By Mike O’Connor, Staff Writer
With more than a full week of the NFL’s Free Agency period under our belts, it’s time to look back within the division and see where teams now stand. I’m certainly not saying that we won’t witness any more impactful moves made, but we can take a good look at what teams have done during the chaotic week and determine who has fallen behind the pack, even in the slightest.
With that said, it’s become much easier to see through the smoke of team’s future plans, and what moves or decisions they will and won’t still be capable to make. I’m not here to state pure facts about the team’s decisions, but to put forth my own, unbiased opinions on how the division did.
-Signed: (Cin) OLB, Manny Lawson (Resigned:) QB Tavaris Jackson, LB Bryan Scott, CB Leodis McKelvin, FS Jarius Byrd (tagged)
-Let Walk: OG Andy Levitre (Ten), OG Chad Rinehart (SD), WR Donald Jones (NE)
-Notable Cuts: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (Ten), SS George Wilson (Ten), ILB Nick Barnett, CB Terrance McGee
-Notable remaining Free Agents: OLB Kyle Moore, DT Spencer Johnson
What they did right: Free Safety Jarius Byrd is already a two-time All Pro, and he fully deserves such high praise. From the day the Oregon product stepped on an NFL field, he’s been the only young, consistent talent the Bills have had on defense. It was undeniably the right move to franchise him to keep him from hitting the open market, and therefore, setting up an opportunity to lock him up long-term when the time is right. Manny Lawson is also an excellent pickup. The 28 year old has a veteran presence in the locker room, immediately becomes one of the best players on their defense, and has experience as both a 4-3 and 3-4 outside linebacker. This will be essential to his success in former Jets’ defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine’s, defensive scheme, considering he likes to mix and match his sets quite often. His $3 million a year is a swish for a Bills’ defense needing spots filled.
Questionable decisions: The Bills shocked some people when they released extremely productive players in Barnett and Wilson. Though both players were somewhat aging (31 and 32), the pair of defenders pulled in respective Pro Football Focus grades of +6.0 and +12.4. The team needs to get younger, but straight-up cutting them and leaving major holes at the positions begs questions about how the team will manage to fill them in the draft.
The cutting of Ryan Fitzpatrick was a move that didn’t exactly have to be made, in my opinion. If he wasn’t their guy, why couldn’t they keep him as a suitable backup to push the rookie they eventually pull the trigger on early? Tavaris Jackson is not a suitable mentor or playable option.
While some loved it, I have huge problems with the Leodis McKelvin signing. McKelvin was given approximately $5 million a year, despite the fact that players with less experience in Aaron Williams and Stephon Gilmore have outplayed him considerably. I’ll hand it to the guy; he’s one of the most dangerous return men in the league. But since he doesn’t offer anything special (or growth since a rookie) at corner, a weaker position on the team, giving him such cash was a mistake by Buffalo. The cornerback market in particular this offseason has been surprisingly cheap, and with far better corner than McKelvin going for the same money (like Greg Toler or Keenan Lewis, for example), something is obviously wrong.
While it’s not known if they will go after getting them back, both Kyle Moore and Spencer Johnson proved to be productive role players for the team in 2012. Moore, in particular, is a pass rusher, which is somewhat of a need for the team. Not bringing them back for the cheap deals that they could snag them with is suspect. On one last note, the team also let Donald Jones go, a somewhat promising young wideout. The opposite receiver spot of Stevie Johnson is now bare, and you have to wonder how Buffalo will address their newly acquired big-needs through the draft, when a new quarterback must be found early.
How I’d describe their Free Agency activity so far: Falling Behind.
From here, we can only believe that the Bills will primarily address their needs through this draft. If Geno Smith is gone at pick 8, I wouldnt be shocked to see Buffalo reach for Tyler Wilson or Matt Barkley.
-Signed: (Bal) ILB Dannell Ellerbe, (Oak) OLB Philip Wheeler, (Pitt) WR Mike Wallace, (Stl) WR Brandon Gibson, (NYJ) TE Dustin Keller (Resigned:) WR Brian Hartline, S Chris Clemons, QB Matt Moore, OT Nate Garner, DE Randy Starks (tagged)
-Let Walk: TE Anthony Fasano (KC), OT Jake Long (Stl), RB Reggie Bush (Det), WR Marlon Moore (SF), CB Sean Smith (KC)
-Notable Cuts: LB Kevin Burnett (Oak), ILB Karlos Dansby
-Notable Remaining Free Agents: None
What they did right: The Fins wild spending spree has brought them quite some talent, and it has to start with a certain Tight End we all know very well from his time in New York: Dustin Keller. While rumors swirled that Keller was looking for the same kind of money that Martellus Bennett received (4 years, 20 mil, 5 of it guaranteed), so the one year, $4.5 million contract that Keller accepted for the Fins is quite the deal. The discount he seemingly took might have been for an AFC East deal, to get back at the Jets twice a year (pure speculation). Additionally, Jeff Ireland managed to steal Brandon Gibson away from signing with the Jets, giving him a 3 year deal for about $10 million. This was another nice deal, as Gibson is a possession receiver who will fit nicely with Miami’s newly acquired deep threat in Mike Wallace.
Questionable decisions: Predictably, Jeff Ireland through a lot of money around this Free Agency period, and it’s no debate that a little too much of it ended up in some places. To start, it’s no secret that Mike Wallace has his fair share of doubters, me being one of them. Wallace is infamous for dropping passes, and I credit this to his consistently atrocious body control, wideout discipline, and toughness. I previously wrote about Wallace extensively at the bottom of this article. It really doesn’t effect how I think of the move when somebody mentions how bad they needed an adept receiver, considering how many better options there were this year. Hell, Gibson would have been suitable on his own for the Dolphins, and they could have invested a mid round pick on another receiver. Oh, and they would have side-stepped the whopping $11 million they’ll be paying Wallace a year, with $27 million guaranteed.
While I’m talking about overpaying for players, I might as well touch on the money that Ireland handed new linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. Both players have come out of nowhere, despite getting their chances earlier in their careers. This gives them both the label of risky players, in my mind. To be fair, the Fins actually saved money by cutting Burnett and Dansby, then signing Wheeler and Ellerbe, but both of the former were consistent producers. Now, the Dolphins have a younger pair of linebackers by only about 3 years combined between the other former Fins. When you also throw in curious scheme fits (Ellerbe played solely inside in a 3-4, now becomes a middle linebacker), you have a total overhauling of a position, for the reward of boom-or-bust players. Hold your breath, Fin fans.
Finally, The Brian Hartline deal is honestly ridiculous. Some tend to be okay with watching enormous deals slip buy if the player is a top tier free agent, but Hartline is nothing close to that. Why would the Dolphins fret and dish out 5 years for $30 million (12.5 of it guaranteed) to a guy who has 6 (!) career touchdowns, if they knew all along that they would sign Mike Wallace and hunt for another starting caliber receiver (Gibson)? Unless Ryan Tannehill performs at a Pro Bowl level, and the Fins sport one of the best passing offenses in the league, I don’t see how the signing the three receivers mentioned, and overpaying for two of them, ends up paying off.
How I’d describe their Free Agency activity so far: Far too risky.
With the wild offseason they’ve had so far, we can only assume that Jeff Ireland and staff will continue to love for gems, even if the need at the position is hardly even a need. The way they’ve spent in Free Agency, I wouldn’t be surprised if the first running back off the board lands in Miami, whether it’s done with their second round pick or by a trade back into the first (they have 11 picks as of last night with compensatory picks!).