Here it is; another Lion stroke job
By John Clayton
Free agency zipped by with about 100 signings in March. The pace of trades continued hot and heavy with a record 28 going down during the draft.
Don't expect much from the June 1 cap casualty list. That's been a fading market for the past few years as teams continue to get better at managing their caps. Already, some of the 16 potential casualties are being spoken for -- Broncos defensive tackle Daryl Gardener is headed to Cincinnati and Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde is likely going to Dallas. It's not out of the question for Redskins linebacker Jeremiah Trotter to go back to the Eagles and Rams quarterback Kurt Warner to land in Chicago with Lovie Smith. That leaves Falcons cornerback Tyrone Williams, Packers defensive end Joe Johnson, 49ers safety Zack Bronson, Bucs tackle Kenyatta Walker and a few others.
So, for the most part, rosters are set. With the draft concluded and little left in free agency, here's who did the best this offseason.
Roy Williams will give the Lions another young playmaker at receiver.
1. Detroit Lions. Sure, the Lions have had the farthest to go. It's been three tough years for general manager Matt Millen. The draft, though, put the Lions back on the map. After the failed experiment of trying to fix the receiving corps with Bill Schroeder and Az Hakim, the Lions have studs and speed on the outside, adding first-round choice Roy Williams to go with last year's top choice Charles Rogers, who looked a touch faster in camp. Kevin Jones gives the Lions the explosiveness from the backfield they've been missing. Tai Streets isn't a bad addition at split end. Hakim can still work the slot. Damien Woody adds more attitude on the offensive line. Fernando Bryant complements Pro Bowl cornerback Dre' Bly. The Lions still may be a year away from a playoff run, but they have a chance to be more competitive as long as Joey Harrington comes along.
2. Oakland Raiders. The hardest challenge was fixing both lines. For that, the Raiders exceeded expectations. Ted Washington and Warren Sapp add strength and play-making ability at defensive tackle. The offensive line has more players than roster spots with the additions of Robert Gallery, Jake Grove and Ron Stone. There's more depth in the secondary with safety Ray Buchanan and cornerback Denard Walker. Danny Clark will help at inside linebacker in the 3-4. Dwayne Rudd was a good outside linebacker acquisition. The Raiders didn't get the stud young receiver, but there wouldn't have been much playing time available any way. Too bad the Raiders didn't get the Corey Dillon trade done because that would have completed the perfect offseason.
3. Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons' moves were strategic and successful. Roderick Coleman is the perfect playmaker from the defensive tackle position in the switch to the 4-3. The cornerback position is completely revamped with DeAngelo Hall, Jason Webster and Aaron Beasley. The Falcons didn't get Roy Williams in the draft, but they made up for it by getting Michael Jenkins in the first round and Dez White in free agency to go with Peerless Price. Still, Jim Mora's best acquisition was offensive line coach Alex Gibbs, who is doing miracles with his no-name unit.
4. Washington Redskins. Dan Snyder's best money was spent on head coach Joe Gibbs, who brought much needed structure to the franchise. Snyder also bought some quality along the way -- halfback Clinton Portis, quarterback Mark Brunell, defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, cornerback Shawn Springs and linebacker Marcus Washington. First-round choice Sean Taylor may be one of the impact rookies to start. James Thrash was a sleeper acquisition in a trade from the Eagles.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If seems as though the Bucs signed everybody. They brought in 19 new faces, 18 in free agency and receiver Joey Galloway in a trade. To complement Galloway, the Bucs grabbed Michael Clayton in the first round, making them five deep at receiver. The late acquisition of Ian Gold keeps the emphasis on speed along the linebacking corps. The offensive line is much better with Derrick Deese at left tackle and Todd Steussie at right tackle. Matt Stinchcomb and Matt O'Dwyer will enhance the competition at guard. Charlie Garner adds much needed big-play ability in the backfield. Mario Edwards is a good third cornerback who was good enough to start in Dallas.
6. Denver Broncos. After failed moves with Dale Carter, Denard Walker and others, Mike Shanahan finally got his shutdown cornerback in Champ Bailey. He hopes second-round pick Tatum Bell can go into a running back by committee mix with Mike Anderson and Garrison Hearst to fill the void in trading away Portis. Shanahan used the New England approach in going for proven veterans on defense -- safety John Lynch and defensive linemen Marco Coleman, Luther Elliss and Raylee Johnson. First-round pick D.J. Williams and last year's second-rounder Terry Pierce have to play now that Ian Gold is gone to Tampa Bay.
7. Minnesota Vikings. This was the offseason the Vikings needed to continue to close the gap with the Packers in the NFC North. Drafting Kenechi Udeze, a big pass-rushing defensive end, was a bonus. Now, instead of using undersized Nick Rogers on early downs, Udeze can join Kevin Williams, Chris Hovan and Kenny Mixon on one of the league's best young lines. Steve Martin was another tough tackle added to the defensive line rotation. Wide receiver Marcus Robinson is a big threat on the other side of Randy Moss. Antoine Winfield added a proven cornerback. Punter Darren Bennett will help with field position now that he's kicking indoors.
8. Chicago Bears. The Bears didn't go crazy, but they filled key needs along both sides of the lines. Defensive tackles Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson, Chicago's first two picks in the draft, were the perfect body types for Lovie Smith's 4-3, which stresses speed and quickness over bulk. John Tait was signed as a right tackle from the league's best offensive line in Kansas City but he could be pressed into service at left tackle. Ruben Brown will be rejuvenated in a new uniform playing guard for the Bears. Thomas Jones is a quicker halfback than Anthony Thomas, but that's not a bad one-two punch. Bryan Johnson will help at fullback. Getting Warner in June wouldn't be a bad insurance policy for Rex Grossman at quarterback.
9. Philadelphia Eagles. It will be hard for the Eagles to improve too much on last season's 12-win campaign. But Philadelphia needed to make some bold moves to stay ahead in the NFC East, which has suddenly become one of the league's most competitive divisions. Everyone noticed in minicamp the separation Terrell Owens was getting on cornerbacks. Donovan McNabb has never had that type of receiver in his five seasons in Philadelphia. Jevon Kearse is still young and if he can overcome his injury problems, he'll provide the Eagles with one of the NFL's best pass rushers. Dhani Jones is a steady hand at linebacker. First-round choice Shawn Andrews already looks relaxed at guard. Next year, he may knock Jon Runyan out of his right tackle spot. Third-round choice Matt Ware could help in the nickel pass defense.
10. Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks didn't move fast but they filled key needs on defense. Veteran Grant Wistrom adds hustle to the line at end. First-rounder Marcus Tubbs adds a big body at defensive tackle to take the pressure off the inexperienced middle linebacking crew. The Seahawks are trying an interesting experiment converting Florida State linebacker Michael Boulware to safety. He has good range and speed. Bobby Taylor is a seasoned veteran and should help young cornerbacks Marcus Trufant and Ken Lucas. Brock Huard's signing as the third quarterback could allow last year's fourth-rounder Seneca Wallace to spend time on the practice squad.