Free Agency in the NFL is one of the most exciting parts about the offseason. It lasts about 2 weeks and suddenly there are a ton of rivalries formed that fans didn’t see coming. Think about it, how exciting is that week 7 Monday night game between the Texans and Broncos? What about week 4 when the Browns go to DC to play the Redskins? It adds another level to the fandoms bragging rights when their team can beat their ex-stars.
What’s better than beating a player who turned their back on your favorite team? When that player doesn’t live up to the contract they were given and busts. It’s a new kind of schadenfreude, watching a player’s career go into the trash feels like some justified retribution from the dagger they stuck into their fans backs. But when the opposite happens, and the player excels, we always forget the pain felt from the betrayal, and just appreciate the talent they have.
This offseason had quite a few players jump to new cities. The Giants have a new defense, the Texans have a new offense and the Colts are worse than they were last year. Free agency does that to teams. Here are 10 Players who are going to excel on new squads, and 10 who will crash and burn.
39 BOOM: Brock Osweiler QB - Houston Texans
There’s one name you need to know when it comes to Brock Osweiler’s potential success in Houston: DeAndre Hopkins. Last year a mix of Brian Hoyer, TJ Yates, Ryan Mallett and Brandon Weedon were able to get the Texans into the playoffs by just tossing the ball in the air, and crossing their fingers. Even with that paltry group of quarterbacks, Hopkins was able to put up 111 receptions for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. Last year Brock Osweiler had a fairly good season, though many chalked it up to having an incredible defense and an arsenal of offensive threats. In Houston he’ll have one of the top tier defenses in the NFL led by the games best player, JJ Watt. As far as offensive weapons, we feel that he will actually have a better group of players in Houston. The running back corp. of Alfred Blue and Lamar Miller is significantly better than CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. Miller and Blue together have the potential to each rush for 800 yards, and can put up consistent numbers week-to-week while Anderson and Hillman can each go off for 200 yards one week and less than 20 the next. The Broncos are deep at receiver, but they regressed when Peyton Manning wasn’t throwing the ball to them. In Houston Osweiler has the aforementioned Hopkins, but also has first round pick William Fuller and rookie Braxton Miller, along with last year’s third round pick Jaelen Strong. Strong did not have a great season in 2015, but showed flashes of the talent that made him so great in college. If two of those three receivers have a good year, or Cecil Shorts bounces back from the past couple years to be the player he was in Jacksonville, the Texans may have one of the best offenses in the NFL.
37 BUST: Robert Griffin QB - Cleveland Browns
This has very little to do with Robert Griffin III and everything to do with the team he signed with. Yes it seems like the Browns have made all the right moves this offseason; they have hoarded draft picks, they hired “offensive guru” Hue Jackson, and they cut ties with a number of players who caused problems on the field or in the locker room. However, they are still the Browns and are far away from being a competitive team. Andrew Hawkins is the closest thing to a “sure thing” on the offensive side of the ball. Corey Coleman is a rookie, Gary Barnidge is a 30-year-old tight end who had a career year last year, and their lead back is Isaiah Crowell who has yet to prove he can carry the ball 200 times in a season. No part of that offense is designed to help out an injury prone, running quarterback who hasn’t played in over a year. The Browns also have an offensive line that is in tatters after losing both Mitchell Schwartz and Alex Mack. The Browns have yet to name RG3 the starting quarterback, and as it stands now Josh McCown will be getting the nod. If that’s the plan then this should have been the year to grab a QB in the draft. The Browns would have been smarter to draft Carson Wentz at number 2 and give him a year to learn the game than bring in the media circus that is Robert Griffin just to let McCown lose 10 games. RG3 will start this year and will fail this year while the Browns will take their tanking team to the bank and get the top QB in the next draft just to watch him fail too. What can we say, Browns gonna Brown.
35 BOOM: Olivier Vernon DE - New York Giants
Looking at Olivier Vernon’s recent stats really doesn’t do justice to the 4th year veteran. The man has played in all 64 games that he could play in during his time in Miami and has totaled 29 sacks. Despite the fact that every player that Miami tried to put around Vernon seems to get hurt, or busts, he continued to play well. Looking forward to his spot in New York, we can imagine him becoming a household name based on his play. He will be lining up across from the one-hand wonder Jason Pierre-Paul, who has the potential to get 15 sacks this season. Vernon just has to get about 10 sacks and he will be a success. Vernon has proven that he can produce no matter what is going around him. The year that the Dolphins had to deal with the bullying scandal and had an uncertain coaching situation, he had 11.5 sacks. Last year Cameron Wake went down after 7 games, and Vernon had what many thought was his best season. Vernon will thrive on the defense in New York, because it is so much better than any defense he has ever played on. The entire Giants defense has been remade with standouts including Damon "Snacks" Harrison and Janoris Jenkins, so there are a lot of great players that will be joining Vernon. All three guys were given huge contracts and if each of them produces at a high level, fans will be looking at one of the NFC’s top defense for the next 5 years. We aren’t confident that each player will succeed, but more on that in a second.
33 BUST: Janoris Jenkins CB - New York Giants
This has very little to do with the New York Giants as a team, and everything to do with the guy that they signed. Janoris Jenkins has, for the most part, been a model citizen since being drafted in 2012. However part of that was due to the fact that he was living in St. Louis and was rarely in the spotlight. When Jeff Fisher suspended him against their division rival 49ers in 2012, it was mostly ignored. But if that were to happen to a player in New York, the news would be talking about it for years. Now that he’s in New York, Jenkins can’t afford a single incident while he’s paying on the $62.5 million contract he signed. The last time Jenkins was in the spotlight was in college, playing for Urban Meyer at the University of Florida. Jenkins was famously kicked off the team in 2011 following his third arrest and his second drug related arrest in a 3-month span. This was the reason Jenkins fell into the second round as opposed to being a high first rounder. Jenkins has all the talent in the world, but we worry that the amenities that New York has to offer may not be conducive for him. All we are saying is one misstep can lead to a domino effect for Jenkins that he would not recover from.
31 BOOM: Eric Weddle S - Baltimore Ravens
There has been a lot of talk that Eric Weddle had a down year in 2015, which is true. He’s getting older and the Chargers defense was not good last year. Aside from Melvin Ingram who led the team in sacks with 10.5 and was 5th in tackles with 52, no one on the team made much of an impact on their opponents’ game plans. High picks Manti Teo, Corey Liuget, and Jeremiah Attaochu have not done much in the NFL, and no one on the team could stop the run. San Diego ranked 27th in total run defense in 2015. By signing with the Ravens, Weddle joins a team that ranked 12th in run defense in 2015, all while playing most of the season without their leader Terrell Suggs along with their starting safety, Matt Elam, and starting defensive linemen, Brent Urban and Chris Canty. Weddle will join with Suggs as two major players who will be upgrading a defense that ranked 8th in total defense last year. The group of CJ Mosely, Elvis Dumervil, and Suggs is the best group of defenders that Weddle has ever played with in his 9 NFL seasons. We have seen year after year that the best way to get better is to have better teammates. We expect Weddle to prove this right.
29 BUST: Mike Wallace WR - Baltimore Ravens
Mike Wallace is done. It makes total sense why the Ravens are willing to give him a chance; Flacco hasn’t had a real deep threat since Torrey Smith left, and getting an ex-Steeler is always good to get some inside info. However, nothing that Wallace has done since leaving Pittsburgh can be described as great football. He was terrible in Miami and was basically run out of the locker room by coaches and teammates, despite putting up 800 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014. His 2015 campaign in Minnesota changed many people’s minds as he was described as a stand-up guy and great teammate, but he only managed to get 2 touchdowns and 473 yards. A lot of people are in the mind that the Mike Wallace-Joe Flacco connection could be the most dangerous in the NFL, and we’d agree with them 4 years ago. Ryan Tannehill and Teddy Bridgewater are good, but they don’t have the cannon that is Joe Flacco’s arm. Wallace has lost much of the breakaway speed that made him such a threat for the Steelers, and the Ravens will be looking at “second year” wide-out Breshad Perriman for the deep plays (if he can be healthy). If Perriman never plays, maybe Wallace can find some play time, but Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken will be the #1 and 2 receivers with Max Williams and Ben Watson taking over the middle of the field. There just are not a ton of spots for another aging diva receiver in the Ravens playbook.
27 BOOM: Chandler Jones DE/OLB - Arizona Cardinals
Chandler Jones was a fantastic player for a very good team. He led the Patriots with 12.5 sacks last year and has been one of the NFL’s premier pass rushers since he was drafted in 2012. The Cardinals have been a competitive team for the past three years riding on the back of one of the league’s top defenses, even though their pass rush has been made out of duct tape and Styrofoam. Last year their sack leader was the skeleton of Dwight Freeney, the year before was Alex Okafor, and 2 years ago it was John Abraham (none of those guys played a full season that year). Now Chandler Jones will be taking up the mantel and we expect him to just blow through opponents. When comparing the Cardinals Defesne to the Patriots Defense, we would give the edge to Arizona. The Cardinals have one of the NFL’s best secondary corp. led by Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Over the offseason they added more pieces to that group with the signing of Tyvon Branch. The Patriots have not had the same level of talent in the secondary, despite having a great corner in Malcolm Butler. Where the Patriots thrived was in the pass rush, they had multiple players who could get to the QB, taking sacks and big plays away from Jones. Without Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, or Jamie Collins can all step up. The Cardinals have a lot of good players on the defensive line that will open up holes for Jones, lending to more sacks for the ex-Patriot and we can see an 18 sack season in Arizona.
25 BUST: Bruce Irvin OLB - Oakland Raiders
Bruce Irvin was a strange pick when he was taken 15th overall in the 2012 draft. He was thought of as a player who was incredibly one dimensional and really only would excel in pass rushing situations. That thought came to be, and Irvin was incredibly successful at it. It worked in Seattle because they had such a great defense with arguably the best secondary ever put together. Teams saw Irvin on the field, knew he was blitzing, but could not get rid of the ball fast enough because no one could get open. That won’t happen in Oakland. We aren’t here to knock the Raider’s secondary, but it’s no legion of boom. Sean Smith is a good corner, as is David Amerson, but neither have proven to be a true shut down corner able to successfully cover the elite receivers like DeAndre Hoplins and Julio Jones (both play the Raiders this season). Irvin has never been good against the run, and part of the reason Seattle let him walk is because their corners are aging so they need more all around defenders on the roster. The Raiders already have one of the best pass rushers in the league in Khalil Mack, so Bruce Irvin will be superfluous on many plays. Third round pick Shilique Calhoun will take over the starting role by the end of the year and Bruce Irvin will be remembered as just another bad contract.
23 BOOM: Martellus Bennett TE - New England Patriots
The Patriots have been looking for a second tight end since 2012. Yes they have the best tight end in football with Rob Gronkowski, but he has consistently fought injuries and always seems to be a twisted ankle away from ruining New England’s season. They tried to fill the void with the likes of Scott Chandler, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Matthew Mulligan. None of those guys were really productive in the pass game, despite the fact that Tom Brady was throwing to them. Last year Bennett’s season was cut short due to a rib injury, but he was leading the team with 53 receptions when he last touched the field. 2014 was a career year for Bennett, he was named to the Pro-Bowl and hauled in a career high 6 touchdowns. The first 4 games of the season may show what Bennett can offer the team. Normally when an unproven QB is forced to start they rely on 2 things to make the offense click; handing the ball to the lead back or dumping it off to big tight ends with sure hands. The Patriots will be using Dion Lewis or LeGarrette Blount as the lead back, so throw that plan out the window. Gronkowski and Bennett both can be relied on for 60+ catches and both of them will be the main targets for Jimmy Garoppolo while the team waits on Tom Brady to come back.
21 BUST: Coby Fleener TE - New Orleans Saints
For some reason, front offices seem to think that if any tight end is paired with a good quarterback they will magically transform into Gronk. Fun fact: they won’t. Coby Fleener has been a huge disappointment for the Colts after being drafted in the second round. His numbers aren’t awful, but considering he has been playing with Andrew Luck since he was in college, many expected them to have a much better connection. Drew Brees loves to throw to his tight ends, but if Fleener couldn’t catch passes from Luck, why do the Saints think he can from an aging Brees? Fleener is not a bad player, but he has never shown himself as a top target for a team, but the Saints signed him to be one. 2015 was Fleener’s worst year; he put up career lows in yards per receptions despite having the most catches of his career. As it stands now the depth chart lists Fleener and Michael Hoomanawanui as the top tight ends. Hoomanawanui has solidified his career as a blocking tight end who can catch a pass if need be, so he can’t even take the pressure off Fleener like Dwayne Allen did in Indy. At best Fleener can rack up 800 yards and 6 touchdowns, which isn’t bad, but not worth the money the Saints paid him. It’s more likely that Fleener leads the league in dropped passes than leads the Saints in any major category.
19 BOOM: Alfred Morris RB - Dallas Cowboys
We are fully aware that Ezekiel Elliott will be running the rock for the Cowboys. He will be the lead back and it wouldn’t be shocking for him to get 250 carries through the season. However, if the ‘Boys care about the longevity of their running back, they better cut at least 50 carries off that number. Darren McFadden right now is sitting as the number 2 back on the depth chart, but following his offseason elbow surgery, he is out for the preseason and questionable for early season games. This gives a huge opportunity for Alfred Morris, who will be playing for the Cowboys with a chip on his shoulder after being cut by the division rival Redskins. While his numbers have steeply fallen each of his four years, Morris has never run for less than 700 yards in a season and last year even his coach said that the team was not utilizing Morris enough. The Cowboys are not going to rely on Morris to be the lead back, but he will play a huge role in the red zone and on short yard plays. He compliments both McFadden and Elliott well as a powerful back who can squeeze through holes or block a blitzing defender. 4 years is a long time for most NFL running backs, so this may be the last time that Morris will have the potential to be a productive player and we expect him to give it everything he’s got. By pairing his motivation with the fact that he will be running behind the best line in football, we can see him putting up 800 yards on the ground with 5 touchdowns, while playing a backup role to Elliott. However, a good year by Morris will mean that McFadden will be riding the bench for much of the season.
17 BUST: Malik Jackson DE - Jacksonville Jaguars
Malik Jackson’s year really reminds us of another Super Bowl winning defensive lineman, Paul Kruger. The Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII because of their amazing defense. Every player seemed to have a career year, especially those who were playing for a new contract (which was about half the team). Paul Kruger was one of those players. He had some good years before, but broke out in 2012 ranking as one of the league’s top ends and turned the year and Super Bowl win into a huge contract with a traditionally sub-par team. Sound familiar? It’s exactly what happened to Malik Jackson. Now the Jaguars look like a better team than the Browns were, but most of the Jags defense is very young and in need of a veteran leader. Jackson has only been in the league for 4 years and has played with players that have proven themselves as the best in the league. Kruger excelled when he had the likes of Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and a bunch of other studs around him, but couldn’t replicate those years when he was the “best player” on defense. Malik was great when he had Von Miller, Demarcus Ware, and Aqib Talib, but will he be so good with Tyson Alualu, Jalen Ramsey, and an over-the-hill Paul Posluszny? Kruger couldn’t do it, we don’t think Malik will be any different.
15 BOOM: Travis Benjamin WR - San Diego Chargers
Travis Benjamin was a delight to watch last year in Cleveland. After sitting on the sidelines for much of the previous 3 seasons, Benjamin became the go-to receiver for the group of “quarterbacks” that the Browns attempted to win with last year. He put up a career year catching 68 of his 125 targets, good for 966 yards and 5 touchdowns. Before last year, Benjamin had widely been written off as nothing more than a potential deep threat, but then he really bloomed and now looks like a very competent 2nd receiver (or maybe #1 on some teams). The Chargers had a great offseason, filling a lot of their needs with free agent signings. After Keenan Allen went down half way through the season, it became glaringly obvious that the Chargers needed someone else to throw the ball to. Danny Woodhead was the only player who had more receiving yards than Allen, and that was from the running back position. Not only will the Chargers benefit from having a reliable deep threat and second receiver, but Benjamin will benefit from what the Chargers have to offer. If he can near 1000 yards with Johnny Manziel, Josh McCown, and Austin Davis throwing the ball, and only Gary Barnidge to steal the defensive attention; then imagine what he can do playing across from Antonio Gate and Keenan Allen while Philip Rivers throws to them. Travis Benjamin is primed to have a good season in San Diego, on a team that will greatly benefit from his being on the field. If this team didn’t have to play defense, they would be a favorite to make the playoffs and even make a Super Bowl run.
13 BUST: Marvin Jones WR - Detroit Lions
No matter what the Lions front office believes, Marvin Jones is not Calvin Johnson. Marvin Jones and Golden Tate together are still not Calvin Johnson. Obviously the team knows it needs to move on from Calvin, but this is just not the way to do it. As it stands now the Lions Depth Chart have Golden Tate and Marvin Jones as the 1 and 2 receivers on the squad. Last year Jones had 65 receptions for 816 yards for 4 touchdowns. That was with AJ Green stretching the field and a very good tandem of running backs that defenses had to account for. Golden Tate had 90 catches for 813 yards and 6 touchdowns. Of course that was with Megatron being on the field and taking up about 80% of the defensive attention. Neither of those guys have thrived on their own and have been products of systems geared to using them as distractions. They can’t be distractions anymore. Tate has the luxury of having played with QB Matthew Stafford, but Jones has to learn a whole new system. Defensive coordinators will more likely focus on stopping Jones as he is much more dangerous with the ball in his hands than Tate is. With Jones being the focus of defensive game plans while having to learn a brand new system with a quarterback who has never played without a safety net, we don’t imagine Jones having a good year.
11 BOOM: Ladarius Green TE - Pittsburgh Steelers
Heath Miller retired at the end of last season, and Ben Roethlisberger immediately went to the Steelers’ management and said “fix this.” Replacing Heath is no easy task, he is a fan favorite who has produced at a high level for 10 years. He was Roethlisberger’s favorite target when he needed to get rid of the ball, and that kind of teamwork can’t be fabricated. But the Steelers did everything they could to replace him by signing Ladarius Green. Last year Green had 429 yards and 4 touchdowns, while competing with Antonio Gates to be the teams leading tight end. Philip Rivers loves to give the ball to tight ends, but has built a relationship with Gates who continues to prove why he is the one of the best tight ends of all time. Green is a jack-of-all-trades kind of tight end in the vein of Delanie Walker. He can block, catch, and be a big target for goal line plays. Following the retirement of Heath, paired with the suspension of Martavis Bryant, Roethlisberger will need a consistent target to throw the ball to. Green fits the Pittsburgh offense well and is praised as a hard worker and a good locker room presence. That’s the exact type of player the Steelers need following a rash of PR nightmare signings like Michael Vick. We see Green having a career year, and gaining at least 700 yards in 2016.
9 BUST: Jared Cook TE - Green Bay Packers
Let’s take a look at Jared Cook’s career numbers. Through his seven years in the NFL, Cook has caught 273 balls for 3,503 yards and 16 touchdowns. That is about 39 receptions, 500 yards, and two touchdowns each season. These numbers aren’t anything to scoff at, but they really aren’t very good either. To be fair, Cook has only played in Tenessee and St. Louis and has had some of the worst quarterbacks the NFL has to offer throwing to him. However, much of the problems with Cook’s game has been due to his lazy route running and desire to play as a wide receiver instead of as a Tight End. Of the players on this list, we have more confidence that Cook may thrive in his new system, mainly because of Aaron Rodgers. Cook has regressed almost each year he played for the Rams and has never turned into the player that so many expected. If Cook decides to grow up and play football as a professional he could be a nice addition for a Packers squad looking for a tight end to target in the red zone. If he continues to only run curls and refuses to block, then he may as well sit on the bench for 2016.
7 BOOM: Chris Ivory RB - Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars really seem like a team on the rise. They have had a lot of success in recent drafts, and have one of the best young offenses in the NFL. Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson lead a deep group of young receivers, who have Blake Bortles passing to them. The biggest hole on the offensive side of the ball has been the running back position, that has been held down by the likes of TJ Yeldon, Denard Robinson, Storm Johnson, and Toby Gerhart. Yeldon looks like he may be a serviceable starter in the future, but last season showed that he has quite a bit of growing to do.The signing of Chris Ivory is perfect for the team. Last year Chris had his first career 1000 yard season and crossed 800 yards each of the previous two seasons as the Jets’ “lead” back. This season Ivory will be assuming the same role for the Jaguars by taking a bulk of the carries, but splitting time with Yeldon as he blossoms into a true-featured back. Ivory fits the Jags game style because he can both run the ball, and go out as a pass catcher if need be (he had 30 receptions last year). Ivory will be a great addition to the young team, each year that he has stayed healthy he’s increased his output, and that trend will continue this year.
5 BUST: Daryl Smith ILB - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Daryl Smith has had an incredibly successful career with both the Ravens and the Jaguars. He never put up eye-popping stats and wasn’t known for awe-inspiring tackles, but he was just good. Fundamental football, and solid plays were his M.O. while he let other players hit the highlight reels. After 11 years in the NFL, Smith took a huge step back in 2015 having arguably his worst year. He was being beat by any ball carrier coming his way and was not able to step up after the loss of many key defensive players. Joining the Buccaneers was a smart move for the veteran as the team already has one of the games best tacklers in Lavonte David and young star Kwon Alexander. Smith has the opportunity to be a player/coach in Tampa Bay, but unfortunately he will be relied on to hold down the weakside linebacker position. He won’t be able to get to the QB often, so there will be a huge hole in Tampa’s pass rush. Smith will make for a good veteran presence on the team, but Tampa signed 3 guys to do that. Brent Grimes is a solid cornerback still, and Robert Ayers had 9 sacks last year. Smith is the odd man out of those three and we don’t feel like he will be a success in Tampa.
3 BOOM: Mark Sanchez QB - Denver Broncos
Mark Sanchez is one of the 32 best quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s had a rough career, but it’s not entirely his fault. Yea he was the culprit of the famed “butt fumble,” but that was years ago, and a number of ego checks in the past. Sanchez came into the league too early and was pushed to start when he wasn’t ready. Because his team’s defense was so good, he saw a lot of early success and it got to his head. After those years, he went through a true reality check and has been a very competent backup in Philadelphia. We aren’t saying he’s amazing, but he can’t be that much worse than a broken Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler. He has a decent running back tandem with Ronnie Hillman and CJ Anderson, not to mention that he has better pass catchers than at any point in his career. Seriously, anyone would prefer throwing to Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas opposed to the 2011 models of Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. The real reason we feel like Sanchez will be good is because of the low expectations. All Sanchez has to do is throw for 2,500 yards, which he has done multiple times, and he will have a successful year. Sanchez understands that he is a one year bridge until Paxton Lynch is ready to start, and he wants to prove the people calling him a joke wrong. And he will. If Josh McCown and Case Keenum can start in the NFL and if Bryan Hoyer can go to the playoffs, then Mark Sanchez can win 10 games (especially with the Broncos Defense).
1 BUST: Matt Forte RB - New York Jets
30-year-old running backs often hit a wall in the NFL. Running backs going to a new team often don’t produce at their best. Teams with a questionable QB situation often run their backs into the ground. Put all of those three together and you may begin to understand how Matt Forte landed here. In comparison to the other parts of Jets’ off season, this signing flew under the radar. No one is talking about how poorly Forte may do for the Jets this year, because all the talk is about how bad Geno Smith will be as the starting quarterback. Forte has made a name for himself as the best pass-catching running back in the NFL and it’s been the most important part of his game. However, when the Jets chose to resign Bilal Powell over Chris Ivory, it should have turned some heads. Powell was the best back for the team down the stretch because of his pass-catching ability, the same thing that Forte is good at. Ivory can catch passes, but is a better pure rusher. Ivory compliments Forte much better than Powell does. Forte also has been dealing with injuries and will need to have his carries limited, so splitting time with Ivory would be ideal. Now Forte will have to focus on being a pure runner because he doesn’t have a quarterback who can push the ball down field on his own, and has to compete with Powell on plays where they want someone catching the ball in the backfield. It’s not easy for a young running back to do that, and it’s much harder for a 30-year-old back who is on a brand new team for the first time in his career.
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