2014 NFL Free Agents: Predicting Big-Money Busts on the Market

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2014 NFL Free Agents: Predicting Big-Money Busts on the Market
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NFL free agency is set to begin on March 11. Each year there is a flurry of activity early in the period, as teams look to snatch up the hottest names on the market in an attempt to bolster their rosters quickly.

However, doing so comes at a price—generally, the first players taken are also the most expensive.

This year, there are plenty of players who have performed well enough to claim big contracts. Unfortunately, as we have seen in the past, some of those big-money deals will not pan out (see: Haynesworth, Albert).

Let's take a look at some of the biggest free agents who will demand huge contracts this year but may not live up to expectations in their new homes.

 

Eric Decker

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Decker is coming off a career year in which he recorded 87 receptions for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns on Denver's prolific offense. Those numbers absolutely warrant No. 1 receiver money; although, Decker may not be fit to carry the bulk of the load on a new team.

Part of the reason why Decker was so successful in Denver was due to the record-setting year of quarterback Peyton Manning. It also helped that Decker was surrounded by weapons such as Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas.

It was almost impossible at times for defenses to successfully cover everyone. This situation allowed Decker to pad his stats.

Michael Ginnitti of Spotrac.com projects a five-year, $57,482,467 contract for Decker. His assessment came by comparing Decker's production to similar receivers and giving him a value based on their average salaries.

Unfortunately, if a receiver-needy team grabs Decker, he could become the sole go-to target for that offense. His big payday may look ill-advised once he becomes the main attraction of opposing defenses.

 

Darren McFadden

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McFadden seems to be the obvious choice for "riskiest player" this year. It's not because of a lack of talent—McFadden has shown explosiveness and the ability to be a game-altering running back. Unfortunately, it's injuries that continue to plague the former first-round pick.

Over McFadden's six NFL seasons with the Raiders, he has yet to play all 16 games. Back in 2010, it briefly appeared as though he finally broke out of his shell, recording 1,157 rushing yards on 223 attempts and seven touchdowns over 13 games.

However, the injury bug struck once again, as he only played in seven games the following season.

He never seemed to regain his form, as McFadden only averaged 3.3 yards per carry over the past two seasons.

That lack of production, injury history and his previous price tag makes him a significant risk to any team willing to pay him.

Scott Bair of CSN Bay Area spoke with a source deemed to have interest in McFadden; however, there were stipulations:

A source indicated that there is interest in McFadden, but it has to be at the right price. The right price, in this case, is another term for cheap. Largely, the market for him will dictate the Raiders' pursuit of McFadden once free agency begins. If his value is relatively high, the Raiders are expected to let him walk. If it bottoms out, McFadden could come back.

It's all about value with McFadden. If a team is willing to spend money on him, it better be prepared for potential repercussions.

 

Jared Allen

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Allen presents a third type of bust. Unlike Decker and McFadden, he has been productive for a very long time. He has only missed a total of three games in his 10-year career, playing a full 16-game season eight times. Over that span, he has accumulated an amazing 128.5 sacks.

Even though he is about to turn 32, he can still be productive with a new team—that is, if he is utilized correctly.

Allen can't be expected to contribute as an every-down player—and he shouldn't be paid in the same manner. He can still be relied upon to boost a team's pass rush; although, if he is asked to do much more than that, his productivity will suffer.

Which player has the highest bust potential?

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In 2013, Allen's cap hit with the Vikings was over $17 million, according to Spotrac.com. Certainly, he will get nowhere near that on his next contract, as his previous six-year deal was heavily back-loaded.

His next deal cannot reflect his production while in Minnesota, as Allen's snap count should be limited. Still, it will be enticing for franchises in desperate need of an edge-rusher to look at his career numbers and pay him based on past productivity.

Allen may still put up some decent stats—and could be a stopgap solution for some teams—although, if he doesn't come at the right price, the bust label will be applied.

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