It was the first free agency day without a salary cap since 1993, and the fear was that with labor unrest on the horizon and the possible threat of collusion among owners looking to set a new market, player transactions would be on the decline. But day one of this new kind of free agency brought big money to several players, and depleted more than one team. Here's a quick look at the teams that helped themselves the most.
Chicago Bears: For the second straight offseason, the Bears made the biggest single splash in the non-draft market. In 2009, it was the trade for quarterback Jay Cutler(notes), and this time, it was the signing of end Julius Peppers(notes) to a six-year, $92 million contract with an astonishing $42 million in guaranteed money (he'll make $20 million in 2010 alone). In addition, the Bears signed former Vikings running back Chester Taylor(notes) to a four-year, $12.5 million deal so that he can compete for playing time with Matt Forte(notes). The deal makes a big splash, but there are complications. Neither move addresses the team's most glaring deficiency -- the offensive line -- and the Bears lack the draft picks to sort that issue out. Peppers will thrive under defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, but one has to wonder how Taylor will do behind a run-blocking line with about 1/10 the power of the one he had in Minnesota.
New England Patriots: Re-signing tackle Vince Wilfork(notes) to a long-term deal was a huge step in the right direction for a defense very much in transition. Re-upping linebacker Tully Banta-Cain(notes) serves the same purpose. Guard Stephen Neal(notes) is also back in the fold. The Pats were looking at Peppers and had a bead on Anquan Boldin(notes) for a while, but the Wilfork move is important enough to put them on this list. As the Arizona Cardinals learned the hard way, sometimes it's more about who you don't lose than who you sign. If the Pats can retain cornerback Leigh Bodden(notes) as well, they'll be that far ahead of the game.
Miami Dolphins: First, the Fins stole Karlos Dansby(notes) from the Cards, setting their linebacker corps for the future after releasing Akin Ayodele(notes) and Joey Porter(notes). Then, they retained quarterback Chad Pennington(notes), a move that provides some breathing room as Chad Henne(notes) matures. Releasing safety Gibril Wilson(notes) without picking up Antrel Rolle(notes) wasn't the plan, but given what Rolle received from the Giants, it's safe to say that they're better off finding another way to deal with that deficit.
Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons didn't do much, but the one deal they made sets them up very nicely. Last season, pass rush and pass defense took them out of elite competition. And the signing of former Houston Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson allows them to address the need for a premier pass rusher in the draft, where a very strong list awaits them.
New York Jets: Ex-Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie(notes) isn't all he's cracked up to be -- he's certainly no Darrelle Revis(notes) -- but if he can play up to his potential, he'll give the Jets the best cornerback duo in the business.