The first weekend of NFL free agency featured a whirlwind of activity with 40 players having either re-signed with their team, moved on or being traded by Monday morning.
Though success in free agency hasn't always led to instant success in the regular season ('07 San Francisco 49ers anyone?), here's a look at the winners and losers from the opening weekend:
Again, it only takes one blown patellar tendon to spoil an offseason, as the Browns found out two years ago with center LeCharles Bentley, but the Browns have done a great job both maintaining continuity while also filling key needs. They re-signed running back Jamal Lewis before free agency and inked quarterback Derek Anderson. They also beefed up the middle by adding defensive tackles Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams. Rogers and Williams aren't spectacular, so Cleveland fans should be careful with expecting too much, but they are both experienced and Rogers can be a terrific space eater. His presence will allow some of the other Browns defenders to be more effective.
The most intriguing acquisition is Donte Stallworth, who gives the Browns one of the deepest and most dynamic receiving corps in the league. With Braylon Edwards, Joe Jurevicius and tight end Kellen Winslow, the Browns will be able to score quickly. They'll also be able to keep opposing defenses from loading up on Lewis.
There's little question that defensive tackle Marcus Stroud is a risk after he served a four-game suspension for violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug policy last season. But when Stroud plays, he's a staggering force. He needs to play more consistently, but he's someone for which the opposing team must game plan. Add in linebacker Kawika Mitchell, who was excellent during the playoffs with the New York Giants, and the Bills did a good job of rebuilding the core of their defense.
The Saints found out last season that their defense in 2006 was a mirage and that the signing of cornerback Jason David was a mistake. To fix that, in addition to re-signing linebacker Mark Simoneau, they brought in cornerback Randall Gay and defensive end Bobby McCray. None of those moves are staggering, but they may be enough to make the Saints D more respectable. With the offensive weaponry, that might be enough to elevate this team back to its '06 form.
The Vikings paid a pretty penny for safety Madieu Williams and wide receiver Bernard Berrian, but at least they got two guys who were considered among the top 2 at their respective positions in the open market. Williams is a consistent tackler and gives the Vikings an upgrade in terms of speed in the secondary. Both of those were critical to helping a defense that had holes in pass coverage. Berrian has iffy hands, but he's a huge upgrade over Troy Williamson, the failed former first-round pick who had bad hands and made poor adjustments to the ball. Even more, the loss of Berrian ravages the Bears' receiving corps, which could also lose Rashied Davis (more on that later).
There's nowhere to go but up from where the Dolphins were, so maybe this isn't that big an accomplishment. However, the Dolphins have played smart in the early stages of free agency. Instead of overpaying for an over-30 offensive lineman such as Alan Faneca or Flozell Adams, the Dolphins mined the under-30 market with guys such as Randy Starks, Ernest Wilford and Reggie Torbor. None of the signings were sexy, but they were logical. This is a team that completely lacks any depth, something the new regime headed by Bill Parcells realizes.
An already faulty offense lost its top two receivers in Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad. That's 111 catches out the door. Throw in the potential loss of restricted free agent Davis and that's more critical depth gone on a team that was already struggling in the passing game. The Bears are saying that Devin Hester will pick up a lot of the slack. Good luck on that. Hester has never been able to learn a position other than return man. He doesn't have the patience to pick up the nuances of being a receiver. Yes, he'll come up with a few long catches that will tease everyone, but he's not the answer and the Bears better come up with some in a hurry.
The leaders in railing against paying players paid dearly this offseason. An already-weak defense lost end Justin Smith and safety Madieu Williams. Things appeared to be more bleak when the Bengals couldn't work out a trade for Shaun Rogers, a defensive tackle they desperately needed. However, they might have addressed that hole with the reported acquisition of Dewayne Robertson from the Jets. Still, you have to wonder how long coach Marvin Lewis is going to remain patient with this situation. He's a defensive coach who continues to get embarrassed by the lack of personnel on that side of the ball. Not that Lewis has a lot of options in dealing with owner Mike Brown, but eventually you have to think that Lewis is going to blow a gasket.
This may be a little harsh, especially given the fact that the Jaguars got a really solid cornerback in Drayton Florence. He'll help a lot in the receiver-heavy AFC, particularly when Jacksonville has to face Indianapolis. Florence is a capable corner over slot receivers and can be a good starter. The only reason he lost his job in San Diego is because of Antonio Cromartie and there's no shame in that. However, the decision to sign wide receiver Jerry Porter has to be questioned. Porter, though very talented, is a difficult person to deal with and was a massive headache for the Oakland coaching staff and for teammates throughout his career. Plus, the addition of wide receiver Troy Williamson was a cheap way to bring in a lot of talent, even if it's unproven. The further subtraction of hard-working receiver Ernest Wilford just highlights the risk of bringing in Porter.
In all likelihood, the Patriots will improve their standing once they re-sign wide receiver Randy Moss. However, losing cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Randall Gay is going to hurt a lot more than people think. Yes, the front seven is pretty much intact and linebacker Tedy Bruschi is returning. However, the Patriots were already pretty slow, so losing two guys who can run is not good. Sure, Brandon Meriweather may be able to step in for at least one of them, but he's not a pure corner. Throw in a likely loss of safety Eugene Wilson and the Patriots are going to have to do some serious rebuilding in the secondary. Hey Peyton Manning, stop drooling.
5. Oakland Raiders
I'm a little torn on this one. Re-signing Justin Fargas before free agency started was a really nice move and gives the Raiders options going into the NFL draft. However, giving $18 million in guaranteed money to defensive lineman Tommy Kelly (Tommy Kelly?) prior to free agency and giving safety Gibril Wilson $39 million over six years is straight out of the worst moves of Al Davis. Kelly has a small bit of inside pass-rush skill, but not anything close to being worth that much. As for Wilson, this could be Larry Brown Part II. Just because you play on the team that won the Super Bowl doesn't mean you're that good. Plus, don't the Raiders already have enough defensive backs?