During each NFL offseason, fans of all 32 NFL teams tie up the phone lines to local sports talk radio stations with belated Christmas wish lists comprised of soon-to-be free agents that people are certain will make the difference between competing for a Super Bowl or once again languishing in football no-man’s land.
Rarely does heavy involvement in free agency spur long-term improvement in teams, but the lure of available, talented players and the pressures of Must-Win-NOW jobs are often too titillating for GM’s and coaches to resist. After these expensive assets are bought, unwrapped and loved-on by the team’s fan base for a while, they tend to be quickly relegated to the afterthought pile.
By the time the season rolls around, these newly minted players are woven into the fabric of their new squads and meld into one big, collective group chasing the same goal. They are one of the guys, and often we forget about the size of the contracts signed and whether these were truly beneficial acquisitions made by the team.
We are going to track how the players of note at two positions- quarterback and interior defensive linemen- are performing in relation to the deals they signed in the offseason preceding the 2016 campaign.
This will be a weekly endeavor that shines a light on not only the two position groups as a whole but focuses on players who had especially good or bad performances the previous week.
For quarterbacks, I will then assign a rolling letter grade for each player that takes into account his to-date performance compared to expectations created by the contract signed. For the D-Linemen, I will tally their overall stats with an emphasis on “Impact Plays”- which include Tackles For Loss, Sacks and quarterback hurries.
Will these players improve over the course of the season? Will they decline? Has getting paid affected their performance positively or negatively? Only time and a whole lot of tv watching will yield answers, but we will track the statistical progress of both groups and possibly provide an answer to the question of whether it’s truly worth it for teams to dive head-first into the murky, dangerous, salary cap-swallowing waters of unrestricted free agency.
First up: the Precious. (AKA- the quarterbacks.)
WEEK 3 HERO: It’s hard to imagine a scenario where he lasts the whole year without having all of his ribs broken, but Andrew Luck’s performance on Sunday (24 of 37, 331 yds, 8.95 YPA, 1 TD, 1 INT) was gritty, relentless and clutch when it needed to be late.
Despite another heavy dose of pressure given up by a leaky offensive line, Luck persevered and finally connected with TY Hilton a 63-yard touchdown strike with under 1:30 remaining in the game to lift the Colts to a 26-22 win over San Diego.
Everyone’s eyes are on Luck after he signed the largest quarterback contract in history (5 yrs, $122.97M) with expectations that he’ll take the leap forward to not only superstardom but more importantly lead the Colts to a deep run in the playoffs. If he can replicate performances like last Sunday’s, it may just happen.
WEEK 3 ZERO: In order to overtake Carson Palmer’s dreadful 0 TD/4 INT performance in Buffalo, somebody was going to have to do something pretty… special.
Enter the Amish Rifle.
Ryan Fitzpatrick left a six-pack of interceptions on the doorstep of Arrowhead Stadium against another team the Jets would likely be fighting for a Wilcard berth with at the end of the season. Fitzy went 20-of-44 for 188 yards, no touchdowns and a miniscule 4.27 per pass attempt in one of the all-time terrible performances the league has ever captured on tape.
Right out of the gate, we are going to be hard pressed to witness a crapcastle of this magnitude at any point the rest of the season that can compare to the gift Fitzpatrick shared with the world on Sunday.
Next up: the Defensive Linemen
WEEK 3 HERO: Damon Harrison. Admittedly, I just want to talk about anybody whose nickname is Big Snacks, but in this case the reason for praise is legitimate. Harrison collected an almost unheard of 9 solo stops from the bowels of the pit, finished with 10 total tackles and threw in a TFL for good measure. Interior linemen aren’t supposed to rack up numbers like that.
While Harrison accomplished this feat in a losing effort, it certainly was not his fault that the team could not spin his individual dominance into a win against Washington. The Giants held the Redskins to 3.0 yards per carry on 30 attempts, so Harrison more than did his part to help pull out a win.
Considering the pretty penny the Giants paid for his services (5 yrs, $46.25M), the team has every reason to be ecstatic about the early returns they are getting from the stud interior lineman.
WEEK 3 ZERO: The group played pretty well as a whole last weekend, but somebody has to wear the hat. It goes to Al Woods.
Woods played 30 snaps with just 2 assists to show for it against the Raiders. He was part of a defensive front that allowed Oakland to rush for 180 yards on 29 carries and walk out of Nashville with a victory.
Considering Woods signed a 3-year, $10.5M contract this spring and is being counted on as part of what Titans fans hope is a franchise turnaround, his return on investment has thus far been disappointing.