Someone get the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a compass. They're cash-heavy and direction-needy.
Actually, cash-heavy isn't accurate. They have loads of salary cap space and nobody to spend it on (never a good combination). They have a head coach whose most common identifier continues to be "he looks like a player" (not a good thing). And they just recently completed an awkward and undignified salary dump with one of the greatest players in franchise history (linebacker Derrick Brooks).
But hey, they traded for Kellen Winslow Jr. on Friday.
That's how frightening this situation is – that on a day when the Cleveland Browns' new staff couldn't wait to get rid of Winslow, he's being hailed in Tampa Bay as the move that saved a disappointing start to free agency. Indeed, the Buccaneers struck out on defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and linebacker Jonathan Vilma but landed a shaky piece of hardware from a Cleveland fire sale that might have just begun.
Nothing against Winslow, who has tremendous athletic ability, but he comes from Cleveland with both emotional and physical baggage. Not to mention the fact that he's craving a whopping new contract that Cleveland wasn't willing to give him. Granted, he's fantastically young, turning 26 this July, but he has a body that has undergone a litany of surgeries. He has an attitude that has brought him nothing but trouble – even if he was absolutely right in his stand against the Browns trying to hide his staph infection last season.
The bottom line for this franchise is that it struck out twice on key free agents and then committed to a player whose play on the field has been only slightly more striking than his controversy off it. And this after jettisoning a proven veteran coach for 32-year-old Raheem Morris, who continues to look slightly unprepared for what he's inheriting. Now the Bucs have nearly $60 million in cap space left and only marginal free agents to spend it on. That likely will translate into overpaying to reel in some of their own free agent commodities, like safety Jermaine Phillips and cornerback Phillip Buchanon, and pounding out a new contract for wideout Antonio Bryant.
But what that money can't buy is a plan, and right now, that seems to be what the Bucs need most.
With that in mind, here are some of the winners and losers in the first day of free agency.
• Albert Haynesworth. He's the first defensive player to get elite quarterback money. Forget the $100 million over seven years. The staggering total is the $32 million he'll get in the first 13 months of the deal. He says he's motivated to play and we'll see. One thing is for sure: Albert is in for a wake-up call with the media. If he isn't both accommodating and a world beater for the Redskins, the Washington media is going to be all over him.
• The New England Patriots. Personnel man Scott Pioli may be gone, but New England's pair of pickups on Day 1 were absolutely typical of the system: a veteran running back in Fred Taylor who will add leadership and competition to the backfield and a balanced tight end in Chris Baker who likely will factor in huge to the team's red zone performance (both run blocking and receiving). Cornerback Leigh Bodden might be a relatively cheap addition on the horizon, too.
• Bart Scott. The linebacker indicated he wasn't going to be doing discounts this time around in free agency, and he wasn't kidding. Rather than just taking the first five-year, $40 million offer the New York Jets lobbed at him, he leveraged his relationship with Baltimore into a six-year, $48 million deal, with $22 million in guaranteed money. It's a win-win for both Scott and the Jets. Scott gets his money, and Jets coach Rex Ryan gets a nasty player with leadership ability who also can help Jets veterans pick up Ryan's defensive terminology as quickly as possible.
• DeAngelo Hall. Six years and $54 million, including $22.5 million in guarantees. And this on top of the $8 million he got for his eight-game disaster in Oakland last year. This is a monumental second chance considering what happened with Hall at the end in Atlanta and then again with the Raiders. He has one last chance to prove he still can play well after getting paid. If he crashes with the Redskins, he'll be radioactive.
• Elite defensive free agents. Make no mistake, Haynesworth has broken though a ceiling. For guys like Julius Peppers, Shawne Merriman and DeMarcus Ware, this sets the pace. If you have the ability to dominate a game from a position that creates pressure on the quarterback, you will be looking at an astronomical payday. And while it's doubtful that the trio of Peppers, Ware and Merriman will hit triple digits with their next deals, guaranteed money in the $35 million range will be practically an expectation – even if the Redskins aren't involved in the bidding.
• Domonique Foxworth. He quietly landed one of the most jaw-dropping deals of the day. In only four years, Foxworth was traded by the team that drafted him and then let go via free agency by a second team, yet the Baltimore Ravens thought he was worth four years and $28 million, including $16.5 million guaranteed. This despite the fact that he has produced two interceptions in his last 56 – 56! – games.
• The Pittsburgh Steelers. They mostly sat tight, re-signing guard Chris Kemoeatu. But they watched their hold on the AFC North tighten considerably, as Baltimore suffered several free-agent hits, Cleveland began what is expected to be a bit of a fire sale, and Cincinnati lost guard Stacy Andrews in free agency.
• Vince Young. For a minute there, it looked like the Titans might botch their attempt to keep veteran Kerry Collins and Young once again would be handed the starting job on a silver platter. Instead, Collins comes back in a two-year, $15 million deal with $8.5 million guaranteed – a pact that basically cements him as the team's starter next season.
• The Washington Redskins, Part I: Turn back the clock nine years. If it feels like the Redskins are overspending, that's because they are. Is Haynesworth an impact player? Absolutely. But shelling out $41 million in guaranteed money for a defensive tackle who never even has been in your system is insanity. Not to mention the $22.5 million for a cornerback who has proved he is anything but a safe bet. And lest we forget, the signings do nothing to improve an offense that was the team's biggest problem in the second half of 2008. Redskins fans don't want to hear it, but those signings don't make them Super Bowl contenders.
• The Washington Redskins, Part II: The franchise laid off more than two dozen employees in January, following other teams in the league that supposedly were reacting to a tightening economy. The franchise smartly refused to comment on the layoffs, and now we see why. Had the Redskins actually come out and said the words "economic downturn" in the wake of the layoffs, we'd be looking at them now in a much more negative light. But considering what the team just shelled out for Haynesworth and Hall, we can call the layoffs what they really were: a farce.
• The Baltimore Ravens. They suffered two big hits Friday, losing linebacker Bart Scott and offensive lineman Jason Brown. Next to go will be safety Jim Leonhard and cornerback Chris McAlister. That lost quartet, along with the defection of defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, is going to be tough to sustain next season. But it would be a little easier to handle if linebacker Ray Lewis returns – something that very well may happen after Scott chewed up so much cap space for the Jets. If the Ravens can't get Lewis back, this could be a rough season of transition in Baltimore.
• T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The Philadelphia Eagles put the kibosh on overpaying for him, and the initial market wasn't exactly frenetic for his services. He still will get a good contract, but the market realities of a 31-year-old wideout are setting in. Seattle is next on the itinerary. If he can't get something done there, he's going to be scrounging for a decent deal, a la Plaxico Burress in 2005.
- Albert Haynesworth
- Scott Pioli