Even though the playoffs are just beginning, plenty of NFL fans are already looking forward to free agency. The 2014 free agent class looks to be a busy one, as many big names are hitting the market and will be looking for new homes and big pay checks.
While a big signing is almost certain to boost fan morale, teams that bolster their roster through the free agency market are usually left on the outside looking in come playoff time. Why is that, exactly? From a lack of motivation to signing players based on potential and not production, big free agent signings are a big risk and don’t always pay off.
While it’s undeniable that the free agents that will be available in 2014 are tempting, this class certainly has its fair share of red flags. Here are the five players NFL teams would be wise to stay away from when they’re looking
1. Maurice Jones-Drew, HB, Jacksonville Jaguars
As one of the biggest names set to hit the free agent market in 2014, former All-Pro running back Maurice Jones-Drew will certainly command some attention this season. The question is not whether he will garner interest though, the question is whether he is worth it.
MJD has failed to rush for over 1,000 yards the past two seasons, as his production has been derailed by injuries and a terrible Jacksonville offense. People who have watched the former stud, however, have also seen the back slowing down a bit as well. He will be 29 when the 2014 season starts, and his diminishing burst and 3.4 yards per carry average are all signs that he will be the next back to fall victim to the curse that 30 brings upon great running backs.
For the right price, MJD could be an asset to a team that’s on the cusp and needs a running game to push their playoff hopes into overdrive. In a world of big spenders and desperate franchises though, the right price rarely comes along, so it’s buyer beware on this likely expensive and aging back.
2. Charles Tillman, CB, Chicago Bears
Remember when Charles Tillman was in the discussion for best cornerback in the league? Those were better days for the veteran ball hawk, as Peanut was abused all season long before being placed on injured reserve. Despite being absolutely awful in coverage, fans will point to Tillman’s three forced fumbles and interceptions in only eight games, and the clamoring for the 33 year old will begin.
Tillman is about to enter the twilight of his career, and will likely be looking for one more pay check before calling it quits. Smart money would stay away from the fading star, but you know somewhere out there is a front office who will take a risk on this risk taker.
3. Ben Tate, HB, Houston Texans
The moment Ben Tate has been waiting for is almost here. Having long been hailed as the best running back without a starting job in the NFL, Tate is now going to get his chance to become the featured back on a new team this season, something he has openly stated he wanted while toiling away behind All-Pro Arian Foster
While his numbers show he deserves it, a closer look at the Texans offense may show that Tate should be approached with caution. From Steve Slaton to Jonathan Grimes, seemingly any running back that plays in Houston’s zone blocking scheme experiences a level of success.
Ben Tate is a talented back, and that’s a fact. But he is also in a back-friendly system, and if you mix that in with his high price tag and the injuries he’s battled throughout his career, Tate may not be worth the money he will most certainly command this offseason.
4. Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears
As what will likely be the only starting caliber quarterback in the market this offseason, Jay Cutler will be one of the most sought after free agents in 2014. While it’s undeniable that Cutler is great when he gets hot, his inconsistencies and attitude problem have prevented him from reaching the level of success required of a franchise quarterback.
Cutler has frequently gone down with injuries in his time with the Chicago Bears, and this season proved to be very costly for his perceived value. Back up quarterback Josh Mccown came in for an injured Cutler and not only played well, but even better than Jay, which motivated Cutler to return earlier than he should have and diminish his value even more with his lackluster play.
Cutler will still get the big bucks due to being a starting caliber quarterback, but handing the keys to the franchise over to a 30 year old with consistency and maturity issues is practically begging for mediocrity and buyer’s remorse.
5. Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants
Once considered one of the brightest young receivers in the league, Nicks career has taken a downward spiral into mediocrity the past two seasons. Injuries hampered Nicks in 2012, and Eli Manning hampered Nicks in 2013, but at some point the blame has to start going to the receiver himself on his lack of production.
Nicks will be looked at by desperate teams as a number one receiver and may be paid as such, but he is a classic case of paying for potential and not production, as he has never truly stepped up and become the go-to guy in New York’s offense.