Dec 29, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Dashon Goldson (38) reaches to tackle New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) in the first half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

The Reality Of Getting The “Top Of The Class” Free Agents: A Look Back At 2013 Free Agency


 

To some in Rams Nation, the opening day of free agency was truly a heart breaker. St. Louis was as “inactive” as any organization on Day 1, with the only notable move being the departure of Rodger Saffold to the Oakland Raiders for a hefty $8.5 million per year price tag. For much of the day, the interweb was mum on the happenings of both Jairus Byrd and Alterraun Verner, the anticipated top targets for Fisher and Snead. Then, near “closing time” on Tuesday night, the Saints mortgaged the Superdome to solicit the services of Byrd, and the Bucs made a surprise, relatively low-price deal with Verner.

With nearly all of the “top of the class” free agents off the market, many were left wonder how the St. Louis Rams could possibly fill the final pieces on their ever-improving, young roster. The obvious rationale during this time of the year is: If you snag the best free agent player, they will immediately acclimate to their new team and continue to perform at a high level. In a perfect world, and occasionally in the real world, that is the case for these veteran studs. However, in reality, the transition from one team, scheme, etc. to another is a much messier move…

The highlight that point, let’s take a look back at the “top” free agent movers from the 2013 offseason. Did they come in and immediately replicate their dominance? We’ll take a look now…

 

Quarterback

Per usual, the biggest quarterback “signing” of the offseason was the re-signing of a franchise quarterback. Last year, that player was Joe Flacco, fresh off the heals of a Super Bowl victory. However, we’re looking for big name players that signed elsewhere. Moving on!

 

Running Back

The three hottest names on the running back market in 2013 were Steven Jackson, Reggie Bush, and Shonn Greene. All three players signed, at minimum, three year contacts worth other $10 million; with both Jackson and Bush set to average about $4 million annually. How did that turn out? All three were plagued by injury for a majority of the season, with Reggie Bush topping the trio with an underwhelming 625 total offensive snaps last year. Bush was the most productive, although he barely eclipsed the 1,000 yard rushing mark on the season. However, despite the improved running game, the Lions still failed to make the playoffs, which subsequently led to the firing of head coach Jim Schwartz. Not exactly a “turn around.”

 

Wide Receiver

Both Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace broke the bank last year in free agency, with Wallace leading all offseason contracts by signing a five-year, $60 million deal to take his talents to South Beach. In return for the king’s ransom the Dolphins handed on the speedy wide out, they received… an average, bornerline-dynamic player.

In his first season with the ‘Fins, Wallace managed a meager 73 receptions (23rd among wide receivers) for 930 yards (27th) with a grand total of five touchdowns on the season (25th). To put that last number into perspective, Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks each had a minimum of four touchdowns in 2013, and Tavon Austin, even with a slow start in the offense, managed six total touchdowns in only 434 offensive snaps (four receiving, one rushing, one returning). Worse, Wallace ranked near the top in a number of unsightly categories among “starting” receivers, including posting a 53.3% catch rate (8th-worst out of 57 players), managing only 3.8 average yards after the catch (12th-worst), and dropping 11 passes (tied for 4th-worst).

 

Offensive Line

In 2013, Ryan Clady and Jake Long were the most expensive of the offensive tackles, with Andy Levitre setting the bar of interior linemen in the free agent class. However, there were about five or six “big names” that were available in the class…

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Not to sound “homer-ish,” but the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans appear to be the only teams that got their money’s worth with their free agent acquisitions/re-signings. Long, who was the most expensive of the moving pieces in 2013, not only helped to solidify the blindside for Sam Bradford (and Kellen Clemens), but was the driving force behind the emergence of Zac Stacy and the foundation piece for which Jeff Fisher could lay the Rams “new” run-first philosophy. However, outside of the monster from Michigan, the rest of the offensive tackle class had very little impact in 2013; or, should we say, positive impact on their team.

 

Defensive Line

Much like the offensive linemen, there wasn’t much movement among the top defensive linemen in the 2013 free agent class. However, of those that did move on to “greener” pastures, Michael Bennett ($5 million to Seattle) and Mike DeVito ($4.2 million average to Kansas City) might have been the largest of the defensive ends, while Randy Starks ($8.45 million to Miami) and Desmond Bryant ($6.8 million average to Cleveland) were the top-dollar movers among the interior linemen in the free agent class. Aside from Bryant, the other top earners performed admirably with their new teams, despite both Bennett and DeVito essentially playing equal-share, rotational roles on their respective defensive lines. However, none of those highly priced linemen were invited to the Pro Bowl, made the cut for the All-Pro team, or graded out among the Top 5 at their position last season.

 

Linebacker

In the “new” NFL, linebackers rarely, if ever, get handed eye-popping contracts in free agency. The exceptions to that rule are those backers that specialize as pass rushers or have the propensity to be defensive signal callers. In 2013, the two high value movers were Paul Kruger ($8.2 million average to Cleveland) and Dannell Ellerbe ($7 million average to Miami). To put it simply and lightly, neither player performed well last season. Kruger managed a mere four sacks in his newly-converted outside linebacker role, while Ellerbe graded 50th out of 55 qualifying inside linebackers last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

 

Cornerback

Much like this offseason, last year was filled to the brim with potentially “elite,” veteran cornerbacks. Some of the top players, like Aqib Talib and Brent Grimes were given one-year, “show me” contracts, while others were handed much more long-term contracts. However, there still wasn’t any true “break the bank” contract to speak of in the 2013 free agent class, with players like Sean Smith ($5.5 million average to Kansas City), Cary Williams ($5.6 million average to Philadelphia), and a handful of others setting the “high” bar in the $4.5 to $5.5 million per year range. Nothing to see here…

 

Safety

Unlike the cornerbacks, there were a couple of massive deals for some “big name” safeties in free agency last offseason. Dashon Goldson was the “prize” in that group, getting handed a five-year, $41.25 million contract by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; an average of roughly $8.25 million per year. Ed Reed also received an impressively large three-year, $15 million deal to move from Baltimore to Houston. How did they effect their new teams in 2013?

Well, Ed Reed ended his season wearing a New York Jets jersey, so there’s that!

Dashon Goldson, despite playing with Darrelle Revis and behind another Top 5 front-seven unit, managing only one interception and grading 81st among 86 qualifying safeties in the NFL last season. Goldson did manage to commit the 4th-most penalties (6),  allow the 9th-most touchdowns (4), and the 14th-best passer rating in coverage (121.4), but leading the position in “negative” categories was likely not what the Bucs were looking for when they handed the former 49er the keys to the secondary.

 

As you can see from last offseason, the acquisition of the “biggest names” in free agency doesn’t always spell success in the following season. In fact, aside from Jake Long, Andy Levitre, and one or two notable defensive linemen, the vast majority of the players that received “top of the class” contracts to move from team-to-team were impressively disappointing in their 2013 debuts. So, Rams Nation, let’s keep calm and let Jeff Fisher and Les Snead work their magic through the rest of free agency and through the 2014 NFL Draft…

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