Definitive Winners and Losers from NFL Free Agency
They say hindsight is 20-20.
That may be so, but only after some time—the passage of time focuses the lens peering into past events.
Free-agency winners and losers have been declared this offseason, but how many have had the benefit of contemplation that the passage of time affords? Here is a fresh look at free agency after a few months of reflection.
Winner: Denver Broncos
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This one is simple: Denver hit the jackpot.
Not only did the Broncos win the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, they were able to rid themselves of the Tebow problem in one fell swoop. While Tebow led the team to an improbable playoff appearance and wild-card victory, John Elway and Company were clearly not sold on the lefty as the future of the Broncos.
Manning may not be a long-term solution at 36, but he makes the Broncos an instant Super Bowl contender, assuming he can stay healthy.
Of course, the Broncos insulated themselves from heavy damage should Manning fall with another injury or require further surgery. He may have signed a massive, long-term deal, but it is shrewdly structured to give the Broncos a way out should that be the case (as detailed by Pro Football Talk).
Aside from Manning, the Broncos were able to land Colts running-mate Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen as tight ends to bolster a relatively weak position. They also made an underrated signing with Mike Adams, who should help solidify the secondary at safety.
Loser: Miami Dolphins
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The Dolphins, too, wound up with an aging quarterback who had to take a year off because of injury. Unfortunately, that man was David Garrard, not Peyton Manning.
While some teams opt to build via the draft rather than free agency (see: Green Bay Packers), others may not have a choice. Pro Football Talk detailed a perception around the league that free agents simply do not want to come to Miami—would you have thought the cosmopolitan, tropical city would ever be a turnoff for free agents?
In truth, the Dolphins did not seem to be particularly aggressive in free agency aside from the Manning chase. Their biggest signing was Richard Marshall, a nickel cornerback or safety. They were able to retain Paul Soliai, which is a positive, but all in all, they did little during free agency to improve the team.
Even if Jeff Ireland and the Dolphins chose to go down a new path—discounting the whole Manning thing—they did little to stem the growing tide of criticism and, at times, ridicule. That is what makes them losers here.
Winner: Pierre Garcon
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There was a bevy of wide receivers on the market when free agency opened up, and even more teams that needed to sign one.
The feeding frenzy began right away, and Garcon took full advantage.
Striking while the iron was hot, Garcon struck a big deal with the Redskins, one of those teams that needed a receiver. Washington ponied up with a five-year, $42.5 million deal for the fifth-year receiver with a spotty track record.
It is hard to imagine that he would have gotten the same deal as the market dried up a week later.
Loser: Mario Manningham
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The oft-injured receiver was looking for a big-time contract this offseason. Instead, he got a relatively small one with the 49ers after garnering little interest during the free-agent receiver-palooza.
Manningham signed a measly two-year, $7.4 million contract with San Francisco after generating surprisingly little interest on the open market. Perhaps his penchant for dropped passes and getting injured had something to do with that.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
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The Bills set out to improve their defense this offseason, and they did that in a big way.
Mario Williams was perhaps the biggest free-agent prize not named Manning this offseason, and the Bills locked him up without giving another team a chance. When he flew to Buffalo, they made sure to keep him there until he signed on the dotted line.
The stud defensive end will drastically improve that line immediately, particularly now that defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt is switching the unit back to a 4-3 formation.
Buffalo was not finished after Williams, however.
Buddy Nix scored Mark Anderson coming off a bit of a breakout with the Patriots last season, further bolstering that defensive line.
He also retained Stevie Johnson's services at wide receiver with no trouble and re-signed Fred Jackson after his renaissance.
Coupled with a strong draft, Buffalo is primed for a great year. Were it not for the Patriots' presence in the AFC East, the Bills would be the top candidate to go from worst-to-first next season. At the very least, the Bills should contend for a playoff spot.
Loser: Baltimore Ravens
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Their premier new signing was an undrafted free agent named Justin Tucker. He is a kicker.
Well, that may be a bit of a stretch, but they certainly did not do much this offseason. Baltimore was able to retain Lardarius Webb after signing him to a rich extension, but they have lost a good deal to free agency in Ben Grubbs, Cory Redding and Jarret Johnson.
Losing Johnson will hurt in particular because Terrell Suggs—the stud whom Johnson helped back up last season—injured himself while allegedly playing basketball (according to ESPN's Adam Schefter), jeopardizing his entire season.
Winner: Brian Hartline
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When the Dolphins traded Brandon Marshall away for two draft picks and a ham sandwich, it was assumed they would target one of the many receivers available in free agency. Their replacement? Legedu Naanee, the worst-rated receiver by Pro Football Focus' standards.
This led to speculation the Dolphins would be drafting a receiver or two in the first few rounds of the draft. That, too, did not pass.
All the better for Hartline, however, who finds himself entrenched as the team's No. 1 receiver. He will have an opportunity to prove himself in a contract year—assuming the Dolphins do not re-sign him before he is a free agent—and he will have almost zero competition for playing time.
Loser: Wes Welker
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The situation does not look good for the five-time Pro Bowler in New England.
How many players have won a contract dispute with the Patriots? Aside, maybe from Logan Mankins, that is. While Welker backed off some strong words earlier this offseason (via the Boston Herald), his leverage is increasingly slipping away.
Not only did the Patriots sign Brandon Lloyd as a free agent, but they just gave Rob Gronkowski a big extension. The likelihood they will want to invest a big chunk of money on the diminutive wide receiver is getting lower by the day.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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The Buccaneers had $60 million to play with during the offseason, and they had a lot of fun doing so.
Vincent Jackson made the biggest free-agency splash at wide receiver, landing in the warm waters of the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. The Bucs reeled him in with a five-year, $55.5 million contract. The move gives them a premier receiver for Josh Freeman after Mike Williams fell off the face of the earth as a sophomore.
Tampa Bay did not stop there.
The Bucs lured mammoth Carl Nicks away from the rival Saints, bolstering the interior of their offensive line in a big way. They also signed Eric Wright away from the Lions, though they overpaid a bit for his services.
All in all, this was a great free-agency period for the Buccaneers, particularly after staying out of the fray in 2011.
Loser: San Diego Chargers
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For better or worse, Vincent Jackson is a big talent at wide receiver.
The Chargers finally let him walk and chose to replace him with Robert Meachem, on a big contract no less.
Though Norv Turner is raving about the fifth-year receiver at OTAs (per Sports Illustrated), Meachem has been a rather large disappointment thus far in his career. Perhaps he can turn it around as the No. 1 receiver in Southern California, but his track record says otherwise.
Aside from Meachem, the Chargers also signed Eddie Royal—not exactly an exciting pickup.
While I think Ryan Mathews is going to have a big year, letting Mike Tolbert go may have been their biggest mistake—their best backup running back is newly signed Ronnie Brown, who is in the twilight of his disappointing career.
San Diego might have a bounce-back year, but it will not likely be because of its free-agency period.
Winner: John Carlson
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Sure, the Vikings needed to replace Visanthe Shiancoe, who apparently needed Brett Favre to be the quarterback to succeed. But did they really need to pay perennially disappointing John Carlson $25 million over five years to do that?
While Minnesota may be rolling out plenty of two-tight end sets—Kyle Rudolph came on strong to close out his rookie year, and should be the starter—it is tough to say they made a wise decision with Carlson, even if it seems like it is essentially a two-year deal according to 1500 ESPN in Minnesota.
Their overpayment is Carlson's gain, however, as the big tight end wound up with a nice payday despite coming off injury and a generally poor tenure in Seattle.
Loser: Plaxico Burress
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You would think there would be some market for a proven 6'5" receiver like Burress, but the 34-year-old receiver is generating little interest coming off decent season after his return to the NFL following a prison sentence.
Not even the Jets—a receiver-needy team for which he had some pretty good games last year—seem to want him.
Like Chad Ochocinco, the veteran receiver reportedly wants a tryout with the Miami Dolphins (per the Miami Herald). Unlike for Ochocinco, however, the Dolphins do not have any interest (again from the Miami Herald).
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
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Brandon Carr may be a Cowboy now, but the Chiefs shrugged that loss off by signing Stanford Routt away from the rival Raiders. While he might not be quite as good as Carr, his contract will be significantly cheaper at three years and $19.6 million. Kansas City will be able to plug him in opposite Brandon Flowers on an underrated defense right away.
Eric Winston was another great signing and will stabilize a position of need at right tackle.
The Peyton Hillis signing makes a ton of sense with Jamaal Charles coming off a knee surgery. He will also be reunited with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, under whom Hillis enjoyed success in Cleveland.
All in all, the Chiefs made a number of solid free-agent signings.
Loser: Arizona Cardinals
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If we were talking about the Cardinals' offseason as a whole, they would not be considered losers thanks to a good draft.
In free agency, however, Arizona left plenty to be desired.
Other than getting stiff-armed by Peyton Manning, the Cardinals needed help along the offensive line. Their answer in free agency was to re-sign a declining Levi Brown and sign Adam Snyder away from the 49ers.
While on the surface the Snyder signing might seem fine, he was the third-worst offensive guard in the entire league last season according to PFF. His pass blocking in particular was suspect, and that is the area of most concern for the Cardinals.
Other than Snyder, Arizona did little else in free agency to improve the team.
Winner: St. Louis Rams
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The Rams ponied up and overpaid for Cortland Finnegan, but they needed help at cornerback and they could afford to spend a little extra. Finnegan instantly improves that secondary.
One of the more underrated signings of the offseason was Kendall Langford, who will help fortify a defensive line that needed fortification. He should thrive in the middle after playing defensive end in Miami's 3-4 defense the past few years.
St. Louis also signed veteran Scott Wells to play center away from the Packers.
Loser: Jacksonville Jaguars
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Jacksonville set out to improve its wide receiving corps this offseason, and its best choice was Laurent Robinson?
The journeyman receiver had a nice year in Dallas with 858 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns. That number will decrease despite increased playing time, much to the dismay of fantasy football buffs. Robinson is going from Tony Romo to Blaine Gabbert, after all.
Aside from Robinson and re-signing Jeremy Mincey, Dwight Lowery and Rashean Mathis, Jacksonville's marquee free-agent signing was Chad Henne.
Stop and think about that for a moment. Need I say more?
Winner: Fred Jackson
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After years of languishing in a perennially poor Bills offense, Fred Jackson finally broke out at the age of 30 last season. Unfortunately, his campaign was cut short due to injury, but not before he amassed 934 yards and six touchdowns in just 10 games.
Even though C.J. Spiller picked up the mantle and kept running, the Bills decided they should give Jackson a two-year, $8 million extension. That is great news for a 30-something running back in today's league.
Loser: Matt Forte
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Forte has been mired in a contract squabble with the Bears, and there is no end in sight. He will not sign his franchise tender—worth just $7.7 million for running backs—and has until mid-July to sign a long-term deal.
Unfortunately for the stud running back, Chicago is digging in.
The Bears have expressed concern about Forte's knee according to Yahoo! Sports, though that can be seen as a veiled negotiating tactic. They signed Michael Bush as insurance and leverage this offseason, which is a bad thing for Forte and figuring out a long-term solution to his contract problem.
Winner: New England Patriots
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True, the Patriots lost Mark Anderson to the Bills, but they addressed that in the draft.
What they gained through free agency is a legitimate threat at receiver next to Wes Welker in Brandon Lloyd. New England has missed that since Randy Moss' departure. While Lloyd is no Moss, he will be yet another weapon for Tom Brady in a potent offense.
The Patriots also signed veteran Joseph Addai to throw into the mix at running back. He will go down as an underrated signing if he can stay healthy.
Loser: New York Jets
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New York's biggest acquisition this offseason was Tim Tebow—not via free agency—their backup quarterback and punter protector. In doing so, they created a circus and a potential mess for Sanchez, but that is a discussion for another article.
The biggest signing was oft-injured LaRon Landry to a one-year deal, which they hope will shore up the safety position. They had so much faith in Landry to stay healthy that they signed 34-year-old Yeremiah Bell as insurance.
Aside from re-signing Sione Pouha, the Jets did not do much to earn a winning grade in free agency.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
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Only Jerry Jones could get hit with a $10 million cap penalty and still come up as a winner here. Though they lost Laurent Robinson—leaving a hole at No. 3 receiver—the Cowboys had a good free-agency period.
They landed the best cornerback in free agency in Brandon Carr, who should come in and bolster a shaky secondary along with rookie Morris Claiborne. They paid a steep price with that five-year, $50.1 million contract, but it was well worth it to help mold Rob Ryan's defense into what he envisions.
Aside from Carr, the Cowboys made an underrated signing in Kyle Orton. Though Romo has the quarterback position on ultra-lockdown, he has been banged up in recent years. Orton provides quality depth and experience at the position.
They also signed Dan Connor to compete with second-year man Bruce Carter at linebacker, a competition that should bring out the best in the winner and provide good depth at the position.
Loser: Houston Texans
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That is what the Texans did in free agency. From Mario Williams to Jason Allen and Eric Winston to Joel Dreessen, Houston watched its free agents leave one by one this offseason.
That had to hurt, especially considering they traded solid linebacker DeMeco Ryans to the Eagles for a mere fourth-round pick.
It is a wonder the Texans did not do more in free agency to help themselves, but perhaps it was all by design. Still, they had opportunities to bolster their team in free agency—particularly at wide receiver—and they did not take advantage.