Hello football fans! My name is Eric Shepperd, and you may have seen some of my articles over at the professional wrestling section of the site. Well, I also have a passion for football, and hope to share my thoughts with you all. As for now, I present to you a list of what I believe to be the best free-agent signings off the off-season so far.
Note: My criteria for “best” includes everything from past performance, team needs, to expected production. There really is no one thing that defines the “best.” So, lets get started!
Jacob Tamme (TE)-From the Colts to the Broncos
Ok, so I’ve decided to leave Peyton Manning off this list for a few reasons. The biggest one being his value is still up in the air. If he plays even half as well as he did at his prime, it could easily be considered a good pickup. But if his health becomes a problem, then it falls in the category of a bust. So taking his spot is his former Colt teammate and now current Bronco Tight End Jacob Tamme. Tamme signed a 3 year $19 million contract to play in Mile High. The long time backup Tight End has played in 60 games, but has started only 16 of them. That being said, he had his best year when starter Dallas Clark went down with an injury in 2010. That year, Tamme caught 67 passes for 631 yards and 4 touchdowns. Adding a familiar (and healthy) target for Manning in the passing game is nothing but good news for the new favorites of the AFC West. Number 18 has a knack for bringing out the best in his teammates, so look for him to do that once again with Tamme. Also, former Texans backup TE Joel Dressen has landed with Denver to play alongside Tamme. Don’t be surprised if he too has his best year in 2012.
Anthony Hargrove (LB)-From the Seahawks to the Packers
This 28 year old pass rusher finds himself moving from the NFC West to the NFC North. An 8 year pro, Hargrove has racked up a total of 19.5 sacks in his career, with 5 of them coming during his role in the Saints Super Bowl run in the ’09 season. Hargrove picked up 3 sacks and 18 tackles last year despite not starting a game for the Seahawks. He may not be a superstar signing, but after last years dismal performance from the Green Bay defense (aside from their dominance on turnovers), he is a much needed piece to the puzzle.
Reggie Wayne (WR)-Resigned by the Colts
The biggest shock of free agency came when Reggie Wayne agreed to a 3 yr $17.5 million dollar deal. Most expected him to leave Indianapolis in Free Agency, but both sides were able to reach a deal. While I understand it comes as a bit of a surprise, it is by no means the wrong move. In his 11 year career, Wayne has caught 862 passes, while recording 11,708 yards with 73 touchdowns. That’s impressive. But what is even more impressive is what he did in his 2011 campaign. Wayne posted 75 receptions, 960 yards receiving, and 4 touchdowns. All of that was with Quarterbacks Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter, and Dan Orlovsky. Andrew Luck may be the future of the Colts, but things will be much easier now that number 87 will be catching his passes for at least another few years.
Kyle Orton (QB)-From the Chiefs to the Cowboys
No, this signing does not mean Tony Romo’s job is in trouble. While a lot of people think Romo just doesn’t have what it takes (I’m not one of them), this pickup is purely for backup duties. That being said, it is a great move since the Cowboys former backup John Kitna has decided to hang up the cleats. Steven Mcgee is a fine young quarterback, but America’s Team would have been crazy to go into the 2012 season with him as their backup. Romo has just been too injury prone to risk it. Plus, Orton has had a solid career for a backup. With a 58.3 completion percentage, Orton may be done as a starter, but he is a great option as a backup. The Cowboys other option, Jason Campbell signed with the Bears. For my money, both signing come as much needed replacements at the backup QB position. But Orton gets the slight edge here with his track record. Oh, and he managed to defeat the undefeated Green Bay Packers last year. But you know, no big deal.
Ben Grubbs (OG)-From the Ravens to the Saints
Lost in the shuffle of the bounty scandal was the signing of Offensive Guard Ben Grubbs. The Saints could not hold on to Carl Nicks, who was deemed to be the best guard available in free agency. New Orleans did the next best thing, and they picked up the second best guard available. Grubbs signed a 5 year, $36 million contract that was simply too much for Balitmore to match. In his 70 starts, Grubbs has been a consistent performer on the O-line. Guards are hard positions to analyze, but as a Ravens fan I can tell you this: Grubbs is the real deal. When (If?) the Saints lock up Drew Brees long term, he will be very happy with his protection.
Michael Bush (RB)-From Raiders to Bears
Chicago went out and signed former back-up running back Michael Bush to a 4 year $14 million contract. Considering the weak market for veteran tailbacks, Bush got a great deal. Yes, Bush is no Matt Forte (as the Raiders found out last year, he is no Darren Mcfadden either), but with Forte’s contract situation becoming uglier by each day, Bush is a great pick up. He has compiled 2,642 yards and 21 touchdowns off of 632 carries in his 61 games played. Those are fairly decent numbers for a back-up. He even put up some solid receiving numbers, catching 37 passes last year with Oakland for 418 yards and a touchdown. That is especially valuable since Chicago’s front line isn’t in the greatest of shape. Matt Forte may not like the move, but his mouth has made this an easy decision for Lovie Smith and the folks in Chicago. In the end, it would still be smart to lock Forte up long term.
Matt Flynn (QB)-From the Packers to the Seahawks.
The best Free Agent Quarterback available not named Manning decided to sign a 3 year deal with Seattle that could be worth up to$26 million. The fact that Flynn’s old Quarterback coach, Joe Philbin, is now the head coach of Seattle didn’t carry enough weight for Flynn to take his talents to South Beach. It is just another swing and a miss for the organization that seems to be in utter disarray. And with all the love Ryan Tannehill has been getting as of late, there is a good chance Miami could miss on him too. But I digress. Flynn has only started two games. But in those games, he was fantastic. His first start was in 2010 against the Patriots where he went 23 of 37 for 254 yards, 3 touchdowns and a pick. In his second, now famous, start against the Lions in Week 17 of last season Flynn broke two franchise records. He went 31 for 44, passing for 480 yards with 6 touchdowns and only one pick. I guess anyone could have two really good games, but everything I’ve seen about Flynn has been positive. Peter King of SI.com noted that Flynn has a brilliant football mind, and is going to bring a lot to the table for the Seahawks. Put me on the record, Seattle will win the West this year!
Brandon Lloyd (WR)-From the Rams to the Patriots
The 2010 leader in NFL receiving yards made it clear that he was willing to take a pay cut to come play for New England and his former head coach Josh McDaniels. It took a little longer than expected, but Lloyd signed a 3 yr deal with the Pats worth $12 million. In his 9 seasons he has recorded 311 receptions, 4,284 yards, and 89 Touchdowns. But there is no doubt that he was at his best when he played under McDaniels. While his production may have dipped in St. Louis, anyone who watched enough of the Rams last season knows he still can be a major play threat. I expect Brady to light it up with Lloyd, giving another reason for teams in the AFC East to stay up at night, worrying about facing Brady and the Pats on Sunday.
Corey Graham (DB)-From the Bears to the Ravens
Graham is not a name that jumps off the page at you. But that doesn’t matter to Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens. What matters is that you can play, and Corey Graham can play. In his fifth year, Graham has been a special teams player for most of his career. He did notch 3 interceptions last year for the Bears. But the Ravens have a pretty solid set of defensive backs. What they are lacking is play on special teams. It’s odd, seeing as head coach John Harbaugh is a former Special Teams coach, but the Ravens have just struggled to make tackles in that aspect of the game. Graham brings in exactly what they need racking up 22 tackles on special teams last season, and 25 tackles on special teams in 2010. Graham was named to his first Pro Bowl last season as an NFC Special Teamer. Look for his immediate impact when the Black and Purple takes the field in September.
Mario Williams (DE)-From the Texans to the Bills.
This list is by no means in order, it is just the ten best free agent signings in my opinion. However, there is one exception. Super Mario. Mario Williams is by far the best free agent signing this year. In his 6 year career he has made 241 tackles, a whopping 53 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries. And the numbers are just scratching the surface. Williams is one of, if not the most feared pass rusher in the NFL. The Bills paid big, shelling out a 6 year deal that could be worth up to $100 million. But this signing is about more than the numbers. It is about the message. The Buffalo Bills have sent a clear message to their fans. We are ready to compete. Last years collapse was made all the worse by the fact that the Bills had a great start to the season. Sometimes, you’d just rather have your team be terrible, than to get you excited at the beginning of the season only to crash and burn. That’s what happened with the Baltimore Orioles last year. All of the excitement came together for a first place lead a week into the season. Things were finally going to change. And then, they fell flat on their faces. It was even worse for the Bills. But they have the pieces. They just need a few more. And Super Mario is one hell of a piece. If nothing else, he gives the Bills fans hope that they can contend in the AFC East. And in the crazy world of the National Football League, would it be that shocking if the Bills were holding up the Lombardi trophy come next February?