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As NFL Free Agency Gets Underway, Caution To The Spenders

Sam Spiegelman looks at some cautionary NFL free agency tales and some players on the market right now that teams should be wary of.

Julian Edelman
Julian Edelman

Julian Edelman. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

NFL free agency officially got underway Tuesday, and already some major signings are in the works and can be set in ink as soon as 4 p.m. ET. But while spending big bucks to bring in players with big stat lines seems like a quick fix toward instantly turning a team into a contender, remember that free agency is anything but an exact science.

For every great free agent signing, it’s possible to name four or five that never panned out or came close to expectations. Not every deal is a sure bet like when Peyton Manning joined the Denver Broncos, or back in the day when the New York Jets pried Curtis Martin away from the division rival New England Patriots.

Take a look at recent history, for instance. Four years ago, the Chicago Bears were touted a winner in free agency when they signed defensive end Julius Peppers to a six-year deal. Fast forward to now, and the Bears are trying to unload the 34-year-old’s bloated contract, one in which he’s due $13.9 million this season.

What about the case of Nnamdi Asomugha, who was Darrelle Revis before Darrelle Revis became Darrelle Revis, and earned the reputation as the league’s best shutdown cornerback. Well, you have to pay the league’s top cover man if you want him on your side, and that’s what the Philadelphia Eagles did. After getting a five-year, $60 million deal from Philly, the elite corner quickly fell from his pedestal down to Earth and was released two years into his deal.

And for argument’s sake, let’s bring Matt Flynn into the conversation. The longtime Green Bay Packers backup wowed the NFL world while filling in for the injured Aaron Rodgers during the 2011 season, especially a Jan. 1 contest against the Detroit Lions when he threw for 480 yards and franchise-record six touchdowns en route to leading his team over its playoff-bound NFC North rival. Flynn was rewarded with a three-year, $26 million deal from the Seattle Seahawks, then proceeded to lose the starting gig to rookie Russell Wilson. Where’s Flynn now? He couldn’t beat out Terrelle Pryor or Matt McGloin with the Oakland Raiders, and now is again on the free-agent market.

Of course, not every big-time deal is a fluke. Some work out. The point is to be conscious that big-money deals often don’t turn out as anticipated. This year, there are a couple players who could warrant big contracts that could disappoint. There are others that’ll simply disappoint. And there are some that will wind up being bargains.

Here are the players to be wary of.

Josh McCown was a terrific stand-in for the injured Jay Cutler last season, but a lot of the veteran’s success can and should be attributed to Marc Trestman’s offense. Rarely do you hear that a player is a system quarterback in the professional ranks, but this seems to be the case with McCown. If a team signs him and expects him to be anymore than a serviceable backup, they’re in for a surprise. He’s an aging player with a limited skill-set, and he’s better off staying in the Windy City where he’ll be coveted as a reliable fallback option.

Julian Edelman has been a jack-of-all-trades for the New England Patriots, and this past season — in the absence of Rob Gronkowski and the departed Wes Welker — he surfaced as Tom Brady’s most reliable target. But keep in mind this was the first year Edelman played in all 16 games. It’s also the first time he’s ever surpassed the 1,000-yard mark or even approached it. All of his career highs should be taken with a grain of salt, and if another club expects him to be a No. 1 receiver for them they’re surely going to be disappointed.

Aqib Talib’s talent on the field cannot be discounted. The corner proved to be the Patriots’ best cover man the past two seasons, but it is not possible to ignore the off-the-field trouble that cost him his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In New England, under the watch of Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick, Talib has been a stand-up citizen, and perhaps he’s turned a corner in his personal life. But if one team wants to dish him a big-time contract and can’t provide the support the Pats have, they might find themselves in a situation where they’re overpaying for a troubled player.

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