NFL Free Agency: The Best Move Every Team Has Made so Far
The NFL free-agent market is quickly dwindling, which means we can begin to take stock of what teams did in the early stages of the offseason.
Certain teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers avoided the free-agent market like the plague. This was due to less-than-ideal cap situations and a front office philosophy that strays away from the market.
With that being said, many top-tier players switched teams in the first couple weeks of free agency. In the process, the competitive balance in the National Football League has changed quite a bit.
This article is going to focus on the best free-agent moves of all 32 teams in the league.
Adam Snyder, Offensive Line, San Francisco 49ers
When you reach for the stars and come back with San Francisco mud, there is an issue. The Arizona Cardinals were looking to obtain Peyton Manning this offseason. Instead, they were forced to settle for a marginal offensive lineman.
While I do think that Snyder is going to be valuable in terms of versatility, he just isn't a starting guard in the NFL.
There is a reason why the 49ers made no effort to retain his services. In reality, Snyder was the worst of their 22 starters last season.
I guess anything would be deemed an upgrade from the Cardinals' lackluster offensive line play and horrendous pass protecting last season.
John Abraham, Defensive End, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons went outside the organization last offseason to complement the play of Abraham with Ray Edwards. This didn't turn out like their front office had hoped, as Edwards compiled a total of 3.5 sacks in 2011.
At the start of this offseason, many people speculated that Abraham would walk in free agency. However, the Falcons quickly made retaining him a top priority.
While Abraham is getting up there in age, he did rack up nearly 10 sacks last season and will provide the Falcons with that consistent pass rush that they have relied on over the last six seasons.
Corey Graham, Cornerback, Chicago Bears
Graham was such a special teams stud last season that he made his first Pro Bowl appearance with the Chicago Bears. This doesn't mean that the former fifth-round pick cannot make an impact on the defensive side of the ball either. He had three interceptions in a limited role for the Chicago Bears last season.
Either way, the Ravens brought Graham in on a cheap two-year contract and will ask him to play primarily on special teams.
We all know how much they value this aspect of the game following a disastrous AFC Championship Game loss to the New England Patriots.
Mario Williams, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Houston Texans
The Buffalo Bills front seven compiled a total of 15.5 sacks last season, ranking them among the bottom in the league. This isn't sustainable if the Bills want to make a run in the AFC East next year.
They fully understood this going into the offseason.
That is why Buffalo made it a primary goal to sign Mario Williams early in the process. The former Houston Texans standout will be playing defensive end in the Bills' 4-3 scheme. This is his natural position.
Look for the Bills to improve a great deal in every aspect on defense with this addition. Acquiring a player of Williams' capability is two-pronged. He will allow the Bills to put more consistent pressure on the quarterback, which leads to a better pass defense. Additionally, his mere presence will make the rest of the front seven that much better.
Mike Tolbert, Running Back, San Diego Chargers
While I don't fully understand why the Panthers went after another running back, Mike Tolbert does seem to be a good fit in their system. He will complement the talents of Cam Newton and DeAngelo Williams a great deal in the backfield.
Tolbert also gives Carolina a great short-yardage running back to rely on in the red zone.
This signing also indicates that Jonathan Stewart could be had in a trade for the right price. That would give Carolina another pick or two in April's draft.
Michael Bush, Running Back, Oakland Raiders
I am not sure if this signing was meant to send a message to Matt Forte, but it might have indirectly done just that. The Chicago Bears have now spent more money on backup running backs over the last two seasons than they have spent on Forte throughout his four-year career.
That is alarming and disappointing in and of itself.
The addition of Bush does give the Bears a running back to rely on in case Forte doesn't show up at training camp and holds out into the season, which is a distinct possibility.
Reggie Nelson, Safety, Cincinnati Bengals
The former first-round pick from Florida had a breakout 2011 campaign after struggling a great deal in his first four seasons in the National Football League.
Nelson looked much more comfortable in coverage last season, showing many why he was a highly heralded prospect coming out of college.
The Cincinnati Bengals desperately needed to retain the services of the young safety and they did just that.
Frostee Rucker, Defensive Line, Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland really isn't a premier destination for free agents and for good reason. This is a front office and franchise that has consistently struggled to put a winning product on the field. It has failed in nearly every aspect of the draft, which leads to personnel struggles on the football field.
Frostee Rucker is a marginal player at this point, but he did break through a bit last season in Cincinnati. He started 11 games and recorded four sacks.
This is the type of player that Cleveland Browns fans can hope for in free agency, not much more.
Brandon Carr, Cornerback, Kansas City Chiefs
Sometimes you just need to bite the proverbial bullet and spend money in free agency at a need position. This is exactly what the Dallas Cowboys did this offseason.
After releasing Terence Newman, it became evident that Dallas was going to look for a top-tier corner on the market. The first name that came to mind was Brandon Carr.
He is a true No. 1 corner with shutdown capabilities.
The idea that Carr was successful because Brandon Flowers was lining up opposite him is a joke. The Kansas City Chiefs ran a direct left-to-right scheme along their secondary. This means that Carr and Flowers did not switch positions to put the former on the opposing No. 1 receiver.
Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
Do I really need to write too much about this? After all, we couldn't go a minute during "Peyton Watch" without hearing reports of his latest whereabouts. I half-expected to hear what type of toilet paper Manning favored throughout this whole process.
The future Hall of Fame quarterback immediately makes the Denver Broncos a top-four team in the AFC, which is something we really couldn't have said last season with Tim Tebow.
However, it doesn't make them clear-cut favorites to win the conference. Instead, Denver has become more of a respectable contender for the top spot.
Stephen Tulloch, Linebacker, Detroit Lions
One of the primary goals of the offseason for the Lions was to retain Stephen Tulloch. It seemed like this was nothing more than a pipe dream at the onset of free agency.
Calvin Johnson signed a long-term extension, which gave Detroit more short-term flexibility. This enabled them to make a strong offer to Tulloch, who decided to return.
He had a great initial season with Detroit, anchoring a vastly improved linebacker group. Expect this signing to go a long way in building continuity and chemistry in the locker room as well.
Green Bay Packers
Jeff Saturday, Center, Indianapolis Colts
The loss of Scott Wells to the St. Louis Rams in free agency really did hurt the Packers franchise. He is a player that grew with them throughout the last couple of seasons and was now ready to become one of the best centers in the entire league.
With that said, Green Bay is extremely intelligent in how it enters the free-agent market. It places a value on a certain player and doesn't go any further than that.
Once it became apparent that Wells wasn't going to be in its plans, Green Bay had to move on.
Jeff Saturday has been one of the best centers in the league for that last decade. While he has slowed down a bit over the last few seasons, Saturday fits that stopgap need to a T.
Chris Myers, Center, Houston Texans
Some would conclude that this offseason gutted the Texans roster, and they would be right to an extent. Gone is 40 percent of their starting offensive line, Mike Brisiel and Eric Winston. Gone is their defensive standout Mario Williams.
With that said, situations came up beyond the control of the franchise. Houston wasn't in any position to dole out nearly $100 million for Williams and had to prioritize along the offensive line.
Chris Myers has been their most valuable offensive lineman over the course of the last three seasons. He dominates in the trenches and is one of the primary reasons the Texans finished second in the league in rushing last season.
Despite all of its losses, Houston did well to retain Myers.
Cory Redding, Defensive Line, Baltimore Ravens
The Indianapolis Colts are clearly in a rebuilding stage. This means that they are not going to sign high-priced free agents to long-term contracts; it just isn't going to happen.
Instead, Indianapolis is going to be looking for stopgap players to fill in until young players gain more experience.
Cory Redding is your prototypical player in the Colts' newly installed 3-4 defensive scheme. He will provide them another body to rotate in and out throughout the duration of a game.
Redding was solid in this role for the Baltimore Ravens over the course of the last two seasons.
Laurent Robinson, Wide Receiver, Dallas Cowboys
I was going to put Chad Henne here because, at the very least, he provides competition at the quarterback position. Then I realized just how average Henne actually was.
Laurent Robinson broke out big time last season for the Cowboys. There were times when he was actually the top target for Tony Romo.
In all, Robinson racked up nearly 900 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011.
It isn't like the former third-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons lacked talent in his previous three stops. Robinson showed flashes both in Atlanta and with the St. Louis Rams. He just wasn't ever able to stay healthy on a consistent basis.
Blaine Gabbert needs someone on the outside that can stretch the field and be a red-zone target. If nothing else, Robinson provides that.
Kansas City Chiefs
Eric Winston, Offensive Tackle, Houston Texans
He was a surprise cut of the Texas at the start of free agency. I actually had Winston as the best run-blocking right tackle in the National Football League last season. He was one of the primary reasons that Arian Foster and Ben Tate had so much success on the ground.
It is really hard to get a top-15 tackle in free agency, but this is exactly what the Kansas City Chiefs did here. Winston stabilizes the outside of their offensive line a great deal and will provide a boost in their running game.
He isn't too shabby in pass protection either.
Richard Marshall, Cornerback, Arizona Cardinals
Despite struggling with the Carolina Panthers over the course of the previous couple seasons, Marshall came on big time for the Cardinals in 2011.
There was a direct correlation with Marshall's playing time and the Cardinals' success on pass defense throughout the last half of last season. He compiled 11 passes defended and three interceptions en route to his best season since 2007.
The Miami Dolphins signed Marshall to be their nickel guy behind Sean Smith and Vontae Davis. In doing so, they upgraded a great deal in the secondary.
Jeff Ireland and Co. have had a disastrous offseason, but this was a pretty damn good signing.
John Carlson, Tight End, Seattle Seahawks
On the surface, it seems that the Minnesota Vikings signing another tight end doesn't make much sense. After all, they did exhaust a second-round pick on Kyle Rudolph last season.
This is just on the surface.
You can never give a young quarterback too many safety valves between the hashes. Carlson and Rudolph should be a dynamic duo for Christian Ponder in 2012.
I had Carlson as one of the up-and-coming young tight ends in the National Football League prior to the 2011 season. An unfortunate run of bad luck cost him the entire year.
Carlson accumulated over 130 receptions and a total of 13 touchdowns in three seasons with the Seahawks after they drafted him in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft.
New England Patriots
Brandon Lloyd, Wide Receiver, St. Louis Rams
This promises to be one of the best signings of the entire season. Couple Lloyd's downfield ability with Tom Brady and you have the makings of something special.
With all due respect to Kyle Orton and Sam Bradford, they are just not Brady.
With that said, Lloyd did account for the following numbers over the course of the last two seasons with those two passing to him: 147 receptions, 2,514 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Imagine what he would do in the New England Patriots offense. Pretty scary, huh?
New Orleans Saints
Ben Grubbs, Guard, Baltimore Ravens
Rarely is a downgrade at a certain position deemed a good thing, but this seems to be the case with the New Orleans Saints.
There was absolutely no way that they could contend with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the services of Carl Nicks after it appeared the Pro Bowl guard wanted to become the highest paid at his position. In the end Tampa Bay doled out $55 million for five seasons in order to acquire Nicks.
It just didn't make sense for New Orleans to retain Nicks at that price.
Instead, they went with the second best option in the form of Ben Grubbs. While he isn't the caliber guard that Nicks is, Grubbs is one of the best run-blocking interior linemen in the entire National Football League.
New York Giants
Martellus Bennett, Tight End, Dallas Cowboys
If the New York Giants are able to reach into his untapped potential, they are going to get an absolute steal here. You are talking about a tight end that possesses the rare combination of speed and size that NFL general managers drool over.
Bennett has not lived up to expectations after the Cowboys selected him in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft. He has yet to catch more than 33 passes in any of his first four seasons and consistently struggled with drops.
The investment of just $2.5 million over one year is well worth the potential that Bennett gives the Giants.
New York Jets
LaRon Landry, Safety, Washington Redskins
Even though the New York Jets traded for Tim Tebow, Landry is their best acquisition.
The former top-10 pick has shown flashes of brilliance on the football field, but hasn't been able to stay healthy. He comes in on a one-year, prove-it deal. This means that Landry will be able to cash in next offseason if he stays on the field in 2012.
That is definitely some incentive for Landry not only to stay healthy, but to be more consistent in pass defense when he is actually on the field. This is an area of great need for the Jets.
Mike Brisiel, Guard, Houston Texans
One of the most underrated zone-blocking guards in the entire NFL, Brisiel was an absolute steal for the Oakland Raiders.
Houston averaged nearly 4.6 yards per attempt when running behind the unheralded guard in 2011. He has the ability to become a dominating pull guard, which was evidenced by the sweeps that Houston ran last season.
This signing also enables the Oakland Raiders to move Stefen Wisniewski to center until he becomes more acclimated with the nuances of the National Football League.
Despite not having much to work with, Reggie McKenzie did pretty well for himself here.
Evan Mathis, Guard, Philadelphia Eagles
If you look at the crazy amount of money that Carl Nicks received from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this signing becomes all that much better.
The Eagles were able to retain Mathis, who is right on par with Nicks, for pennies on the dollar. He received just $25 million over the course of five seasons.
After coming over from the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency prior to the 2011 season, Mathis exploded onto the scene and became one of the best run-blocking guards in the entire National Football League.
Philadelphia did great by retaining the future Pro Bowl performer and is going to be better for it. I know those of you who own LeSean McCoy in dynasty leagues are pretty darn happy right about now.
The Pittsburgh Steelers haven't made a free-agent signing thus far this offseason. This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise considering their salary cap situation and stance against actually entering the market in previous seasons.
However, they seem destined to retain Mike Wallace after taking a risk by not placing the franchise tag on the talented young receiver.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Scott Brown, Wallace is seeking "Larry Fitzgerald money." Well, that just isn't going to happen. At the very least, Pittsburgh retained him for one more season.
San Diego Chargers
Robert Meachem, Wide Receiver, New Orleans Saints
"He is the product of the Saints offense and Drew Brees." Blah, blah, blah. These are the things that we have heard about Meachem throughout his career.
While No. 17 isn't going to match Vincent Jackson's production, he did come at a great value. The San Diego Chargers are going to attempt a wide receiver-by-committee approach in replacing the production of Jackson.
The signing of Meachem gave them the ability to upgrade at other positions and provides them with more cap flexibility moving forward.
San Francisco 49ers
Mario Manningham, Wide Receiver, New York Giants
The San Francisco 49ers are quickly becoming the kings of the NFL in terms of finding value in free agency. They place a price on certain players, don't stray from it and usually come out on top.
This was the case when it came to Mario Manningham. The 49ers let Josh Morgan walk in free agency because he didn't represent value. In the process, they were able to bring in this talented young receiver for pennies on the dollar.
Manningham, who is going to give Alex Smith another solid target on the outside, signed for a mere $7.4 million over two seasons.
Now that is some serious value.
Red Bryant, Defensive Line, Seattle Seahawks
I could have easily gone with Matt Flynn here, but I am not sure exactly how much of an upgrade he is over Tarvaris Jackson.
It was a necessity for Seattle to retain the services of Red Bryant, who is one of the most unheralded defensive players in the entire league.
A run-stuffing defensive end if I have ever seen one, Bryant brings a whole bunch to the table for a quickly improving Seahawks defense. He is also going to help their pass rush a great deal by being able to take on double-teams on the outside.
Now it is up to them to get that dynamic pass-rusher in the draft.
St. Louis Rams
Cortland Finnegan, Cornerback, Tennessee Titans
Not only is Finnegan an upgrade for the St. Louis Rams, but he is still their only viable starting option at corner. To say that the Rams needed to get an immediate impact player at this position would be a gross understatement.
You can debate whether or not the veteran corner was worth $10 million a season, but that really isn't the point. He provides an immediate impact at a position of desperate need.
The Rams are building through the draft, but this is a signing that they just had to make.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Carl Nicks, Guard, New Orleans Saints
Skill position players such as Vincent Jackson are great. However, they are not the heart and soul of a football team. That distinction goes to the lines on both sides of the ball.
What better player to build than with the very best interior lineman in the entire National Football League?
Carl Nicks cost the Buccaneers a pretty penny, but that really isn't the point here. They needed to find an upgrade along the offensive side of the ball and plucked one of the premier free agents from a divisional rival.
Expect Nicks to help out Josh Freeman a great deal in the passing game. The young quarterback should be able to step up into a clean pocket consistently in 2012, which will lead to a lot fewer mistakes.
Kamerion Wimbley, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Oakland Raiders
Let me be clear about this: Steve Hutchinson isn't a major upgrade from Jake Scott, so he isn't the Titans' best free-agent signing this offseason.
That distinction goes to Wimbley, who has been a consistently good player over the course of his career and represents a major upgrade from what the Titans had on the roster in 2011.
He fits well in their scheme and should be able to rack up double-digit sacks in 2012. Not bad for a player that was given his walking papers just two short weeks ago by the Raiders.
Josh Morgan, Wide Receiver, San Francisco 49ers
Most of you probably expected to see Pierre Garcon on this list. While he might make more of an impact in 2012, Morgan is the better long-term signing.
Prior to being injured early in the 2011 season, Morgan was making strides to become one of the better young receivers in the league.
He is really going to help Robert Griffin III—assuming he is the pick—in the slot and down the field. This is a player that runs solid routes, has great hands and can stretch the field.
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