Top 10 NFL Free Agents

A quick breather from 30 Clubs in 30 Days, I think we’ve all earned that. Let’s talk football. It’s going to be an interesting offseason as this is one of the more stacked free agent classes in recent memory. As I mentioned in the intro of this morning’s Milwaukee Brewers preview, the deadline for the Franchise Tag has passed and the potential free agents who will not be hitting the open market are Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry (who may get traded), Lions pass rusher Ziggy Ansah, Cowboys pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, Rams safety LaMarcus Joyner, and Steelers runningback Le’Veon Bell (Bell has stated his displeasure with getting tagged). So now that the guys getting tagged are off the market, let’s take a look at who the 10 best players available are. I’m not going to include Drew Brees on this list because let’s face it, he’s not going anywhere.

10. QB Teddy Bridgewater

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Just a tough go for Teddy Bridgewater. After being the 32nd overall pick in 2014, Bridgewater was looking pretty good and appeared to be the Vikings’ quarterback of the future. However, shortly before the 2016 season, he suffered a gruesome non-contact injury that resulted in a torn ACL, a dislocated knee, and other structural damage that was so bad people feared he may lose the leg. He seems to have made a full recovery, thankfully, though he hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since 2015 NFC Wild Card Round (that game where Blair Walsh missed the chip shot field goal that would’ve sent the Vikings to the Divisional Round and eliminated the Seahawks). He says he wants to start and he’s more than capable of it, but the severity of his injury may scare some teams.

Projected Landing Spot: Miami Dolphins

9. DT Muhammad Wilkerson

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Muhammad Wilkerson’s departure from the Jets has seemingly been a foregone conclusion for years now, as the team has been on the fence between trading him, slapping the franchise tag on him, or giving him an extension. They ultimately released him this offseason and he’ll be hitting the open market. Wilkerson still has plenty left in the tank at 28 years of age though I doubt he’ll be getting much more than a 3-year deal.

Projected Landing Spot: Buffalo Bills

8. QB Sam Bradford

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Sam Bradford’s had kind of a weird career. He was a Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma, was the first overall pick by the Rams in 2010, won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year that same season, then injuries happened. It got so bad that Bradford’s fragility is a running joke amongst NFL fans. Though once he joined the Vikings after a year with the Eagles, he seemed to flip a switch. Bradford was excellent in 2016 as he completed 71.6% of his passes, threw for 3877 yards, and tossed 20 TDs vs only 5 picks. He got off to a good start in 2017 as well as he torched the Saints defense in Week 1 before hurting himself once again in practice. Only this time his replacement, Case Keenum, was terrific and Bradford never really got the job back. There’s certainly going to be a market for Bradford because he’s better than a lot of the guys other teams have been trotting out there as starters.

Projected Landing Spot: New York Jets

7. CB Trumaine Johnson

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Trumaine Johnson is one of the more underappreciated corners in the league. He doesn’t make the flashy plays but he always ends up covering the opposing team’s #1 receiver and he does a pretty good job at it, too. However the Rams are a bit strapped for cash and they knew they wouldn’t be able to bring Johnson back so they traded for Marcus Peters and slapped the franchise tag on LaMarcus Joyner. Whomever ends up signing Johnson will be getting a steal.

Projected Landing Spot: New England Patriots

6. QB Case Keenum

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The third former Vikings quarterback on this list, I was very surprised that the Vikings didn’t slap the franchise tag on Keenum after his performance in 2017, leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship game for the first time since the 2009 season, but there’s a reason for that which I’ll get into later because it involves another guy on this list. Keenum had a rough night against the Eagles in that conference title game but he was otherwise excellent for the Vikings and performed well beyond anybody’s expectations for him. There will be concern that it was a fluke and that the Eagles exposed his flaws, however I’m sure somebody will be willing to take a risk on him.

Projected Landing Spot: Arizona Cardinals

5. CB Malcolm Butler

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As a Patriots fan, it’s going to suck to see Malcolm Butler go. It was kind of a messy ending, given the inexplicable benching in Super Bowl LII, but it was such a wonderful beginning, as pictured above, that no matter what happens I’m going to remember him fondly. After recording arguably the greatest interception of all time, Butler became a really good corner, finishing in the top 10 of Pro Football Focus’ cornerback ratings for 2015 and 2016. 2017 wasn’t as great for Butler and he got picked apart in the playoffs. There’s no chance he returns to the Patriots after the way he was handled, though and that’s going to leave a big hole at corner opposite Stephon Gilmore in New England (which I hope gets filled by Trumaine Johnson, but that’s wishful thinking).

Projected Landing Spot: New Orleans Saints

4. WR Allen Robinson

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There’s never a good time to get injured but Allen Robinson may have picked the worst time to tear his ACL. He was an absolute stud in 2015, catching 80 passes for 1400 yards and a whopping 14 TD’s. He was a disappointment in 2016, though, as his yardage total was nearly cut in half and he struggled with drops. Entering a contract year in 2017, Robinson was out to prove that 2015 wasn’t a fluke. Then he tore his ACL in Week 1 against the Texans. So now not only has he not had a great season in 2 years, but he also hasn’t really played since 2016 thanks to his injury. I’m a little surprised the Jaguars didn’t elect to tag him and give him one more shot at a contract year, however they made the AFC Championship game without him and they probably feel comfortable with the guys they have. If Robinson can put forth a healthy 2018, though, he’s one of the most dangerous receivers in the league.

Projected Landing Spot: Chicago Bears

3. WR Sammy Watkins

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Sammy Watkins is one of the most talented receivers in the game but injuries and having to learn a new system on the fly have kept him from reaching his full potential. The fourth overall pick by the Bills in 2014 and the first receiver taken in that already legendary class, Watkins was traded during the 2017 preseason to the Rams and was forced to learn Sean McVay’s playbook at an accelerated pace and as a result, his play faltered. Despite playing 15 out of 16 games, Watkins only had 39 catches for 593 yards (though he did have 8 TD’s to go with that) in offensive guru McVay’s system. However if he can stay healthy and be given a full offseason to learn a new system, Watkins could become the dangerous threat the Bills thought he’d be when they took him in 2014.

Projected Landing Spot: Dallas Cowboys

2. DT Sheldon Richardson

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Sheldon Richardson is one of the best defensive tackles in the game however the only thing keeping him from being a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber player is himself. He’s had his issues off the field, the most appalling for me being that time he got in a high-speed chase with police with his 10-year old nephew in the passenger’s seat. Not good. However when he’s on the field he’s terrific and he was a big boost to the Seahawks’ defense as they were able to get creative with him and move him all over the line. If he gets into the right culture, he could be a huge impact on a team.

Projected Landing Spot: Returns to Seahawks

1. QB Kirk Cousins

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You had to know Kirk Cousins was going to be #1. I’m not going to get too deep into this one because I already did that when the Redskins traded for Alex Smith. However there are reports that the Vikings are ready to offer him a king’s ransom, somewhere along the lines of 3 years and $91M GUARANTEED. It was a weird saga for Cousins with the Redskins and I’m happy for him that he’s been able to leave that toxic situation and, from the looks of things, get seriously paid.

Projected Landing Spot: Minnesota Vikings

That’s going to do it for the top 10 free agents in the NFL. Let me know what you think of this free agent class in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

JD Martinez Signs with the Red Sox

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First, my reaction to the news as a general baseball fan:

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Also, my reaction as a Red Sox fan:

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The saga is finally over, JD Martinez has finally signed with the Red Sox. It seems like this has gone on a lot longer than it really should have as Martinez and Red Sox GM (he’s technically not the GM but we’re just going to call him that because he basically acts as the GM) Dave Dombrowski were in a staring contest for the ages and it appears that Martinez blinked first. The deal he’s receiving is for 5 years $110M, which is a drop from the 5 years $125M we initially heard the Red Sox were offering and a significant drop from the 7-year $210M deal Martinez was allegedly looking for. I’m not totally surprised that Martinez decided to settle, considering that the first Spring Training game is Thursday (god that feels good to say) and it was pretty apparent that the Red Sox, the only team that still seemed interested in signing him, weren’t going to budge. It is worth noting, though, that the contract has an opt-out clause after 2 years, during which he will be making $50M of the $110M of the contract. That pretty much guarantees he’s going to elect to use that opt-out clause to try and get a better deal in a couple years. But for the time being, Martinez is just the impact bat the Red Sox needed.

Despite boasting a lot of excellent young talent, the Red Sox finished last in the American League in home runs in 2017, finishing behind weak power-hitting teams such as the White Sox and Athletics of all teams. After David Ortiz’s retirement, the Red Sox have been desperately searching for that huge power threat. They were hoping that it would be Hanley Ramirez, as he had hit 30 home runs in 2016. But Ramirez regressed significantly in 2017 and the need for a big bat was further emphasized. Here’s how the Red Sox are expected to look come Opening Day in Tampa.

1. Eduardo Nunez-2B

2. Andrew Benintnedi-LF

3. Mookie Betts-RF

4. JD Martinez-DH

5. Xander Bogaerts-SS

6. Rafael Devers-3B

7. Hanley Ramirez/Mitch Moreland-1B

8. Christian Vazquez-C

9. Jackie Bradley Jr-CF

It’s worth mentioning that I have Nunez slated as the Red Sox second baseman because Dustin Pedroia is expected to miss the first month or so of the season recovering from offseason surgery. But immediately Martinez makes this lineup significantly more deadly. Last season between the Tigers and Diamondbacks, Martinez hit .303 with 45 home runs and 104 RBI. The leading home run hitter for the Red Sox last year was Mookie Betts with 24. The only other members of the team to hit 20 home runs were Mitch Moreland (22) and Andrew Benintendi (20). Martinez was a poor defender last season, being worth -5 DRS last season in right field, but the Red Sox don’t need him to play any defense this season, as they already have three quality defensive outfielders in Benintendi, Bradley, and the #1 outfielder in DRS, Betts. All Martinez will need to do is worry about his at bats.

Martinez will likely serve as the team’s cleanup hitter and it will be interesting to see how he does in Fenway Park. Being a right-handed hitter, the Green Monster is going to come into play for him. A lot of balls that might have been home runs in places like Arizona (probably the second most hitter-friendly park in the Majors after Colorado) will be turned into doubles because of it. But take a look at Martinez’s spray chart, courtesy of Fangraphs.

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That looks like a pretty balanced spray chart to me particularly on balls that he puts in the air. When he hits a ground ball he REALLY favors the third base line, but his home runs seem to be relatively evenly-distributed and it seems that regular fly balls tend to go the opposite way a little more frequently. Considering the Pesky Pole in right is only about 300 feet from home plate, Martinez could steal a couple home runs by keeping that trend up. I think he’ll be fine at Fenway based on what that spray chart tells us.

So finally, the wait is over, JD Martinez has signed with the Red Sox. I wish I could say it was fun while it lasted, but that’s just not true. It was pretty goddamn infuriating. Let me know what you think of the Martinez signing in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Cubs Sign Yu Darvish

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NOW we get into the juicy stuff. After a long while, Yu Darvish has signed a 6-year $126M contract with the Chicago Cubs after 5 and a half years with the Rangers and half a season with the Dodgers, where he helped them on a World Series run (even if his actual World Series performance left a lot to be desired). Darvish is one of the most talented pitchers in the game but hasn’t been able to realize a lot of his potential due in large part to injury, namely Tommy John surgery which cost him much of 2014, all of 2015, and much of 2016. Darvish was finally healthy in 2017 and he had a solid year, going 10-12 with a 3.86 ERA and 209 strikeouts between the Rangers and Dodgers. He looks for a fresh new start with a talented Cubs rotation that underperformed in 2017 but looks to get back on track to try and return to their championship glory from 2016.

Here’s how the Cubs’ rotation is expected to look with Darvish in the mix and the now expected departure of former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, whom I will get to in a moment:

1. Jon Lester

2. Yu Darvish

3. Kyle Hendricks

4. Jose Quintana

5. Tyler Chatwood/Drew Smyly

That’s a pretty formidable rotation provided everybody pitches to their ability. Couple that with an extremely potent lineup and the Cubs have all the makings of a World Series favorite. Though pitching to their ability is the big concern here. Lester is coming off his worst season since 2012, as he went 13-8 with a 4.33 ERA and 180 strikeouts. He turned 34 last month so one has to wonder if his skills may be on the decline. Quintana was very inconsistent last season. His month-by-month ERA was a big indicator to that. Starting in April, Quintana’s monthly ERA’s were 5.22, 5.91, 1.78, 3.45, 5.73, 2.51. So of those 6 months, 3 were really bad and 3 were either solid or excellent. It all averaged out to an ERA of 4.15, which is a far cry from what we know he’s capable of. Hendricks was probably Chicago’s most consistent starter in 2017 as he went 7-5 with a 3.03 ERA and 123 strikeouts during an injury-plagued season. When healthy, Hendricks is capable of being the ace of this loaded staff but if Chicago is going to make another run at the World Series, they’re going to need him on the mound every five days.

Which brings me to Jake Arrieta. The 2015 NL Cy Young winner seems to not be returning to Wrigley with the signing of Darvish, however I expect now that Darvish has signed, Arrieta will soon follow. I think the main reason it’s taken this long for either guy to sign was because they were waiting each other out, trying to see what the other would get so that they could use it as a comparison in their negotiations. Now that Arrieta has seen that Darvish is valued by the Cubs at $21M per year, he can use that to his advantage to make even more. All he has to say to teams that want to pay him comparable money to Darvish is “Yu is valued at $21M, he’s injured all the time, he doesn’t even have a Cy Young award and he sucked in the World Series. I have a Cy Young Award and a 2.38 ERA in the 2016 World Series.” Immediately that’s going to land him at least $25M. So Arrieta ought to send Darvish a thank you card for signing first, though this for sure means that Arrieta won’t be returning to the Cubs.

However this presents an interesting conundrum for the Cubs and it has everything to do with next offseason. Bryce Harper has made it known, whether intentional or not, that his first choice to sign in the 2018 offseason would be with the Chicago Cubs. He’s childhood friends with Cubs superstar third baseman Kris Bryant and he named his dog “Wrigley.” The writing is on the wall for that one. However, Harper will be just 26 years old when he hits free agency and many have speculated he may command Major League Baseball’s first ever $400M contract. Will the Cubs be able to afford that with the current payroll they have? Not likely. So there will need to be some work done on the salary front and many potentially key players needing to be moved in order to afford that deal. It can be done, though, and I do expect we’ll be seeing Harper in Cubby blue starting in 2019.

That’s going to do it for this piece on the Yu Darvish signing. Let me know what you think this does for the Cubs’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.