2011 NFL Free Agents: Acquisitions That Will Determine AFC West
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To start, let’s set up some parameters for this discussion. The title of the article should give this away, but only free agent acquisitions will be taken into consideration, not draft picks.
Secondly, I won’t mention free agents who were re-signed; we already know what these players can do for their teams and rehashing is boring, even if some of the re-signings were vital.
Instead, let’s focus solely on the free agents who have signed to a new team. Which will have the most impact on how the AFC West plays out in 2011?
Here is one man's opinion of the five most important free agent acquisitions.
ILB Brandon Siler
Brandon Siler brings down a scrambling Tim Tebow. He'll get more opportunities to do so for his new home in Kansas City.
With all the cash Kansas City risked on Steve Breaston’s questionable knees, the Chiefs' best free agent signing seems to have gone somewhat under the radar.
There has been a hole in the Chiefs’ defense at ILB next to Derrick Johnson, and Brandon Siler looks to be tailor-made for the job.
Johnson has the sideline-to-sideline speed to snuff out plays outside and the athleticism to cover tight ends or tailbacks in the slot. Siler is a physical presence with good instincts who’s at his best when he’s moving forward, keeping the play in front of him.
They complement each other perfectly and Siler will be a significant upgrade over anyone who has held the job in years.
HB Willis McGahee
Willis McGahee stiff-arms a leaping Richard Seymour. Will he do the same for the Broncos in 2011?
The Broncos have struggled in the red zone for quite some time and their yardage output is consistently inconsistent with points scored.
Willis McGahee looks to change that.
McGahee was often used in Baltimore to spell Ray Rice in the red zone, and usually did a good job finishing off drives with a touchdown. In fact, in 2009, McGahee averaged a touchdown every 9.08 carries.
By comparison, Knowshon Moreno averaged a touchdown every 35.29 carries the same year (that average went up to 36.4 in 2010).
These numbers must be taken in context; Moreno received a lot more carries further away from the red zone, whereas McGahee had scoring chances far more often. Still, the addition of McGahee is a welcome one and he should be a valuable asset if he can reprise his role as “The Touchdown Vulture."
LT Jared Gaither
After a year without any football, Jared Gaither makes his return to the practice field in pursuit of a return to form
While the first two signings are, in my opinion, virtual locks to improve their respective teams, the Chiefs’ signing of Jared Gaither is a much riskier affair.
However, if all goes well, it may turn out to be the best signing of the bunch. Gaither carries significant injury concerns—Baltimore lost interest in him after he missed all of 2010 with a back injury and he failed a physical with Oakland prior to signing with Kansas City—but he is still only 25 and was an all-pro talent at left tackle before the injury.
The Chiefs will have to bring him along slowly, but the good news is he recently started practicing with the team. If Gaither returns to form, the Chiefs have an all-pro left tackle and their miserable right tackle situation begins to look a little better with Brandon Albert making the switch.
ILB Takeo Spikes
Takeo Spikes' play in San Francisco was constantly overshadowed by all-pro Patrick Willis
Perhaps an even more under-the-radar ILB signing than Siler to the Chiefs was the guy who took Siler’s job: Takeo Spikes.
After letting Siler and Kevin Burnett walk, the Chargers were left with the veteran Stephen Cooper and some unproven youngsters, including rookie Jonas Mouton and Donald Butler, who will be playing his rookie season in spirit if not literally.
Without Spikes, the Chargers were one Cooper injury—not uncommon for a 35-year-old man—away from starting Mouton and Butler on the inside. If Mouton and Butler are the starters at the end of the year, fine. But San Diego would be in a precarious situation indeed starting such inexperienced players together from week 1.
Spikes changes the whole dynamic. Now, Spikes can take one of the starting ILB spots and keep it warm until Butler or Mouton is ready to fill in. Cooper will be doing the same, if Mouton doesn’t beat him out
straight away. Spikes is also an experienced leader who can teach these young players a lot about the game. Just as importantly, he can still play, even if he's a bit over the hill.
Sounds like a win-win situation for San Diego, and a great free agent signing.
TE Kevin Boss
Kevin Boss will need to quickly impress Raiders fans with plays like this to lessen the sting of losing Zach Miller
It’s only fair that every team in the division gets a mention, but the Raiders’ most significant moves in free agency came in the form of re-signings.
So while Kevin Boss isn’t a bad player, the story here is not necessarily the Raiders’ acquisition of Boss but rather their loss of Zach Miller. Miller has been one of the top ten most targeted tight ends each of the last three seasons and has consistently provided a safety net for Oakland QBs. Miller is also an effective
blocker; though Boss won’t be a downgrade in that department, he certainly will be in the passing game.
In 2010, Boss had a measly 53% catch rate, which simply won’t cut it in Oakland. The Raiders need a reliable target while their young receivers develop and Miller was that man. Boss will need to emerge as
that reliable safety net and prove he can be the go-to guy down in the red zone, as the Raiders lack an effective big target for such situations.
If he can do that, perhaps Zach Miller won’t be as badly missed as expected.