2011 NFL Free Agency: 5 Underrated and 5 Overrated Free Agents
Risk and Reward: The 5 Overrated and Underrated Players Available in NFL Free Agency
There are no two ways about it: NFL free agency is and likely always will be a risky business.
Every year, teams spend millions of dollars trying to boost their rosters with players that previous teams either found flaws with or were unwilling to re-sign. If you need further proof of the risk, take a look at how Dan Synder and the Washington Redskins have thrown their money around in the past decade or so. Wasting money and cap space on free agents can cripple a franchise.
But if done correctly, free agency can be the place where a team finds that one last piece. Given the right situation and player, the signing of a free agent can turn a possible playoff team into a championship contender.
Taking that into account, let's run down five overrated free agents that aren't worth their price tag, and five others who could be that missing piece for a franchise.
Overrated: WR Braylon Edwards, New York Jets
In Edwards, we're talking about an inconsistent player who has had problems on and off the field. And because of a weak market for impact receivers, he's likely going to get a big contract.
Once he gets that kind of big money, who knows what direction he'll go. Will he keep his nose out of trouble if he isn't fighting for his next payday?
While I think there is some obvious talent to be harnessed in Edwards, he's also a guy I'd be terrified to give big bucks to. Why take the risk?
There are plenty of other options at receiver who come with less baggage and a more manageable price tag than Edwards will command.
Underrated: OL Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens
Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh has stated that re-signing Yanda is one of the team's highest priorities this offseason, and that should give Baltimore the obvious edge in bringing him back.
However, that doesn't mean that other teams won't at least try to sign Yanda.
He has experience playing at several different positions along the offensive line, and Yanda could be an upgrade to several teams at his natural spot of guard.
It would likely take more money than you'd like to spend to get Yanda out of Baltimore, but he could be worth it if you're a team looking to solidify your offensive line.
Overrated: WR Randy Moss, Tennessee Titans
While Moss has always been more of a one-dimensional player, last season saw his skills deteriorate faster than anyone could have imagined. At this point, you'd be hard-pressed to label Moss as anything but a borderline starting receiver in the NFL.
And while that wouldn't be much of a problem for most veteran receivers, it is with Moss. If he's not happy with a reduced role—or what he's worth now to an NFL offense—chances are that Moss is going to be a problem in the locker room.
Does that make Moss valuable to any team in the league besides maybe New England?
Unless I'm Bill Belichick or I have a sure-fire plan for keeping him involved, there's no way I spend a dime on Moss.
Underrated: DE Cullen Jenkins, Green Bay Packers
There has been plenty of talk around Jenkins this offseason, so you could make the case that he isn't actually "underrated."
But if I'm the GM of a team in need of a defensive end, I'm giving Jenkins some serious thought no matter which defensive scheme I ran. Jenkins can play in either the 4-3 or 3-4, and he's been effective against the pass and run in both.
And even though there's probably a little part of Jenkins that would like to go back to the 4-3 defense, he's been one of the best at bringing pressure in the 3-4. Jenkins has also played a big part in Clay Matthews' maturation as a pass rusher.
His age might scare off some suitors, but one NFL defense is going to appreciate having Jenkins around next season.
Overrated: RB Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals would be crazy to let Benson go with the way their offense is set up to operate next season, but he could be the most attractive running back option for teams if six years is required for free agency in the new CBA.
Even if that's the case, Benson is a risky acquisition.
In addition to his career average of 3.7 yards per carry, Benson is 28 years old and has over 1,200 carries already during his time in the NFL. Mileage piles up in a hurry for backs in the NFL.
And regardless of age or carries, running backs are already risks in free agency. There are better ways of improving your running game without spending big dollars on a guy like Benson. Backs are a dime a dozen these days.
Underrated: DT Aubryo Franklin, San Francisco 49ers
While running backs have been devalued in today's NFL, line-moving defensive tackles continue to be mainstays for good defenses.
And if you're a team in need of one of those centerpieces, look no further than Franklin.
He's not a pass rusher by any means (Franklin has just four sacks in nine professional seasons), but he can provide the inside push in the run game that can make things easier for the other 10 he's lined up with. Those kind of players can be invaluable.
Franklin won't be the highest-paid free-agent defender by any means, but he can rival any of them (save Nnamdi Asomugha) in the instant impact he can provide for an NFL defense.
Overrated: CB Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers
On paper, Taylor appears to be an above-average cornerback—and maybe a steal in this free-agent market. But there's more to this story than what meets the eye.
You can't overlook the fact that the Steelers, a defensive-minded team who is already lacking cornerback depth, appear ready for Taylor to hit the market. That could be because of his price tag, but it might also be in part to their own scouting of Taylor moving forward.
It's also hard to discount the fact that Taylor has played cornerback for a team that has had no problems getting pressure on the quarterback, which in theory makes his job easier. Things could be much different for Taylor in a city that doesn't possess the kind of defensive talent that Pittsburgh does.
There will certainly be a number of teams interested in Taylor, but for a contract as rich as agent Joel Segal is seeking, you better have solid answers for those questions.
Underrated: S Donte Whitner, Buffalo Bills
Whitner will always be somewhat limited in coverage because of his stiff hips, but that isn't his game. He's at his best when he's playing downhill and near the line of scrimmage.
And while the NFL is certainly a passing game first and foremost, there is a place for secondary players who can make plays in the running game.
Whitner would be great in a place like Cleveland, where he wouldn't be relied on to control the middle of the field and would be free to roam in the intermediate portion of the defense.
He shouldn't command big dollars either, ensuring that Whitner could be a bargain in the right defensive situation.
Overrated: DE Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers
You could make a pretty good case that Johnson is one of the best young pass rushers in the NFL, and his 11.5-sack season in 2010 was no joke. You don't just waltz your way into those kind of numbers at that level.
But there is something to be said about players who come alive in contract years. Johnson had a grand total of 10 sacks in three previous seasons, and that was playing with Julius Peppers in Carolina.
That's not to say that Johnson couldn't go to another team—or stay in Carolina for that matter—and replicate his '10 season after getting paid.
Yet, for the kind of money he might want as a 24-year-old pass rusher, it's certainly a question you have to ask. Is he a guy that blossomed at the right time, or someone who put in the effort because payday was around the corner?
Underrated: DT Brandon Mebane, Seattle Seahawks
Even in a pass-oriented league, defenses should be built from the inside out. Most of the NFL would agree too, which is why the Detroit Lions have garnered so much praise for how they've went about rebuilding their defense.
Of course, Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane is not Ndamukong Suh. There are very few players who are on Suh's level, but that doesn't mean Mebane can't be a building block for another defense.
He can be a factor in the run game, and his 5.5 sacks in '08 show that he knows how to collapse the pocket from the inside.
Any team that misses out on Jenkins or Franklin would be getting a fine consolation prize in Mebane. The Seahawks would be taking a risk letting him leave Seattle.