NFL Nation: Bill Polian

INDIANAPOLIS -- Defensive end Jonathan Newsome doesn't hide behind his checkered past. He knows he made mistakes, the kind that caused him to transfer from Ohio State to Ball State, a mid-major college in the Mid-American Conference. Newsome owned up to those mistakes during a conference call moments after the Indianapolis Colts made him the No. 166 overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft on Saturday.

Newsome started his college career with the Buckeyes but transferred because he was "living it up a little bit too much" at Ohio State. He missed spring practice in 2011 because of academic problems.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Newsome
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhColts prospect Jonathan Newsome hopes to follow in the footsteps of pass-rusher Robert Mathis.
"I was young and I was dumb, honestly," Newsome said. "Young and dumb and making dumb decisions as far as my academics, and I lost trust in my coaches. Before I had stayed there and tried to dig myself out of a hole that was so deep. I'd rather go get a fresh start at Ball State, where I had some former high school teammates that were playing there and a good supporting staff. That was the reason I left. I just needed a fresh start."

New school, same troubles for Newsome.

He was suspended two games at Ball State after being arrested in August 2012 for marijuana possession when a bag containing marijuana was found in his wallet. He was also held on a warrant after an incident in November 2011 when he and a teammate were accused of shoplifting.

"My mother's always been supportive of me," Newsome said. "Even when I did mess up, she was always there for me. And my head coach from high school, coach [Ted] Ginn [Sr.], was always there in my corner. When I messed up, he got me back right, got my focus back right and all my priorities straight.

"There were times when there was doubt, but ultimately, I was mentally tough enough to overcome all that stuff, and now I'm just sitting here and I'm an Indianapolis Colt. I can't even explain how crazy that story is, to go from almost getting kicked out of school to being an NFL draft pick, graduate. Everything's looking up and I'm going to continue with this success. I don't plan on having any more bumps in the road."

The Colts did thorough research on Newsome, and, just like he was with the media Saturday, he was just as honest to team officials when he met with them.

"If you lie, you’re dead to us," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said.

Newsome had 116 tackles (26 for a loss) and 16.5 sacks in his two seasons at Ball State.

"The tape doesn’t lie," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "It’s out there and the guy is a football junkie. It’s his whole life, and he’s a four core special-teams guy, and he embraces that. He loves that. It’s hard. As you guys know, it’s hard to find pass-rushers, and the way our league’s going, you can never have enough of them, so we feel great. As the board was getting plucked away, we were sweating bullets."

Former Colts general manager and current ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian said Newsome has "Robert Mathis-like ability."

"I think that’s a good comparison," Newsome said. "We ran multiple fronts at Ball State. We ran 4-3, we ran 3-4, we ran a lot of nickel. When we ran 3-4, I was an outside linebacker. I stood up a lot. When we ran a 4-3, I stood up on the edge. I can do all that stuff."

Mathis, like Newsome, came out of a small school -- Alabama A&M -- and he's turned in what should be a Hall of Fame career. Mathis has 111 career sacks.

"I’m going to be his little brother. He doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to be like his little brother," Newsome said. "I’m going to learn from [him]. I watched him all last year. We have similar builds.

"I can’t wait to learn from him. He led the league in sacks last year. That’s what I love to do -- sack the quarterback. Why not learn from the best?"
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Here's what two of ESPN's resident analysts had to say about the Green Bay Packers' pick of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at No. 21 in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday.

Bill Polian, former Indianapolis Colts general manager

“He will fit perfectly into Dom Capers’ defense. He’s the perfect free safety in the sense that he has great instincts, great tackling ability, sure tackling ability, very good ball skills, great recognition skills in reading and reacting to offensive patterns. A little bit short in the speed department, but he makes up for that with instinct. This is a position that the Packers needed to upgrade, and he’s right from central casting according to Dom Capers."

Mel Kiper Jr., NFL draft expert

“Clinton-Dix fills a huge need for this team, and I consider him a great value at this slot. I don't even know what else to say about it, except for the fact that I thought Dallas could go with Clinton-Dix, and he also could have been in play for the Jets. So to have your No. 1 need filled by what I consider the safety they had rated as the best guy to fill that need makes for a pretty good night.”
The idea of the Cleveland Browns trading back in the draft is gaining momentum.

If they do, they’d best not do so with one specific player in mind.

That’s the advice of Bill Polian, the former builder of the Bills, Panthers and Colts, who said that a team is not wise to expect one specific player to be available if it trades down.

“I always said this as a general manager, I said it to the coach and the personnel director,” Polian said on ESPN Radio on Tuesday. “‘If we make this deal, are you prepared to lose the guy we want down below?’

“Be prepared for that. It’s going to happen about 90 percent of the time.”

Which are high odds.

And which would indicate that if the Browns really like cornerback Justin Gilbert, they need to have other options. Those presumably would include cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Jason Verrett, as well as receiver Mike Evans. If quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and/or Blake Bortles were not selected early and were available, they would also have to be in the discussion following a trade down.

Polian emphasized that preparation is essential.

“If you’re going back five spots, you need to have four guys that you’re happy with at that spot,” he said. “If you go back 10 spots, you need to have eight guys you’d be happy with.”
PITTSBURGH -- Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay will critique draft picks that are made in less than a week. The ESPN analysts took their own respective turns in the hot seat Thursday night on ESPN2.

Ebron
The two engaged in a head-to-head, three-round mock draft with Kiper picking for teams with even-numbered draft picks and McShay picking for those with odd-numbered picks. Their selections were followed by analysis from former NFL general manager Bill Polian and former NFL director of pro personnel Louis Riddick.

And Polian didn't opt for subtlety after McShay picked North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron for the Steelers at No. 15 overall.

"He's a Pittsburgh Steeler and he doesn't block. That doesn't compute," Polian, a six-time NFL Executive of the Year, said of Ebron. "I don't think he's ready to play in the NFL right now. I think he's too immature. I don't think his feet are firmly planted on the ground. Yeah, he has ability but that only gets you so far."

Ebron may be one of the more polarizing players in the draft.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder is the best tight end in the draft and an undeniable talent. Ebron, who caught 62 passes for 973 yards in his final season at North Carolina, has the size and athleticism to create mismatches.

And he is part of the new wave of tight ends who have become such a commodity because of their ability to put stress on opposing defenses.

Ebron would give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a tall target, and he would add a pass-catcher to a group that doesn't have a reliable one after veteran Heath Miller.

But as a blocker he can most diplomatically be described as a work in progress.

Or, as McShay said recently, “He’s a buffet blocker if you will. He kind of picks and chooses when he wants to get interested. But what he does well it’s just hard to find guys that can do it at the level that he does as far as stretching the field vertically and creating after the catch.”

Ebron may be too much of a gamble for the Steelers to pick at No. 15, especially since they have more pressing needs. McShay picked him for the Steelers with Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard off the board though with every other cornerback still available.

Riddick said he would have taken a cornerback for the Steelers, and he is especially high on Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller. Polian added of Ebron, "I would not risk this guy in a Pittsburgh offense that requires you to block."

As for the Steelers' other two picks, Kiper took LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry for them in the second round (No. 46 overall). McShay picked Clemson cornerback Bashaud Breeland for the Steelers in the third round (No. 97 overall).
INDIANAPOLIS -- Center Phil Costa wasn't even around long enough to be asked about dating Hulk Hogan's daughter let alone possibly hike the ball to quarterback Andrew Luck with the Indianapolis Colts.

Costa, in a surprising announcement, has decided to retire.

"Phil feels it's in his best interest to retire from the game," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said in a statement released by the team. "We certainly understand and wish him nothing but the best."

The Colts signed Costa to a two-year, $2.7 million contract that included $450,000 guaranteed last month.

UPDATE: The Colts do not have to pay Costa any of the guaranteed money he was scheduled to make since he decided to retire.

The idea was for Costa to compete with Khaled Holmes for the starting center position, but I got the sense that the Colts were hoping Holmes would win the job. Costa, who started with the Dallas Cowboys in 2011, was beat out by rookie Travis Frederick last season.

Holmes only played 12 snaps and was a healthy inactive 11 times last season as a rookie.

Now the Colts are in serious of need of adding another center to the roster. This isn't a position they should be in with their franchise player Luck. The little bit of good news out of Costa telling the Colts he was retiring is that he did it now and not after training camp had already started. It gives Grigson some time to try to find another center to add to the roster.

Alex Mack?

Nope. The Cleveland Browns quickly matched the offer the Jacksonville Jaguars gave him.

Mike McGlynn?

McGlynn, who plays guard and center, was the best center on the Colts' roster last season, but the team had no interest in re-signing him. McGlynn is now with the Washington Redskins.

Samson Satele?

Next.

Kyle Cook, Mike Gibson and Steve Vallos are the three best centers still available on the free agent market, according to Bill Polian's free agent tracker.

Grigson said during the NFL owners' meetings last month that he wasn't overly impressed with the group of free agent centers.

That takes us to the draft. The Colts' first pick is not until No. 59 in the second round.

Here's a recap of the top 10 centers in the draft, according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.:

1. Marcus Martin, USC
2. Weston Richburg, Colorado St.
3. Russell Bodine, North Carolina
4. Travis Swanson, Arkansas
5. Jonotthan Harrison, Florida
6. Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
7. James Stone, Tennessee
8. Bryan Stork, Florida St.
9. Corey Linsley, Ohio St.
10. Tyler Larsen, Utah St.
The Miami Dolphins invested $3 million this season in tailback Knowshon Moreno to boost their 26th-ranked running game. Due to his production last season and experience, Moreno is projected to be the Week 1 starter in Miami.

Moreno
But former longtime Indianapolis Colts general manager and ESPN analyst Bill Polian is not impressed with the signing. Polian graded Moreno as a “C” free agent.

Here were Polian’s comments on ESPN.com’s free-agent tracker:
“Solid contributor, but not a No. 1 back. I think most of his success from 2013 was a function of the system. His acceleration to the hole is the reason for the speed minus. The rest of his game is good, he just doesn't hit the big plays you need from a No. 1 RB.”

As Polian mentioned, many believe Moreno was a product of Denver Broncos’ system. He was a former first-round bust until future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning arrived in Denver. Those same large running lanes will not be there in Miami.

The Dolphins are expecting Moreno to be their No. 1 option to help third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas could not get the job done last season. Miami is hoping at least one of those two players will improve their game in a complimentary role.

It was a tough free-agent market for running backs. Moreno is coming off a career year where he rushed for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns. But Moreno said he only talked to the Dolphins before signing a one-year contract last week.
Russell Wilson, Drew BreesJonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesDespite a lack of height, Russell Wilson and Drew Brees haven't struggled with passes being batted at the line of scrimmage.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Over the course of the past few weeks, I've been chipping away at the Hot Read piece that was published today on why evaluating quarterbacks is so difficult -- and hasn't gotten any more precise in an era where teams have more information at their disposal than ever. In the process of talking to more than a dozen GMs and coaches for the story, I came across a number of interesting tidbits that didn't make the final edition.

I thought I'd pass them along here, in case they're of interest to you:

  • First, for Vikings fans, I had a good conversation with offensive coordinator Norv Turner about what he looks for in a quarterback. Turner was Troy Aikman's offensive coordinator in Dallas, worked with Philip Rivers as the San Diego Chargers' head coach and was the Chargers' offensive coordinator when they drafted Drew Brees (which is a prominent part of the story). He places a high emphasis on a quarterback's ability to learn quickly, understand complex systems and boil those systems down into manageable terms for the rest of the offense. Aikman and Brees both excelled at that, Turner said, and he also mentioned former Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson, whom Turner coached with the Redskins. One thing teams are doing now, as they try to put young QBs on the field sooner, Turner said, is simplifying the terminology of their offenses. "They're cutting down some of the verbiage, code-naming more things and helping them, where it's not just so much rote memorization and you don't get into the concepts," Turner said.

  • We talked in the story about the issue of short quarterbacks, and after talking to Turner and Colts GM Ryan Grigson in particular, the sense I got is that smart teams aren't dismissing short QBs simply because they're short -- they're looking to see how many batted balls come about because of a quarterback's stature. In some ways, shorter quarterbacks actually fare better here, because they've already learned how to compensate for their lack of height. In fact, Brees and Russell Wilson were tied for just 21st in the league in batted passes last season, with six each, according to Pro Football Focus. The leaders? The 6-foot-2 Chad Henne (with 20), the 6-2 Matthew Stafford (with 17) and the 6-5 Matt Ryan (with 14). Said Turner of Brees: "He'd been playing like that his whole life. It's not like he was 6-4 or you're going to make him 6-4. He understood how to play that way. He created lanes, he moved and he was very competitive against the rush. That's what it comes down to: that ability to visualize. You don't have to actually see the guy running free -- you 'see' him, you see where the defense is and you know where you're going to throw it."

  • A couple more good stories from Bill Polian and Ron Wolf about drafting Peyton Manning and trading for Brett Favre, respectively. Polian, who now works as a NFL analyst for ESPN, dispelled the since-developed myth that the Colts were split between Manning and Ryan Leaf until just before the draft. In reality, Polian said, the decision was made by mid-March.
    "A lot of people now have amnesia, and said Ryan Leaf was by far the better product," Polian said. "The consensus of so-called experts on Peyton was, he had a weak arm, couldn’t make all the throws and was 'a product of the system.' We worked him out, and found out he had a better arm than Ryan Leaf. He was much better than people gave him credit for. The athleticism thing, that one I can understand, because he looked a little bit gawky. But he had an incredible work ethic, incredible desire to be the best, incredible accuracy when he threw the ball, a unique understanding of defenses. None of that was present with Ryan." And Wolf, when he told the Packers' board of directors when he explained he was about to trade a first-round pick for a player the Atlanta Falcons had taken in the second round and no longer wanted, said this: "I compared him to a player like Lou Gehrig -- a face of the franchise. I told them everybody would one day around Green Bay wear No. 4. I'm sure they were a little shaken. I'm sure they thought they hired some idiot."Wolf said he hadn't thought about the obvious ironman parallels between Favre and Gehrig until we discussed it in our conversation; rather, he saw an aura about Favre that put him in that class. Wolf rightly gets credit now because few others saw what he did, but as he admitted, those evaluations are almost the more obvious ones to make."I thought the field tilted in his team’s favor when he ran on the field," Wolf said. "He played teams [at Southern Miss] that did not have the same type of talent that he was playing against. By and large, he kept them in the game. I think [former Auburn coach] Pat Dye put it the best; was reading somewhere where he was asked 'Who’s the best player you've seen as a head coach?' He said right away, 'Brett Favre.' I think a lot of people would have said that. He won games he had no business being able to win. He's just a rare, rare player."
  • Wolf, then, would agree with the point ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson made -- that teams and executives who are often branded "quarterback experts" get that reputation unjustly, because all they had to do was be correct once. "If you do hit one, then you don’t have to do it any more," Williamson said. "It's hard to say, 'Boy, these guys are great at developing QBs," because they did it once. They don’t have to worry about it for 12 years."
  • Lastly, I'd commend to you a Sports Illustrated story published just after the 2001 NFL draft. The magazine followed Brees around during his entire pre-draft process and chronicled what the experience was like, and there are lots of cameos from talent evaluators who are still in the NFL limelight, from Turner to Vikings GM Rick Spielman and Seahawks GM John Schneider. And for the Minnesotans in the crowd, the story ran in an issue adorned with a cover photo of former Twins outfielder Matt Lawton, discussing the upstart Twins' hot start to the 2001 MLB season.

Just wanted to pass those things along, before we return to the rhythms of the Vikings beat. Hope you enjoyed them.
Bill Polian knows Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay well. Polian was with the Colts from 1997 through the 2011 season.

Polian is now an NFL analyst for ESPN. He was on "NFL Insider" on Monday afternoon talking about his former boss, who faces four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance after being arrested late Sunday on suspicion of intoxicated driving.

"The sad part is, and a lot of people don't know this, Jim is a consummate football man. He's been a general manager, he's been a scout, been a player," Polian said. "As a result, he adds a lot to the football function of the club. And, it was always fun for me to talk football with him, to talk about trends in the game, to talk about where we were going long-term. If he's away for a length of time, the football people will miss him a lot."

Polian then addressed the possibility of Irsay facing discipline from the NFL.

"The past history of the application of the Personal Conduct Policy for high executives ... indicates a suspension and a fine," Polian said. "That probably will be forthcoming. But I'm pretty sure the commissioner will allow the legal part of it to run its course and then take some appropriate action. But whatever happens is really secondary for Jim, for his family.

"That's the most important thing. The thing he's most devoted to, including the Colts to which he's tremendously devoted, is his family, his three daughters, their husbands and his grandchildren, who he treasures. This is far more a tragedy for them than it is for the Colts. The Colts will be fine. My hope is Jim and the family come out of this fine as well because he's a genuinely likeable and kind person."
Tarell Brown tweeted Sunday morning about getting a massage and of his plan to barbecue. Brown has reason to be in a festive mood.

Brown
There is reason to believe the cornerback market will be robust in free agency a year after the market struggled. Green Bay re-signed cornerback Sam Shields to a whopping four-year, $39 million deal Saturday. Miami recently signed Brent Grimes, who suffered in free agency last year, to a big extension as well.

If that trend continues, Brown should benefit when free agency starts Tuesday. While the cornerback position is filled with some strong players, ESPN analyst Bill Polian ranks Brown at the top of the available players at the position.

If just one NFL team agrees with Polian, the 49ers will have difficulty keeping him. The 49ers want Brown back, but they will likely not be willing to give him a huge deal with bigger contracts on the horizon for the team. If Brown signs elsewhere, the team will likely have Chris Culliver, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, compete for a starting job. The 49ers would also likely have to add an inexpensive veteran and use an early draft pick on a cornerback.
Former longtime general manager Bill Polian, in his current role as an ESPN analyst, provides his insight into the offseason with a free-agency tracker Insider. He evaluates and grades every free agent, using a specific grading method:

A: $6+ million AAV (annual average value), 3+ years guaranteed money

B: $2 million-$6 million AAV, 2 years or fewer guaranteed money

C: $2 million or less AAV, 2 years or fewer guaranteed money

D: Minimum salary, 1 year contract

Cumberland
Polian isn't particularly bullish on the New York Jets' free agents, with the exception of tight end Jeff Cumberland, whom he gave a B grade. Based on Polian's rating system, the Jets got a great deal for Cumberland, who re-signed for $3.7 million over three years. Essentially, he got paid like a No. 2 tight end. Polian's take on Cumberland:

A former college wide receiver, Cumberland has filled out his frame enough to become a move tight end who can be flexed out and detached from the line of scrimmage. He has good straight-line speed to stretch the seam and extend the field vertically. He is a work in progress as a blocker who can be a useful No. 2 tight end who can improve the passing attack in the red zone with his good catch radius. He's not an ideal starter, but he also won't be a detriment to an offense. An improving player.

Only two free agents are worthy of a C, according to Polian -- kicker Nick Folk and right tackle Austin Howard. The Jets overpaid for Folk, per the rating system, and they could be on the verge of doing the same for Howard. Polian's take on Folk, who received the franchise tag ($3.6 million):

After clinging to his job for each of his first three seasons in New York, Folk broke out with the best season of his career in 2013. He showed exceptional accuracy and leg strength, hitting a 54-yard field goal during the season. A starting-level kicker who has connected on over 80 percent of his career kicks.

Polian on Howard, who will land a deal in the coming days (whether it's with the Jets or another team) that will pay him twice as much as the 'C' grade:

Howard made strides during the 2013 regular season, improving as a full-time starter for the Jets as a right tackle. He has a massive frame and wingspan, as he entered the NFL at nearly 350 pounds (he has since trimmed down). Howard can struggle with quickness from opposing edge rushers but is sufficient as a space player and can be a starting right tackle. He should continue to improve.
ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian put together multiple playoff teams and a Super Bowl winner with the Indianapolis Colts. This year, Polian put together a free-agent tracker Insider for ESPN.com that rates the top players.

Polian had some interesting thoughts on pending free agents for the Miami Dolphins. Here are several that stood out:

Clemons
Player/position: Chris Clemons, safety

Polian's grade: B

Polian's comment: "Though Clemons often aligned to the strong side for the Dolphins' defense, he is a capable free and strong safety who has been highly productive against the run. He has good production as a deep-field pass defender and has the ball skills and route recognition to handle the middle of the field. A sufficient man-to-man coverage player who also adds special-teams value, Clemons is a starting-level safety."

Walker’s thoughts: I believe Polian overrated Clemons. It also was curious that Polian had Clemons rated higher than Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes (B-), who had a career year in 2013. Clemons is a sure-tackler and good in run support, but he often struggles defending tight ends and slot receivers over the middle. Clemons is Miami's top-rated free agent this year, which I disagree with.

Starks
Player/position: Randy Starks, defensive tackle

Polian’s grade: B-

Polian’s comment: "A veteran coming off a year in which he played with the franchise tag, Starks is a starting defensive tackle who can play on three downs with his ability to defend the run and rush the passer. He has good interior quickness to be a one-gap shooter and disrupt plays in the backfield."

Walker’s thoughts: Polian is spot on with Starks, who at 30 is still a productive player. Starks should get interest in the open market with his ability to rush the passer. He has 36.5 career sacks, which is solid for an interior defensive lineman. There’s a chance Starks and the Dolphins are heading for a mutual parting of ways.

Soliai
Player/position: Paul Soliai, defensive tackle

Polian’s grade: C

Polian’s comment: "A rugged, stout run-defender, Soliai stands tall and wide at 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds. He has a fire-hydrant build and is difficult to move at the line of scrimmage. He can handle double teams and help to build a wall in run defense."

Walker’s thoughts: I would put Soliai in the same grade range as Starks, despite both being different players. Soliai is a specialist; he stuffs the run and is difficult to move. I assume Polian's low grade was the result of his lack of pass rush and often coming off the field on obvious passing downs.
IRVING, Texas -- Bill Polian was a successful personnel man with the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts. He is now an ESPN Insider and has offered up a dos and don'ts list Insider when it comes to free agency.

Basically, Polian, who is among Jerry Jones' circle of trust outside Valley Ranch, subscribes to the theory that a free agent can be a useful tool if you spend wisely, but the economic risk almost always outweighs the on-field production.

Let's highlight a couple of Polian's positions from the Insider story.
2. Don't sign a player and change his techniques.
It is hard enough for players to adapt to a new team. For example, don't take a Tampa 2, 3-technique and expect him to become a Parcells/Belichick 3-4 DE. Those are totally different techniques, and players who have to make that type of adjustment don't make the transition well. Adapting and then trying to learn a new role on top of that adds complications that can ruin your investment. You could have a relatively brief window of return, so retraining shouldn't be a big part of it.
Cowboys' take: Dallas invested heavily in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne in free agency and the draft in 2012 and moved away from their supposed strengths -- man coverage -- to play mostly zone when they switched to Monte Kiffin's 4-3 scheme. The Cowboys need to find a way to blend their coverages more to play to the strengths of Carr and Claiborne.
7. Don't pay a player above his grade.
Don't give A-money (or years) to a B-player, and so on down the line. As discussed at the start of this article, the free-agent market as a whole is almost always a losing investment. Just because another team is willing to give a player a certain contract doesn't mean he's worth that price to your team. There is no universal price for a player because every player has a different value to each team. You need to trust your internal valuations and proceed off those figures, not the market.
Cowboys' take: Let's stick with Carr again. The Cowboys overpaid for him (five years, $50 million) but that was the market for free-agent corners. The St. Louis Rams paid Cortland Finnegan the same amount and will cut him once the league year starts. At the time of the signing, the Cowboys were not criticized for signing Carr, who has not missed a game in his career and was young. But they have yet to see the on-field production for their off-field pay out.
11. Do beware of players whose production dramatically increases in their contract year.
If a player is lousy for three years and then spikes in Year 4 and becomes a world-beater, be careful. You're more likely to get the production from those first three seasons, but you'll be paying for the results of the fourth. It's not a knock on the effort of the first three years, it's a trust in the bigger sample size.
Cowboys' take: It's not that Jason Hatcher was lousy, but he never produced more than 4.5 sacks in a season before 2013. Polian also has a 'don't pay age' axiom, which could affect Hatcher, who turns 32 in July, but could teams be worried about his 11-sack spike in a contract year?
Former Indianapolis Colts general manager, and current ESPN NFL Insider, Bill Polian said the NFL’s middle class will benefit from the increased cap space. That, of course, makes sense. And I wonder what that could mean for a player such as Perry Riley, who is not a high-profile linebacker nor is he a budding Pro Bowler. But he is in that middle class of free agents and he does play a position without a lot of depth. So it will be interesting to watch.

Polian also touched on several other matters during a conference call Wednesday that pertain to the Redskins and free agency:

Retaining your own players: “Free agency in and of itself is an overpayment situation. That said, if your own players are quality players and you believe they can help you win then it’s better off to pay them because they’re as good or better as you can find in the market and you know them better than you know a player from another team. You’re paying a premium, but you put it into a player you know and believe in. He has no adjustments coming into your system. It’s pretty seamless. When you have good players, when you’ve drafted well, it follows that the more you can keep the better off you are. That’s the right way to go rather than trying to get someone else’s players.“
My take: That’s partly why they placed the franchise tag on Brian Orakpo. And it’s why they’d like to re-sign Riley, albeit not at the price he’s currently asking. Look for a few others to return, notably guys like Santana Moss and probably a Reed Doughty.

Free agency in general: “The dangers are you don’t know the player as well as you know the player coming out in the draft and certainly not as well as your player. The best players are [already] signed. These are 'B' players whose agents are looking for 'A' money. That in itself is not the best of buys. You recognize that as a general manager. When the player changes teams and changes systems and changes local, he’s going to have an adjustment period. That is something that is missed by most analysts and most fans. Football is not a seamless transition. Basketball is; baseball is. Football is not. Systems change. People have a difficult time adjusting to begin with and then if the system changes or technique changes, it’s even worse. You typically find a player doesn’t play to his maximum in a new situation. It may take a year to get adjusted. That’s a year you lost but paid big money for.”
My take: There is more homework done on players entering the draft than on free agents. One benefit Washington had during the lockout three years ago is that it gave the front office more time to research free agents they wanted. But one reason you talk to so many potential draft picks is to have a book on them for when they do become free. Still, four years is a long time and things change.

Better to find a receiver in free agency or the draft: “Our philosophy was to build from within with those kind of players. You can add one or two special skill sets through free agency, but keep in mind the best players are not in free agency. They are tagged or signed. By definition you’re getting a guy who’s not someone else’s No. 1 and you’re probably overpaying for him. If you don’t have anybody it usually helps to get a veteran who can fill a hole in the short run in free agency. Then the question becomes how much do you pay for that player, how much tread is left on his tires and what kind of person is he?”
My take: It’s hard for young receivers to contribute immediately. The Redskins have enough holes here that they could sign a veteran (Hakeem Nicks, perhaps, for a medium- or low-end deal) and then draft one to develop. Again.

Signing offensive linemen: “The offensive line is the one area where maybe free agency can benefit you, or maybe you need to try and make it benefit you if you have a lot of spots to fill. Free agency is a good place to get specific veteran players who fit your parameters and who are a reasonable cost. You can find pretty good buys -- I put that in quotation marks because it’s all relative.”
My take: The Redskins need some help in the interior, but they also have some young options -- guys we really don’t know how they’d perform (though obviously the coaches have a good idea). But after three years, this is when one or two of them should be ready. So the Redskins have three option here: free agency, the draft or in house.
ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian held a media conference call on Wednesday previewing free agency. As part of the conference call, Polian identified his top free agents in an ESPN.com Insider pieceInsider. Polian also has a free-agent trackerInsider.

A few highlights from Wednesday's call, with a Patriots-based twist:

Impact of the rising salary cap: With the salary cap rising by $10 million, and projected to grow even more in the next few years, Polian opined that it could mean better deals for players in the so-called “middle class.” He used defensive end Cliff Avril as an example from 2013, as Avril settled on a short-term deal at “relatively mediocre money.” For the Patriots, my thought was that it could most help receiver Julian Edelman and possibly linebacker Brandon Spikes if that’s the way it unfolds.

Valuing free agents at a price: Polian was complimentary of the Ravens for their work in free agency, specifically how they value their own players at a certain price and don’t budge when the market moves to a level they aren’t comfortable going. One could say New England takes a similar approach. “Free agency, in and of itself, is an over-payment situation,” said Polian, who typically wasn’t a big player in the market when he was with the Colts.

Keeping free agency in perspective: One point kept coming up in the call, with Polian stressing “system fit” and how one player might look good with one team but can have a tough time transitioning to a new scheme/team. Polian also touched on how the best free-agent decisions can be a club retaining its own players. “Free agency is not free. It costs two things you never get back -- time and money,” he said. “When you have a good team and you have a good personnel department that drafts well, it behooves you to be restrained in free agency.” When this topic came up, it sparked the thought that the Patriots haven’t received as much bang for their buck in free agency in recent years.
In an Insider piece, ESPN analyst, and former NFL general manager, Bill Polian gives San Francisco 49ers' cornerback Tarell Brown high praise.

Brown
Polian ranks Brown as the best cornerback in unrestricted free agency Insider. Polian gives Brown the nod over several top-notch free-agent cornerbacks such as Vontae Davis, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Aqib Talib.

If just one NFL team agrees with Polian, the 49ers may be hard pressed to keep Brown. Cornerbacks are often paid at a premium price, so if Brown is coveted, he may be looking at a big contract.

Brown is one of the 49ers' free-agency priorities. CBS Sports reported the team is pushing to get a deal done before free agency starts next Tuesday.

Brown was a starter last year, but lost his job late in the season when he was hurt. However, he did regain it in the playoffs.

Brown would likely be a starter again if he re-signs. If not, the 49ers will get Chris Culliver back from a torn ACL. At the very least, he will be the nickel cornerback. They could also try to replace Brown in free agency with someone like Seattle's Walter Thurmond. In either scenario, the team will likely use an early draft pick at the position.

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