Any league's preseason free agency signing period can often be make it or break it for many teams, and this NFL offseason has been particularly so.
The Philadelphia Eagles have come away looking like the team standing in the way of anyone else's Super Bowl victory. The Jets landed the man who caught the a Super Bowl-winning touchdown for their crosstown rival, and the Patriots reclaimed a couple of project players.
Other teams, though, haven't fared so well. Some are downright dormant in free agency, and some are completely ignoring their best options.
Chicago has made bargain moves that don’t seem to account for the reduced length of the 2011 season. Throughout the lockout everyone expected Chicago to be a major player for big targets such as Plaxico Burress to give Cutler a little help. Instead, they picked players deemed unfit for Dallas’ 6-10 squad and let the linchpin of their offensive line walk.
The loss of Center Olin Kreutz could prove to be the season’s defining moment for the Bears. Kreutz, who played with Chicago for 13 loyal seasons, found himself blindsided at the negotiating table by a one year, $4 million offer and an hour to take it or leave it.
After the fact, General Manager Jerry Angelo cited the team’s best interests as the reason for being so abrupt with Kreutz:
I told Olin, and I told his agent, if we can't get this done, in a certain time frame, then we need to move on, because it is about the team. We can't lose our options.
That option turned out to be another under-.500 team’s reject: Seattle’s Chris Spencer, who landed a two-year deal with the Bears.
Chicago’s offensive line was already awful and suffered from inconsistency. In a miniature offseason it is especially important for every team to weigh its options against the time available to work with new players. Kreutz was Chicago’s only chance at an express build of rookie Gabe Carimi and an even semi-solid O-line. The adjustment period will be too great for too many new players.
And the subsequent negative attitude in the locker room certainly won’t help any, either.
All over $500,000 that the Bears don’t seem to be saving for anyone else.
Come November, Angelo will likely wish he hadn’t been so stingy with his change jar.
The Dolphins have been largely quiet in free agency, primarily signing their own rookies and a couple of aging, veteran players. They did acquire Reggie Bush in a trade with the Saints and made a failed play for Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton before falling mostly silent again.
Perhaps the only significant thing Miami has done this offseason is sign Carolina quarterback Matt Moore. Moore has been just behind the starting job in Carolina for the majority of his career and showed promise when given opportunities early on. Over the years, though, his stats have depleted and last season, after being named the Panthers’ starter, he was forced to share the season with disappointing rookie Jimmy Clausen.
Moore just won’t be enough of an upgrade to Chad Henne and without making more changes to their weak O-line (Mark Colombo and Mike Pouncey won’t quite do the trick) to help out their average QBs and revamped running game, they’ll be looking at another 7-9 season.
It was just last year that the 49ers entered the season as front-runners for the NFC West. Rotating quarterbacks and a November injury to star running back Frank Gore derailed that possibility in a big way, and the Niners front office seems to be all right with that.
They sat through the lockout with no quarterback at all under contract and were expected to make a play for a veteran to support second-round draft pick Colin Kaepernick. That “veteran” turned out to be their own Alex Smith, who has had a very mediocre five years with the 49ers. The only season he started all 16 games, he threw as many interceptions as touchdown passes (16).
If they’re unwilling to go out of their way to fix their passing game, one could assume they’d be focusing on their ground game. Instead, they’ve let their only offensive threat stage a holdout, and GM Trent Baalke has voiced a willingness to start the season without the Pro Bowler:
I think you always have to be prepared for everything that comes up. So are we prepared to (play without him)? Certainly.
Gore is in the final season of his contract and is scheduled to earn just $2.9 million plus a $2 million roster bonus. With other top-rated running backs such as Darren McFadden and Steven Jackson making nearly double that on teams that value their services but don’t quite depend on them, one can understand Gore’s perspective.
Plus, unlike disgruntled superstar Chris Johnson across the country, for 28-year-old Gore it seems to be more about an extension than a big payday.
Baalke would do well to entertain Gore’s request and give his offense a fighting chance.
Or he can do like he’s done all offseason and sit back and watch Gore join teammates Manny Lawson, Nate Clements, Aubrayo Franklin and Takeo Spikes on some more appreciative team once he, too, hits free agency next year.