Friday, July 29, 2011
Nnamdi is Gandhi (and other free agency thoughts…)
Please excuse the violently lame title—it’s been bouncing around my head for a while. I had to.
In the free agency class of 2011 there is defensive back Nnamdi Asomugha…and then everyone else. The rest of the class is made up of risky (but talented) veterans with baggage (think Braylon Edwards), mediocre and unproven quarterbacks teams are working themselves up into a frenzy for because elite throwers are such a hot commodity, and younger players with some promise looking to land their first mega-deal (I’m looking at you Charles Johnson and your $72 million).
In other words, Nnamdi Asomugha is the only sure thing in this entire crop of free agents.
So without further ado, five thoughts on the first week of free agency:
1. If Nnamdi lands with the Jets…
For those of you counting at home, that’s the two best defensive backs in the NFL on the same team. And it’s not even close. Use any statistical metric you can think of and Darrelle Revis will be ranked at or near the top of the league. Even last season, after suffering through a nagging hamstring injury, Revis managed to remain the best cornerback in terms of the Football Outsider’s success rate statistic which measures “the percentage of passes that don't manage to get at least 45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent of needed yards on second down, or 100 percent of needed yards on third down.” Advanced defensive metrics are still in their wee infancy but the Football Outsider’s success rate statistic is probably the best out there.
And what about Nnamdi Asomugha? He was only targeted 31 times last year. That’s 26 times less than Revis, 52 times less than star Packer defensive back Tramon Williams, and 34 times less than perennial all-pro Champ Bailey. His targets were so low that he wasn’t even ranked with Revis and the other cornerbacks with 40+ targets during the season.
If this marriage happens (it’s reportedly between the Jets and Cowboys at this point) than Rex Ryan will be able to blitz literally whenever he wants. With a safety net of two cornerbacks that won’t be beat deep (or anywhere for that matter) Ryan can send seven men every single third down. In football’s modern age this kind of pairing is unprecedented. This is the football universe’s version of the Dwyane Wade—LeBron James coup. As a New England Patriots supporter I’m getting light-headed but as a football fan I’m beyond excited. Witnessing things that have never been done before and observing the unbelievable is what we watch sports for, right?
2. When will they learn?
Here’s two etched-in-stone, irrefutable rules of professional football: runningbacks are cursed with woefully short shelf-lives, and you shouldn’t overpay quarterbacks who are unproven or past their prime even if you’re lacking a sure-fire signal caller.
-Evidence for rule #1: LaDainian Tomlinson fell off dramatically at age 29, Shaun Alexander fell off the face of the earth at age 27, and Edgerrin James collapsed after age 30. That’s only the tip of the iceberg; NFL history is rife with running backs falling off dramatically once they hit their late 20’s, and the curse of thirty is well known.
-Evidence for rule #2: Derek Anderson, Matt Cassell, Donovan McNabb, Jake Delhomme, Jay Cutler, and many more.
And yet, despite evidence to the contrary, general managers continue lauding aging half-backs and mediocre quarterbacks with large contracts. Arizona traded a top-flight young cornerback and a 2012 second round pick for quarterback Kevin Kolb with all of 120 minutes of solid quarterbacking under his belt. They then awarded Kolb $21.5 million guaranteed just to give him a little extra motivation, because, you know, everyone’s more motivated to work hard when they’re set financially for life by age 27.
Carolina also gave running back DeAngelo Williams $21 million guaranteed although he’s accumulated only 1,478 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns the past two seasons combined after a sensational 2008 campaign. It may be unwise to guarantee an aging running back that hasn’t produced at a pro-bowl rate for two years and has played a full 16 game season ONCE $21 million dollars. Just a thought…
Screw it, that was not just a thought. WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY THINKING?
3. Are the New England Patriots really smart or really dumb?
I can’t decide. I’m inclined to go with the former, but it may just be because I’m a huge homer. The argument in favor of the deals for Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco is their high-reward, low-risk nature. Both players are coming in on non-guaranteed contracts so if either irks management they can be cut with minimal financial impact on the Patriots.
If Haynesworth works out though, New England is receiving one of the best defensive players in the league, capable of being a simply dominant defensive lineman. His 8.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles in 2008 earned him five votes in defensive player of the year voting, a pro bowl selection, and earned him a first-team all-pro selection. If the Patriots can get even half of the havoc Haynesworth caused in his 2008 campaign than their defensive line and pass rush will be receiving a significant upgrade.
Arguments abound regarding Chad Ochocinco’s continued effectiveness as a pass catcher. The numbers show that Chad has fallen off in recent years as his catch rate has lowered to 53 percent—a pretty good indicator that his time as a legitimate deep threat is coming to an end. Considering the Patriots already have non-deep threats in Wes Welker and Deion Branch, it’s a curious pick up. It’s another weapon for Tom Brady, sure, but probably not the type they needed in their arsenal.
But here’s the bottom line: both players are coming in on the cheap, both should be motivated, and both can be sent packing for almost nothing. In that respect, only good things can come out of these two trades…
4. Patience is a virtue…
We see it every year; the smartest organizations bide their time, lock up their own players, and give team-friendly contracts to under-the-radar free agents or past their prime stars willing to take less money for a chance at a ring.
Here’s what the five best teams record-wise have done in free agency up until this point:
-New England Patriots (14-3): traded a fifth round pick in 2012 for Albert Haynesworth; traded a low-round pick in 2012 and 2013 for Chad Ochocinco and re-worked his contract so it would fit comfortably under their salary cap; resigned Sammy Morris; signed two draft picks and 12 undrafted rookies.
-Pittsburgh Steelers (14-5): locked up defensive back Ike Taylor; signed kicker Shaun Suisham; released Max Starks, Flozell Adams and Antwaan Randle El; resigned Willie Colon and Jonathan Scott.
-Green Bay Packers (14-6): locked up kicker Mason Crosby long-term; released Brady Poppinga and Justin Harrell; released Nick Barnett.
-Atlanta Falcons (13-4): signed Ray Edwards; cut Michael Jenkins and Jamaal Anderson; signed first-round draft pick Julio Jones; resigned Tyson Clabo, Mike Peterson, and Stephen Nicholas.
-New York Jets (13-6): re-signed Santonio Holmes to a monster contract; signed six undrafted rookie free agents; resigned kicker Nick Folk; resigned tackle Wayne Hunter; reportedly knee deep in the chase for Nnamdi.
With the exception of the Jets if they land Nnamdi, all five teams either concentrated on locking up their own players or picked up/traded for cheap, high-reward low-risk assets. Is it a coincidence that the league’s best teams aren’t shelling out tens of millions of dollars for the likes of Charles Johnson, Jonathan Joseph, and Kevin Kolb during the first three days of free agency? Probably not.
5. The Cincinnati Bengals are closing in on one accomplishment at least…
…as the NFL’s most morbid franchise. That’s right; they might be leap-frogging the Raiders as everyone’s favorite perennial dreg.
Let’s look at their first week of free agency:
-Owner Mike brown refuses to trade Carson Palmer despite Palmer’s continued claims he will retire unless he’s given a new home. Can you say “massive distraction” fast enough?
-Cincinnati traded Chad Ochocinco to the Patriots for a paper clip and a used ear swab (actually a fifth-round pick in 2012 and a sixth-round pick in 2013) when, according to Pro Football Talk, the Redskins offered a first-rounder and a third-rounder (which could have been another first-rounder) for Ochcinco in 2008. Guess what; Mike Brown refused.
-Lost their best player in cornerback Jonathan Joseph to the Texans on a $50 million dollar contract when they seemingly expected him to return.
-Released injury-plagued Antwan Odom despite an eight sack performance in 2009 in only six games and his relative youth (29). Yes, he’s been hurt the past two years, but it’s not like the Bengals are “stacked” on the defensive line.
Ladies and gentleman, Mike brown and your 2011-2012 Cincinnati Bengals!
Posted by Richard Owens at 4:07 PM