NFL Free Agency 2014: Early Winners and Losers
Oakland Raiders fans were this writer's worst critics when previewing free agency the past two-plus months. They just couldn't fathom how we couldn't see them getting a whole lot better with so much salary-cap space.
After the first week, they aren't going to be any happier. Their team got older. And it got embarrassed.
Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos are the team everyone in the AFC West is trying to catch, and they just widened the gap...and show no signs of stopping, making Emmanuel Sanders their latest addition Sunday, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The NFL free-agent period has proven the rich merely get richer. We present you an eight-part slideshow of the top winners and losers the first week of free agency, with a heavy lean toward the teams that made the quick-strike additions—both in quality and quantity.
Winner: Denver Broncos and John Elway
The Denver Broncos are not just scoring on volume in free agency. They are getting the right players, premium guys, and at important positions.
Despite losing Eric Decker to the New York Jets, the allure of Peyton Manning brought a solid outside threat back to Denver on Sunday in Emmanuel Sanders, who is getting a three-year, $15 million deal, according to Adam Schefter.
Sanders was just the latest in a quick, impressive haul that has already landed safety T.J. Ward, shutdown cornerback Aqib Talib and pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware.
GM John Elway, as brilliant in the front office as he was fronting the Broncos as quarterback, scoffs at the notion the moves are a late-career Hail Mary for Manning, telling Gray Caldwell of the Broncos' official website:
I think that's really the misnomer of the reporting—obviously these contracts are big contracts, but there's some fluff in some of these contracts, too. I think that the bottom line is that we're not doing anything to mortgage our future. I've always said that everyone keeps talking about, "Well, you're doing this to win now." I say, "No, we're doing this to win now on." That's what we're doing. We're not mortgaging our future. We had some cap room this year and we had some cash available and we're able to get in the bidding for these top free agents.
By no means have we done anything cap-wise or anything to mortgage or take away from the future. (Owner and CEO) Pat Bowlen is the one that is insistent on winning from now on. I hear him loud and clear.
After adding those four big pieces to the mix, the Broncos still have almost $5.4 million of space, according to Spotrac.com.
Loser: Reggie McKenzie and the Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders came into the offseason with the most cap space in football, and they still have the most space by a wide, wide margin at more than $57 million, according to Spotrac.com.
Instead of being a big winner, gobbling up premium talent, GM Reggie McKenzie and the Oakland Raiders have had to deal with spare parts, has-beens and injury risks. Sure, the Raiders have signed some big names among their seven contracts this week—LaMarr Woodley, Justin Tuck, Tarell Brown—but no one that anyone truly wanted.
Topping off that unfortunate reality was the fiasco they went through with the Rams' Rodger Saffold, as the San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur outlines here. That was just insult to injury.
The Raiders have once again been exposed as a poor excuse of an NFL franchise.
Winner: CB Darrelle Revis, New England Patriots
We cannot yet call the New England Patriots a winner in free agency, because they still have holes on their defense, but their big addition this past week, Darrelle Revis, is clearly a benefactor.
That is assuming Revis passes his physical and the Pats finally announce the deal, according to MassLive.com's Nick Underhill.
Don't worry, though, we are not talking about the Oakland Raiders here. This is Bill Belichick and the Patriots—two franchises a world apart in the way they do business.
When it is announced, the Pats will have the offseason's biggest single get at two years and $32 million, according to OvertheCap.com. That is really only $11.5 million guaranteed, which is the exact amount Aqib Talib is guaranteed from the Broncos.
Revis is still a big winner, though, because he gets to play for a championship with the Patriots, as opposed to being a single star amid a Tampa Bay Buccaneers rebuilding program.
Loser: Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys were woefully over the cap coming into the offseason, so they stood to have to trim the fat before they could do anything. They do rank in the middle of the pack now in available cap space at $13.4 million, according to Spotrac.com, but we are still waiting for them to get started.
DeMarcus Ware is in Denver and Jason Hatcher went to Washington, while the Cowboys have only managed to sign Terrell McClain from Houston and Jeremy Mincey from Denver, according to Spotrac.com. That is hardly a fair trade.
Jared Allen and Henry Melton could become game-changers for their situation, but David Moore of the Dallas Morning News writes it might be one or the other. They need to find a way to be Denver Broncos-like and get both.
We have learned early here that Jerry Jones is no John Elway, though.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't figure to be the most popular destination for free agents this winter, but they sure have been. The Bucs have signed 10 players to a league-high $142 million, according to Spotrac.com (subscription required).
They might have lost Darrelle Revis, but that was by choice. They replaced him with Alterraun Verner and a host of workable pieces along both lines of scrimmage.
They got a left tackle in Anthony Collins and a center in Evan Dietrich-Smith. On defense, they attacked the edge with pass-rusher Michael Johnson and the interior with Clinton McDonald.
They also picked up a quarterback in Josh McCown and immediately named him the starter, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.
Few teams can go into the offseason attempting to execute a plan to add two starting linemen on offense and defense, an elite corner and a starting quarterback. The Bucs pulled it off.
Loser: Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton
The Carolina Panthers needed to find a wide receiver for Cam Newton this winter. Now, they need to sign two, three or four...and they will have to do it with few premium options left.
Steve Smith signed a three-year, $11.5 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens, according to Spotrac.com. Brandon LaFell went to the New England Patriots, Ted Ginn left for the Arizona Cardinals and Domenik Hixon is now with the Chicago Bears, as the Charlotte Observer's Joseph Person laments.
And the Panthers have had to watch all of the top wide receivers fly off the board elsewhere.
Eric Decker is with the New York Jets. Golden Tate is with the Detroit Lions. Andre Roberts went to the Washington Redskins. Dexter McCluster chose the Tennessee Titans. And Hakeem Nicks decided to play with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis.
The situation in Carolina isn't dire, because the defense still can keep the franchise-tagged Greg Hardy, but the secondary did lose cornerback Captain Munnerlyn to the Minnesota Vikings and safety Mike Mitchell to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Only the Cincinnati Bengals, who have signed no one, have given out fewer guaranteed dollars to free agents this winter, according to Spotrac.com (subscription required).
This is no way to prop up your franchise quarterback Cam Newton.
Winner: New Orleans Saints and S Jairus Byrd
The New Orleans Saints entered the offseason in the unenviable position of having the best free agent on the market, Jimmy Graham, and one of the tightest salary-cap budgets, according to Spotrac.com.
Few could have seen them signing one of the most sought-after pieces in free agency. That is exactly what they did, nabbing safety Jairus Byrd for Rob Ryan's defense.
Byrd said of the move, via John DeShazier of the Saints' official website:
I think there are great things to come here in New Orleans and I'm excited to join this team. We played against the Saints this year, and I saw their style of play and was impressed by it.
I think I will fit well in the scheme. This is a great opportunity to join a championship organization. I look forward to meeting my new teammates and being part of a great Saints defense.
If you count Graham as a signed player and Byrd as the best addition of those players available going into free agency—before the release of the likes of Darrelle Revis and DeMarcus Ware—you can say the Saints signed the two best players on the market, on offense and defense, despite having the least cap space. That is impressive.
Loser: Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs fans learned the cost of success last week. Left tackle Branden Albert, right tackle Geoff Schwartz and guard Jon Asamoah each signed elsewhere. It is tough to lose three linemen and not feel the sting.
Jamaal Charles could not have liked to see it, even if he saw it coming.
Worse still, the Chiefs could not re-sign Dexter McCluster either and still have one of the tightest salary-cap budgets with less than $6.3 million to spend, according to Spotrac.com. It is going to be hard to fill those holes and get better at the same time.
Oh, and perhaps most damaging, the Denver Broncos and John Elway just happen to have owned this first week of the offseason.
It's good to be the king, right chief?
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.
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