By The Man on the Inside
The first stage of the SFL off-season (the re-signing period) has quickly been and gone, with over half of the league’s stars deciding to stay with their respective teams. A week on from the post re-signing roster lock, our ‘Man on the Inside’ – or Mr. Free Agency as he has been called – has cast his eye over the announced signings to see who is currently winning the free agency battle. Let’s see what he thought.
(Author’s note: This article was written before the re-signing of Colin Hart and any other signing after that.)
The Baltimore Vultures Defense
I already like Baltimore’s chances to knock Alaska off the top spot this season. To tell the truth, I’ve been a fan of the Vultures for a long time. I picked them to take it all last season (consequently beating the Storm in the Championship decider) and was shocked to see them lose at home to a low-scoring – albeit extremely tough – Mexico City squad. In the end, it was defense that let them down, conceding 33 points to an Aztec offense that was, at best, hit and miss. Alas, I see this being an issue no longer. Baltimore have completely locked up the defensive side of the ball for Season 12, signing 6 returning stars to contracts with a value of 62 or above. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Vultures’ D was bad in Season 11. Rookies Aman Takess and Kaz McFly played superbly, and safety Giovanni Bolt put his name in the hat for DPOTS. The difference this time is that every facet of the defense looks improved. McFly and Takess have a season of experience under their belts and both have signed large contracts, and crafty veterans Dazzo and Tony Willis also return, signing at solid bronze level values themselves. The old adage goes that ‘defense wins championships’, and with the unit the Vultures have managed to retain, that trophy must seem closer than ever.
There weren’t many rookies that impressed me more than Siege Falco did in Season 11. The Atlanta wide receiver was taken in the second round of the draft to give #10 overall pick, Marcus Dunhill, a deep threat to throw to. Falco would take the field as the number 2 receiver on the depth chart, opposite the experienced Boo Chisholm, and take the league by storm. So much more than just a deep route runner, Falco caught 79 passes for over 1300 yards and 5 scores, finishing the season with 16.7 yards per catch. The rookie’s speed and athleticism proved to be too much for defenses to handle, and Atlanta clearly made re-signing him a number 1 priority. Entering his second season, the 6’4 receiver has been rewarded for his exceptional play by taking the #1 spot on the Swarm’s depth chart and signing the second-highest contract for a pass-catcher in the SFL, at a value of just over 97. It appears that a changing of the guard is taking place in Atlanta, and Falco displacing Boo on the depth chart is the perfect illustration of that.
The ‘3-Digit Contract’ Club
There’s something about the signing of a huge contract that gives free agency a little extra spice. A big contract turns heads, causes discussion, raises more questions than answers. For the player getting paid, it can serve as validation for years of grind and hours of work put in, although it doesn’t always translate into on-field performance (take Nathan Lee in London as an example). I find it all the more special when a loyal veteran gets rewarded with a great deal, showing just how far a franchise is willing to go to keep that player. So far this off-season, 6 ‘three digit’ contracts have been penned, unsurprisingly going to quarterbacks and offensive skill positions. The largest deal has been placed in the capable hands of San Francisco wide receiver, Gabriel Manning, who is being rewarded for his Pro Bowl worthy season. When a player is the face of your franchise, and is willing to stay despite a lack of success, value gets exchanged. Manning is joined in the ‘100-club’ by young Carolina receiver, Harish Prasad, a player who brought a breath of fresh air to the Skyhawks’ passing game in Season 11 and should look to become one of the league’s elite talents going forwards. Robert Redford, Denzel Diaz and Warren Murray are the running backs holding the big deals, with the Las Vegas rusher heading the trio at a value of 107.65. He will hope to have a third straight solid year whilst Houston’s Murray will want to bounce back after a bit of a down season. Oklahoma City signal-caller Deacon Nickens boasts the highest quarterback contract so far, the Renegades clearly feeling that investment in their young stud is the best route back to the playoffs, and rightly so. I expect more huge deals to drop this off-season. There will be fireworks a-plenty.
E.T. King had somewhat of a resurgence in Season 11 after Chicago spent Season 10 propping up most of the league. King led the Wildcats back to the playoffs, striking up a nice relationship with mid-season signings, Jared Willis, JC Torres and Buchanon Simons. Shann Varner’s men cleared out the deadwood of previous campaigns and brought in some much-needed fresh blood, much to King’s benefit. The next step was to try to retain the three young studs who would surely gain interest from around the league. Varner and his staff did just that, penning Willis and Torres to nice silver contracts and Simons to a solid bronze value. King is currently reaching the twilight of his prime, Season 12 being the 5th of a mostly stellar career. Having a full off-season to build cohesion with this talented group could see King having his best season yet, potentially leading his ‘Cats to a second championship appearance.
The Alaska Storm’s Offensive Backfield
Unless you’ve been living under a rather large rock, you’ll know that the Alaska Storm were virtually unbeatable last season. Teams got close (sorry Las Vegas) but the Alaska juggernaut always seemed to find a way. Despite this dominance, the one weakness (if you can call it that) to the Storm’s game was the lack of rushing yards. Obviously, this can be attributed to the fact that they rolled with a generic halfback and a star fullback – Jason Williams actually performed his role magnificently. As good as Stanley Nordellus is as a non-contracted player, he simply can’t compete with star rushers on a season long basis. So, what does Max Paul do? He ramps up the fear factor that every team has of the Storm and converts touchdown machine, Robert Merrill, into a halfback, with a silver contract to boot. Not only that, but Paul also saw fit to re-sign Jason Williams at the fullback position, giving Alaska a potentially unstoppable ‘thunder and lightning’ 1-2 punch. Interestingly enough, the last team to show an offence carrying two stars in the backfield was Season 10’s Tallahassee team. For those that can remember, the Pride’s threat on the ground opened up the passing game massively, with Christian Christiansen having the best season by a QB in recent memory. I’d be a fool if I didn’t think Ron Cockren and Optimus Cline couldn’t team up to do the same thing. Long story short: Alaska just got a whole lot scarier.