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Former Oregon Ducks In NFL Free Agency: Byrds Of Paradise

Jairus ByrdThe 2012 NFL season has come to its dreaded, and for many, sorrowful end; instilling a sense of wistfulness that simply cannot be fulfilled until early September.  But luckily, as we all know (especially myself), every new beginning comes from some other beginnings horrible end. 

You can stop brooding my fellow football enthusiasts, for it is time to start thinking about the 2013 NFL offseason. 

Ohhhhh the offseason, a period that incites fictitious hope and an insatiable anticipation as team die-hards convince themselves that with a few free agent acquisitions and a solid draft class they can ride the winds of change to the Super Bowl.   A time where every coveted free agent is interested in becoming a member of said franchise you so passionately and vigorously support.  In the few months leading up to the free agency period and draft, fan bases live and die by succumbing to the ever-vicious swirls of speculative rumors and hearsay.   

In this two-part article, we are going to delve, and probably mire ourselves in free agency conjectures and guesswork from an Oregon and Oregon State alumni standpoint; notables that include: Jairus Byrd, Matt Moore, Derek Anderson, Steven Jackson, Kellen Clemens, Ed Dickson, Andy Levitre, Patrick Chung, Geoff Schwartz, Keenan Lewis, Sammie Stroughter and Legarette Blount.

This week we are going to take a gander at the Oregon notables.

Jairus Byrd, FS

Undoubtedly, the most sought after free agent in that list is former Oregon safety Jairus Byrd.  The Buffalo Bills selected Byrd in the 2009 draft with the 42nd pick in the 2nd round; eight spots higher than fellow Duck DB Patrick Chung.  Through four years, he has compiled 308 tackles, 2 sacks, 18 interceptions, 10 forced fumbles and 2 touchdowns.  In his rookie campaign, the rangy Byrd recorded 9 interceptions, leading all NFL defensive backs and was elected to the Pro-Bowl.  He hasn’t matched the interception output since his first year, but it does not diminish the fact that Byrd is a superb free safety who possesses exemplary anticipatory skills and range ability.  He attacks the ball well on deep throws and opposing quarterbacks are well aware of his presence on the field.  In coverage, Byrd only yielded a staggering 0.28 yards per snap and was never beaten for any touchdowns.  Okay, he isn’t an Ed Reed, but he very well could be the next best thing.

Jairus Byrd’s stats at a glance by year (courtesy of Yahoo! Sports):

 

Irrefutably, Byrd has put up solid stats on a consistent basis and only once has been brought down by injury.  He is a reliable playmaker who can contribute to any team in need of a safety.  Mind you, for a team like the Bills, they cannot afford to let a playmaker like Byrd go. 

Recent reports out of Buffalo suggest that initial negotiations have started between the team and Byrd.  But if negotiations fall short of a long-term deal, then the Bills would more than likely slap the franchise tag on him.  Ideally, the Bills want to lock up Byrd for a long deal, that way they can use the franchise tag on certain other free agents that we will talk about next week (*cough Andy Levitre *cough).

Prediction

Byrd will unquestionably remain a Buffalo Bill.

Ed Dickson, TE (Restricted Free Agent)

One Oregon player I have always been enamored with since the 2010 draft is tight end Ed Dickson.  He possesses all the intangibles a systematic offense like Baltimore requires: strength and quickness.  Dickson, standing at 6’4, 250 lbs is a serviceable run blocker but boy can he stretch the field down the seam or out on a safety valve target in the flat and he has great hands; producing some miraculous, top of the line, circus catches.

However, with Dennis Pitta emerging as a replacement for Todd Heap, Dickson will most likely serve the #2 tight end role, but it is an important one, as the Raven’s do not possess any go to receiver except for Torrey Smith and a soon to be retired Anquan Boldin.  The one other drawback that may hinder Dickson’s productivity is injuries.  Coming off a sprained shoulder from a preseason game against Atlanta, Dickson’s statistics really suffered in comparing his 2nd season to his 3rd.  Luckily for him, and his employer, he boasts a ton of potential still as he is only 25 years old.  Not to mention the fact that now Pitta has established himself as the #1, the limited stats will diminish the likelihood of getting injured.

Prediction

The Ravens will place a respectable draft tender on Dickson, meaning that, if any team is highly desirable of his skill set, they will have to pay the Ravens a draft pick; most likely a 3rd-5th.  But ultimately, he will be a Raven come next season.

Patrick Chung, S

Being on a Patriots squad that is renowned for letting players go if their asking price is too much, it is hard to determine whether or not the Patriots will retain Chung.  My intuition tells me “Yes” for several reasons.

First of all, the Patriots have had one of the worst pass defenses the past couple of seasons.  To make matters worse, they have spent several draft picks trying to alleviate this weakness to no avail, such as Ras-I Dowling and Kyle Arrington, both of whom have had minimal impact in the cornerback position.  Chung on the other hand has occasionally shown flashes of brilliance, especially in the 2010 season where he accumulated 9 passes defended and 3 interceptions, taking one of those 51 yards to the house.

He has had to battle through his fair share of injuries, but it is worth nothing that Chung is only 25 years old, and arguably, his best years are still to come.  This can prove to be pivotal for a struggling Patriots secondary that lacks any depth behind him in the safety position.

Another factor that may signify that the Patriots will resign Chung is by taking a gander at the other free agents the Patriots have: Aqib Talib, Wes Welker and Sebastian Vollmer.  Both Welker and Vollmer have more than likely reached the zenith of their respective careers and would only be of use in the short-term.  However, Welker would probably command a little bit more of a cap space hit than Vollmer would.  Leading me to think that the Patriots will probably let Welker walk and resign Vollmer to a 3-4 year performance based contract.  As for Talib, he is a must-sign.  But conclusively, if Welker leaves, it frees up a significant amount of cap space, increasing the chances of Chung staying in Boston.

Prediction

The Patriots will likely resign Chung.  I mean, why would they create another hole in an otherwise abysmal secondary?  Such poor logic is never on display for the most successful, sterling franchise of the past decade.

Geoff Schwartz

Despite being drafted in the 7th round in 2008, Geoff Schwartz has proven to be quite the late round gem.  He started 16 games for the Panthers in 2010 and at the tender age of 26, probably still has a lot of fuel and fervor in the tank.  He signed a one-year contract with the Vikings prior to the 2012 season and was beat out by Brandon Fusco for the starting guard position.  Reports out of Minnesota have stated that they do not expect Schwartz to come back next year in a back up role.

Being only 26 and a reputable amount of experience, one would think that a team needing offensive line help will be interested in signing Schwartz to a short term contract.

Prediction

One team that needs offensive line help in every facet of the sense is the Arizona Cardinals.  They gave up the most sacks last year and adding a prime grinder with a mean streak like Schwartz could render to be beneficial.  Other teams that could have interest in Schwartz are the New York Giants, St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans.

Kellen Clemens

The one guy who got his shot and in my eyes, performed well, but still got the short end of the stick.  I guess that’s what happens when you associate yourself with a much-maligned Jets organization.  Much of their moves at the quarterback position have been head scratchers, all stemming from the 2007 season where the Jets brass was whimsical in which quarterback to start.  Okay so yeah, Pennington was coming off his second shoulder surgery, but give the guy a reprieve, what is he supposed to be? Brett Favre??  Oh wait … I guess they fixed that problem come the 2008 season.

Other than that abhorrent job at managing team leadership and skill positions, Clemens did well when given the chance; thus why he still has a job today, although, it is with the St. Louis Rams.  The Rams value his veteran presence behind Sam Bradford and from what I have heard, have all the intentions of keeping him on the squad.  Plus, given how injury prone Bradford has been in his short tenure in the NFL, I would opt to have an above average quarterback behind my star as well.

Prediction

Clemens will probably be offered a small one to two-year deal with the Rams.  I don’t see them wasting any picks on a quarterback yet, even though they have a multitude of picks at their disposal.  They just have other glaring holes to fill at the moment until they can be a perennial contender.

LeGarette Blount, RB (Restricted Free Agent)

Always been high on LeGarette, and that is probably largely due to my affinity for those in the underdog role.  But man, he really needs to resolve those notorious fumbling issues.  His role as lead running back last year was usurped by the young and electric playmaker Doug Martin from Boise State.  Given Martin’s rookie campaign success, I don’t see Blount emerging as the lead #1 back anytime soon, barring any injuries that is to Martin.

Given Blount’s power potential, I can see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers giving him another look for goal line plays and other short yardage situations.  This is not to discredit Blount’s speed, but I envision him best utilized in power run scenarios.

To this day, one of my favorite runs in the past two years in the NFL was Blount’s 54-yard human bulldozing run against the Green Bay Packers in 2011.  Simply incredible, very reminiscent of a one Marshawn Lynch 2010 playoff TD run against the Saints.

For those of you who have not witnessed this run, here is the YouTube link.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BStA1mL3GYY

Prediction

Given that the Buccaneers have an egregious secondary and other needs, I doubt they look for a replacement in Blount.  The guy ran for 1,000+ yards in 2010 and he still is relatively young.  If given the carries I think he will still be able to produce at a high level.

If another team does get in the mix, I’d expect the Atlanta Falcons to do so.  Reason being is that talks have circulated that the Falcons are looking to dump Michael Turner given his cap hit this upcoming season.  This would be plausible for two reasons for the Falcons, 1) Save cap space and 2) take a weapon from a division opponent.

Next Week:

OREGON STATE:  Keenan Lewis, Andy Levitre, Sammie Stroughter, Matt Moore, Derek Anderson and Steven Jackson.

 

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