In this installment of Third and Short, our experts offer insight into free agency. Which signing (or defection) will be the most regretted? Who's going to be the bargain of this free-agent crop and who's the bust? And which teams spent wisely and which didn't?
Jeffri Chadiha: Which free-agent signing (or defection) will a team most regret?
That's an easy one: The Oakland Raiders' decision to sign former Denver Broncos wide receiver Javon Walker will be regretted. The most obvious reason to shake your head at this move is the money involved. Walker reportedly received a six-year deal worth $55 million, with $16 million in guaranteed money. That's a pretty good chunk of change for a player who missed eight games with a knee injury last season and wound up with just 26 receptions.
What's becoming painfully evident about Walker is that he's an above-average receiver who's still cashing in on the Pro Bowl season he enjoyed in Green Bay back in 2004. The reality is that Walker hasn't come close to being that same impact player since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the 2005 season. Sure, he produced solid numbers in his first year in Denver (69 receptions, 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns). But by last year his knee was problematic enough that it required surgery during the season. He also was publicly claiming that he didn't fit in with the Broncos' offense.
Those comments had to sting Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, particularly after he acquired Walker in a draft-day trade in 2006. Now Shanahan realizes how naïve he was to buy into Walker's potential. By the end of the year, it was obvious Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall had emerged as the top target on that roster and that meant Walker's days there were numbered. He was just too expensive -- too willing to complain when things went bad -- to keep in the locker room.
So don't be surprised if the Raiders learn the same lessons about Walker in the near future. They obviously thought they were acquiring a game-changing talent who could help second-year quarterback JaMarcus Russell develop, but they'll soon discover the familiar pain of buyer's remorse. What they will end up with is an overpaid, underachieving, 29-year-old wide receiver with a gimpy right knee. If they wanted more disappointment at that position, they would've been better served by convincing Jerry Porter to stick with the team. He signed with Jacksonville.
Pat Yasinskas: Who's the bargain and who's the bust of this free-agent crop?
Who's going to be the most productive free agent? Seattle running back Julius Jones. He got brushed aside in Dallas because of Marion Barber. But Jones is walking into a good situation in Seattle. He'll take the place of Shaun Alexander and be paired with Maurice Morris in a backfield that will turn out to be one of the best in the league. Jones was a 1,000-yard rusher in 2006 and will return to that level. He also will be a major contributor as a receiver out of the backfield. Jones caught 35 passes in 2005, but the Cowboys forgot about his receiving skills the last two seasons, something the Seahawks won't.
Who's going to be the least productive free agent? Denver's Keary Colbert. You have to wonder how the Broncos got the impression that Colbert could be a No. 2 receiver. Apparently, they want Jay Cutler to be the second coming of Jake Plummer, not John Elway. Colbert was given every opportunity to be a starter in Carolina and he kept flopping (even with Steve Smith taking away all the coverage). The Broncos loved Colbert when he was coming out of college and stuck with that impression. They need to update their scouting files and put Colbert's report in the Arena Football League folder.
Mike Sando: Which team didn't do enough in free agency? Which team overspent?
The Arizona Cardinals should continue to make progress under coach Ken Whisenhunt, but salary-cap problems prevented them from bolstering their roster significantly during free agency. The Cardinals appear less talented on paper after losing receiver Bryant Johnson and pass-rusher Calvin Pace. They added defensive end Travis LaBoy and tight end Jerame Tuman, role players who combined to start one game last season.
The Oakland Raiders claimed the overspending title with zeroes to spare. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, safety Gibril Wilson and receiver Javon Walker can be solid role players, and perhaps even better. The Raiders paid them what franchise greats Howie Long, Jack Tatum and Fred Biletnikoff might command if they were still in their primes. Oakland is scheduled to pay more than $57 million to Kelly, Wilson and Walker over the upcoming two seasons. That's an exorbitant sum for three players with a single Pro Bowl on their resumes (Walker in 2004).