Eight In The Box: Which free-agent additions are paying off so far?
Each Friday, Eight in the Box will highlight a list of eight players, teams or moments and their impact on the 2013 season.
Like the draft, NFL free agency is a gambler’s world. For every success story there is an Albert Haynesworth or Javon Walker cautionary tale. And every team finds itself eating a huge contract or two from time to time.
Which franchises managed to avoid those landmines and find impactful players on the free-agent market in 2013? Here are eight (well, technically 10) of the prime examples:
• Honorable mention: Glenn Dorsey, DT, 49ers. I just wanted to take a quick second to touch on Dorsey, in light of another surprisingly solid performance from him Thursday night. Since stepping into the 49ers’ lineup for an injured Ian Williams, the former Chiefs disappointment has been a steadying force up front. He had a sack and three tackles in San Francisco’s win over St. Louis.
8. LaRon Landry, S, Colts: Landry has orchestrated quite the career reclamation, first with the Jets in 2012 and now with Indianapolis in 2013. He did not play Week 3 against the 49ers (injuries have always been his biggest problem), and yet he’s still tied for the team lead in tackles with 26.
Landry was a Pro Bowler last season, so that level of production may not come as a real surprise. It’s still a boon for the Colts, who signed up for $24 million over four years on the 28-year-old this offseason.
7. James Anderson/DJ Williams, LBs, Bears: Kind of cheating by pairing these two together, but the Bears have taken advantage of both in reworking their linebacking corps.
Anderson, formerly of the Panthers, has been the real find. He has played every down so far for Chicago’s defense and is third on the team with 19 tackles. Anderson also has a pair of pass break-ups and rates as his team’s top defender on Pro Football Focus.
Though Williams has not been on the field as much as Anderson, his quickness has paid dividends. That was particularly true last week against Pittsburgh, as Anderson dropped Ben Roethlisberger for a pair of sacks. The ex-Bronco’s efforts have kept 2013 second-rounder Jon Bostic glued to special teams.
(One more quick note: As multiple people quickly pointed out, TE Martellus Bennett is worthy of being in this discussion. The only reason for his exclusion on the list was because of an attempt to hit on as many teams as possible.)
6. Dwight Freeney, DE, Chargers: Freeney has only been so-so for the Chargers against the run. He’s doing what they brought him in to do, though, which is to get to the passer and create some havoc in the backfield.
“If this is Dwight at 33, I wonder what Dwight looked like at 23 or 24,” teammate Corey Liuget told the Union-Tribune.
Freeney’s one sack does not accurately portray his impact. He currently has more QB hurries than any linebacker in the league save for Kansas City’s Tamba Hali, plus he has proven still versatile enough to stay on the field for the majority of snaps.
5. Reggie Bush, RB, Lions: Bush might be higher on the list were it not for the fact that, you know, the Lions just won a road game without him. Still, Bush needed just one week to display why the Lions went all-in on him this offseason — he scorched Minnesota in Week 1 for 191 total yards and a long receiving touchdown.
If he can stay healthy (always a huge “if” for Bush), the Lions might actually have one of the league’s better 1-2 punches in Bush and underrated backup Joique Bell. Nate Burleson’s broken arm could further increase Detroit’s desire to get the ball in Bush’s hands, especially as a receiver.
4. Michael Bennett, DE, Seahawks: Audibles’ own Doug Farrar took a closer look at Bennett’s impact on the Seahawks earlier this week, but Bennett has warranted another mention. Signed away from Tampa Bay on a one-year deal, Bennett has stepped right into Seattle’s aggressive hybrid front and produced.
During the Seahawks’ 3-0 start, Bennett racked up 2.5 sacks and nine QB hurries flying off the edge. This should not come as too much of a shock — in starting all 16 games last year for the first time in his career, Bennett recorded 9.0 sacks for Tampa Bay. The relatively quiet market for him in free agency was an unexpected twist, of which Seattle took full advantage.
3. Elvis Dumervil, LB, Ravens: There’s an argument to be made for Daryl Smith’s inclusion on this list — more so after an INT return for a touchdown against Houston last week.
But Dumervil has delivered a stellar start to the 2013 season, teaming with Terrell Suggs to wreak havoc against the Browns and Texans in Weeks 2 and 3, respectively. Dumervil even had a sack in Baltimore’s defense-optional Week 1 loss to Denver. It has been his performance since then, however, that has really helped the Ravens get rolling a bit. He had a sack and a pair of QB hurries against Cleveland, then five more hurries against Houston as he consistently pressured Matt Schaub.
2. Brent Grimes, CB, Dolphins: If the Dolphins keep winning, it may be this pick-up (not the addition of WR Mike Wallace) that the franchise looks back on as an offseason turning point. Grimes tore his Achilles while playing under the franchise tag in Atlanta last season before Miami scooped him up for one year at the cheap price of $5 million.
Grimes has been more than worth that cost to date. He leads the league with five passes defended, and Pro Football Focus currently grades Grimes as the No. 2 corner in football behind only Leon Hall. The Falcons tagged him in the first place last year because he was on the verge of becoming a lock-down No. 1 cornerback. Healthy again, Grimes is taking that leap.
1. Wes Welker, WR, Broncos: Hard to find any fault in this move thus far. Welker has 19 catches for 190 yards and four touchdowns over Denver’s 3-0 start. More than that, his presence in the slot — alongside Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and tight end Julius Thomas — has made the Broncos’ passing attack completely dominant.
The sheer number of available options for Peyton Manning could keep Welker from challenging the 118 catches he had last season with the Patriots. Still, as of right now, he is on pace for 101 grabs and more than 1,000 yards.