Although franchise tags and re-signings will likely deplete the 2014 NFL free-agent market in the coming weeks, there is a great deal of depth that suggests there will be plenty of talent and value available. At the same time, some undeserving players figure to get paid big money.
Teams are often willing to pay for either past performance or potential, which is certainly understandable, but that isn't always the best way to go about attacking free agency. There are several possible landmines on the market that will ultimately blow up in the faces of the teams that sign them.
Here are three players that have been good in the past and have the potential to be good in the future but will be overpaid by desperate organizations.
When the Oakland Raiders selected running back Darren McFadden with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft out of Arkansas, nobody batted an eyelash. McFadden was an explosive and dominant college player who came close to winning the Heisman Trophy on a couple occasions.
McFadden has shown flashes of being that same player in the NFL, particularly when he rushed for over 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns in 2010, but he has been unable to develop into an elite player.
Injuries have clearly been a big part of the equation. McFadden has never played in more than 13 games in a single season, and he missed six contests in 2013. Also, McFadden averaged a paltry 3.3 yards per carry both this past season and in 2012, so he has been ineffective even when he has played.
There has been plenty of speculation about where McFadden might play in 2014, but Jerry McDonald of the Oakland Tribune believes the Cincinnati Bengals would be a good fit since McFadden thrived under new Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson in Oakland.
In Oakland, Jackson was only coach to get steady production out of Darren McFadden and DHB. McFadden in particular should look at Cincinnati— Jerry McDonald (@Jerrymcd) January 9, 2014
Reuniting with Jackson might be a good career move, but it won't matter if McFadden can't stay on the field. Also, there is no guarantee that Cincinnati will make the best offer. There are likely teams out there that are willing to take a chance on McFadden's high ceiling, especially since he is just 26 years old.
Also, the fact that he has been injured so often means that he doesn't have a ton of tread on the tires. Whoever signs him will soon realize that the injury-prone McFadden simply isn't worth the headaches, though.
Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd has developed into one of the NFL best ball hawks since being drafted in the second round out of Oregon in 2009, and it is well known that teams pay big money for interceptions. Byrd has 22 of them since entering the league, and the perception seems to be that he is an elite player. Byrd is certainly elite when it comes to intercepting passes, but there is a lot more to being a safety than just that.
Byrd has largely been durable throughout his career, but he missed five games to start the 2013 season with a foot injury. Byrd's publicized contract squabbles with the Bills prior to the season didn't make him look great either.
Byrd is a player that the Bills would love to keep since his ball skills complement the team's bevy of pass-rushers well, but negotiations haven't gone well in the past, and they could get even tougher as Byrd was named a second-team All-Pro, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com.
Mario Williams and Jairus Byrd were named the second team All-Pro by the Associated Press on Friday: http://t.co/LXbpjZIfPo— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) January 3, 2014
While Byrd made some plays this season with four interceptions in 11 games, it's tough to buy him as a second-team All-Pro after missing five games. Byrd's reputation far exceeds what he actually is as a player, and that is going to drive his price up in free agency. Byrd has been a more productive and consistent player over the course of his career than someone like McFadden, but teams are going to have to pay for hyperbole in order to secure him.
Which player will be the biggest free-agent bust?
New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks seemed well on his way to becoming one of the NFL's best pass-catchers two years ago, but things have gone south ever since. Nicks failed to top 700 receiving yards in 2012 and followed that up with just under 900 yards in 2013. In addition to that, Nicks failed to catch a touchdown this past season. That would have seemed unfathomable a couple seasons ago after Nicks reeled in 18 scores between the 2010 and 2011 campaigns.
The entire Big Blue offense struggled as whole in 2013, including quarterback Eli Manning, which means that Nicks' poor season isn't entirely his fault. At the same time, he has clearly lost some of the big-play ability that he once had, and it's quite telling that teammate Victor Cruz believes that New York's offense will be fine if Nicks walks, according to Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News.
He's obviously been a big piece for us in the last years that he's been with us. But I think we definitely always have the talent in our receiving room to be successful. I think that's just a testament to how we drafted and how we got players to fit the mold to our offense. I think we can definitely be able to be successful if Hakeem has to move on. It's something that we're going to have to look at. And we hope not, but we'll see how it goes.
Nicks is just 25 years old, so it's possible that he can rebound in the right situation. At the same time, there are no guarantees that he'll return to form. Even after two poor seasons, Nicks will get a fairly big contract because of his age and past production. Maybe it will pay off, but the risk simply isn't worth taking, especially with so many good receivers in the 2014 NFL draft class.
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