NFL Free Agents Who Are Just Fool's Gold

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IFebruary 28, 2013

NFL Free Agents Who Are Just Fool's Gold

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    The title of the piece certainly doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

    But in this day and age of player movement in the NFL, there’s always a sense of "buyer beware" when it comes to those who seemingly find themselves available as unrestricted free agents when the process begins.

    This list may not be loaded with star names, but in some cases there are a few players who have been named to at least one Pro Bowl. Of course, one outstanding season does not make a career.

    But it keeps something very important in mind. In some instances, this is less about the talents of these players and more about a team overestimating their capabilities.

    There are varied reasons for each performer being on this list, some based on where they were drafted and what they’ve done to date. In other instances, it might be a once-highly touted prospect who had failed to live up to expectations and then suddenly rebounded with a solid year.

Quentin Groves, LB, Arizona Cardinals

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    For a player that’s been in the National Football League just five seasons, linebacker Quentin Groves has certainly done his share of traveling.

    As well as meeting new teammates.

    The 52nd overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2008 NFL draft, Groves was regarded as one of the best pass-rushers coming into that season. But he spent two seasons with the Jaguars and totaled 2.5 sacks in 32 games.

    He was dealt to the Oakland Raiders in 2010, where he played 31 games (making a total of 15 starts) and recorded zero sacks.

    In 2012, he signed with the Arizona Cardinals as an unrestricted free agent and totaled career highs in tackles (41) and sacks (4.0) in Ray Horton’s hard-hitting defense.

    Now the Cardinals have a new defensive coordinator in Todd Bowles, and Groves is again an unrestricted free agent. If he doesn’t remain in Arizona, was last year’s performance enough to convince a team he’s come into his own? And more importantly, is that truly the case?

Louis Murphy, WR, Carolina Panthers

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    After his first two seasons in the NFL, wide receiver Louis Murphy had the look of a player that may just continue to get better with more experience.

    During his rookie season with the Oakland Raiders (2009), the fourth-round draft choice from Florida stole the spotlight from first-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey. Murphy finished second on the team in both catches (34) and receiving yards (521) and led the 5-11 Raiders with four touchdowns.

    In 2010, Murphy followed that up with 41 receptions for 609 yards and two scores in two fewer games (10 of those catches for 20-plus yards), but in 2011 and he was limited to 11 contests due to injuries and had only 15 receptions.

    Murphy was dealt to the Carolina Panthers in 2012 with a chance to vie for a starting job opposite Steve Smith and an opportunity to give quarterback Cam Newton another reliable target. But he managed only 25 catches (one touchdown) in 16 games and averaged a career-low 13.4 yards per reception.

    So is Murphy more like the player we saw the first two seasons in Oakland or an enigma? One hopes it's certainly the former, but only time (and perhaps another new team) will tell.

Amobi Okoye, DT, Chicago Bears

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    Sometimes it’s hard to fathom that defensive tackle Amobi Okoye won’t turn 26 until June, yet he’s already played six seasons in the NFL.

    But it’s interesting that the one-time University of Louisville star and 10th overall pick in the 2007 draft by the Houston Texans really has yet to find his niche despite the occasional promise.

    As a rookie, Okoye started 14 of 16 games for the Texans and totaled 5.5 sacks. Over the next three seasons with the club as a primary starter, he totaled 5.5 sacks and was let go by Houston in July of 2011. He was signed by the Bears, and despite starting only one game, he played in 16 contests and totaled 4.0 sacks.

    Prior to last season, Okoye signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in April but was cut loose in late August. He rejoined the Bears only to be released in late November and re-signed a few weeks later. He played in nine games with Chicago in 2012 and totaled one sack.

    Because he is still quite young, teams will likely pursue Okoye hoping that he can be a big-time force on their defensive unit. And perhaps too much was expected early in his career from a player that may have been still developing physically.

    It will be interesting to see how many clubs are willing to take a chance on this not-so-veteran…veteran.

Felix Jones, RB, Dallas Cowboys

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    You can usually expect some big things when Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones has the ball in his hands…usually.

    And perhaps the ball wasn’t in his hands enough in five seasons with the club. The former first-round draft choice from Arkansas showed he could run and catch passes, as well as return kickoffs.

    Jones has rushed for 2,728 yards and 11 scores and averaged 4.8 yards per carry in five seasons with the Pokes. He has also collected 128 receptions for 1,066 yards and three scores, plus averaged 24.0 yards per kickoff return.

    Yet Jones has never been able to consistently be “the man” in the Dallas backfield, and these days that job belongs to two-year stud DeMarco Murray.

    Jones’ big-play ability has never been questioned, but his consistency has. He has fumbled 12 times the last four seasons and averaged a career-low 3.6 yards per carry in 2012.

    With first-round talent comes big-time expectations, and in some ways we have yet to see that from this talented former Razorback.

Darius Butler, CB, Indianapolis Colts

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    The line “the butler did it” is usually the fail-safe answer in those old murder mysteries we fondly remember (okay, so I’m older).

    In this instance, has the Butler done it often enough?

    It proved to be a banner 2012 season—not only for the surprising Indianapolis Colts, but for cornerback Darius Butler as well.

    The one-time second-round pick (41st overall) of the New England Patriots from the University of Connecticut started five games in 2009 and picked off three passes, returning one for a score, and he also saw some action as a punt returner.

    A year later, Butler totaled zero interceptions in 15 games, and just prior to the start of the 2011 season, he was released by the Pats. He then signed with the Carolina Panthers, where he saw action in 13 games, knocking down seven passes but again totaling no interceptions.

    Just before the start of 2012, Butler again found himself on the open market after reaching an injury settlement with the Panthers. In late September, he signed with the Colts and in 11 games with the team totaled 28 tackles and eight passes defensed and led the club with four interceptions, two of those returned for scores.

    Yet Butler finds himself as a potential unrestricted free agent on March 12. What seems to be missing in regard to this obviously talented player?

Jermon Bushrod, T, New Orleans Saints

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    Protecting the league’s most prolific passer should buy you a little clout.

    A Pro Bowl appearance should help as well.

    But when you mention the best left tackles in the league, Jermon Bushrod of the New Orleans Saints doesn’t seem to come up in many conversations.

    After struggling early in his career (giving up 13.5 sacks in his first two seasons as a starter from 2009-10), Bushrod is certainly an improving player on one of the best pass-blocking offensive lines in the league.

    Now the team’s left tackle will be eligible for unrestricted free agency in less than two weeks. Could another team swoop in and steal one of quarterback Drew Brees’ blockers? And if a club does, is Bushrod indeed an emerging player or just the product of the Saints’ offensive system?

Patrick Chung, S, New England Patriots

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    At times, New England Patriots safety Patrick Chung showed spectacular skills around the football.

    As of late, he just seemingly hasn’t been around a lot.

    Chung was a second-round pick in 2009 (Oregon) who started just one game as a rookie. A year later, he was the regular strong safety as he totaled career highs in tackles (91) and interceptions (three).

    He also turned in one of the most memorable performances in recent seasons on a Monday night at Miami. Chung blocked a punt in the third quarter that led to one touchdown, and later in the fourth quarter he blocked a field goal that was taken back for a score. He capped off the night with a 51-yard interception return for a touchdown.

    But injuries and other factors have limited Chung to just 20 games (15 starts) and three interceptions over the past two seasons. Was he just a one-year wonder in 2010, or does he still have star potential?

    It will be interesting to see who’s interested enough to find out.

Osi Umenyiora, DE, New York Giants

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    Admittedly, this is a tough one. But there are certainly some questions here to be answered.

    There’s little denying the pass-rushing ability of New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora. In nine seasons on the field for the New York Giants, the former second-round pick has totaled 75.0 sacks and forced 32 fumbles.

    In 2010, Umenyiora had an incredible year in terms of playmaking, totaling 48 tackles and 11.5 sacks and racking up an amazing 10 forced fumbles.

    A year later, he was limited to only nine regular-season games but he still managed 9.0 sacks. But this past season, Umenyiora played in 16 games with just four starts and totaled only a half-dozen sacks.

    The Giants defense is loaded with premier pass-rushers with Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka, and there may no longer be room for Umenyiora, who is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on March 12.

    But is there any guarantee he could go elsewhere and be depended on to be the primary pass-rusher for a team that may not have the Giants’ supporting cast up front? And does the wear-and-tear from nine seasons on the field catch up with him in 2013?

Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets

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    So how exactly did a two-time 1,000-yard rusher make this list?

    In four seasons in the National Football League, New York Jets running back Shonn Greene has seen his carries and rushing yards increase each year. In 2012, Greene totaled 276 carries for 1,063 yards and eight touchdowns—all career bests.

    But in a troubling year for the Green and White, the former Iowa standout averaged a career-low 3.9 yards per carry and also fumbled a career-high four times after coughing up the ball just once in 2011.

    A closer look at Greene’s performance last season shows that 265 of his 1,063 yards came in wins over the Indianapolis Colts (161) and Arizona Cardinals (104). The Jets running back was limited to fewer than 80 yards rushing in 13 of his other 14 games last season.

    Granted, the Jets’ attack left little to be desired last season for many reasons. But with new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg in town, New York could be looking for a more versatile back than Greene, who was never a big part of the passing game.

    More importantly, is Greene already showing signs of slowing down after two seasons of being the Jets’ workhorse (529 carries)? Inquiring teams will want to know.

Ted Ginn, WR/KR, San Francisco 49ers

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    Once upon a time, the Miami Dolphins made Ted Ginn the ninth overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft.

    After three seasons, the former Ohio State Buckeye was dealt to the San Francisco 49ers.

    Fast forward to 2011 and the beginning of the Jim Harbaugh Era with the Niners—a Week 1 tilt with the Seattle Seahawks in which his team owned a tenuous 19-17 fourth-quarter lead.

    But thanks to Ginn, who returned a kickoff and punt for scores in less than a minute, San Francisco pulled away for a 33-17 victory.

    Under Harbaugh, those are the lone returns for scores by Ginn, who has also been a non-factor in terms of the passing game, catching just two passes for one yard in 13 games in 2012.

    Ginn’s speed will always intrigue teams, but he also hasn’t played a full season in three years with San Francisco, totaling just 33 catches in 40 contests. And those clubs looking for some scores from the return game may be disappointed as well.