2014 NFL Free-Agent Signings: Winners and Losers from Day 1
Day one of 2014 NFL free agency is in the books, and there are most certainly winners and losers to be gleaned from the cavalcade of signings.
The NFL's version of January 1 was absolutely insane. Star players were released, trades were consummated, countless players were signed and others surprisingly received little-to-no-attention.
Before we all get ahead of ourselves and anoint 2014's playoff squads and bottom-feeders now, it's important to note that free agency has just begun. There are many valuable players still on the market. And with the draft still to come in May, teams have only just begun to reshape their rosters for a run at the Lombardi Trophy. The year has just begun.
The winners on this list were chosen because they made splashy signings that make sense on paper and should improve their teams this season. And also because they inked a series of big-money deals (we're looking at you, free agent offensive tackles).
The losers were chosen because of risky signings, overpaying veterans, losing out on a number of quality players and having cap mis-management come back to bite you in the derriere. And also because a hyped player didn't receive a sniff of interest on day one (here's to you, Eric Decker).
Without further ado, here are the winners and losers of day one of 2014 NFL free agency.
Winner: John Elway
Denver Broncos general manager John Elway watched as his receivers were physically manhandled by the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, most notably safety Kam Chancellor.
On Day 1 of free agency, Elway got his own version of Chancellor by signing Browns safety T.J. Ward, as he announced on his Twitter page. Mike Klis of The Denver Post reports that the deal is for four years and $23 million, with $14 million guaranteed.
Ward finished 2013 ranked as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) third-best safety and is a physical and disruptive presence in the secondary. He will bring a toughness that the Broncos defense desperately needs.
Later in the night, Elway added Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, inking him to a six-year, $57 million deal with $26 million guaranteed, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
And in addition to signing Ward and Talib, Schefter is reporting that the Broncos have emerged as the front-runners to sign former Cowboys pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware.
Elway definitely overpaid for Talib, and the Broncos salary cap could be a mess in the years to come. But with soon-to-be 38-year-old Peyton Manning not likely to be under center for too much longer, it makes all the sense in the world to go all in now and try to win a Super Bowl.
The aggression and desire to win makes Elway and the Broncos an easy choice for Day 1 winners.
Loser: Reggie McKenzie
On the first day of free agency, Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie laid an egg so gigantic that it'd make Humpty Dumpty jealous.
Last week, despite possessing an exorbitant amount of cap space ($66 million), he failed to place either the franchise or transition tag on either left tackle Jared Veldheer or defensive end Lamarr Houston, arguably the team's finest young players. As a result, according to Adam Schefter, both are gone, with Veldheer signing with Arizona and Houston inking a deal with the Bears.
Instead of retaining Veldheer, McKenzie lavished greenbacks on tackle/guard Rodger Saffold, signing him to a five-year, $42.5 million deal, with $21 million guaranteed, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
When healthy, Saffold is a very good player, but that's the issue: He has proved to be an injury-plagued player, missing 17 games over the past three seasons. Just last week, I wrote that Saffold represented one of the biggest risks on the market.
To say that McFadden has had a tough time staying healthy would be like saying George Costanza had a tough time finding true love.
McFadden has never played a full 16 games in a season and has missed 19 contests over the last three campaigns. And he's only averaged 3.3 yards per carry over the past two years.
McFadden desperately needed a fresh start, and the Raiders desperately needed to go in another direction. Yet here we are again, with McFadden remaining a Raider, likely unable to stay healthy.
It's possible McKenzie could turn things around and make a number of quality signings, especially given the financial war chest at his disposal. But one day into free agency, he's the biggest loser.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
At the onset of free agency, it was unclear where Bills free-agent safety Jairus Byrd would end up.
But in the 11th hour (OK, it was the fifth, but you get the idea), the New Orleans Saints did their best deus ex machina impression, swooping in out of nowhere to sign the talented safety.
Byrd will team with Kenny Vaccaro to form one of the league's best safety tandems, and only the Seahawks might possess a better combination. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is likely salivating as if he were staring down a bowl of jambalaya.
Despite their perceived salary-cap woes, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis found a way to bring Byrd to the bayou.
And just two years removed from fielding what was statistically the worst unit in NFL history, the Saints defense looks ready for prime time.
Loser: Ray Farmer
New Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer underwhelmed on the opening day of free agency.
The first signing was soon-to-be 33-year-old linebacker Karlos Dansby, whom the team inked to a four-year, $24 million deal with $14 million guaranteed, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Dansby had a fantastic season in 2013, but one must question the wisdom of signing an almost-33-year-old linebacker to a four-year deal. Plus, Dansby is two years older than new Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, whom the Browns released last month.
Next was the signing of former 49ers safety Donte Whitner to a four-year, $28 million contract, as reported by Albert Breer of NFL Network. As a result, the team let safety T.J. Ward walk, and he signed with Denver.
While Whitner is a very good player, Ward had a better 2013 season, finishing with a higher grade in Pro Football Focus' safety rankings. Ward is also a year younger. Plus, Whitner received more money, with Ward receiving a four-year, $23 million deal from the Broncos.
While Farmer did sign Bengals restricted-free-agent receiver Andrew Hawkins to a multi-year offer sheet, per Breer, that isn't enough to offset the four-year deal given to Dansby or paying Whitner more money than Ward.
Farmer still has the funds to make a positive impact in free agency, but Day 1 won't go down as his finest hour.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks have apparently taken a page from DJ Khaled's playbook, because these days, all they do is win.
Just five weeks removed from their triumph in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seahawks experienced their next victory, re-signing prized defensive end Michael Bennett to a four-year, $28.5 million deal, with $16 million guaranteed, per Adam Schefter.
It's a massive coup for general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll. Per Tom Pelissero of USA Today, two teams were prepared to offer Bennett more money than the Seahawks, but he chose to remain in the Pacific Northwest and chase a second consecutive ring.
Bennett contributed 8.5 sacks last season and played very well in the postseason, making Day 1 a smashing success for the Seahawks.
Loser: Eric Decker
Perhaps the most hyped player to hit the free-agent market was Broncos receiver Eric Decker.
And the first day of free agency has come and gone with nary a whisper uttered about Decker's potential suitors.
In fact, none of the seven receivers I profiled in this piece signed on Day 1. That doesn't speak well for this year's wide-receiver market.
For a player that Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald postulated could command up to $10 million per season, Tuesday represented a major disappointment.
Winner: Free-Agent Offensive Tackles
It paid handsomely to be a big-name offensive tackle on Day 1 of free agency.
All four of the top tackles—Eugene Monroe, Branden Albert, Jared Veldheer and Rodger Saffold—broke the bank and are very, very rich men. All of the following financial terms are courtesy of ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Monroe inked a five-year, $37.5 million deal to remain in Baltimore. It's a fantastic signing for the Ravens. When coupled with last week's signing of tight end Dennis Pitta, the team has cleaned up.
Albert signed a five-year, $46 million deal with Miami, including $25 million guaranteed. New Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey desperately needed to address the offensive line and did so successfully by bringing in Albert.
Veldheer is now an Arizona Cardinal, signing a five-year, $35 million deal. The Cardinals have needed stability on their offensive line for years, and Veldheer should fit the bill at left tackle.
And Saffold will be swimming in cash with the Raiders, signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that includes $21 million guaranteed. Saffold represents a risk for general manager Reggie McKenzie, as he's appeared in no more than 12 games over the past three seasons.
All in all, it was a great day to be an offensive tackle. Monroe, Albert, Veldheer and Saffold all got paid.
Loser: Jerry Jones
On Day 1 of free agency, the bill for years of gross cap mismanagement became due for the Dallas Cowboys.
And boy, did they pay the piper.
The Cowboys released pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, who was due to make $12.25 million in 2014. The move will save more than $7 million in cap space.
Although Ware had a down year (by his standards) in 2013, posting only six sacks (the lowest total of his career) while being plagued by an elbow injury, the release is still stunning. Ware is the all-time leading sack artist in Cowboys history and certainly has gas left in the tank.
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has butchered the salary cap for years, often holding on to veterans until they're well past their prime. It's crazy to think Ware didn't receive the same sentimental treatment that guys like Roy Williams and Miles Austin did.
Ware is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. There will be an extensive market for his services, and ESPN's Adam Schefter has already reported that the Broncos are the front-runners to sign the 31-year-old Ware.
For too long, Jones has failed as the team's general manager, and this is the latest in a long line of results that prove that point.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht killed it on the first day of free agency.
First up was the signing of defensive end Michael Johnson to a five-year deal, with ESPN's Josina Anderson reporting the value at $43.75 million.
Despite only garnering 3.5 sacks last season, Johnson finished as Pro Football Focus' fourth-ranked defensive end. He stops the run with aplomb and did have 11.5 sacks in 2012.
Then came the news that they inked cornerback Alterraun Verner to a four-year, $26.5 million deal with $14 million guaranteed, per Adam Schefter. Compared to the four-year, $39 million deal signed by Sam Shields in Green Bay this past weekend, Verner's deal is a bargain. The 25-year old Verner finished 2013 as Pro Football Focus' 12th-ranked cornerback.
There's legitimate reason to be excited about the Buccaneers defense under the guidance of Smith, as Bleacher Report's Matt Miller tweeted.
Even if cornerback Darrelle Revis will soon be an ex-Buccaneer.
Loser: Kansas City Chiefs
While it didn't carry the sting of their postseason collapse in Indianapolis, the Kansas City Chiefs were losers on Day 1 of free agency, and it's because of their players who signed elsewhere.
The team lost tackle Branden Albert, guards Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz, running back/receiver Dexter McCluster and defensive end Tyson Jackson.
As NFL.com's Chris Wesseling pointed out, that's over 3,000 snaps from the 2013 team that went 11-5.
While none of this means the Chiefs won't make the playoffs in 2014, losing quality players never helps.
Especially when they depart in bunches.
Nick Kostos is a featured NFL columnist for Bleacher Report and an executive producer at SiriusXM's Mad Dog Sports Radio. You can follow Nick on Twitter here.
All salary-cap information courtesy of Spotrac