Updated: March 14, 2006 By Jeremy Green Scouts Inc. Archive
Before the new CBA extension was agreed to, there was a bit of a "sky is falling" mentality surrounding free agency. It appeared that the salary cap was going to be $94.5 million and there weren't going to be a lot of big-money contracts signed.
However, with a new CBA, and a $102 million cap, teams couldn't spend their new dollars quickly enough. There was a fury of signings when free agency started. Ten days into free agency, this has been one of the most active offseasons in recent memory.
Unlike the NFL draft, free agency is a time when teams can get a quick fix, so to speak. Some teams tend to tread lightly (New England Patriots) while others tend to be very active (Washington Redskins).
Unlike the draft, when there is considerable speculation, you are getting more known commodities in free agency. There is not one team in the NFL that doesn't think Terrell Owens and Edgerrin James are excellent players. But it's not always about finding great players, and a lot of times it boils down to finding the right chemistry, which the Redskins have learned the hard way in the past.
With that in mind, we want to take a look at some of the comings and goings over the first 10 days of the free agent signing period.
Best of Class The Cleveland Browns have been pushing all the right buttons this offseason. I love their philosophy of not only adding quality football players, but adding a little "local flair" to it in the process. Center LeCharles Bentley, wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, punter Dave Zastudil, and center Bob Hallen all have ties to the Cleveland area.
For far too many seasons since the Browns have been back, there has not been that solid connection between the organizations and its fans. That will all change this season.
Bentley along with newly-added left tackle Kevin Shaffer will continue to solidify a much-improved offensive line unit.
Jurevicius will not give them as much big play flair as Antonio Bryant (signed with theSan Francisco 49ers), but he is much more consistent. The Browns would like to run a ball-control style of offense based on moving the chains and controlling the clock. Jurevicius will play a key role in the revamped offense.
Hallen is a solid NFL veteran that can provide depth at center and both guard spots.
We talked earlier about controlling the clock. One way to do that is by field position and Zastudil is young and extremely talented.
You also have to like the new stamp second-year head coach Romeo Crennel has been able to put on the organization. Crennel, a Bill Belichick disciple, has been able to go out and get some veteran help on the defensive side of the ball.
In adding outside linebacker Willie McGinest and nose tackle Ted Washington, the Browns have a lot more veteran leadership on defense. This is something Crennel learned from his days in New England and he is now trying to instill that philosophy in Cleveland.
Throw in tight end Darnell Dinkins who is a young player on the rise, and the Browns were clearly the "Best of Class" as it relates to the 2006 free agent singing period.
Quietly Solid A lot has been talked about the moves of some of the more active teams, such as the Browns, Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals. Well, here is a team that hasn't received much ink but is having an excellent offseason.
The Tennessee Titans got things started by restructuring the contract of quarterback Steve McNair. From that point on, the Titans have been on a roll. In acquiring wide receiver David Givens, free safety Chris Hope and outside linebacker David Thornton, Tennessee has added three players in the top 36 on the Scouts Inc. free agency board.
All three players will add a lot of veteran leadership and athleticism to a team that showed a lot of youth in too many key areas last season.
The Titans has only one significant offseason loss in center Justin Hartwig (Carolina). But they quickly filled that void by adding veteran center Kevin Mawae, who will bring a lot more toughness to the position.
The Titans also are hopeful that they can bring back left offensive tackle Brad Hopkins. Hopkins was released due to his salary cap number, but the team would like to have him back. Bringing back Hopkins would solidify the offensive line for the time being and give the Titans numerous options come draft day, when they have the No. 3 overall pick.
Losing Ground in a Hurry For a team that was on the verge of greatness last season, the Indianapolis Colts have left me scratching my head in bewilderment this offseason.
Sure they have re-signed wide receiver Reggie Wayne, defensive end Raheem Brock and often-injured running back Dominic Rhodes, but they have received nothing from outside the organization. The Wayne deal appears to have hamstrung this organization. Don't get me wrong, Wayne is an excellent No. 2 receiver, but was he worth losing James, Thornton (now with the Titans) and defensive tackle Larry Tripplett? I would say no. Now Colts fans are left to wonder what will come of this season.
First and foremost, this team rarely has had success without James in the lineup. When Peyton Manning has struggled in the past, it has often been when opposing teams stuff James. Secondly, the defense always has been a concern and the Colts lost two athletic playmakers and have not replaced them. Thirdly, one of the biggest areas of concern for the Colts has been at cornerback and no additions have been made there this offseason.
At one point last season the Colts were striving for 16-0. They won't have to worry about that this season. They are still a talented football team, but this is a team striving for 11-5 or 12-4, not perfection.
Shift of Power The Patriots have owned the AFC East, but that may be coming to an end. While New England has been waiting for the market to come down, the Miami Dolphins have been plugging right along.
The bottom line is this: At the end of last season, Miami was a better team than the Pats. With six straight wins to finish last season and a solid offseason, the Dolphins are waving to the Patriots in their rear view mirror.
Other than the acquisition of QB Daunte Culpepper, the Dolphins class lacks star power. That doesn't meant they didn't find some quality players, though. One of the biggest concerns was cornerback play and the team has addressed the position by adding Will Allen (N.Y. Giants), Andre' Goodman (Detroit Lions) and Renaldo Hill (Oakland Raiders). This group will add a lot of athleticism on the outside.
The team also added outside linebacker Sedrick Hodge (New Orleans Saints) who has a ton of talent, and might benefit from a change of scenery.
Throw in tight end Justin Peelle (San Diego Chargers) who will complement the athletic Randy McMichael and you are talking about the hottest team at the end of last season making some excellent strides.
The Patriots on the other hand have made only one move in the free-agent market, adding wide receiver Reche Caldwell (San Diego), who is not in the same class as the receiver they had in Givens.
You add that to losing McGinest and potentially losing guard Stephen Neal, offensive tackle Tom Ashworth and place-kicker Adam Vinatieri and this offseason can be described only as disastrous so far for the Patriots.
Now that we have talked about the team awards, it is time to address the individual honors.
Immediate Impact No player's presence will be felt like that of James in Arizona. The Cardinals' new starting running back already has the Valley buzzing. Ticket sales are up, spirits are up, and for the first time in a long time, the Cardinals appear poised to make a playoff run.
The Cardinals offense finished the 2005 season ranked eighth in the NFL. However, that number is very deceiving. They ranked first in passing and 32nd in rushing. They were also ranked 31st in red zone offense. The Cardinals were in a number of close games last season and lost for two main reasons. First, they could not run out the clock when playing with the lead late. Secondly, they had the ball late with numerous chances to win but needed touchdowns instead of field goals because of their inability to convert in the red zone early in games. It's much easier to come back late when all you need is a field goal.
James will give the Cardinals offense much-needed balance. He also will bring a winning attitude to the locker room, which will be as important as everything he will bring on the playing field.
With James, in the mix, the Cardinals have the potential to be the most explosive offense in the NFL in 2006.
Bust Potential The most questionable decision this offseason was the move made by agent Tom Condon and QB Drew Brees. In Condon's desire to drive up the market, his client is the one who could suffer the most. Brees would have been a perfect fit in Miami, instead, he will be wearing a Saints uniform this season. Rarely is it a good thing when an agent and player choose "money" over "winning."
Hey, I like Sean Payton and think he eventually will get the Saints going in the right direction. Miami, on the other hand, is playoff ready, and has a solid chance to win the AFC East next season.
Brees will have to shoulder the load as "the guy" in New Orleans, something he did not have to do in San Diego where he had an excellent supporting cast. In Miami, Brees could have been a cog in the offense, in New Orleans, he might have to be the offense.
Brees' overall success will be determined by wins and losses. Anything short of getting the Saints to the playoffs in the next two seasons will be deemed a failure. While Brees might be game, the supporting cast needs a serious makeover and ultimately will reflect whether he was the right fit in New Orleans.
Combustible Situation You can't talk free agency and not bring up Terrell Owens . Who ever thought we would see Owens in a Dallas Cowboysuniform? This was the guy that desecrated the famous star in the middle of Texas Stadium. Well buckle up Cowboys fans, because Owens is now your problem.
Is he talented? Yes. Will he make plays every Sunday? Yes. Will he and Drew Bledsoe despise each other before it all ends in Dallas? Yes. See, there is no QB that T.O. has ever been able to get along with. Young, Garcia, McNabb, it doesn't matter.
If Bledsoe was sick of getting an earful from Keyshawn Johnson, he better bring his earplugs on game day. Johnson is a saint compared to Owens.
For the sake of everyone involved -- me, you, the Cowboys' front office and everyone else who is tired of hearing about T.O. -- lets hope the Cowboys get off to a good start. If they don't, this thing is going to blow sky-high.
The Leftovers Two names that come to mind are cornerbacks Ty Law and Charles Woodson. In the case of Woodson it is a little more understandable. He is a player, who "quit" at times in Oakland and has been saddled with some off-field issues.
Law, on the other hand, is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. The feisty veteran tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with 10. He is a player who will get out of position at times but he also brings that big-play flair to the table.
At this point of free agency both Law and Woodson could be looking at one-year deals. Both would be wise to look to take those deals with teams that have the potential to be Super Bowl contenders. This will make them more visible and potentially increase their value next offseason.
Jeremy Green has been an NFL scout for 10 years. Most recently, he was director of pro personnel for the Cleveland Browns.