Buying or Selling Each Team's 2013 NFL Free Agency Strategy
In the rearview mirror is the NFL combine, the draft, the heart of free agency, rookie minicamp and the first weeks of organized team activities (OTAs).
There are 93 days until NFL football that matters returns and the 2013 season kicks off in the Mile High City as the Denver Broncos host the Baltimore Ravens. How did your team fare in free agency setting itself up for the new season?
Let’s play a game of free agency "buy or sell" for each of the NFL’s 32 teams.
Key free-agent signings: RB Rashard Mendenhall (Pittsburgh), QB Carson Palmer (Oakland), LB Lorenzo Alexander (Washington), LB Karlos Dansby (Miami), S Yeremiah Bell (New York Jets), LB Jasper Brinkley (Minnesota), CB Antoine Cason (San Diego), DE Matt Shaughnessy (Oakland), CB Jerraud Powers (Indianapolis)
Key players lost: QB Kevin Kolb, RB Beanie Wells, CB William Gay, FS Kerry Rhodes, LB Stewart Bradley, LB Quentin Groves, CB Greg Toler, S Adrian Wilson
Heading into free agency, the Arizona Cardinals needed help at offensive tackle, some general offensive line help and had to find a quarterback.
Adding quarterback Carson Palmer was a huge win for the Cardinals. Palmer threw for 4,018 yards last season and has at least 20 touchdown passes in three of his last four seasons. The Cardinals haven’t had a passer attempt more than 327 passes since 2009 when Kurt Warner led Arizona to the playoffs. Palmer will be a huge upgrade.
But Palmer turns 34 this season and Arizona didn’t address the offensive line very well in free agency. That could be bad news for Palmer.
If running back Rashard Mendenhall can put the injury bug behind him, Arizona could be a rather nice landing spot for the former Steeler.
Outside of Palmer and possibly Mendenhall, the Cardinals lost more talent than they gained. Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander could be upside picks on defense, but Arizona will feel the losses of safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes and also fellow defensive backfield partner cornerback Greg Toler.
Key free-agent signings: RB Steven Jackson (St. Louis), Osi Umenyiora (New York Giants)
Key players lost: RB Michael Turner, DE John Abraham, CB Brent Grimes, DT Vance Walker, T Will Svitek, DE Lawrence Sidbury, C Todd McClure, CB Dunta Robinson
The Atlanta Falcons only added two big-name players in free agency that weren’t on their 2012 roster. Running back Steven Jackson will be a big upgrade to Michael Turner, who was cut, and defensive end Osi Umenyiora might be an even swap for departed pass-rusher John Abraham.
But don’t think that because there are only two new names on the roster that should crack into the top of the depth chart that general manager Thomas Dimitroff wasn’t busy.
Convincing tight end Tony Gonzalez not to retire was possibly Atlanta’s biggest win of the offseason. Dimitroff, who told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he wanted to re-sign his own players first, also brought back starting safety William Moore and starting left tackle Sam Baker.
The Falcons lost two starting cornerbacks in Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson and did nothing in free agency to fix that. Instead, Atlanta chose to use its first two draft picks on corners. Will the team have enough veteran leadership at corner in 2013?
Key free-agent signings: OLB Elvis Dumervil (Denver), DE Chris Canty (New York Giants), DE Marcus Spears (Dallas)
Key players lost: LB Dannell Ellerbe, S Ed Reed, C Matt Birk, LB Paul Kruger, LB Ray Lewis, CB Cary Williams, SS Bernard Pollard, QB Curtis Painter, WR Anquan Boldin
No one likes to see a Super Bowl roster get dismantled, but losing players like safety Ed Reed, linebackers Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe and wide receiver Anquan Boldin will definitely set the franchise back.
Adding defensive ends Chris Canty and Marcus Spears helps a bit, but there were too many starters or major contributors that left after the Lombardi Trophy came to Baltimore.
Linebacker Elvis Dumervil was general manager Ozzie Newsome’s prize gem in the offseason. Dumervil’s posted 37.5 sacks over the last three seasons and will be a spark plug for the Ravens defense that lost a future Hall of Fame linebacker in Lewis.
But the Ravens couldn’t do enough in free agency to make up for all the departures.
Key free-agent signings: QB Kevin Kolb (Arizona), LB Manny Lawson (Cincinnati)
Key players lost: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, G Andy Levitre, S George Wilson, DE Shawne Merriman, DE Chris Kelsay, WR Donald Jones, G Chad Rinehart
The Buffalo Bills decided to find a replacement for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the draft and via free agency.
Florida State’s EJ Manuel won’t have to develop terribly quick as the 16th overall pick in the draft because Kevin Kolb was signed to hold the reins for a while. That was a sound move by the Bills.
Unfortunately, that was Buffalo’s smartest move.
The Bills opened the pocketbook to keep cornerback Leodis McKelvin in town and tagged safety Jairus Byrd as their franchise player. Doing so might have kept them from being able to convince offensive guard Andy Levitre to stay. The loss of Levitre will hurt.
Key free-agent signings: CB Drayton Florence (Detroit), WR Ted Ginn Jr. (San Francisco), DL Colin Cole (Seattle), S Mike Mitchell (Oakland)
Key players lost: CB Chris Gamble, WR Louis Murphy, LB James Anderson, DT Ron Edwards, TE Gary Barnidge
The Carolina Panthers were hamstrung by the salary cap and unable to participate as much as they would have liked in free agency. Mismanagement of funds by the previous regime caused new general manager Dave Gettleman to sit out during the big-name portions of the offseason.
One of the glaring needs on the team, a capable-hands target opposite of Steve Smith, was unaddressed by the Panthers. Wide receiver Tedd Ginn Jr. was brought in, but he’s not as capable as Louis Murphy, who the team let leave via free agency. Ginn will be a special teams option but won’t take pressure off Smith.
Carolina was forced to release cornerback Chris Gamble, who later retired. Gamble was injured for much of 2012 but was the team’s best player in the secondary. Cornerback Drayton Florence won’t be able to fill Gamble’s shoes.
Gettleman did the best he could with the limited funds he had available. His offseason won’t likely push Carolina into playoff contention, but he’s getting this franchise back on track.
Key free-agent signings: TE Martellus Bennett (New York Giants), T Jermon Bushrod (New Orleans), LB D.J. Williams (Denver), LB James Anderson (Carolina), S Tom Zbikowski (Indianapolis), DE Turk McBride (New Orleans), TE Steve Maneri (Kansas City)
Key players lost: TE Matt Spaeth, TE Kellen Davis, LB Nick Roach, LB Geno Hayes
Offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod allowed four sacks, eight quarterback hits and 46 hurries in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and was ranked No. 44 among tackles that played at least 50 percent of his team’s snaps.
As mediocre as that sounds, the Chicago Bears still gave Bushrod just under $36 million over five years, according to Spotrac. Chicago overpaid, but still improved its offensive line with the move.
Tight end Martellus Bennett also improves the offense. Bennett caught 55 passes last season for the New York Giants and is a more-than-capable blocker.
Making quarterback Jay Cutler more comfortable and giving him another weapon to target is good news for the Bears.
Key free-agent signings: LB Aaron Maybin (New York Jets), LB James Harrison (Pittsburgh)
Key players lost: QB Bruce Gradkowski, DT Pat Sims, LB Manny Lawson
The good news for the Cincinnati Bengals is that they only really lost one player of any true value, linebacker Manny Lawson. The good news is that the two biggest names added, Aaron Maybin and James Harrison, are both linebackers.
Other than Maybin and Harrison to replace Lawson, the Bengals didn’t wow anyone in free agency. But they didn’t need to wow anyone.
Cincinnati chose to re-sign its own players instead of spending its large bankroll on outsiders. Right tackle Andre Smith was brought back, which is a huge victory for the Bengals. Defensive end Michael Johnson was handed the franchise tag, which keeps 11 sacks on the defensive line.
Andy Dalton still needs a backup quarterback, but that’s no reason to ding the Bengals for what’s gone on in free agency.
Key free-agent signings: LB Paul Kruger (Baltimore), WR Davone Bess (Miami), TE Kellen Davis (Chicago), LB Quentin Groves (Arizona), DL Desmond Bryant (Oakland), TE Gary Barnidge (Carolina)
Key players lost: DE Frostee Rucker, LB Kaluka Maiava
The Cleveland Browns had a large sack full of money to spend because they were well below the league’s salary cap figure. But the team didn’t spend it as wisely as it could have.
The Browns bolstered their pass rush by adding linebacker Quentin Groves and defensive tackle Desmond Bryant, but really made a splash when they signed linebacker Paul Kruger.
Not only does Kruger bring with him the ability to approach double digits in sacks (he had nine in 2012), but the Browns plucked him from a division rival. Any time you can make the Baltimore Ravens weaker while improving your own team, it’s a win.
But the Browns overpaid for Kruger to the tune of $40.5 million over five years and gave Bryant $34 million over five years.
Cleveland could have used its money in a more frugal manner, but the team wasn’t hurt by the large contracts, at least not this season.
Key free-agent signings: Justin Durant (Detroit), Anthony Hargrove (Seattle)
Key players lost: DE Marcus Spears, WR Kevin Ogletree, TE John Phillips, LB Dan Connor
The Dallas Cowboys weren’t able to get terribly active in free agency because of their salary-cap woes, but made a fabulous move with the franchise tag on defensive end Anthony Spencer.
Between Spencer and defensive end DeMarcus Ware the Cowboys bring back 22.5 sacks to the 2013 defense that’s being turned over to defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
The Cowboys also re-signed linebacker Ernie Simms and brought in linebacker Justin Durant from Detroit.
Dallas kept its promising young talent, its established dominant pass rush and only lost some aging veterans, all while having very little fiscal wiggle room to deal with. That’s big-time offseason maneuvering.
Key free-agent signings: WR Wes Welker (New England), CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Philadelphia), LB Shaun Phillips (San Diego), CB Quentin Jammer (San Diego), G Louis Vasquez (San Diego), DT Terrance Knighton (Jacksonville), LB Stewart Bradley (Arizona)
Key players lost: DE Elvis Dumervil, DE Jason Hunter, LB D.J. Williams
The Denver Broncos were 13-3 last season and actually improved via free agency during the early parts of the offseason.
Any time you give a quarterback like Peyton Manning another weapon, especially one like slot receiver Wes Welker, good things tend to happen. Welker has been working with Tom Brady in New England, one of the best passers in the game, and now switches gears to run routes for Brady’s long-time AFC nemesis, Manning.
Welker wasn’t the only good news for Denver on offense. When the Broncos paid to bring in offensive guard Louis Vasquez, the team got so much better in the trenches.
It’s not going to be easy to function on defense without defensive end Elvis Dumervil, but defensive tackle Terrance Knighton is an improvement, as is cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Key free-agent signings: RB Reggie Bush (Miami), DL Jason Jones (Seattle), S Glover Quin (Houston), K David Akers (San Francisco), LB C.J. Mosley (Jacksonville)
Key players lost: WR Titus Young, CB Drayton Florence, T Gosder Cherilus, DT Sammie Hill, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, T Jeff Backus, DE Cliff Avril, LB Justin Durant
Bringing in running back Reggie Bush should do wonders for the Detroit Lions on offense. Not only is Bush a speedy ball-carrier who's found the ability to function above the 200-carry marker for the past two seasons, but he's also a sticky-hands option out of the backfield. Quarterback Matthew Stafford will enjoy both those attributes.
The success or failure of the free-agency season for Detroit, however, will be determined on the defensive side of the football.
The Lions lost cornerback Drayton Florence, linebacker Justin Durant and worse yet, defensive end Cliff Avril. Bringing in defensive end Jason Jones and safety Glover Quin won't be enough to even out that lopsided see-saw.
Detroit also was in need of a cornerback and didn't manage enough help via free agency to make anyone happy.
Green Bay Packers
Key free-agent signings: None
Key players lost: WR Greg Jennings, TE Tom Crabtree, LB Erik Walden, C Jeff Saturday
The Green Bay Packers haven’t been big participants in free agency over the last few seasons. The 2013 offseason is no different.
The only new addition in Green Bay that stepped onto an NFL field last year was tight end Matthew Mulligan, who has 13 catches over the last two seasons. The only other moves via free agency are re-signings and watching players leave.
Seeing Greg Jennings in a Minnesota Vikings uniform is going to be difficult and losing out on the services of running back Steven Jackson might also come back to bite the Packers.
While it's tough to argue with recent results when the Packers have avoided free agency, how much would it be to see Green Bay get in there and add a veteran star or two?
Key free-agent signings: S Ed Reed (Baltimore)
Key players lost: RB Justin Forsett, TE James Casey, WR Kevin Walter, LB Connor Barwin, S Glover Quin, S Alan Ball
The unfortunate news for the Houston Texans is their free-agency report card hinges on the success of 34-year-old safety Ed Reed.
The Texans' sole notable acquisition doesn't quite make up for the plethora of talent that bolted Southeast Texas.
Houston lost safety Glover Quin and linebacker Connor Barwin, and those two will hurt the defense. On offense the Texans lost a combined 75 catches and eight touchdowns when tight end James Casey and wide receiver Kevin Walter left.
Running back Justin Forsett wasn't used much because Arian Foster is just too talented to take carries away from, but Forsett's 5.9 yards per carry will come in handy in Jacksonville.
Houston didn't have a ton of money to spend in free agency, but they could have been more active for sure.
Key free-agent signings: DE Ricky Jean Francois (San Francisco), QB Matt Hasselbeck (Tennessee), T Gosder Cherilus (Detroit), WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (Oakland), G Donald Thomas (New England), DE Lawrence Sidbury (Atlanta), LB Erik Walden (Green Bay), CB Greg Toler (Arizona), S LaRon Landry (New York Jets)
Key players lost: QB Drew Stanton, WR Donnie Avery, WR Austin Collie, CB Jerraud Powers, S Tom Zbikowski
Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson had a pen with a lot of ink and a lot of checks to write during free agency. The Colts were one of the richest teams in regard to available money under the cap to spend, and spend Grigson did.
Offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus and offensive guard Donald Thomas were two huge signings for Indianapolis. Both improve the offensive line and Thomas’ addition especially should give quarterback Andrew Luck a little more time in the pocket to maneuver.
Cornerback Greg Toler only played 190 snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), but gave up a reception just once in every 11.2 snaps he was in coverage. Had he played in at least 50 percent of his team’s snaps, that 11.2 figure would have put him in the top 25 among cover corners. If Toler finds himself on the field more in 2013, he has a chance to be extremely productive.
Key free-agent signings: RB Justin Forsett (Houston), DT Roy Miller (Tampa Bay), LB Geno Hayes (Chicago), S Alan Ball (Houston)
Key players lost: WR Laurent Robinson, OL Guy Whimper, S Dawan Landry, DL Terrance Knighton, CB Derek Cox, CB Aaron Ross
A quick look down the Jacksonville Jaguars roster reveals not a lot of reasons to be a braggart. That said, the Jaguars didn’t start spreading around their boatload of available money in an attempt to fix everything quickly. And that was a good decision.
New general manager David Caldwell brought in Roy Miller to take the place of Terrance Knighton on the defensive line and added linebacker Geno Hayes, who will be an instant starter.
As backup running backs go, and let’s face it, Maurice Jones-Drew needs a capable backup, Justin Forsett is a decent choice. His 5.9 yards per carry average will come in handy if he’s called upon.
Rebuilding is going to take some time and Caldwell has to look long-term instead of at 2013 when he makes decisions. He wasn’t splashy in his first offseason at the helm, but he didn’t make any major blunders in free agency either.
Kansas City Chiefs
Key free-agent signings: WR Donnie Avery (Indianapolis), QB Chase Daniel (New Orleans), TE Anthony Fasano (Miami), OL Geoff Schwartz (Minnesota), DL Marcus Dixon (New York Jets), CB Dunta Robinson (Atlanta), CB Sean Smith (Miami)
Key players lost: WR Steve Breaston, QB Matt Cassel, TE Kevin Boss, T Eric Winston, DL Glenn Dorsey, G Ryan Lilja
If the Kansas City Chiefs stay healthy and the ball bounces the way it should, this team could be a playoff contender in 2013. And a good portion of the reason why the Chiefs could turn things around so quickly is because of what the team did in free agency.
The Chiefs added two starters in the secondary (Robinson is being counted as the starting nickel) in Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith.
On the offensive side, Anthony Fasano gives Kansas City a decent two-tight end set, a formation that’s becoming all the rage in the NFL. Offensive guard Geoff Schwartz becomes an instant starter at left guard.
When the Chiefs re-signed wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and tagged offensive tackle Branden Albert as their franchise player, the two combined with a free-agent haul that could produce as much as 30 percent of the team’s starters.
Key free-agent signings: WR Mike Wallace (Pittsburgh), CB Brent Grimes (Atlanta), OT Tyson Clabo (Atlanta), WR Brandon Gibson (St. Louis), TE Dustin Keller (New York Jets), LB Dannell Ellerbe (Baltimore), LB Philip Wheeler (Oakland)
Key players lost: RB Reggie Bush, TE Anthony Fasano, LT Jake Long, LB Kevin Burnett, LB Karlos Dansby, CB Sean Smith
The 2013 free-agent class for the Miami Dolphins, both the players added and departed, will likely be known more for overspending than the quality of players acquired or lost.
The Dolphins gave wide receiver Mike Wallace $60 million over five seasons, according to Spotrac. They also gave linebacker Dannell Ellerbe just under $35 million for five years and linebacker Philip Wheeler $26 million over five years.
The Dolphins went on a spending spree that is going to hurt somewhere down the road.
Wallace and Gibson will both bolster the receiving corps, and Dustin Keller is an upgrade to Anthony Fasano at tight end. But the loss of left tackle Jake Long will sting, and while Brent Grimes did have 11 total interceptions over the 2009 and 2010 seasons, he’s coming off an Achilles injury and might not fill Sean Smith’s shoes at cornerback.
The Dolphins brought in more talent than they lost, but they severely overpaid for the most part.
Key free-agent signings: WR Greg Jennings (Green Bay), G Seth Olsen (Indianapolis), QB Matt Cassel (Kansas City)
Key players lost: OL Geoff Schwartz, WR Michael Jenkins, WR Percy Harvin, LB Jasper Brinkley
It should have been terribly difficult to replace all-purpose threat Percy Harvin, who the Minnesota Vikings had to trade so they didn’t lose him for zero compensation later. But the Vikings signed wide receiver Greg Jennings, who serves two purposes.
Jennings will replace Harvin as a receiver and better yet, his signing takes talent away from a very strong divisional competitor, the Green Bay Packers. That’s a win-win free-agent signing.
Quarterback Matt Cassel is a brilliant insurance policy to young passer Christian Ponder, who was rather pedestrian during the 2012 season.
Minnesota wasn’t able to address its need at cornerback or further help the receiving corps via free agency, but did so in the early rounds of the draft. All in all, the free-agency period for the Vikings has been attractive.
New England Patriots
Key free-agent signings: WR Danny Amendola (St. Louis), RB Leon Washington (Seattle), WR Donald Jones (Buffalo), T Will Svitek (Atlanta), S Adrian Wilson (Arizona)
Key players lost: RB Danny Woodhead, WR Brandon Lloyd, WR Wes Welker, G Donald Thomas, S Patrick Chung
It didn’t take long at all for the New England Patriots to forget about wide receiver Wes Welker in place of Danny Amendola. Sure, Amendola’s targets (101) were fewer than Welker’s receptions (103), but Amendola being five years younger is going to play out well for the Patriots in the long run.
The Patriots also had a similar effort in replacing running back Danny Woodhead with Leon Washington and safety Patrick Chung with Adrian Wilson.
Also crucial was re-signing three key starters. Two cornerbacks, Aqib Talib and nickel Kyle Arrington, along with right tackle Sebastian Vollmer were all re-signed
New England could have been in big trouble losing all the talent it did, maybe it even should have been in trouble. But sound replacement value was found and the Patriots can move forward, hopefully, without skipping a beat.
New Orleans Saints
Key free-agent signings: CB Keenan Lewis (Pittsburgh), TE Benjamin Watson (Cleveland)
Key players lost: TE David Thomas, T Jermon Bushrod, LB Jon Casillas, CB Johnny Patrick, QB Chase Daniel
The 2012 New Orleans Saints secondary was horrifyingly bad.
The Saints gave up 4,681 yards through the air and had the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to thank for being even more of a slopfest and finishing worse off with 4,758 yards given up by opposing passers. New Orleans gave up the longest pass play from scrimmage (95 yards) and ranked next to last in touchdowns allowed (31).
It wasn’t a sexy pick, but adding cornerback Keenan Lewis was a solid move for the Saints. Lewis ranked No. 58 among corners that played at least 50 percent of his team’s snaps in coverage by allowing a reception for every nine plays he was in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), but he gave up far fewer touchdowns (three compared to nine) and yards after the catch (212 compared to 439) than Jabari Greer.
New Orleans also added a pass-catching tight end in Benjamin Watson. With Jimmy Graham already in place as one of the best receiving tight ends, Watson gives quarterback Drew Brees a solid 1-2 punch at tight end that could help him move the chains in 2013.
That’s all the NFC needs is Brees having more options to move the chains.
New York Giants
Key free-agent signings: DT Cullen Jenkins (Philadelphia), WR Louis Murphy (Carolina), LB Dan Connor (Dallas), CB Aaron Ross (Jacksonville), S Ryan Mundy (Pittsburgh), K Josh Brown (Cincinnati), TE Brandon Myers (Oakland), QB Curtis Painter (Baltimore)
Key players lost: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, TE Martellus Bennett, DL Chris Canty, LB Michael Boley, S Kenny Phillips
The New York Giants had to maneuver quickly and with precision just to get under the salary cap just prior to the start of free agency. For that reason alone, it’s truly amazing that the Giants were able to bring in as many potential starts as they did.
Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins should be a more valuable replacement for Chris Canty while wide receiver Louis Murphy has been developing quite the relationship during OTAs with quarterback Eli Manning, as reported on the team’s official website.
Cornerback Aaron Ross and safety Ryan Mundy have enough upside to be thought of not only as depth providers in the secondary, but guys who could step in at any moment.
Tight end Brandon Myers caught 79 passes in Oakland last season, and while he might not be featured as much in New York, the quality of quarterback and offense could give Myers the opportunity to blossom even more than he did in his breakout 2012.
New York Jets
Key free-agent signings: RB Mike Goodson (Oakland), RB Chris Ivory (New Orleans), G Willie Colon (Pittsburgh), DT Antonio Garay (San Diego), S Jaiquawn Jarrett (Philadelphia)
Key players lost: RB Shonn Greene, S LaRon Landry, TE Dustin Keller, TE Josh Baker, T Jason Smith, DL Marcus Dixon, DL Sione Pouha, DL Mike DeVito, LB Calvin Pace, LB Bart Scott, S Yeremiah Bell
Quarterback David Garrard retired from football just months after joining the New York Jets via free agency. This set the tone for the offseason.
The Jets just can’t seem to catch a break.
Running back Mike Goodson will attempt to replace Shonn Greene. Fans didn’t always care for Greene, but will miss him desperately after experiencing life without him. Chris Ivory might be able to pitch in, but remember, he’s only notched 256 carries in his three-year pro career while being stuck in the Saints’ crowded backfield.
Offensive guard Willie Colon will come in and replace Brandon Moore, but Colon is neither better nor worse than Moore. The Jets should be happy with equal replacement value here because there were players lost, like safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, that are irreplaceable.
Not only did the Jets not improve via free agency, they got worse as everyone jumped ship and the team found it hard to convince top-notch players to sign.
Key free-agent signings: LB Kevin Burnett (Miami), DT Vance Walker (Atlanta), CB Tracy Porter (Denver), DL Jason Hunter (Denver), WR Joshua Cribbs (Cleveland), DT Pat Sims (Cincinnati), LB Kaluka Maiava (Cleveland), LB Nick Roach (Chicago)
Key players lost: RB Mike Goodson, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, TE Brandon Myers, DL Desmond Bryant, DE Matt Shaughnessy, DL Dave Tollefson, LB Philip Wheeler, S Michael Huff
Not only did the Oakland Raiders not have the available cap space to go on a spending spree, second-year general manager Reggie McKenzie wisely left the flashy signings to others while he focused on grabbing as much talent at low cost as he could.
Linebacker Nick Roach and defensive tackle Pat Sims are prime examples. Roach notched 66 tackles last year in Chicago and had 1.5 sacks. At 27 years old, he could develop in a new environment.
The 27-year-old Sims could also explode on the scene in Oakland, but so could defensive tackle Vance Walker, who was one of Atlanta’s most capable run-stoppers on the defensive line, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
While not on the right side of 30, linebacker Kevin Burnett has been a 100-tackle force for Miami in each of the last two seasons. If he can quietly do that again in Oakland, McKenzie will be applauded for spending money correctly.
Key free-agent signings: TE James Casey (Houston), RB Felix Jones (Dallas), LB Connor Barwin (Houston), G Allen Barbre (Seattle), DT Isaac Sopoaga (San Francisco), CB Bradley Fletcher (St. Louis), CB Cary Williams (Baltimore), S Patrick Chung (New England), S Kenny Phillips (New York Giants)
Key players lost: QB Mike Kafka, P Chas Henry, T Demetress Bell, T King Dunlap, DT Mike Patterson, DT Cullen Jenkins, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, S Jaiquawn Jarrett
If you need a reason why the Philadelphia Eagles shied away from flashy, big-named free-agent acquisitions, look no further than the Michael Vick experiment.
After spending $100 million for six years on Vick in 2011, the Eagles had to do loads of damage control and restructured his contract in 2013 just to keep him on the roster, and his spot’s not guaranteed. He’ll have to play his way onto the team, reports The Star-Ledger.
Even Philadelphia’s “Big Three” cornerback experiment with Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie never lived up to expectations, and with Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie bolting this offseason, none of the three are still in Philly.
So the Eagles looked to make a low-key splash in free agency this season.
Safeties Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung have a ton of upside and corners Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams have the potential to provide the same magic the “Big Three” were supposed to.
Tight end James Casey has the potential to continue breaking out in 2013 after almost doubling his receptions last season, while linebacker Connor Barwin should do well in the Eagles’ scheme.
Key free-agent signings: CB William Gay (Arizona), QB Bruce Gradkowski (Cincinnati), RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (Arizona), TE Matt Spaeth (Chicago)
Key players lost: RB Rashard Mendenhall, WR Mike Wallace, RB Chris Rainey, G Willie Colon, LB James Harrison, CB Keenan Lewis, S Ryan Mundy
The Pittsburgh Steelers had money problems.
Running back Chris Rainey, offensive guard Willie Colon and linebacker James Harrison were all released from contracts the Steelers had no intention or means to honor.
Then the Steelers had to watch wide receiver Mike Wallace go deep, all the way to the Miami Dolphins and said goodbye to oft-injured running back Rashard Mendenhall. Losing cornerback Keenan Lewis will hurt too.
The Steelers just didn’t have the financial wherewithal to compete in the open market this offseason to replace much of what left town.
William Gay could be an able replacement for Lewis, even an upgrade, but much of the rest of Pittsburgh’s free-agent take is kind of blah.
St. Louis Rams
Key free-agent signings: T Jake Long (Miami), TE Jared Cook (Tennessee)
Key players lost: RB Steven Jackson, WR Danny Amendola, WR Brandon Gibson, T Wayne Hunter, CB Bradley Fletcher, S Craig Dahl, S Quintin Mikell
In many cases this offseason an NFL team either paid too much to bring in a top-notch free agent or threw caution to the wind and signed everyone in sight to see what worked.
The St. Louis Rams did neither of these.
The Rams brought in two huge acquisitions in tight end Jared Cook and offensive tackle Jake Long, and the team worked smart on both transactions.
Of Long’s $34 million contract, $20 million is guaranteed, according to Spotrac, and the cap hit for 2013 is only $4.25 million. That’s digestible, as are Long’s next three years where his cap hit never climbs above $10.5 million.
Cook caught 44 passes last season and gives the Rams a nice target for quarterback Sam Bradford. The team chose not to fix its woes at wide receiver during free agency but picked up two receivers in the first three rounds, including Tavon Austin with the eighth overall pick.
The Rams did a good job of planning their moves in free agency to augment their draft. The team still has to find a replacement for running back Steven Jackson; St. Louis couldn't solve every problem.
San Diego Chargers
Key free-agent signings: RB Danny Woodhead (New England), CB Johnny Patrick (New Orleans), TE John Phillips (Dallas), T King Dunlap (Philadelphia), G Chad Rinehart (Buffalo), CB Derek Cox (Jacksonville)
Key players lost: G Louis Vasquez, TE Randy McMichael, DT Antonio Garay, LB Takeo Spikes, S Atari Bigby, CB Antoine Cason
The average age of Randy McMichael, Antonio Garay, Shaun Phillips, Quentin Jammer, Takeo Spikes and Aubrayo Franklin—all aging veterans the San Diego Chargers let walk in the offseason—is just over 33 years old.
By letting them go and apparently doing most of their rebuilding through the draft, the Chargers have switched gears and look to be attempting to go much younger. Sure defensive end Dwight Freeney is up there in years, but he’s an exception to the new rule.
Corner Derek Cox brings youth and talent to the San Diego defensive backfield. Running back Danny Woodhead also brings youth and some upside as a backup to Ryan Mathews.
After high-priced letdowns last season in free agency (Robert Meachem comes to mind), new general manager Tom Telesco is taking a much different approach to getting the Chargers back on top. It’s a slower process, but a decidedly better option.
San Francisco 49ers
Key free-agent signings: DL Glenn Dorsey (Kansas City), CB Nnamdi Asomugha (Philadelphia), S Craig Dahl (St. Louis)
Key players lost: S Dashon Goldson, TE Delanie Walker, K David Akers, DE Ricky Jean Francois, NT Isaac Sopoaga
It was very interesting to watch the San Francisco 49ers devise their free-agency plan for 2013. Not so much because they were the NFC champions and improving a team that was already so close is typically difficult, but because the 49ers had so many draft picks their strategy in free agency seemed lackluster.
After compensatory picks were handed out, the 49ers entered the draft with 14 picks. Through trades they jumped around in the draft and made 11 of those picks and absolutely killed it, grabbing talent all along the way.
That was San Francisco’s intention the entire offseason because the 49ers grabbed corner Nnamdi Asomugha to improve a secondary that needed a boost and safety Craig Dahl to replace Dashon Goldson, who left for Tampa Bay. Other than a Glenn Dorsey signing on the defensive line that was about it.
Typically, not addressing needs in free agency would get a team clubbed with a bad grade, but the 49ers executed their offseason plan exquisitely.
Key free-agent signings: DE Michael Bennett (Tampa Bay), DE Cliff Avril (Detroit), CB Antoine Winfield (Minnesota)
Key players lost: RB Leon Washington, WR Ben Obomanu, DL Jason Jones, DL Colin Cole, G Allen Barbre
The Seattle Seahawks absolutely won free agency. It’s impossible to keep score and way too early to tell for sure, but boy did the Seahawks improve through free agency, especially on defense.
By adding defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, Seattle added 18.5 sacks to the front four. Adding corner Antoine Winfield arguably gives the Seahawks the best secondary in the league.
Not only did Seattle bring in talent, they were smart with the piggy bank.
Avril’s contract is only $13 million over two years with $6 million guaranteed, according to Spotrac. Bennett signed a one-year, $4.8 million contract, according to Spotrac. The duo signed for less money than they could have gotten elsewhere presumably because both are very interested in making a run at the Super Bowl this season, something that Seattle is now in a very good position to do.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Key free-agent signings: S Dashon Goldson (San Francisco), WR Kevin Ogletree (Dallas), TE Tom Crabtree (Green Bay), P Chas Henry (Philadelphia), LB Jonathan Casillas (New Orleans)
Key players lost: T Jeremy Trueblood, DT Roy Miller, DE Michael Bennett, LB Quincy Black
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a cauldron full of gold, but didn’t use much of it during free agency.
General manager Mark Dominik seemingly spent much of his offseason energy on working out a trade with the New York Jets for cornerback Darrelle Revis. After many weeks of back-and-forth, on-and-off negotiating, the deal was made.
Outside of the trade, Tampa Bay’s biggest free-agent acquisition was safety Dashon Goldson. The majority of the rest of the Buccaneers’ bounty came in the form of role players for added depth.
There’s nothing wrong with backups and depth, but with this team so close to pushing for a playoff run, it would have been nice to see them add more big-named free agents. Goldson was a great pick, but the Bucs could have done more.
Key free-agent signings: RB Shonn Greene (New York Jets), QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (Buffalo), WR Kevin Walter (Houston), S Bernard Pollard (Baltimore), TE Delanie Walker (San Francisco), G Andy Levitre (Buffalo), DT Sammie Hill (Detroit), S George Wilson (Buffalo)
Key players lost: TE Jared Cook, G Steve Hutchinson
Not only did the Tennessee Titans do superbly in free agency, they did well in the draft as well, using both tools as complementary pieces.
The Titans brought in quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as a stellar backup to Jake Locker and added Shonn Greene as a change-of-pace running back for Chris Johnson.
Starting strong safety Bernard Pollard brings in a history of 90-plus tackle seasons, and safety George Wilson had two 100-plus tackle seasons over the last two years in Buffalo.
On the offense, Andy Levitre was an amazing signing at left guard and tight end Delanie Walker, who caught 21 passes last year for San Francisco, could blossom into a much more productive pass catcher.
The Titans didn’t go after the glamorous names in free agency but picked up a lot of talent.
Key free-agent signings: T Jeremy Trueblood (Tampa Bay), LB Phillip Merling (Green Bay), CB E.J. Biggers (Tampa Bay), T Tony Pashos (Cleveland)
Key players lost: LB Lorenzo Alexander
Right off the bat in the 2013 NFL offseason, the Washington Redskins were hit with an $18 million penalty because the league felt they colluded with others during the uncapped 2010 season. Fight as they might, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wouldn’t consider any reduction, as reported by the Washington Post.
Because of the lack of funds, Washington was unable to get creative. The team signed two injury-prone offensive tackles—Jeremy Trueblood and Tony Pashos—in hopes that at least one would be healthy enough to prove valuable in 2013.
But the Redskins failed to bring in any talent from other teams that instantly shine as an option to start over what Washington already had in place.
It’s understandable that the loss of $18 million hurt their efforts, but to not improve at all along the top of the depth chart will haunt these Redskins who will be in a dogfight for the NFC East crown.