With NFL free agency quickly approaching on March 11, a number of teams figure to be big-time factors in terms of chasing marquee names. While that can certainly lead to on-field success, it is more often that free-agent steals make the biggest impact.
The salary cap forces teams to make smart financial decisions. Luckily for organizations that are looking for good value signings in 2014, there are plenty of intriguing options available. Not all of them will work out ultimately, but at least the monetary commitment won't be crippling.
Here are three pending unrestricted free agents who will outperform their contracts with whichever teams decide to sign them.
While quarterback Andrew Luck has received much of the praise for the Indianapolis Colts' success in 2013, it was far from a one-man team. Indy's trade for running back Trent Richardson was an obvious bust; however, Luck got plenty of support from his running game down the stretch. It happened to come from a somewhat surprising source in the form of Donald Brown, who gave the Colts offense a huge boost in terms of production from Week 3 onward, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
Colts: Averaging 6.1 yards per play with Donald Brown on field since Week 3. Averaging 4.9 yards per play with Trent Richardson on field.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 11, 2014
Which under-the-radar free agent will provide the most value?
After being picked in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft, Brown failed to live up to expectations. He had never rushed for more than 645 yards in a season prior to 2013, and he served primarily in a backup role.
That was the initial plan for Brown once again this past season, but he outplayed Richardson so significantly that head coach Chuck Pagano had to ride the hot hand. Brown rewarded him to the tune of more than 750 total yards and a career-high eight touchdowns.
Brown also made some big plays in the postseason, including a 100-total-yard effort and two touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs. With Richardson struggling to find his way, conventional wisdom suggests that the Colts will attempt to keep Brown. With that said, perhaps another team can steal him by upping the offer slightly.
The Colts will always be a pass-first team with Luck under center, so maybe Brown will see an opportunity to produce more elsewhere. He is very much in his prime right now at the age of 26. While he won't command big dollars, he has a massive amount of potential.
Having a strong cornerback tandem is of the utmost importance in the NFL these days due to the emphasis on passing. Great corners aren't easy to find, but this year's free-agent crop offers some intriguing options. One who may not receive much publicity is 32-year-old corner Jabari Greer.
The 10-year veteran doesn't put up gaudy numbers, but he is a steady player. He was recently released by the New Orleans Saints, per Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com:
As expected, the #Saints also part ways with Jabari Greer and Jon Vilma. That leaves just 9 players from their SB XLIV championship team.— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) February 12, 2014
The decision was based more on salary-cap issues than on-field play, although Greer did miss six games due to injury last season. Greer was a key part of New Orleans' underrated defense when it won the Super Bowl a few years ago, and he can play a similar role for a contending team if given the chance in 2014.
Perhaps more important than anything is the fact that Greer has a winning attitude, as evidenced by these tweets courtesy of ESPN.com's Mike Triplett:
#Saints Greer: “I was trying to write something truly from my heart that’s not cliché and doesn’t seem rehearsed. And my thank you note ...— Mike Triplett (@MikeTriplett) February 13, 2014
“…was playing with passion on Sundays. I truly believe the best thank you note I can give to those who supported me is a life well lived.”— Mike Triplett (@MikeTriplett) February 13, 2014
Even though Greer's tenure with the Saints is over, he seems determined to continue being a quality NFL corner. Greer has never had more than three interceptions in a season, so he isn't necessarily a big-play guy, but he's as solid as they come. He is great in run support as evidenced by his 71 tackles in 2011, and he is basically a jack of all trades at corner. He can likely be had at a bargain price, and he'll be a fantastic nickel corner at the very least.
All signs pointed to Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Andre Roberts becoming a breakout star after a strong 2012 campaign, but the wheels came off in 2013. Although the Cards improved significantly as an overall team, Roberts wasn't a big factor.
According to Mike Jurecki of Fox Sports 910, his numbers dipped significantly after setting career highs across the board in 2012:
Andre Roberts numbers the last two years. #Floyd 2013 Targeted 76 Catches 43, 471 yds & 2 TD 2012 Targeted 114 catches 64, 759 yds & 5 TD— Mike Jurecki (@mikejurecki) February 13, 2014
The drop-off can be attributed to a number of things, including change at quarterback with Carson Palmer, the emergence of fellow wide receiver Michael Floyd and head coach Bruce Arians' commitment to the running game with Andre Ellington and Rashard Mendenhall.
Roberts was the No. 3 option in Arizona's passing game by a wide margin behind Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald, so his 2013 numbers aren't really indicative of his talent level.
At 26 years of age, Roberts should be entering his prime now. He was a third-round pick out of The Citadel in 2010, so he didn't come into the league with a ton of hype, but he has shown some flashes of brilliance.
If given the opportunity to be a starter somewhere, it is entirely possible that he will take that next step. Roberts won't be costly because of his poor 2013 numbers, but he is a much better player than that.
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