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FR: February signings

Here’s a compendium of the major NFL re-signings and additions of street free agents during February, before the official free-agent market opens. Since there weren’t many major moves, we’re simply commenting instead of comparing. We’ll compare signings using Football Relativity once the free agent market opens.

Steelers (kept NT Casey Hampton) – Hampton has long been a stalwart of the Steelers’ 3-4 defense as the nose tackle, as he has started every game he has played since his second season in 2002. At age 32, he has moved from being a penetrating player to being more of a Pat Williams-style stopper in the middle, but he still has significant value in that role. The Steelers were going to follow the trend and franchise-tag Hampton, like so many other teams did with their nose tackles, but instead they signed him to a three-year, $21 million deal with $11 million in guaranteed money. This way, Hampton gets a little more guaranteed dough, while the Steelers get Hampton at a reasonable per-year rate.

Raiders (kept PK Sebastian Janikowski) –  Janikowski, the only kicker in two generations to be a first-round draft pick, signed the biggest contract ever given to a kicker. He’ll get $9 million guaranteed in a four-year deal scheduled to pay him $16 million total. That’s the same amount the Raiders gave All-Pro punter Shane Lechler last offseason. Janikowski isn’t the clear best at his position like Lechler is, but the kicker known as Sea-Bass had a career year in 2009, making 26-of-29 field goals, including a 61-yarder that’s one of the longest in league history. He has one of the strongest legs in the league and is one of a dying breed of placekickers who thrive on kickoffs as well. So he’s clearly a top-5 kicker, if not the very best in the league. While you can argue the wisdom of committing so many resources to one area of the team, the Raiders have ensured continued excellence in the kicking game. At least they’re paying for quality.

Titans (kept OLG Eugene Amano and S Donnie Nickey) –  Amano was ready to become an unrestricted free agent whether or not 2010 was an uncapped year, and so the Titans were in danger of losing him. Instead, they inked him to a new five-year contract worth up to $26.5 million with $10.5 million in guaranteed money. Amano has emerged as a left guard starter over the last two seasons, and he also is able to play center, which is a key because Titans starter Kevin Mawae is a free agent who has already logged 16 seasons in the NFL. Amano’s versatility, and the paucity of starting-caliber offensive linemen who will hit the open market, made him a priority for the Titans (with good reason, according to Daniel Jeremiah of MovetheSticks.com). That’s why Amano got above-average starter money. Tennessee, which has terrific OTs David Stewart and Michael Roos locked up long term, now knows that they’ll have a good measure of continuity on the line with or without Mawae. Amano, meanwhile, gets some financial security and the chance to stay in the same city where he has played his whole career. It takes that kind of win-win to get a deal done this far before the free-agent market opens. Nickey, a key special-teams player as well as a backup safety, took a one-year deal to stay in Nashville as well.

Bengals (added WR Matt Jones and PK Dave Rayner) – Jones got a contract just above the league minimum to return to the NFL after missing the entire 2009 season due to suspension and being released by the Jaguars. Jones was largely disappointing in his time in Jacksonville, although his best season was his last one. But he can provide a big and fast option across from Chad Ochocinco, replacing what the Bengals lost when Chris Henry died. It’s a low-risk, high-reward gamble which makes sense from a football perspective. However, given the off-field problems the Bengals have had, if this blows up in their face it will cause much more scrutiny. So the Bengals are relying on Jones to behave even more than they are relying on his production. Rayner, who has kicked for five teams, looks to be the replacement for Shayne Graham, whom the Bengals don’t plan to re-sign after his playoff failings. Rayner’s no great shakes, but he’s at least worth a shot in a training-camp battle with someone.

Ravens (add WR Donte Stallworth) – Stallworth, who sat out the 2009 season under league suspension, will get his second chance in Baltimore on a one-year deal worth $900,000 and potentially $300,000 more in incentives. That’s not much to pay for a guy with speed and potential. But even before his suspension, Stallworth bounced around to four teams in four years because he never really lived up to his billing. He’s the ultimate workout warrior who hasn’t found a way to really translate his numbers onto the field. Still, Baltimore isn’t paying much to give him a chance, and the Ravens have such a dearth of offensive playmakers that gambling on Stallworth as a third or fourth receiver makes sense. It would be a mistake, though, to rely on Stallworth in a starting role. Meanwhile, from a character standpoint, Stallworth has shown maturity in making up for his mistake over the past year, and perhaps that will help him resurrect a career that is disappointing at this point.

Jaguars (kept WR Troy Williamson and TE Ernest Wilford) – Williamson was a bust as a first-round pick in Minnesota, but he’s shown a bit of promise in Jacksonville despite injuries. The Jags chose to bring Williamson back as a speedy complement to Mike Sims-Walker and Mike Thomas. By signing Williamson now, the Jaguars also get him at less money than the restricted free agent tender, while Williamson gets a $100,000 signing bonus he wouldn’t have gotten by signing the tender. So that’s a small win-win for both sides for a guy who could be a backup but not much more. Wilford, a former wide receiver, played OK in his move to tight end last year, and he took a one-year contract at the veteran minimum to remain in Jacksonville again. He’s played five of his six career seasons in Jax.

Falcons (kept WR Brian Finneran) – Finneran has been around forever, and he’s been in Atlanta since 2000. He’s a special-teamer and possession receiver, and while he’s not a big part of the offense, he’s a nice safety net for Matt Ryan and the Dirty Birds. So keeping him makes sense, especially at a team-friendly price.

Panthers (add DT Ed Johnson) – Johnson started 20 games over the past three seasons in Indianapolis after joining the Colts as an undrafted free agent, but he was also cut twice for repeated off-the-field transgressions. He gets another chance in Carolina now with Ron Meeks, his former Colts defensive coordinator who’s now in Charlotte. Given how many injuries the Panthers sustained at defensive tackle last year (Maake Kemeoatu, Corvey Ivy, Louis Leonard), you can understand them looking under every possible rock for help, but Johnson’s off-the-field history doesn’t match the Panthers’ normal m.o. You have to wonder if Johnson signed knowing he’s on an incredibly short leash.

Vikings (kept WR Greg Lewis) – Lewis isn’t more than a fourth receiver, but he can make the occasional play – as he did on the final play of Minnesota’s miraculous win over San Francisco this year. The Vikings keep him around as a nice insurance policy who knows the Brad Childress/Andy Reid style of offense well.

Patriots (add WR David Patten) – Patten didn’t play last year, but his history with the Patriots and New England’s lack of depth at wideout makes him worth a look as a fourth receiver. We’ll see through the offseason whether Patten still has the ability to contribute at age 35.

Seahawks (add LB Ricky Foley and LS Pat McDonald) – Foley, who played collegiately in Canada, didn’t hook on in his first NFL shot in 2006, but the four-year CFL vet had 12 sacks for the B.C. Lions last year and is worth a look. The Hawks hope he can become a situational pass rusher like Canadian import Cameron Wake was for the Dolphins in ’09. Seattle also added long snapper Pat McDonald from the CFL.

Steelers (add CB David Pittman and LB Renauld Williams) – Pittman, who hasn’t played in the NFL in two years, was a third-round pick by the Ravens in 2006. The Steelers will try to see if his draftable talent still exists. Williams played seven games for the Dolphins and 49ers from ’04 to ’06 and then became a starter for Saskatchewan in the CFL over the past two years. He’s a long shot to make the team, but the Steelers do have a knack for finding linebackers who contribute in all sorts of strange places.

Jets (add PK Nick Folk) – Folk showed great promise in Dallas in his first two seasons, but his 2009 season was marked by inconsistency, and he was finally released by the team. Still, he has a strong leg and some experience, which is a virtue. The Jets face free agency with Jay Feely, and so adding Folk is a nice insurance policy at this point in the offseason. They could do worse than entering the 2010 season with Folk as their placekicker.

Chiefs (kept RB Kolby Smith and QB Matt Gutierrez) – Both Smith and Gutierrez are backups whom the Chiefs re-signed as potential restricted free agents, most likely at rates below the usual tender amounts.

Redskins (add PK Justin Medlock) – The Redskins, who cut Shaun Suisham midway through the ’09 season, are taking a look at Medlock, a former Chiefs draft choice who lasted just one regular-season game with the Chiefs in ’07. Medlock went to Canada in ’09 and thrived with Toronto, leading to another shot with the Redskins. Graham Gano (a UFL import) did a decent job with the ‘Skins at the end of the ’09 season, but Medlock provides competition that should allow Washington to end up with a young kicker with upside.

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A Friday in February

The Super Bowl isn’t yet a week past, and Valentine’s Day isn’t till Sunday, but we’re already starting to see some roster movement in the NFL. Here are some thoughts on a few key cuts and signings. We’ll compare all February signings in an upcoming post and the most impactful cutbacks before the new league year opens the free-agent doors.

Dolphins cut OLB Joey Porter – Porter, who had nine sacks last season and 32 in three Miami seasons, asked for his release, hoping for one more payday before his career ends. That cut is forthcoming, though it will be March before it’s official. The mouthy 11-year veteran can still get around the corner on the pass rush, and that gives him value to 3-4 teams. But Porter’s opinion of himself now outrates his actual performance, and that may deter some teams. Still, for a 3-4 team on the edge of contention like San Francisco or Denver, or a contender like Green Bay, Porter could become a nice third-down option at a medium-range price.

Giants cut MLB Antonio Pierce – Pierce came over to the Giants as a high-dollar free agent five years ago, and he delivered on that contract by serving as a team leader and a big-time tackler during his tenure, which included a Super Bowl title. But Pierce missed the second half of the ’09 season with a bulging disc in his neck, and with a contract calling for him to make $4.75 million in cash this year, the Giants decided there were cheaper and healthier options. While the Giants don’t have a successor in place, they’ll likely look for a cheaper alternative or perhaps even draft a middle linebacker. Pierce, meanwhile, will look to latch on somewhere as a veteran hand and a locker-room leader, but he won’t come close to his scheduled salary. Instead, he’ll be a veteran minimum guy who becomes a stopgap option for a team looking for MLB or ILB help but not part of the long-term plan.

Jaguars cut WR Torry Holt, OT Tra Thomas, and DT Rob Meier – The Jaguars started another youth movement by sending Holt, Thomas, and Meier packing. Holt and Thomas were free-agent signees last year who were meant to bridge the gap to a group of youngsters. With the development of OTs Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, Thomas became expendable, while Mike Thomas and Mike Sims-Walker surpassed Holt by the end of the season. Both vets are probably still good enough to be backups in the NFL, but they’ll have to do so at prices even more reduced than what they played for last year. Meier, who has been a Jag since 2000, missed all of last season due to injury and might be at the end of the line.

Bengals sign WR Matt Jones – Jones got a contract just above the league minimum to return to the NFL after missing the entire 2009 season due to suspension and being released by the Jaguars. Jones was largely disappointing in his time in Jacksonville, although his best season was his last one. But he can provide a big and fast option across from Chad Ochocinco, replacing what the Bengals lost when Chris Henry died. It’s a low-risk, high-reward gamble which makes sense from a football perspective. However, given the off-field problems the Bengals have had, if this blows up in their face it will cause much more scrutiny. So the Bengals are relying on Jones to behave even more than they are relying on his production.

Falcons re-sign WR Brian Finneran – Finneran has been around forever, and he’s been in Atlanta since 2000. He’s a special-teamer and possession receiver, and while he’s not a big part of the offense, he’s a nice safety net for Matt Ryan and the Dirty Birds. So keeping him makes sense, especially at a team-friendly price.

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Jersey Numbers: Wide Receivers

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.

If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We’ll start in this post with the best wide receivers at each jersey number. In general, wideouts are allowed to wear numbers between 10 and 19 as well as between 80 and 89.

10 – Santonio Holmes, Steelers – We’ll go with Holmes, the defending Super Bowl MVP, in this category, but it’s a close decision over DeSean Jackson of the Eagles. Both are significant starters for their teams and emerging stars in the league. Other notable 10: Jabar Gaffney, Broncos

11 – Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals – Fitzgerald is one of the very best receivers in the league, and so he gets the nod as the premier wideout wearing No. 11. He became a superstar in last year’s playoffs, doing what he had done in relative obscurity earlier in his career in Arizona. Fitzgerald is the real deal. Other notable 11s: Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars; Mohammed Massaquoi, Browns; Roy Williams, Cowboys; Laveranues Coles, Bengals; Julian Edelman, Patriots; Legedu Naanee, Chargers; Roscoe Parrish, Bills; Stefan Logan, Steelers

12 – Marques Colston, Saints – Colston is the premier receiver on the league’s most potent offense, and now that he’s healthy he’s showing incredible skills for his size. That gives him the nod over Steve Smith of the Giants as the best No. 12 wideout in the league. Both Colston and Smith may have to move over for Minnesota rookie Percy Harvin at some point in the future. Other notable 12s: Michael Jenkins, Falcons; Justin Gage, Titans; Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders; Quan Cosby, Bengals

13 – Johnny Knox, Bears – Knox is the only notable receiver wearing No. 13 this year. The rookie out of Abilene Christian has had a nice freshman season in the NFL with three receiving TDs and a return for a score. Maybe he’ll make 13 a trendier, if not luckier, number for wideouts.

14 – Brandon Stokley, Broncos – Like 13, 14 isn’t a popular number for receivers. Stokley, who had good seasons with the Colts and the most memorable touchdown of the season off a tip in the opener against the Bengals, is the best of the bunch over St. Louis prospect Keenan Burton. Other notable 14: Eric Weems, Falcons

15 – Brandon Marshall, Broncos – Marshall’s numbers aren’t quite as good this season as fellow 15 Steve Breaston of Arizona, but Marshall is the more dynamic and more important player than Arizona’s talented third receiver. Marshall has the talent to be one of the league’s top-5 overall receivers. Other notable 15s: Kelley Washington, Ravens; Chris Henry, Bengals; Davone Bess, Dolphins; Michael Crabtree, 49ers; Courtney Roby, Saints

16 – Josh Cribbs, Browns – Lance Moore of the Saints is the only notable pure wide receiver wearing No. 16 right now, but Cribbs, Cleveland’s do-everything guy, plays enough receiver and has a receiver number, so he counts here. Cribbs catches the ball, returns kicks, and plays under center in the wildcat. He may be the league’s best return man, and he’s growing as an offensive force. Moore had a strong season as New Orleans’ slot receiver last year, but injuries have hampered his production this year. Other notable 16: Danny Amendola, Rams

17 – Braylon Edwards, Jets – Edwards had fallen out of favor in Cleveland last year and this season, and his numbers reflected that diminished importance, but he’s now in New York and gaining steam. So we’ll list him as the top 17 over rookies Mike Wallace of Pittsburgh and Austin Collie of Indianapolis. Other notable 17s: Donnie Avery, Rams; Robert Meachem, Saints

18 – Sidney Rice, Vikings – Rice is emerging as the Vikings’ most reliable receiver, and he has become one of Brett Favre’s favorite targets. His good size and exceptional ball skills and leaping ability are finally starting to shine through now that he’s in his third season. He beats a crop of rookies to earn the honor as the best receiver wearing 18. Other notable 18s: Kenny Britt, Titans; Jeremy Maclin, Eagles; Louis Murphy, Raiders; Sammie Stroughter, Buccaneers

19 – Miles Austin, Cowboys – Austin has come out of nowhere over the past three games to establish himself as an explosive threat and the Cowboys’ best receiver. Even with the return heroics of Miami’s Ted Ginn Jr. and Denver’s Eddie Royal this year, Austin is the best 19. Other notable 19: Devery Henderson, Saints

23 – Devin Hester, Bears – Because Hester came into the NFL as a defensive back, he’s been allowed to keep his old DB number of 23 even though he’s now a wide receiver. The fact that he’s Chicago’s No. 1 outside target makes this a legitimate listing for a bit of a funky number for a receiver.

80 – Andre Johnson, Texans – If you made me pick one receiver as the best in the league, this is the guy. He has freakish size, incredible speed, and great production throughout his career. The only pockmark on his resume is the fact that he’s been dinged up from time to time. So he gets an easy decision here over Donald Driver of Green Bay as the best receiver wearing 80. Other notable 80s: Earl Bennett, Bears; Malcom Floyd, Chargers; Bryant Johnson, Lions; Bobby Wade, Chiefs; Marty Booker, Falcons; Mike Thomas, Jaguars

81 – Randy Moss, Patriots – Moss is already an all-time great, and he’s still performing at a premium level for the Pats. This is an easy call, even though  current great Anquan Boldin of Arizona, past greats Torry Holt of the Jaguars and Terrell Owens of the Bills, and future great Calvin Johnson of Detroit also wear 81. This number has great depth of talent. Other notable 81: Nate Burleson, Seahawks

82 – Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs – As deep as 81 is in talent, 82 is thin. We’ll give the nod to Bowe over the Giants’ Mario Manningham because Bowe has had more good seasons, even though Manningham has been more impactful this year. Other notable 82s: Antwaan Randle El, Redskins; Brian Hartline, Dolphins

83 – Wes Welker, Patriots – Welker, who piles up gobs of catches as the jitterbug/security blanket of the Patriots offense, narrowly gets this nod over Vincent Jackson of San Diego, who has joined the list of the league’s 10 best receivers. Lee Evans of Buffalo doesn’t have equivalent numbers because his quarterbacks have stunk for years, but he’s no slouch either. Other notable 83s: Kevin Walter, Texans; Deion Branch, Seahawks; Sinorice Moss, Giants

84 – Roddy White, Falcons – White has emerged as one of the top receivers in the league over the past three years, and he looks like he’ll team with Matt Ryan for a long time as Atlanta’s dynamic duo. We’ll take the ascending White over the descending T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who has had a great career in Cincinnati but is starting to show signs of slippage in his first season in Seattle. Other notable 84s: Patrick Crayton, Cowboys; Josh Morgan, 49ers; Bobby Engram, Chiefs; Javon Walker, Raiders

85 – Chad Ochocinco, Bengals – We have to give this jersey-number to Ochocinco, since he changed his name to be his jersey number in Spanish (kind of). But Ochocinco deserves it given the renaissance year he is having with the Bengals. Derrick Mason of the Ravens contended for the honor based on his long career, while Greg Jennings of the Packers could claim this honor in the future. Other notable 85s: Pierre Garcon, Colts; Jerheme Urban, Cardinals

86 – Hines Ward, Steelers – There aren’t a lot of great receivers wearing 86, but there is one – Ward. The former Super Bowl MVP isn’t just great at catching the ball; he’s a vicious blocker downfield as well. He’s a borderline Hall of Famer who is still building his resume. Other notable 86s: Dennis Northcutt, Lions; Brian Finneran, Falcons

87 – Reggie Wayne, Colts – Wayne has seamlessly taken over for Marvin Harrison as Peyton Manning’s premier target in Indy, and now Wayne is building his own case for the Hall of Fame. There aren’t five receivers in the league who are better or more explosive than Wayne. Other notable 87s: Bernard Berrian, Vikings; Andre Caldwell, Bengals; Muhsin Muhammad, Panthers; Mike Furrey, Browns; David Clowney, Jets; Jordy Nelson, Packers; Domenik Hixon, Giants

88 – Isaac Bruce, 49ers – Bruce is no longer the dynamic force he was for years in St. Louis, but he’s good enough to claim this number as his lifetime achievement award. Rookie Hakeem Nicks of the Giants is the only other significant 88 as a receiver, but he looks as though he will be a good one. Other notable 88: Chansi Stuckey, Browns

89 – Steve Smith, Panthers – Smith hasn’t had the season this year that he’s had in the past, and he’s even felt at times that he wasn’t an asset to his team, but those problems have more to do with the struggles of Carolina QB Jake Delhomme than with Smith’s own shortcomings. Smith is just 5-foot-9, but he’s lightning quick, built like a brick house, tough to bring down, and shockingly good on jump balls. He’s still an elite receiver. Other notable 89s: Santana Moss, Redskins; Jerricho Cotchery, Jets; Mark Clayton, Ravens; Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers; James Jones, Packers

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