2010 NFL Free Agency: Sorting Out the Winners and Losers of The NFC

Zack NallyCorrespondent IMarch 6, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO - DECEMBER 14:  Antrel Rolle #21 of the Arizona Cardinals warms up prior to the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on December 14, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

This year's uncapped free agency period is already off to a roll and it's not over yet. Chicago and Detroit have made the biggest splashes so far, and the New York Jets turned a few heads as well. Thursday night through Friday morning was a period fraught with verbal contracts and signed agreements. 

The dust is starting to clear, but the ride isn't anywhere close to being over. There are still question marks surrounding some of the league's most prolific offensive weapons and doubts as to whether or not the age of capped spending is over. 

This offseason will mark an era where young, unproven talent is tendered and those in their prime will either become collateral damage or owners of a lucrative contract. Not much is different from a typical free agency period, save for the fact that nearly every position's average salary is bound to adjust. 

NFC North

So far, the old "black-and-blue" division has created the most noise since late Thursday evening. Detroit's signing of former Seahawks wide receiver Nate Burleson and defensive end Kyle Vanden-Bosch from Tennessee tapped the lines first.

Their earlier release of defensive tackle Grady Jackson and cornerback Phillip Buchanon came as a surprise until a trade with Cleveland for defensive end/defensive tackle Corey Williams answered any questions about the Lions' commitment to a stronger defense.

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Chicago has divvied out the most money at this point, signing possibly the biggest name in free agency, defensive end Julius Peppers, to a six year deal worth potentially $91.5 million. The former Panther was, at one point, reported to have interest in a number of teams, but was inevitably drawn in by Chicago's lucrative offer. 

Later the same day, the Bears also signed Minnesota's backup runningback Chester Taylor to a long-term deal. Taylor is a versatile back who can carry the load on first and second down and catch out of the backfield. 

Minnesota has been relatively quiet so far due to the 'final eight rule', but Vikings fans are already beginning to feel the loss of Taylor. While the team may not publicly admit it, they are concerned over Favre's decision and now the once-steady halfback position has needs to address. 

Green Bay declined to tender left tackle Chad Clifton and then picked him up from free agency and signed him to a three-year deal worth $20 million. Defensive end Aaron Kampman will likely continue on his path away from the Packers.

Ted Thompson has been dubbed "Tightwad Ted" for a reason, so don't expect Green Bay to make any big changes, not this year. So far, it appears Chicago has emerged as the most advantageous club in the North. 

The Bears don't have a pick in the draft until the third round so it's important that they get the job done in free agency. With a deeper backfield and a legitimate pass rush tandem in Brown and Peppers, not to mention the return of Urlacher, the Bears look ready to once again contend for the division. 

NFC East

Contrary to the normal routine, Washington did not make a big splash on day one of free agency. Rather, they cleaned house. On the eve before the market opened, the 'Skins released wide receiver Antwaan Randel-El, defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, and cornerback Fred Smoot, just three of the 10 veterans sent packing. 

It's been reported that head coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen, the men in charge of spending the money, have received no fiscal restrictions from owner Daniel Snyder, so Washington's next move could be a big one. 

Philadelphia has played the role of the conservative club thus far, signing only their own fullback Leonard Weaver for now. It's reported there's a strong interest between defensive end Aaron Kampman and the Eagles' front office, but a deal remains to be seen. 

The Giants carved their own signature in the market with the signing of former Arizona safety Antrel Rolle. Rolle claims his marriage with New York safety Kenny Phillips, a fellow former Miami Hurricane, will prove to be the most dynamic safety pairing in the league. 

The Dallas Cowboys are feeling the restrictions set down by the 'final eight rule', but owner Jerry Jones is confident the fiscal limitations won't prohibit the team from acquiring a few upgrades here and there. So far, though, the team's biggest news is its first-round tendering of wide receiver Miles Austin. 

At this point, the East has been relatively quiet and it looks as if New York will come out of all this with the most to gain. Manning's receivers are older and more experienced and Rolle adds a new dynamic to the team's defensive backfield. Barring any major injuries and a terrible draft strategy, the Giants stand to reclaim the East next year. 

NFC South 

The Carolina Panthers have made the most noise in their house-cleaning moves. Two of the highest-decorated players in team history, defensive end Julius Peppers and quarterback Jake Delhomme, have been released, marking a new direction for the team. 

There have been no other major moves to acquire anyone just yet, though Eagles' quarterback Michael Vick has reportedly expressed a strong interest to play with the Panthers. Carolina has retained its core group of role players and will likely wait for the draft to make any major moves.

Tampa Bay is playing their cards close this offseason. Not much has come out of Raymond James Stadium and it's doubtful anything will by day's end. Aside from releasing a few punters and a reserve corner, the Bucs plan to play it quiet this year. 

Atlanta became a big spender when they signed cornerback Dunta Robinson to a six-year, $57 million contract. The also came to an agreement with backup quarterback Chris Redman and a few other key role players with expiring contracts. 

As a side not, former Falcons' runningback Warrick Dunn also became a partial owner of the team, one of seven. 

The Saints are playing the market slow and steady, releasing a few recognizable names in defensive end Charles Grant and linebacker Scott Fujita. Due to the league's restrictions, it's doubtful New Orleans will make any major moves, but dealings between the team and safety Darren Sharper remain a strong point of interest. 

Right now, Atlanta has the upper hand. Quarterback Matt Ryan will be healthy again next year, with a capable offense and a defense made legitimate with the signing of the market's best available cornerback. It's undeniable that New Orleans has the means to a happy end, but the Falcons may have a shot at contention nonetheless. 

NFC West

San Francisco isn't expected to make any major noise in free agency, but New York Giants' free agent quarterback David Carr is visiting the 49ers facilities this weekend and could potentially be the team's biggest signing until the draft.

Singletary fought for the retaining of offensive tackle David Baas and linebacker Ahmad Brooks and it's been reported the team has come to agreements with both players. 

Seattle lost wide receiver Nate Burleson to the Detroit Lions but are hot in their pursuit of Denver's Brandon Marshall to complement TJ Houshmandzadeh. The deal isn't solid yet, but it's likely to happen before the weekend is up. 

The Seahawks are also reported to have interest in Aaron Kampman. The team has multiple first-round picks to work with, meaning Seattle isn't done dealing just yet. 

After St. Louis released long-time quarterback Marc Bulger, all eyes went to finding an heir to the throne. There are speculations that the Rams will grab their franchise quarterback with the first pick in the draft or that they may actively pursue the Eagles' Donovan McNabb.

Even their recent signing of A.J. Feely doesn't remotely answer their quarterback questions. The Rams' new ownership will provide a hurdle or two for making any noise in the market, but there's still time for the team to make some much-needed upgrades.

Right now, the biggest news out of Arizona is the signing of former Cardinals' stars to other teams. Safety Antrel Rolle, linebacker Karlos Dansby, and wideout Anquan Boldin are all out. 

The Cardinals had a number of expiring contracts to face this offseason, so the loss of the "big three" wasn't entirely unexpected. Arizona still has time to make a few upgrades, but there won't be any major changes, not yet anyway. 

Seattle has undergone the biggest change in the West, on and off the field. Their hiring of Pete Carroll and his coaching staff marked the start of a new era, separate once and for all from the Holmgren mentality of the past. The possible acquisition of Marshall and Kampman only sweeten the pot.

Nothing is set in stone, but even without a big splash in free agency, the 'Hawks have two early first round picks they could use to grab a couple playmakers.

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