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Free agency winners and losers

Postby The Lung » Tue Mar 21, 2006 2:22 pm


The NFL free-agency season that seemed like it would never start is 10 days old, and with teams enjoying an almost $17 million increase in the salary cap, there has been plenty of money and plenty of movement on all fronts.

Here's our near-instant analysis of the teams that have bettered themselves the most in this past week and a half -- either through free-agent signings or some high-profile trades -- and those who have lost the most ground as we head for April and the NFL Draft:


1. Minnesota: I seem to recall the Vikings had a well-received free-agency season last year as well, but it didn't translate into a big payoff in 2005. But with their huge cushion under the salary cap, they went right back to work this year, scoring with the signings of Green Bay kicker Ryan Longwell (who's an upgrade over Paul Edinger), Baltimore running back Chester Taylor and their own free-agent receiver, Koren Robinson.

The Vikings' haul jumped a notch once Seattle was unwilling to match Minnesota's creative offer to Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson, who cements an offensive line in need of another blue-chipper. Say what you will about getting "only'' a second-round pick in trade from Miami for Daunte Culpepper, but the Vikings were fortunate to manage even that after their onetime franchise quarterback self-destructed before our eyes over the past six months.

Minnesota had an addition by subtraction in losing inconsistent running back Michael Bennett to New Orleans, and it also won't be hurt too much by the defections of safety Corey Chavous to St. Louis and cornerback Brian Williams to Jacksonville. Linebacker Ben Leber and guard Jason Whittle were decent second-tier signings, and the Vikings also retained safety WillieOfford.

2. Tennessee: After two uncharacteristically lean years in Tennessee, the Titans are beginning to emerge from their down cycle. Limited by their cap constraints in recent offseasons, the Titans were aggressive early in free agency this year, with headline additions on both sides of the ball. On offense, Tennessee addressed a weak spot by giving Patriots wideout DavidGivens No. 1 WR money (five years, $24 million) despite his not yet producing at first-receiver levels. Did they overpay? Probably, but they had to win this particular auction.

Veteran center Kevin Mawae, the ex-Jet, also could be an upgrade if he returns to health after an injury-marred 2005. Mawae has 12 years of wear and tear on him, but he'll be worth the investment if the Titans can get two or three more solid seasons from him.

On defense, the Titans secured a pair of young players with growth potential under the coaching of coordinator Jim Schwartz. Steelers safety Chris Hope and Colts linebacker David Thornton are the kind of free agents teams prioritize: Four-year veterans who are experienced enough to make an impact right away but are just entering their prime.

3. Dallas: One lone big addition is responsible for the Cowboys making our winners list, and here's a hint: His name includes a T and an O. Terrell Owens might not be the Cowboys' ticket to the Super Bowl like he was for Philly, but how often do you get the chance to ramp up a mediocre receiving corps with one of the game's top three playmakers?

Owens will threaten the defense throughout a game and make opposing teams game-plan for him. The Cowboys haven't had a player like that on offense since The Triplets were in their glory days. If Owens has the good sense to stay between the margins in terms of his behavior, Dallas will have the most impactful signing of the 2006 free-agency season.

The Cowboys also landed a decent linebacker in Jacksonville's AkinAyodele and prepared for the possible release of Larry Allen by re-signing guard Andre Gurode, adding Jets tackle Jason Fabini and picking up Lions guard-tackle Kyle Kosier.

4. Carolina: The Panthers pilfered one of the hidden jewels of this free-agent class, signing talented defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu away from Baltimore, which was desperately hoping to retain the 6-foot-5, 350-pound run-stuffer. That addition offsets the loss of Panthers outside linebacker Will Witherspoon, who went to St. Louis and was the top available prospect at his position.

Carolina also scored nice free-agent triumphs in retaining two of their own: running back DeShaun Foster and backup quarterback Chris Weinke, who won a key game last season in JakeDelhomme's absence. Safety Shaun Williams, the ex-Giant, was productive for John Fox when both were in New York, and Fox also thought underachieving Rams defensive tackle Damione Lewis was worth gambling on.

5. Cleveland: Year 2 of the Romeo Crennel-Phil Savage era got off to a hopeful start in free agency, with the Browns addressing their subpar offensive line with two signings: Saints Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley and Falcons tackle Kevin Shaffer. But the cap-rich Browns didn't quit there. Ravens punter Dave Zastudil, Raiders nose tackle Ted Washington and Seahawks receiver Joe Jurevicius are all solid pieces of the puzzle the Browns are assembling.

But the tone-setting move Cleveland is proudest of is the luring of Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest to play for Crennel, his former defensive coordinator in New England. Although general manager Savage lapsed into hyperbole, comparing the McGinest signing with Green Bay's landing Reggie White in 1993, McGinest brings undeniable credibility to the struggling Browns. His locker-room leadership and playoff experience is of real value, and he'll also be a playmaker in the 3-4 defense that Crennel employs.

The Browns also wisely locked up their own underrated defensive end OrpheusRoye before free agency began, retaining the versatile veteran who can play inside and out. Cleveland's free-agent losses were negligible: receiver Antonio Bryant, linebacker Kenard Lang, offensive tackle L.J. Shelton and tight end Aaron Shea.


• New Orleans: For landing Chargers quarterback Drew Brees against all odds. The Saints saved themselves from having to select USC quarterback Matt Leinart with the No. 2 pick, which would have cost them a $25 million signing bonus and necessitated two or three years of patience during his development.

•New York Giants: For successfully mining the middle tiers of free agency for starting players such as cornerback Sam Madison and safety Will Demps, and decent depth in cornerback R.W. McQuarters.

•Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals still need to address their shabby offensive line, but getting Edgerrin James gives them the star-attraction No. 1 running back they have lacked since Terry Metcalf was doing a little bit of everything in St. Louis. And unlike the cosmetic Emmitt Smith signing, adding James has re-ignited fan interest and sold tickets.


1. New England: No matter how much respect we have for the Patriots' acumen when it comes to sound decision-making on the personnel front, it's impossible to grade their offseason as anything but a minus. McGinest left for Cleveland, and Givens took Tennessee's generous offer and ran with it.

Those were the big-name losses, but there were other subtractions as well. Handy reserve tight end Christian Fauria cashed in on the spending spree in Washington, special teamer Matt Chatham left for more playing time with the Jets, and receiver Andre Davis is now a Bill. If kicker Adam Vinatieri gets away, even the most ardent among the Patriots faithful will begin to waver.

Despite having $20 million of cap room to maneuver, New England's only free-agent addition has been San Diego receiver RecheCaldwell, who was a disappointment as a Charger.

2. Miami: Everything was in place for the Dolphins to wine, dine and recruit Drew Brees, but somehow the pair never made it to the altar. Blanching at his $10 million per year price tag, Miami instead opted for the riskier move, trading a second-round draft pick to Minnesota for Culpepper. The Brees versus Culpepper choice is one that may have ramifications for years to come. Brees is younger and coming off his two finest NFL seasons. Culpepper is an enigma and coming off the kind of year that makes you question if he'll ever again reach the heights he did in 2004.

Besides the Culpepper acquisition, the Dolphins have been bit players in this month's personnel shopping, snapping up Giants cornerback Will Allen to replace Sam Madison (who took Allen's spot in New York) and adding the likes of offensive tackle L.J. Shelton, cornerback Renaldo Hill and linebacker Sedrick Hodge. Other than Madison, notable losses include their former starting quarterback Gus Frerotte (St. Louis) and backup Sage Rosenfels (Houston), leaving the unknown Cleo Lemon behind the still-rehabilitating Culpepper.

3. San Diego: Much like the Cowboys on the winners list, the Chargers earned this designation by virtue of one very questionable move: letting Brees walk away to New Orleans for nothing in return. Despite winning 21 games in the past two seasons and having the unequivocal support of his head coach and teammates, Brees lost out to the unproven Philip Rivers, the first-round pick who has sat idly by and watched Brees develop into a polished star.

This was Chargers general manager A.J. Smith's gamble, and he'd better be right about Rivers, because Brees already has proven him wrong once in his Chargers tenure.

4. Washington: The Redskins were saved from salary-cap hell by the new CBA extension, which freed up another $7 million-plus of cap space, allowing them to avoid having to dismantle their roster. So what do they do? Rush right out and get themselves mortgaged back up to the gills, tossing out a staggering $31.8 million, six-year contract to the Rams' Adam Archuleta, making him the richest safety in NFL history.

Receiver Antwaan Randle El and linebacker Andre Carter also got hefty deals, and Washington opted to send both a third- and fourth-round pick to San Francisco in exchange for inconsistent receiver Brandon Lloyd. Even reserve tight end Fauria and backup quarterback Todd Collins got in on the money train.

The Redskins' set-the-market contracts are bound to catch up to them one day. My guess is it'll be after head coach Joe Gibbs calls it a career for a second time, in a year or two.

5. Pittsburgh: As they always do in free agency, the Steelers have picked and chosen, trying to keep some of their own but willing to lose a starter when the bidding gets too rich for their blood. For the most part, that approach has always worked. But you wonder if the Super Bowl champions won't miss Randle El more than they expect, especially his versatility. They may view Cedrick Wilson as a viable replacement as a No. 2 receiver, but there really isn't another Randle El in this year's draft, which could leave the Steelers struggling to fill a void.

In the secondary, the loss of the safety Hope to Tennessee could also have an impact. Pittsburgh's cornerbacks haven't been a strength, shifting much of the burden to Hope and Troy Polamalu. If Pittsburgh can't get another player who complements the free-wheeling Polamalu as well as Hope did, that'll be a setback for DickLeBeau's unit.

Lastly, losing Tommy Maddox doesn't sound crucial. But with starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger having been somewhat susceptible to injury in his first two seasons, do you really want to trust the Steelers' season to backup quarterback Charlie Batch? There are steady veterans still available, but they're going fast and Pittsburgh doesn't seem to be in the market for one.


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Postby logan » Tue Mar 21, 2006 2:33 pm

pretty good analysis. don't know if i would throw miami in the losers column just yet as i would put them in the middle right now depending on how cpepp turns out.
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Postby mattb47 » Tue Mar 21, 2006 2:41 pm

I also think that although Washington has spent a lot this offseason, they've made some solid signings and I don't think they should be in the losers column either. Personally, I think the 49ers deserve to be #1 in the losers column....they've done nothing but lose players this offseason and signed Antonio Bryant, who I've personally never been real impressed with.
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Postby VaderFin » Tue Mar 21, 2006 2:47 pm

Miami has lost Madison, Rosenfels, Frerotte, and McIntosh not exactly crushing blows there.
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Re: Free agency winners and losers

Postby steelerfan513 » Tue Mar 21, 2006 2:49 pm

The Lung wrote:From:

Lastly, losing Tommy Maddox doesn't sound crucial. But with starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger having been somewhat susceptible to injury in his first two seasons, do you really want to trust the Steelers' season to backup quarterback Charlie Batch? There are steady veterans still available, but they're going fast and Pittsburgh doesn't seem to be in the market for one.

didnt this guy see the way maddox losing games for the steelers versus charlie winning them??? the steelers can replace him with a 7th round draft pick. and anyone is susceptible to injury when you have a 300-lb lineman hurled into your leg. just look at carson palmer.

also, the dolphins arent losers just because they got daunte culpepper instead of drew brees.
Last edited by steelerfan513 on Tue Mar 21, 2006 7:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby petedog9 » Tue Mar 21, 2006 2:53 pm

Pitssburgh losing Tommy Maddox makes them an instant FA winner in my book! ;-D Batch was 10x better then him last year.

I would not have wanted Pittsburgh to come anywhere close to paying Randel El what he got in Washington. He was not that big of a part of the offense. Hope hurt a little but lets see what Clark can do. I still think they might pickup a vet FA WR and / or RB somewhere down the line. A bargain priced player.

I guess these guys have to write about something......
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Postby mikus » Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:03 pm

Hahaha, I am waiting for all the Miami fans to come out and blast this columnist. But technically, C-Pepp was not a free agent aquisition (he came as a trade). So maybe that is why he put them on here, b/c they have not really gone out too hard in free agency.

Regardless though, I think they improved by adding Culpepper, and they will be rated as "winners" on other lists I am sure.
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Postby J2thez929 » Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:11 pm

I agree with the majority.

Miami should be considered a winner if they are going to rate them b/c getting C-Pepp for a 2nd rounder is a great deal for the Phins.

Also, losing Maddox is definately not a loss for Pittsburgh. When he plays, they lose games so it's definately addition by subtraction.

Another winner, IMO is Arizona. They definately should be a winner by signing Edge. This finally will make their offense dynamic if they can get a few solid o-line guys from the upcoming draft.
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Postby maddog60 » Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:11 pm

Putting either Miami or Washington in the losers column this year is ridiculous. Washington especially, seeing how the added cap room took them from cap hell to signing some of the top talent out there and more than just addressing all major needs.

That being said, Minnesota is not the biggest winner. Any team that creates a huge hole at QB takes a hit, though everything else has been great for them. Carolina too, didn't do that good. Foster isn't the most reliable RB, so I don't see his return as big as if they had gone out and gotten Jamal Lewis, and they lost Witherspoon. I'd say they had a fairly average FA.
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Postby water boy » Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:16 pm

I can't see how the 49ers are not on that list,we lost JPeterson,A Carter and Lloyd

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