Reevaluating Free Agency: Defense

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With the season halfway complete I thought it would be a good time to actually go back and look at some of the top line spending that occurred in Free Agency and see if teams were or were not getting their money’s worth. In this segment we will look at the top five signings on the defensive side of the ball (you can read the offensive overview right here). To qualify a player either had to have his contract terminated or had to have a contract set to expire, meaning Franchise players, and RFAs would count, but extended players like Clay Matthews with years left would not. To do a quick estimate of level of play we will use the rankings from our friends at Pro Football Focus.

Defensive End/34 Outside Linebacker

This was a hit or miss position. Johnson is the best performing free agent at the position and also the most expensive. Elvis Dumervil has been a great bargain for the Ravens and the Broncos likely regret letting him go over a few dollars. But beyond those two its been poor. Anthony Spencer never even saw a practice this year due to injury. Paul Kruger has been underwhelming with added playtime while Connor Barwin has been a disappointment.

NameTeam

Cap Hit

Annual Value

Grade

Michael JohnsonBengals

$11,175,000

$11,175,000

19.3

Anthony SpencerCowboys

$10,627,000

$10,627,000

DNQ

Paul KrugerBrowns

$8,200,000

$8,100,000

1.1

Connor BarwinEagles

$2,500,000

$6,000,000

-1.0

Elvis DumervilRavens

$4,800,000

$5,200,000

15.4

Defensive Tackle/34 Defensive End

The big disappointment was Hank Melton who had a negative grade before getting injured for the season. For the Bears this ends up being a decent use of the franchise tag if they were unsure of Melton’s long term prospects. Randy Starks has given the Dolphins great play that grades 5th in the NFL at the position. Mike DeVito has been a very good addition to the Chiefs, something most Jets fans would have told them when they signed him. The other two players have not justified the spending, but are at least performing ok.

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NameTeam

Cap Hit

Annual Value

Grade

Henry MeltonBears

$8,450,000

$8,450,000

-6.4

Randy StarksDolphins

$8,450,000

$8,450,000

18.4

Desmond BryantBrowns

$8,000,000

$6,800,000

1.5

Ricky Jean-FrancoisColts

$4,625,000

$5,500,000

3.5

Mike DeVitoTitans

$2,300,000

$4,200,000

12.4

Linebacker

This is the first truly poor position on defense in free agency. Only Brad Jones of the Packers grades moderately well. The Dolphins paid significant money for Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler and both have played below average, while Nick Roach is a disaster for the Raiders.

NameTeam

Cap Hit

Annual Value

Grade

Dannell EllerbeDolphins

$2,425,000

$7,000,000

-2.0

Phillip WheelerDolphins

$2,400,000

$5,200,000

-3.1

Brad JonesPackers

$2,500,000

$3,750,000

3.9

Nick RoachRaiders

$1,636,250

$3,250,000

-7.4

Rey MaualugaBengals

$2,625,000

$3,250,000

1.0

 Cornerback

There are a number of corners that qualified for the list since so many players tied for the top 5 in APY. For the most part the great market crash for corners has produced great results for NFL teams. The Eagles and Chargers are the two teams who should have the most regret getting below average results despite top salaries for the year. Still this is better than in years past where mid tier corners would probably have cost $2 million a year more than what was paid here. It will be interesting to see how the salaries at the position shake out next season.

NameTeam

Cap Hit

Annual Value

Grade

Cary WilliamsEagles

$2,416,666

$5,666,667

-4.3

Sean SmithChiefs

$3,000,000

$5,500,000

6.4

Brent GrimesDolphins

$5,218,750

$5,500,000

9.3

Keenan LewisSaints

$2,250,000

$5,110,000

3.0

Derek CoxChargers

$2,100,000

$5,000,000

-5.3

Dominique Rodgers- CromartieBroncos

$2,900,000

$5,000,000

6.3

Aqib TalibPatriots

$4,882,813

$5,000,000

8.2

Chris HoustonLions

$2,300,000

$5,000,000

-2.7

Safety

I’m not surprised at the poor play of Dashon Goldson and Ed Reed. Goldson was more of a byproduct of the 49ers solid defense than a reason for its big success. In Reed’s case he’s been trending down for some time and whenever the Ravens give up on a player it should always be buyer beware. For the most part the other players have performed around what should be the expectation for their salary levels.

NameTeam

Cap Hit

Annual Value

Grade

Dashon GoldsonBuccaneers

$9,000,000

$8,250,000

-4.7

Jairus ByrdBills

$6,916,000

$6,916,000

4.3

LaRon LandryColts

$5,750,000

$6,000,000

5.5

William MooreFalcons

$3,900,000

$6,000,000

4.6

Ed ReedTexans

$3,333,333

$5,000,000

-5.9

Overall

I think the same takeaway holds true with the defense as it did with the offense in regards to top salary usually not equaling the top performer. The one exception was Johnson, though he is still playing for a new contract. That said top spend free agency seems to have produced better results on defense than it did on offense. It’s just a half a season but I think it would be an interesting exercise to go back the prior three seasons and see how things worked out at most positions. I do think some of the sexier positions (skill positions on offense and mainly pass rushers on defense) tend to lead teams to overspend in free agency and those players don’t pan out as well, but that’s just an opinion. Maybe sometime in the offseason we’ll try and not only see how these deals held up over the year but also look at some older ones from years past.

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  • Ben

    IMO you either want the top FA’s (closest to a sure thing you can get), or the cheapest ones (if they don’t work out you’re not on the hook for heaps of money).