NFL free-agent signings are always exciting, because well-known players have new opportunities to make an impact for a run at the Super Bowl.
It's a fresh glimpse of confidence for the teams as well, since picking up a free agent allows for other weakness to be addressed in the draft.
One player we'll check out first is veteran Steven Jackson.
He remains among the better running backs in pro football, and did so despite suiting up for the St. Louis Rams who haven't made the postseason since his rookie year in 2004. That said, Jackson ended up elsewhere this period and he's part of a select group that will its performance in 2013.
Steven Jackson: RB, Falcons
According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, Steven Jackson remained in the NFC, but joined a Super Bowl contender:
Another free-agent jolt: Rams free-agent RB Steven Jackson has reached agreement with the Atlanta Falcons.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 14, 2013
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Going from the NFC West to the NFC South, Jackson finds himself in a pass-oriented division that remains defensively suspect. In addition, the Falcons provide the most collective talent on offense to complement Jackson's ground game.
With receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White keeping defenses from blitzing and stacking the box, Jackson's efficiency will hit a new level. Jackson has compiled over 1,000 rushing yards each season dating back to 2005, and this was accomplished despite the Rams not featuring a dominant passing game.
Although he'll lose some carries because of Atlanta's aerial strength, expect the veteran ball-carrier to average impressive yards per attempt.
Danny Amendola: WR, Patriots
Also from Schefter, the New England Patriots added receiver Danny Amendola on Wednesday:
Lose one receiver, add another: Patriots reach agreement in principle on five-year deal with former Ram Danny Amendola, per league source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 13, 2013
Between 2009 and 2010 Amendola caught 128 passes for 1,015 yards and scored four touchdowns. In 2012 he accounted for 666 yards on 63 catches and reached the end zone three times.
The combined production of Amendola as part of the Rams' offense will be roughly equaled by the Pats. For one, St. Louis relied heavily on Jackson and the NFC West is about controlling the line of scrimmage.
Secondly, Amendola's quarterback was Sam Bradford, not Tom Brady. Although Bradford performed well as a rookie and last season, he doesn't spread a defense or sling the ball with the consistent accuracy of Brady.
Factor in the presence of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and Amendola never faces double coverage.
Connor Barwin: DE/LB, Eagles
Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle reported that Connor Barwin signed with the Philadelphia Eagles:
The deal is done. Connor Barwin is going to the Eagles. #Texans— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) March 14, 2013
Barwin was a key get for Philly, because the Eagles managed only 30 sacks last season and allowed 4.2 yards per rush. With the pass-rushing ability to win one-on-one battles on the outside, Barwin's size and athleticism also allows him to knife inside for quicker pressure.
Even though he logged just three sacks in 2012, we can credit Barwin's lack of sacks to J.J. Watt's dominance. In 2011 Barwin collected 11.5 sacks, defended seven passes and recorded 47 tackles.
In Philadelphia, he's assisted by Trent Cole and Fletcher Cox along the defensive line. He won't see double-teams, and, if needed, Barwin can line up at outside 'backer and sink into coverage.
The Eagles definitely improved their pass defense and Barwin is capable of shelling at the intermediate level.
Sean Smith: CB, Chiefs
One of the top defensive backs in free agency, Sean Smith was acquired by the Kansas Chiefs per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports:
The Chiefs have agreed to terms with CB Sean Smith, formerly of the Dolphins— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 14, 2013
Smith is an excellent add for K.C. squad that gave up 29 passing touchdowns and a 60.1 completion percentage. He's even paired opposite Brandon Flowers, who defended 13 passes, recorded three picks and made 48 tackles a year ago.
As for Smith, he's coming off his best season, defending 12 passes, forcing three fumbles, snagging two picks and logging 59 tackles for the Miami Dolphins. His size (6'3", 218 pounds) is great for pressing in Cover 1, bailing late into Cover 3 and zoning off in Cover 2.
A byproduct of that is perimeter run support for the Chiefs, a dire need since they allowed 4.5 yards per carry in 2012.
Whether it's locking down man-to-man, helping against the run or making plays in zone, Smith will get more opportunities in a strong secondary.