Stock Up, Stock Down for NFL Teams After First Week of Free Agency
Before you read these words: Be wary.
The NFL offseason is not a zero-sum game. You can't just compare the new players that are inbound with the old players that are outbound and declare winners and losers.
Yes, it looks like that's exactly what's about to happen—but each of the following "Stock Up, Stock Down" slides were crafted with the consideration of whom the players are, how they fit into the scheme and what their future production might be.
For example: The loss of wide receiver Hakeem Nicks doesn't hurt the New York Giants much, because they have other receivers and seem to be generally over Nicks' inconsistency. The addition of Nicks to the Colts receiver corps is potentially huge, because they desperately need a player with his size and skill set.
Even with all the vagaries of projecting players onto different teams, there are some teams that so obviously got better that they couldn't be anything but "up" and teams that so clearly bled talent that they couldn't be anything but "down."
Here are 10 of the biggest stock-price swings of the first week of NFL free agency, and an up/down/hold verdict on the other 22.
Stock Up: Denver Broncos
Key Arrivals: DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Emmanuel Sanders
Key Departures: Eric Decker, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Zane Beadles
The Denver Broncos aren't just in win-now mode, they're in win-it-all-now mode. After securing a first-round bye in two consecutive seasons and coming home without a title both times, team President John Elway did a masterful job of getting four premier players in the door.
Pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware should still have plenty left in the tank; he and Von Miller are going to be terrifying. Aqib Talib, should he stay healthy and focused, is a more-than-worthy replacement for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
As ESPN Denver's Cecil Lammey relayed to Bleacher Report, a top Broncos executive said Emmanuel Sanders "is simply better" than Eric Decker, and guard Zane Beadles did not have a great 2013.
On the whole, the Broncos drastically upgraded on defense and—if such a thing is possible—got even better on offense.
Stock Down: Carolina Panthers
Key Arrivals: Roman Harper
Key Departures: Steve Smith Sr., Brandon LaFell, Domenik Hixon, Ted Ginn Jr., Captain Munnerlyn, Mike Mitchell
That list of arrivals and departures pretty much says it all—and calling aging part-timer Roman Harper a "key" addition is being kind. The Panthers let essentially their entire wide receiver corps walk in free agency, including Panthers captain and icon Steve Smith.
For a team that went 12-4 and came within two touchdowns of going to the NFC Championship Game, choosing to strip and refinish the offense is an odd choice.
By re-signing young stud defensive end Greg Hardy, the Panthers showed they're committed to having a great defense for the long haul. Perhaps a mini-rebuild in 2014 will lead to great things in 2015.
Stock Up: Oakland Raiders
Key Arrivals: Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Smith, Donald Penn, Austin Howard, James Jones, Tarell Brown, Kevin Boothe
Key Departures: Lamarr Houston, Jared Veldheer, Rashad Jennings
I can hear your anguished screams.
I can hear thousands of browser tabs being closed in disgust.
I can hear dozens of all-caps comments being angrily composed.
Lamarr Houston, Jared Veldheer and Rashad Jennings are three good young veterans, the kind teams usually fight to keep around. The Raiders were sitting on a dragon's hoard of salary-cap gold and had no excuse to let any free agent walk.
Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley are aging and not the players they used to be. James Jones' career production probably has more to do with Aaron Rodgers than James Jones.
I get it.
But between Tuck, Woodley and Antonio Smith, there's no doubting that the Raiders greatly bolstered their front seven. By re-signing Khalif Barnes, as well as adding Donald Penn and Austin Howard, they've got the tackle spot covered. Penn, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), greatly outplayed Veldheer in 2013. They also upgraded at guard, with Kevin Boothe.
Tarell Brown was one of my hidden gems of free agency and will pair with a healthy D.J. Hayden to shore up a terribly leaky secondary.
All in all, the Raiders got much better—and gained much more draft flexibility—with this free-agency class.
Oh, and while the Rodger Saffold thing was embarrassing, it probably played out all for the best.
Stock Down: Dallas Cowboys
Key Arrivals: Henry Melton
Key Departures: Jason Hatcher, DeMarcus Ware
It's hard to sugarcoat this.
In this day and age of the NFL, you can't excuse losing good players for salary-cap reasons. Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware were not only Cowboys mainstays, they were both very productive after switching to new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's 4-3.
NFL general managers have long since figured out how to massage the cap to get whatever players they want in the door—see the theoretically cap-strapped New Orleans Saints signing Jairus Byrd—but not Jerry Jones and the Cowboys. Letting these two walk is pure cap mismanagement.
Henry Melton is a talented player, but he's not Hatcher and Ware rolled into one. Between injury problems and a weird legal incident hanging over his head, he's not without baggage either.
Hard to see where Brandon Weeden fits.
Stock Up: Cleveland Browns
Key Arrivals: Ben Tate, Andrew Hawkins, Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner
Key Departures: D'Qwell Jackson, T.J. Ward, Brandon Weeden
Ben Tate is a perfect free-agent signing: Great value, known quantity, fits the system, familiar to the coaches and young enough to still have some upside.
Andrew Hawkins should be able to do some damage across from Josh Gordon, Karlos Dansby is a little older than D'Qwell Jackson but dramatically outplayed him in 2013, and Donte Whitner isn't a bad replacement for T.J. Ward—whom the Browns weren't ever going to be able to keep.
Is it mean to call Brandon Weeden addition by subtraction? Both parties are likely glad to be moving on.
Stock Down: Tennessee Titans
Key Arrivals: Wesley Woodyard, Michael Oher, Dexter McCluster
Key Departures: Alterraun Verner
Unlike other premier free agents plainly looking to get paid, Alterraun Verner expressed "love" for Tennessee, according to Jim Wyatt of The Tennesseean, before moving on to Tampa Bay. The Titans, despite needing cover corners like Verner for new defensive coordinator Ray Horton's defense, wouldn't pay Verner market value.
Worse yet, they didn't get any of the several quality corners available to replace him.
Instead, they got Wesley Woodyard—who lost his starting inside linebacker job in Denver—a below-average tackle in Michael Oher and returner Dexter McCluster.
Woodyard is a hard-working leader, and McCluster addresses a need. It's hard to see how those three will compensate for the loss of Verner, though.
Stock Up: Atlanta Falcons
Key Arrivals: Paul Soliai, Jon Asamoah, Tyson Jackson
Key Departures: None
The Falcons addressed their crying need at the right guard position with arguably the best available option. They also got a lot, lot bigger on the offensive line with nose tackle Paul Soliai and end Tyson Jackson.
The 3-4 look their defense has used over the last season or two could become their base package.
The pressure is now on assistant general manager Scott Pioli; Asamoah and Jackson are two pricey imports from Kansas City, where Pioli was in charge. If Jackson and Asamoah pan out, they'll be great additions at positions of great need.
If not, head coach Mike Smith could pay the price for a second consecutive disappointing season.
Stock Down: Kansas City Chiefs
Key Arrivals: Joe Mays
Key Departures: Geoff Schwartz, Jon Asamoah, Tyson Jackson, Branden Albert, Akeem Jordan, Dexter McCluster
The loss of left tackle Branden Albert was anticipated in 2013, with the drafting of Eric Fisher No. 1 overall. Losing both Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz, though, really stings—many anticipated the Chiefs would hold on to one of them, but instead they'll be scrambling for a starting right guard.
Tyson Jackson never lived up to his No. 3 overall draft status but was a rotational contributor. Akeem Jordan was the fourth-best linebacker on a 3-4 team with three monster linebackers but was still a quality player; better than Joe Mays, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Dexter McCluster is a pure returner, but good returners can be valuable—and the Chiefs also lost their other returner, safety Quintin Demps.
Stock Up: New York Giants
Key Arrivals: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond, Geoff Schwartz, Rashad Jennings, Jameel McClain, Trindon Holliday
Key Departures: Linval Joseph, Hakeem Nicks, Justin Tuck
Losing Linval Joseph hurts.
Other than that, it's all smiles for Big Blue. Not only did they part ways with two big names who'd become more trouble than they were worth, they signed a grip of players who make them a lot better in key areas.
The Giants snagged a key cornerback off of each Super Bowl team (OK, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was significantly more "key" than Walter Thurmond, but still). Plus the Giants landed surprise standout guard Geoff Schwartz, tailback Rashad Jennings, former Ray Lewis successor Jameel McClain and the always-dangerous Trindon Holliday.
The Giants also compensated for the loss of role players like Keith Rivers with role players like O'Brien Schofield—and we haven't even addressed the part where the Giants retained seven free agents-to-be, including starting middle linebacker Jon Beason.
Stock Down: New York Jets
Key Arrivals: Eric Decker, Breno Giacomini
Key Departures: Austin Howard
In receiver Eric Decker, the New York Jets landed everybody's consensus No. 1 "this guy is going to get paid way too much and be asked to do way too much" player of the 2014 free-agency class, which is a dubious distinction.
In tackle Breno Giacomini, the Jets nicely upgraded over the departing Austin Howard.
The most damning thing about the Jets' offseason is the resounding silence after that. Blessed with plenty of cap space, the Jets cut underperforming veterans like receiver Santonio Holmes and cornerback Antonio Cromartie to get even more.
Then...they didn't do much.
Decker isn't a do-everything No. 1 wide receiver, and beyond Jeremy Kerley the Jets don't have any credible complementary pieces either. The Jets failed to sign any of the many quality corners available—especially Cromartie's cousin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who went to fellow MetLife Stadium tenants the New York Giants.
This apparently willing failure to improve is bad news for head coach Rex Ryan, quarterback Geno Smith and Jets fans everywhere.
Arizona Cardinals: Added Jared Veldheer and some marginal players; lost Karlos Dansby and some marginal players. Stock: HOLD.
Baltimore Ravens: Re-signed Dennis Pitta and Eugene Monroe, both of whom were huge. Added Steve Smith; lost Art Jones. Stock: HOLD.
Buffalo Bills: Lost the season's best free agent; made a few good under-the-radar pickups. Why Chris Williams, though? Stock: HOLD.
Chicago Bears: Lost Julius Peppers and Henry Melton; added Lamarr Houston and a bunch of questionably useful players. Held on to Charles Tillman. Stock: HOLD.
Cincinnati Bengals: Lost free agency's best pass-rusher, a starting-caliber left tackle and a couple of young role players. Deep enough that it won't hurt much, but... Stock: DOWN.
Detroit Lions: Added potential missing link to offense/return game in Golden Tate. Kept Brandon Pettigrew. Lost Louis Delmas, Willie Young. Anticipated signing of James Ihedigbo would help. Stock: HOLD.
Green Bay Packers: Got Julius Peppers, retained several key defensive players like B.J. Raji and Mike Neal. Suddenly overloaded on the front seven. Lost James Jones, Evan Dietrich-Smith, M.D. Jennings; didn't replace any of them. Stock: HOLD.
Houston Texans: Lost Ben Tate, Antonio Smith and several others. Re-signed Garrett Graham. Stock: DOWN.
Indianapolis Colts: Kept Vontae Davis, Pat McAfee and Adam Vinatieri, all key players. Added D'Qwell Jackson, Art Jones and Hakeem Nicks, all of whom could be huge. Lost Donald Brown and Antoine Bethea. Stock: UP.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Re-signed everybody important, cornered market on ex-Seahawks. Overpaid Zane Beadles, but still. Stock: UP.
Miami Dolphins: Finally landed Branden Albert. Kept Brent Grimes and Randy Starks. Lost Paul Soliai, but didn't lose much else. Added a couple of wild cards in the secondary. Stock: UP.
Minnesota Vikings: Replenished once-storied defensive line with Linval Joseph. Held on to Everson Griffen. Needed two cornerbacks and got two; needed an inside linebacker and got one. Stock: UP.
New England Patriots: Got Revis. Stock: UP.
New Orleans Saints: Tagged Jimmy Graham, re-signed Zach Strief, landed Jairus Byrd. Didn't go over cap. Magic? Stock: UP.
Philadelphia Eagles: Traded for Darren Sproles, added Malcolm Jenkins. Didn't lose much. Stock: UP.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Two decent pickups in Cam Thomas and Mike Mitchell. Losing Emmanuel Sanders hurts, but the only thing Steelers do better than draft wideouts is know when to let wideouts walk. Stock: HOLD.
San Diego Chargers: Re-signed inside linebacker Donald Butler, which was job No. 1. Added tailback Donald Brown, which should stabilize backfield. Lost Cam Thomas and Derek Cox off the defense, though. Stock: HOLD.
San Francisco 49ers: Lost Donte Whitner, stepped down to Antoine Bethea for not much less money. Lost Tarell Brown, stepped down to Chris Cook. Still crazy loaded, and with a ton of high draft picks, but... Stock: DOWN.
Seattle Seahawks: Cap-strapped Super Bowl champions. Kept Michael Bennett, got picked nearly clean of remaining free agents. Stock: DOWN.
St. Louis Rams: Kept Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Rodger Saffold, for what that's worth. Cortland Finnegan's time to move on had come. Stock: HOLD.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Got Revis' contract off the books, and Verner for half the price. Got best pass-rusher available in Michael Johnson. Re-loaded offensive line, inside and out. Stock: UP.
Washington: Jason Hatcher anchors a rich crop of mid-level free agents who fit needs. Stock: UP.
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