Wednesday, February 07, 2007

NFL Free Agent Preview

"And It's a 5:00 world when the whistle blows
No one owns a piece of my time."

So the dust has completely settled on the Super Bowl, and now all that's left is the constant barrage of media talking about how great Peyton Manning is now that he's won a championship, which I can't say I didn't see coming. What I thought was interesting was that usually, when Disney does their "what are you going to do next?" commercials, they feature the Super Bowl MVP, but this year, they feature Tony Dungy and Dominic Rhodes, which I found to be ironic because of two reasons:

1.) Rhodes should have been the Super Bowl MVP anyway, but it was such a token move to give Manning the award, which means that he's going to get a car and more money, which I'm sure he needs considering he makes about $50 million a year with his contract and advertisements, which brings me to point #2,

2.) I think perhaps the Disney company saw how brutally overexposed Manning is right now that it would probably turn off a lot of people if they saw him on that commercial. For this, I have to congratulate them, because frankly, it would have. It's like everywhere you turn, there's Peyton, and so I applaud them giving Tony Dungy, who despite coaching the Colts, has always been one of my favorite coaches in the league, and Dominic Rhodes, who the Colts felt could not handle Edgerrin James' absence, so they drafted Joseph Addai to take over (kind of a Thomas Jones situation that the Bears had the more I think about it). Rhodes has always been an above average runner, but has never been able to fully show his talents.

Today is signing day for future college football players who are seniors in high school, and as of right now, USC has the 6th highest ranked class in the nation, which would be the highest ever in school history. It is blatantly obvious that this has everything to do with Steve Spurrier, who took over just two years ago. Spurrier, because of his past coaching at Florida, and some may even say Duke, has been able to be a major influence on prospects coming out of both the state of Florida and North Carolina. If all the commitments were to sign with the Gamecocks, Spurrier would have landed thirteen players from Florida, and an addtional eight from North Carolina, which ironically would both be more than the seven he is getting from South Carolina! It was especially apparent in North Carolina, where two of its major colleges, UNC and N.C. State, were going through coaching transitions, leaving it wide open for Spurrier and USC to come in and pick apart North Carolina's top high school players, which includes five-star receiver Chris Culliver, the highest rated player the Gamecocks have recruited since star running back Demetrius Summers (hopefully this one goes a little better). So, here now is the list of the players who have already signed, and the players who have commited to USC (list provided by, if you click on the name, you will be re-directed to their player profile page, also, if you have a Rivals membership, you can view the prospect's latest news and video highlights)

Stephen GarciaQB
6-22024.655.9Tampa, FL
Travian RobertsonDE
6-42304.65.9Laurinburg, NC
Olufemi AjiboyeDT
Chatham, VA
Clifton GeathersOL
Chatham, VA
Larry FreemanWR
Poplarville, MS
Sam PopeDB
6-1200-5.7Summit, MS
Jonathan WilliamsDT
6-4275-5.7Moorhead, MS

Chris CulliverWR6-01884.376.1Garner, NC
Cliff MatthewsDE6-42234.76.0Cheraw, SC
Mark BarnesATH6-21944.575.9Columbia, SC
Dion LecornWR6-01924.485.9Ocala, FL
Quintin RichardsonOL6-426555.9Columbia, SC
Akeem AugusteDB5-111754.55.8Hollywood, FL
Jason BarnesWR6-41974.455.8Charlotte, NC
Joseph HillsATH6-4213-5.8Palmetto, FL
Melvin IngramLB6-22244.875.8Hamlet, NC
Brian MaddoxRB6-02154.485.8Anderson, SC
Weslye SaundersDE6-52704.715.8Durham, NC
Matt ClementsWR6-21854.45.7Naples, FL
Addison WilliamsDB5-91694.545.7Atlanta, GA
Jamire WilliamsDB6-01804.45.7Jacksonville, FL
Antonio AllenDB6-2180-5.6Ocala, FL
Eric BakerRB5-111854.45.6Jacksonville, FL
Kyle NunnOL6-52655.445.6Sumter, SC
Alonzo WinfieldLB6-02004.545.6Winston-Salem, NC
Michael BowmanWR5-111564.665.5Wadesboro, NC
Donte'e NichollsDT6-22704.95.5Pompano Beach, FL
Mat WilliamsTE6-42254.85.5Fort Myers, FL
Byron McKnightTE6-42204.75.3
Laurinburg, NC
Arkee SmithDB6-11904.55.3Jacksonville, FL
Patrick DimarcoRB6-32304.755.2
Altamonte Springs, FL

(Blogger's Note: I read Sports Guy's newest article about this exact same subject about 5 minutes after doing this...I repeat after doing this. If they sound similar, don't blame me, we're all in the same boat)

I was watching ESPN2 this morning, and like always, was watching "Mike and Mike" in the morning, and I felt I just had to comment on something that was said on there. Mike Greenberg, when talking about the Celtics' recent losing streak (again, I saw this coming, but you know what, I like watching the young guys play a lot more than Paul Pierce shooting 40 shots a game, even if they are losing in a record amount), stated that the NBA should re-arrange how they determine who gets the first pick in the draft. He said that the first pick should go to the team who was the closest to making the playoffs, and that teams who "purposely go out and tank games" should not be "rewarded" for their play. Ok, if that is not one of the stupidest things I have ever heard, I don't know what is. How do you think teams become good? Through the draft!!! This is especially true in the NBA, where a lot of superstar players usually only play for one or two teams. How did the Celtics win 11 of 13 championships through the Russell era? Through the draft. How did the Celtics land Larry Bird? Through the draft. How did "Showtime" start in L.A.? Through the draft. And I mean I could just go on and on with different examples of teams, who have been on a recent skid in terms of records, who then get high draft picks in the draft, select franchise guys, and then, they are able to turn their teams around and become contenders. So, this whole logic about not giving the worst team the best pick is appauling. The whole point of the reverse system (bad teams picking first, good teams picking last) is to keep a competitive balance in the league. This enables bad teams to get young players who have excelled at the previous level they were in. And another thing, do you really think the Celtic players are going out every night and say "ok guys, as long as we keep losing and making a semi-mockery of the most storied franchise perhaps in all of sports, we can get Greg Oden, and we'll be fine next year?" Of course not! The reason the Celts are losing is:

a.) Their entire starting 5 is under 23 years old right now, most of whom have not played the kind of minutes they have for this long

b.) Their franchise player has been out for 23 games (by the way, I'm not trying to add fire to the whole "23" theory that is in that Jim Carrey movie right now) and the C's are 2-21 in those games, and

c.) Doc Rivers, who is a hell of a nice guy, is one of the worst coaches in the league, and has no idea that in the NBA, you cannot have 11 guys playing double-digit minutes a game. These are probably the greatest athletes on the face of the Earth, so they are able to handle a bigger workload than the one they have right now.

I just take so much offense to the fact that people think the Celtics are "tanking" right now because they would get the first pick in the draft. First of all, it's not the players who want them to tank, it's the fans. And I know that's a horrible thing to say, but the basic fact is, no matter how you slice it, I will have a longer relationship with the Celtics than pretty much that entire team will, and therefore, I am always looking towards the future to see how we could get better. Do I think the Celtics become a contender if they get Oden? Absolutely. They have been needing a presence down low ever since the retirement of Robert Parish over a decade ago, and Oden is a guy who could literally turn the fortunes of a team around by himself in my opinion. However, when you are actually on the court, you don't even know if you are going to be playing on the team next year to be able to see if Oden can help the team, or if you are even going to be playing tomorrow for that matter, as injuries and trades happen at a constant rate. When you are playing a sport professionally, youhave to take each game one at a time. You can't even try to think about the future. Also, even if you get the worst record in the league, that doesn't necessarily mean you will get the first pick in the draft. Remember, the NBA runs its draft order on a lottery, not on a record-based system (although if you do have the worst record, you are given the best chance to win the lottery). No one knows this better than Boston fans. Back in 1997, the Celtics had the worst record in the draft, as well as the pick of the third worst record in the league (Dallas), and a guy by the name of Tim Duncan happened to be going into the draft after his senior season at Wake Forest, and what happened? Not only did the C's lose the lottery, they got killed by the lottery, falling to #3 and #6. The Spurs take Duncan, yeah, they also happen to win the NBA title that year. The C's took Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer, two guys who were lackluster in Boston, although Billups, once landing in Detroit, did win the NBA Finals MVP two years ago. This has been looked at as one of the deathnails of the Celtics over the past 20 years, with all of this starting with the untimely death of Len Bias, who dies of a cocaine overdose after being the Celtics #2 overall pick, a year after they had won their 16th NBA Championship. So, basically, the point is that the Celtics are not purposely losing to get Oden. Simply, what has happened is that the Celtics have a bad coach, they have their guy who accounts for around 30-40% of the offense out for an extended period of time, and they have a lack of experience which is almost reminiscent to how the Clippers were in the mid '90s. However, like the Clippers, if you give this team time, and you throw in a healthy Paul Pierce, this team can really be an exciting team for years to come.

The NFL is officially in offseason mode, and with that, I'm going to preview the free agent class of 2007. These guys will have a tremendous impact on how teams will be drafting come April. If you are able to fill a need with a prime-time player through free agency, then you immediately can start looking at other top prospects to fill other positions, which in turn, completely shakes up where guys will be going in the first few rounds.

Matt Schaub, RFA, Atlanta- In my opinion, this could be one of the biggest free agents out there, purely because the class of quarterbacks coming out in the draft is very light after JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn, and the free agency crop is not a whole lot better, with Schaub being the only one who could really end up being a starter in the league. Schaub has long been road-blocked by Michael Vick in Atlanta, and that will never change. However, in limited time, Schaub has shown flashes of brilliance, which definitely has teams intrigued. This is what I'm talking about as far as shaking up the draft order. Think if a team like Detroit or Cleveland, who both have been targetting QBs in the draft, end up with Schaub. This would completely change the draft strategy of that team, as they are likely to move on to another need.

(By the was, you will be seeing either UFA or RFA by the player's name. UFA refers to "Unrestricted Free Agent." This means that the player can sign with whomever they want to and has every right to choose any team that offers them a contract. RFA refers to "Restricted Free Agent." This is slightly more complicated, so try and bear with me. If you are a restricted free agent, it means that you have spent at least three years with one franchise, and have received an offer for the team they currently play with. However, they can continue to negotiate with other teams until a certain deadline (this is usually right before the draft in mid-April). If another team makes a higher offer than the player's original team, then the original team can either match that offer, or the player will be able to sign on with a different team. There are two catches when it comes to restricted free agency though.

1.) Again, a player only has until that deadline in mid-April to sign with a different team. If another team does not make a qualifying offer before then, the player's rights immediately go back to his original team.

2.) If the original team does not match the qualifying offer of another team, then the original team is entitled to draft pick compensation from the new team. The value of the draft pick is determined by the value of the player.)

Hope I haven't lost you yet.

So, when you talk about a guy like Schaub, you're probably looking at a second-round pick if you are going to try and sign him. Considering the Falcons have been trying to get a first rounder for Schaub, this would be considered as somewhat of a discount, so don't be surprised by the fact that someone will be willing to spend a second-round pick for Schaub, or the fact that the Falcons, who have already invested a gigantic percentage of their cap money in fellow quarterback Vick, will be willing to take the draft pick.

Jeff Garcia, UFA, Philadelphia. Garcia's name has been red hot on the rumor mill ever since his outstanding performance in filling in for Donovan McNabb in Philly's postseason stretch run that ended in New Orleans. As soon as the Super Bowl ended, there was a ton of specualtion about Rex Grossman being out, and Jeff Garcia being in. There were very few players who helped their free agent stock as much as Garcia, no matter where he ends up.

Damon Huard, UFA, Kansas City and Tim Rattay, UFA, Tampa Bay. These two guys had brief starting roles this past year due to injuries, and their paydays should go up a little, but still, they will be relegated to a backup role, because simply, they do not have the ability to guide a team for an enitre season. However, it is a must if you are in the NFL to have a competent backup, so these guys should definitely garner some interest from teams like the Jets, the Saints, and maybe even the Pats.

Running Backs:
Ahman Green, UFA, Green Bay. The running back class is very weak, with Green being the only guy to have any major starting experience in the league. That being said, Green has been riddled with injuries over the past few years. In fact, do not be overally surprised if Green goes back to the Packers and serves as a platoon back with the likes of Verand Morency and Samkon Gado like he did last year.

Dominic Rhodes, UFA, Indianapolis. This guy's stock definitely got a boost, has previously mentioned, after his performance in the Super Bowl, but will he be given a starting job? The answer is...maybe. I know, I know, not a very solid stance there, but here's the thing: Rhodes has never been given the chance to prove that he could handle an entire season's workload as a featured back. A destination to look out for is Houston, who is still reeling from Domanick Davis' knee injury from last year that landed him on the IR (injured reserve list). Rhodes would be able to fit into the system there because he not only is a bruising runner, but he is good at catching the ball from out of the backfield.

Michael Turner, RFA, San Diego. Contrary to Rhodes, I am almost positive that Turner can handle a full season in the NFL. When he comes in for LT, he has shown he can be a game-breaker, as he averaged 6.2 yards per carry last year. But will a team be willing to give up a pick for Turner? That remains to be seen. However, if I was a team like Oakland who had a questionable ground game, I may take a chance and bid on Turner.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Donte Stallworth, UFA, Philadelphia. Considering how weak Philly is as far as receiving depth, and how much Stallworth's potential value dropped due to missing four games with a hamstring injury, I would not be surprised if the Eagles were able to retain Stallworth at a considerable discount from would he could have potentially been worth if he both stayed healthy, and caught balls from Donovan McNabb for an entire season, because through the first couple of games last season, Stallworth was one of the top receivers in the league.

Drew Bennett, UFA, Tennessee. Since Derrick Mason wound up on the Ravens, the Titans have depended on Drew Bennett to step up and become their #1 guy. His numbers have slipped since his breakout year in 2004, when he caught 80 balls for 1,247 and 11 touchdowns. However, you can definitely place some of the blame on the constant quarterback shuffling that has taken place over the past two seasons. Because Vince Young is firmly cemented as the guy for the Titans, they should make every kind of attempt they can to keep Bennett, who I still believe can get to the 1,000 yard plateau given his great hands and impressive size (listed at 6'5, 206 pounds).

Eric Johnson, UFA, San Francisco. Once the Niners drafted Vernon Davis #6 overall last year, Johnson's time as the starting tight end was numbered. Still, do not discount Johnson's abilities. He caught 82 passes two years ago. However, he has missed two entire seasons due to various injuries in the last four years. A team like Green Bay or Carolina could use a ball-hawking tight end like Johnson to firm up their passing games.

Offensive Line:
Leonard Davis, UFA, Arizona. Davis will probably getting the biggest pay day of anyone on this list. I have always been a huge fan of him ever since he was drafted out of Texas in 2001. If you need someone up front, you will not be able to do a whole lot better than Davis (are you ready for this?...6'6, 366 pounds...366!). Any team looking for run support, this is simply the guy, plain and simple. His only conceivable weakness is that he is only an average pass blocker given his size. Arizona has expressed their obvious intentions on wanting to re-sign Davis, but feel as though he inevitably is going to price himself out of the Cardinals' cap number. This is the last thing Arizona needs, especially when you consider their prize acquisition from last year, Edgerrin James, has just come off his worst season since being in the NFL.

Max Starks, RFA, Pittsburgh. With the emergence of Willie Parker as a featured back, and the tumultuous season that Big Ben just endured, it would make sense that the Steelers would want to retain Starks and try and keep their O-Line unit in tact. However, Pittsburgh is now in year one of the "post chin" era, so it is unclear of what direction the Steelers will be heading in.

Eric Steinbach, UFA, Cincinnati. An intriguing name here. Steinbach is going to garner attention from teams because of his flexibility in playing either guard or tackle. When you consider the fact that he already is undersized as a guard, he may serve better being on the outside. In this day and age, you need a guy who can really move to stop the Julius Peppers' and Jason Taylor's of the world.

Defensive Line:
Dwight Freeney, UFA, Indianapolis. Freeney will not even be able to sniff the free agent market, at least not this year. It has already been made known by the Indy brass that they are going to try and re-sign Freeney to a long-term extension, and if that doesn't work, Indy will be "franchising" Freeney for next year. When a team franchises a player, it means that the player is signed to a one-year contract, with the monetary value being the average of the top 5 paid players at the same position.

Jared Allen, RFA, Kansas City. This guy is going to start a bidding war I'm predicting. He's only been in the league for three years, and already has made a huge impact on a terrible Chiefs defense. Allen has averaged a little over nine sacks in those three years, so, unless the Chiefs pony up some serious coin, I do not see them being able to keep Allen on this team.

Vonnie Holliday, UFA, Miami. Holliday had a very promising future that seemed to have vanished after the 2001 season. However, Holliday has re-emerged as a top-tier tackle in the league after landing in Miami. He has combined with Jason Taylor to be a dominant duo up front. Holliday will now be looking for a long-term extension to play out the rest of his career. I don't really see Holliday staying in Miami, considering they are trying to infuse some youth on their defense, and Holliday will be entering his 10th season.

Justin Smith, UFA, Cincinnati. Smith has been steadily improving, and there is no reason to think he will let up anytime soon. Unfortunately, he has not played on a very solid line, and therefore attracts the majority of the attention from his end spot. If he can get on a team with another established veteran, you could see Smith putting up Pro Bowl-caliber numbers in a year or two.

Lance Briggs, UFA, Chicago. Briggs could be viewed as someone who has the potential to turn around an entire defense. He is that good. Playing alongside the best linebacker in all of football doesn't hurt either (you have to give me that one; Urlacher is so good and so powerful that everytime he hits someone, it sounds like you can just hear the wind being sucked out of his opponent; I'm not sure if that's some kind of audio trick they do, but still, I've never heard anything like that before). Briggs will be commanding top dollar, and his chances of staying in Chicago appear to be slim. The hot rumor right now has Briggs ending up with the Giants, and if that were to happen, expect the Giants to have one of the best run-stopping defenses in the NFL next year.

Adalius Thomas, UFA, Baltimore. Another very intriguing name right here. Thomas blossomed over the past three seasons playing in the 3-4 defense of the Ravens, which utilizes their outside linebackers a ton as far as rushing the passer. He is coming off a season where he was named to his first Pro Bowl, only driving up his value more. Still, I think the Ravens will do whatever it takes to keep Thomas, as the Ravens will be boasting four Pro Bowl linebackers coming into next season if they are able to retain him.

Cato June, UFA, Indianapolis. One of the keys to Indy's defense has been the improved play of Cato June. Although the Colt run defense was ripped to shreds up until the postseason, June still managed 142 tackles at his OLB post. It will be interesting to see what kind of market he receives. For some reason, I think he will most likely leave Indy in search of another team, possibly Kansas City, who has a need for a tackling machine.

Defensive Backs:
Asante Samuel, UFA, New England. I'm giving the Pats about a 20-25% chance of re-signing Samuel. I think his pick six of Manning in the AFC title game pretty much sealed the deal as far as I'm concerned. We already went through the exact same thing a few years ago with Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy. Both played out of their minds in the previous year, but in the end, the Pats feel as though they can plug virtually anyone into their system and they can succeed. Right now, the Saints are said to have the most interest in Samuel.

Nate Clements, UFA. Buffalo. One of the most underrated players in the game, Clements not only excels as a corner, but he is also a great return man. Anytime you can get this combination (Deion Sanders, Pac Man Jones to name a few), you're talking about a gifted player. Personally, I think the Pats should go after him. If you think about it, can Troy Brown really go on forever? (Maybe he can who knows?) So, you're probably going to be looking for a punt returner, and you're already in need of a lock-down corner. It's like killing two birds with one stone.

Ken Hamiln, UFA, Seattle. Hamlin was forced to miss ten games last season, but played a full 2006 season, and scored 98 total tackles, so his health is probably not as concernable as it once was. I see Hamlin getting out of Seattle, as they really have tried to stockpile their defensive backfield over the past few seasons, and honestly, I think that Michael Boulware could be a force at free safety, meaning that Hamlin could be disposable at this point.

That's all for now. Hope everyone has a good weekend. The first NASCAR event is on Saturday Night (Bud Shootout from Daytona), so I'm wicked pumped about seeing #11 for the first time this year. Qualifying will take place on Sunday for "The Great American Race," which will be run next Sunday. I'm definitely going to see if I can get a Nextel Cup preview going. I know there is a lot of you that don't understand it's a touch more complicated than left turns, so I'm going to try and turn some people there. Take care. Peace.


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