NFL Stars Facing Biggest Adjustments with New Team
When the new league year starts every March, so does free agency, where teams use the period to remake their rosters with the discarded stars of yesteryear. Some stars still have plenty left in the tank, while others are nearing the end of the line.
Of course, how stars age and eventually go out is dependent on the star. Some slowly fade out and some explode first. At least some of how these careers end depends on the veterans making adjustments with their new teams.
There are also all kinds of adjustments players have to make, some of which we never see. Players have to decide where to live, what schools to send their kids to and blend into a new scheme for which they are probably unfamiliar.
Here’s a look at which NFL stars with a new team are facing the biggest adjustments in 2014.
LaMarr Woodley has played 94 career games as a 3-4 outside linebacker and recorded 57.0 sacks, nine forced fumbles and five interceptions in his career. Despite this production, the Steelers let him go and he signed a two-year contract with the Oakland Raiders.
The problem? The Raiders use a 4-3 defense, so Woodley will play defensive end. From a position of rushing the quarterback, Woodley’s approach won’t change much. However, Woodley will have to do a much better job stuffing the run in traffic if he wants to stay on the field.
The Raiders think some of Woodley’s injury history is due to him dropping weight to play outside linebacker. Woodley is listed at 265, but the Raiders are increasing his weight to 270 or 275, according to NFL.com.
"That's what he was in college," Allen told NFL Network in March, "and really body-type-wise, they always had to kind of keep (his weight) down in Pittsburgh and that's maybe one of the reasons he had some injury issues."
Woodley will need to adjust to playing a new position at a heavier weight. That could be a tough transition for an older player, especially when it comes with a high volume of snaps. While the position switch isn’t vastly different in terms of getting after the quarterback, Woodley will have more run responsibility and less coverage responsibility. How he handles the shift in duties will likely determine if the Raiders keep him around for the second year of his contract.
Julius Peppers is in the exact opposite situation as Woodley. Peppers has never played 3-4 outside linebacker to this point because he’s listed at a hefty 287 pounds, but that’s the position he’ll play for the Green Bay Packers in 2014.
Moving Peppers off the line of scrimmage may ultimately be a great thing for him because his run-blocking has been on the decline. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Peppers has gone from a top 4-3 defensive end to a middling one over the last four years.
Where the transition could be tough for Peppers is in pass coverage. Outside linebackers in a 3-4 don’t always have to have a ton of pass coverage responsibility, but they typically have more than a 4-3 defensive end. Over the last four seasons in Chicago, Peppers average just over one snap in pass coverage per game, according to Pro Football Focus.
By contrast, Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali dropped back into coverage 78 times last year. That’s nearly six times per game. Hali is listed at 275 pounds and although he is probably lighter, he’s still one of the bigger 3-4 outsider linebackers in the league.
At age 34, Peppers’ freak athleticism can no longer cover up all of his ills. The Packers will have to get creative with Peppers to get the most of out of him, but the more he can do in pass coverage the more things they will be able to do.
With Manning, Decker was constantly trying to get to a spot because no quarterback got the ball out quicker at 2.36 seconds, according to Pro Football Focus. Smith is on the opposite end of the spectrum, one of six quarterbacks to take over 3.0 seconds to get rid of the ball. Even if Michael Vick ends up starting, he’s always been slow to deliver the ball as well.
If Decker rushes to his spot and Smith doesn’t throw him the ball, he’s going to have to move around and get himself open. The good news for Decker is that he has some experience with quarterbacks that are slow to deliver the ball having been in Denver during the Tim Tebow era.
Not only will Decker lose Manning, but he’s also going from a No. 2 role with the Denver Broncos to a No. 1 role with the New York Jets. Decker is going to draw more defensive attention than he did across from Demaryius Thomas and next to Wes Welker and Julius Thomas.
It’s hard to see this transition going well for Decker. At least he has a lot going for him outside of football.
Smith surely benefited from Newton’s ability to evade rushers and scramble away from pressure. In 2014, if Smith isn’t open within a few seconds Flacco either isn’t throwing him the ball or shouldn’t be throwing him the ball.
The good news is that Smith has been around a while. Before Newton, Smith had several great seasons with Jake Delhomme throwing him the ball. In theory, Smith shouldn't have much trouble with the transition.
However, Smith was terrible at creating his own yards last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith averaged just 2.9 yards after the catch in 2014—tied for 98th out of 111 qualified receivers. Smith was tied for 18th in the same category in 2011 out of 115 qualified receivers.
So even if Smith gets open and to a spot for Flacco, he might not be very productive. New Baltimore Ravens’ offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is going to have to figure out ways within his system to get Smith the ball on timing routes where he doesn’t have to make plays after the catch.