The Schein Nine  

 

Eric Decker, Darren McFadden head riskiest free agents of 2014

Gentlemen, start your engines!

The market's about to open -- Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, to be exact -- and this fascinating free-agent class is filled with flawed players. Money, like always, will fly around like crazy. Consequently, we're sure to see some dangerous spending.

With that in mind, I've compiled a list of the riskiest free agents, Schein Nine style:

1) Eric Decker, wide receiver

History warns against overpaying secondary receivers with the expectation that they'll assume No. 1 status. Alvin Harper and Peerless Price are classic examples.

Decker had another strong season for the Broncos, catching 87 passes for 1,288 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. But he did it with Peyton Manning and the Broncos. You can make the case that Decker was the fourth-most-feared pass catcher in that attack, behind Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas.

I wouldn't throw a ton of money at Decker. I wouldn't expect him to put up the same numbers and consistently beat solid cornerbacks. One NFC general manager explained to me: "I think he's really about to be overpaid. He's a nice player, but he's a product of the system and an all-time great quarterback."

2) Darren McFadden, running back

I'd never sign McFadden. Yes, he oozes talent -- but he will break your heart. Since going to the Raiders with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, McFadden has yet to complete a full season. In fact, he has logged double-digit starts just twice.

This is not a case of a player merely needing a change of scenery -- needing to get out of Oakland -- and waiting to hit his potential. You can't bank on him. Or, as one of the NFC's top talent evaluators simply stated: "He's injury-prone, big time. You can't sign him."

3) Brandon Browner, cornerback

Browner was conditionally reinstated by the NFL on Wednesday, but he will still have to serve a four-game suspension without pay at the start of the 2014 season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. The same NFC talent evaluator from above told me: "Browner is risky because of the suspension to start the year, and he's a failed test away from a one-year suspension."

The season-opening suspension will make it tough for him to get acclimated to a new team and a new defense if (when) he leaves Seattle. Plus, the cornerback market is solid; Alterraun Verner, Aqib Talib, Vontae Davis, Sam Shields, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond will all be available. I've always admired Browner's physical, play-making ability, but signing him represents substantial risk.

4) Justin Tuck, defensive lineman

Tuck looked completely shot in 2012. He regained some of his old form in 2013, racking up 11 sacks, but I think that was the last hurrah. The New York Giants and general manager Jerry Reese are playing this correctly, letting the soon-to-be 31-year-old test the open market to see his value.

I believe Tuck's best days are behind him. He's been a key leader for the Giants, but would he have that same pull in a different locker room as a rotating end who is past his prime? I wouldn't bet on it.

5) Karlos Dansby, linebacker

I thought Dansby was absolutely superb for the Cardinals last year, filling up the stat sheet with 122 tackles, 6.5 sacks and four interceptions. But, as a respected NFC GM cautions, "He's 32. He is turning 33 this season. He played at a high level last year, but he's looking for a huge payday. You can't pay a 33-year-old inside linebacker top dollar. You just can't do it. It's a huge mistake. You can't be the team that gives it to him. He's perfect in Arizona. Everyone knows that."

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Remember the last time Dansby left Arizona for greener pastures? He signed with the Miami Dolphins and fizzled in three nondescript seasons. This past year, Dansby spoke glowingly of his return to Arizona and how much it meant to him to be back. He should remember that when he finds a chilly reception on the open market.

6) Aqib Talib, cornerback

At times, Talib is one of the best and most physical corners in the NFL. But he had major off-the-field issues in Tampa Bay. There's a feeling around the league that he stayed in line for Bill Belichick. I totally subscribe to this notion. There are very few teams in the NFL that have the coaching and structure in place to get Talib to focus solely on football. Outside of New England, Talib still has toxic potential.

7) Rodger Saffold, offensive lineman

Strong at both tackle and guard, Saffold clearly can play. But here's the rub: He can't stay on the field. As one NFC executive explained it: "He's missed 17 games in (the past) three seasons, but he's very, very good when you watch the tape."

Saffold is a legit boom-or-bust talent in free agency.

8) Hakeem Nicks, wide receiver

Let me get out my calculator. Hold on. OK ... Nicks scored zero touchdowns last year -- or two less than New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

What's scary is Nicks managed just three touchdowns in 2012. This after establishing himself as a physical, true No. 1 receiver in 2010 and '11, piling up 18 combined scores. When quizzed about Nicks, an AFC general manager put it best: "Who am I getting?"

I have no idea. Nobody does.

9) Jermichael Finley, tight end

Even if he hadn't suffered a scary injury that necessitated spinal fusion surgery, Finley would have been on this list. The soon-to-be 27-year-old flashes serious talent, but he's an underachiever.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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