Don’t Laugh – Brandon Weeden could start for Dallas in 2015

brandon-weeden-brownsEarlier today, the Dallas Cowboys signed former Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Brandon Weeden to a two-year deal worth $1.23 million. This seems pretty insignificant in an offseason where players like Michael Johnson and Jairus Byrd have signed much larger and meaningful contracts. But when you look deeper into the matter, Weeden’s deal may have a greater impact on the Cowboys than what meets the eye.

Now, the obvious point to consider here is that Dallas still has Tony Romo, their starting QB for the past nine seasons. Critics love to point out Romo’s lack of success in winning big games and taking the Cowboys deep in the postseason. But you can’t argue with the guy’s career numbers: 29,565 passing yards, 64.6% completion rate, and 208 touchdown passes against just 101 interceptions. And Romo restructured his deal so that his signing bonus counts as most of this year’s salary, leaving Dallas to take just a $1 million cap hit. So there’s nothing changing under center for Dallas this season, but what about 2015…

The Cowboys are off to a very bad start in free agency this offseason after failing to re-sign DE Jason Hatcher. They also let DeMarcus Ware go because they didn’t want $16 million worth of cap space taken up by a guy who only managed six sacks last season. Given that they were already bad on defense, Dallas looks to be even worse in 2014. Throw in the bad contracts that Jerry Jones has been approving for the past several years and you have a team that doesn’t seem capable of filling too many defensive holes.

tony-romo-cowboysSo now we enter into the conversation of if Dallas is on the verge of a rebuilding phase. Sure, they’re not about to throw in the towel on 2014 already, especially with weapons like Romo, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten on offense. But if America’s Team fails to make the postseason yet again, it’s a very realistic possibility that they’ll look to get younger and less expensive.

Romo is slated to make $27.7 million in 2015, which is a tremendous cap hit. He’s also coming off of his second back surgery in two years, so it’s not like he is getting any younger. Seeing as how Dallas wasn’t afraid to let Ware go this offseason, it’s not unfathomable to think that they’d release Romo and his massive contract.

Relating this all back to Weeden, he projects to be Romo’s immediate backup if Kyle Orton does indeed retire like he’s been discussing. Hopefully for the Cowboys, Romo makes it through this entire season without another major injury, leaving Weeden relegated to the bench. But there’s always the possibility that Tony could get hurt, leaving Weeden to play some snaps.

Next year is even more up in the air due to the contract issue that we discussed. And if the Cowboys ultimately decide that they can’t build a winning team around a 35-year-old quarterback who’s counting $27.7 million against the salary cap next year, Weeden might get his second chance to run a team.

This would no doubt leave some Dallas fans rolling their eyes. But Weeden may not be a total lost cause. Drafted 22nd overall out of Oklahoma State, the former minor league baseball player has all of the physical tools that you’d want from a pocket passer. However, he just never displayed the on-field results to convince Cleveland that he was their quarterback of the future.

In two seasons with the Browns, Weeden threw for 5,116 yards, 23 touchdowns, 26 interceptions and had just a 71.8 passer rating. Throw in his 5-15 record as a starter and it’s no wonder why Cleveland chose to start over at the position. Now, Weeden also gets a chance to start over, which could mean good things for him next season.

Over 90% of Top NFL Free Agents don’t collect on Long-Term Contracts

javon-walker-long-term-dealWe’re smack dab in the middle of the 2014 NFL free agency period. Some big deals have already been signed, with DE Michael Johnson signing with Tampa Bay for 5 yrs/$43 million, S Jairus Byrd signing with the Saints for 6 yrs/$54 million and CB Alterraun Verner signing with Tennessee for 4 yrs/$26.5 million.

These deals are just the tip of the iceberg, though, because there have been several other big contracts, and there figure to be plenty more before the 2014 offseason ends. But interestingly enough, the large majority of these huge, multi-year deals mean very little in the long run.

As The Big Lead discovered from looking at the top 50 free agents each year from 2005 to 2010, only 8% of contracts with five years or more reached the end of the deal. Many NFL fans are probably well aware that long-term deals have essentially become worthless in a league that only guarantees a portion of contracts. But to know that over 90% of these deals end well before the agreed terms is a little mind-boggling.

drew-breesThe handful of players who actually completed their deals were Drew Brees, Charles Woodson, Adam Vinatieri, Derrick Mason, Reggie Hayward and Justin Smith, provided he makes next year’s San Francisco roster as expected. The Big Lead (TBL) broke the average contract length down with the following:

5-Year Deals – The average player lasts 2.9 years with their team
6-Year Deals – The average player lasts 3.1 years with their team
7-Year Deals – The average player lasts 3.7 years with their team

So not only are these guys not reaching the end of their contracts, but they are falling well short of the deals’ duration. TBL provided further information on this subject in the form of how well each position does with meeting most years of their contract length. Kickers and punters lead the way by lasting 17 of the 21 years (81%) they collectively signed for. Quarterbacks (72%) and defensive ends (70%) also do fairly well with making their deals last. At the lower end of the spectrum are wide receivers (46%), safeties (44%) and offensive tackles (42%).

Based on this data, TBL concludes that the offensive tackle position just doesn’t age well, with many teams looking to get good, young tackles early in the draft. The article attributes the low duration of receiver and safety contracts to teams frequently cutting overpaid players at these positions.

Free Agents who could Really Impact 2014 NFL Futures Bets

michael-vickIf you’re into making NFL futures bets, some experts suggest that you do it as early in the offseason as possible to get good value before lines shift. However, if you’re somebody who likes to wait and see how free agency impacts teams’ odds of winning the Super Bowl, this is never a bad decision either. Keeping in mind that some players have already been re-signed or franchise tagged, let’s look at some game-changing free agents who are still on the market this year and where they might go (based on rumors and/or teams actively seeking position upgrades).

Quarterbacks

1. Michael Vick (possible destinations: NY Jets, San Francisco) – After Vick played in just seven games last year due to injuries/losing his job to Nick Foles, we have to wonder if the 33-year-old’s best years are behind him. Still, Vick is a name that stands out in a subpar crop of free agent quarterbacks, and there are plenty of teams that would love to see if he’s got one or two good years left.

2.  Josh McCown (possible destinations: Chicago, Detroit) – Although it seems like McCown came out of nowhere last year with his 13 TD’s and one interception, he’s actually been in the league since 2002. At 34, he’s even older than Vick, but McCown should still find a few suitors who need a solid backup.

3. Josh Freeman (possible destinations: Oakland, NY Jets) – Between the fiasco in Tampa Bay and his stop in Minnesota, last year was Freeman’s worst as a profession. But before this, he was a four-year starter who was having a pretty decent career. Given the fact that Freeman is only 26, somebody will sign him as a backup to compete for the starting role.

Running Backs

ben-tate-free-agent1. Ben Tate (possible destinations: Cleveland, NY Giants) – Injuries and a timeshare with Arian Foster have always held Tate back from emerging as a star. But we fully expect him to get a big deal somewhere since he’s only 25 and runs a 4.43 forty. Tate could definitely go over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career.

2. Knowshon Moreno (possible destinations: NY Giants, Tennessee) – The former first round pick had his best year as a pro with 1,038 rushing yards, 548 receiving yards and 13 total TD’s. At 26 years old, he could be a long-term option for many teams. But can he produce the same numbers without Peyton Manning taking the pressure off?

3. Maurice Jones-Drew (possible destinations: NY Jets, Houston) – It took Jones-Drew a while to get going last year, but he did come up with 803 yards and 5 touchdowns on a bad team. Unfortunately, his career is at a decline, but he could still provide some nice power running in a committee.

Wide Receivers

1. Eric Decker (possible destinations: Indianapolis, San Francisco) – With 2,342 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns in the past two seasons, Decker has more than enough on his resume to land a big deal. Much like Moreno, the question now becomes if he’ll be able to live up to a big deal without Manning.

julian-edelman-free-agent2. Julian Edelman (possible destinations: Baltimore, Cleveland) – Last year couldn’t have gone any better for Edelman, who stepped in amidst New England’s receiver injuries and produced with 105 catches, 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. Now heading into free agency, he’s looking at millions of dollars.

3. James Jones (possible destinations: Minnesota, Seattle) – Often playing in a crowded Packers receiving corp, Jones still managed to produce 1,601 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two years. It’s especially impressive that he posted his highest career yardage total last season, despite Aaron Rodgers’ lengthy injury layoff.

Tight Ends

Garrett Graham (possible destinations: Houston, NY Giants) – Despite all of the quarterback turmoil in Houston, Graham still managed to post 545 yards and five touchdowns on 49 catches – and he only played in 13 games. He heads up an unimpressive crop of unsigned free agent tight ends this offseason.

Defensive Linemen

michael-johnson-cincinnati1. Michael Johnson (possible destinations: Atlanta, Tampa Bay) – After tallying 11.5 sacks in 2012, Johnson had a down season last year when he managed only 3.5 sacks. But at 6’7″ and just 27 years old, Johnson figures to draw tons of attention from teams wanting a tough defensive end – especially now that Greg Hardy is franchise tagged and Michael Bennett re-signed with Seattle.

2. Jason Hatcher (possible destinations: Atlanta, Dallas) – He’s 31 right now, but most teams will be concentrating on the 11 sacks he had last season. Hatcher definitely picked the perfect time to have a career year for an otherwise dismal Cowboys defense.

3. Henry Melton (possible destinations: Dallas, Jacksonville) – Melton tore his ACL and only appeared in three games for the Bears. But with just four seasons under his belt, Melton should make a comeback and remain a strong defensive tackle for whichever team signs him.

Linebackers

karlos-dansby-interception1. Karlos Dansby (possible destinations: Cleveland, Tennessee) – The 32-year-old Dansby won’t fetch any long-term deals. But he’s a huge reason why the Cardinals contended for a playoff spot in the brutal NFC West. Don’t expect him to score two touchdowns again or even pick off four passes. But do expect him to give the next team that signs him another 100-plus tackles.

2. Brandon Spikes (possible destinations: Buffalo, Cleveland) – After four years in New England, Spikes will probably be taking his run-stopping talents elsewhere. He’s racked up 178 combined tackles over the last two years and is still just 26.

3. Shaun Phillips (possible destinations: Green Bay, Tennessee) – 11 seasons in the league and Phillips is still producing. Last year he gave Denver’s defense a much-needed boost by tallying 10 sacks. He’ll likely go to a Super Bowl contender who’s looking to fill a pass-rushing hole.

Defensive Backs/Safeties

1. Aqib Talib (possible destinations: New England, Washington) – Following this offseason, Talib should send the Seahawks a thank you letter for making big cornerbacks so sought after. If the Patriots don’t tag him, the 6’1″, 205-pound corner is likely looking at an 8-figure deal.

tj-ward-free-agent2. T.J. Ward (possible destinations: Denver, Detroit) – Although he’s not the best coverage safety, Ward is a hard-hitter who’s great at finishing tackles. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Browns, Ward will definitely be highly valued somewhere else.

3. Jairus Byrd (possible destinations: Cleveland, Miami) – Byrd missed the beginning of the season with a foot injury and contract holdout. But in the 11 games that he played, the 27-year-old had a productive year with 48 tackles and four interceptions. Buffalo doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to re-sign Byrd, so expect this elite-coverage safety to test the waters.

NFL Power Rankings for Week 12 (Nov. 20th, 2013)

peyton-manning-chiefsLast Sunday night marked the year’s most anticipated game as the Denver Broncos hosted the Kansas City Chiefs. The latter was trying to keep their perfect record alive while Denver wanted to assert their dominance as the league’s best team. Peyton Manning had a pretty solid day after racking up 323 yards and a touchdown, and his line held off KC’s vaunted defensive line the entire game. This proved to be the difference as the Broncos were in command of the contest, coasting to a 27-17 win. You can see the flip-flop this created in our Week 12 power rankings below.

1. Denver Broncos (9-1); beat Kansas City 27-17, moves up one spot – Denver may not have come close to their league-leading 41.2 PPG, but remember that they were facing a Chiefs defense which holds opponents to 12.8 PPG. Demaryius Thomas burnt the KC secondary for five catches and 121 receiving yards.

2. Kansas City (9-1); lost to Denver 27-17, drops one spot – The Chiefs don’t have to wait long for revenge because they face the Broncos in two weeks at Arrowhead. Alex Smith definitely kept pace with Manning after throwing for 230 yards and two TD’s, plus adding 52 rushing yards. However, Jamaal Charles (16CAR, 78RYDS) seems like he’s a little slower at this point in the season.

3. Seattle Seahawks (10-1); beat Minnesota 41-20, retains same ranking – This is about what everybody expected. Percy Harvin looks ready to contribute now after returning a kickoff 56 yards, setting up a Russell Wilson touchdown pass.

4. New Orleans Saints (7-3); beat San Francisco 23-20, retains same ranking – It was a hard-fought victory, but the Saints were able to down the Niners thanks to three fourth-quarter field goals by Garrett Hartley. The Saints defense continues to be vastly improved, as evidenced by how they held the tough San Francisco running game to 81 yards on 22 total carries.

5. Indianapolis Colts (7-3); beat Tennessee 30-27, moves up two spots – The Colts andrew-luckare now 8-0 coming off a loss under coach Chuck Pagano. It didn’t look good in the beginning, though, as the Titans went up 14-0 early on. However, Indy used three rushing touchdowns from Donald Brown (2) and Andrew Luck (1) to make a comeback.

6. New England Patriots (7-3); lost to Carolina 24-20, drops one spot – A controversial no-call marred the end of this game. Given that New England was on the road against a red-hot team, we can’t fault them too bad for losing this one.

7. San Francisco 49ers (6-4); lost to New Orleans 23-20, drops one spot – The same road-loss rule applies to San Francisco because it’s nearly impossible to win in the Superdome, no matter how good you are. However, it’s worth mentioning that the Niners offense looked a little anemic.

8. Cincinnati Bengals (7-4); beat Cleveland 41-20, moves up one spot – The Bengals virtually assured themselves of winning the AFC North with this victory. Their defense/special teams stepped up big-time in light of a terrible start by Andy Dalton as they scored on a blocked punt and a fumble. The 31 points in the second quarter set a Cincy franchise record.

9. Carolina Panthers (7-3); beat New England 24-20, moves up one spot – Cam cam-newtonNewton is really starting to look like he did his rookie year – except this time he has a team behind him! The third-year QB is now a legitimate MVP candidate, while the Carolina defense has never looked better.

10. Arizona Cardinals (6-4); beat Jacksonville 27-14, moves up one spot – How do you win with 14 yards on 24 carries? Well for the Cardinals, it was a combination of good defense and 419 passing yards from Carson Palmer. The run game is a huge question mark moving forward, but Arizona keeps winning, so whatever…

11. Detroit Lions (6-4); lost to Pittsburgh 37-27, drops three spots – Detroit missed a chance to take command of the NFC North after blowing a second-half lead. Give credit to Pittsburgh, though, as they rebounded from a terrible second quarter and shut Detroit down the rest of the way.

12. Chicago Bears (6-4); beat Baltimore 23-20, moves up one spot – Many people, including ourselves, thought that Chicago was done when Jay Cutler went down with an injury a few games ago. But Josh McCown has stepped in and done admirably while keeping his team in playoff contention.

13. Dallas Cowboys (5-5); bye week, drops one spot – Dallas comes out of the bye week, suddenly finding themselves trailing the Eagles in the NFC East. Even their opponent this week, the New York Giants, is back in the thick of things thanks to a four-game win streak.

14. Philadelphia Eagles (6-5); beat Washington 24-16, moves up five spots – My how quickly things change in the NFL. Once ripped for an awful stretch of offense, Philadelphia has been revitalized with Nick Foles under center. Sure Foles may not have the perfect speed to run Chip Kelly’s read option; however, it doesn’t matter when he keeps throwing touchdown after touchdown.

15. Green Bay Packers (5-5); lost to New York Giants 27-13, drops one spot – Scott Tolzien is certainly no Aaron Rodgers….maybe not even Seneca Wallace. That said, will the Packers be too far out of the NFC North race by the time Rodgers returns from his broken collarbone?

16. New York Jets (5-5); lost to Buffalo 37-14, drops one spot – Geno Smith played geno-smith-billsabsolutely terrible as the Bills’ pass rush forced him into three interceptions and a fumble. With the Jets in a muddled AFC Wild Card race, you wonder how long Geno will continue to start since New York needs wins now.

17. Miami Dolphins (5-5); beat San Diego 20-16, moves up four spots – Despite losing Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito to the bullying scandal, the Dolphins are still neck and neck with New York for the last AFC Wild Card spot. Miami relied on a bend-but-don’t-break defense to pull out this victory.

18. San Diego Chargers (4-6); lost to Miami 20-16, drops two spots – This will be a season of big regrets for the Chargers since they could’ve have easily been in the playoffs if a couple of plays here or there had gone their way. Last Sunday’s game against the Dolphins was a great indication of this as they missed several opportunities to win.

19. Baltimore Ravens (4-6); lost to Chicago 23-20 (OT), drops one spot – Every time Baltimore looks like they’ve got some momentum going, it gets deflated the next week. Of course, it was hard for them to get momentum of any kind going in Chicago, where high winds and monsoon-like rains delayed the game.

20. Cleveland Browns (4-6); lost to Cincinnati 41-20, drops three spots – Cleveland jumped out to a 13-0 lead after Joe Haden’s 29-yard interception TD. However, the bottom completely fell out in the second quarter as they allowed a 31-0 Bengals run.

21. New York Giants (4-6); beat Green Bay 27-13, moves up one spot – The NFL is about taking advantage of opportunities, and this is exactly what New York has done during their four-game winning streak. Beating a Scott Tolzien-led Packers squad was a good example of this. Now let’s see what they can do at home against a talented Dallas squad.

22. Tennessee Titans (4-6); lost to Indianapolis 30-27, drops one spot – Chris chris-johnsonJohnson had a big first quarter as he ran for 70 yards and two touchdowns. However, the Titans fell flat after this and have now lost five out of their last six games.

23. Oakland Raiders (4-6); beat Houston 28-23, moves up one spot – Given that they’ve used three quarterbacks this season and are still the Raiders, Oakland shouldn’t be alive in the AFC playoff race. But then again, it seems like nobody wants that last Wild Card slot.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-6); beat Detroit 37-27, moves up two spots – Ben Roethlisberger looked good while throwing for 367 yards and four touchdowns, and the defense made some great second-half adjustments.

25. St. Louis Rams (4-6); bye week, retains same ranking – The Rams have plenty of momentum coming off a bye after the way they handled Indianapolis on the road. Now they host a difficult matchup with the Bears.

26. Washington Redskins (3-7); lost to Philadelphia 24-16, drops three spots – Robert Griffin III’s comments about how predictable his team’s offense was certainly doesn’t bode well for a team that’s already had a tough season. But the sad part is, he’s right and the Eagles subpar defense took full advantage of this.

27. Buffalo Bills (4-6); beat New York Jets 37-14, moves up two spots – So much for that stingy New York defense. Buffalo had their way in this one after harassing Geno Smith into four turnovers – two of which were Jairus Byrd interceptions.

28. Tampa Bay (2-8); beat Atlanta 41-28, moves up two spots – If Tampa Bay were in the AFC, they’d be in the hunt for a postseason bid. All jokes aside, the Bucs have played quite well over the past three weeks.

29. Houston Texans (2-8); lost to Oakland 28-23, drops one spot – Nobody can really figure out Gary Kubiak’s decision to play Matt Schaub towards the end, even though Case Keenum wasn’t playing too badly. It may be harsh to say, given Kubiak’s mini-stroke a couple of weeks ago, but he’s almost assuredly gone after eight years in Houston.

30. Atlanta Falcons (2-8); lost to Tampa Bay 41-28, drops three spots – Atlanta played pretty lifelessly in the first three quarters, making it seem like they’ve given up. Tampa Bay called off the dogs in the fourth quarter, which allowed Atlanta to score 15 points and make this game look less horrid.

31. Minnesota Vikings (2-8); lost to Seattle 41-20, retains same ranking – After 129 yards, 1 TD and 2 INT’s from Christian Ponder, is the Josh Freeman experiment back on?

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9); lost to Arizona 27-14, retains same ranking – Give credit to Jacksonville for obliterating the Cardinals’ running game and jumping out to a first-quarter lead. But they are still bad…