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The NFL's big money free agents are all huge disappointments

Danny Kelly and Stephen White discuss the disappointing state of this year's free-agent class, preview the best games from Week 4 and ponder quarterback questions in Kansas City and elsewhere.

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Danny Kelly: Well, here we go with Week 4, rounding toward the season's quarter pole, and the slate of matchups looks relatively underwhelming.

Even if the matchups don't scream "awesome game" to you, there are some pretty intriguing things about a few of them. The one that jumps out to me is that St. Louis vs. Arizona game. The Rams have underwhelmed since they beat the Seahawks in their Week 1 opener, but in some ways I see the Steelers and Cardinals as similar stylistically. After seeing St. Louis somewhat limit Pittsburgh's high-flying attack last week, I'm intrigued.

Both Pittsburgh and Arizona love to attack vertically downfield — that's their bread and butter — and both have very good offensive weapons with devil-may-care quarterbacks willing to take shots. The Rams have an elite front so they can get after Carson Palmer (they were, after all, the team that took him out of action last year) and in the secondary, they love to play way, way off the line in order to keep everything in front of them defensively.

That strategy seemed to be working fairly well against the Steelers last week even before Roethlisberger went down (it was 9-3 at the time, mid-third quarter), so will the Rams be the first team to ground the Cardinals' high-flying attack? The Rams might give up a lot of yards, but will they manage to avoid getting beat deep? Will this throw off the Cardinals' mojo?

These NFC West matchups are always fun, so that's one game I'm definitely going to zero in on.

What about you? What's the "bad matchup" that most intrigues you?

Stephen White: The game that is kind of intriguing to me is that Detroit-Seattle game on Monday Night Football. Both teams come into this game with question marks. Yeah, the Seahawks beat the brakes off the Bears last week, but Chicago is fucking terrible.

It looks like Seattle may be without their workhorse running back, Marshawn Lynch, which would once again put rookie Thomas Rawls in the saddle as the lead back for the game. Now that is great for me personally seeing as how I just picked up Rawls for my fantasy team, but I'm not sure it's going to be good for Seattle's chances of winning the game. After all, some rookies wilt under the spotlight of the MNF broadcast.


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On the flip side, you have an 0-3 Lions team that has to be feeling like their season is slipping away from them. If they lose their first four games they can probably go ahead and make vacation plans for right after the regular season ends, I'm just saying. I expect a sense of desperation and urgency to be evident in the way they play. I'd imagine their head coach will also be pulling out all the stops to try to get them their first win of the season. Don't get it twisted, there is a ton of talent on that team. If they get their shit together on offense, they can still beat anybody.

The question is can they get it together THIS week? I don't think anybody can say with any certainty because of how shaky they have looked for most of the first three games. You have a much better test for the Seahawks than they had last week, and they may have to try to win this game without Lynch. I know you referenced a blowout, but from where I'm standing, either team could be on the wrong side of an ass-kicking this week.

Quarterback questions

Stephen: I tell you what though, I will have my eye on that Kansas City-Cincy game as well, because I am just wondering what it would take for the Chiefs to give up the ghost when it comes to quarterback Alex Smith. They're 1-2 now and they have too much talent at the skill positions to be so pedestrian on offense.

Smith appears hesitant to push the ball down the field. Big free agent signee receiver Jeremy Maclin might as well be running a track meet every week, and even though Travis Kelce is a matchup nightmare, even he doesn't seem to be getting the kind of touches his talent warrants. I doubt they have a quick hook for Smith after all they've invested in him, but you would have a hard time convincing me that Chase Daniel would do any worse. If they fall to 1-3 and Smith doesn't at least try to challenge the Bengals defense through the air, don't you at least have to consider seeing what Daniel could do?

Of course Alex Smith isn't the only quarterback who has been somewhat underwhelming so far this season. The Jets, Browns and Washington are also sticking with their starters -- for now, at least -- even though they've had a rough start as well.

Do you think that's the right move for those teams, and which opening day starting quarterback is the most likely to next be benched for performance?

Danny: For the Jets, I think it's the right move for the short term, because as low-ceiling as Ryan Fitzpatrick may be, he was a part of the reason the Jets got to 2-0. I think there's something to be said for continuity at the position, and the psychological factor of benching Fitzpatrick could set the Jets back. So, in the meantime, I think they see what he does over the next few games. If he can keep feeding Brandon Marshall and keep the offense moving, I would think he deserves to hold onto the job. If he flounders and keeps putting out stinkers like last week, you make the change to Geno Smith, who is now apparently healthy enough to play.

The Browns are 1-2 and don't particularly look like a playoff-caliber team at this point. The fans want Johnny Manziel. There have been reports that his teammates want Manziel to start (though, that could be a bunch of BS). But, at this point, Mike Pettine and company believe that Josh McCown gives them the best chance to win -- and that might be true, for the extreme short-term.

Enough hemming and hawing, it might be worth figuring out if you have a legit starter there or if the search for a quarterback needs to go on. I think Manziel should get the starting job.

Outside of those three situations -- the only other one in the NFL that might be worth monitoring is Sam Bradford in Philly. Odds are that he won't get the hook, but he certainly has not been what they've hoped (and traded) for. He's thrown four picks to only three touchdowns, is averaging 5.8 yards per attempt, has been inaccurate downfield, and has yet to look comfortable in that system.

What happened to the big money free agents?

Stephen: That's all good stuff. Often we give quarterbacks too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses anyway. It takes a team effort to win and usually to lose games as well. That's why you see so many teams dabbling in free agency along with making trades to try and upgrade the overall talent level of their rosters. But we both know that often those free-agent signings and trades don't always work out as planned.

Already there have been rumblings of dissatisfaction about some of the big money free agents signed this past spring. Maybe the most prominent player who switched teams this year was All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh who took his talents from Detroit to South Beach for a bagillion dollars.

Seven tackles, dassit. In three games, that is all Suh has to his name this season. No sacks. No forced fumbles. Several of those seven tackles were on ball carriers who were already at least couple yards down the field. Stats aren't everything, but in this situation there simply aren't a bunch of hidden plays not showing up on the stat sheet.

I did try to warn people that Suh is not likely to be that guy who gets double-digit sacks every season or even a bunch of pressures every game. He is a guy who has been very stout against the run and very consistent in getting push up the middle against the pass. While he may not get to 10 sacks, I thought he would show his value by keeping quarterbacks from stepping up in the pocket, leaving them vulnerable to edge rushes from Wake and Vernon ... everybody wins.

That hasn't happened. And now, I'm seeing leaked rumors of Suh "freelancing" too much, which is concerning for a variety of reasons. It's still early, but at 1-2, if the Dolphins don't get this thing turned around soon, I would expect those dissatisfied grumblings to get louder and louder.

The signing of fprmer Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell up in Philly has also been heavily scrutinized after he got torched repeatedly by Julio Jones in Week 2. The Eagles are also 1-2, so the losing is probably magnifying his "struggles" even more so than usual.

Chiefs receiver Jeremy Maclin, who came over from the Eagles, has been a non-factor for most of the first three games, only making an impact last week in a loss to the Packers. Then you have a guy like tight end Jimmy Graham, who the Seahawks traded for from the Saints this off-season, who looks to be finding his groove after a slow start.

On the other hand, has there been a better signing this offseason than Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo?! I am sure there are several quarterback-poor teams that are probably wishing they had taken a flyer on that guy this spring.

Danny, who would you say has been the biggest disappointment after three games of all the "fresh faces in new places," and who has actually lived up to the hype?

Danny: First of all, the Maxwell signing in Philly has to be disappointing for Eagles fans, because $10 million per year is nothing to sneeze at. I watched all his snaps from the Week 1 Atlanta game and the Week 2 Dallas game, and while he was generally fine in his zone coverage, he was atrocious in man coverage and gave up way too many big plays. It sounds like he improved on things in Week 3, and maybe they're still feeling out the best ways to utilize him. That shockingly bad start didn't win him many fans in his new city, though.

I do still think that Maxwell is a good player, and that he'll improve as long as they don't try to make him a man-to-man lockdown corner like Revis or something. Because that's not who he is, period.

As for the most disappointing signings or newcomers this off-season, I'll point to his teammate, Sam Bradford, who was acquired by the Eagles in a trade. After lighting it up in the preseason, the hype was predictably through the roof. But through three games he's looked exactly like the guy that he was in St. Louis, maybe worse. Chip Kelly has talked about how defenses are playing really deep and limiting chances at explosive plays, but Bradford hasn't looked too comfortable hitting underneath routes either, and Philly's offense has really struggled to get going. It doesn't help that their run game took eight quarters to finally hit their stride.

Not to rail on Philly, but DeMarco Murray hasn't done anything yet either.

As for a few under-the-radar pickups by teams that are fun to see, the first one that comes to mind is Chris Johnson in Arizona -- the dude has run for over 4 yards per carry on a team that was the worst in that category last year and seems to have given them a boost where they really need it.

Dion Lewis is lighting it up in New England, and James Jones looks like the guy that led the NFL in touchdowns a few years ago now that he's back with the Packers (who just signed him off the street).

Another under-the-radar move was the Jets' trade for Brandon Marshall. That guy has been a huge part of their offense. I also really like what Michael Crabtree has done with Derek Carr in Oakland. He's the perfect No. 2 receiver behind Amari Cooper.

Also, and I know this might not be the popular opinion around the nation, but I feel like the Jimmy Graham addition has been pretty good for Seattle -- he's already caught two touchdowns and is on pace for about 75 catches and 775 yards with 11 touchdowns. Now, while that volume would be down from his normal production, that's a huge, huge number in Seattle's run-first offense. If he's catching touchdowns for Russell Wilson, it's a great trade, period.

Finally, one bright spot in Philly might be the addition of Ryan Mathews, who looked like a really strong fit in Chip Kelly's wide zone scheme in Week 3 against the Jets. I think the Eagles should feed him the rock a little bit more and see if they can ride him to get their offense back on track.