Mike Wallace should hit free agency (USA Today Sports Images)
It is impossible for an NFL team win a Super Bowl in March. The transactions that take place this month cannot be judged until January, at the earliest, and likely cannot be accurately judged for at least two to three years down the road, which as Tuesday's release of Nnamdi Asomugha tells us, is the shelf-life of all free agent contracts.
That said, it's always fun to look at who the early "winners" in free agency are, so here it goes (Click here for the biggest losers on Day 1):
Miami Dolphins: Jeff Ireland is facing a critical season in 2013 and made the first major splash of the new league, reaching a five-year deal with wide receiver Mike Wallace that Jeff Darlington of NFL.com reports is worth $60 million. With a 17.2-yard per catch average and 32 touchdowns in his career, Wallace adds a dynamic presence to the Dolphins' receiving corps, who combined for just three touchdowns in 2012. In addition to Wallace, the Dolphins got younger at linebacker, signing Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler to contracts totaling $61 million and parting ways with over-30 veterans Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. The Dolphins also kept promising safety Chris Clemons to a one-year deal.
Tennessee Titans: Like the Dolphins, the Titans moved quickly out of the gate, reaching a six-year, $46.8 million contract with ascending guard Andy Levitre, formerly of the Buffalo Bills. The Titans offensive line was besieged by injuries in 2012 as 80 percent of the projected starting offensive line finished the season on injured reserve. That dubious list included future Hall of Famer Steve Hutchinson, who officially retired on Tuesday, opening a spot in the starting lineup (and payroll) for Levitre, a dependable, durable player who has not missed a single snap over the previous two seasons. The Titans lost Jared Cook to the St. Louis Rams, but added tight end Delanie Walker, who gets his chance to emerge from Vernon Davis' shadow. The former No. 2 tight end on the San Francisco 49ers has caught 123 passes for 1,465 yards and eight touchdowns, six of which have come in the last two seasons.
Cleveland Browns: The Browns underwent a complete overhaul this offseason, changing general managers (out with Tom Heckert, in with Michael Lombardi) and head coaches (out with Pat Shurmur, in with Rob Chudzinski). The Browns are also changing defensive schemes, going back to a 3-4 under Ray Horton, a top head coaching candidate for orchestrating a Cardinals defense that was among the top units in the NFL despite receiving little to no help from their offense. Lombardi spent big on the front seven, signing outside linebacker Paul Kruger to a five-year contract worth just over $40 million, a move that would soon be followed up by the arrival of defensive lineman Desmond Bryant, who agreed to a five-year deal worth $34 million. Between Kruger, who had nine sacks in 2012, and Bryant, a valuable starter for the Oakland Raiders, the Browns beefed up an already promising front seven that includes Phil Taylor, Ahytba Rubin, Billy Winn, D'Qwell Jackson and Jabaal Sheard.
Philadelphia Eagles: Less than two years ago, the Eagles made big splash after big splash in free agency, moves that yielded a 12-20 record and resulted in the firing of head coach Andy Reid. General manager Howie Roseman has clearly learned the lesson and, with the team moving to a 3-4 defense, made a quartet of defensive signings to fit the scheme. The centerpiece of the transactions was Isaac Sopoaga, a versatile former 49ers defensive lineman who could play a few spots along the Eagles' line. The Eagles added cornerback Bradley Fletcher, an oft-injured player who will certainly play on the outside in a secondary that released Nnamdi Asomugha on Tuesday and figures to lose Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to free agency. The Eagles also signed safety Patrick Chung, who should compete for a starting job, and linebacker Jason Phillips, a core special teams guy. On offense, the Eagles added swiss army knife James Casey, a fullback/tight end hybrid whose versatility will be appreciated by Chip Kelly's unique offensive mind.
Chicago Bears: Over the last four seasons, quarterback Jay Cutler has been sacked 148 times, including 113 times over the last three seasons, which is partly to blame for Cutler missing eight games during that stretch. The Bears finally made a move to seal up their leaky offensive line by signing Jermon Bushrod to a five-year contract worth just under $36 million, taking advantage of the rare opportunity when a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle hits the unrestricted free agent market. Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who coached Bushrod with the New Orleans Saints, surely pounded on the table for GM Phil Emery to bring in a legitimate left tackle to stop the madness that was entrusting J'Marcus Webb to adequately protect Cutler's blindside.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Bears signed tight end Martellus Bennett to a four-year, $20 million contract. Chicago got 29 receptions for 297 yards and three touchdowns out of the tight end position last season, while Bennett himself had 55 catches for 626 yards and five touchdowns as the No. 3 option in the New York Giants' passing attack.
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