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How in-season Signings Affect NFL Betting Markets

Stephon Gilmore, Richard Sherman, and Josh Gordon all have new homes. Here’s what NFL bettors need to know.

During the NFL season, there aren’t many big-name players switching teams. But trades and free-agent signings still happen regularly. Most of the players don’t move the needle by a lot, but a few players are worth accounting for – either by downgrading their former team or by upgrading their new one. A few more prominent names have recently changed jerseys, and bettors need to figure out just how much weight these guys carry.

Let’s dig into it.

A few days before Week 4’s Sunday Night Football game in New England – Tom Brady’s Foxboro homecoming – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went out and signed former All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. The 33-year-old played an elite season in 2019 with the San Francisco 49ers when the team made the Super Bowl only to come short against the Chiefs. In 2020, the Niners suffered from significant injuries, including Sherman himself.

He only played 332 total snaps that season, and had been a free agent until only recently. So, the question is this: What impact will Sherman have on the Bucs’ defense, and what does that subsequently mean for football bettors?

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Sherman & Gilmore: The Cornerback Shuffle

First of all, it’s what Sherman brings to the table as an individual player. At 33 and a half years old, it’s safe to say that his best years are behind him. Speed is not very important, but cornerback is a position that lives a lot of athleticism which instincts can compensate to a certain degree. The age curve for athletes is natural, and Sherman would be an outlier if he could play at an elite level in 2021.

But in the big picture, he brings leadership, experience, anticipation, and technical skills to that position – something the Bucs desperately need. 

And here’s the confounding problem for the Bucs: Their original starting cornerback corps Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis, and Sean Murphy-Bunting is all injured. This week, guys like Ross Cockrell and former undrafted free agent Dee Delaney will play next to Sherman against the Miami Dolphins. I would see a minor upgrade for the Bucs if Sherman was the CB2 or CB3, but it’s irrelevant because of the cluster of injuries at that position. Even if Sherman plays well, we might not realize it on the team level when offenses attack that secondary. The context of the situation is essential.

Speaking of age curves for cornerbacks, Stephon Gilmore got traded from the Patriots to the Panthers. He’s also on the wrong side of age 30; he just turned 31 last month, but is still about two and a half years Sherman’s junior. Comparatively, Gilmore is likelier to reach or come close to his former All-Pro level. The former Defensive Player of the Year has been dealing with some injuries, which limited his 2020 campaign and put him on the PUP list to start 2021.

I’m more willing to upgrade the Panthers on the team level for Gilmore once he returns to the football field. Putting him alongside Jaycee Horn, Donte Jackson, and CJ Henderson, the Panthers could have an intriguing cornerback group going forward. 

Room for Improvement on KC’s Offense?

Josh Gordon is back. The wideout has joining the Chiefs’ active roster and will make his debut against the Bills this week.

“Flash” led the league in receiving yards in 2013 despite having to catch passes from guys like Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, and Brian Hoyer. His talent was undeniable in those early stages of his career, but since 2013, he struggled to stay on NFL rosters due to several violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.

In 2018 and 2019, he caught 60 passes for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns in 17 games alongside Tom Brady in New England. At 30 years old, he should have something left in the tank to help an NFL offense.

I like the fit with the Chiefs because he will be a complementary piece as the No. 3 or No. 4 receiving option after Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Mecole Hardman. The Chiefs hadn’t had a go-to second option at wideout behind Hill, as Sammy Watkins had been dealing with injuries before he left for Baltimore. Gordon can be that kind of perimeter threat that provides Patrick Mahomes another reliable target — and allows Andy Reid to get more creative with the rest of the guys.

I’d tend to make a minor upgrade or wait to see how it plays out. To be fair, the Chiefs offense is already leading the league in EPA (expected points added) per play by some distance — despite committing the third-most turnovers — so there’s not a lot of room to improve to begin with.

But Gordon might prove himself valuable down the stretch.

A Dream for Offensive Coordinators

Someone who doesn’t move the needle from a projection standpoint? Linebacker Jaylon Smith, who was cut by Dallas and immediately signed with the Packers.

The linebacker position is devalued in today’s NFL. It’s hard to make an impact at the position; there are only a few true difference-makers like Fred Warner, Bobby Wagner, Eric Kendricks, and Matt Milano.

The transition from college to pro is extremely tough for linebackers, as offensive coordinators prioritize developing plays to exploit weaknesses in the middle of the field. Run-pass options are designed – among other reasons – to counter the first reaction of linebackers. 

Competent offensive coordinators often put linebackers in bad spots. A good linebacker needs to have some speed, athleticism, excel in zone coverage, and not look stupid against the run. A guy like Fred Warner sees the field very well, can cover a lot of ground, and disrupt deep post routes. That’s a unique skill set that not many linebackers possess.

Jaylon Smith had an up-and-down career at Dallas, but he never belonged in the top-tier of linebackers – or close to it. And there’s a reason why Dallas let him go.