Tag Archives: Emmanuel Sanders

Free Agency Best and Worst: AFC West

We are 75 percent of the way through our trip around the NFL judging the best and worst from the free agency period. We arrive at our final two divisions, the Wests. As we have done with our other installments, we will go over the AFC West first. This is the division of the world champs whose grip on it shouldn’t be expected to loosen any time soon.

AFC: North | South | East

NFC: North | South | East

Best and Worst of Free Agency: AFC West

Denver Broncos

Best Move: Landing a Workhorse

Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio is a defensive-minded coach. Those types almost always build their offenses around strong running games. So it shouldn’t have been a big surprise to see Denver be in on one of the most versatile runners in the NFL today, even with local-son Phillip Lindsay in tow.

Lindsay has amassed 2048 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns over the last two seasons. But at 5’8” and under 200 lbs, the Broncos have been reluctant to ride him. Melvin Gordon (6’1”, 215 lbs) doesn’t carry the same worries. Gordon is also a better weapon out of the backfield with 490 receiving yards in 2018 (his last full year) to 437 for Lindsay in his career.

Worst Move: None

This is another where it may seem like a cop-out. But the reality is Denver is smack dab in the middle of a rebuild. Expecting them to be major players in free agency is flawed. Sure, they could have been and could have used the available talent. But building through the draft and making smart free-agent acquisitions is never the wrong choice.

We could certainly nitpick and say they didn’t do enough to upgrade their pass protection or that replacing Chris Harris with A.J. Bouye isn’t a safe bet. We could say they should move Von Miller (they shouldn’t) to cash in on his name while his value is still high. But they have a nice mix of veterans and young guys right now. It’s a good blend.

Next Move: Find WR2

Courtland Sutton has the looks of a stud wide receiver. He turned 124 targets into 72 catches for 1112 yards and six scores with poor quarterback play. But after him, Denver is less than thin. Their second-leading receiver was Emmanuel Sanders who was traded midway through the season, with 30 catches for 367 yards.

The Broncos picked a good time to need a receiver. This draft is believed to be deep enough to produce starter-quality options well into the second day of selections. With their top option at receiver, workhorse and scat backs, and their quarterback of the future, all Denver needs is a receiver to take the top off the defense. That is if you think the offensive line play will hold up.

Kansas City Chiefs

Best Move: Retaining Dominant D-Lineman

Chris Jones is a dominant force for the Kansas City Chiefs. A Pro Bowler last year, Jones had a better season in 2018 than in 2019. He finished fifth in pressures that season and while that number fell in 2019, he still made an impact. Jones was credited with three pass deflections in Super Bowl LIV. He also missed three games explaining at least some of the drop from 15.5 sacks to nine (still a good total).

Slapping Jones with the franchise tag is far from solving the problem. Jones wants, deserves, and will get paid. Whether or not Kansas City is the organization to pony up remains to be seen. Rumors of potential trades have swirled since before he signed is tender. But that is a worry for another day. For now, the Chiefs did well to keep him in town.

Worst Move: Missing the Flash Sale

This one might take some convincing, but the Chiefs missed the boat letting the Broncos poach Gordon from the Los Angeles Chargers. Now, if you are done laughing yes, the Chiefs just won the Super Bowl with Damien Williams and all of his 498 regular-season rushing yards and 213 receiving yards.

Kansas City doesn’t need Gordon, that much is true. But the potential of this offense and Patrick Mahomes with Gordon’s dual-threat abilities is scary high. Kansas City had their way with much of the league with Williams and the ghost of LeSean McCoy. Adding Gordon would have made the Chiefs prohibitive favorites to win the whole thing again.

Next Move: Find Another Sammy

Sammy Watkins returning to the Chiefs is a win for Mahomes. Tyreek Hill is the top option, but Watkins has performed like a number one receiver on more than one occasion. Kansas City restructured Watson’s contract to keep the band together but they shouldn’t rest on their laurels just yet.

Watkins has had a problem staying healthy in his relatively short career, only appearing in a full 16 games just once; his rookie season. That injury history is a large part of why the Chiefs were ever able to get him. Had he stayed healthy he might still be in Buffalo catching passes from Josh Allen. Instead, the Chiefs need to remember his body of work and not just his 2019.

Las Vegas Raiders

Best Move: Physically Moving

The Raiders last winning season came in 2016. Before that, it was 2002. That’s one winning season in 17 years. That kind of awful streak is sure to breed apathy among a fan base. So, despite the decrying from nostalgia nuts, the move from Oakland to Las Vegas is not only welcome but long overdue.

Waning attendance and (the bigger issue) a contract dispute over the Coliseum led to this and no one should be upset. If fans in Oakland are, they should be with their elected officials, any deal that they want to be done typically gets done. But the rest of us should indulge in this. In the imagery of the team with the pirate logo and colorful past now reside in Sin City. Glorius.

Worst Move: Spending on MLB

This is splitting hairs a bit. Las Vegas needed a middle linebacker anyway, but especially after letting Tahir Whitehead walk in free agency. They remedied that by signing former Chicago Bears reserve Nick Kwiatkoski to a three-year, $21 million deal. It’s not a large deal but there are definitely risks coming with it.

Kwiatkoski made for a nice fill-in player for the Bears. At different points, he has either come off the bench or started in place of starters Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith. But he has never been tasked with starting more than half a season. That’s plenty of tape to draw a conclusion, but that’s not the issue. Kwiatkoski is limited (the logic for Chicago choosing Trevathan) and Oakland needs a dynamic playmaker in the worst way.

Next Move: Keep Trucking

Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have taken plenty of flack for their decisions (drafting Clelin Ferrell fourth overall comes to mind) and for just being them. But they have a clear vision for the type of players they want and what they want this franchise to be on the football field. Realizing that vision is always a matter of chance. But Gruden and Mayock have been far more competent than we initially gave them credit for.

In that vein, the Raiders need to keep doing what they have been doing (didn’t think you’d get to read that when Gruden got hired, did ya?). Continue to build through the draft and even the reclamation projects like Marcus Mariota are smart. That one, in particular, is one to watch. It’s no secret that Gruden and starting quarterback Derek Carr have been anything but a match made in Heaven.

Los Angeles Chargers

Best Move: The Patriot Way

No, this isn’t  insanity, the Patriot Way definitely made its way West. Philip Rivers leaves the Chargers the all-time leader in passing yards on franchise history. He also leaves retaining every bit of the gunslinger mentality that fans undoubtedly came to both love and loathe at times.

Rivers averaged just over 28 touchdowns per season in 14 seasons as the full-time starter. He had 23 last season and 32 in 2018. He averaged a little over 14 interceptions in that same span and had 20 in 2019 and 12 in 2018. So, it would seem, his 2018 when the Chargers made the playoffs for the first time in five years, was the outlier. Smart move, Los Angeles.

Worst Move: Falling For It

Earlier in this piece, the Broncos received praise for giving a running back a new contract. On their side were the short length and relatively-small dollar mount (two years, $16 million with $13 million guaranteed. Los Angeles handing Austin Ekeler four years for $24.5 million and $15 million in guarantees. That’s a risky proposition for a player with no more than eight starts in any given season.

Next Move: Finding QB1

Naturally, after Rivers moved on to the Indianapolis Colts, and really even before, names were getting linked to the Chargers for 2020. From Jameis Winston to Cam Newton to Tom Brady, Los Angeles was viewed as a top landing spot. They settled on Tyrod Taylor, even announcing as much. But he is, at best, a stop-gap option.

With the NFL Draft just a few days away and an older (and average) starter in place, it makes sense for the Chargers to be looking at one of the top passers coming in. Do they trade up for Tua Tagovailoa whose game is like Taylor’s on steroids or maybe Jalen Hurts who might be somewhere in between those two, or Justin Herbert who is more like the departed Rivers?

Free Agency Best and Worst: NFC South

Our Best and Worst series is in full bore. We’ve already covered the AFC and NFC North, the AFC and NFC East, and we just finished our AFC South entry. We now turn our focus on the NFC South, a division that would be up for the “Most Dramatic Changes” award if such an award existed. Quarterback changes, roster overhauls, and record-setting contracts, this division has it all.

Best and Worst of Free Agency: NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Best Move: Upgrading at RB

Surely there will be some who will look at this and immediately question how is going to a running back rumored to be dealing with a degenerative knee disease an upgrade over the back the Atlanta Falcons made (at the time) the highest paid in 2017? When the new guy is Todd Gurley and the last guy was Devonta Freeman, that’s how.

The Los Angeles Rams parted with the former Offensive Rookie of the Year (2015) and Offensive Player of the Year (2017) largely due to uncertainty around the long-term health of his knee but fiscal motivations were not absent. Freeman (494 total touches, 2339 scrimmage yards over the last three years) has dealt with injuries that caused him to miss all but two games in 2018. If Gurley (912 total touches, 4988 yards since 2017) is close to his old self the Falcons won’t experience any dropoff and may see better production.

Worst Move: Half Addressing Pass Rush

Yet another where readers may be scratching their heads. After all, Atlanta signed free agent Dante Fowler to a three-year deal worth up to $48 million. Unfortunately, that’s about all they have done to address the issue. After they recorded more sacks than the woeful Miami Dolphins, one guy isn’t going to be enough.

Fowler had 11.5 sacks in 2019 and that his presence will help immensely. But Atlanta let Vic Beasley walk. Despite his inconsistency during his time in Atlanta, he had a strong finish to last season and led the team with eight sacks. They lost another six combined sacks between Adrian Clayborn and De’Vondre Campbell. The 16th-overall pick will be very useful.

Next Move: Lockdown the Corner

A theme we have visited elsewhere, Atlanta has a glaring need for some help on the corners. They finished 2019 ranked 22nd in passing yards allowed. Some of that was thanks to a lackluster pass rush. But none of their corners played particularly well. Desmond Trufant (Detroit Lions) was their best corner and he was only available for nine games.

Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson aren’t an intimidating trio by any stretch. Wreh-Wilson only allowed quarterbacks to complete 45 percent of passes in his direction but was only credited with being targeted 33 times, or five fewer times than Trufant who missed nearly half the season. Atlanta’s first two picks should be EDGE and cornerback, or vice versa.

Carolina Panthers

Best Move: Bridging the Gap

Cam Newton is probably the greatest to ever do it for the Carolina Panthers. No player has the accolades or had the connection to the area he did. But that time is over and the Matt Rhule regime is getting off on the right foot with a  player in Teddy Bridgewater who seems poised to pay off on the promise he had coming into the league.

Touted as an accurate, athletic pocket passer, Bridgewater got derailed by a knee injury that threatened not only his career but also his limb. He regained prominence with the New Orleans Saints filling in for an injured Drew Brees for five games. The Saints went 5-0 and Bridgewater completed 69.7 percent of his passes for 1205 yards, nine touchdowns, and two picks.

Worst Move: Repeating the Past

No, this isn’t about Christian McCaffrey’s (record-setting) contract. So far the Panthers plan is just as well thought out as the last one. They have a (potential) stud at quarterback and some weapons around him. But their fatal flaw will once again prove to be a lack of proper protection. Carolina traded guard Trai Turner and received tackle Russell Okung from the Los Angeles Chargers.

Not only is Okung a worse player (irrespective of position) but he is also five years older. The need for a tackle will often outweigh the advantage of a quality guard. But the difference in age (even if linemen can play longer) and the added salary make this look like a losing deal for Carolina and they still need more help protecting their new franchise passer. Also, don’t pay running backs.

Next Move: Replace Heart and Soul

Sounds easy enough, right? The reality of the situation is Luke Kuechly’s retirement is similar to Newton’s departure in that it marks the end of an era. The difference is the Panthers got to make the decision on Newton. Kuechly, who has dealt with numerous concussions in his career, made seven Pro Bowls in eight seasons and was named an All-Pro five times.

But accolades aside, the Panthers will need to find the leadership and dependability elsewhere. Carolina saw eight players leave on defense who started at least nine games. Granted, any time there is a coaching change a roster overhaul is to be expected. But Kuechly would have made the transition easier for new defensive coordinator Phil Snow.

New Orleans Saints

Best Move: Landing WR2

It’s not often that landing a secondary receiver deserves praise. But when that receiver will be with the Saints catching passes from Brees, exceptions are made. Emmanuel Sanders split 2019 between catching passes from Joe Flacco and Jimmy Garoppolo. To say Brees is an upgrade is an understatement.

New Orleans hasn’t had a capable complimentary option since Brandin Cooks left town. Ted Ginn in 2017 was the closest they’ve come. Sanders is a year older than Ginn was then, and is a more versatile receiver. A torn Achilles ended his 2018 early and he returned to put up over 800 yards and play in 17 games last season.

Worst Move: Choosing the Wrong QB2

Somehow Taysom Hill has convinced folks down in the Bayou that he is worthy of being the top backup option. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that he has franchise quarterback potential. Hill is a nice, versatile athlete. But he isn’t a full-time quarterback, let alone a starter. New Orleans gave it away by going with Bridgewater over the more familiar Hill when Brees went down.

Now, this is being stated with a full understanding of how the economics played into this. With Brees returning, retaining Bridgewater became impossible. But selling HIll as anything more than a gadget player (with Brees and Bridgewater still in limbo) was an oversell and if New Orleans stands pat at quarterback, they will regret it if Brees misses time again.

Next Move: Someone to Truzz

The Saints had the fewest rushing yards as a team in the three years since Alvin Kamara arrived. They clearly missed Mark Ingram and the energy he brought to the field and sideline. Latavius Murray gave New Orleans eight fewer yards than Ingram did in his final season. But the latter ran for over a thousand yards the two years prior and did so again with Baltimore last year.

If the Saints want to get the mojo back in their ground game the will try to find another runner with that same type of violent running style. Kamara remaining healthy is probably the bigger boost, but the need for a proper compliment to him cannot be overstated. For all their effort though, finding someone to match Ingram’s infectious energy could be close to impossible.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Best Move: Brady Bunch

Tom Brady signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the biggest move this offseason in the NFL, not just the NFC South. The only thing comparable is Peyton Manning joining the Broncos in 2012. This surpasses that by far but does have similar questions along with it. Among them is questioning how much Brady’s declining numbers are due to waning ability.

Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, (for now) O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate will make it clear if Brady is up to the task or not. It’s hard to say the six-time Super Bowl champ has ever had a more talented receiving corps. If there is one thing to complain about it’s the protection that wasn’t great for a more mobile Jameis Winston in 2019. Tampa might also want to finally find a running back.

Worst Move: Not Protecting the Franchise

Recurring themes are becoming a recurring theme. Another team (rightfully) making an investment in a franchise quarterback and surrounding him with weapons but failing to address porous blocking. Brady is 42. ‘Sack’ needs to be treated like the four-letter word that it is for this organization and, so far, their moves don’t show that.

Next Move: Fill the Gaps

Let’s not act like the NFL draft won’t provide the perfect opportunity to address the issue laid out in the previous section as well as address the lack of a run game. Tampa also needs some help in the secondary but they have youth there. Whatever they choose to do in the draft, the top needs to be the offensive line and secondary, in whatever order.

A sneaky move could be for the Bucs to take a pass rusher much sooner than anyone expects. Shaquil Barrett is playing on the franchise tag and Jason Pierre-Paul just re-signed for two years but is already 31. Tampa also lost Carl Nassib, their third-leading sack artist with six. Add pass rusher to the early part of the Bucs draft checklist.