The All-Name Free Agent Team: Paul Kruger

The following is part of a series that can be most easily described as a Free Agency preview.

Since we’re talking about Free Agency, a quick review of the Reboot rules are in order:

1. If these free agents are such good players AND considering the relative cap flexibility and variety of tags teams can employ, then why are they free agents in the first place?

2. Considering the short shelf life of an NFL player, free agency is often a player’s last chance to land a big money contract – which naturally begs the question of how motivated the player actually is.

3. Oh, and to qualify for inclusion onto the All-Name team, the free agent has to be known by even the dimmest of football fans – and sportswriters. And bonus points for a player who everybody only recently figured out was “a guy.”

But seriously – no bias here.

Here are the first two installments of this year’s series – featuring two incredibly specific examples.

Alex Smith and Mike Wallace

PAUL KRUGER

PROS:
-Fits the physical prototype of a “3-4″ linebacker.
-Also likely fits the physical prototype of whatever defense the Browns will play in 2014.
-Is strong against the run.
-Is a load as a pass rusher.
-Plays with a lot of energy and emotion.
-Drafted in the second round of the 2009 Draft.

CONS:
-Admit it – before last December, you completely forgot this guy was even in the league.
-Could be the latest in a long line of former Ravens to flame out post-Baltimore.
-Can rush the passer, but relies mainly on strength and mismatches.
-Can get dominated by athletic offensive linemen.
-Free agent value surely inflated by Ravens’ Super Bowl run.
-Drafted in the second round of the 2009 Draft (five spots AFTER David Veikune).

So, let’s get the obvious arguments out of the way.

First, here’s a stat summary of Kruger’s career. Kruger spent the bulk of his first three seasons playing special teams and filling in behind Jarrett Johnson. Coming out of college, Kruger was known more for his pass rushing skills as a defensive end and struggled to find a role in the Ravens’ “multi-front” defense.

And before your mind goes there, let’s not bring up that painful discussion again.

Second, it took the free agent departure of Johnson – a solid linebacker – to San Diego to allow Kruger to assume a starting role. Or, if you assume the perspective that the Ravens consistently draft defensive end/linebackers, Kruger was more experienced and/or healthier than Sergio Kindle and Courtney Upshaw. More on this in a moment – as Kruger finds himself in a unique group of Ravens’ players.

Of course, Kruger made his proverbial money during the Ravens’ surprise run through the playoffs last month. Playing opposite Terrell Suggs, Kruger book ended his postseason by dominating against the Colts and then making some key plays in the Ravens’ Super Bowl win over the 49ers. Along the way, Kruger elevated his profile as a rising star – showing an energetic blend of strength and hustle.

In terms of skills, Kruger is a physical player that is capable in both pass rushing and run defense. At least if you adhere to the traditional “edge setting” role of a run defender, Kruger would be an asset for a Browns’ defense that has struggled for two decades against the run. Kruger holds up well against most opposing tackles and is capable of dominating against tight ends and lesser tackles.

As far as pass rushing, Kruger is not the most sophisticated of rushers – relying more on raw strength, constant movement and pure hustle. During the regular season, Kruger’s sack totals were built by collecting “coverage sacks” – typically occurring on plays in which an opposing tackle had to block for five seconds or longer. Still, a sack is a sack and Kruger had to be accounted for.

And like any strong pass rusher, Kruger’s play improved upon the return of Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs. Of Kruger’s 9 regular season sacks, 7.5 occurred once Suggs returned from a torn Achilles’ tendon. Of course, this can be a subjective argument even with the statistical evidence, as Jabaal Sheard’s effort was outstanding in 2012, but his overall numbers suffered because the Browns could only throw out aging veterans to play across from him.

So, the logical question then becomes: Just how good is Kruger? and/or How much of Kruger’s success stems from playing in Baltimore?

Before answering, it’s worth remembering that these questions are framed within the context of NFL free agency – an event that hyper-inflates the value of most players.

Kruger is certainly talented and no doubt fits the mold of a versatile defender. In the simplest terms, he’s a 3-4 outside linebacker, but could also play a variety of roles, including defensive end and short yardage run stopper. He fits the rare criteria of being a young free agent and at least based on his career arc, Kruger definitely has shown that he has potential to keep improving.

And yes, Kruger could be an ideal fit to play across from Jabaal Sheard in the Browns’ defense.

But yet again – there’s an extraordinarily simple, yet essential question that begs to be asked:

If Kruger is so good, why didn’t the Ravens already sign him?

Similar to Mike Wallace and the Steelers, it’s possible that the Ravens just ran out of cap room. Considering the massive money owed to veterans Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs and the skyrocketing worth of quarterback Joe Flacco, Kruger could be viewed as a luxury to the Ravens’ Ozzie Newsome. Certainly, the defending champs have their priorities and Newsome has always conducted business with an eye towards the future.

Newsome’s amazingly consistent run as Ravens’ boss is certainly due to the team’s expertise in drafting quality players. However, in terms of free agency, it’s worth pointing out that Newsome also has a skilled touch in knowing when to let a player go. Much in the way Kruger replaced Johnson, it won’t be a dramatic transition for another player to take over Kruger’s spot next year.

Or, for more evidence – have a look at the players that Newsome has not re-signed over the years.

Jarret Johnson
Dawan Landry
Tavares Gooden
Bart Scott
Jim Leonhard
Chris McAlister
Adalius Thomas
Ed Hartwell
Gary Baxter
Peter Boulware
Jamie Sharper
Duane Starks

On the surface, this is a very impressive list of defensive talent. All are players who greatly contributed to the success of the Ravens over the past decade, yet when you consider their post-Baltimore careers – none have made a major impact on their “second” team.

At least to the point of being worth an expensive free agent contract.

Within this context, the question is whether Kruger is an exception or just the latest in a long line of former Ravens. To add a quality player like Kruger is one thing, but to invest serious free agent money is quite another. Although it’s an unfair criteria, Kruger could be little more than a complementary player on a defense that needs game changers.

THE PICK:
Kruger is a talented player that can now boast championship experience. And certainly there is an allure for the Browns to pull away a player from a hated rival. However, there is also a history of teams doing this exact thing and not getting the results they paid for. In Kruger’s case, his meteoric rise coincides with entry into free agency, which likely suits Newsome just fine.

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As always, leave your thoughts in the COMMENTS section below – good, bad, agree or disagree. For all those who contributed to The Great Mary Kay Debate, thanks for a relevant discussion and as always, thanks for not being dicks.

More later in the week – with hopefully some draft talk from a new guest.

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Comments (16)

  1. rodofdisaster

    However, there is also a history of teams doing this exact thing and not getting the results they paid for.

    This is basically my whole point here. The truth of the matter is that free agency is largely an exercise in overpaying a guy based on his past results. If he’s so good, as you state, why are they letting him go?

    I don’t dislike Paul Kruger and perhaps he doesn’t even need to be as good as he was to be “better than what the Browns have” and worth some money. Just realize you’ll overpay so it doesn’t make sense to wade to deep into free agency in the beginning.

    Fans will get irritated when their team isn’t involved in the 12:01am signing on March 12th but the fact is that, if anything, you should be looking for that second tier free agent first. He’s likely to be far more reasonably priced. Just my opinion.

    • jimkanicki

      this is very true.

      imo, the ravens are fine replacing kruger with upshaw. the steelers are fine going promoting antonio brown to take wallace’s slot.

      what the ravens cant take is losing ellerbe. the steelers want to avoid is losing keenan lewis.

      those are guys to fill holes for us and who their current teams want to keep. that’s the FA to target.

      • I know you’re a fan of Ellerbe, but I also don’t view him as irreplaceable. But then again, I would probably trust Newsome’s judgment – as in if they give Ellerbe some big money, then they must know he is going to be a core guy.

        As for Antonio Brown, I still wonder if the Steelers would have given Wallace the same deal if the situations were reversed. I think Wallace had some people in his ear and/or was freaked out going into a contract year without long-term security.

        • jimkanicki

          in the context of having already lost ray lewis and in looking at their current depth chart and without ellerbe, it’s undrafted Josh Byrnes and 36 year old Brendon Ayanbadejo.. it’s crippling. more so than losing kruger.

          what i’ve read is that wallace wanted 11mm/yr and steelers drew the line at 10. i *believe* the offer to wallace was much higher than the one to a. brown.

          as for my FA priorities, i’d now tweak it to be 1. k. lewis; 2. a. levitre; 3. d. ellerbe.

          • I do like Lewis and the Browns desperately need another (two) corners. Levitre is solid, but I’m not sure how much better he is than what is already on the roster. I would think that if Banner is so cost efficient, then he would see a LOT of money already devoted to the O-Line. Probably doesn’t make it right, but seems realistic. I think Greco can be a solid LG, which leaves Pinkston and Lauvao to fight over RG – unless someone else steps up.

            Again – where have you gone, Billy Yates?

    • TheDriveStillHurts

      Precisely. The free agent stategery of Heckert was often criticized, but I don’t see any free agents that I wished we could get (setting aside obvious guys we were not going to get like Peyton Manning). People were crying for us to sign Mario Williams, Ray Edwards and others. Glad we didn’t.

      Ben Watson, however, was a fantastic free agent signing. A good player who can help out and won’t break the bank. Not flashy or anything but a good signing.

      • jimkanicki

        well… let’s not go crazy on the heckert free agents.

        good: sheldon brown, ben watson, jon greco.
        fair to middlin: alex smith, porkchop womack, chris ogbonnaya.
        incomplete: brandon jackson, chris gocong.
        whiff: usama young, dmitri patterson, tony pashos.
        n/a: seneca wallace.

        • Considering the circumstances, I doubt Heckert could have done much more. I’m still on the record saying Fujita was a total waste, but at least Heckert added some passable starters.

          And Brown and Gocong came over in the Alex Hall trade – which has to go down as one of the best Browns’ trades in recent memory (and one of the worst Eagles’ ones – aka, a huge salary dump).

        • TheDriveStillHurts

          Your data is very off.

          Sheldon Brown, Gocong, and Greco were trades (for garbage picks largely).

          Womack was signed by Mangini (because of that, I am sure you and Frowns will tell us now that he was teh b3st fr33 agent signing evah!!!).

          Ogbonayya was picked up off a practice squad in the middle of the year due to injuries to Hillis and Hardesty.

          You can’t point at bad free agents like Young and Jackson (neither of whom cost anything) and say that they are indicative of bad signings. You need to point to someone we should have signed instead at those positions. Without showing what we could have got for the same price, you show nothing.

          Patterson was a fine cornerback — we don’t know what the story there is.

          Alex Smith and Ben Watson are great free agent pickups — you don’t overpay and you get solid roll players. Give me an example of a good free agent signing of a big-name player in the last few years. There aren’t any (except for Payton Manning).

          • jimkanicki

            crap. this sounds right. apologies.

            i built a database of ‘transactions’ and i admit that a ‘release’ transaction looks like a ‘sign’ transaction.

            but… you still have to answer for Tony Pashos, tom heckert.

          • True – but remember that Pashos was replacing John St. Clair – who was a terrible, terrible right tackle.

          • jimkanicki

            dammit.

            godfather reference. you still have to answer for santino, carlo. annh.. never mind.

    • Nice to hear from you Rod.

      I agree with the second tier strategy – with an occasional allowance for a rare free agent target. I consider Mike Wallace to be in that category. Others may disagree, but he is a game changer that is hard to find in the draft. As for Kruger, I like him – he’s a good player and he would be an upgrade for the Browns. But he’s not a big time free agent at least as for what the money will involve. And I know that the Ravens are in a tight cap spot, but Ozzie doesn’t have a history of overpaying for his own guys – unless they are core guys like Suggs, Ngata and Lewis and Reed.

  2. TheDriveStillHurts

    This guy has Ray Edwards written all over him. He benefited immensely from playing on an extremely good defensive front, and opposite side of a Hall of Fame pass rusher. I like Jabaal Sheard and all, but he is not Suggs or Allen. Pass.

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