I think that title pretty much takes care of it. I have gone through numerous March’s and analyzed every team’s needs for exactly what needs to make each one of them better going into the draft. You can always expect a couple of big moves here and there, along with guys getting overpaid and underpaid to go to respective locations where they think will either win a championship or set up their life after football. This year was interesting in the sense that the league we saw in 2014 will not be the same as we will see it taking the field this year in September. Several teams have completely changed their look and players have made questionable decisions to sign with teams that just don’t seem to make any sense. I wanted to wait for this post after the frenzy that happened two weeks ago when five big-time deals were made in five minutes. I thought things were over and then, all of a sudden, the face of the league changed yet again that left me jaw-dropped. I’ll break things down in a couple of categories to highlight what went well and what went wrong.
The two teams that left everyone baffled were clearly the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints. The Eagles fell off the map last year after a hot start that saw starting quarterback Nick Foles going down to injury and Marky Mark Sanchez leading the team to a spot on the couch watching the playoffs from home. LeSean McCoy had a bad year, so he got traded to the Bills for promising linebacker Kiko Alonso. Alonso raised eyebrows because he hails from Oregon where Chip Kelly used to coach and has shown to have an affinity to players hailing from his baby of a program. Kelly has made it clear that he wants the team to be his and only his, but some moves don’t make sense. The Eagles have signed and resigned guys that change the team in a way that Kelly can say is truly his. LeSean McCoy is great, but a down year last year made him seem expendable for a guy like DeMarco Murray who apparently fits Chip’s system better than his predecessor. Sam Bradford joined the team with a confusing trade involving starter Nick Foles, making analysts really ask themselves what Chip thinks he’s doing. Veterans have been let go and it is clear Kelly has an interest to somewhat improve his defense, but offense is the real key. Kelly hasn’t had a true franchise quarterback during his tenure in Philadelphia and, in a quarterback driven league, it has shown. A season missing the playoffs and another one with a first-round exit to a team that couldn’t win on the road (coincidentally the Saints) showed inconsistent quarterback play that hurt the team and the high-powered offense. Kelly is looking for his guy, and a push to move up and get another alum of his baby could be in the works.
The Saints made all of their moves because of salary cap issues, but even still a couple of moves don’t resonate well with me. The trade of Jimmy Graham left everyone baffled because of the fact he got traded, but also what the Saints got in return. Graham is one of the best weapons in the league and a favorite target of Drew Brees that has given the Saints endless options to execute on offense. He was traded because of his $10 million per year salary that the Saints felt was expendable. I think it made some sense because Graham has had injury issues the past two seasons and it was clear that he was not the same player when the injuries settled in. But even still, trading a guy like that to a team who has major interest (most teams in the league) would get some big time value for him and look good going forward. Instead the Saints got a first round pick and Max Unger, Seattle’s oft-injured center. Now any other sport in America with a position abbreviated with a “C” is a great player to get, except football where his value is not nearly that of a stud tight end. Unger also brings with him a big salary that only helped the Saints’ cap issues a little and saw them still need to dump other players. Ben Grubbs, the Pro Bowl guard, was released because of his big salary, Pierre Thomas, who made very little impact on the cap, was let go and Kenny Stills, the stud receiver who became Brees’ favorite deep ball threat and make no impact on the cap whatsoever, was traded to the Dolphins. Once the cap issue was settled by also asking players like Cam Jordan and Junior Gallette to restructure their contracts, the team went out and signed high-profile corner Brandon Browner and running back C.J. Spiller. Both signings show a commitment to defense and the run game, which the Saints need to do, but they gave away guys that helped the team be productive on offense and got questionable players in return. With two picks in the first round this year, the team has to grab an offensive lineman to help protect Brees and give a push up front for Spiller and Mark Ingraham, but the other one is a mystery. The team needed linebacker help after painstakingly letting go Curtis Lofton and also needed help in the secondary to cure the illness of awful play and missed tackles. Getting Danelle Ellerbe from the Dolphins alleviates the linebacker problem (even though he has an injury history) and now makes the team need a receiver. Knowing how the Saints will work, they may try to move up and trade at least one of those first-round picks, along with other picks in later rounds, to make a push for Amari Cooper. He will fit the system well and the team has a big need for capable receivers to pose a threat in the passing game the Saints haven’t felt they have had since 2011.
The most confusing signing of the year has easily gone to Julius Thomas. I get that he wanted to get paid and make money like Gronk and Jimmy Graham, but the downgrade here is just unbelievable. Going from a playoff shoe-in to the worst team in the league (sorry Jacksonville, Tampa can at least give us the illusion they can be successful) is a pure money move that is shameful. The Jaguars have no one to do anything on offense and Thomas doesn’t fix that. Blake Bortles still needs time to develop and with Cecil Shorts no longer on the team, opposing defenses have to make sure Thomas is in check and the game is over at that point. I know the Jaguars have money and can make an attractive offer to guys who want to play in Florida, but Miami is the place to go for anyone who knows Florida and Jacksonville just doesn’t have the fans or the draw to make it desirable. Julius Thomas saw the dollars, but what he didn’t see was the slow start to the end of his career that we will all forget about because that’s what the Jaguars do.
The best signing of the year goes to DeMarco Murray. Murray joins the Eagles on a fat contract after winning the rushing title for the Cowboys in 2014. Murray literally carried the Cowboys last year and made himself born again after such an impact. Murray signed with the Eagles after talks stalled with the Cowboys and everyone was left to wonder how Dallas could essentially let their main man walk. Dallas understood Murray was getting older and had an injury history that, in terms of signing free agents, cannot go ignored. Dallas ran him into the ground last year and decided there wasn’t much of a chance he could be the same guy at this point in his career. Chip Kelly came into play because Murray is the ideal down field runner for his system that led to LeSean McCoy being traded. Everyone in this situation seems to win but Murray is the clear number one. The Cowboys knew what they were giving up, and what they got back in Darren McFadden isn’t an upgrade. The Eagles will feed Murray whatever he wants, but if he gets injured, money goes down the drain. Murray wins because he will get the ball whenever he wants on the field, and if he gets injured, he will get a lot of money for sitting and watching. Good work DeMarco, good work indeed.
Going forward, the most interesting free agent case is actually that of Adrian Peterson. A recent Deadspin article made a pretty good point that Peterson isn’t thinking things through too clearly and it is hurting everyone involved. The Vikings have shown they really don’t want Peterson but also can’t let him go because of his trade value. Peterson is worth a lot in a trade, but his 3-year, $45 million contract is something teams won’t want to take the risk on, especially for a 30-year old running back. Releasing him gives Peterson what he wants but gives the Vikings nothing for a high-priced commodity, so his release won’t happen. Peterson and his agent have said the team isn’t a good fit any more, which is ridiculous. Minnesota is a team built on the run and needs a stable ground game to let second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater evolve and progress into a comfort zone with the starting job. He showed signs of promise last year, but pressure situations made him look like the rookie he definitely was. I don’t want to speculate any further, but the situation is a mess and if the Vikings decide to release Peterson, free agency will be far from over. Hopefully I’ve left some insight on the explosion we just saw and my analysis wasn’t as cold cut as I like it to be because, in all honesty, I am still trying to figure out some of these moves myself. This is what I have so far, but we still have a long way to go before we see if I was right or dead wrong.