NFL Free Agency Musings, 3/16/15

by Brian Umbaugh, @NFLRosters

Enjoy the NFL Team Depth Charts at Transactions are posted on the depth charts almost as they happen. If it’s been more than 12 hours, somebody call the police.

The news for Monday, March 16 —

Chris Borland retired from professional football

I’ll try to remain subjective, as Chris Borland has been one of my favorite LB’s since early in his Wisconsin career.

In 2014, Borland was a truck careening downhill toward opposing runners. He was rated by PFF as the best run defender at ILB, earning that distinction in less than half the snaps of many others on the list. He also passed that all-important “eye test” on the field, regardless of how many “experts” took shots at his 5’11” frame on draft day. In 2015, NaVorro Bowman is back, but without Borland and Patrick Willis, the 49ers are forced to start below average replacements Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody.

Vladimir Ducasse signed a 1 year contract with Chicago

Ducasse has started 10 games at guard over the last two years with the Vikings and Jets; one was good, one was average, and 8 were not all that spectacular. Last season, he was the worst rated Vikings guard, and in 2013 he was again the second-worst lineman on his team. Definitely not the resume you would expect from a second round pick. In Chicago, he figures to be a 4th guard behind 2nd team All Pro RG Kyle Long, incumben LG Matt Slauson, and Ryan Groy. He may not even make the team out of camp.

TE Mike McNeill waived by Carolina

McNeill was fifth on the Carolina TE depth chart behind Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Richie Brockel, and Brandon Williams. He did not play in 2014, but has taken some snaps over the years. His best year was in 2012 with the Rams, where he played 155 snaps and caught 4 balls.

Matt Schaub released by Oakland

Schaub and his $5.5 million cap charge were jettisoned in favor of a QB free agent that has had 8 positive games out of 36 career NFL starts. In comes Ponder, out goes the 11 year vet. In fairness to Schaub, he did reduce his bloated salary to make it easier on the Raiders to keep him, but sooner or later you have to produce. The Raiders were forced to start rookie Derek Carr from Week 1 and he proceeded to play like a rookie. Oakland was consistently overmatched.

Vince Wilfork and Cecil Shorts sign 2 year contracts with Houston

Belichick claimed that Wilfork was the best DL he ever coached; whether that’s true or not, “Air Vince” was a spectacular run stuffer in his early years. Since 2008, he has shown flashes of that same ability, but inconsistency and injury caused the Patriots to release him. He has not played a lot of NT lately, but will line up next to J.J. Watt next year, which will probably benefit him as it does everyone else. Without Wilfork, the Texans would have had to use untested Louis Nix III. Although Nix has Wilfork’s girth, he doesn’t have the veteran’s know-how. It will be a great opportunity for Nix to learn.

Cecil Shorts will be the #2 WR behind DeAndre Hopkins after the release of Andre Johnson. At first, I thought Shorts might be the #1-B to Hopkins’s #1-A; looking back at Shorts’s numbers, it’s hard to tell if he’s overrated or just unlucky to have played for the Jaguars. He’s never had a 1,000 yard season. He’s never finished a season with a positive full rating at WR, and just one season with a positive rating in the passing game. He routinely catches just over half of his targets. Is this his fault? Allen Robinson caught 63% of his targets last year with a higher YPC. There could be something to that.

Tramon Williams signed a 3 year $21 million contract with Cleveland; Randy Starks signed a 2 year contract

Williams signed a big contract in 2011 and rewarded Green Bay with a pretty good year at CB. Since then, he has been slightly above average. His value has been in his ability to stay on the field and consistently handle the opposition’s best WR. NFL fans have probably seen many Dez Bryant clips lately, making catches over Williams. Add those to the clips of Jermaine Kearse making the TD catch in OT over Williams, and Packer fans were not completely disappointed to see Williams move on to another team.

The interesting point is the situation he now finds himself. Cleveland has Joe Haden on one side, with 2014 1st round pick Justin Gilbert and overachieving 2014 UDFA K’Waun Williams in the mix. Signing Williams pushes the development of those guys back. Depth is great, but hanging $21 million on a 32 year old when he’s not much better than the incumbents seems a little foolhardy. Of course, this is Cleveland and Kevin Costner isn’t running this team.

The defense also adds ex-Dolphin DT Randy Starks. Starks had a ho-hum 2014 after an excellent 2013 campaign. He’s likely moving from a 4-3 DT to a 3-4 DE, so he’ll be pushing down younger and somewhat successful John Hughes and Billy Winn. Since those two guys are cheaper and higher performing than the starters, adding Starks to the mix only creates more cooks for the stew. Starks would be a better addition if one the current starters (Phil Taylor and Desmond Bryant) was released.

Jeron Johnson signed a 2 year $4 million contract with Washington

Johnson was the 3rd safety in Seattle, behind two pretty good safeties. Although he’s played limited snaps for that reason, he has shown a good balance of pass coverage and run defense at SS. He hasn’t played any snaps during Seattle’s playoff runs, but he has been in a winning locker room.

Washington could use some of that mojo. Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather, the starting safeties, are gone. The backups weren’t especially impressive, so Johnson has a chance to take over the starting SS job.

Kurt Coleman signed a 2 year $2.8 million contract with Carolina

After a terrible 2012 season in Philly and the subsequent lack of snaps in 2013, Coleman moved to Kansas City and had a decent season in 2014. So what do the Chiefs do with him? Let him walk in favor of signing an Oakland cast-off and re-signing your worst rated safety to a long-term deal. It’s not as simple as this, but confusing nonetheless. Carolina is the beneficiary, but Coleman does not have a great opportunity to start here. Other than some dime safety and rotational snaps, Coleman will have to be patient.