The Schein Nine  

 

Le'Veon Bell, Earl Thomas among riskiest free agents of 2019

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Free agency is fun. I'm obsessed. And so are you.

In the coming weeks, certain teams will be labeled "winners" in the wake of high-profile signings, while others will be deemed "losers" for failing to act on popular opinion. But of course, nobody hoists a Lombardi Trophy in March. The real thrill of free agency is its unavoidable uncertainty.

When you spend gobs of cash, there is risk involved. A lot. Some players cash in and tune out. Other players press. Guys are in new systems with new teammates. Sometimes they don't jell, sometimes they don't recover from injury as anticipated, sometimes it just doesn't work.

Bottom line: Free agency's an inexact science. With that in mind, we present to you our annual list of the riskiest players on the open market, Schein Nine style:

1) Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle

Suh was a force for the Rams in the playoffs. It felt like an alarm went off in the hulking defensive tackle's head, as if Suh realized he hadn't lived up to his end of the bargain in a prove-it season and knew he needed to save face. But on the whole, his pairing with Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and defensive guru Wade Phillips did not produce the kind of game-wrecking play most anticipated. And this comes after Suh failed to live up to the billing in Miami, where he initially signed the richest contract for a defensive player in NFL history. And after a five-year tenure in Detroit that was undoubtedly productive (SEE: three first-team All-Pro nods), but also marred by fines, suspension and general cantankerousness.

At age 32, Suh still has talent, so he will have a home. And you might just get the version we saw this postseason, at least some of the time. But if/when you don't, you'll have a rather expensive headache.

2) Jamie Collins, linebacker

Back in October of 2016, I thought the Browns actually made a really good deal in acquiring Collins from the Patriots for the reasonable price of a conditional third-round draft pick. He was once highly productive -- and highly versatile -- in New England. The following January, after Collins had piled up 69 tackles and two sacks in his first eight games with Cleveland, the Browns re-upped the linebacker on a four-year, $50 million deal. Whoops. Turned out to be a costly mistake, as Cleveland cut Collins this week.

Now, there will be a few teams that rationalize Cleveland was the problem, given all the coaching and front office turnover the organization experienced during Collins' Browns tenure. Nope. I'm not buying it. Unless the interested party is Bill Belichick -- or someone from his coaching tree -- I'll remain highly skeptical of Collins and his inconsistent effort.

3) Le'Veon Bell, running back

You can easily make the case that Bell is the best running back in the NFL. But, yeah, he just sat out for a full season. Some will say he was protecting himself for this payday. Others will question his love of the game. Furthermore, Bell has been suspended twice for violating the league's substance abuse policy. In five NFL seasons, he's played 16 games just once. And Bell's social-media habits present a potential distraction. Remember the tweet before the home playoff loss to the Jaguars?

All that said, I think the Jets should sign him. He's a star and he'll take a whole lot of pressure off second-year QB Sam Darnold, as a runner and as a receiver. The Eagles have a great culture, so Philly's a fit that'd make sense. He'd get back his name and game in those two spots. Maybe Baltimore. Maybe Oakland.

But not a lot of teams will pay Bell what he wants, given the aforementioned red flags. For example ... In theory, Bell would be dreamy for the Colts. Indianapolis has a whopping $106.6 million in cap space -- the most in the NFL, per Over The Cap. In reality, Indy won't touch him. Listen back to Chris Ballard's season-ending press conference. That's not a guy who's obsessed with splashy, name signings. And the Colts aren't the only team that I think will completely steer clear of the 27-year-old back. Not by a longshot. The risk is high.

4) Trey Flowers, defensive line

When former Atlanta Braves general manager John Schuerholz offered you a pitcher in the 1990s, you hung up the phone. If Jerry West wanted to trade you a basketball player, you figured something was wrong.

I have nothing against Trey Flowers. I really like his game. He's been New England's most consistent defensive player over the past few years and carries zero drama. He's the kind of versatile, inside-outside D-lineman the NFL loves right now.

But if Bill Belichick is willing to let someone walk, I'm always skeptical.

5) Adrian Peterson, running back

I know the future Hall of Famer surprised everyone with a bounce-back, 1,000-yard campaign in 2018. But are teams actually going to pretend that he's still the same back as the guy who rushed for 10,115 yards and 86 touchdowns in his first seven seasons? Or anything close to that?

Take a closer look at his 2018 production, too. Over the first seven weeks of last season, he averaged 4.6 yards per carry and eclipsed 90 yards rushing in five games. In the last nine weeks of the year, that average dropped to 3.6 ypc and he eclipsed 90 yards just twice.

Did I mention he turns 34 in March? That's ancient in RB years.

6) Earl Thomas, safety

I love Thomas. He's been a star. And considering he once chased down Jason Garrett in the bowels of AT&T Stadium and said "Come get me," I'm going to assume he goes home to Texas to play for the team of his youth.

If, for whatever reason, that doesn't come to fruition, I could see a fit in San Francisco. Thomas would fill a need, provide leadership, show the building Niners how to win -- and he'd be reunited with his former Boommate, Richard Sherman.

But Thomas isn't for everyone. He's not getting any younger, turning 30 in May. And he just suffered his second major (and season-ending) injury in the past three years, flipping off his sideline while being carted off.

7) Ziggy Ansah, defensive end

I've always been a big fan and thought he was underrated and underappreciated in his prime with the Lions. But Ansah has had trouble staying healthy, missing 14 games over the past three seasons.

I think a smart, playoff favorite will pounce on a short-term prove-it deal and hope Ansah gets back to his double-digit-sack form. But maybe, with Ziggy turning 30 in May, his productive days are behind him.

8) Tevin Coleman, running back

He's been really, really good as a change-of-pace back, but we've never seen him flourish as The Guy. With Devonta Freeman limited to two games last season, Coleman had a chance to prove himself. The results were ... mixed. While he averaged a healthy 4.8 yards per carry, Coleman had nine games with fewer than 50 yards rushing (including four where he didn't even reach 20) and only ranked as Pro Football Focus' No. 47 running back.

I'd love him in Philly, with a committee backfield and an ultra-talented quarterback.

9) Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle

Big-time talent. Major motor questions. Prior off-field issues.

I do think the defensive tackle played well last season on a one-year deal in Minnesota, but will the real Sheldon Richardson please stand up?

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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