If you had a craving for some NFL news, yesterday was surely a full helping of non-stop free agent action. While there are still several big name players yet to strike a deal, the big chuck of the “Tier A” guys had their names called out yesterday during the madness. The chaos will likely continue throughout today as well, with players flying into their perspective future cities for physicals and interviews with coaching staffs and front office personnel. While we have yet to get the details of any of those deal, there is plenty to talk about from yesterday alone. So, who were the “winners” and “losers” on opening day?
Cleveland Browns: Winner
Landing a player like Paul Kruger at a reasonable 5-year/$40M tag would be more than enough to send Cleveland into the win column, but they made much more of a splash than that on opening day. They swooped up Desmond Bryant and, according to Adam Schefter, signed Quentin Groves early this morning. The linebacking core was the top issue that needed to be addressed in The Land, and they have done more than enough to fill that quota. Their free agency opening day might get even sweeter if the reports are true from Jason LaCanfora.
Browns could still make more deals today. Have some interest in Redskins TE Fred Davis
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 13, 2013
Baltimore Ravens: Loser
Talk about turning over a roster, the Baltimore Ravens are, at least currently, a shell of the team we saw win the Super Bowl a little over a month ago. With Ray Lewis (retiring), Paul Kruger (to division rival, Browns), and Dannell Ellerbe (to Dolphins) all moving on to greener pastures, the position that has been a strength for the last decade is now riddled with holes. To add insult to injury, there are talks that the San Francisco 49ers are courting Ed Reed, after swiping Anquan Boldin for a 6th rounder and $10 gift card to Walmart. Free agency is still very young and the Draft is only a month away, but as of right now, the Ravens look to have gone from first to worst in the AFC North (unless Joe Flacco can play linebacker)…
… Oh yea, and…
— The Redzone (@TheRedzoneorg) March 13, 2013
Bradley Fletcher: Winner
Fletcher will be sorely missed in St. Louis, but had be moved into a smaller and smaller role in the defense with the emergence of Trumaine Johnson. The trouble with a new coaching staff is that they tend to like “their guys” to be on the roster, and Fletcher was merely the draftee of an era in St. Louis that is long, long past. However, with the release of Nnamdi Asomugha, Fletcher will likely be handed the reins to the starting slot in Philadelphia, and with good reason. Fletcher, when healthy, is a stud at cornerback and hopefully has a long, bright future in the league. There are very few win-win situations in NFL free agency, but this is definitely one of those rare cases. Cheers!
Tennessee Titans: Winner
For St. Louis Rams’ fans, the Titans should get the “winner” designation for simply not giving the franchise tag to Jared Cook. However, Fisher’s old stomping ground did very well for themselves yesterday, landing the top interior lineman and the top blocking/utility tight end in the class. While, Andy Levitre would have looked very nice with Blue and Gold horns, his 5-year, $39M contract is likely more than the St. Louis Rams would have been willing to pay to “sure up” the interior of the offensive line. However, Delanie Walker is a huge steal from the San Francisco 49ers, and will fit much nicer in the Titans’ new offensive scheme than Jared Cook had over the past couple of seasons. Assuming the Titans can snag some help at wide receiver in the next couple of months, they will have quietly had one of the better offseasons in the league.
Miami Dolphins: Loser
The Miami Dolphins have clearly taken a page from the “2011 Philadelphia Eagles: Offseason Game Plan,” throwing HUGE money and anyone and anything at a position of need. While the fans in Miami are likely celebrating the bold offseason moves, the ‘Fins are taking an approach that has had limited success in recent years. The oft-troubled Mike Wallace landed a $60M contract, coming off season with where he posted 3-year lows in yards, yards per catch average, and receptions for first downs, despite being targeted a career-high 119 times in Pittsburgh. The Dolphins did make a good pickups in Dannell Ellerbe (5-year/$35M) and Philip Wheeler (5-year/$26m), but did so at the compromise of essentially releasing their entire linebacking core from ’12. They also will likely be losing their starting left tackle, Jake Long, and starting running back, Reggie Bush, as well as having already lost their top scorer from 2012 in their tight end, Anthony Fasano, to the Kansas City Chiefs. They also lost the battle for Jared Cook, and are now courting Dustin Keller from New York, as reported this morning by Adam Schefter. Half of the battle in free agency is maintaining essential pieces that are already on your roster, and Miami, if nothing else, is surely losing in that area…
Atlanta Falcons: Winner
On the opposite end of that spectrum, the Atlanta Falcons definitely chose the “home grown” approach, re-signing Brent Grimes and Sam Baker, and getting lucky with the return of Tony Gonzalez to the roster. While, they have yet to make a huge splash in free agency, the Falcons are sitting pretty under the cap, and have all of the “essential” position on the roster from last season locked up. If the Falcons can land Steven Jackson and a perennial defensive lineman, Atlanta will have to be in contention for the “Best Offseason” award, barring the results of the NFL Draft. Again, re-signing your own free agents is never a flashy move, but it is one that the year-to-year, dominate teams have mastered. Consistency in the NFL is everything, and the Falcons definitely started off free agency on the right note.
Yet to be decided…
Minnesota Vikings: Losing Percy Harvin will be big, but snagging a 1st rounder in 2013 and a 3rd in 2014 is pretty good compensation to send off a player that has been a thorn in the organization’s side since he was drafted. The Vikings were able to maintain Jerome Felton and Phil Loadholt, which should be welcome news to Adrian Peterson, and got Erin Henderson signed on for another two years. However, they were forced to release Antoine Winfield, and have yet to make any moves to help Christian Ponder and their non-existent passing game. Minnesota might be looking at the 2013 NFL Draft for the answer, but for now, it is hard to say they aren’t leaning towards the “loss” column.
St. Louis Rams: Jermelle Cudjo and William Hayes will be two of the more underrated re-signings in the league, both being an integral part of the defensive line rotation that led the NFL in sacks last season. St. Louis made much bigger news by winning the battle for Jared Cook, who will (hopefully) reach his potential paired next to Lance Kendricks in the Rams’ offense. The Rams will also have both Jake Long and Louis Delmas in town today to discuss a deal, although nothing has been announced at this point. Even with the signing of , essentially, three new starters to the team, it is still yet to be known how the team will handle the likely loss of Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola. Despite hopes that the answers are already on the roster, there is no tangible evidence that Richardson, Pead, or Quick will progress quickly enough to compensate for that drop-off in production in the 2013 season. Again, the offseason is young, and with three picks in the Top 46 in the 2013 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams could come out with a substantially younger and more talented roster. However, at this point, the jury is still out, with unarguable holes at outside linebacker, safety, and wide receiver.
New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers: Did they oversleep the 4:00 pm alarm yesterday? Both of these teams’ offseason success will hinge on the signing and/or re-signing of a handful of cornerstone players.