Thursday, March 14, 2013

Early Free Agency Winners and Losers

Receiver Wes Welker leaves one future Hall of Fame quarterback for another, going from Tom Brady to Peyton Manning.

By Joe Parello

Free agency is far from over, but we take a break from March Man Crushes to bring you the obligatory "winners and losers" column for the early portion of NFL free agency. To say this free agency period has been crazy thus far would be an understatement, and some perennial contenders are going to look significantly different next year.

The question is, will it be for better or for worse?

Well, that's why I'm here. You're welcome.


Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks and 3rd round pick Russell Wilson shocked everybody last year, and may have been the best team in the NFL over the final month of the season. The Seahawks augmented one of the league's best defenses by adding pass rusher Cliff Avril to play opposite Bruce Irvin, giving them one of the scariest speed rush duos in the league.

The also pulled off a high-risk, high-reward trade with the Minnesota Vikings that sent away a 1st and 7th round pick for somewhat troubled and migraine-prone receiver Percy Harvin. (Insert joke about Harvin getting migraines around Richard Sherman)

If Harvin can stay healthy and interested, the Seahawks just snagged one of the best "space players" and overall playmakers in the entire league.

San Francisco 49ers

True, the NFC Champion Niners just lost Dashon Goldson, but they didn't even seem like they tried to re-sign him. They could still upgrade their secondary, as San Francisco is rumored to be in the derby for former Eagles corner Nnamdi Asomugha and Packers safety Charles Woodson.

The move that makes San Francisco a winner, though, wasn't a signing at all. It was a trade that netted the Niners former Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin in return for only a 6th round pick. Now, Boldin isn't a game changer anymore, but his physical possession receiving abilities should complement Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham very well. Add in the under-the-radar signing of Glenn Dorsey, a mega talent that should thrive on the defensive line with all that talent around him, and this team looks poised for another Super Bowl run.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos just completed their receiving corps, signing Tom Brady's old flame Wes Welker from the Patriots. Adding Welker to a group that already includes big-play receiver Demaryius Thomas and possession receiver Eric Decker should make quarterback Peyton Manning darn near unstoppable.

Plus, you know Manning loves his scrappy little white receivers, and this is a huge upgrade from the 36-year old Brandon Stokley, who may or may not hang it up this offseason. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was pretty ineffective as a member of the "Dream Team" Eagles, but he is still a great talent that should improve a Denver secondary that essentially gave a playoff game away to Baltimore.

Detroit Lions

The Lions lost Avril, but he's a better fit in Seattle anyways. Detroit then used some of that cash to sure up their secondary taking underrated safety Glover Quin from the Texans, and added versatile defensive lineman Jason Jones, who should help their inside pass rush and run defense on the edge when he plays end.

Oh yeah, and they signed a true No. 1 running back in Reggie Bush. The former No. 2 overall pick should, if nothing else, add some stability to a position that has been ravaged by injury and inconsistency for the Lions. While many think of Bush as the poster child for not living up to draft hype, he has actually become an effective and durable runner over the last two years in Miami, plus he has playmaking ability out of the backfield as a receiver.

With Bush and Megatron, the Lions now have two guys that can score from anywhere on the field.


Pittsburgh Steelers

Many fans of the Black and Gold will point to this offseason as "The Steeler Way," meaning the team doesn't sign many free agents and builds through the draft, but that would be ignoring the larger issues facing the team right now. The Steelers basically gave up on re-signing dynamic youngsters Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis, and cut the still effective (Though non spectacular) James Harrison, along with improving guard Willie Colon.

They also re-structured the deals of Ben Roethlisberger, Lawrence Timmons and Lamarr Woodley, pushing money back on their deals and ensuring they will face this exact problem again in two years. They then used all that money to sign the 32-year old Larry Foote, 35-year old Plaxico Burress, Ramon Foster (Weaker version of Colon) and William Gay (An older, worse version of Lewis).

If this were "The Steeler Way," they would have talented youngsters waiting in the wings from the past 2-3 drafts. Which means, they wouldn't have cut Harrison until his successor was on the roster, like the team did with Kevin Greene giving way to Jason Gildon, giving way to Joey Porter, giving way to Harrison. Instead, the Steelers are just patching holes, hoping Ben Roethlisberger can stay healthy long enough for them to make one more championship run.

That being said, if he stays healthy, the team will be good enough to go deep in the playoffs this year, but things really blow up in 2014 with the possible cuts of Brett Keisel, Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller.

The Term "Wheels Up"

Seriously stop tweeting "Wheels Up" agents/owners/GMs when you're flying to another city to conduct free agency business. I can't take it anymore.

New York Jets

Did the Jets' front office even watch the team play this past year? The defense was pretty good, while the offense was downright anemic, led by now-broken quarterback Mark Sanchez.

So, what do the Jets do? They break down the defense piece by piece, losing safeties Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry, which compounds the losses of linebackers Bart Scott and Calvin Pace. They also let leading rusher Shonn Greene walk, leaving them with no polished running back.

All the while, Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow (At least for now) are still on the roster. Then, they signed David Garrard! I mean, you literally cannot make this stuff up. The Jets tore down a good defense and lost a solid running back, but still own a terrible quarterback (Sanchez), a quarterback they refuse to play to his strengths (Tebow), a career backup (Greg McElroy) and a washed up quarterback (Garrard). Ugh.

UPDATE: The Jets are now considering signing Kevin Kolb when he is inevitably released by the Cardinals. This move would not only reunite Kolb with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, but also push forward the Jets' grand "horrible quarterback by committee" plan.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens knew the would lose Ray Lewis, but they have continued breaking down a Super Bowl defense by cutting Bernard "Patriot Killer" Pollard and allowing Ed Reed to test free agency. This comes after a report surfaced that the two safeties may have staged an in-season mutiny against coach John Harbaugh.

Well, they won the Super Bowl, so team chemistry be damned!

Either way, they lose one great safety in Reed and a very good one in Pollard, plus they let solid linebacker Dannell Ellerbe leave for Miami and pass rusher Paul Kruger depart for division rival Cleveland. Then, of course, there was the head-scratching Boldin trade that netted them only a 6th round pick in return.

Well, at least they re-signed "Elite Quarterback" Joe Flacco.

Wait and See

New England Patriots

The Patriots pretty much let Wes Welker walk away in favor of, what they believe to be, a younger version of him in Danny Amendola. It may end up being a great decision, and Bill Belichick is certainly no idiot, but you get the feeling that Tom Brady really wanted his favorite target back and, while Amendola is younger, he comes with significant injury risks.

Not saying it's a bad signing, and it certainly makes some sense, but Welker is more than just a product of New England's system. Amendola is capable, but putting up Welker-like numbers will not be as easy as some people think.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins have certainly made a ton of noise this offseason, signing Mike Wallace and Danell Ellerbe away from AFC North powers Baltimore and Pittsburgh, respectively. While Wallace looks like a perfect fit in the Miami receiving corps on paper next to Brian Hartline, there are questions about his focus, not to mention the questions raised by the insane contract they just gave Hartline, an average to above average receiver.

Ellerbe, on the other hand, looks to be a pretty sure thing, but will he be that much of an upgrade over recently cut linebacker Karlos Dansby? That's questionable, and it doesn't seem worth the $35 million they are set to pay Ellerbe. Plus, the Dolphins lost leading rusher Reggie Bush, and it now appears they may lose Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long. Don't really know what to make of this offseason for the Phins, but if Wallace plays to his ability and Ryan Tannehill continues to improve, this could be the start of some really fun offensive teams in South Florida.

UPDATE: The Dolphins have now lost starting corner Sean Smith to the Chiefs. Though the Phins were a long shot to retain Smith's services, this still hurts as he was a young impact player in an improving secondary.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs snagged Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson from the 49ers, but the fact that his former team didn't fight very hard to retain him should be a bit of a red flag for Tampa Bay. Still, with the Bucs building a young talented defense, and fighting to acquire Darelle Revis in a trade, this could be the offseason that rebuilds a championship D in the Florida Bay Area.