The initial free agency frenzy is over, so let’s take a step back and look at the biggest winners and losers in free agency thus far.
Denver Broncos: By all indications, as of today, the Broncos have won the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. Tebowmania is officially done, despite an AFC West championship. Tebow’s play ranged from awe-inspiring to downright awful, but given the small sample size, many expected Tebow would carry the job going forward. John Elway promised Tebow the job entering training camp shortly following the conclusion of Denver’s season. So much for that.
Manning should immediately improve one of the league’s least productive passing offenses and make Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas intriguing fantasy options going forward. If Manning’s healthy and ready to play, they’re going to be a tough out. If not, Elway may need to find a new savior.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sure, they entered the offseason with the most money to play with, but that didn’t necessarily guarantee the Bucs anything. However, they picked up a pair of Pro Bowl-caliber offensive players in Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks, along with a serviceable DB in Eric Wright, adding a trio of veterans to one of the league’s youngest teams.
Jackson caught 60 balls for 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns for San Diego last season and gives Josh Freeman a much-needed, definitive No. 1 target. Nicks may be the top left guard in the NFL, a terrific coup for Tampa to steal him away from division rival New Orleans. He’ll pair with fellow Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph to form the league’s top tandem. Wright will provide depth and may end up starting, depending on Aqib Talib’s legal standing by September.
Philadelphia Eagles: In a completely different approach from last offseason, the Eagles have been relatively quiet in terms of acquiring outside players. However, Philly has been effective in locking up key pieces to their team to new contracts, most notably and surprisingly DeSean Jackson. After placing the franchise tag on the free-agent-to-be, the Eagles rewarded the outspoken receiver with a five-year, $51 million deal.
The Eagles also re-upped defensive end Trent Cole and offensive lineman Todd Herremans, while re-signing free agent guard Evan Mathis as well. On Tuesday, the Eagles bolstered their back seven by adding tackling machine DeMeco Ryans in a trade with the Houston Texans. Ryans, who did not fit Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme, instantly becomes the team’s anchor in the middle. With a full offseason to build chemistry, the Eagles will look to build on their momentum at the end of last season. They won their final four games to finish second in the NFC East.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills made the offseason message crystal clear; Mario Williams was their No. 1 priority. Give the small-market team the credit they’re due for going out, being the first to speak with Williams and then not let him leave town without a job. They knew they would have to spend big money to land one of the top sack artists in the league, and they did so with surprising ease – $60 million guaranteed.
He joins Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams to form what could be a very formidable defensive lineman tandem. But, the Bills also re-signed top wide receiver Stevie Johnson, tight end Scott Chandler and linebacker Kirk Morrison. Johnson made it well-known that he wanted to return to Buffalo if given the right amount. It would have been tough for Buffalo to replace Johnson’s 1,004 yards and seven scores.
St. Louis Rams: Despite the Rams’ huge step back in 2011, there appears to be a feeling of optimism going forward. They capitalized on a quarterback-hungry market and added two future first-round picks from the Washington Redskins, trading down to No. 6 overall. They also added a pair of players who were among the best at positions of major need.
Cortland Finnegan followed former head coach Jeff Fisher to the Gateway to the West, signing a five-year, $50 million deal. The Rams’ secondary was decimated by injuries last season, and both starters were lost for the season early on. Finnegan will bring an attitude and toughness to a team that ranked next-to-last against the run. The Rams then added center Scott Wells from Green Bay to take over for the disappointing Jason Brown. Protecting Sam Bradford going forward will be paramount.
Next up: maybe giving the guy a receiver or two.
Miami Dolphins: This offseason has gone about as poorly as any Dolphins fan could have imagined. Where to begin? On the opening day of free agency, the Dolphins stunningly dealt Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall to the Bears for a pair of third-round picks. By contrast, they gave up two second-round picks to Denver to get Marshall. Next, the Dolphins struck out on both Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn and instead settled on former Jaguars QB David Garrard. In order to do so, they cut starting safety Yeremiah Bell to relieve nearly $4 million of cap space. The Dolphins have not looked this incompetent from the top down since drafting Ted Ginn in the top ten.
Washington Redskins: Only the Redskins could shell out enormous sums of money and still be stuck where they started. Let me elaborate. The Redskins had a series of goals to accomplish before the draft – namely, find a quarterback, add a No. 1 receiver for him, improve the offensive line, re-sign London Fletcher and fix the secondary. Simple, right? Well of the following, the Redskins have truly solved one of those problems. P
ierre Garcon and Josh Morgan are nice players, but both are secondary targets. Garcon received a big contract, five years and $42.5 million. Daniel Snyder has not signed a starting lineman or given Fletcher a new deal yet. Oh, and to solve said quarterback issue, he mortgaged the future for Robert Griffin III by handing the Rams two first-round picks.
Cleveland Browns: Seriously, what are the Browns doing right now? The team that may collectively have the least offensive talent in the league just saw its Madden cover boy move to Kansas City. The Browns have major holes at just about every spot aside from left tackle and have done nothing whatsoever. They allowed the Redskins to leapfrog them for RG3 and are now in a vulnerable position at No. 4. Do they trade down again and stockpile picks, or do they draft the best offensive player available in Alabama RB Trent Richardson?
Arizona Cardinals: Another team that struck out in the Manning mania, the Cardinals are still stuck with Kevin Kolb and his massive contract. Certainly, Kolb would have garnered some interest should he have become available, and Manning would have had the perfect player to throw to in Larry Fitzgerald. But, the reality is that the Cardinals are still the third best team in a weak NFC West. They also replaced former first-rounder Levi Brown with San Fran backup Adam Snyder and lost starting cornerback Richard Marshall to free agency.
Oakland Raiders: The cap-strapped Raiders have had a rough time of trying to reach the salary cap ceiling, being forced to cut a couple of their top defensive players in the process – cornerback Stanford Routt and outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. Routt signed with the rival Chiefs, and the Raiders have not really been able to answer back. To make matters worse, the Bengals will reap the benefits of the Raiders’ top pick this season thanks to Carson Palmer. Also, the other teams in their division have improved markedly too.
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