Sports

Ben Volin | Sunday Football Notes

Free agent moves, the best and worst

Bears defensive end Willie Young, who will square off against the Patriots on Sunday, was a relative bargain.
Bryan Anderson/Associated Press
Bears defensive end Willie Young, who will square off against the Patriots on Sunday, was a relative bargain.

Hard to believe how quickly it has gone by, but believe it or not, the 2014 NFL season has just about reached its midway point.

Now that the season is two months old, enough time has passed to review last offseason’s free agent moves. Let’s take a look at some of the best and worst signings, with help from our friends at Pro Football Focus and OverTheCap.com, plus traditional NFL stats:

Best signings (in no particular order):

Bears DE Willie Young — While the top pass rushers on the market got $7 million-10 million per year, the Bears signed Young away from the Lions for a relative pittance — $9 million over three years, with $3.95 million guaranteed. Young has responded with seven sacks, tied for second most in the NFL.

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Dolphins LT Branden Albert — He didn’t come cheaply, costing the Dolphins $47 million over five years, with $20 million guaranteed. But Albert has been worth every penny as the anchor of the offensive line, allowing just seven combined sacks/pressures/hits this year and earning the No. 2 ranking out of 72 tackles by PFF.

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Giants DE Robert Ayers — Signed a two-year deal worth $3.75 million ($1.73 million guaranteed), and has been a solid sub rusher, picking up two sacks, 16 hits/hurries, and earning PFF’s No. 4 ranking out of 51 defensive ends.

Chargers CB Brandon Flowers — Cut by the Chiefs this offseason, the Chargers quickly signed Flowers to a one-year, $3 million deal, and he has been fantastic, with two interceptions, 18 receptions allowed in 31 targets, and the No. 2 ranking out of 106 cornerbacks by PFF.

Colts RB Ahmad Bradshaw — Playing on a one-year deal for the veteran minimum of $855,000, Bradshaw has 336 rushing yards on 4.8 yards per carry, 24 catches for 212 yards, and seven touchdowns.

Browns LB Karlos Dansby — Wasn’t a cheap signing at $24 million over four years ($12 million guaranteed), but Dansby has been the linchpin of the Browns’ defense with 37 tackles, three sacks, an interception, and the No. 1 ranking from PFF among 63 inside linebackers.

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Vikings DT Tom Johnson — Playing on a one-year, prove-it deal worth $845,000 after coming over from the Colts, Johnson is tied for second among defensive tackles with four sacks.

Redskins WR DeSean Jackson — After unexpectedly falling into the Redskins’ lap after being cut by the Eagles, Jackson has been worth his three-year, $24 million deal ($16 million guaranteed). He’s averaging a ridiculous 20.3 yards on 26 catches with three touchdowns.

Colts CB Vontae Davis — Colts gave him $36 million over four years with $15 million guaranteed, but Davis is turning out to be the right choice among the top-level cornerbacks. He has two interceptions, allowed 14 catches in 32 targets, and has PFF’s No. 1 ranking among cornerbacks.

Patriots WR Brandon LaFell — After a slow start, LaFell has been a nice find, catching 19 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns while costing the Patriots just $9 million over three years ($3 million guaranteed).

Ravens WR Steve Smith — Showing that he has plenty left in the tank at 35, Smith is seventh in the NFL with 640 receiving yards, with four touchdowns and 16.8 yards per reception. The Ravens got him for $10.5 million over three years ($3.5 million guaranteed).

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Bears C Brian de la Puente — PFF’s No. 2-ranked center this year out of 41 has allowed only four sacks/pressures/hits and cost the Bears just $795,001 on a one-year deal.

Honorable mention — Steelers OLB Jason Worilds, Vikings LB Jasper Brinkley, Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders, Bills TE Scott Chandler, Bears DT Jeremiah Ratliff, Patriots WR Julian Edelman, and 49ers S Antoine Bethea.

Worst signings (in no particular order):

All of the Raiders’ except for LT Donald Penn and S Charles Woodson — General manager Reggie McKenzie wasted a ton of money on aging free agents, and the result is an 0-6 team. RB Maurice Jones-Drew ($7.5 million over three years) has just 48 rushing yards. OLB LaMarr Woodley ($12 million over two years) has been a bust, with three tackles in six games. G Austin Howard ($30 million over five years) has been brutal in the run game and is ranked 64th of 75 guards by PFF. DE Justin Tuck ($11 million over two years) has one sack, and DE Antonio Smith ($9 million over two years) has eight tackles and nothing else.

All of the Buccaneers’ except CB Alterraun Verner — New LT Anthony Collins ($30 million over five years) has allowed the second-most quarterback hits (eight) among tackles and is ranked 59th out of 72 by PFF. DE Michael Johnson has just two sacks after signing for five years and $43.75 million ($16 million guaranteed). DT Clinton McDonald has been terrible in the run game and has just one sack after getting $12 million over four years. And C Evan Dietrich-Smith is ranked No. 37 out of 41 by PFF after getting $14.25 million over four years.

Chargers RB Donald Brown and LB Donald Butler — Butler has been brutal in coverage and the run game after signing a seven-year, $51 million contract extension ($11.15 million guaranteed), and is ranked No. 62 out of 63 inside linebackers by PFF. Brown got $10.5 million over three years ($4 million guaranteed) but is averaging just 2.1 yards per carry this year and has been surpassed by undrafted rookie Branden Oliver.

Titans RT Michael Oher — After signing for $20 million over four years ($6 million guaranteed), Oher is not protecting the blind side, the front side, or any side this year. He has been terrible in the run game, has allowed three sacks, and is ranked 67th out of 72 tackles by PFF.

Broncos S T.J. Ward — Signed for $22.5 million over four years ($7 million guaranteed), Ward has been awful in pass coverage — no interceptions, no passes defended, 20 receptions and three touchdowns allowed in 28 targets, and a 124.1 passer rating against.

Honorable mention — Redskins LB Perry Riley, Colts LB D’Qwell Jackson, Jets LB Calvin Pace, Titans LB Shaun Phillips, and Jaguars DE Chris Clemons.

IN THIS TOGETHER

Players must cooperate
on injuries to head

The NFL has done a good job in recent years of improving its concussion protocol and educating players and coaches on the dangers and long-term effects of concussions. But the NFL’s policies only work if the players cooperate.

Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles brought the issue to light this past week when he admitted that he didn’t seek out the Chiefs’ medical staff for a potential concussion after a helmet-to-helmet collision with San Diego’s Brandon Flowers that left the cornerback with a concussion.

Charles has a history with the NFL’s concussion protocol, of course. Last year in the playoffs against Indianapolis, Charles suffered a concussion in the first quarter, and per the protocol, was not allowed to return to the game, which the Chiefs lost.

Charles admitted last week on ESPN Radio that he saw “this light buzzing around my eyes” after the Flowers hit but didn’t want to go through the protocol and potentially come out of the game.

“I didn’t think I had to go through the concussion protocol and all that because I didn’t want to go through that again,” he said. “I could definitely play through stuff like that. It wasn’t a concussion. If it was a concussion I wouldn’t remember the plays or remember none of my teammates’ names or remember what sideline to go to. I definitely remember everything. It was just a huge hit.’’

But concussions come in all shapes and sizes, and the little ones can add up to be just as dangerous as the big ones. Still, it’s easy to see why Charles wanted to keep his pain to himself.

“A lot of guys are so competitive that they want to be in the game at all costs. If they weren’t like that, they wouldn’t be playing at this level,” said Patriots union representative Matthew Slater. “Every individual has to take it upon himself to decide is his long-term health, his well-being, important to him? But you can’t pass judgment. Every guy is going to make his own decision. At the end of the day it’s his right, it’s his body, but you wish guys would be a little smarter when they can.”

WORTH A LOOK

Parcells has stories
to tell in new book

Anyone who appreciates NFL history, plus any longtime fans of the Giants, Patriots, Jets, Cowboys, and Dolphins, is going to want to run out to your local bookstore to buy “Parcells,” the authorized biography of Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells written by former Sports Illustrated writer Nunyo Demasio.

This 544-page tome, available to the public on Tuesday, is filled with juicy anecdotes and fascinating details into one of the NFL’s more successful and polarizing coaches, chronicling Parcells’s life from his childhood in New Jersey as one of Frank Sinatra’s neighbors to his rise through the college coaching ranks to insight into his stints with five NFL teams. We also learn that the 49ers tried to lure Parcells to be their coach in 2011 before he rebuffed them and they settled on Jim Harbaugh.

The book devotes 3½ chapters to Parcells’s four-year tenure with the Patriots, including his tough-love relationship with Drew Bledsoe and an entire chapter dedicated to Curtis Martin, one of Parcells’s favorite players.

The book also details in painstaking fashion just how dysfunctional the relationship was between Parcells and owner Robert Kraft, who bought the Patriots in Parcells’s second season.

“He didn’t want me to be the show. Simple,” Parcells said of Kraft. “He didn’t know that putting the wrong guy in his place screws up your football team. But he learned it.”

Without giving too much away, here are a few other items we found interesting:

 Before Kraft overwhelmed James Busch Orthwein with a $173 million offer to buy the Patriots, the team was considering an offer from an investor group that included Paul Newman and Walter Payton.

 Kraft constantly complained to Parcells about “bleeding money” and didn’t like that Parcells had his own sideline apparel deal, eventually buying him out for $900,000.

 Parcells decided before the 1996 season that it would be his last in New England, and Kraft almost fired him after the draft following the dispute over Terry Glenn. Parcells wanted to draft a defensive lineman first, then receiver Muhsin Muhammad in the second round.

 Kraft initially thought Bill Belichick would be Parcells’s replacement in 1997, but broke the bad news to Belichick and his then-wife over lunch. “He and Bill [Parcells] were tied at the hip,” said Kraft. “They were together for so long. Could I trust him? I decided I couldn’t at the time.”

 Parcells almost returned to the Giants in 1997, but co-owner Steve Tisch largely nixed the idea.

 Parcells used to coach with a Hebrew “chai” pendant in his pocket, which a Jewish friend had given to him for good luck. Parcells liked the symbol because to him it looked like a pair of goal posts.

ETC.

Goodell may like
do-over on Rice

Roger Goodell made a bold move in September by suspending Ray Rice indefinitely once the elevator video became public. Now, Goodell probably wishes he didn’t.

Rice officially appealed his indefinite suspension last week — it will be heard on Nov. 5-6 — and Goodell has been required to testify, which he had hoped to avoid. Now he’ll be grilled about how much the NFL knew about the Rice situation before handing down the indefinite suspension.

The suspension was a public relations move to make the NFL look tough on domestic violence, but it wasn’t necessary. Rice was so toxic that no team would have signed him after the Ravens cut him. And now Goodell finds himself knee deep in a mess that he could have avoided.

Backups are in the plan

Is this the Year of the Backup Quarterback? Tennessee’s Zach Mettenberger will become the 43d quarterback to start a game this season, and we’re not quite at the halfway mark. Washington and Tennessee are each on their third starting quarterbacks, while Arizona has had four players throw a pass this year (Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Logan Thomas, and Ted Ginn). In fact, only seven teams have had all their passes thrown by one player: Baltimore, Dallas, Detroit, Kansas City, Miami, New Orleans, and Philadelphia.

Extra points

The trade deadline is Tuesday at 4 p.m. The Patriots already made one trade, acquiring linebacker Akeem Ayers last week, and don’t be surprised if Bill Belichick, always active around the deadline, looks to bolster his offensive and defensive lines. Wouldn’t get your hopes up for landing Vincent Jackson or Larry Fitzgerald, though . . . Running backs usually buy presents for their offensive linemen at the end of the season, but the Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray got a head start last week, buying iMac laptops for his offensive linemen. Murray leads the NFL with 913 rushing yards and set an NFL record with seven straight 100-yard games to start the season . . . Buccaneers fullback Jorvorskie Lane is certainly staying productive while serving a two-game suspension for violating the performance-enhancing drug policy. According to KTRE-TV in Texas, Lane apprehended a juvenile who had just burglarized Lane’s SUV in his driveway. After confirming that the teenager wasn’t armed — he had only taken cleats and gloves — Lane tackled him, made him lay on the ground until the police arrived, and even provided some counseling. “He basically told me his mom wasn’t there for him, his dad has been in and out of prison, and I understood,” Lane said. “I’ve been in that situation where I didn’t feel love also, and I understood where he was coming from. But my thing for him is you don’t have to rely on your parents. There are other ways to get things in life done. It don’t have to be that way.”

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.