As much as free agency can help build teams into contenders, it can just as easily set them back significantly if money isn't spent in a logical way.
Teams often go after big-name free agents in an effort to make headlines, but that isn't always the best game plan. Some players hit free agency because they're deserving of big money, while others do so because their demands simply aren't consistent with their production.
The latter types of players are the ones that teams should avoid as much as possible. They will inevitably find their way onto NFL rosters this season, though, and the likelihood of disappointment is quite high.
Here are three free agents with name recognition that simply won't live up to the contracts that they are ultimately given.
For a three-year stretch Maurice Jones-Drew was unquestionably one of the best running backs in football. The diminutive MJD topped 1,300 yards every year from 2009 through 2011, including more than 1,600 yards in 2011.
Jones-Drew was also particularly adept at finding the end zone with 15 rushing scores in 2009. Jones-Drew received three Pro Bowl nods and an All-Pro selection during that timespan, but things have gone south ever since.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have counted on Jones-Drew to be their go-to guy on offense, and he hasn't lived up to those expectations over the past two years. After missing 10 games due to injury in 2012, MJD followed that up with a 2013 season that saw him rush for just 803 yards and average a mere 3.4 yards per carry.
Some of that can be blamed on the fact that the Jags had no passing game to keep opposing defenses honest, but it was blatantly obvious that Jones-Drew lost a few steps in the process. Although Jones-Drew is a powerful runner even at just 5'8", it's only natural that he is starting to struggle now that his speed is waning.
Jones-Drew is only 28 years of age, so he should have some time left, but the wear and tear on his body has seemingly been accelerated when compared to bigger backs. Despite MJD's obvious issues, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com is reporting that the New York Jets have interest:
The Jets do have an interest in RB Maurice-Jones Drew, as @MMehtaNYDN noted, if it's "at the right price," I'm told.— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) March 12, 2014
The "right price" for Jones-Drew is a low one, but MJD is unlikely to settle based on his track record of success. Because of that, a team like a Jets would be much better off sticking with someone such as Chris Ivory, especially since there is less tread on his tires.
Jones-Drew has defied the odds by having so much success at the NFL level, but reversing this decline is likely something that he can't accomplish.
It wasn't long ago that B.J. Raji seemingly had all the makings of the NFL's next great nose tackle, but the past couple seasons have been nightmarish for the Boston College product. Raji was a key cog for the Green Bay Packers in 2010 as he racked up 6.5 sacks and helped lead them to a Super Bowl win. He even followed that up with a Pro Bowl appearance in 2011.
Raji hasn't recorded a sack in two years, though, and he was downright ordinary in 2013 as he played primarily defensive end. Raji was in line for a huge extension entering the season, but he squandered that in a major way. In fact, Raji's stock fell so far that he was rumored to be on the verge of inking a one-year deal with Green Bay, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Packers and B.J. Raji are close to completing a 1-year deal that will keep the DT in Green Bay and off the free-agent market, per sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 6, 2014
Raji ultimately decided to test the market rather than resigning himself to a one-year deal, but NFL Network's Ian Rapoport is reporting that a one-year deal seems to be the desired term for teams that have interest in Raji:
What does this mean? Packers want Raji back on 1-year deal. Many others want him on that deal, too. We’ll see if he waits until market opens— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 6, 2014
Considering how bad he was in 2013, perhaps that shouldn't come as a big surprise. According to Matt Claassen of Pro Football Focus, Raji was one of the Packers' worst value players last season. Per the Jahnke Value Model, which measures a player's performance in relation to his contract, Raji provided $700,000 worth of value despite getting paid $6.6 million.
Maybe Raji can bounce back if he is put into a role in which he feels more comfortable, but he simply isn't worth the risk after playing at the same level as a street free agent in 2013.
The Dallas Cowboys' model hasn't led to success in recent years, and it appears as though the team is finally in transition. A handful of mainstays have been let go, and wide receiver Miles Austin is among them as the team designated him as a June 1 cut, according to the Associated Press:
The 29-year-old Austin once had a great deal of synergy with quarterback Tony Romo, and he seemed destined for stardom after producing 1,320 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns 2009. Austin followed that up with another 1,000-yard campaign in 2010, but he hasn't reached that benchmark since.
Which player will be the biggest free-agent bust?
Austin missed six games due to injury in 2011, and he missed five more this past season. That led to rookie receiver Terrance Williams passing Austin on Dallas' depth chart. Ultimately, Austin finished the year with a disappointing 244 receiving yards as he was essentially phased out of the offense.
Following Austin's awful season, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett tried to explain his struggles, according to Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News:
Health was an issue for Miles. And he has been dealing with these hamstrings throughout his career. When Miles has been healthy, he has been a good, productive player for us.
There is no question that Austin has proved capable of succeeding in the NFL, but hamstring injuries are major concerns for wide receivers. Austin just hasn't been able to stay healthy, and there isn't a team in the league that should gamble on him doing so.
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