NFL Free Agent Additions with the Most Upside
The NFL has proven once again that it takes no time off throughout the year, as the free-agency signing period kicked off last Tuesday (March 12) and stole the show. With agents allowed to speak with team officials beginning the previous Friday, there was no shortage of build up to announce what deals had been agreed to.
As quickly as news broke of another signing, pundits alike were equipped with a throng of opinions on how each player would eventually impact their new team.
While these moves are made with a very specific objective by both the organizations and the players, there are some that will ultimately pay off more than others.
Though there are certain to be more signings to filter in over the subsequent weeks, here are the free-agent additions that boast the most upside right now.
Wes Welker: Wide Receiver, Denver Broncos
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When also considering the wide receiver was sniped from the New England Patriots (arguably Denver's primary competition), John Elway might just be in position to deliver on the premature forecast.
Inserting Welker into a receiving corps that already included Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen quite possibly gives the Broncos the most feared passing attack in the entire league. Not to mention, it will also improve a rushing offense that finished 16th in the league last year.
Manning posted one of the best seasons of his career last year. It is not difficult to fathom that he won't have every opportunity to surpass his 4,659-yard, 37-touchdown season in 2013 with the multitude of options he now has.
Jared Cook: Tight End, St. Louis Rams
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Arguably the top tight end available this offseason, Jared Cook inked a deal with the St. Louis Rams and could become Sam Bradford's go-to target.
While inconsistent in his four years in the NFL, Cook possesses the prototypical size to be one of the best in the league at his position. His ability to stretch the field, however, could provide the Rams with a poor man's Rob Gronkowski should everything fall into place.
Teaming Cook up with fellow tight end Lance Kendricks will also provide Bradford with a solid 1-2 punch to work the field with.
This will allow the young quarterback to operate consistently within all levels of the passing offense, opening up more opportunities for young wide receivers Chris Givens, Brian Quick and Austin Pettis—who figure to have an expanded role with the departures of Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson.
Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson: Cornerback, Kansas City Chiefs
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While the Kansas City Chiefs signed Dunta Robinson prior to the Denver Broncos landing Wes Welker, the addition of Sean Smith can be considered the team's response to keep up in the AFC West.
Smith is likely to assume the No. 2 cornerback spot opposite Brandon Flowers, while Robinson gives the Chiefs a strong option in the nickel formation. Robinson is also versatile enough at this point in his career to line up at safety should Kansas City want all three on the field for most of the snaps.
Kansas City's pass defense allowed just 221 yards per game in 2012 (12th in the league), but opposing offenses tallied 29 touchdowns, 8.0 yards per reception and 99.9 quarterback rating—which all ranked at or near the bottom of the NFL.
Adding Smith and Robinson to a secondary that also includes Flowers and Eric Berry instantly gives the Chiefs a group that could be considered one of the best in the league. As the NFL continues to evolve into its pass-happy self, this will only bode well for Kansas City.
Reggie Bush: Running Back, Detroit Lions
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Reggie Bush entered the 2011 offseason as a wild card, as the league was still uncertain as to what role the former second overall pick was best suited for in the NFL. After two productive years (per Pro-Football-Reference.com) with the Miami Dolphins, however, the running back built a track record that considered him the top target at his position in the 2013 free-agent market.
The Detroit Lions signed Bush to upgrade a stagnant rushing attack that finished 23rd in the league last season.
While he will likely not shoulder the load of a typical featured back, Bush will certainly add an interesting dynamic to the offense out of the backfield.
In seven seasons, Bush has tallied 372 receptions for 2,730 yards and 15 touchdowns as a receiver. When coupling this option with Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford in the passing game, look for Detroit's offense to be a lot more balanced than in recent years.
Ed Reed: Safety, Houston Texans
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With Ed Reed reportedly set to sign with the Houston Texans (via ESPN's Adam Schefter), the dissection of the Baltimore Ravens appears to now be complete.
Reed brings to the Texans the veteran presence on a defense that is one of the youngest in the NFL. He also seemingly still has something left in the tank, having not missed a game over the last two seasons and still being able to play the safety position with the best of them.
This is undoubtedly J.J. Watt's defense, but the addition of Reed provides the Texans with an experienced voice to help rally the troops—something Houston sorely missed as the 2012 season progressed and eventually ended in a not-so-close 41-28 postseason loss to the New England Patriots.
Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett: Defensive End, Seattle Seahawks
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The Seattle Seahawks weren't quite ready to get over the hump in 2012, so they made it a point to upgrade in key areas this offseason. And putting pressure on the opposing quarterback appeared to be the top priority.
The Seahawks tallied just 36 sacks last season, with 19.5 coming from Chris Clemons (coming off knee surgery) and Bruce Irvin. The additions of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett (18.5 combined sacks) now give Seattle one of the most versatile pass rushes in the NFL.
Seattle is betting on this group to help elevate a defense that was already one of the league's best last season. With just over $19 million tied up in these four sack artists, the Seahawks are hoping to get their money's worth to compete with the dynamic passing attacks in the NFC.
Steven Jackson: Running Back, Atlanta Falcons
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While not the most sought after running back on the free-agent market, Steven Jackson is certainly the most decorated—having amassed 10,135 rushing yards and 56 touchdowns in his nine seasons with the St. Louis Rams.
Jackson also provides a viable receiving option out of the backfield, tallying another 407 receptions for 3,324 yards and eight scores. His combination as a power runner and a pass-catcher could play very well into what the Atlanta Falcons plan to do on offense in 2013.
What might be most significant about Jackson's arrival in Atlanta, however, is his desire to win a championship before he hangs it up.
This move is very similar to what the Falcons envisioned when they acquired Tony Gonzalez in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs prior to the 2009 season. While that has yet to produce a title, the addition of Jackson could be the missing piece.
Danny Amendola: Wide Receiver, New England Patriots
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While it seemed the Danny Amendola signing was a reactionary move to Wes Welker defecting to the Denver Broncos, it was reported that the New England Patriots actually completed the deal one day prior (via Tom Curran of CSNNE).
Regardless of the timing, however, it is safe to assume that Amendola will at least provide the same role that Welker did within the Patriots' offensive scheme.
Welker did the dirty work for New England over the years, while others—namely Rob Gronkowski and Randy Moss—reaped the benefits. Amendola will do the same, but provides Tom Brady with a much more versatile version of his former trusted target.
If Amendola can stay healthy—which is a big if, as he has played in just 42 games in his four seasons in the NFL—his size and speed will allow him to line up in multiple spots on the field, not just primarily in the slot like Welker.
Having options is what Brady thrives on. Amendola has the capability of taking the Patriots offense to another level.
Paul Kruger: Outside Linebacker, Cleveland Browns
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Other than Joe Flacco, there might not be another player in the NFL who benefitted more from a contract year in advance of this offseason than outside linebacker Paul Kruger.
Kruger not only had a career year, tallying nine sacks in 2012, he helped the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title by adding another 4.5 sacks in the postseason.
Coming from a defense in Baltimore where he wasn't the focal point, Kruger will slide into a much larger role with the Cleveland Browns. He will be expected to build on his recent success and help propel a young defense to become more consistent.
Coupling Kruger with Jabaal Sheard (15.5 sacks in two seasons) in their 3-4 defense, the Browns will feature one of the better young pass-rushing tandems in the entire league.
Mike Wallace: Wide Receiver, Miami Dolphins
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Ryan Tannehill had what you would call an average rookie season for the Miami Dolphins in 2012, completing just over 58 percent of his passes for 3,294 yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. However, much of the inconsistency can be attributed to a lack of variety in the passing game.
While Brian Hartline and Davone Bess are solid contributors, Tannehill lacked a true go-to target. Mike Wallace steps in to be just that.
Though both receivers will be back in 2013, Hartline and Bess will slide into their more conventional roles on a full-time basis. Wallace can stretch the field (career 17.2 yards per reception), giving Tannehill the ability to use the entire field and not focus on just one or two targets.
Adding tight end Dustin Keller and wide receiver Brandon Gibson also gives the Dolphins a much more dynamic passing attack.
Having reliable targets at every level will help Tannehill greatly improve on last year's totals. Wallace's presence, however, could prove the quarterback's lofty draft status to be legit.
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