NFL Handicapping: Key Free Agent Signings
by Trevor Whenham - 8/1/2013
There are few things in sports that are more overhyped and overanalyzed than free agency in the NFL is. For every player that has a huge impact, there are five that just don’t amount to much — and wind up getting cut before the contract ends. While some contracts don’t make much sense from the outset, there are some that have the potential to be very impactful for their teams, and, more significantly, can be important for bettors.
Here are six free agents that handicappers need to pay close attention to:
Anquan Boldin, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Boldin is an excellent offensive weapon, and Colin Kaepernick and the Niners can also use that — especially with the health woes of Michael Crabtree. While people remember Boldin’s playoff performance last year --and that probably leaves people with an inflated opinion of what he is capable of on a day to day business -- his play is far from his biggest role on this team. The Niners have the talent to win it all — they are the best team in the league in my eyes, and it’s not particularly close. Boldin has won it all, so he brings crucial experience and wisdom to the team. He’s a wily veteran, and his work ethic is second to none, so he can serve as almost another member of the coaching staff. He can provide leadership and accountability on the ground. That is extremely valuable — and something that has seemed to have been lacking in the playoffs the last two years. Even if Boldin can’t play at his highest possible level this year, this is still a very significant signing.
Wes Welker, WR, Denver Broncos
This move made serious waves when it happened. Welker has caught more passes than anyone over the last five years. He and Tom Brady had almost perfect chemistry, and moving on seemed incomprehensible. If you are going to leave Brady, though, you can do worse than Peyton Manning. If the two can find chemistry quickly then they could be extremely dangerous. Welker has proven his worth, and Manning could really use an outlet like Welker on this team. The problem here, though, is that the Broncos were already overhyped this year before this deal, so now expectations are totally out of control. Welker has drained any value from this squad.
Steven Jackson, RB, Atlanta Falcons
This one isn’t tough to figure out. The Falcons were lousy on the ground — their 87.3 rushing yards per game ranked 29th in the 32-team league. Ouch. Steven Jackson is getting long in the tooth — at least in running back terms — but he is still a workhorse who tallied his eighth straight 1,000-yard season last year. Jackson needs a fresh start away from the only team he has ever known, and the Falcons desperately need to add some balance to their offense. It could be a match made in heaven.
Jake Long, OT, St. Louis Rams
Long is a gamble that could turn into one of the biggest bargains around. When he is healthy, the former No. 1 pick is arguably the top tackle in the game. He just hasn’t been able to stay healthy. The Rams need serious help protecting Sam Bradford and creating opportunities on offense. The only way you are going to get a Pro Bowl-caliber tackle for $9 million a year is if he has health issues. A healthy Long would be a serious game-changer for a Rams team that has plenty of upside this year.
Cliff Avril, DE, Seattle Seahawks
Avril gambled and lost in this free agency period. After averaging more than 9.5 sacks per season over the last three years, Avril assumed he would be heavily in demand. Pass rushers didn’t demand a premium on the open market, though, so the Seahawks got a potential bargain — especially when you look at the guaranteed money, or lack of it, in the two-year deal. Avril could be highly motivated to get a better deal — he’s still only 27, so he has plenty of gas left in the tank. The Seahawks could use some pass rushing help, and strong defensive end play could be key to lifting this team to the heights they aspire to. This could be a very impactful addition.
Ed Reed, S, Houston Texans
Reed is very interesting because of how hard it will be to get used to seeing him anywhere other than Baltimore or lined up behind anyone other than Ray Lewis. It was time for Reed to move on, though, and Houston was the best fit for him. He’s 34 years old and a step off of his best. He’s also joining a team without the coaching or talent on defense that he has enjoyed throughout his career. Given all of that, it is very likely that the public will overcompensate for his impact on this team. They are also very likely to overestimate the importance of his role when the Texans travel to Baltimore on Sept. 22 — the day that the Ravens will be honoring Ray Lewis.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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