1 Free Agent Each NFL Team Should Let Walk
With March 11 and the beginning of free agency now less than two weeks away, each NFL team has critical decisions to make as it concerns bringing back its own players.
So many factors come into play with these determinations, whether it's age, finances or on-field performance.
As is the case every year, every single club has someone on the roster that it should allow to leave in free agency, regardless of the reason.
In this column, I'll give you the one player that each team should let walk this offseason.
(All salary cap information courtesy of Spotrac.com)
Arizona Cardinals: RB Rashard Mendenhall
Arizona Cardinals running back Rashard Mendenhall averaged only 3.2 yards per carry last season, while his counterpart, Andre Ellington, went for 5.5 yards per carry.
Mendenhall is slated to become a free agent on March 11, and the writing seems to be on the wall for the 26-year old. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said this at the scouting combine regarding Ellington, via Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com:
I’ve never been around a running back who stepped on the field and tried to do things he’s never done before and played wide receiver as good as he does. He plays it as well as most of our starting wide receivers. He has a unique talent we want to look at and continue to build our offense around this year.”
Mendenhall also recently wrote a blog for HuffingtonPost.com that has to be read to be believed. It seems as if he won't be long for the desert.
His dip in on-field production makes this an easy decision for the Cardinals, who should let him walk.
Atlanta Falcons: DT Peria Jerry
Last year, the Atlanta Falcons stumbled to a 4-12 finish, and the team's defense just wasn't up to snuff throughout the campaign.
One of the culprits for the poor play was defensive tackle Peria Jerry, who is now a free agent. Since he was selected with the 24th pick of the 2009 draft, Jerry has been a disappointment in Atlanta.
Last season, Jerry finished as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 64th-ranked defensive tackle out of a possible 69 players. I wasn't a math major, but even I can tell that's not good.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff should let Jerry sign elsewhere this free agency period and find his replacement in the second stage of free agency or in the draft.
Baltimore Ravens: OT Michael Oher
Baltimore Ravens tackle Michael Oher is one of the most well-known offensive lineman in football, and it's mostly because he was the subject of the popular Michael Lewis book (which was later turned into a movie), The Blind Side.
But just because he's well-known doesn't mean he's a great player, as Oher struggled mightily in 2013, finishing as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 68th-ranked tackle out of a possible 76 players.
Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun also believes that Oher's time in the Charm City is coming to a close, writing that he isn't a "priority" for the Ravens, who would be much better served by signing fellow tackle Eugene Monroe to a long-term deal.
Buffalo Bills: K Dan Carpenter
While Buffalo Bills kicker Dan Carpenter had an excellent first season in Western New York, converting 33 out of 36 field-goal attempts, he should be the free agent the team allows to leave this offseason.
Why? Because last year was a statistical anomaly for Carpenter, who had only made 82 percent of his field-goal attempts prior to joining the Bills.
More importantly, the Bills drafted kicker Dustin Hopkins in the sixth round last April, and general manager Doug Whaley would certainly like to see a return on his investment.
Expect to see Carpenter leave via free agency and for Hopkins to assume the placekicking duties this season.
Carolina Panthers: S Quintin Mikell
The Carolina Panthers have two safeties set to hit the free-agent market: Mike Mitchell and Quintin Mikell.
With fellow safety Robert Lester coming on strong last season, that means the club is only likely to retain one of the two, and it should be Mitchell.
While the two finished very close in Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) safety rankings (Mikell finished 32nd, Mitchell 35th), Mitchell's youth (26 compared to 33) gives him the edge over Mikell.
The club should re-sign Mitchell and let Mikell walk in free agency.
Chicago Bears: KR/PR Devin Hester
Even if he never plays another game in the Windy City, Devin Hester will go down as one of the most electrifying players in the history of the Chicago Bears franchise.
And it appears that scenario will occur this offseason, as the Bears are likely to let Hester walk and sign elsewhere. It's the right move.
As B/R's Dan Pompei writes here, it's unlikely that Bears general manager Phil Emery will want to allocate a chunk of the salary cap to a player who doesn't contribute on either offense or defense, as Hester has become strictly a return man.
He had a great career in Chicago, but he'll likely be wearing another uniform in 2014.
Cincinnati Bengals: DE Michael Johnson
Last year, the Cincinnati Bengals placed the franchise tag on talented defensive end Michael Johnson. After paying big bucks to fellow defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap in previous years, it didn't seem like the club had the funds to give Johnson a long-term deal.
Fast-forward a year later, and the Bengals are in a similar position. Despite having a healthy amount of cap space ($30.3 million), the team likely can't afford to have three big-money contracts along the defensive line.
Johnson is an outstanding player, so this choice isn't about what happens on the field, but rather economics. He'll break the bank elsewhere in free agency.
Cleveland Browns: RB Willis McGahee
If there's a movie to describe the rushing attack of the 2013 Cleveland Browns, it would have to be Weekend at Bernie's, with several backs taking turns playing the titular role.
The main "star" was Willis McGahee, who was signed after the team traded away Trent Richardson. McGahee averaged a paltry 2.7 yards per carry.
The 32-year-old back looked every bit his age and is no longer capable of helping to carry an offense. Letting McGahee leave is an elementary decision for new general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine.
Dallas Cowboys: DT Jason Hatcher
Much like Michael Johnson in Cincinnati, this decision comes down to finances, not on-field production. The Dallas Cowboys must let defensive tackle Jason Hatcher walk.
Hatcher had a superb campaign in 2013, recording 11.5 sacks, and given the fact that he'll be 32 at the start of next season, it makes sense that he'd look for one last big-money contract in the free agent period.
Consider what he told Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com, regarding his impending status as a free agent: "I'm going to get what I deserve and get what I'm worth. Age don't matter. Whatever. If you ain't talking what I want, I don't want to talk to ‘em."
With the Cowboys over the cap by $16.4 million, they simply cannot afford to retain Hatcher. They must let him walk.
Denver Broncos: WR Eric Decker
Last season, the Denver Broncos possessed the most prolific offense in the history of the National Football League. Well, at least until the Super Bowl, but you get the idea.
Receiver Eric Decker was a major part of that, hauling in 87 receptions and 11 touchdown catches, and now he's a free agent. But despite his gaudy numbers, the team should let Decker sign elsewhere.
The Broncos only have $17.9 million in cap space, and with their championship window only open for as long as Peyton Manning remains under center, general manager John Elway can't afford to allocate a large chunk of that space to one player.
Plus, it's hard to forget the egg that Decker laid in the Super Bowl, catching one pass for six yards. He was invisible throughout the contest.
With extensions coming up soon for receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas, letting Decker go and sign a big-money deal elsewhere is a no-brainer.
Detroit Lions: TE Brandon Pettigrew
While Detroit Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew has never quite lived up to his status as a first-round selection (he went 20th overall in 2009), he's been a solid player in the Motor City.
And now, he's the top free-agent tight end on the market, with the New Orleans Saints placing the franchise tag on Jimmy Graham and the Ravens re-signing Dennis Pitta. That means Pettigrew will receive a nice contract this offseason.
It shouldn't be from the Lions. No way, no how.
Pettigrew isn't worth Pitta money (five years, $32 million), but he'll likely receive something similar in free agency, as Paula Pasche of the Oakland Press pens here.
The Lions already have Joseph Fauria on the roster, and he's a young, talented pass-catcher. Letting Pettigrew sign elsewhere and bringing in a blocking tight end in the draft or in the second stage of free agency would seem to be the way to go.
Green Bay Packers: DL B.J. Raji
The play of Green Bay Packers defensive linemen B.J. Raji declined in 2013, as he finished as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 43rd-ranked (out of a possible 45) 3-4 defensive end.
When you couple that with the fact that last season, according to Bob McGinn of the Journal-Sentinel, he reportedly turned down a contract worth $8 million per year, letting Raji go should be an easy decision for general manager Ted Thompson.
Even if Raji does sign elsewhere, he legacy with the Packers is secure. He'll always have this play (and subsequent epic celebration) to fall back on.
Houston Texans: RB Ben Tate
Since being selected in the second round of the 2010 draft, Houston Texans running back Ben Tate has been effective on the field, averaging 4.7 yards per carry, mostly in a reserve role.
Now, he's set to hit the market, and he's the top running back available. He's going to receive a nice contract to become a starter.
But it won't be in Houston.
The Texans have already paid one running back, Arian Foster, and he carries a cap hit of $8.5 million into next season. It simply doesn't make financial sense to give Tate a big-money deal as well.
Indianapolis Colts: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
Darrius Heyward-Bey has been nothing short of an on-field disaster since being selected by the Oakland Raiders with the seventh overall pick of the 2009 draft.
He only caught 29 passes last year, his first season with the Indianapolis Colts, and he failed to step up and produce after the season-ending injury to receiver Reggie Wayne.
Heyward-Bey finished the year as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 107th-ranked wide receiver out of a possible 111 candidates.
The Colts can do better than him. Don't expect general manager Ryan Grigson to keep him around.
Jacksonville Jaguars: RB Maurice Jones-Drew
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has had a fantastic career with the club, even winning the league's rushing title in 2011.
But he only averaged 3.4 yards per carry last season and will be 29 at the start of next season.
Despite the Jaguars possessing $56 million in cap space, bringing Jones-Drew back doesn't seem to make a ton of sense. This is likely his last chance at a big-money deal, and the Jags aren't apt to be the team that pays him.
Consider this quote from general manager David Caldwell, who said this after the season, via Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com:
I think (Jones-Drew will) leave that up to his representation in terms of finding him the best value for his deal. I'm not pessimistic at all about it. I think he's earned the right to go to free agency. He's been a great player in this organization and he's had a great career and I think he's earned the right to go see what his value and his market is.
The writing is on the wall for Jones-Drew. The rebuilding Jaguars shouldn't break the bank to keep a soon-to-be 29-year-old back who appears to be on the decline.
Kansas City Chiefs: OT Branden Albert
Last offseason, the Kansas City Chiefs placed the franchise tag on tackle Branden Albert and then unsuccessfully tried to trade him.
Now, Albert is once again a free agent, and the Chiefs should let him walk.
Kansas City already has two starting-caliber tackles in Eric Fisher and Donald Stephenson, so allotting a huge sum of money to Albert doesn't make a ton of sense for a team that only possesses $9.7 million in cap space.
Albert is a very good player, but the Chiefs need to let him walk for the money he'll receive on the open market.
Miami Dolphins: G Richie Incognito
This is perhaps the easiest decision of the entire offseason.
For his role in the bullying scandal that has rocked the NFL world, the Miami Dolphins must let guard Richie Incognito go this offseason.
We hope that Incognito finds success addressing his mental health issues, as David J. Neal of the Miami Herald wrote, citing various media reports.
Minnesota Vikings: DE Jared Allen
Jared Allen has had a fantastic career with the Minnesota Vikings, accumulating 85.5 sacks in six seasons and never finishing with less than 11 in a single campaign.
But it's now time for the club to let the soon-to-be 32-year-old to leave via free agency.
The Vikings are a team on the rebuild with a new coach in Mike Zimmer. While the club has $35 million in cap space to play with, signing an aging player to a big-money deal doesn't seem to be the wisest course of action, especially considering another of the team's defensive ends, 26-year-old Everson Griffen, is also set to hit the market.
Allen is by no means done as a player, but unless he takes a discount to remain in Minnesota, the Vikings should let him walk. He should sign with a team on the cusp of contending for a Super Bowl title.
New England Patriots: LB Brandon Spikes
The writing has been on the wall for New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes ever since coach Bill Belichick placed him on injured reserve under dubious conditions (as tweeted by ESPN NFL insider Chris Mortensen) before the team's divisional round playoff game against Indianapolis.
For more on Spikes' status, check out this piece by Tom E. Curran of CSNNE.com, as he clearly believes Spikes is a goner in free agency.
New Orleans Saints: S Malcolm Jenkins
The New Orleans Saints only have $8.1 million in salary cap space this offseason, and with the club having applied the franchise tag to tight end Jimmy Graham, the finances are tight in the bayou.
As it concerns potentially re-signing with the Saints, that spells trouble for safety Malcolm Jenkins.
The team selected safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first round of last April's draft, and fellow safety Rafael Bush played well last season. That means the club can afford to let Jenkins walk.
As Mike Triplett of ESPN.com writes, Jenkins will likely receive more on the open market than the Saints would be willing to ante up.
New York Giants: WR Hakeem Nicks
New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks suffered through an absolutely dreadful season this past year, serving as one of the poster children for an incredibly disappointing campaign for Big Blue.
Nicks failed to haul in a single touchdown catch and wasn't on the same page with quarterback Eli Manning for the entire year—and now he's slated to hit the market.
The Giants need to let Nicks sign elsewhere.
While he had a great career with the team, especially in helping it win Super Bowl XLVI, his production and poor play last year cannot be overlooked. The team needs to turn the page on 2013, and letting Nicks walk will be a big part of that process.
New York Jets: G Vladimir Ducasse
There's no other way around it: New York Jets guard Vladimir Ducasse has been a disappointment since the team selected him in the second round of the 2010 draft.
Last year, Ducasse finished as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 56th-ranked guard.
At this point, the Jets should cut their losses and let Ducasse sign elsewhere. The club needs to devote its $26 million in cap space to improving the weapons on offense.
Oakland Raiders: RB Darren McFadden
Yet another Oakland Raiders first-round pick that has fizzled, running back Darren McFadden has averaged only 3.3 yards per carry over the last two seasons.
Plus, McFadden hasn't been able to stay healthy, having never played a full 16 games in a season. He's only played in 19 of a possible 32 games over the past two years.
It's time for the Raiders to turn the page on McFadden, who has ultimately disappointed since being selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2008 draft. Despite the team's $66 million in cap space, bringing McFadden back shouldn't be a priority.
Philadelphia Eagles: QB Michael Vick
Since signing with the Philadelphia Eagles prior to the 2009 season, quarterback Michael Vick has turned both his life and his career around.
Vick authored an MVP-caliber season in 2010, tossing 21 touchdown passes and leading the Eagles to the postseason. But it's now 2014, and he clearly isn't in the team's long-term plans; instead, Nick Foles established himself as the signal-caller of the future with an exceptional 2013 campaign.
It's highly unlikely that Vick will return to Philadelphia, where he'll only start if Foles gets hurt. NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport recently tweeted that the Jets are a candidate to sign Vick, and he would have a much better shot of usurping second-year quarterback Geno Smith than he would Foles.
The Eagles should look for a new backup quarterback and let Vick sign somewhere that he has a chance to start.
Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Emmanuel Sanders
While Sanders did record career highs in receptions (67), yards (740) and touchdowns (six), the club was surely expecting more. He's much more effective in the slot and is probably miscast in a role as a true No. 2 receiver.
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently wrote that he expects Sanders to leave and that Markus Wheaton, picked in the third round of last April's draft, will be his replacement.
St. Louis Rams: G Chris Williams
After being a total bust in Chicago after the Bears selected him with the 14th overall pick of the 2008 draft, guard Chris Williams started all 16 games last season for the St. Louis Rams.
Unfortunately for the Rams, Williams didn't play well, finishing as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 74th-ranked guard.
The Rams can do better than Williams, and they only have $7.3 million in cap space.
San Diego Chargers: RB Ronnie Brown
The San Diego Chargers don't have a ton of players that will walk in free agency, so running back Ronnie Brown becomes the pick by proxy.
While Brown had a decent season as the team's third running back, averaging 3.5 yards per carry, he turns 33 this December, and the Chargers have an opportunity to get younger and cheaper at the position.
The team's top two backs are set with Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. There's no reason to bring back the 32-year-old.
San Francisco 49ers: S Donte Whitner
While San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner had an excellent season in 2013, finishing as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) sixth-ranked safety, the team should still let him walk in the offseason.
The 49ers only possess $13 million in cap space, so they cannot afford to break the bank for Whitner. For a detailed look at this situation, check out this piece from B/R featured columnist Dylan DeSimone.
Whitner is certainly good enough that the 49ers would like to retain him, but it doesn't make sense financially. That's why they need to let him walk.
Seattle Seahawks: CB Brandon Browner
Because of his suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy last year, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner became the forgotten man in the team's "Legion of Boom" secondary. He missed the team's final two regular-season games and the entire postseason as the Seahawks claimed their first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
Browner will turn 30 later this year, and the Seahawks have already proven they can win without him. The team doesn't need the distraction as it seeks to defend its Super Bowl title. The Seahawks should let him sign elsewhere.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: K Rian Lindell
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers don't have many big-name free agents, so kicker Rian Lindell is the choice here by proxy.
Lindell only converted 23 of 29 field-goal attempts last season, and with more proven options on the market (Seattle's Steven Hauschka, San Francisco's Phil Dawson and Indianapolis' Adam Vinatieri, to name a few), the Bucs can do better.
Tennessee Titans: WR Kenny Britt
Tennessee Titans receiver Kenny Britt showed so much promise after being selected with the 30th overall pick of the 2009 draft, but he's struggled on and off the field in recent years. And now, the team should let him walk in free agency.
Britt has only caught 157 passes and 19 touchdowns in his time in the Music City. Last year, he finished as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 110th-ranked receiver, and only 111 players were ranked. That's not good.
He's also been arrested a staggering eight times since being drafted, according to CBSSports.com's Will Brinson.
The Titans should let Britt take his act elsewhere in 2014 and beyond and let last year's second-round pick, Justin Hunter, take his place.
Washington Redskins: TE Fred Davis
Next to the Dolphins and Richie Incognito, the Washington Redskins letting tight end Fred Davis walk will be one of the easiest decisions of the free-agent period.
A few weeks ago, per Mike Jones of the Washington Post, Davis received an indefinite suspension and was then arrested for driving while intoxicated less than 24 hours later. The news prompted general manager Bruce Allen to say he was "disappointed" in the six-year veteran.
With Jordan Reed stepping up at the tight end position last year, there's no reason for the club to retain Davis.