Is Dunta Robinson the Next Nate Clements?
Supply and demand is perhaps one of the most fundamental concepts of economics as well as NFL free agency.
Demand refers to how much of a product is desired, or in this case, how much the team needs the services of said position.
Supply, of course, represents what the market offers, or in the case of NFL free agency, who is available.
A cursory glance at the Atlanta Falcons' big free-agent signing Dunta Robinson would clearly indicate that the model of supply and demand works just fine. However, there may be lessons to be learned from previous cornerback free agents like Robinson.
One of these said stories is in regards to the highest paid defensive player in the NFL not named Albert Haynesworth.
At the end of the 2006 season, the San Francisco 49ers had experienced some success and shown potential in the NFC West. With Alex Smith on the mend but showing flashes of promise, the 49ers felt they had to take a huge step in improving their team via free agency.
Their secondary needed an overhaul, and on opening day of the NFL free-agent period, the San Francisco 49ers delivered, agreeing with the most coveted player in free agency that year, Nate Clements.
In 2002, Clements set a career high with six interceptions, including three against Miami in Week Seven, one of which was returned for a TD. Clements was named Defensive Player of the Week.
Clements earned his first Pro Bowl trip in 2004 after tying his career high in interceptions with six. The Bills did not step forward with the contract he wanted. Clements would go on to sign a one-year deal with Buffalo with all intentions of testing the free-agent waters if things didn't change.
Clements left the Bills a year later to sign an eight-year, $80 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers, making him the highest paid defensive player in the NFL. A day later the 49ers added Michael Lewis, then of the Philadelphia Eagles, to continue in their secondary retooling.
This deal, of course, included a tail-heavy contract that would allow Clements and his agent to proclaim that he was the highest paid defensive player. You may say that the last year will never happen and will be voided, but still, $20 million a year is a lot of cheddar.
A lot of hope sprang forth from Niner faithful as they saw their previously weak link on the team be fortified by the huge deal with Nate Clements.
Today, however, this deal looks to be a bad one. Clements has continued to be a steady corner, but is far from a play-making or difference maker the Niners had first envisioned. Against the Colts this past year, the 49ers elected to start unproven Tarell Brown against the Colts, effectively benching Nate Clements.
Regardless of what the San Francisco media wanted to say, it was quite clear at that point that Clements was not one of the top two cornerbacks on the roster. The common line of thinking was that the 49ers had overpaid for Clements in a weak free agency class and had little choice. Clements' demotion is a reminder of how the sexy free-agent deals can so quickly turn sour.
Many decisions such as these are made in the free agency period, and some might further argue that Clements shares a lot of similarities with Dunta Robinson.
Dunta dazzled the NFL in his rookie season with six INTs and continued to display good coverage skills and play-making ability. The following year he had a bad knee injury that had some experts questioning his ability to bounce back. Robinson would go on to miss the rest of '07 and the first half of 2008. As with any NFL player returning from a major knee surgery, recovery was slow, and Robinson didn't seem the same in '08.
Robinson would go on to turn down an extension from the Houston Texans worth over $20 million guaranteed. The Texans slapped him with the franchise tag, and Robinson continued to progress slowly from his surgery. A myriad of professional blunders or misconceptions led to a holdout and the now famous "Pay Me Rick" shoe incident.
There was a renewed hope among the Texans' fanbase that Robinson would put up a monster year and the Texans would have to extend his contract.
Things did not play out exactly as they wanted, to say the least.
Robinson had a solid, if not average season, and when free agency began the Falcons came calling. Comparing his career with Clements may suggest that Clements was the better player until that point. Some would also argue that Robinson is a lot younger with a ton more upside.
In the end, nobody knows, and nobody will continue to know until Robinson steps onto the field and starts playing some snaps. Until then, however, we can all speculate and wonder in regards to our newest Falcon and how he will perform.
Sadly, this is the world of NFL free agency, where demand often outweighs supply, price is inflated by demand, and nobody knows exactly what the hell you are buying.
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