NFL Free Agency a Crazy, Ingenious Frenzy

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NFL Free Agency a Crazy, Ingenious Frenzy
Tim Sharp/AP Images

Have you ever tried to go shopping the day after Black Friday?

The stores are all a mess, the shelves are nearly empty and the only items left are either way overpriced, damaged goods, cheap knockoffs or a Richie Incognito action figure that keeps saying, “your kids will love me, bro” whenever you walk past the clearance bin.

Tuesday was the NFL's version of Black Friday, as the start of free agency created a shopping spree unlike any other day in recent memory.

Tuesday's frenzy—which officially began at 4 p.m. Eastern but clearly started way in advance of the league opening its doors for 2014—became one of the craziest days in the history of the NFL free agency era. For what looked like a marginal crop of free agents this year, the names flying off the shelves have been incredible.

From that comment sent in the wee hours of March 11 through his final tweet of the night, ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted more than 80 times on Tuesday, with all but three centered around breaking NFL news. Each story that came out about free-agency signings or trades seemed bigger, crazier and more noteworthy than the last.

And while Schefter was clearly the media winner of the NFL's first day of free agency, there were hundreds of other writers and reporters—local and national—breaking their own news throughout the day.

Rodger Saffold got how much? The 49ers traded for which former first-round pick? DeMarcus Ware is going…where?

There were hundreds of immensely noteworthy happenings in the first few hours (read: minutes) of free agency, and while it feels like the shelves at the NFL Player Emporium are already barren, there are a few big-ticket items still available—most notably a discounted one-way ticket to Revis Island—and a ton of stocking stuffers that could help make any season brighter.

 

The 4 p.m. Frenzy

Chalk this all up to the brilliance of the NFL marketing gurus. The league expertly manufactured the NFL Free Agency Frenzy on Tuesday, a term used by the NFL Network during its wall-to-wall coverage that began hours and hours before the official start of league year.

Under the collective bargaining agreement, teams have time to negotiate with players for a few days to work out pending deals, but they are not allowed to announce the signing of any players other than those previously under contract until the official start of the league year.

What happened—what that rule creates—is a scenario where fans get the sense that players are being signed within minutes of the doors opening, when in reality, most of those deals have been in the works for days or (don't tell the NFL tampering police) even weeks.

How are Schefter and the likes of Albert Breer, Ian Rappaport, Mike Garafolo, Jason La Canfora and a host of other national and local reporters able to get all this news, including explicit contract details, so quickly? Sometimes they've had those details for days, or at least hours, holding on until the deal is officially done. (Note: Jay Glazer was noticeably absent from the frenzy on Tuesday, tweeting that he had complications during a procedure on his back earlier in the day. The day felt different without him.)

It's like the NFL set up a system where teams can go online and order their toys, but they still have to come to the store on Black Friday to pay for everything, all in an effort to create that mad dash through the door that gets every news channel to come out for even more free publicity.

It's genius, really.

Bob Leverone/Associated Press

 

Releasing Big Names

Of course, things were helped this year by a bevy of enormous names being involved in many of these transactions, and even more rumored ones to come.

Darrelle Revis is certainly the most noteworthy name being discussed this week, with his departure from Tampa Bay and eventual landing spot helping to shape the landscape of a good number of teams in the running for his services.

And if your team isn't in need of a shutdown corner, maybe a Pro Bowl defensive lineman would pique your interest, as both DeMarcus Ware and Julius Peppers were cut on Tuesday.

You want more big names? Sure! The news of Ware's release from Dallas changed the entire defensive end hierarchy for teams in need of a pass-rushing specialist. Earlier on Tuesday it was widely reported that Denver had interest in former Vikings end Jared Allen, and per several reports on NFL Network, the interest was mutual.

Four hours later, after Ware's official release, the Broncos went from trying to lock up the Rhinestone Cowboy to working on a deal with an actual Cowboy.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

 

The Haves and Have-Nots (of the AFC West)

In a matter of one day, the AFC Champion Broncos have gone from Super Bowl contender to…Super Bowl…contender.

Denver already had enough talent to compete for a return to the big game next season, but the use of available cap space and smart decisions to let the likes of Eric Decker and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie leave for free agency gave the Broncos a fat wallet to spend on 2014 upgrades.

Upgrade they have.

Denver signed T.J. Ward to beef up its safety position early on Tuesday, then brought in what many pundits thought was the biggest ticket item available in free agency—and perhaps the best cornerback on the shelf—in Aqib Talib, inking him to a six-year, $57 million contract with $26 million guaranteed.

Add those moves to a big name coming in at defensive end rather than overpaying to retain (a highly productive) Shaun Phillips, and it's hard to say the Broncos haven't gotten a lot better in the first few days of free agency.

The same can't be said for the Raiders.

While Oakland is certainly not finished shopping, its early moves were curious, to say the least. The Raiders let left tackle Jared Veldheer leave town, then overpaid for Rams lineman Rodger Saffold to help replace him. Later in the day, the Raiders also reportedly inked Austin Howard from the Jets to continue to solidify their offensive line.

Who will line up behind that offensive line is anyone's guess at this point. The Raiders let leading rusher Rashad Jennings go to the Giants before re-signing Darren McFadden to a one-year deal. The Raiders also lost defensive end Lamarr Houston to the Bears, one of the top free agents at his position.

There is still time for Oakland to improve, but with all its needs, one has to wonder if there is enough left on the shelf to cross off its entire shopping list.

At least the Raiders seem like they were trying on Tuesday.

As of Wednesday morning, the San Diego Chargers have only signed one free agent, running back Donald Brown, who will—for now—join a crowded backfield with both Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. The Chiefs have been noticeably quiet on the buying front while losing the likes of Brandon Albert, Jon Asamoah, Tyson Jackson, Geoff Schwartz and Dexter McCluster to free agent deals elsewhere.

Harry How/Getty Images

 

The Skill Positions

There are not a lot of super big-talent offensive skill position players available in free agency this year, which is probably part of the reason why players in other positions made most of the Tuesday headlines. But still, it's curious to see when some of the more productive offensive skill position players will ink their deals and how much teams are willing to pay for wheels with a lot of miles on them and little tread left. 

News of Steve Smith's imminent release from Carolina could shift some of the wide receiver action, as it's been reported that he will not be out of a job for long, gaining interest from several teams in need of depth at the position. 

The same goes for Saints running back Darren Sproles. It was initially reported he was going to get released, but when the Saints caught wind of all the teams interested in signing him, reports sprung up that the diminutive back may get traded after all.

And why not? If you're the Saints and you feel you have to depart with Sproles, releasing him in this market seems ridiculous when the top running backs available are Knowshon Moreno, Maurice Jones-Drew and Ben Tate.

There is not a true feature back available on the market, which is why teams are settling for second-tier backups to bolster their current crop of talent. The same goes for wide receiver, with some productive players, who aren't exactly household names, willing to wait a few days in hopes of big free-agent dollars.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The question at receiver is going to be who sets the market first. Decker, Julian Edelman, who is coming off a career year in New England, Golden Tate and James Jones seem to be the most attractive options available, but all could be going after first or premier second receiver money, which teams should be leery of giving to any of them.

Others, like Emmanuel Sanders, Brandon LaFell and Jacoby Jones could all be productive receivers in the right spot, or could end up being overpriced options that never pan out. Then there are the question marks, like Hakeem Nicks or Kenny Britt, who could prove to be a steal if they don't break down or fall apart as soon as your team gets one home from the store.

While the rest of the shelves are almost barren, the skill position aisle still seems stocked to the rafters.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

 

NFC South Goes…Spending Crazy

If you are a fan of the NFC South, you can't say your team isn't getting you anything new this season. Well, unless you're Carolina.

The Saints, who seemingly had no money under the cap and had to let a ton of talented players leave town, got the steal of the day, inking safety Jairus Byrd to a six-year deal just hours after seeing safety Malcolm Jenkins leave for Philadelphia on a three-year deal. That's a serious upgrade for the Saints, who are certainly not done shopping and dropping (players that is) this week.

The Falcons clearly had more cap room than the Saints, but they may not have too much left after signing three players on Tuesday to go with two of their own free agents they'd previously re-signed. Atlanta added guard Jon Asamoah and defensive tackle Tyson Jackson from Kansas City. They also brought in Paul Soliai from Miami to sure up the interior defensive line. 

While other teams are out shopping for sports cars and diamond bracelets, the Falcons found good deals on necessary upgrades to everyday—and perhaps every down—household appliances. There's nothing wrong with that.

Tampa Bay, on the other hand, is out shopping for sports cars and diamonds. Well, perhaps the Bucs are looking to swap a diamond bracelet in Revis in order to free up the cash needed to pay for their newly acquired ride.

Tampa Bay snagged defensive end Michael Johnson away from Cincinnati and cornerback Alterraun Verner from Tennessee, two of the top defensive free agents on the market. They also added defensive tackle Clinton McDonald from the Super Bowl champion Seahawks. Lovie Smith should dress up in a red suit with a puffy white beard for this press conference, because it's Christmas in March for Buccaneers fans, at least in terms of defensive talent.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

 

Minor Niners Trades

Let's end with this. While there is undoubtedly more craziness I didn't comment on, and surely more to come in the next few days as the shelves continue to get picked clean, it was two minor trades the 49ers made on Tuesday that understandably grabbed a ton of headlines during the free agency frenzy.

First, San Francisco traded a sixth-round pick for Jacksonville Jaguars bust Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert will back up Colin Kaepernick for the Niners, reportedly making about twice as much money as the young starter who has been looking for a new deal this offseason. It was a curious move for San Francisco with little risk, but not a lot of upside either.

The second trade of the day for San Francisco is certainly more interesting. The Niners traded a conditional draft pick to Miami for offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, reuniting Martin with his old college coach Jim Harbaugh. If Martin makes the 53-man roster on opening day, the Niners will send the Dolphins a seventh-round pick in 2015.

It's a great deal for Martin, who gets a fresh start with a great team in a favorable environment. It's a good deal for the Niners, who have absolutely no risk and could end up adding a key piece on a strong offensive line.

These trades may not do much for San Francisco on the field, but it's probably a lot smarter than the trade it was offered in February.

Nothing that happened on Tuesday would have been that crazy. 

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