and will become a key piece in Todd Bowles’ aggressive defense, which requires shutdown corners to effectively blitz.

The Jets also get bonus points for stealing Revis from their division rivals, the Patriots. The Jets also signed Revis’ counterpart on the other side, Buster Skrine, the former No. 2 corner for the Cleveland Browns. A starting cornerback trio of Revis, Skrine and Dee Milliner will ensure the Jets have above-average pass coverage, which was an issue for them last year.

The Jets have also upgraded their quarterback and offensive line, trading for Ryan Fitzpatrick and signing James Carpenter. With Brandon Marshall now on board as well, the Jets are giving the Eagles a run for their money for most notable offseason so far.

Older, but are they better?

A couple of years ago, the Colts had a rising franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck that was a few years away from contending. After their AFC Championship thrashing, the Colts’ first three signings this offseason show they think they’re ready for a serious push. With a combined age of 96, savvy veterans Frank Gore, Andre Johnson and Trent Cole have been added to the mix.

Gore just came off of his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season, but history says the odds are against a repeat performance from the 32-year-old running back Yet Gore does bring stability to the running back position — a quality that Trent Richardson repeatedly failed to achieve.

After recording a shade under 1,000 yards and learning he would have a diminished role with the Texans, Andre Johnson demanded his release from the organization after 12 years and will catch passes from Luck next year. At three years and $21 million, Johnson is expected to at least be a productive number two wide receiver — which he should be able to do considering he’s never worked with a real franchise quarterback before.

Finally, Trent Cole represents an upgrade over Eric Walden at the outside linebacker position in the Colts’ 3-4 defense, as he’s still an excellent pass rusher and competent run defender. The Colts hope to get two or three good years out of these guys to provide the team with a boost in its quest for a title and help replace Reggie Wayne’s presence in the locker room.

 

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