2014 NFL Free Agency: Which Players Should Be Allowed to Walk?
There is certainly an element of excitement that comes with NFL free agency. Every team's fanbase—well, almost every team's, unless they are a cap-squeezed club like the Dallas Cowboys—can't help but picture a host of free agents in their home colors.
Of course, there are also those who would rather see their own team's players stick around. Sometimes that isn't the best idea, though.
Here are some players whose teams should let them go because of performance, age or other reasons.
Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders, Running Back
The Oakland Raiders currently have a gaping hole at running back, unless you think retaining cornerback/running back/special teams ace Taiwan Jones will be the solution.
Both their top running backs from last season are currently free agents: Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings. While it might seem tempting to re-sign McFadden, a 26-year-old with relatively low mileage for his age, it's time to cut bait.
McFadden's injury woes are well-documented, particularly in the fantasy football community. He never played more than 13 games in a season, averaging 11.2 games per season through his six years.
Worse than injury concerns, McFadden's performance on the field has simply been awful. He averaged 3.3 yards per carry over the past two seasons, unexpectedly turning into a plodder.
Major Wright, Chicago Bears, Safety
The Chicago Bears had plenty of problems on defense last season, but safety Major Wright might have been the worst offender.
Wright was the worst-rated safety in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). His contributions led to a passer rating of 146.8 allowed to opposing quarterbacks throwing his way, a 77.8 percent catch rate and five touchdowns to receivers he was covering.
Bears fans might be mad, though. Wright and Chris Conte formed an awful back line in that secondary, but they are only free and clear of Wright, who is a free agent.
Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona Cardinals, Running Back
For some reason, the Arizona Cardinals decided Rashard Mendenhall should garner the majority of the carries last season.
Well, the reason is likely because Mendenhall is a wily veteran with some pass-blocking ability, but why give a guy who averaged 3.2 yards per carry last season the rock 217 times? The rhetorical question is amplified when we juxtapose Mendenhall with his rookie counterpart, Andre Ellington, who averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
Of course, head coach Bruce Arians didn't think Ellington was a workhorse back, which is a fair assessment. He should still command more playing time this coming season, and the Cardinals also drafted Stepfan Taylor last year.
Given the young duo on the roster, the Cardinals should just let Mendenhall walk.
Brandon LaFell, Carolina Panthers, Wide Receiver
This one is a tough call, given the Carolina Panthers are generally devoid of talent at wide receiver outside of veteran Steve Smith.
Brandon LaFell has been Smith's counterpart on that offense over the past four seasons. He always had the opportunity to shine as the team's No. 2, but he has averaged 596 yards and three touchdowns per season since entering the league.
Without LaFell, the Panthers are going to be woefully thin at wide receiver, but that is something they will need to address in free agency and the draft.
Michael Oher, Baltimore Ravens, Offensive Tackle
It's tough to live up to expectations set by a film that paints you like Leonardo da Vinci did the "Mona Lisa."
Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher entered the league on the wings of the success of The Blind Side, the film starring Sandra Bullock based on Oher's life.
Incidentally, it's one he doesn't particularly like, per Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com:
“The movie showed me not doing something so well that got me here, something I’ve always understood,” Oher said. “Everything else is good, but them showing me not knowing how to play football, that’s what upsets me the most.”
Part of the reason why it touches a nerve with Oher is that in reality he’s a student of the game and an extremely hard worker. It’s a cliche that a hard-working player is the first one in the building and last to leave. But Birk, another weight-room junkie, said it’s true with Oher.
However he feels about the movie, Oher has simply never lived up to the hype.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the big lineman gave up increasing numbers of total quarterback pressures—sacks, hits and hurries combined—in each year of his career save 2012, when he gave up just one fewer than the previous year.
That culminated with a whopping 56 total quarterback pressures last season. It's time to let go.
Charles Tillman, Chicago Bears, Cornerback
Two seasons ago, Charles Tillman was among the best cornerbacks in the league. He teamed up with Tim Jennings to give the Chicago Bears a ball-hawking and explosive secondary.
Last season? Not so much.
Tillman was hampered by injuries and the terrible bug that swept through that Chicago defense. He went from one of the best-rated cornerbacks to one of the worst over at Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
He had the same number of interceptions each year (three), but he allowed a passer rating over 20 points higher and four more touchdowns last season.
Age might be catching up to the 33-year-old. Getting healthy will help, and plenty of cornerbacks have played past this age. But the Bears are better off gutting that secondary at this point.
Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants, Wide Receiver
The knock on New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks has been health, or relative lack thereof. Like Oakland's Darren McFadden, Nicks had been unable to stay on the field for a full season since he came into the league, and he seemed to be playing through an injury when he did play.
Last season, Nicks was healthiest. He tied his career high with 15 games played, and he only spent three weeks on the injury report. Despite the good fortune, however, Nicks' production stayed down.
He caught just 56 passes for 896 yards and zero—yes, a big fat goose egg—touchdowns on the year. That is a putrid line for a supposed No. 1 receiver.
Granted, the Giants offense was a mess, and quarterback Eli Manning seemed to be channeling George Blanda last season, but Nicks was a part of the problem.
D.J. Williams, Chicago Bears, Linebacker
Three Chicago Bears defenders are on this list. Do you sense a theme?
Linebacker D.J. Williams migrated northeast to Chicago once the Denver Broncos dumped him last year. He won the starting gig in the middle of that defense over rookie Jon Bostic—a tall task given his predecessor was Brian Urlacher—but was lost for the season after tearing his pectoral muscle.
Painful injuries aside, Williams is entering the twilight of his NFL career with a checkered past and an uncertain future. The Bears have a young middle linebacker in Bostic, and Williams is simply not worth bringing back.
Richard Marshall, San Diego Chargers, Cornerback
The San Diego Chargers were among the worst at defending the pass last season, allowing the fourth-most passing yards in the league.
It should come as no surprise to find out Richard Marshall was rated as the 10th-worst cornerback in the league last season per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
He allowed a 116.9 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks throwing his way, giving up four touchdowns without snagging an interception.
Brett Keisel, Pittsburgh Steelers, Defensive End
Brett Keisel and his beard are Pittsburgh legends. The seventh-round pick spent his entire 11-year career with the Steelers, but it's time to let the legend move into lore.
Keisel is 35 years old, in the twilight of his career. It wasn't long ago that he was playing at a high level, but Father Time catches up with the best of us.
He indicated he doesn't want to retire, and it seems he only wants to play for the Steelers. But that just might not be in the cards, given recent history, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette:
Keisel believes he could play in 2014, but understands the Steelers might not want him back. After all, they released all those teammates except for Hoke, who retired.
"That's very possible. That's the nature of the business we're in, everyone's getting younger. Whatever happens, I'm grateful for my time that I've been here. I'm grateful for the success we've had on this team."
"But I want us to go out and finish this thing strong, win these last two games and go out on a positive note."
He's not sure he would play elsewhere if given a chance and unwanted by the Steelers. He also does not want to think about either at the moment.
Indeed, the Steelers have had little issue saying farewell to aging veterans in recent years. Keisel should be the next one.