Everybody loves free agency. The main reason of course is because people love to be angry at things, and some of the deals that surface in the NFL’s silly season have that exact reaction.
Money will be spent wisely, and usually the market will take care of itself, but every now and then there is a deal that comes along that just makes you want to start hurling expletives at the senselessness of it all.
So here are five such deals from the first few days of free agency that had me scratching my head.
Erik Walden to IND: 4-year, $16m
Everybody likes to perpetuate the myth that the NFL is run by genius scientists weighing every possible variable before committing a single extra dollar to their prized rosters, but some signings show you that simply isn’t the case. The Green Bay Packers have been crying out for an outside linebacker to play opposite Clay Matthews for years now, and they wanted Erik Walden to be that guy. Unfortunately, he just hasn’t been able to, and that was shown no more clearly than the playoff encounter between Green Bay and the Super Bowl-bound San Francisco 49ers in which Walden was turned inside and out by the read-option and Colin Kaepernick, to the point I suspect he still has nightmares of a QB in red and gold scampering past him like a spooked fawn.
Walden has propped up the foot of our 3-4 OLB rankings for the past three years running and handing him $4 million a year seems simply mind-bending given the market for pass-rushers at the moment. So why did they do it? Well, Walden graded in the green twice last season on his way to a -30.4 overall year. The best of those games by a distance came against… the Indianapolis Colts. There is no substitute for really doing your homework.
Sam Baker to ATL: 6-year, $41.5m
One of the great fabrications in the NFL is that you need a franchise left tackle. The book and movie The Blind Side made the position into something it wasn’t, a glamor spot on the roster, and contracts given out to these stud pass protectors began to perpetuate the myth. The only problem is that we’ve seen recently you don’t need a great left tackle to win if you have a great quarterback. We’ve also seen that the best left tackle in football won’t make a bit of difference to your fortunes on offense if you can’t find a legitimate quarterback.
Sam Baker is like most starting LTs in the league, a former first-round tackle, but only one year has he really been able to look anything other than a major liability; 2012, his contract year. Even last year, the best we have seen from Baker, he was only our 27th-ranked OT, surrendering six sacks and allowing Matt Ryan to hit the deck another eight times on the year. The Falcons took this improvement as a signal to throw $20 million of guaranteed money at him rather than risk moving on without him and potentially disrupting Matt Ryan’s pass protection. Senseless.
Shonn Greene to TEN: 3-year, $10m
This is another from the section of ‘presumably didn’t get as far as actually watching tape in the evaluating process’. The Titans want to add a legitimate running option alongside Chris Johnson, and given the way Johnson runs, a bigger, more punishing back makes sense. The problem is that Greene just isn’t any good. Behind one of the league’s best offensive lines in New York he couldn’t average four yards a carry. He averaged just 2.1 yards per carry after contact (Adrian Peterson almost doubled that at 3.9!) and forced just 15 missed tackles from 276 carries. In truth, it’s hard to believe that the Titans don’t have a runner to rival Greene on the roster already, and if they don’t, simply throwing darts at the lower rounds of the draft would likely achieve the same thing, but instead they chose to hand him a 3-year contract worth $10 million. Well, OK.
Chase Daniel to KC: 3-year, $10m
This is a strange move in that I don’t hate the idea behind it. Kansas City need quarterbacks, and Alex Smith might be the answer to start for the short term, but they’ve seen more than enough of both him and Brady Quinn to be aware that having a backup upgrade might be no bad thing. Drew Brees and Russell Wilson have proven that being 6-foot or under isn’t the debilitating QB handicap people always assumed it was, and what better place to spend your formative years than in New Orleans behind Brees and working with Sean Payton. I get why you want to go after Chase Daniel, and apparently so did at least five other teams, but what I don’t get is how that market soars to the price it did for a guy who has played exactly 70 snaps in the regular season in his NFL career and attempted a sum total of nine passes. Are we really committing that kind of money on the basis of a few preseason outings and some blind faith?
Michael Bennett to SEA: 1-year, $5m
I can’t fathom how this was the market for Michael Bennett. Don’t get me wrong, this is a move I think is great for Seattle, but it makes no sense to me from the part of Michael Bennett, or from the state of the market. After the Seahawks signed Cliff Avril, and already with Bruce Irvin and Chris Clemons on the roster, I think they made this move simply because of the value they found for a guy that really should have been setting the top of the market when it came to edge defenders. Bennett is a great run defender, the prototypical DLE in a 4-3 formation, and while he might not be hailed as a great pass-rusher, his 71 total pressures were topped by just eight other players in the league last year. Usually players don’t start taking ‘prove it’ deals until much later in free agency, and I wonder if Bennett just grew frustrated at the lack of immediate offers and signed when he would have been better served being patient and waiting for the market to come back to him.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam