This is the time of year for wild and unreasoned speculation on NFL free agency, and so I want to forward you two important posts from our ESPN.com Insider staff. One is a thorough ranking of available players from longtime executive Bill Polian, now an ESPN analyst. The other is a list of 10 players to stay away from, according to Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus.
Both require Insider subscriptions to be read in full, but I'll do my best to sneak you some morsels over the next couple weeks. In cross-referencing the posts, there are two names that I've been getting questions about in regards to NFC North teams, including during Monday's SportsNation chat.
The first is running back Reggie Bush, whom Jason in Milwaukee wrote would be "a match made in heaven" for the Green Bay Packers. Polian and Elsayed both provide reasonable sobriety to that excitement.
Polian: "He's a name, but at this stage in his career, he's a third-down guy."
Elsayed: "[T]he same old problems prevail, as he averaged just 2.06 yards after contact per carry [in 2012], a number that was better than only five backs with more than 100 carries. He just isn't a convincing runner between the tackles, teasing us with the idea he will be and then being quick to bounce the ball outside."
It's true that a player of Bush's receiving skills would be productive in the Packers' offense. But what would help the team more, in terms of balance, is a physical running back who can move piles and get yardage on his own. Bush will never fit that description.
The second player is left tackle Jake Long, who has been an elite player but is coming off two years that most agree were not as good as his first three. I can't count how many people have suggested the Chicago Bears pursue him in free agency, even if it is to play right tackle. Here is part of what both analysts wrote about Long:
Polian: "His reputation will make him an A player, but he is an injury and age concern to me. He is turning only 28 to start next season, but he already has played 74 games, making a long-term deal a risk."
Elsayed: "If you judge a left tackle by his work in pass protection, Long has gone from ranking first in our pass blocking efficiency stat in 2009 and 2010 to 13th (2011) and what would have been 14th (2012) if he had have played enough snaps to qualify."
Again, this is silly season in the NFL. It's tough to intelligently match teams with free agents when you realize that many of the players on these lists will be re-signed and thus taken off the market before free agency begins. Some Packers fans are eyeing Bush and many Bears fans are zeroed in on Long, but we don't know yet whether the teams themselves share those sentiments or would even have the opportunity to act on them if they did.