The NFL free agent season is now close enough that when you look at a list of potential free agents, you can reasonably expect the great majority of them to be available. Sure, there is still time for an “eleventh-hour contract signing” or two, but I think that is about all that could happen in the next couple of days. I think this free agent season arrives at the conjunction of two phenomena:
1. The NFL salary cap is up significantly this year. Teams that were at last year’s cap now have cap room to sign players to expensive deal(s); teams that were way under the cap or who created cap room in the days since the Super Bowl now can “mega-spend”.
2. The list of free agents is pretty much devoid of eye-popping star players – certainly not enough such players to absorb the large amount of cap space out there. So, some of the good and serviceable – yet not great – free agents look to cash in this year to an extent that they might not have imagined at this time last year.
Not that anyone asked, but here is my assessment of the free agent candidates that might be at the top of the list by position:
Quarterback: Slim pickings this year. Brock Osweiler and Ryan Fitzpatrick look like the pick of the litter to me despite Osweiler’s very limited résumé and despite the fact that Fitzpatrick will be 34 years old in the middle of next season. RG3 is a boom or bust proposition for whichever team signs him.
Running Back: Doug Martin had a nice year last season but his total body of work is not stunning. Matt Forte is awfully close to his “sell-by date”. I think the two backs who merit “investment consideration” are Chris Ivory and Alfred Morris.
Tight End: No impact players here. Probably the best one on the market is Antonio Gates – potentially a Hall of Fame inductee – but he will be 36 years old before training camp convenes.
Offensive Linemen: Alex Mack and Russell Okung are the best players available at these positions.
Wide Receiver: No impact players here either. If available at bargain-basement prices, I might take a flyer on Reuben Randle or Travis Benjamin.
Defensive Backs: There are several players here who ought to get nice paydays out of this free agent season. Sean Smith and Janoris Jenkins are both young and talented cornerbacks. Walter Thurmond has played cornerback and safety competently at the NFL level. Eric Weddle has been an All-Pro at safety (not just a Pro Bowl participant) twice in his career and there is still tread on the tires.
Linebackers: Danny Trevathan is really good and he is just about to turn 26 years old. Jerrell Freeman is also really good but he will be 30 years old when training camp starts. I think Bruce Irvin who will turn 29 in the middle of next season is the best player at this position on the market.
Defensive Linemen: Malik Jackson should get some very nice contract offers; he deserves them. The big question is whether Mario Williams – at age 31 – showed that he was out of gas last year or if he just did not fit into the Bills’ defense under Rex Ryan. Some big run-stuffers are available but they are not youngsters such as BJ Raji, Haloti Ngata and Terrence Knighton.
Let the feeding frenzy commence…
When I was a kid and used to go to the movies on a Saturday afternoon, there were always a few cartoons that “warmed up the audience” prior to the main attraction. In those cartoons, a standard visual was for a character to come to an understanding of a situation with a light bulb turning on over his head. That was the image that came to mind last week when I read that the folks who run the Sun Belt Conference made the decision to kick the University of Idaho out of the conference come 2017. Let me be clear; Idaho had no more business being in the Sun Belt Conference than the University of Saskatchewan does. Why Idaho was ever invited/admitted to the conference remains a mystery to me.
The University of Idaho is known as The Vandals; over the past ten years or so, they might also have been known as The Vagabonds. Since the start of this millennium, Idaho has been in the Sun Belt Conference, then the WAC, then an independent, and then back in the Sun Belt Conference for a second time. The school says that it is examining its options for the future – no surprise at that sort of statement – and one of the options might be for Idaho to drop a level to Division 1-AA and join the Big Sky Conference. Geographically that makes a ton more sense than the Sun Belt Conference ever did.
For the record, the Sun Belt Conference will also kick New Mexico State out of the conference in 2017. The Aggies have been one of the least competitive teams in college football over the past several years – but at least Las Cruces, NM is part of the Sun Belt; Moscow, ID – not so much.
[Aside: The last time New Mexico State was in a bowl game was in 1962 when they were in the Sun Bowl and beat Utah State. It has been a long time since the Aggies were any good.]
I have read some reports saying that New Mexico State could be joining C-USA after leaving the Sun Belt Conference. Whatever… Unless the school finds a coach who can recruit and motivate squads that are far more competitive than has been the case recently, does it really matter which “minor conference” the Aggies finish at the bottom of?
Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald regarding the upcoming NFL Draft:
“North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz may be the first quarterback taken in the draft. Scouts are excited to see what he can do surrounded by NFL talent. Forget that, I’m excited to see what he can do on a field where the temperature is over 9 degrees.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………