Free agents like Cullen Jenkins all received new contracts this offseason. But which will be held to higher standards?
Everybody has to deal with the everyday pressures of achieving success in everyday life.
Those pressures are exponentially higher when millions of dollars are involved.
The NFL free agent class has seen many contracts come and go in the first week plus. Certain free agents are already off the board, but hundreds still remain without a team. The sizes of the deals have ranged significantly from duration and especially in value of dollars.
How well teams did signing free agents could make or break the 2011 season. If a huge contract turns out to be a bust, it could set back a franchise years at that position. The window for winning is very small in the National Football League and that window tends to close very quickly.
This slideshow is to display those free agents who have the largest bull’s eyes on their backs.
Determine how high a player’s expectations for 2011 are based on multiple factors – player’s past seasons, influence, and certainly contract terms. Keep in mind this list is strictly for free agents, not players that have changed zip codes this offseason from trades.
And now, the top ten list of players who have the highest bar to clear in 2011:
Tavaris Jackson will be in the mix for the starting spot in Seattle. How well he does remains to be seen.
Seattle’s signing of Tavaris Jackson raised some eyebrows about the caliber of quarterbacks available and the choice made.
The Seahawks aren’t investing a huge amount of money into Jackson, signing him to a two-year, $8 million contract. Another factor in bringing in Jackson to Seattle would be Darrell Bevell – the former Minnesota Vikings and now Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinators. The two worked together for years.
Jackson will most likely fight for the starting job with backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst who has had an extremely small body of work on the field.
With the departure of Matt Hasselbeck to the Tennessee Titans, Jackson will have big shoes to fill. Hasselbeck has been with Seattle for thirteen straight seasons and took the team to a Super Bowl. Jackson may just be a band-aid for a season until next year’s draft class.
The NFC West is certainly not the sexiest division, but the competition of the four teams leaves the division crown up for grabs much later than the AFC East for example. Any team can win the West, including the Seahawks last year at 7-9.
Eric Weddle is now the highest paid safety in the league. His reputation shows he will try to prove he's worthy of the deal.
Two things landed Chargers safety on this list of players with high expectations.
The first-his mouth. Weddle who will be playing alongside veteran Bob Sanders, has already called the duo the best secondary combination in the NFL. When you talk the talk, you better be able to walk the walk.
Another big reason Weddle needs to deliver is the contract San Diego agreed to keep him in southern California. Weddle inked a five-year, $40 million contract to make him the highest paid safety in NFL history.
Perhaps the funniest part of the reaction was when Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson tweeted “Eric Weddle…. THANKU” on July 27. The positive reaction is due to Weddle setting the new standard for safety contract values.
Despite having the league’s best defense in 2010, San Diego missed the postseason. Will a freshly paid Eric Weddle be part of the solution moving forward? He is known for being a huge part of the run support in the Charger’s 3-4 defense but has done little to cause turnovers. Weddle has six career interceptions in four NFL seasons.
Cedric Benson has carried the Bengals offense on his shoulders the last two years. Without Carson Palmer, Cincinnati will need him to step it up even more.
Despite being a pain away from the game of football with legal troubles, Cedric Benson is a very valuable player for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The rush in this offseason to get deals done may have influenced the re-signing of Benson. However, the Bengals did a very smart thing by making it a one-year contract.
Benson’s history of legal troubles stems from bar fights, drunk driving, and even the common boating while under the influence charge.
Don’t forget his rookie hold out from training camp with the Chicago Bears which cost him most of the team related practices. Benson had just 267 yards with no touchdowns in 2005.
Since becoming a Bengal, Benson has revived his career and put up some great statistics. He has put together consecutive 1,000 yard campaigns in 2009 and 2010. Last year Benson found the end zone a career-high seven times.
No Carson Palmer in Cincinnati means rookie draft pick Andy Dalton will most likely get the starting nod under center. All good offenses try to ease young QBs into the league by having them hand the ball off more often than throw it until they adjust to the speed of the game at the professional level.
The fate on the Bengals season may very well rest on the shoulders on number 32.
DeAngelo Williams (34) walks into Panthers practice with first-overall pick Cam Newton. Williams will have to help out Newton while he learns the ropes in the NFL.
The Carolina Panthers are spending money like it’s going out of style.
The big offensive contract went to DeAngelo Williams. Williams had a forgettable 2010 season where he played in just six games for 361 yards and one touchdown. Williams went on IR in Week Eight.
Williams has had success in recent memory. The former Memphis Tiger had a streak of two back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons from 2008-2009. His value was especially felt in 2008 when he had eighteen rushing touchdowns.
Just like Benson, change is coming to Carolina at the quarterback position. Williams will be looked to as the primary weapon for the Panthers.
The last two years have ended with injury for Williams. If he can’t stay healthy in 2011, the Panthers may demote his role for Jonathan Stewart.
Signing Williams to such a large contract shows that Carolina believes in Williams for the future. Panthers fans certainly hope so too.
Former Cowboys receiver Roy Williams is looking to be a star in Chicago-no pun intended.
The cries from Chicago for years have all been for signing a huge, strong and physical wide receiver to serve the role as number one target.
If signing Roy Williams was achieving that goal, half of the city would go bald from pulling out its hair in frustration.
Williams has been called unreliable and uncaring by former teammates with the Lions and Cowboys.
The best year for Williams’ career occurred in Detroit with the 2006 Lions. The current Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz served the same role with the Lions back then. Williams had 82 catches for 1310 yards and seven touchdowns.
The pressure herein lies on Williams to over-achieve for the sake of winning in the court of public opinion. Chicago sports fans are brutal and display characteristics of “meatballs” at the lowest of times. Chicago took no risk with bringing in Williams because the one-year deal is worth only $2 million.
Williams will join a familiar system in which he has excelled before with some other former teammates in Sam Hurd and Marion Barber.
The stage is set for Williams to repeat his 2006 success in Chicago. It’s all on him now to get it done.
Tennessee signed Matt Hasselbeck to serve as the bridge between the present and the future in Jake Locker.
Matt Hasselbeck, a seasoned veteran with the Seattle franchise, was told by the Seahawks when the lockout lifted that the team wanted to separate ways.
Tennessee, who had drafted University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker this spring, found the separation as a chance to solve the quarterback problem.
Hasselbeck and Locker have been in contact ever since Locker departed going pro last year and looked to Hasselbeck for advice.
The reports from Tennessee state that the early goings have been going splendidly between the two parties. Hasselbeck will serve as the quarterback for now and will help groom Locker going forward.
The contract is for three-years and $21 million-a generous amount for the thirteen year veteran. Things look great for the Titans having an almost sure bulletproof plan under center for the next decade.
Ray Edwards could be the perfect compliment to John Abraham in Atlanta, forming one of the league's best defensive end combinations.
The signing of Ray Edwards to compliment John Abraham on the Falcons offensive line makes Atlanta one of the premier pass rush teams in the league.
The signing makes sense, is well structured for the team and the player, and fulfills a need. Abraham had been counted on as the one force to get into the backfield for Atlanta’s defense and has not found much help in other places.
Pressure will certainly be on Edwards to come through and achieve 20 or so sacks with Abraham.
Pass rushing is an important aspect of all defensive success, but especially with a division like the NFC South. Drew Brees, Josh Freeman, and Cam Newton will face Atlanta six times collectively. Forcing those signal callers out of the pocket and making them throw ill-advised passes will be what separates Atlanta from the rest of the division.
Edwards has recorded eight sacks a year for the last two seasons. His decision to test the free agent market could not have landed him in a more ideal location.
The Jets splurged when they brought back Santonio Holmes. Will he return the favor with a big season?
The Jets faced a tough decision at wide receiver this offseason. Both Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards were eligible for free agency and all signs pointed that New York could only afford to re-sign one of them.
The team did a deal with Holmes for five-years and $50 million. That seems like an awfully large number to give to a guy who only had 52 catches a season ago.
Holmes has built a reputation as a clutch performer in the recent past. His unforgettable touchdown catch with the Steelers won Pittsburgh the Super Bowl over Arizona. Holmes had three drives last year in which he had the big play late in the game or overtime to set up a Jets victory.
While a reputation is a good thing to be known for, consistency is something Holmes should try to establish in the Jets offense to serve as legs to stand on.
While the signing is certainly an impact for the Jets, it is ranked low on this list because of the amount of money involved. This deal ensures Holmes $24 million in guaranteed paper, second most by a wide receiver in the league only to Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals with $30 million.
The Jets will have to wait and see if the financial investment pays out for a team that has been so close to the Super Bowl a couple times.
By signing Nnamdi Asomugha, the Eagles will have one of the best pass defenses in the NFL.
Nnamdi Asomugha is the crème de la crème of the self-titled “dream team.”
The Eagles-who swooped into the Asomugha sweepstakes when no one thought they even had a seat at the table-are one of the premier teams in the NFC now and likely favorites to make it to the Super Bowl.
A team with offensive weapons like Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy combined with defensive assets like Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Asante Samuel and Cullen Jenkins make the Eagles the team to beat in 2011.
With the responsibility of being the top dog comes the chore of having to solidify that reputation and not failing by being taken over via egos.
Being the prized possession in the 2011 free agency pool, Asomugha has his own reputation to uphold. Statistics are misleading when it comes to shutdown corners because of the limited number of plays they actually get to make on balls thrown their way.
His stats may say that he has only three picks in the last four seasons, but look inside the box scores to understand his role in the Raiders defense the last eight years. Compare the top wide receivers each week they faced Oakland and see how shockingly low their statistics were. That’s the Nnamdi effect.
There are some very good receivers in the NFC East. This upcoming season, Asomugha will be matched up against Donnie Avery, Roddy White, Santana Moss, Miles Austin, Larry Fitzgerald, Chad Ochocinco, Sidney Rice, Brandon Marshall and Santonio Holmes just to name a few.
The laundry list is long, but Asomugha’s past tells you the Eagles made a great signing in acquiring Nnamdi.
Sidney Rice took a big contract to play with Seattle. Did the Seahawks overpay for a receiver who has not been the No. 1 target before?
You may be thinking-why is Sidney Rice the top free agent who is expected to perform the highest in 2011?
Simply put, the contract Seattle gave to the former Minnesota Viking is deserving of a number one receiver. The five-year, $41 million deal is right up there with Santonio Holmes money.
The problem is, Sidney Rice is really not a dominant number one receiver.
The four-year receiver has spent his entire career inside the Metrodome with the Vikings. Only one year-2009-did Rice display any kind of No. 1 receiver statistics. In Brett Favre’s first season with the Vikings, he and Rice developed chemistry that lead to 83 catches, 1,312 yards, and eight touchdowns.
Every other year of his professional career, Rice has failed to break more than 31 catches, 400 yards, or four touchdowns.
Obvious factors determine those numbers. For one, the quarterback play of Tavaris Jackson, Kelly Holcomb and Gus Fretotte don’t help receivers cause. But did a 39 year old Favre really make all the difference?
Seattle hopes those numbers with Jackson will certainly improve, because Rice will again be thrown to by Jackson. Both players signed deals with the Seahawks.
For the money, the Seahawks may have overpaid for Rice significantly. Given his history with Tavaris Jackson, the combo has yet to explode for No. 1 receiver stats.
Will 2011 finally be the year it all clicks? Time will tell.
Follow Brett Lyons on Twitter @BrettLyons670.