2011 NFL Predictions: 10 Free Agent Signees Who Won't Live Up to Expectations
After the wildest free-agency opening ever, we are left with the task of looking beyond the names and figuring out which signings were actually smart and which players were worth the contracts they were given.
With the new rookie wage scale, more money goes to NFL veterans, and we saw that early on with some large contract bonuses. Some were well deserved, while others left us shaking our heads.
Every player on this list will leave their team dissatisfied in 2011.
10. RB Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints
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Contract: Four years, $14 million, $6 million guaranteed
Look at the contract above. It doesn't seem like much, and it certainly isn't a figure that will set your franchise back if the player fails. But with the new salary cap, every last penny counts, and the Saints wasted a good chunk of pennies with their signing of scatback Darren Sproles.
Sproles, the third-down back in San Diego, is now a small part of a very deep group of running backs. Veteran Pierre Thomas will begin the season as the starter; the team invested a first round pick in Mark Ingram, so it's fair to expect him to get a good amount of playing time.
Chris Ivory, the starter for the tail end of 2010, is injured, but when he returns, he expects to step back into his responsibility as one of the team's primary ball carriers. Where, then, does that leave Sproles?
He'll likely be relegated to a special teams role as Ingram moves up the depth chart, and there isn't as much room for him to make an impact in the return game as there might have been in the past. The new kickoff rules have all but eliminated the significance of kick return specialists, and Lance Moore has pretty much entrenched himself as the team's punt returner.
In summary, the Saints paid second-string money to a guy who will be playing third fiddle all season. Not smart money management.
9. CB Richard Marshall, Arizona Cardinals
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Contract: One year, Undisclosed Monetary Compensation
The Cardinals signed Richard Marshall with the idea that he would soften the blow of losing Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who was traded to the Eagles. But anyone who watched Marshall in Carolina knows that that will not be the case.
Marshall is a great special teams contributor, but he's struggled mightily when matched up against physical receivers. The Cardinals' own Larry Fitzgerald tore apart Marshall and the Panthers' defense in the 2008 playoffs. Marshall had safety help the whole game, but he simply wasn't strong or athletic enough to keep pace with Fitzgerald.
Now that's an extreme case of facing one of the NFL's best receivers, but Marshall struggles against quick, slight receivers as well. He was abused all of last season and appears more fit for a role as a nickel or dime specialist at this point.
8. WR Steve Smith, Philadelphia Eagles
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Contract: One year, $2.3 million
The signing of Steve Smith has been overblown because when you look at the stats, it looks like the Eagles are getting a starter caliber player. But they aren't.
Smith tore his knee cartilage last season and is still recovering. Most injury analysts have suggested that he won't be near full strength until midseason and may never be back to full strength. It's the sad truth, but this may just have been $2.3 million thrown at a hopeless situation, and when you're as close to the cap ceiling as Philadelphia is, you have to be smart with your signings.
7. WR Plaxico Burress, New York Jets
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Contract: One year, $3 million
There's already a lot of hype around the Plaxico Burress signing, but Jets fans may expect too much out of him, and they may not realize what they're missing in Braylon Edwards.
Edwards was incredibly productive last season—904 yards and seven touchdowns—but Santonio Holmes was always treated as the superior receiver. Physically, Edwards is much better than Burress at this point, and his ability to stretch the field and make acrobatic catches down field was a necessary component in New York's offense.
It is possible that Burress will have a solid season, but the Jets' offense will sputter when they face two physical corners that can eliminate Burress and slow down Holmes. You couldn't take Edwards out of the game because of his athleticism, but it's very possible to do so to Burress, especially at the old age of 34.
6. RB Ronnie Brown, Philadelphia Eagles
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Contract: One year, $1 million
Brown is extremely talented—that much is undeniable. But over the past few seasons, it has become equally evident that he's not a great running back. He just doesn't seem to make the right cuts, and there always seems to be something holding him back.
Some are expecting Brown to miraculously overcome LeSean McCoy for the starting job in Philadelphia, but I'll let you in on a secret—that's not going to happen. Brown will turn 30 later this season, and for a guy who has been dinged up his entire career, you can't expect him to provide the burst and athleticism that we saw glimpses of earlier in his career.
5. S Roman Harper, New Orleans Saints
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Contract: Four years, $28.5 million, $16 million guaranteed
Roman Harper has been a serviceable player for the past few seasons, but for the Saints to give up nearly $30 million for a one-dimensional player is just ludicrous.
Harper plays well near the line of scrimmage and is an effective blitzer who plays smart and instinctively, but he's a liability in coverage. He almost looks lost at times when taking his drops and can easily get beat by the league's speedier tight ends; and two of those—Greg Olsen of the Carolina Panthers and Kellen Winslow of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—are within the division.
4. CB Nate Clements, Cincinnati Bengals
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Contract: Two years, $6 million
Since signing a monstrous contract in San Francisco, Clements has made a name for himself as the most overpaid player in the league. He's a second-rate corner who barely belongs in a starting lineup.
Clements has already proved that this signing will not rejuvenate him or his career. He's been less than stellar in the preseason, and things aren't pointing up for him. He's now 31 and his natural abilities—which were completely responsible for earning him a fat contract—aren't going to keep him in the league much longer.
3. WR Sidney Rice, Seattle Seahawks
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Contract: Five years, $41 million
This wasn't necessarily a dumb move by the Seattle front office. They needed a receiver and got one, but what they failed to do was give him a decent starting quarterback that can make use of Rice's ability to stretch the field and help consistently move the chains.
Another point of emphasis here: Rice has only had one good season in his professional career. In 2009, when Brett Favre had the best season of his career, Rice topped 1,300 yards receiving and entered the end zone eight times.
When Rice came back from injury last season, he looked like his usual self, but I'm not confident that he can make a bad quarterback look good; and from what we've seen from Tarvaris Jackson, he is not good—at least not yet.
2. CB Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets
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Contract: Four years, $32 million
Cromartie is still living off of his ten-interception performance with the San Diego Chargers during the 2007 season. He is a ball hawk, but he takes too many chances, and I don't him as a steady performer who would warrant a four-year, $32-million contract.
Cromartie is a starter in the NFL, but expectations are a little lofty for him. His contributions on run support have been suspect, and he's burned more frequently than you like to see from a cornerback with his physical skills. It may be that he's still learning the mental part of the game—and he better learn quick, because the Jets are putting a lot of their expectations on him.
1. DE Ray Edwards, Atlanta Falcons
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Contract: Five years, $30 million
Edwards has shown steady improvement over his career and has now tallied 8.5 and 8 sacks over the past two seasons, respectively. Edwards plays strong, and he's been a pretty good pass rusher, but his impact hasn't been phenomenal. He lined up across from Jared Allen for the duration of his career in Minnesota, and to put up just under 30 sacks in five seasons as a pass rusher is not great.
The Falcons were in dire need of a pass rusher after Charles Johnson elected to remain in Carolina, and they took a chance on Edwards, simply out of a need at the position. That's when teams tend to make mistakes, though, and they may have made a boneheaded one here on an unproven player.
Thanks for reading guys, let me know in the comments if I may have missed anyone!