Biggest Winners and Losers of NFL Free Agency so Far

Justin Hussong@@HeatChecksHussContributor IIIMarch 13, 2014

Biggest Winners and Losers of NFL Free Agency so Far

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    New Denver Bronco Aqib Talib is a very rich man after signing a $57 million deal on day one of free agency.
    New Denver Bronco Aqib Talib is a very rich man after signing a $57 million deal on day one of free agency.Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Good ol' NFL free agency, where fans across the nation refresh their Twitter timelines to no end and tremble like kids on Christmas morning just waiting for their favorite teams to spend some dough.

    With the first two days of free agency in the books, we have seen a flurry of signings and roster cuts that has left plenty of fans crying tears of joy, while on the other end of the spectrum there may be a couple of avid fans looking for new television sets after smashing them in a fit of rage.

    The anticipation, excitement and constant rumors together make up one of the most enjoyable times of the year to be an NFL fan. However, not everyone strikes gold in free agency. There are sure to be a handful of teams experiencing buyer's remorse sooner rather than later.

    There is a lot to look at, but here are the five biggest winners and losers from free agency's opening days.

No. 5 Loser: Kansas City Chiefs

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    The Kansas City Chiefs enjoyed a breakout 2013 NFL season, but are now seeing their team go down one by one, similar to the way they all got injured in the playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

    Optimism is not very high as Branden Albert, Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah have all signed elsewhere. Losing three starters on an offensive line can be crippling, especially now with No. 1 pick Eric Fisher having struggled through year one.

    The Chiefs also lost dynamic playmaker and return man Dexter McCluster to the Titans and defensive end Tyson Jackson to the Falcons. That is five pivotal starters gone in two days with little effort made to fill in the holes.

    Kansas City has to react fast in order to keep up the momentum from last season.

No. 5 Winner: New Orleans Saints

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    Bill Haber/Associated Press

    The Saints surprised us all by landing one of the most coveted players on the market in three-time pro-bowl safety Jairus Byrd from the Buffalo Bills for $54 million over six years.

    To play devil's advocate, the Saints did put a premature end to negotiations with tight end Jimmy Graham. They also cut a few players and have made it public that Darren Sproles is going to be traded or released as well since they have little to no cap room.

    The limited cap room made the Byrd signing a big shock, but pairing him with youngster Kenny Vaccaro now gives them a terrifying safety tandem over the middle of the field.

    New Orleans needed to bolster its defense, and now Rob Ryan has a fancy new weapon at his disposal. Hopefully the move does not come back to bite them when Graham feels spurned and jumps ship next offseason.

No. 4 Loser: Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Ed Andrieski/Associated Press

    The Jaguars have fallen victim to the idea of throwing money at players from elite teams in order to improve, a strategy that rarely works. Players who go from contenders to cellar dwellers are not known to earn their keep and mainly do so just to grab a big payday before retirement.

    Jacksonville has already thrown huge money at guard Zane Beadles from the Denver Broncos and defensive end Red Bryant from the Seattle Seahawks, the two teams fresh off of Super Bowl appearances. Both were products of being on great teams and are not worth the hefty paychecks they received.

    The Jags are still going after former Seahawks players likely to suit Gus Bradley, the former Seahawks defensive coordinator. Walter Thurmond and Chris Clemons are on his radar still, but overpaying for familiar players is no way to build a contender.

    Jacksonville also landed Adrian Peterson's backup in Toby Gerhart for three years and $10 million while there were better options on the running back market. So far, the Jags just appear to be aimlessly throwing money at problems in a fit of desperation.

    But hey, at least they traded Blaine Gabbert!

No. 4 Winner: Atlanta Falcons

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    Stephen Morton/Associated Press

    Football games are largely won and lost in the trenches.

    The Atlanta Falcons clearly went into this offseason with a goal to beef up both sides of the line, and have done just that. Atlanta has already wrapped up guard Jon Asamoah and defensive end Tyson Jackson from the Chiefs, (both of whom they overpaid for), to fill glaring needs.

    The Falcons did not stop there. They also brought in defensive tackle Paul Soliai from the Dolphins for five years and $33 million, while also re-upping with current D-tackle Jonathan Babineaux. Not to be forgotten, they also re-signed offensive linemen Joe Hawley and Mike Johnson, while bringing back defensive tackle Corey Peters as well.

    Atlanta most assuredly overpaid for Jackson, Asamoah and Soliai, but they have done a great job snagging help on the line to protect Matt Ryan and also to adapt to the 3-4 defensive scheme. If the money were spent on areas that weren't such a need, they might find themselves on a losers slide instead.

No. 3 Loser: Cleveland Browns

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    T.J. Ward and D'Qwell Jackson were two of the most vital parts of the Cleveland Browns' resurgence on defense last season, and both will be suiting up elsewhere next year.

    Neither exactly broke the bank on the market, making it even more puzzling why Cleveland did not make a solid effort to retain their services.

    In order to fill in their slots, Cleveland went out and got Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner, two capable players at the same positions as Ward and Jackson, but both are older and winded up costing more money.

    Dansby got a four-year deal at age 32 coming off of a one-year "prove it" contract. He had a career year and cashed in on it, but it is highly unlikely Cleveland will see similar production out of him. Ward ended up costing the Denver Broncos less than Whitner cost Cleveland, despite being younger and better. Whitner benefited from a phenomenal front seven on the 49ers and had one of his better years, but is no sure thing to duplicate his success with the Browns for four years and $28 million.

    To make matters worse, Cleveland is gearing towards losing Alex Mack, widely regarded as the best center in the NFL.

No. 3 Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Few teams have been as busy as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    New head coach Lovie Smith has acted quickly and wrapped up defensive end Michael Johnson, cornerback Alterraun Verner and quarterback Josh McCown, who was quickly named the starter.

    Johnson posted just 3.5 sacks last year, but still had an overall nice season for the Bengals and will form a nice duo on the line with Gerald McCoy. Verner had a breakout year with the Titans and will join a revamped secondary. 

    Even better is that Verner and Johnson combined will cost the Bucs less than the newly cut Darrelle Revis would have next year. Revis was not exactly a great fit for Lovie's Tampa-2 defense anyway, so shedding his $16 million next year to bring in two great defensive players was a crafty move.

    The McCown signing was surprising, but he showed promise keeping the Bears afloat during Jay Cutler's injury this past season. There is a comfort level there with Lovie's familiarity with Chicago as well.

    Tampa may not be done, as they are still in the running for Charles Tillman and Emmanuel Sanders.

No. 2 Loser: New York Jets

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    Evan Vucci/Associated Press

    The Jets being labeled a loser so far this offseason is more about what they haven't done as opposed to what they have done.

    They did land receiver Eric Decker for five years and $36 million, a needed addition. However, Decker is more of a secondary receiver than a true number one, and will undoubtedly experience some growing pains catching balls from Geno Smith, as opposed to Peyton Manning.

    Aside from that, the Jets have themselves boatloads of cap room and have whiffed on a number of targets. They went hard after Jairus Byrd, Alterraun Verner and Vontae Davis but came up empty on all three.

    The most painful signing of all is that the dreams of a Revis-Jets reunion quickly turned into nightmares as he inked a deal with the hated New England Patriots.

    You cannot fault the Jets for a lack of effort, but their execution over the first two days has been putrid.

No. 2 Winner: New England Patriots

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    It didn't take long for the Patriots to atone for losing Aqib Talib to the rival Denver Broncos.

    Darrelle Revis is widely regarded as the best cornerback in football. His signing alone makes New England a huge winner so far in free agency. The move escalated quickly as Talib's departure clearly lit a fire under the Patriots.

    New England still has their hand in the Brandon Browner pot as well, but other than that the team has been mostly quiet on the free-agent front. Not much else needs to be done when you can acquire one of the league's best players on a one-year deal.

No. 1 Loser: Oakland Raiders

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Oh, boy.

    The Oakland Raiders have the most cap space in the league at $60 million and so far have crashed and burned in free agency.

    Tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston were unquestionably the team's two best players, but now both will be heading elsewhere. Houston signed with the Chicago Bears for five years and $35 million after GM Reggie McKenzie inexplicably did not franchise him.

    Even worse was the handling of Veldheer, who signed for five years and $35 million with the Arizona Cardinals. Oakland quickly jumped on replacing him with Rodger Saffold, an inferior player, by overpaying him. Saffold was set to earn $7.5 million more over the life of his deal than Veldheer got, raising the question why McKenzie didn't just give that money to Veldheer instead.

    Worst of all, Saffold failed his physical and then re-signed with the St. Louis Rams, leaving the Raiders with tons of cap space and glaring holes on the offensive line with no one worth spending on in free agency. The team did sign tackle Austin Howard from the Jets, a nice player who cannot even begin to overshadow how poorly this offseason has gone so far.

    Oakland also re-signed Darren McFadden for a year and $4 million, as if six injury-plagued underachieving years weren't enough.

    Get it together, Raiders. Al Davis is looking down on you in shame.

No. 1 Winner: Denver Broncos

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The Denver Broncos are clearly mad about laying an egg in the Super Bowl, so they have instead decided to lay all of their eggs in next season's basket.

    If Denver does not win it all next year, they will be in deep trouble with Von Miller, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas, Joel Dreessen, Jacob Tamme, Duke Ihenacho and Terrance Knighton all set to hit free agency in 2015, but no Broncos fan is thinking about that right now.

    Denver has made the biggest splashes so far landing Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and DeMarcus Ware to an already stalwart defense. Those are three legitimate playmakers who should fit in very well and add an incredible amount of thump to the team.

    The Broncos did lose Eric Decker and Zane Beadles, but that was to be expected. Few expected them to make this kind of noise as they shocked the world with the Talib signing for six years and $57 million.

    The Ward move was predictable, but did not go unnoticed. He will give the team an added threat over the middle, an area where the defense struggled last year.

    Ware now teams with Von Miller to form what is likely the most horrifying pass-rushing duo in recent history, provided Miller recovers swimmingly from his ACL tear. Both had injuries this past year, resulting in the first three missed games of Ware's career, but should be sure to return to form upon getting Miller healthy. The two combined for 30 sacks in 2012.

    It is hard to not declare the Broncos the very early favorites to win the Super Bowl next year after the loud statements they have made in free agency.