Free agency sure hasn’t disappointed this year in the National Football League. We have seen plenty faces go to new places and many big deals. This hasn’t been the big overspending offseason that many of us expected however, with quite a few bargain deals for competitive football teams. Not everyone can win though, as we saw a few big losers as always in the free agency period. Let’s take a look at this week’s biggest winners and losers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New head coach Lovie Smith has definitely kept himself busy this offseason reloading the Bucs roster. The list of players they have resigned and/or brought in is too much to list so we’ll name just the key players. They bolstered the offensive line with the addition of tackle Anthony Collins (5 years, 30 million) and center Evan Dietrich-Smith and bringing back guard Jamon Meredith. Lovie also brought over his former backup quarterback Josh McCown to come be his starting quarterback until further notice. A nice move but some have to wonder if McCown can duplicate his success without the tutelage of his former coach Mark Trestman. Only time will tell if he can do better than last year’s top rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, who really showed solid signs and strides of being at the least a very serviceable starter with more time. The defense also got its fair share of upgrades, seeing former Bengal Michael Johnson sign for 5 years and 43.75 million dollars and former Titan Alterraun Verner sign for 4 years and 26.5 million dollars. The numbers for Johnson seem a bit large for a guy with 3.5 sacks last season, but he is a total package defensive end that graded out as one of the top run stuffing defensive ends last year. Johnson can do just a little bit of everything, and should provide a great threat alongside tackle Gerald McCoy. The Verner signing comes at a true value. In my opinion this kid can be a top ten cornerback. Under the guide of Lovie and this coaching staff, fans should be rather excited about their young duo of corners and safeties and shouldn’t be too sad to see Darrelle Revis gone. Overall Tampa Bay have been big players this free agency and are looking to make a big turnaround next season in a very competitive NFC South.
Call me crazy if you want, but for the first time in a long time, I call the Jags winners. They didn’t make any real flashy signings or throw out mega dollars but you did see numerous good smart football signings by Jacksonville. You can tell coach Gus Bradley has had a hand in selecting players, seeing former Seahawk defensive lineman Red Bryant and Chris Clemons. Bryant is a hard working run stuffing end who will give you valuable snaps and is a great rotational player. Clemons is the pass rushing version of Bryant, who will give them a great motor and veteran presence player who can get after the quarterback pretty well. The Jags also brought in former Steeler defensive lineman Ziggy Hood. He hasn’t been a real stud but maybe Bradley can tap into his potential. They got all three players for pretty low cap number, and no player received over 20 million overall, which is solid value for instant upgrades over the defensive line that should show up quickly. We also saw the Jags make some moves on the offense, bringing in guard Zane Beadles on a 5 year 30 million dollar contract and running back Toby Gerhart to a 3 year 10.5 million dollar deal. With Maurice Jones-Drew likely not returning Gerhart could become the starting back in Jacksonville for the time being. On a value of about three million per year and having very little tread on the tires, Gerhart could see some solid success behind a young but talented offensive line, the best unit on the offense. Beadles solidifies the left side of the line giving current starting quarterback Chad Henne or whomever starts in September a solid anchored side of the line. Bringing back defensive end Jason Babin on a bargain deal was huge. The only signing I don’t like is them continuing on with Henne for the time being. They traded away Blaine Gabbert to San Fransisco and appeared prompt on finding the new leader of the franchise, but we may see them wait it out a little longer. The biggest thing for Jacksonville is that they brought in guys from winning teams that should bring great attitude and presence in the locker for a franchise desperate for revival.
The Broncos let quite a few players go in free agency, but with a smart organization like they have they will build with a deep draft. However they did not ignore positions of need and attacked their weakness along the defense with some of the biggest signings in free agency. On the largest contract this year, the Broncos brought in physical corner Aqib Talib on a 6 year 57 million dollar deal. A little too expensive for my taste but it gives Denver a legitimate number one corner who can cover most any offensive player. They also signed hard hitting total package safety T.J. Ward and future hall of fame defensive end DeMarcus Ware to a 3 year 30 million dollar deal. Their most recent signing of wide out Emmanuel Sanders to a 3 year 15 million dollar deal as the Eric Decker replacement is a great value, but makes you worry how well they will work three slot style receivers. Peyton will make the offense work one way or another, and now the defense is loaded with all star caliber players. Clearly the Broncos are in win-now mode and should see the fruits of their spending pretty quickly.
New England Patriots
The Pats joined in an “arms race” with the Broncos to try and reload for final championship pushes with their almighty quarterbacks. The Patriots needed a little more than Denver, and it isn’t like them to spend big money or make flashy signing but we saw a little different this year. It is never good to lose your top corner in a weak secondary to your top conference rival, but the Patriots one upped them. We saw them bring in arguably two of the league’s best corners in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner on steals. Revis makes 12 million this season and should succeed immediately. Browner will have to serve a 4 game suspension before seeing the field, but once acclimated these two will combine to make one of the best corner tandems in all of football. Pair those signings with free agent Brandon LaFell and the re-sign of Julian Edelman and the patriots have attacked their biggest needs in free agency with some great quality players at quality prices. How the heck do they do it. The Patriots again will be looking to make a Superbowl run.
Panthers GM Dave Gettleman has made numerous puzzling moves this offseason for his team. They have let go of every wide receiver they had on the roster last season and missed out on nearly every top receiver in the market. They cut loose Steve Smith and watched him sign with the Ravens on a bargain deal. The only semi legitimate offensive signing they have is Jericho Cotchery who at best is a second or third option. They did bring in Roman Harper as well who is a solid safety, but the defense didn’t really need much help. The Panthers are without any true weapons outside the hashes and will suffer from that. Expect a decline next season if they don’t address this issue with a real difference maker.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams have only resigned two players this offseason that aren’t real great contributors. They have let most of their free agents walk and have still remained relatively quiet this offseason. Don’t get me wrong the Rams do have a lot of treasured picks in the draft but we all know that those picks don’t always pan out. St. Louis could have done some more to solidify their depth this offseason that has seen every team in the division (arguably the league’s most competitive) have improved their talent. St. Louis fans may be looking at a small step back this season if Sam Bradford’s health doesn’t want to negotiate.
The Texans are a better team than their record shows, but they still have plenty of depth issues along both sides of the football. They resigned tight end Garrett Graham and made the play for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and that about sums up their moves. They haven’t resolved the one big issue as Fitzpatrick is certainly not the answer at quarterback. Again this is a team that could easily change their fortunes in the draft, but I think all Texan fans were hoping to see a little more this offseason.
On this note, the Lions did not have an awful offseason. It was not enough for me though. This team had the division in the palm of their hands and did not attack the proper positions. They didn’t attack the right positions of need, and overpaid wide receiver Golden Tate who is more of a slot style receiver than a number two guy. This team needed more help in the secondary than anything and a real number two receiver which they could’ve gotten through the draft for a better price tag. Meanwhile the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers have added pieces that have strengthened their units as well. The Lions per the usual failed to live up to expectations.
Free Agency definitely did not disappoint so far this season, and with plenty of big names still out there expect to see even more action as the weeks follow. New free agent DeSean Jackson will certainly have some suitors willing to throw out top dollar so stay alert for that. Each year we see the teams shape their futures in the free agency market and this year was no different.