Only one more agonizing week left until the free agency period begins. And until March 12th, 4 pm ET comes around, we are all going to be victims of vicious rumors and be subjected to exorbitant amounts of "league sources" articles. Unfortunately, I am going to be no better; however, I will try to spin it into what is logical from a team's position need's standpoint and future salary cap viewpoint as well.
Before I start this week's article in regards to upcoming Oregon State free agents, I want it to be known that everything should be taken with several grains of salt. These are mere predictions and not sure fire things, although I will hit on a few. For example, I remarked that the Atlanta Falcons were going to release Michael Turner, and boom, he's released the next day. I also speculated that Jairus Byrd was going to be a Buffalo Bill next season, and shizam, the Bills placed the franchise tag on him. I guess what I am trying to say is that I do have my few viable uses, albeit, limited. Also, bear with my feeble colloquial language in which I present throughout my articles, it's just of my nature.
So without further ado, let's take a nose dive into Oregon State's notable free agents: Steven Jackson, Matt Moore, Andy Levitre, Keenan Lewis, Sammie Stroughter and Derek Anderson.
Matt Moore, QB
The classic underdog story. Coming undrafted in 2007, Moore was signed by the Dallas Cowboys. He put up respectable numbers with them during the preseason, but despite this, the Cowboys severed ties with him and wanted to place him on the practice squad. Little did they expect, he would be coveted by other teams as well, like the Carolina Panthers. Although he saw limited action in his rookie campaign, he still put up stats that would suggest that he had promise and potential; he was even named Offensive Rookie of the Month in December 2007.
With all signs pointing towards Moore starting in 2008, he broke his fibula in the last game of preseason and would have to sit out the whole 2008 season. After a calamitous 2008 season, Moore again would get his chance in the 2009 season when quarterbacks Josh McCown and Jake Delhomme went down with injuries and let it be known, he made the most of his chances throwing for 8 touchdowns and one interception in the five games he started. These stats drew high praise from head coach John Fox and renowned football analyst Tony Dungy who stated that Moore looked like a "pro-bowler".
After so exemplifying so much promise in 2009, the wheels began to come off in an otherwise abysmal season for the Carolina Panthers squad. Moore put up poor numbers, although I would argue it was not entirely his fault. The Panthers had a lackluster offensive line that gave the quarterbacks hardly any time to drop back and find the open wide receiver. After being benched in favor of Jimmy Clausen, Moore would eventually run into injury problems again and would have to sit out the rest of the 2010 season.
When the Carolina Panthers drafted Cam Newton with the #1 pick; Matt Moore knew he was going to have to hit the road. He found a home in South Beach where the Miami Dolphins needed a backup behind starter Chad Henne. When Henne went down with an injury, coach Tony Sparano threw in Moore who performed admirably by taking over a demoralized Dolphins squad who was 0-4 at the time and throwing for over 2,400 yards in 12 games. Not to mention he threw for 16 touchdowns with only 9 interceptions. Moore reflected superb leadership in his 2011 season and was an excellent game manager. He eventually would build strong chemistry with wide receiver diva Brandon Marshall and would lead the team to a 6-3 record in their last 9 games after starting 0-7. But even after demonstrating he could lead a team to prosperity, the incumbent Moore would find himself uneasy and eventually riding the high horse after the Dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill and endorsing him to be the quarterback of the future.
Moore has the leadership and arm strength to make a difference for a team that already has a stable offense set in place. He is a great game manager and has an acute sense of picking up the defensive scheme of the opposing secondary. By diagnosing the secondary he is able to find the 'soft spots' of a defensive with increased efficiency and thus able to get the ball out of his hands in quick fashion. He is also a team player that is respected by many of his teammates, Ryan Tannehill, amongst others, has been clamoring and making a push for Moore to keep his talents in South Beach.
A couple of drawbacks are his small hands and lack of extending the play. His small hands tend to get him in trouble when taking a sack and more often than not, will fumble the ball after taking a hit.
I earnestly hope that Matt finds a better place than Miami, he deserves it. He deserves the playing time and the chance to prove himself as a viable NFL starter. One team that would make too much sense is the Cleveland Browns. As alluded to earlier, he would instantly make a difference for a team that has an offensive system set in place already. With electric play makers like the brutish Trent Richardson and blazing quick Josh Gordon, I think Moore could garner much reward in such a system and usurp the starting quarterback role. One of his weaknesses for fumbling when taking a blindside hit would be marginalized as he has one of the most solid, if not best, left tackles in the NFL in Joe Thomas. Lastly, throw in the fact that Cleveland brass has it's doubts with Brandon Weeden, I think they will make a play for Moore's services. Other teams that could be interested would be the Jets or Vikings.
Steven Jackson, RB
The definition of workhorse running back who's fierce playing style strikes fear into defensive backs. Steven Jackson has accumulated more than 10,000 yards of rushing and has compiled 8 straight seasons of rushing over a 1,000 yards. That's not even considering all of receiving yards catching out of the backfield. For the better part of the last decade, the St. Louis rams entire offense was hinged on Jackson's ground and pound ability; reminiscent of how Dave Wannstedt used Ricky Williams in the early 2000's. Arguably the best part of Jackson is that regardless of how bad the Rams were year in and year out, he always played hard and was an integral piece for any offensive scheme the Rams employed. Not only did he play hard, but he never requested a trade, that is respectable and it lets a front office know what kind of character this guy has. Yeah okay, so he lashed out on the Ram's fan-base in 2007 and had a contract holdout in the beginning of 2008, but still, that does not diminish the fact that he did not play with heart and competitiveness.
Irrefutably, Jackson's best and most productive years are behind him. However, I'd refuse to believe that Jackson could not be an effective every down back even at the tender age of 30. With a stout offensive line to create running lanes, Jackson could still go 1,000 yards and beyond. But at any rate, there is no way he will ever reach the pinnacle year of 2006 when he rushed for over 1,500 yards, caught 800 yards worth of passes and accrued 16 touchdowns earning him the prestigious Offensive Player of the Year award. Nonetheless, Jackson can be a serviceable running back for any contender interested in getting a bull dozer.
Jackson deserves to go to a contender; he has never been to a playoff game in his entire career. A couple of top tier teams that could enjoy Jackson’s strong running presence would be the Green Bay Packers or the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons just released Michael Turner who is similar to Jackson’s style of running. It begs the question of how much of a price cut Jackson is going to take. The Falcons said no to Turner who was slated to make about 6.5 million dollars; so would he take a price cut just to play with a contender, that remains to be seen, but something tells me yes. I'm sure he is aware that his best days are behind him and my guess is that he will take a price cut so he can have a chance at a Super bowl. Heck, with the career numbers he has put up and his high competitive character he possesses, he deserves to get a ring, it just depends which team to him is palatable.
Andy Levitre, OG
Admittedly, I did not follow the Beavers close enough in college to know who Andy Levitre was. So I did a little due diligence just to find out how talented this guy was in college, and what I uncovered was astonishing. Not only could he play left tackle, he could also switch over and play right tackle as well, and excel at both. He garnered many accolades during his college tenure earning Pac-10 Second Team honors his junior season and then turned in a All-American campaign his senior season. To put icing on the cake, he was a finalist for the 2008 Outland Trophy along with remarkable lineman stats: 91 knockdowns aka "pancakes" and 14 touchdown-resulting blocks. It was pretty easy to see that Levitre would enjoy a successful NFL career and many teams took notice, thus he was taken in the 2nd round with the 51st pick in the draft by the Buffalo Bills. And by golly, they have enjoyed his services, particularly in the pass blocking game.
There is huge upside with Levitre, he is only 26 years old and still has some prime blocking years ahead of him. To serve as a paradigm, he is this year's Carl Nicks but with even more upside. In such a hard market for proven offensive guards, Levitre is going to enjoy teams having a bidding war for his premium services. Worried about durability? Rest assured, he has not undergone any significant injuries during his first years as a Buffalo Bill and probably will not sustain any either with an gargantuan frame at 6'3, 305 pounds.
Rumor on the street is that despite several attempts of contract talks, negotiations eventually petered out. This resulted in Levitre coming going to his locker and cleaning everything out, which I think points towards his expectations of cashing in with a new suitor. I would think that the only plausible way the Bills would have retained Levitre was through the means of the franchise or transitional tag. However, the Buffalo Bills failed to reach a long term deal with arguably their best player on defense, Jairus Byrd, thus, having to franchise tag him instead of Levitre. I think this is a huge mistake by the Bills, letting go of sure fire talent in favor of not overspending is an ill-advised move, especially with a depleted/suspect offense led by the whimsical Ryan Fitzpatrick. My guess is that Levitre already has a handful of teams in mind and is soon to be swimming in the free agency pool with dollars in mind.
Levitre is definitely not going to be back in Buffalo. A couple of teams seem viable to such a high talent: Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals and the Miami Dolphins. The Cardinals desperately need offensive line help and with all the new mocks pointing towards them drafting Matt Barkley or Geno Smith, they are going to need to protect him because last I heard, you cannot complete passes when you on your backside. Free agency will tell which direction the Cardinals will go, but I silently will pray they will try and help out their quarterback of the future. The San Diego Chargers make sense because they are also in need of offensive line help. Jared Gaither was asinine last year in past protection and they need someone to fortify that line so Philip Rivers has the ample time to make the reads and throws. The only problem is that they are constrained in terms of cap space and they still have to sign there own home free agent Luis Vasquez.
Ultimately, both the Dolphins and Colts need interior line help. They have the cap space to make such a move and I would not be surprised that Levitre goes to either the Colts or Dolphins.
Keenan Lewis, CB
Originally, I was going to headline this article with Keenan Lewis and title it "Keen On Lewis?” I thought it was pretty witty, but I found myself being more partial towards Matt Moore and his underdog role.
Anyways, on Keenan Lewis. He has spent four seasons in Steel City and really hasn't accumulated a ton of stats which can mean one of two things: a) He is not a play-making CB or b) Opposing quarterbacks do not dare to throw his way because he is shadowing the wide out so well. I'll hedge my bets on the latter, especially considering he has spent his four years with a team renowned for its defensive prowess. In his four years spent with the Pittsburgh Steelers he has only one interception and three forced fumbles, but it should be noted that he has only played significantly the last two seasons. In this past season, he played all sixteen games and had, ready for this? 23 passes defended included 71 tackles. To put that in perspective, a good linebacker will be credited 90 to a 110 tackles in a season, a defensive back with 71 tackles is highly respectable and probably puts him in the top 10 league wide.
The bad news for the Steelers is that the defensive back market is thin and Lewis wants to follow the greenbacks. As cash strapped as the Steelers are (only 3.1 million dollars in cap space), they cannot afford to sign any in house free agents, let alone, they can barely afford their own incoming draft class (takes 3 million to sign a draft class). Lewis has a physical toughness that only few other defensive backs around the league can match and he will be a hotly pursued commodity when it comes to the free agency period opening.
With the Steelers signing Randall Gay after he was cut from Arizona, I think this was an audacious choice to choose value over talent, and moreover, a clear as day signal to Lewis that they are willing to part ways with him. Gay has put up good numbers with both the Steelers and the Cardinals, but I do not think his skill set quite matches that of Keenan Lewis.
Where exactly Keenan Lewis goes is a tossup. Whomever is willing to pay really. But if I was a gambling man, I would probably say that he will be in a Patriots uniform next year. They desperately need quality defensive backs as they have been in the cellar in terms of pass defense. If he does go to the Patriots, he will have a bolstering effect on the Patriots secondary as there once starters slide to 2nd string, which is not necessarily a bad thing from a Patriots standpoint.
Derek Anderson, QB
Another guy with elite talent that was never but in a scenario to shine. Anderson has exceptional arm strength and can make all the throws required of the prototypical gun slinging NFL quarterback. I think we all can remember that miracle year where he paired up with Braylon Edwards and burned every secondary the opposing teams put out there. He reinvigorated a fan base that had been hapless and drowning in misery for the last, well, ever since Bernie Kosar. You would think that Cleveland faithful would support him after putting together a Pro-Bowl season coupled with a 29 touchdown - 19 interception ratio and a 10-5 record as a starter. But noooooo, the Cleveland Browns drafted Brady Quinn and everything became diluted and murky. Anderson still ended up signing with the Browns for a couple of seasons but the Browns fan base had some unwarranted repugnance to him and well who's going to play well when you do not have any fan support? Point of reference, Kyle Orton. He consistently put up solid numbers but as soon as the Broncos fans were crowing him in favor of Tebow, his numbers went to the cellar. Okay, so Tebow ended up having a great season aided by the hand of God, but the point is that if a fan base is not going to support their quarterback, more than likely he is not going to put up eye popping numbers. Ever since that 2007 winning campaign the Browns have not come close to it since, and you know what, I say good riddance.
Barring a horrendous Cardinals offensive line and a few clashes with the media, I think Anderson can still prove to be a serviceable quarterback in the right system. So hear me out on my prediction.
Call me crazy, but after a brief stint playing behind the Cam Newton and the Panthers, I think Anderson is going to go back to Cleveland. Cleveland has some great play makers on offense in Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon as well as Joe Thomas taking care of the blind side. Anderson has the impeccable arm strength to launch the long bombs to a streaking down the sideline Josh Gordon for the potential 80 yard touchdown plays. Not only does his arm fit the system in Cleveland, but look who their head coach is: Rob Chudzinski. Chudzinski so happened to be the offensive coordinator in Cleveland in their 10-6 season, and check this, he also coached Anderson the last two years in Carolina as well. Hmmmmmm I say. This looks like to be a match made in heaven. You can check out an interesting article here supporting my claim that Anderson is going back to Cleveland. If any anti-Anderson Cleveland fans point out his age to being a factor, look who they have right now, Brandon Weeden, who turns 30 this upcoming season.
Sammie Stroughter, WR
Here is a guy who was a force to be reckoned with during his tenure at Oregon State. Put up some great numbers and was rewarded when he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2009 NFL draft. In college he amassed, 164 receptions, 2,653 receiving yards and an all-purpose yard total of 4,299 yards, which holds fourth at Oregon State University. He currently owns the fourth-best (1,293 yards in 2006) and sixth-best (1,040 yards in 2008) single season receiving yards mark at OSU.
For Tampa Bay, he has shown flashes of brilliance with a 97 yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a few dazzling catches to boot. However, he has struggled with foot injuries for two out of the four years and is currently on injured reserve. With Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson in the lineup, Stroughter is buried in the depth chart and will get little chance to shine again, which is unfortunate.
I really hate to say this, but I think with all of the injuries Stroughter has been dealing with, his time as an NFL player may be coming to a close. He may get signed for depth for a team line the Detroit Lions, but I just don't see them taking a chance with a injury plagued player, especially considering the past year where over half of the wide receivers for the Lions were dealing with injuries. For Stroughter, I hope for the best and that he is given a chance to produce.