Free agency is a little more than a week old now, which means it is, for all intents and purposes, over.
Oh yes, there are still a handful of coveted players on the market. And there could be more because of cuts, contract disputes and whatever category DeSean Jackson falls into.
[Be sure to check out Shutdown Corner's NFL free-agent rankings. Click here for the list of offensive players, and click here for the list of defensive and special teams players]
There also could be a few curveballs. Teams always brace for this time of year, when players are away from the facilities and mystery injuries and arrests are their biggest fears. Don’t need to invoke the name of a certain New England tight end to let you know what I am talking about here.
But we have a pretty good idea how things stand heading into the draft, which is 50 days away. Here are some of the winners and losers following the free-agency foray.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Honestly, I do have some logic issues with releasing Darrelle Revis (getting nothing for him) and naming quarterback Josh McCown your starter before you throw any pads on. Those are some wasted assets, with Mike Glennon having acquitted himself well last season and deserving a shot. But it’s hard not to like a talented Bucs team getting more talented with some nice additions, namely Alterraun Verner (at less guaranteed money overall than Revis would have made in 2014), Michael Johnson, Anthony Collins, Clinton McDonald and Evan Dietrich-Smith. Can’t say too many teams have done more. They can win 10 or 11 games under Lovie Smith and be this year’s Kansas City Chiefs.
Denver Broncos — You have to worry about handing out $60 million guaranteed to three recently injured players in T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware. Eric Decker for Emmanuel Sanders at wide receiver was also not an even swap. But there’s too much to like about John Elway not sitting back this offseason, taking advantage of some brilliant accounting discipline and spending the money it takes to beef up the defense and keep the offense relevant. They can replace Zane Beadles. The Broncos can be a more complete team in 2014, amazing as that sounds.
Offensive linemen, and specifically left tackles — It took about 90 minutes for Branden Albert, Jared Veldheer and Rodger Saffold to land big bucks, and though Saffold’s deal with Oakland was later voided, he found a soft landing spot back in St. Louis at good money. Eugene Monroe is back with the Ravens in a good situation. Beadles made big coin from the Jaguars. Michael Oher got more from the Titans than I expected. Dietrich-Smith found a nice home in Tampa. Other than Browns center Alex Mack, who remains an unsigned transition player, the market has paid off well for the best blockers.
New England Patriots — They’re typically not big spenders, but the Revis and Brandon Browner signings have a feel similar to 11 years ago when Bill Belichick went after Rosevelt Colvin and Rodney Harrison. They were identity-changing moves on defense, just as these ones are. Browner is a healthy and declining-play concern, but so was Harrison when he joined the Patriots. They also kept Julian Edelman and have ample room left under the cap. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots have one or two tricks left up their sleeves.
Green Bay Packers — The Sam Shields money does not look that bad now, and they retained Mike Neal and B.J. Raji at bargain-basement rates. Losing Dietrich-Smith was a setback, but he’s not irreplaceable. Julius Peppers is a one-year gamble, based on the details of his deal. Overall, I like it. They were crushed by injury a year ago and will be a better team in 2014.
Baltimore Ravens — They could have been gutted in free agency but made out very well. Retaining Monroe was key, but getting Dennis Pitta, Daryl Smith and Jacoby Jones back also were huge. Adding Steve Smith will help Joe Flacco in ways beyond the numbers, and don’t worry about his age: Smith will be the most fired-up 35-year-old you'll ever see. The division tilts back toward Baltimore again. With a good draft, the Ravens are legit contenders.
Cornerbacks — A year ago, Cary Williams was the big free-agent deal. This year we had several blow that out of the water: Shields, Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan (again!), Vontae Davis, Revis and a market-pacing deal for Talib at $26 million guaranteed, a cornerback record.
The NFL — The league wins again. The Patriots-Broncos rivalry is kicked up a notch, and they meet again on the field in 2014 (at least once). The salary cap went up more than expected, so no one is complaining about no middle class for now. The draft ratings are going to be bonkers again, and this year they’ll happen during May sweeps. Win, meet win.
Andrew Hawkins — He got how much? Nice player and nice pull by the Browns, stealing an up-and-comer from a division rival. But that’s some hefty coin for a tiny receiver.
Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants and Washington Redskins — They all made smart, measured and savvy signings. The Jaguars often paid for the wrong players, the Giants seldom spent any money on the open market and the Redskins for too long spent too much. This year, all three bettered the bottoms and middles of their rosters quite nicely.
Alex Mack — He expected to sign the richest center deal in NFL history but is currently wallowing in a flat market for his services and stands to return to Cleveland after it appeared he wanted to do everything he could to get out. Bravo to the Browns for reading the situation correctly and not wasting the franchise tag.
Running backs — This wasn’t a banner class to begin with, but the money has been shockingly low. Toby Gerhart has been the only one to earn decent dollars respective to his talent and previous production. Donald Brown had to settle in San Diego, and Darren McFadden shockingly returned to Oakland for what amounts to a one-year, $1.75 million deal before incentives. Ben Tate: two years, $7 million. There has been limited interest for Maurice Jones-Drew (the Steelers could try to get him cheaply), Knowshon Moreno and LeGarrette Blount, despite the last two coming alive late last season. People are refusing to pay running backs in their late 20s.
BJ Raji — A wintry market for the former No. 9 overall pick led to his return to Green Bay on a one-year, prove-it deal. That eventually could work out for him if he plays up to snuff, but it’s stunning in a thin defensive line group that Raji barely received any buzz. People watched the tape last year and were not blown away at all. This must hurt considering Raji reportedly turned down a multi-year deal that would've paid him $8 million a year. The contract he settled on was for $4 million.
Cincinnati Bengals — They lost Johnson, Collins and Hawkins, misplaying two of those moves. Franchising Johnson and tagging Hawkins at a higher tender would have left them in better shape to match the contracts or get more in return. They gave Marvin Lewis a one-year extension, but there is some serious malaise with this franchise.
Pittsburgh Steelers — They overspent on Mike Mitchell, a rocked-up, penalty-prone player who could have a short window in the NFL with his style. The move suggests that the team overplayed its hand by trading this year’s third-rounder for Shamarko Thomas on draft weekend last year. They also signed Cam Thomas, giving them another underproducing nose tackle. They need a big draft.
Jared Allen — Where’s he going? Is he for real about his retirement threats? Not likely, but it’s clear he’s not cashing in. His best bet: hook up with a contender on an incentive-laden deal and go for a Super Bowl title.
Tennessee Titans — The Oher signing is confusing. They have yet to move Chris Johnson; we’ll see if they can get anything for him. The defense has some ill-fitting parts in the front seven, and I am not sure the Al Woods signings rectifies much. Dexter McCluster is a nice idea but has yet to pan out in two different offenses. So far, pretty blah.
Carolina Panthers offense — Need we pile on? The offensive line had three members, led by Jordan Gross, retire. Smith was sent packing, with a $5 million parting gift, for nothing in return. Fans did not like the way that was handled. The top four receivers are gone, and even with the need for fresh blood there, that’s pretty bad. The running backs on their roster are dead weight, other than Mike Tolbert. Where are the points coming from? Oh, and Cam Newton will be rehabbing the next four months. Nothing like cramming in offensive chemistry into five weeks late summer. They have a lot of work left to do.
Michael Vick — He might end up with the Jets, and maybe it will be a good thing. But Vick has learned his league value right now: low and limited. The Jets can wait out Vick because no one else wants him, apparently. He’s not in the Tim Tebow neighborhood, but Vick might need to do something once he gets with a team to prove he’s not done yet.
Cornerbacks named Cromartie — It’s clear now that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (or his agents) misplayed his hand in Denver and could have been back for Talib-ish money. Didn’t happen, and the Jets-Giants bidding war resulted in less than $12 million guaranteed. Antonio Cromartie, meanwhile, toils on the open market. He’ll get a deal eventually, but smart teams will let that price come way down.
IN THEIR OWN CATEGORY
Dallas Cowboys — I have been accused of being a Cowboys hater and for pushing narratives about Jerry Jones’ cap management into everything I write about them.About that first part: I don’t hate any team. Seriously. But Jones’ financial missteps for several years and his can-kicking approach have put the Cowboys where they are. It's a story. Henry Melton could be a great signing, but he has some immaturity issues he must overcome. I also have a feeling the Cowboys will have one of their better drafts in years, too. But the needs are worrisome, and there’s no way to make this defense work without a proper four-man rush. Right now, they barely have four guys to line up. I am not ready to kick dirt on their graves because there is time. But Dallas should be in quasi-panic mode here.
Oakland Raiders — They actually signed some players who, on paper, can help. People who have played with Antonio Smith know he is a good locker room influence, and Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley bring championship legitimacy to a team that severely lacks it. But will they fit the defense properly and be motivated to play? Also: It doesn’t stand to reason that the team with the most cap room would not make a stronger effort to retain any of its four best free agents. We’ve moved on from the Saffold mess. It was a bad contract to begin with, so maybe it’s for the best. The Matt Schaub talk — bridge quarterback or not — has a play-for-the-middle feel to it. James Jones was an inspired signing at a cheap rate, so we applaud that. But the offensive tackle spots are underwhelming, and we don’t yet know who is playing quarterback. It’s a mixed bag of an offseason for a team that had the most opportunity to gain. This is a front office and coaching staff that is in a prove-it year.
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