Players on the Hot Seat After Early Free Agent Signings
The blockbuster signings during the first week of NFL free agency has brought hope for plenty of NFL franchises. While the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins try to return to relevancy with their variety of moves, the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks further improved their cases to become contenders in 2013.
However, with notable acquisitions comes the pressure that players face as a result of these transactions. Which notable players will be under pressure to live up to their new contracts? As a result, many veterans will be fighting for the opportunity to obtain a roster spot into next season.
There will also be plenty of pressure for a few quarterbacks to produce at an incredibly high level after there were upgrades made across the roster.
Here are the more notable players that will be on the hot seat due to the latest free-agent moves.
8. Brandon Stokley
Brandon Stokley should be admired due to the longevity of his career. He has played 14 seasons, with five of them coming with the future Hall of Famer in Peyton Manning. At age 36, Stokley proved to be valuable last season as he caught five touchdowns during Manning's first season in Denver.
However, his job security could be very much in doubt moving forward after the signing of Wes Welker. Welker has impacted the game in recent years as one of the more dynamic slot receivers in the league. It's expected that he will be the third receiver on the depth chart behind Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
Unfortunately, the signing of Welker essentially fills Stokley's void with the Broncos. His future could very well be in doubt with Denver, who could look to the draft to add youth at the receiver position and replace Stokley.
7. Ryan Tannehill
The Miami Dolphins recognized the need to improve the offensive talent around quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Jeff Ireland delivered during the first week of free agency by signing Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller, which addressed two needs in the vertical passing game.
Miami displayed its willingness to spend with the hope that its investments will turn around a franchise which has struggled to compete at a championship level since the era of Dan Marino. Tannehill did provide promise as a rookie, and his play was overshadowed by the other rookie quarterbacks who were performing on playoff teams.
With these signings, the expectations have become much higher in South Beach. Ireland faces a critical year as general manager after recent seasons where draft picks have disappointed. He put his faith in Tannehill, who now has quite the variety of offensive talent playing alongside him.
If Tannehill delivers, he will bring forth hope for this franchise moving forward. Meanwhile, another disappointing season can lead to some changes in both the front office and coaching staff after the season.
6. Connor Barwin
The Philadelphia Eagles clearly displayed a priority to address the defensive side of the football, and began by signing former Texans linebacker Connor Barwin. Despite the lack of production in 2012, the Eagles committed a six-year deal worth $36 million. In a culture where back-to-back losing seasons aren't tolerated, Barwin hopes to be one of the figures to change that around.
However, there are concerns beyond Barwin's disappointing season that resulted in only three sacks. Barwin was never an anchor of a Texans defensive front that displayed All-Pros J.J. Watt and Mario Williams.
He has been typically viewed as a quality player in the Texans system, but now leaves Wade Phillips' defense and begins his journey with a team that does not have any other elite defensive players around him.
5. Dannell Ellerbe
After winning a Super Bowl as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, Dannell Ellerbe made a big splash by signing with the Miami Dolphins in an effort to add youth to the linebackers. For the majority of the season, Ellerbe was the most valuable inside linebacker. His presence defending the run and providing pressure on opposing quarterbacks made up for his lack of strength against the pass.
Although, his durability is a legitimate concern for the $35 million he will be making from Miami over the next five years. He has never played 16 games in a season, which proved to be the case even in his contract year.
He replaces Karlos Dansby, who was one of the more valuable linebackers in the league last year despite being in his early 30s.
Ultimately, he left a very successful organization to become an integral component of a team looking to return to the postseason in 2013. Immediate results are expected from both the front office and the team's fanbase next season.
4. Paul Kruger
Paul Kruger came into the offseason looking to become one of the highest paid pass-rushers in the league after his last season with the Ravens. The outside linebacker displayed plenty of quickness off the edge, and the ability to use his quick hands led to a productive season that ended with a championship.
His success led to a five-year, $40 million deal with the Cleveland Browns. A pass-rusher was a priority for the Browns, who could have easily drafted a pass-rusher early in the NFL draft. However, they took the chance and signed a man who is coming off the best year of his career while at a relatively young age.
Though, Kruger will face the reality of having to produce without Terrell Suggs on the opposite side of him. Eleven of his sacks (regular season and postseason) came once Suggs returned from his Achilles injury, which is too noticeable of a pattern not to ignore.
It's fair to say that the expectations are higher for Kruger as he joins a team that has been last in the AFC North for quite some time. Time will tell if he can make enough of an impact to catapult this defense moving forward.
3. Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace was the most coveted wide receiver on the free-agent market, and to no surprise the Dolphins paid him like one. His five-year deal worth up to $60 million is a big commitment to Wallace, whose electrifying speed presents plenty of opportunities for a desperate offense.
His numbers were down last year, which poses the concern of whether that was a result of the system he was in or signs of things to come in Miami.
While his speed makes him one of the bigger offensive threats in the game, he has proven over his career that he is a streaky pass-catcher who can easily disappear in big moments when the defense provides pressure on him.
The scenario for Wallace is much different as he changes to a completely different team with a young quarterback looking to make a name for himself. He was able to stand out on many occasions due to Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders limiting the defenses's ability to provide extra coverage throughout the game.
Now, he will quickly learn that as the only receiver who can make an impact down the field, he will have to display a good work ethic in order to maximize the potential he has in Miami.
2. Mark Sanchez
The New York Jets haven't exactly presented a vote of confidence for Mark Sanchez based on their first week in free agency. Their inability to pursue any offensive talent that could surround Sanchez appears to be leading to a colossal failure in 2013.
Meanwhile, Shonn Greene and Dustin Keller have found new teams. The Jets countered by signing David Garrard and have shown interest in former Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb.
Ultimately, it appears Sanchez will have to compete to regain the starting job with the Jets. If he emerges as the winner in training camp, it could very well be the last opportunity he has to become a starter in the NFL.
1. Peyton Manning
As Peyton Manning approaches his second season in a Broncos uniform, the latest free-agent signings have made Denver arguably the favorite to win the Super Bowl next season. Yet, a similar statement was made throughout the 2012 season, which ended in bitter disappointment.
Manning's losing record in the postseason and the lack of Super Bowl championships has brought a negative affect on his Hall of Fame resume.
In 2013, the expectations won't be any different. With an offense that upgraded across the offensive line and at the wide receiver position, there is little room for failure in the eyes of Broncos management. Ultimately, this franchise realizes the window won't last forever with Manning and wants to earn a Lombardi trophy before that window closes.
Manning will face the praise and blame that comes with winning and losing, as he pursues the goal of a second championship.