NFL Free Agency: Winning Teams Through Week 1 of New League Year
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
NFL free agency made us gasp with exhilaration through its first week.
Plenty of teams made some impressive additions, so expect more of the same from now until the draft kicks off in late April.
Some of pro football's most exciting playmakers went on the move, and the 2013 campaign provides an interesting twist. That's simply the level of impact Week 1 of the new league year has had, because we still have a while until the regular season commences.
In short, winning now simply pays extreme dividends down the road.
Obviously, the biggest acquisition came of Wes Welker's departure from Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The dependable slot machine signed with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:
Wes Welker has agreed to terms with Denver Broncos.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 13, 2013
Welker completes the receiving corps for Denver, and he'll benefit greatly with a solid duo in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on the outside. Without question, the Broncos will easily improve offensive efficiency, but the team also made two strong defensive acquisitions.
The first, also from Schefter, is cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Overshadowed by the disappointing efforts of Nnamdi Asomugha when with the Philadelphia Eagles, Rodgers-Cromartie defended 17 passes and made 51 tackles last season.
His presence opposite Champ Bailey will help Denver give up fewer big plays like we saw in the postseason. The second signing, via John Elway on Twitter, was defensive tackle Terrance Knighton:
Agreed to terms with DT Terrance Knighton on a 2-yr deal. Great athlete for his size who had a lot of success under Jack Del Rio in Jax.— John Elway (@johnelway) March 13, 2013
It's easy for anyone to overlook this add, because Knighton produced well on the Jacksonville Jaguars, who ranked No. 30 in rush defense. That said, Knighton still forced two fumbles and recorded 32 tackles.
His presence will draw the occasional double-team, thus freeing up the 'backers so Denver can control the line even better.
Last season, the Indianapolis Colts were carried by Andrew Luck and the offense. Finishing 11-5 and making it to January, Indy's offense was not backed by a reliable defense.
The Colts ranked No. 29 against the run, No. 21 against the pass, allowed 5.1 yards per rushing attempt and gave up an average of 374.3 total yards per contest. No deep postseason run will happen unless Indy can slow opponents down.
Well, sprucing up the defense is exactly what owner Jim Irsay did this past week. First, the secondary got a boost from Greg Toler, according Will Brinson of CBS Sports:
Colts announce agreement in principle with CB Greg Toler (love it) and OT Gosder Cherilus (meh).— Will Brinson (@willbrinson) March 12, 2013
Toler is capable of locking down one-on-one, and his playmaking skill set will generate more turnovers. At the same time, he will assist in winning the field-position battle.
Then, according to Irsay via NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, linebacker Erik Walden switched conferences from the Green Bay Packers:
Walden's addition is key as the Colts managed only 32 sacks in 2012. And although he's not the most dominant of rushers, Walden recorded nine sacks and 131 tackles for the Packers from 2010 through 2012. Depth, if anything, is where he'll impact the most.
Landry's tackling and hitting ability will keep creating turnover opportunities and he is coming off his best overall season. Jean-Francois' impact is similar to Walden's in the front seven for a pass rush, but he'll also upgrade the run defense coming from the San Francisco 49ers.
There wasn't a lot on the Chicago Bears' front this past week, but incredibly vital signings occurred to field a more potent offense.
Once free agency began, the Bears immediately brought aboard tight end Martellus Bennett, per Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com:
BEars have agreed in princpal w/Martellus Bennett .— Michael C. Wright (@mikecwright) March 12, 2013
Bennett is the final missing piece the Chicago's offensive skill-position puzzle. Jay Cutler has more talent around him than ever before with receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush and now Bennett.
Last year, he reached career highs in receiving yards (626), catches (55) and touchdowns (five). Include his size frame of 6'6", 265 pounds and Bennett will either force a linebacker to sink deeper in coverage or a safety to play up closer.
Ultimately, that creates personnel mismatches on the outside and keeps defenders from stacking the box to stuff the run.
Not long thereafter, Chicago made Cutler even happier. Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod was acquired, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com.
Bushrod has made two consecutive Pro Bowls and was the anchor for Drew Brees. Well, Brees was sacked a mere 50 times between 2011 and 2012, and by contrast Bears' quarterbacks the past two campaigns have gotten sacked 93 times.
Mesh the overall impact of Bennett and Bushrod, and Chicago will be moving with efficient balance and in consistent control the game tempo.
Much like the Bears, the Seattle Seahawks only brought in a couple specific needs to address key vulnerabilities.
The main weakness on Seattle throughout 2012 was controlling the line of scrimmage. The Seahawks allowed 4.5 yards per rush and amassed only 36 sacks, which is rather counterproductive given the consistent dominance of Pete Carroll's pass defense.
So, the 'Hawks landed pass-rusher Cliff Avril, according to NFL.com's Albert Breer:
Cliff Avril has agreed to terms with Seattle, per source.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 13, 2013
Avril has been a dependable rusher for the Detroit Lions since his rookie season in 2008. But much of his consistency has occurred over the previous three campaigns—29 sacks, nine forced fumbles and 10 defended passes.
Rushing him off the edge and slicing inside on occasion simply generates more pressure to create turnover chances. With a secondary like the Seahawks possess, a better pass rush will take this defense to an unforeseen level.
The next came in the form of defensive end Michael Bennett, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.
Bennett was a straight-up stud for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Combined between 2011 and 2012, he accounted for 13 sacks, four forced fumbles, 19 run stuffs and 80 tackles. He's the primary reason Tampa ranked No. 1 against the run in 2012, as the Bucs gave up only 3.5 yards per carry.
Unfortunately, Tampa Bay also lacked a reliable pass defense, so we didn't get to see Bennett's full potential. That, however, all changes in the Great Northwest.
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