Contract Killers: Who hurt their free agent value in 2012?
The NFL’s free agency window opens on March 12, giving teams a little more than a month to make substantial moves before the 2013 draft arrives.
This year’s class of free agents shapes up to be an unusual one — with Joe Flacco re-signing in Baltimore, there may not be a single impact player available at quarterback, and the landscape is dotted with underachieving and over-the-hill players.
Which of those players did the most damage to their financial futures with shaky 2012 performances?
• Jake Long, OT, Dolphins: Long was the No. 1 overall pick in 2008 and has made four Pro Bowls during his five seasons in the league. So, why does it sound like the market for him will be lukewarm come March 12? Well, Long has dealt with arm injuries since 2010 — he spent the last four weeks of this past year on injured reserve — and his play has decreased steadily during that time.
Long still may be the top tackle prize available, especially if a team is convinced he can play on the left side going forward. (Several of the top tackles in this free agent class play on the right, like Sebastian Vollmer, Andre Smith and Phil Loadholt).
A report out this week, though, indicated that Long is seeking $11 million per year in his new deal; the Dolphins are believed to have pegged his value at around $7 million. For the time being, then, there is a massive gap between what Long thinks he’s worth and how the rest of the league might feel.
• Michael Turner, RB, Falcons: The Falcons appeared to come to the realization during the 2012 season that Turner no longer qualifies as a go-to, No. 1 back — Jacquizz Rodgers took more and more of his carries as the season progressed. As such, Turner finished with just 800 yards rushing, his lowest total since coming to Atlanta in 2008.
He still needed 222 carries to get to 800 yards, leaving him with a dismal 3.6 per-carry average. Turner did haul in a career-high 19 receptions and found the end zone 10 times, but his bursts were few and far between.
• Mike Wallace, WR, Steelers: If you’re an NFL GM, do you pay for the potential or the production here? Wallace possesses an elite set of skills, as evidenced by the 2,400 combined yards receiving he put up over 2010 and ’11. But his production — and, seemingly, his motivation — plummeted last season, down to 836 yards and a career-low 13.1 yards per catch.
If, in a contract year, Wallace looked disinterested, how will he perform after receiving a truckload of money?
• Louis Delmas, S, Lions: Detroit coach Jim Schwartz has talked openly about how much better his defense is when the aggressive Delmas is on the field. The problem is, he’s rarely on the field.
Delmas played in parts of just eight games last season after missing five outings in 2011. And he continues to have issues with the knee injury that kept him out of action all those times over the past two years.
If he was 100-percent healthy, Delmas would be right up there near the top of a talented free agent safety class. The reality, however, is that Delmas may have to accept a short-term deal to prove that he’s able to make it through a full season.
• Titus Young, WR, Lions/Rams: This one doesn’t really require any explanation, does it? The only difference between Young and most of the others on this list is that he was cut, as opposed to having his contract expire.
• Matt Moore, QB, Dolphins: I’ve long been in the camp that argues Moore could be at least a halfway decent No. 1 starter in this league. He is 13-12 in that role for his career, after all.
However, he’ll head into free agency just hoping to get a shot somewhere, following a season in which he threw all of 19 passes while riding the pine behind Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins more or less committed to Tannehill as soon as they drafted him, so it’s hard to say how much of a shot Moore was given to win the starting job. Still, in a year with minimal available QB talent on the market, Moore did little to distinguish himself.
• Demetress Bell, OT, Eagles: After signing a big-money deal with the Eagles last offseason, Bell was in the mix to start at left tackle after Jason Peters suffered a season-ending injury. Bell wound up starting all of five games; graded out as the Eagles’ worst offensive player, according to Pro Football Focus’ ratings; and now hits the market again after Philadelphia voided the final four years of his contract.
• Glenn Dorsey, DT, Chiefs: The No. 5 overall pick in 2008, Dorsey never really thrived in Kansas City. He bottomed out as a Chief last season, playing in a mere four games while dealing with lingering calf and knee injuries.
It would be impossible for any team to feel fully confident that Dorsey’s a reliable 16-game performer — his best hope is to find a team (preferably one that runs a 4-3, as opposed to the Chiefs’ 3-4) willing to sign him for one or two years, thus allowing him to get back on track and fire into free agency again soon.
• Dominique Rodgers-Cromatie, CB, Eagles: Let’s just say that things never really worked out for DRC in Philadelphia. He was looked upon as one of the game’s premier young cornerbacks when the Eagles acquired him in that Kevin Kolb trade. Two years later, he’s probably in the second-tier of available corners.
• Connor Barwin, OLB, Texans: It still seems likely that Barwin winds up re-signing in Houston, possibly at a nice price tag. Nevertheless, he picked a bad time to regress as a player.
After missing all but a few plays of the 2010 season with an ankle injury, Barwin reemerged in 2011 to the tune of 11.5 sacks. That number plummeted to three last season, as Barwin struggled to make a consistent impact. Had he repeated his ’11 performance, he would have been in line for a massive payday. As it is, he’ll have to settle for a decent offer.
• Brent Grimes, CB, Falcons (and any other players coming off major injuries): Grimes became the latest poster child in the fight against the franchise tag — he had a terrific 2011, was tagged by the Falcons in lieu of a long-term deal last offseason, then tore his Achilles one game into 2012. He’ll be hard-pressed to approach the money he was seeking before that injury.
There are plenty of guys in the same boat, too, including Washington TE Fred Davis (another player injured while on the franchise tag) and oft-injured St. Louis WR Danny Amendola.