Never one to get lost in the shuffle, the NFL has remained active over the past week, with dozens of new players either opting to remain loyal to their previous team – for the right price- or bolting for millions and helping to change the landscape of the league.
Some teams have fared better than others over the first week of the free agency period, so here’s a look at the winners and losers from the past week.
New England Patriots
It’s hard not to like what New England did in free agency this winter. The team lost Aqib Talib to Denver, but replaced him with one of the few corners in the league with more talent than the one it lost. Adding Darrelle Revis, as well as 12 games from Brandon Browner, makes the Patriots the winners in free agency so far and have to leave the likes of Geno Smith, Ryan Tannehill and EJ Manuel dreading their twice-yearly matchups against that secondary.
The Pats also retained quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite target, Julian Edelman and added fellow wideout Bradon LaFell.
Bravo, Belichick, bravo.
Talib wasn’t the only player scooped up by Denver, as the Broncos added safety T.J. Ward from Cleveland and defensive end DeMarcus Ware from Dallas to help shore up their defense. The loss of wideout Eric Decker to the Jets was mitigated by the signing of Emmanuel Sanders to reload what was the league’s best offense a season ago. Denver has doled out more than $110 million so far, but the money was spent on proven commodities that should help keep the Broncos in the league’s elite for the rest of Peyton Manning’s career.
Losing guard Zane Beadles to the Jaguars was a blow, but after a Super Bowl run it’s nearly impossible to retain everyone.
Indianapolis was a few pieces short of being a real contender in the AFC a season ago, so the Colts did their best to not only maintain the level they were at but vault them into the league’s elite. The team re-signed cornerback Vontae Davis to a four-year deal, $39 million deal (with $20 million guaranteed), with the hopes he’ll play closer to his potential than he did last season. Indianapolis also went out and brought in Hakeem Nicks to bolster Andrew Luck’s receiving corp. It was just a one-year, $5.5 million deal, but the trio of Nicks, T.Y. Hilton and a healthy Reggie Wayne will make the Colts offense one to be reckoned with in the AFC.
Giving linebacker D’Qwell Jackson $11 million in guaranteed money will likely wind up being a mistake. Jackson’s tackle numbers are deceiving, he’s on the wrong side of 30, terrible against the run and isn’t great in pass coverage. And while I like defensive end Arthur Jones, $16 million in guaranteed money is a bit much as well. But both could wind up working out and, if not, the other moves more than make up for those two.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
You could call Tampa Bay winners based solely on the addition-by-subtraction move of ridding themselves of Revis and his massive contract, but the team didn’t stop there. The Buccaneers replaced Revis with Alterraun Verner on a reasonable four-year deal, and then added Michael Johnson from Cincinnati to help bolster the pass rush.
The Buccaneers also added improving center Evan Deitrich-Smith to help anchor the offensive line. And finally, Tampa Bay signed Josh McCown away from Chicago, a move which may have been interpreted as healthy competition for second-year quarterback Mike Glennon, but new coach Lovie Smith has said that he plans on proceeding with McCown as the starter.
If signing Brandon Weeden is the biggest news your team makes in free agency, things may not be going as well as planned. Dallas has coupled that by losing one of its best players in recent history, DeMarcus Ware, to Denver. If the Cowboys were hoping to improve off of their seemingly perpetual mediocrity, this doesn’t appear the way to go about doing so.
The team’s historically bad salary cap management led to Ware’s departure and Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Miles Austin are also gone as a result of terrible contracts handed out to the wrong people.
Carolina was one of last year’s surprise teams, but they appear poised to regress in 2014. The Panthers released one of the best players they’ve ever had in wide receiver Steve Smith, and haven’t found anyone to even remotely come close to replacing him yet. There’s not much Carolina could have done about the retiring Jordan Gross, but they did lose out on signing Bengals left tackle Anthony Collins.
The team used the franchise tag to retain defensive end Greg Hardy, but watched safety Mike Mitchell and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn walk away. The Panthers also lost receivers Ted Ginn and Brandon LaFell without replacing them.
Perhaps general manager Dave Gettleman has something up his sleeve for later on, but that still remains to be seen.
Kansas City Chiefs
The offensive line that helped Kansas City turn into one of the league’s best offenses will look drastically different next season, as the trio of Branden Albert (Dolphins), Jon Asamoah (Falcons) and Geoff Schwartz (Giants). On offense, the Chiefs let the under-utilized Dexter McCluster get away, as he signed with the Titans. The Chiefs also thought they had a deal with Emmanuel Sanders, but instead, he ended up with AFC West rival Denver.
Oakland has certainly gone out and signed some players. Corner back Tarell Brown, defensive end Justin Tuck, wide receiver James Jones and linebacker LaMarr Woodley may all prove to be very nice players for the Raiders, but this free agency period has been more about who didn’t end up wearing black and silver.
Oakland was unable to re-sign LT Jared Veldheer, who bolted for Arizona. The Raiders thought they had a replacement in Rodger Saffold, but a failed physical led the tackle to return to St. Louis. The team also lost defensive end Lamarr Houston to the Bears, cornerback Tracy Porter to the Redskins and running back Rashad Jennings to the Giants.
The pluses have been nice, but the losses may loom much larger.