NFL Free Agency: Five Potential Bargain Buys That Could Make an Impact in 2010
Free agency is right around the corner, and since it looks like we’re headed into an uncapped year, the bucks could be flying like never before.
There will always be players who are egregiously overpaid (say hello, Jerry Porter), but even in this year of turmoil there are quite a few bargains to be had if you look hard enough.
Clark Judge of CBS Sports posted his list of 10 free agents to avoid at all (high) costs. Well, in response to said list, we’ve searched high and low to find the cream of the underappreciated crop.
These five men fit that bill. While none of them will likely have a trip to Canton in their future, all of them can be a very big piece to the right puzzles in 2010 and beyond.
(NOTE: This list contains only players who will be unrestricted free agents regardless of the CBA situation…mostly because an uncapped year is likely to mean a lot of high tender offers for RFAs whether they’re worth it or not.)
WR Kevin Walter (Houston Texans)
At the very top of this list, we have a man who, in the span of three years, went from special-teamer and depth-chart afterthought to legit No. 2 receiver for the Texans.
Always regarded for his great hands, Walter has shown an excellent knack for running tough underneath routes but can also burn his coverage when needed.
But after a disappointing 2009 season, his value may be a little deflated. Walter made only $1.3 million last year, and probably won’t command too much more on the open market.
Teams shouldn’t let that fool them, though; remember, all it took was a change of scenery for similar guys like Kevin Curtis and Wes Welker to become great (or elite, in the latter’s case) receivers.
Walter became a "player" in 2007 when Andre Johnson was injured, and he caught 65 balls for 800 yards and four touchdowns that season. Stepping in as the starter opposite Johnson in 2008, Walter improved to 60 catches, 899 yards and eight touchdowns.
While he did take a step back last year (putting up a line of 53-611-2), he’s shown that he is capable of handling a big load and will barely be 29 when the 2010 season kicks off.
For a team like, say, Baltimore or Kansas City that needs a gritty No. 2 guy, spending a few million bucks to snag Walter for two or three years would be a huge upgrade.
RB Chester Taylor (Minnesota Vikings)
The NFL is now in an era where most teams employ a rotation of backs. It seems to work effectively, as the 2008 Giants or the 2009 Ravens can attest to.
Unfortunately for Taylor, he’s spent the last two years as a virtual backup to one of the best solo backs in the league.
To wit, his totals in 2008 and 2009 as Adrian Peterson’s caddy—195 rushes, 737 yards, five TD—barely equal those he put up in 2007 after Minnesota signed him to be a starter (157-844-7).
So it stands to reason that the combination of his “demotion” and his age (31 on Sept. 22) means he probably won’t approach the $3m salary he got last season, right?
Yes. And that’s going to be a huge bargain for someone.
See, even though he’s 31, he’s not an “old” 31 like, say, LaDainian Tomlinson. He’s still got something left in the tank, and would be perfect as a co-feature back somewhere like, say, San Diego, New York or Miami.
Plus, he has the added value of being an excellent receiver. In the last two seasons, he has caught 89 balls out of the backfield and his yardage total (788) actually eclipses his rushing total in that span. Add in the fact that his 26 third-down catches led all NFL running backs last year, and you have a winner.
Whoever snags Taylor will be getting a guy who will be a great rotation back and an excellent receiver who can step in to be the featured back if needed. That, at any price under $3m, is a steal.
G Bobbie Williams (Cincinnati Bengals)
You probably have no idea who Bobbie Williams is, right?
Maybe so, but know this: He, along with the rest of the Bengals’ offensive line, is a huge reason why Cedric Benson has gone from afterthought to All-Pro caliber back in Cincinnati.
Williams is one of the best run-blockers in the game, and under normal circumstances could be due for a huge raise from his $2.4m 2009 salary.
Problem is, he’ll be 34 early next season, so earning a long-term deal is going to come with the added price of having to lower his compensation expectations.
Even for $2m per at say, three more years, Williams can (and already has been) the difference between an average running game and a stellar one. He may be a little older, but can still get the job done.
RB Willie Parker (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Not too long ago, Parker was one of the top backs in the league. He ran for nearly 4000 yards and 20 TD in a three-year span from 2005-2007.
Then, injuries and Rashard Mendenhall stepped in, and suddenly “Fast Willie” was ground to a near halt. Bad for him, but while Clark disagrees, I think it will be great for whichever team gives the 29-year-old back a shot this offseason.
Parker only has 308 carries over the last two seasons, and even when he was healthy last year he was reduced to being Mendenhall’s backup.
That’s a good thing though, as if he’s completely healthy, he should still have enough gas left in the tank to be at least the lead back in a good rotation for three or four more years.
And even if he is, his lack of production since 2007 means he won’t get anywhere near the $3.9m he made last season. Heck, his value has already been undermined by his own (former) employer, who said they won’t even offer him a deal unless he’s still around later in the free agency period.
Again, bad for Willie, good for whichever of the other 31 franchises decides he can still get ‘er done.
SS Will Allen (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Will Allen has had a weird career.
A fourth-round pick of the Bucs in 2004, he came along and took over a starting job in 2005. And through the end of the 2006 season, he excelled there—recording three picks in '05 and 77 tackles in '06.
Then he became an afterthought, got demoted to the bench, and hasn't hit his 2006 numbers in the last three years combined.
But he hits hard and excelled in the old Tampa-Two system, so a team running that style (hello, Philly?) might be wise to take a flyer. He only made $1.6m in 2009 and will be 28 this season, so he should just be entering his prime.
Many teams have done a lot more with a lot less, and Allen can provide a huge boost in the secondary of a team with a familiar system.