NEW YORK (AP) — Let the bidding binges begin.
Armed with another $10 million or so to spend thanks to the increased
salary cap, NFL teams dive into free agency on Tuesday. By the end of
the week, most of the top prizes will be signed, to the tune of enough
money to fund a small government.
The process will continue for months, with many of the real bargains
not moving to new teams or rejoining their previous clubs until well
after the early auctioning.
"Free agency in and of itself is an overpayment situation," says former
NFL executive Bill Polian, who built three Super Bowl teams and now is
an analyst for ESPN and SiriusXM. "That's why the union fought so hard
to get it.
"These are essentially 'B' players whose agents are looking for 'A'
money. Some situations teams are forced to deal with, and you have to
bite the bullet and do it.' "
While Polian makes the point that the really elite players don't ever
become available in free agency, the 2014 class is filled with former
All-Pros and Pro Bowlers. They come in all sizes for all jobs, from
pass rushers Jared Allen, Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith to running
backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Willis McGahee.
The crop is spiced by a deep class of wide receivers, from those just
emerging as standouts (Julian Edelman, Golden Tate, Eric Decker,
Emmanuel Sanders) to those more established (Hakeem Nicks, James Jones,
Santana Moss). Hardly a surprise, it is not filled with potential
starting quarterbacks; the top names are Josh McCown, Matt Cassel and
And, as former NFL executive Pat Kirwan, who was involved in the
development of the free agency process more than two decades ago,
points out, "Once some of these guys sign, there will be even more
players out there who are available because teams have to cut guys to
make room for the new ones they sign."
For now, teams looking for coverage guys might be enticed by Alterraun
Verner, who had a breakout season with the Titans and picked off five
passes. Or by Aqib Talib, a shutdown cornerback when healthy, but who
comes with some off-field baggage.
Clubs such as Miami, with massive holes on the offensive line, could
target the likes of tackles Eugene Monroe, Jared Veldheer, Branden
Albert or Michael Oher, guards Zane Beadles or Willie Colon, or center
Brian de la Puente.
And don't forget the franchised or transition players who could be had,
with heavy compensation. Is All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham worth two
first-round draft picks, plus however many dollar signs it takes to
sign him away from New Orleans? Would Cleveland match any offers for
Alex Mack, one of the best centers ever to reach free agency, albeit as
a transition guy?
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," Colts general manager Ryan
Grigson says. "I might like someone in a position group that Team B, C,
D and E looked at two plays and didn't fit their scheme, or didn't fit
them from a character standpoint — what have you — with the information
their scouting departments are giving them at the end of the day.
"It's a process and something you have to chip away every day just to
have that overall picture in your mind to see if it meshes with what
you, your head coach and all your staff kind of sees as our vision
Several teams have chosen to let key players test the waters, including
the two Super Bowl participants.
NFL champion Seattle could lose such starters as Tate, cornerback
Brandon Browner, tackle Breno Giacomini and defensive end Michael Bennett, plus placekicker Steven Hauschka. Possible departures from
Denver are Decker, Beadles, cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and
Champ Bailey, DEs Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips, running back
Knowshon Moreno and linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
Both franchises have said they want to keep as much cohesion as they
can, something Polian finds wise.
"If your own players are quality and can help you win, then it is
better off to pay them, I have always believed," Polian says. "It's
better than what you can find in the market, and you know them better
than you know a player from another team. It's a player you know and
believe in and who has no adjustment coming into your system. It is
Tailenders tend to not have those kind of players, though. They also
often have tons of money available, exactly the case with Oakland,
Cleveland and Jacksonville, all 4-12 in 2013. The Raiders have about
$65 million on hand, the Jaguars have more than $59 million, and the
Browns around $56 million.
Such deep pockets guarantee absolutely nothing, of course.
"Whether you have a little money or a lot, the dangers are the same,
it's just a question of degree," Polian says. "You don't know the
player as well as the player coming out in the draft, and certainly not
as well as your player.
"Football is not a seamless transition. Systems change, people have a
difficult time adjusting to begin with, and then if they have a system
change or technique change it is even worse. It may take him a year to
get adjusted, and that is a year you lost and paid big money for.
"That said, there are some holes you have to fill on your club."
Let the bidding binges begin.
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