NFL fans across the country knew the minute that superstars Darrelle Revis, DeMarcus Ware and DeSean Jackson changed teams this offseason, but there were plenty of quieter moves that will pay dividends in 2014.
With that in mind, here is a look at some of the under-the-radar free-agent signings that will shape the standings in the fall.
DE Michael Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Even the most talented defensive linemen in the league often get overshadowed, and Michael Johnson fits under that category.
He tallied 56 tackles, two forced fumbles, 3.5 sacks and an interception in the 2013 season, but it was his 2012 campaign that truly turned heads across the league. He notched 11.5 sacks, a fumble recovery and a pick and was an absolute force to be reckoned with in the AFC North.
Johnson moved from the Cincinnati Bengals to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason, and he will prove to be a nightmare for NFC offensive linemen at 6'7" and 270 pounds. He is athletic enough to burst past a block to the outside and bring down the quarterback but strong enough to stuff the middle if needed.
He is also incredibly tall, which helps him get in the passing lanes if he can't get to the quarterback.
Lavonte David is on his way to becoming a superstar in the league at linebacker under head coach Lovie Smith after tallying 145 tackles, five interceptions, seven sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in the second year of his career.
Having a defensive lineman like Johnson in front of him to swallow up blockers will only help David shine as the leader of the Buccaneers defense.
DE Lamarr Houston, Chicago Bears
The loss of Julius Peppers and the addition of Jared Allen were the headlines in terms of the Chicago Bears defensive line, but don't overlook newcomer Lamarr Houston.
Houston totaled six sacks in 2013 for the Oakland Raiders and is just reaching the prime of his career at 26 years old. He can get to the passer with solid speed and is versatile enough to stop the run from the inside or outside.
He even impressed former Bears defender Hunter Hillenmeyer in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the preseason:
This move is so important for Chicago because it is absolutely loaded with offensive weapons. Scoring will not be an issue with Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte, but stopping the other team was absolutely a concern last year. All those points won't mean a thing if Chicago can't stop anyone.
The Bears were dead last in the league against the run in 2013 and needed to shore up the defensive front. The hope is that Houston can help do exactly that.
WR Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
Golden Tate made a name for himself last year because the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl, but in terms of actual production, he wasn't spectacular. He did post 898 receiving yards, but he was stuck in an offense that ran the ball 155 more times than it threw it the past three years.
Tate discussed his move to Detroit and what kind of impact it can have on his numbers, via Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com:
I think my numbers can be way better in this offense naturally how it's set up. I was coming from, you gotta think I was in the toughest division with the 49ers, Rams and Cardinals, defensively, with a run-heavy offense and now I'm going to a pass-happy offense where I'm on the same team as the best player in the league, one of the best players in the league who is going to draw a lot of attention, a lot of double coverage, which is going to leave me with a lot of single coverage with a lot of No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks.
So mentally I think I should be able to excel and do very well here.
That best player in the league Tate is talking about is Calvin Johnson, who will attract extra defensive attention every time he steps on the field. Throw in tight ends Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria as well as running back Reggie Bush, and Matthew Stafford has all kinds of weapons to utilize.
Who wins the NFC North?
Tate's numbers may not go up that much even in an offense that throws the ball so much because there is only one ball for all those playmakers, but this signing is about more than just individual production.
Having a proven receiver on the other side of Johnson will create mismatch scenarios for opposing defenses all year. Either all the focus will remain on Johnson, which will let Tate beat single coverage, or both safeties will be forced to pay attention to the receivers, which will open up the running game and tight ends over the middle.
Defensive coordinators will be picking their poison all season against the Lions.
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