NFL Teams Who Took the Biggest Hits in Free Agency

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IMarch 19, 2013

NFL Teams Who Took the Biggest Hits in Free Agency

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    We’re roughly one week into NFL free agency, and it’s been a frantic seven-plus days for all 32 teams.

    But who’s on course to be better and who took more than its share of blows when it came to key departures?

    We picked eight teams (one quarter of the league), some obvious, some not so obvious, and pointed out just how much of an impact their free-agent losses will affect the team in 2013.

    We’ll also be careful to point out the difference between losing a player via free agency and a team making a decision to part ways with an aging veteran or let go of a player due to salary cap ramifications. We have factored in those decisions as well, especially when it affects an area of the team that may have also lost a free agent or two.

    Of course, the beauty of the offseason is that by the time you read this, each of these teams could have either added or subtracted even more personnel. But it will be interesting to see how all of these ensuing clubs handle these adjustments.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Ironically, the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens are first up.

    John Harbaugh’s team had already taken its share of hits with the retirements of linebacker Ray Lewis and center Matt Birk. And the losses of outside linebacker Paul Kruger (Cleveland Browns) and cornerback Cary Williams (Philadelphia Eagles) were far from unexpected.

    As was widely speculated, there was also the possible departure of wide receiver Anquan Boldin due to salary cap purposes. But possibility turned into reality, as the sure-handed veteran wound up being dealt to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round draft choice this April.

    However, there was the somewhat unexpected exodus of inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (Miami Dolphins), who was thought to be a priority re-signing due to Lewis’ retirement.

    Of course, this chapter of the Ravens’ offseason novel isn’t finished yet as the team awaits a decision from ball-hawking free safety Ed Reed.

    Stay tuned.

Detroit Lions

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    It was a case of one step forward and several steps back for the Detroit Lions in 2012.

    The team that finished 10-6 and went to the playoffs the previous season landed with a 4-12 thud this past year.

    There were numerous issues, but one was a defensive unit that gave up 26 touchdown passes for the second consecutive season. Another was a pass rush that went from 41 sacks in 2011 to just 34 sacks a year ago.

    Now that pass rush will look different. And you can debate that it could be a case of addition by subtraction.

    Still, the free-agent departure of defensive end Cliff Avril (team-high 9.5 sacks) could loom larger when you add in the release of defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (3.5 sacks), as the duo combined for more than one-third of the club’s sack total.

    What may be even more interesting will be the changes to the offensive line. Veteran left tackle Jeff Backus has retired after a dozen seasons, right guard Stephen Peterman was released and right tackle Gosder Cherilus signed with the Indianapolis Colts.

    All told, there will be an awful lot of new faces in the trenches for a team looking to escape the NFC North basement.

Houston Texans

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    Anyone remember how the Houston Texans’ 2012 season was going until November?

    It’s safe to say that Gary Kubiak’s team looked pretty darn good. The Texans headed into a Monday night showdown with the New England Patriots with an 11-1 record and a six-game winning streak.

    But Houston had a problem in Foxborough and, in all honesty, the remainder of the season. Including their playoff split with the Cincinnati Bengals and Patriots, Kubiak’s club lost four of its last six contests.

    One issue was a defense that had begun to show cracks even when the team was winning. Injuries in the back seven had started to catch up with Wade Phillips’ unit, including the loss of former Pro Bowl inside linebacker Brian Cushing for the majority of the season. Outside linebacker Brooks Reed and Pro Bowl cornerback Johnathan Joseph missed time as well.

    Now add in the fact that free safety Glover Quin opted to sign with the Detroit Lions while outside linebacker Connor Barwin joined the Philadelphia Eagles. While the latter’s departure is hardly a surprise considering the team expects 2012 first-rounder Whitney Mercilus to step in, the loss of the versatile Quin will certainly be felt.

    Add in the release of wideout Kevin Walter with fullback James Casey joining Barwin in Philadelphia (Walter and Casey combined for 75 catches and five touchdowns), and the two-time defending AFC South champions have had a bite or two taken out of them.

New England Patriots

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    Over this six-year run where the New England Patriots have scored 500 or more points in three straight and four different seasons, an unprecedented run in NFL history, the team’s offense has evolved on many levels.

    Long gone are the downfield scoring strikes to wideout Randy Moss, replaced by the tough and talented duo of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

    Now the Patriots have some more “replacing” to do.

    It’s almost hard to believe that the Patriots can easily replace 672 receptions in six seasons, as is the case with the departure of wide receiver Wes Welker (Denver Broncos). However, the team moved rather quickly and secured the services of former St. Louis Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola, who’s been pretty steady when healthy.

    Bill Belichick and company also watched running back Danny Woodhead head to San Diego while wide receiver Brandon Lloyd was let go after one season in Foxborough.

    Here’s some quick math. Welker (118), Lloyd (74) and Woodhead (40) combined for 232 catches and 13 of Tom Brady’s 34 touchdown passes in 2012. Woodhead also ran for 301 yards and four scores.

    That’s a lot of production for a team still reliant on its offense as the Patriots defense continues to find itself.

    You have to wonder what the next incarnation of the New England offense will look like.

New York Jets

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    A year ago, the New York Jets played the vast majority of the season without wide receiver Santonio Holmes and cornerback Darrelle Revis, who were both sidelined with injuries.

    Now the former Super Bowl MVP as well as the perennial Pro Bowler may be the only two players remaining from the last two seasons. When you combined the team’s decisions to jettison some players along with the free-agent departures, we’re seeing a major overhaul on Rex Ryan’s squad.

    Let’s start with the defense, where the team will be missing five of its seven top tacklers from 2012. Safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell are now with the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals, respectively. Veteran linebackers Calvin Pace and Bart Scott were released, while sturdy defensive tackle Mike DeVito signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Nose tackle Sione Po’uha and safety Eric Smith were also let go.

    Offensively, there’s a new coordinator in Marty Mornhinweg, but there will also be new weapons, as running back Shonn Greene left for the Tennessee Titans and tight end Dustin Keller signed with the division rival Miami Dolphins.

    At the very least, these Jets will be…different.

St. Louis Rams

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    There’s little doubt that the St. Louis Rams gave the rest of their divisional brethren something to think about in 2012.

    Although head coach Jeff Fisher’s first season with the team resulted in a losing season (7-8-1), the Rams were 4-1-1 vs. the NFC West rivals. The NFC champion San Francisco 49ers failed to beat St. Louis in two tries (tie and an overtime loss), while the playoff-bound Seattle Seahawks also fell to Fisher’s club earlier in the season.

    But now youth will be served in the Gateway City and we’ll have to see how much they’ll bring to the menu.

    The Rams will head into 2013 minus their leading rusher (Steven Jackson) as well as their top two pass-catchers (Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson) from a year ago.

    Jackson, who signed with the Atlanta Falcons, totaled 1,042 yards and four touchdowns in 2012, his eighth consecutive 1,000-plus yard season on the ground. Amendola (63) and Gibson (51), who joined the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins, respectively, combined for 114 catches and eight scores.

    The trio contributed 12 of the team’s 27 offensive touchdowns, including a team-high five touchdowns by Gibson.

    The Rams have young wide receivers in Chris Givens, Austin Pettis and Brian Quick. They also have second-year running backs Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, the former rushing for 475 yards in his rookie season in 2012.

    Let’s see how quickly youth will be served in St. Louis.

San Diego Chargers

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    From top to bottom, there will be plenty of new looks for the San Diego Chargers.

    Head coach Mike McCoy is the new man on the sidelines for a team that has been on a downward spiral for a number of years.

    A lot of those other new looks will be on the defensive side of the football, even though coordinator John Pagano returns for another season.

    But what effect will that have on a unit that was a very respectable ninth in the league in total yards allowed and sixth in the NFL vs. the run?

    When you add up the fact that the Chargers released both linebacker Takeo Spikes and safety Atari Bigby and that former first-round cornerback Antoine Cason signed with the Arizona Cardinals, the team will be without three of its top five tacklers from 2012.

    Veteran nose tackle Antonio Garay was also let go, while pass-rushing outside linebacker Antwan Barnes joined the New York Jets. The team is looking for second-year players such as outside linebacker Melvin Ingram and defensive end Kendall Reyes to step up.

    Add in the fact that an offensive front, partly responsible for the league’s 27th-ranked running game as well as quarterback Philip Rivers being sacked 49 times, will now be without underrated guard Louis Vasquez (Denver Broncos).

    There seems to more questions than answers with the Bolts these days.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Despite a 1-5 finish after a 6-4 start, it was a season of progress for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under first-year NFL head coach Greg Schiano.

    But in an NFC South where all but the champion Atlanta Falcons (13-3) finished with identical 7-9 records and all four teams were 3-3 within the division, every step counts.

    But the Buccaneers have now taken a few strides backwards. Consider that defensive end Michael Bennett led the team with nine sacks in 2012, a career-high for the four-year pro. And unsung defensive tackle Roy Miller was one reason the Bucs finished first in the NFL in rushing defense one season after they were dead last in the very same category.

    But Bennett is now with the Seattle Seahawks. And while Miller opted to remain in the state of Florida, he’s now a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Outside linebacker Quincy Black played just nine games this past season and was released this month.

    Yes, the Bucs added free safety Dashon Goldson (San Francisco 49ers) to this defense and they expect Da’Quan Bowers to step in at left defensive end and produce.

    But for a team that has struggled to get to the quarterback in recent seasons and totaled just 27 sacks in 2012, it will be interesting to see just how Schiano and company intend on upgrading the league’s worst pass defense this past season in terms of yards allowed.