Early winners and losers in NFL free agency

By Tom Torrisi
PA SportsTicker Pro Football Editor

Here are the winners and losers from the first weekend of NFL’s free agency.

WINNERS

New York Giants - Ask Patriots quarterback Tom Brady why the Giants won a Super Bowl last year: it was due to the brilliant play of the defensive line. To that end, New York wasted little time restocking the shelf, signing linemen Rocky Bernard and Chris Canty and addressing a major need with linebacker Michael Boley of the Atlanta Falcons. It didn’t hurt that they took Canty away from the Dallas Cowboys, a bitter division rival. They eventually have to look at their wide receiver situation, especially with Plaxico Burress potentially looking at a role in The Longest Yard III.

New York Jets - While Albert Haynesworth was the marquee name among defensive free agents, the Jets landed arguably the player who will have a bigger impact in linebacker Bart Scott. Is it a telling sign that Scott was the object of a bidding war while his former high-profile teammate, Ray Lewis, remains unsigned. The Jets also added two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard from Philadelphia, signed former Baltimore safety Jim Leonhard and re-signed guard Brandon Moore.

Kansas City Chiefs - They landed what they hope - keyword: hope - will be a franchise quarterback in acquiring Matt Cassel from the New England Patriots. Kansas City also received linebacker Mike Vrabel in the deal at the minimal price tag of a second-round draft pick. Vrabel’s best days are well behind him, but a veteran presence can’t hurt in the youthful Chiefs’ locker room.

Dallas Cowboys - Yes, they lost Canty to the Giants, but the Cowboys get kudos mainly for ditching 100-year-old Brad Johnson and trading for Detroit’s Jon Kitna to fill a glaring hole at backup quarterback. The Cowboys also signed linebacker Keith Brooking of Atlanta - a major upgrade over last season’s signee at the position, Zach Thomas.

New England Patriots - Huh? Yeah, New England’s return for the aforementioned Cassel and Vrabel seemed awfully meager, but this deal was all about dollars - as in the Patriots shedding them to clear what amounts to about $18-19 million in salary-cap space. Getting running back Fred Taylor on the cheap was a nice move for an injury-racked backfield.

Pittsburgh Steelers - Super Bowl champions typical get raided in free agency, but the Steelers’ only loss was No. 3 wideout Nate Washington. They also managed to re-sign one of their own free agents in guard Chris Kemoeatu. In this case, maintaining the status quo is a huge plus.

LOSERS

Washington Redskins - The poster boys for free-agent largesse strike again. OK, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was the biggest prize on the free-agent market, but $100 million ($41 million of that guaranteed) for seven years? Fat contracts to cornerback DeAngelo Hall and Derrick Dockery put their offseason tab at $180 million for just three players, proving that the government isn’t the only entity handing out bail-out packages in the nation’s capital.

Baltimore Ravens - Absorbed a pair of devastating blows to the gut with the losses of linebacker Bart Scott and center Jason Brown. They responded with a head-scratching deal, signing cornerback Domonique Foxworth to a four-year contract worth a reported $28 million. Now they still have to do a public relations dance with Ray Lewis, pretending they wanted one another all along when Scott clearly was the Ravens’ favored target.

Denver Broncos - Initially, their bargain-basement flurry seemed to have a rhyme and a reason. They overpaid for safety Brian Dawkins, but their paper-towel defense needed a player with a little verve. However, at last count, they have plucked at least 10 players off the scrap heaps of other rosters, and also alienated franchise QB Jay Cutler with their publicized and failed pursuit of Cassel.

Philadelphia Eagles - Lost the heart of their defense in Dawkins, got a bag of balls in the trade involving Sheppard and lost a decent backup running back in Correll Buckhalter. Their major signing was right tackle Stacy Andrews, who received a six-year contract less than two months removed from major knee surgery.

Tennessee Titans - Haynesworth got obscene dollars, so the Titans could hardly afford to match it, but his signing is a huge loss nonetheless. Giving geriatric Kerry Collins a two-year deal at $15 million was a stretch, so they better hope Nate Washington can make the transition to a starting wide receiver.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Starting with the delayed firing of coach Jon Gruden, the Bucs have been a step behind the curve this offense. Although they have buckets of cash to spend - more than $50 million in cap space - their major signings have been running back Derrick Ward, their own under-achieving wideout, Michael Clayton, and placekicker Mike Nugent. The deal for tight end Kellen Winslow would look better if they had a QB to throw him the ball.

Detroit Lions - They traded the best QB on their roster in Kita (doesn’t that say everything?) and signed three free agents in running back Maurice Morris (backup), cornerback Eric King (backup) and wide receiver Bryant Johnson (backup). Makes you wonder what their backup plan is.

Question or comment? E-mail thomas.torrisi@pa-sportsticker.com.


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Updated Wednesday, Mar 4, 2009