The NFL free agency period is far from being officially over. There are still some big-name players who will find teams between now and the 2016 NFL Draft. Then, once teams get a look at their post-draft rosters, there will be another rush of signings.
But for now, enough players have signed with new teams that we should have a good idea who might be able to rebound from a down season. At this point, it’s impossible to know for sure if a player is just on the decline or if he has enough left in his game that all he needed to recover was a change of scenery.
Still, there are a few players who definitely needed to land with a new team after their 2015 campaigns. Whether the scheme was all wrong, they were being underutilized or they simply needed a fresh start, here are five players who can benefit most from their new situations.
Mario Williams, Miami Dolphins (formerly Buffalo Bills)
Of all the players on this list, Williams is the biggest no-brainer. He went from one of the most dominant and productive pass rushers in the league to being an afterthought in a disappointing, complicated defense that was rarely effective last season. Williams looked like he never had a grasp on Rex Ryan’s defense and, accordingly, never agreed with his new head coach.
The Bills as a team went from 54 sacks in 2014 to 21 sacks under Ryan in his first year in Buffalo. Williams had three consecutive double-digit sack seasons, but only brought down the quarterback five times in 2015. Now Williams has joined the Dolphins, a team that recently let go of Olivier Vernon, so Williams will slot into an end spot next to Ndamukong Suh. They’re both big, powerful players and should play off each other well. Williams could be back to his old self again with the Dolphins.
Bruce Irvin, Oakland Raiders (formerly Seattle Seahawks)
Irvin is the kind of player who should be unleashed upon opposing quarterbacks as often as possible. He’s shown a good ability to rush the passer utilizing his array of moves and raw athleticism, but the Seahawks also wanted him to drop back into coverage frequently.
This isn’t a bad thing per se, and sure enough, Irvin dropped back into coverage 30.5 percent of the time in 2015. But now that he’s joined the Raiders alongside Khalil Mack, he may be asked to do a lot more rushing the passer and the smart money is on him flourishing in this role. The Raiders likely won’t ask him to drop back as much and Irvin should start blowing up the stat sheet again.
Rahim Moore, Cleveland Browns (formerly Houston Texans)
Moore was a young safety on the rise with the Denver Broncos, but then he joined the Texans, where he promptly lost his starting role halfway through the season. In 2015, he started through Week 7 and then was inactive for the remainder of the season. It shook his confidence and he called it “mortifying.”
The Browns are not a good football team and they probably won’t be for a while. But individual players have found success there in recent years. Safety Tashaun Gipson and offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz weren’t well-known names, but they developed into above-average starters with the Browns and then drew plenty of attention once they hit free agency. It’s the perfect place for Moore to restart his career.
DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans (formerly Philadelphia Eagles)
After an incredible year with the Dallas Cowboys, in which he was able to run behind the best offensive line in the league and with a quarterback who took enough of the defense’s attention, Murray went to about the worst place he could: the Eagles. It never seemed like the Eagles knew what they wanted to do with Murray or what kind of running game they wanted, never mind their less-than-inspiring quarterback situation.
With the Titans, Murray goes to a team that’s solid on the run blocking and that has invested in the offensive line during free agency, and will likely add to it further with the first pick in the draft. Plus, they have a young, franchise quarterback looking to take the next step. That means Murray will get more than his fair share of carries to take the load off of Marcus Mariota, but he’ll also benefit from the team closing in and trying to focus heavily on the offense. Whether he’ll approach 2,000 yards like he did in Dallas is anybody’s guess, but this change of scenery was sorely needed after just one dismal season with Philadelphia.
Robert Griffin III, Literally Any Other Team (formerly Washington)
Griffin hasn’t signed with another team yet, but it seriously does not matter. Griffin’s tenure in Washington was so volatile that he likely views the entire city as a nightmarish hellscape from which he’ll never truly escape. That isn’t to absolve him from blame for his own part in petty chain of command squabbles that ultimately led his career down the wrong path, but it is to say he desperately needed out.
Washington let him out, and now he’s trying to catch on elsewhere. Griffin would almost certainly be better off playing for any of the coaches who have shown interest: Gary Kubiak of the Denver Broncos, Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns or Todd Bowles of the New York Jets. Griffin has played at a high level in the NFL and he might be able to again, but he needs to shake off the stink of what went wrong in Washington first and foremost.
This article was written by James Brady from SB Nation and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.