Rejoice NFL fans. Multiple teams have seen their rookies report to camp. The pre season is nearly upon us. Football is back from its hiatus and hopes are high. With that in mind I asked our writers which free agent acquisition they were looking forward to seeing for their new team.
Adam Barton – Ravens
The Ravens’ start to the offseason was frustrating to say the least as a host of key pieces on their great defence left. Since then though, they’ve hit it out of the park and the highlight of that is the signing of Earl Thomas.
Eric Weddle lost a step last season and bringing in Thomas is a ‘plug in and play’ replacement, perhaps even an improvement. Thomas brings a physical edge to the Ravens defence and joins a secondary that on paper looks near impossible to pass on. Partnering with Tony Jefferson, the Ravens have one of the best Safety partnerships in the league. Add to that, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr splitting snaps on the outside and you have quite a group.
Thomas has 664 tackles over his nine seasons in the league but replaces Weddle’s nose for the ball, with 28 career interceptions and 10 forced fumbles. Numbers aside, there’s something far more important that Thomas brings to the Ravens: leadership. With a bigger focus on younger players, Thomas needs to step up and show what it means to be a champion. His addition certainly makes me less concerned about offensive struggles in 2019.
Alex Chinery – Jaguars
Nick Foles signed a four-year, $88 million deal (with a max value of $102 million), according to Rapoport and Garafolo. Arguably the biggest free agent addition of the off-season, the Jaguars attempt to shore up their biggest weak spot by inking the former Superbowl MVP to a four year deal to replace Blake Bortles. Despite two magical end of season runs in Philadelphia as the back up to Carson Wentz, there are still questions as to whether Foles can successfully lead his own squad for a whole season.
The Jaguars are a squad full of excellent talent on both sides of the ball; giving Foles the tools he needs to be successful. Combined with a reunion with new offensive co-ordinator John DeFilippo, the environment is perfect for a big few years from Foles.
Oliver Hodgkinson – Patriots
The New England Patriots added a number of star names over the off-season. The likes of Michael Bennett and DeMaryius Thomas attracted a lot of attention. Without addressing the tight end position in the draft, the addition of former Patriot Benjamin Watson, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins were of great interest, as the franchise faces life without Rob Gronkowski.
It’s another returnee to Foxboro, however, that I’m excited by. Jamie Collins has been one of the most explosive New England linebackers this decade. With speed and incredible athleticism, he’s a dynamic threat on defence. He was the standout defensive player of the 2014 season. That season concluded with victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl 49.
After a bitter departure midway through 2016, Collins’ has continued to show his ability in Cleveland. 2018 marked his third career 100+ tackle season.
Collins garnered plenty of interest in free agency. He seemed as surprised as anyone that the Patriots were one of the ones thats came calling.
It remains unclear as to how, and how much, Collins’ will factor in to Bill Belichick’s game plan in 2019. With Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower, there’s an embarrassment of riches at linebacker. However, I can’t wait to watch #91 (or whatever number he takes this time around) flying in to the opposition backfield to add to his 17.5 career sacks and 37 QB hits.
Johnny Cumbleton – Eagles
The Eagles like to make a free agent acquisition. They added several again this season. However, the player I’m most excited about seeing line was acquired via trade. Jordan Howard was surplus to requirement in Chicago and traded away for a conditional sixth round pick in 2020. This seems like great value for a player that has averaged 1,123 yards over his first three seasons and added 24 touchdowns.
Last year, the Eagles running game stuttered to say the least. They really missed LeGarrette Blount and a fully health Jay Ajayi. Un-drafted free agent Josh Adams lead the team in rushing with just 511 yards. The longest run of the year was an uninspiring 32 yards by Corey Clement and no player rushed for more than three touchdowns. With one of the best offensive lines in the league, those numbers are critically low. Injuries limited the effectiveness but clearly an upgrade was need.
Howard is a huge upgrade who offers big play ability. His career longest run is 69 yards, achieved in his rookie year. Perhaps more important is Howard’s ability in pass protection, an area where the Eagles were woeful. Jordan allowed 2 pressures, 0 sacks on 92 pass blocking snaps last season.
One of the largely unknown factors is how much Howard is able to do as a receiver. He was rarely used in this role in Chicago and has yet show his skills in this area. In fact, Howard has never logged more than 29 catches in an NFL season. Modern NFL backs frequently log 55+ catches. Proving a capable receiver would be a huge boost to his value and his effectiveness for the Eagles.
Photo John Raoux
Speculating on the latest free agent acquisition is part of the fun for NFL fans, especially if the player added is a star. I’d love to hear who you’re can’t wait to watch and why. Let me know @Cumbleton on Twitter or comment here.