Sports Out West’s all-value NFL free agency team

Photo Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

  With three weeks of free-agency in the books, all the big deals are cut. While there are some late stragglers yet to make it to the party (aka Michael Crabtree), the majority of the NFL is turning towards the draft (and my mock draft, soon to be released).

The (metaphorical) pages can be written on SOW’s All-Value Free Agency Team. This is not an indication of talent or who is the best free-agent at each position (which about every other Internet arrticle covered in the week building up to free agency). It’s a look at the best free agents at the best value, a critical distinction. Here’s a rundown of the offense.
All salary data from Rotoworld.com. 
Quarterback: Matt Moore
Yes, I know it’s supposed to be Josh McCown, the crown jewel of free agency’s QB crop. He’s Cleveland’s savior, the 20th since 1999, and signed at the paltry rate of 3 year/$14 million.
By rushing into a deal with McCown though, the Browns set the top of the low starter/quality backup market. If he regains his 2013 form, where he had 13 touchdowns to one interception in 8 games, it’s great value. If he regresses to what he showed throughout his career except 2013, such as last year’s 11 touchdowns to 14 interceptions line in 11 games, it’s not even good value.
I’d much rather go with a guy who has a 33:28 TD to INT ratio and has proven he can win games (something McCown hasn’t done at any time in his career aside from 2013). He’s a better rusher, younger, and cheaper. His clipboard-holding skills are just as good as McCown’s and his mustache is second-to-none. Plus, he signed to only a one-year, $2.6 million contract. Miami got a steal.
Running back: Justin Forsett
Usually, running backs coming off a 1,266 yard, 5.6 YPC season don’t get only 3 years/$9 million in free agency. Then again, they usually aren’t perennially underused journeymen less than one year away from turning 30, the year when even the best of running backs turn to dust. Both these factors played a huge part in reducing Forsett’s market value.
With only 582 career carries though, he’s not like most running backs his age though. He’s about the equivalent of a 26-old year ‘back and should be able to play out his newly-signed deal effectively. Marc Trestman, his new offensive coordinator, should continue utilizing the zone-read blocking Gary Kubiak implemented this past year that Forsett mastered. Given Trestman’s history in Chicago with Matt Forte and Forsett’s versatility, expect Forsett to set a career record in receptions and have another career year
All for  $3 million a year.
Fullback: Jerome Felton
There’s only three options here since only three pure fullbacks were signed. The other two fullbacks have no notable achievements while Felton helped Adrian Peterson run for over 2,000 yards. Advantage: Felton. Look for LeSean McCoy to have a big year with Felton blocking for him.
Wide-Reciever: Cecil Shorts and Stevie Johnson
There’s a lot of wideout talent in this year’s free-agency but a lot of big money was thrown after this talent. With a strong rookie class coming in, that may not be, and is not, a prudent move.
That’s why Cecil Shorts (2 year/$6 million) and Stevie Johnson (3 year/$10.5 million) are the move here. Both had down years last year playing with inaccurate, sack-prone QBs (Blake Bortles and Colin Kaepernick, respectively) in schemes that were not designed to maximize their touches that brought down their value.
They’re better talents than their numbers would indicate from last year though. Johnson, while limited upside at 29 years old, is a silky smooth route-runner that gives Darelle Revis trouble, not the guy who languished on the bench in San Francisco. Shorts is an ascending player who had just under 1,000 yard receiving (977) only three years ago before injuries and an influx of young talent at the position took their toll. Look for both to have big years in better places for their talents, particularly Johnson as he plays for his first top-10 QB (Phillip Rivers).
Tight ends: Virgil Green
Wow, people overspent on this position. I know tight ends are important for today’s offense but this is ridiculous. Even special talents like Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski though are lucky to get 1,000 receiving yard seasons. Teams are better off spending on other positions than an average blocker/receiver.  
Green isn’t even great value (3 year/$8.4 million) considering his (lack of) career production. But he is a an ascending player, a willing blocker who is getting better at route-running. With the hefty price Julius Thomas (5 year/$26 million)  got from Jacksonville and Charles Clay from Buffalo, (5 year, $38 million) considered, Green is signed at an appropriate price.
Tackles: Bryan Bulaga and Doug Free
Yes, $33.75 million over five years and $15.5 million over three (respectively) is a lot to pay for often-injured players, especially a right tackle. There’s also usually not much value in guys that set the market like these players did so it’s surprising these two guys made the All-Value team.
But Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo will certainly thank the General Managers (Ted Thompson and Jerry Jones) for resigning these players. Free is widely considered to be the weak link in the Dallas O-line but the chain is relatively strong all the way across. It’s important to keep the unit together since it worked well last year (Demarco Murray led the league in rushing). And Bulaga is only 26 years old and the fourth-highest rated offensive tackle,  as per Profootballfocus.com’s rankings. 
When you have a franchise QB with franchise money invested in him, you have to keep him on the field and away from speedy pass-rushers on the outside. No amount of money is really unjustifiable for guys at the top of the tackle market. Plus, to be honest, the deals are pretty good ones for the teams and players.
Making a guy the league’s highest paid at a position isn’t the way to get value. But Rodney Hudson, a 26-year old stud who finished 3rd overall in PFF’s center rankings, is worth it.
Instead of investing in veteran players who are on their last legs of their career (their usual free agency strategy), the Raiders spent $44.5 million over five years to a player entering his prime. He can be (and should be) a cornerstone piece of the team for the remainder of his contract, plus another contract if desired. That’s invaluable in today’s NFL.  The price of a center is going up and Hudson’s contract will easily be topped in the next two offseasons. Looking back, it’ll be a bargain.
Guards: Willie Colon and Todd Herreman 
Man, the New York Jets robbed Willie Colon when he resigned for only $950k for one year. If Colon can avoid injury (no sure thing but he did it last year), he’ll be (a low-quality but still) a starter. Anytime starters can be found for near the veteran minimum, there’s value.
Todd Herremen is a bit more expensive than Colon but he’s a better player. While the total value of the contract ($3.25 million/one year) isn’t great, a million of those dollars are in tied into playing-time and performance incentives Herremen would have to hit. While an average pass-protecter and a poor o-lineman in general last year, he was great two years ago in Chip Kelly’s first year. If he can regain that form for the Cots (which the incentives might greatly help Herremen rebound), they got a steal. 
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Pressley Nietering

Pressley Nietering is an up-and-coming writer. He will attend Clemson University. Follow him on Twitter @Pressme


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