Unlike the draft - where I think BPA is the primary guiding principle - FA acquisitions should be driven by need. So if we could make ONE big FA acquisition this year (CBA allowing) - what position and who would it be?
There are three positions that warrant consideration for a major FA acquisition: OL, CB, S.
QB, TE, WR, RB, OLB clearly do not warrant the expenditure of a major FA acquisition. We have the dominant NT that the Ryan's look for and a 3-4 DE is not a position in this scheme that warrants a high-end signing. K - not going down that road again! (Vandershank). You could make an argument for ILB, but with Lee developing its a lower priority.
I have tried to be realistic with my analysis. While you see many posters looking to blow-up half the defense and most of the O-Line. Unless you are in a rebuilding year, it is fundamental that you should only replace a player if you have someone better to replace them with - otherwise you are going to go backwards. I don't believe we are in a rebuilding year. The NFL is a parity league - with better coaching and a improved play in a couple of spots there is no reason we can't be winning in the playoffs next season.
Its also not realistic to expect we can pick-up 2-3 top FA's out there. Its not affordable or likely given the competition for those guys. Sounds great in a post but its pure "fantasy football".
Right now I believe there are 2 positions on the O-Line where options to upgrade need to be looked at seriously for next season: RT and RG. You would not ideally want two new rookies/redshirt players next to each other on the line so there is a strong argument for a significant FA acquisition to fill at least one of those spots. However, the O-Line's play improved significantly under JG's tenure and could improve further with him having unequivocal control and a full season to work with. Further, FO graded us 11th in pass protection and 12th in run-blocking i.e. playoff caliber units (if only just)....
Further, being realistic, the available players are invariably either aging (which we don't need more of) or have performance issues. Logan Mankins is the posters "poster-child" - but do you want to pay mega-bucks for an aging Guard when we could get by with improved play under JG, a mid-range FA or one of the younger guys we already have on our roster?
To me our Defensive Backfield - ranked near the bottom or the league in pass defense - has a much bigger upgrade potential - and this much better bang for our buck.
Corner is a position where rookies can typically contribute quickly. It doesn't have the NFL development curve of other positions such as O-Line, WR, QB etc. Further its a position where performance typically drops significantly with age. So does it make sense to spend a bucket-load on a player like 29-yr old Nnamdi who may only have a couple of good years left? Or go after a couple of young corners in the draft who could be both immediate and much longer term upgrades. The draft is the way to go here.
The more I look at it, the more convinced I am that safety is the way to go:
- Defensive backfield has the biggest upgrade factor
- With the possible exception of Hamlin's first year, we haven't had quality defensive backfield play since Woodson retired a decade ago.
- We need a "field general" who can make sure the coverage scheme is correctly deployed and can make the right reads and adjustments. We don't have this guy on the roster and a rookie is not going to be able to play this role.
- Furthermore, having a strong "field general" FS behind them is likely to improve the confidence and play of the CB's. Thus the S FA has a strong leverage effect on other positions.
So if Safety, why Michael Huff?
- Most coaches look to bring in one or two of "his guys" to help educate and translate his scheme to his new team. Having played under Ryan, Huff could be this guy and he is in an ideal position on the field to do it from.
- The Raiders have a ton of FA's to sign, including Nnamdi, Gallery, Bush and others - so there is a good chance of prising Huff away.
- He is only 27, which at safety likely means he has a least 5 solid seasons ahead of him
- He grades well on PFF analysis, particularly coverage, which is our biggest need (see OCC analysis) As a fallback I would take Eric Weddle (SD), but then we would lose the advantage of having someone familiar with Ryan and his schemes.
Footnote: OCC's analysis
OCC has analyzed the Safety and CB positions making the need for upgrades in this area pretty clear. I look forward to the O-Line analysis, but until then I remain convinced Huff is the way to go in Free Agency.