Why Paul Kruger Will Be the Biggest Free-Agent Bust of 2013

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMarch 7, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03:  Paul Kruger #99 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after the Ravens won 34-31 against the San Francisco 49ers during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Coming off of a career season in 2012, Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Paul Kruger hits the open market as the top 3-4 "rush" linebacker available in free agency this year.

That sets the four-year veteran up for a very nice payday, but the team that inks Kruger to a fat long-term deal is apt to look back on it a few years from now and wonder what they were thinking.

It's hard to find fault with Kruger's performance in 2012, and his career-high 42 tackles and nine sacks have him set to land a payday that Yahoo! Sports' Jason Cole believes could exceed $10 million a season.

Paying Paul Kruger that much money would be a mistake.

That isn't meant as an indictment of Kruger as a player. After playing mainly in a situational role in his first three seasons, Kruger did very well in his first season as a full-time player. According to Pro Football Focus, Kruger ranked sixth among 3-4 outside linebackers in 2012.

Kruger added another 4.5 sacks in the postseason run that culminated in the Ravens' win in Super Bowl XLVII. According to PFF, there was no better 3-4 outside linebacker in the National Football League last year at pass-rush productivity (which measures measures "pressure created on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks").

Not Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers. Not DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys. Paul Kruger.

That's high praise indeed.

However, if you continue digging, the picture gets quite a bit muddier.

For starters, the 27-year-old didn't hold up nearly as well against the run as he did rushing the passer. Of the 22 3-4 outside linebackers ranked by Pro Football Focus in 2012, Kruger ranked 18th in run-stop percentage.

His tackling efficiency was even worse, ranking 21st out of 22 players.

In other words, Kruger is something of a one-trick pony, and even that trick carried with it a caveat.

Over the first six weeks of the 2012 season, while fellow linebacker Terrell Suggs was sidelined by an Achilles injury, Kruger managed only 1.5 sacks.

That would certainly appear to indicate that when there's another pass-rushing threat on the field, Kruger excels, but when he's subjected to the sorts of constant double-teams that a primary pass-rusher often sees, Kruger struggles.

Add that to the fact that Kruger has only had the one big season, and there's a real possibility that Kruger could be the sort of "one-hit wonder" that has plagued free agency since its inception.

In 2010, defensive end Ray Edwards of the Minnesota Vikings posted eight sacks, his second straight season racking up at least that many playing opposite Jared Allen in Minnesota.

The Atlanta Falcons rewarded Edwards with a five-year, $30 million contract in free agency.

Edwards' production dropped off a cliff in his new digs despite playing with John Abraham, and in less than two seasons Edwards went from free-agent prize to fighting tomato cans as a "professional boxer."

Mind you, I'm not comparing Edwards (whose effort level plummeted along with his production in Atlanta) and Kruger. If we were talking about a contract that averaged $6 million a season for Kruger, I might well be singing a different tune.

We won't be, though. The two teams that have been linked to Kruger in the majority of reports (the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts) are also two of the teams with the most salary cap space this year.

Given each team's need for pass rush help, a bidding war is a real possibility. That's a war where the winner is going to wind up the loser.

Paul Kruger is a good football player. He appears to be a very good pass-rusher.

But he's not $10 million a season good, and some team is going to find that out the hard way.