2014 NFL Free Agents: Big Names Who Won't Be Worth Price Tags

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2014

JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 16:  Running back Ben Tate  #44  of the Houston Texans rushes upfield against the Jacksonville Jaguars  September 16, 2012 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. Houston won 27 - 7. ( Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Free agency is a great chance for many NFL teams to add key pieces to their roster to help them contend for a Super Bowl next season. Unfortunately, not everyone will live up to their market value.

For every Peyton Manning that signs as a free agent and posts historic numbers, there are a lot more players like Albert Haynesworth, who get big money and then fail to provide production in their new location.

While players like Jairus Byrd and Michael Bennett will get the money they deserve, other big names will simply be paid too much to make it worth the cost. These are players that should be avoided on the open market.


Eric Decker, Wide Receiver

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 5:  Wide receiver Eric Decker #87 of the Denver Broncos runs for yards after the catch against the Baltimore Ravensduring the game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 5, 2013 in Denver Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Brad
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Over the past few years, Eric Decker has proven to be an incredibly productive wide receiver. With Peyton Manning throwing him the football, the former third-round pick had at least 85 catches, 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns in each of the past two seasons.

Decker was even able to total eight touchdowns in 2011 with Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow throwing the football.

The problem is that someone is going to pay him based on his most recent results, which were largely inflated by Manning and a pass-happy offense. Mike Klis of the Denver Post provides a look at what to expect during free agency:

The defending AFC champion Broncos want Decker back and Decker would like to stay. Money might separate them. A free agent, Decker is expected to command a multiyear contract worth $8 million to $9 million per year as one of the top "No. 2" receivers in the NFL.

This seems to be too much for a player of Decker's ability, especially when you look past the numbers. 

On a team with Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas, Decker was at best the second option and sometimes the fourth option in the offense. This allowed him to go up against weaker cornerbacks, which gave him more separation down the field.

Even looking at the numbers, it is important to note that Decker was incredibly inconsistent this season, failing to top 50 receiving yards in eight of the team's 19 games this year. Against the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl, he only finished with one catch for six yards.

Turning him into a No. 1 receiver will not give him more production (he already ranked 18th in the NFL with 137 targets last year), but instead limit his efficiency as he goes up against better defenders and more focused schemes. 

As Jeffri Chadiha of ESPN notes, "He clearly is talented enough to help another franchise win games, but it's not as if he's bringing rare ability to the table."

Decker is not an elite receiver, but someone will make the mistake of paying him like one.


Ben Tate, Running Back

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

It seems like people know the risks of a running back like Darren McFadden, who has had injury risks throughout his career. However, Ben Tate is considered by many to be the best free agent at his position and appears likely to get a decent contract this month.

However, the former Houston Texans player has not proven anything yet. While he has averaged an impressive 4.7 yards per carry, he did it behind a strong offensive line and mostly as a change-of-pace back behind Arian Foster.

Tate has only totaled 421 carries since being drafted in 2010, and he has topped 20 carries in only four games. We have no idea if he is capable of carrying the workload of a full-time running back, especially since he has never played a complete season.

Paying starter money for an unproven back with injury issues is too big of a risk.

Additionally, the idea of paying any veteran running back is starting to become outdated. Even Tate himself felt the need to make his case for players of his stature gaining value:

While he does have a point that a strong run game is necessary, it has become clear that it is more important to get the offensive linemen and schemes capable of clearing space for whoever comes out of the backfield.

Eric Edholm of Yahoo! points out that teams are less willing to draft a running back in the first round and instead looking to get value later. He quotes St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead who explained:

I think we can blame Mike Shanahan on that. It seems like he was the guru in taking a late-rounder and having him produce. ... I don't know if you devalue the running back [just] because you're passing more. But also you're using multiple running backs, not just one. Maybe you're devaluing and using less of the bell-cow, go-to guy. There's a few of those left but I think because of that you're seeing that maybe guys go later.

This same strategy is used by teams in free agency, who can instead look to save money by taking someone in the draft. This is a much smarter and cheaper strategy for teams in need.


Josh McCown, Quarterback

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 09: Quarterback Josh McCown #12 of the Chicago Bears looks to pass against the Dallas Cowboys during a game at Soldier Field on December 9, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

After 11 years in the NFL, Josh McCown's stock has never been higher. When Jay Cutler went down with an injury in the middle of the season, the veteran passer kept the Chicago Bears' season afloat thanks to an impressive 13-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Even McCown did not understand why his season went so well, explaining to the Chicago Tribune:

I don't know why it came together at this point. Maybe it just took me 12 years to figure it all out. Or maybe I needed Coach (Marc) Trestman and Coach Cav (quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh) and Jay (Cutler) and all these receivers. I don't know. I can't explain all that. All I know is what happened.

Rich Cimini of ESPN agreed that McCown needs a similar situation to repeat this level of success:

His magical, five-game run last season screams "aberration!" McCown was a mediocre quarterback his entire career, finally finding something special under quarterback guru Marc Trestman. It also helped that he had a couple of stud receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

Watching him play last season, it is clear that he was not as good as his numbers indicated. He is simply a quality backup who can provide decent help when a starter gets hurt.

Unfortunately, someone is going to consider him a starter-worthy player and give him way too much money, something that will end up being a mistake.


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