NFL Bargain Shopping
With most of the top free agents signed here is the look at the best values available at each position.
Quarterback: Troy Smith Restricted Free Agent (5th round): Smith might be a restricted free agent, but I’d be willing to bet the Ravens would negotiate a price lower than a 5th round pick. Even if you did have to pay a 5th rounder for him, it isn’t that steep of a price. Smith is young, offers exceptional leadership and work ethic. He was a winner in college and has been on a winning team in the pros, so I don’t think anyone can question his desire. Smith is also extremely athletic and quick, which will buy him time to make plays out of the pocket and with his feet. He’s not an ideal option for a long term starter, but would be a good stopgap for a team bringing in a rookie quarterback. A three year contract, would allow the rookie time to develop. Smith’s speed and athleticism will allow him to have a specialty role once the rookie becomes a starter.
Running back: Thomas Jones UFA: Jones has been the Jets work horse these past couple of seasons, and despite entering his 30’s he has still racking up 1,000 yard seasons. Jones gained over 1,400 yards last year at 4.2 yards per carry. Though he can probably no longer shoulder the load on his own, he could still be good for 250-275 carries the next 2-3 years. He is the best option for a starting running back on the open market by far, now that Chester Taylor has been signed.
Wide Receiver: Antonio Bryant UFA: Bryant is a mixed bag, in terms of talent he can be elite, but his work ethic and mental aspect of the game leave a lot to be desired. I would try to limit the guaranteed money as much as possible for this season, that way you can cut him next year if he doesn’t pan out. I’d also try to have as much incentives as possible in the deal to get him to continuously work hard. That being said, with all the big name receivers being restricted free agents and not a very top heavy draft class, Bryant is your best bet at wide receiver. He can stretch the field and at the same time has the size to exploit corner backs.
Tight End: Alge Crumpler UFA: Crumpler used to be one of the elite tight ends in the league, and while the time of him being a primary option has passed him by, he can still be an effective part of the offense. He can’t stretch the field any more, but is still a valuable pass catcher in short yardage/red zone situations. Crumpler is also still an excellent blocker which makes him the ideal number 2 tight end for most teams.
Offensive Tackle: Mike Gandy UFA: Gandy has been a solid left tackle in the league for a number of years. I might be time for him to move to the other side of the line, but he’s still a quality starter in this league. He should still have another 3-4 years left in the tank, and has overall an limited injury history.
Offensive Guard: Bobbie Williams UFA: Williams is getting up there in age, and the skills have diminished somewhat, but he is still the top guard on the open market. Williams is still an elite run blocker that can eat up any defender in his way. Williams is ideally suited for power blocking teams, limiting the number of interested parties.
Center: Kevin Mawae UFA: Mawae is not the center he once was, but he is still a quality starting lineman in the NFL. He brings veteran leadership and work ethic to whatever team signs him. He could probably still give another 2 years of starting caliber play to a team.
Defensive End: Derrick Burgess UFA: Burgess is a hybrid DE/OLB but could fit on just about any team. He can a very good pass rusher, though consistency has been an issue. He’s more ideally suited to be on a team with one or two ‘elite’ defenders that will take the attention of the better lineman and double team’s. If Burgess can work one-on-one against the right tackle he will win most of those battles. Though known primarily as a pass rusher, he’s pretty solid in run support as well.
Defensive Tackle: Cory Redding UFA: Redding was a huge bust in Seattle, which will bring his price down and make him a major diamond in the rough. He was considered a top DE/DT in Detroit just two years ago, and should be one of the best low risk/high reward options on the market. He might be best suited for a 3-4 DE role, but he can do some damage as a defensive tackle as well. Redding is a good defender, but he isn’t strong enough or quick enough to beat interior double teams.
Outside Linebacker: Keith Bulluck UFA: Bulluck has been one of the best linebackers in the league for the past 8 years, but age and injury will depress his value this offseason. Age alone isn’t that big of an issue, since he should still be effective for another 3-4 years. The real problem is Bulluck is coming off an ACL injury in December and he won’t be ready in time for training camp. Though it will be hard to know what type of player he will be when he comes back, Bulluck is worth the risk for some team.
Inside Linebacker: Larry Foote UFA: Foote’s best season’s were in the Steelers 3-4 alignment and while he showed he can handle being the man in the middle of a 4-3 last season he wasn’t nearly as effective (part of that could be he was playing in Detroit). He’s not an elite starter, but he’s developed into a pretty good one. He’s a sure tackler that is pretty good in coverage as well.
Corner back: Phillip Buchanon UFA: Buchanon isn’t as good of a corner as Leigh Bodden, but he will come at a fraction of the cost. He had a solid year in Detroit last season despite the Lions not getting any sort of pressure on the quarterback. He shouldn’t be a team’s number one corner, but he’s a good 2nd or 3rd corner for most teams in the league.
Safety: O.J. Atogwe RFA (first refusal): The Rams made a risky decision to allow Atogwe to be a restricted free agent without compensation. Now St. Louis could still keep him by agreeing to sign him for whatever contract another team negotiates, but there are plenty of ways around that. Atogwe is one of the better free safeties in the league, a true ball hawk. He gets somewhat overlooked because he’s been on an awful Rams team his whole career. His price tag will be down somewhat because he’s coming off a bad shoulder injury, but there is no reason to think it will affect him long term.