The first two days of free agency were more deranged than most could have expected. As soon as the 4 o’ clock start time hit, a mass amount of signings were called off just five minutes into the start of the new NFL season.
Offensive linemen were in high demand this free agency period and there have been a numerous amount of surprising veterans that hit the market. Demarcus Ware, Darrell Revis, Juilius Peppers are just some of the veteran names that were released within the first two days into the market.
Every year you have your big spenders and then the teams that wait it out for a few days for the bargains. After the first two days, here are the teams that I felt did a good job and a bad job addressing needs.
The Ravens had several tasks to take care of entering the off-season after their first time missing the playoffs under John Harbaugh. Ozzie Newsome and company had to confront some decisions with what to do with Terrell Suggs, Dennis Pitta and Eugene Monroe.
Ozzie did what he does best and did an excellent job thus far this off-season. He restructured Suggs deal so they can keep the leader of the defense around until the likely end of a storied career.
Joe Flacco got the big money deal last year and the focus now is to build around him. Baltimore helped out the franchise quarterback by re-signing his go to security blanket Dennis Pitta to a long-term deal.
Baltimore acquired Eugene Monroe last season from the Jacksonville Jaguars for 4th and 5th round picks. The next task at hand for the Ravens front office was to bring back the left tackle. They came to an agreement and Monroe is locked up for five more years to protect the franchise quarterbacks blindside.
That was a huge move for Baltimore because if they had failed to bring him back, the Ravens would then have had to address holes at right tackle, left tackle and center. A big hole would have been missing and they would have given away a 4th and 5th round pick for essentially nothing.
Now the Ravens move forward with other holes to fill. Jacoby Jones is back on a four-year deal, but there has been no word on Daryl Smith yet. With Monroe re-signed, Baltimore can look to the draft to potentially bring in a receiver with their first pick.
Peyton Manning lit up the scoreboard for the entire NFL season until the Super Bowl. The Denver defense suffered key player losses consistently through the season. So John Elway saw the side of the ball that needed to be improved and he made some big additions.
When you take away a key player from a fellow contender, it has a double impact. The New England defense always struggled without the presence of Aqib Talib on the field and the Patriots were pondering the idea of giving him the big contract. Denver did not hesitate and added Talib to the weakest part of their defense. The secondary has spurned the Broncos before when it counted, so they also added TJ Ward from the Browns.
Ward is more of your box style type of safety, so his skills should help one of the better run defenses from last season. Demarcus Ware was released from the Dallas Cowboys after spending nine seasons on “America’s team.” Ware wanted to take his talents to a contender at this point in his career, so Denver was his first visit and it ended up being his last.
Demarcus Ware did not register double digit sacks last season for the first time since his rookie season. Other than that, Ware has been a consistent playmaker in the other team’s backfield. Pairing him with Von Miller is a nightmare for every offensive coordinator that must face them. You cannot double both of them, so one of those top tier rushers will always be in isolation.
New England Patriots
This might come as a surprise to a lot of people, but there is a certain mindset that comes with this evaluation. The Revis signing changed the whole portrayal of the Patriots off-season. Revis is still one of the best corners in the league and now has a chance to play with an A Class organization like New England.
The Patriots found themselves in a game of arms against the Broncos with the moves Denver had made, so they needed a big splash. They upgraded from Talib with the addition of Revis, who is now back in the AFC East once again.
This is the only significant move that the Patriots have made thus far, but let me paint you a different perspective here. Everyone gets caught up in huge free agency signings and the splashes certain teams make. What if one day in Free Agency, the Patriots came away with one of the best nose tackles in football, a good interior defensive lineman, a team leading tackling linebacker and arguably one of the most dangerous individual offensive weapons in football?
All those positions listed above are key members that the Patriots will have back after they missed portions of the season due to injury. Bill Belichick will get back Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Jerod Mayo and Rob Gronkowski. Those players were not there in the AFC championship game vs. Denver and the Patriots still were close. Add those talents on top of the addition of Revis, do not sleep on New England.
Matt Ryan and company went into the 2013 regular season as potential Super Bowl contenders. Instead, Mike Smith and the Falcons came away with just four wins and a top ten draft pick. They have talent in skill positions, but defense is an issue and the offensive line was not able to protect the franchise quarterback consistently.
So Atlanta went to the trenches this free agency and came away with quality signings on day one. Jon Asamoah was one of the top guards on the market and the Falcons were able to add him to their interior line.
The Falcons did their part on the offensive side of the ball, but the defensive line needed work. Tyson Jackson got a big deal to play in the defensive line rotation, more than he probably deserved. Jackson is a solid player, but their best signing was added to that mix as well.
Paul Soliai is the other huge addition that the Falcons brought into the trenches. Soliai was an impactful defensive lineman on the Dolphins for many years. He is a gap plugger, but his ability to help the defense in run prevention is what makes him a great add. When he missed time, Miami’s defense struggled to stop the run. When Soliai was in the game, he took on multiple blocks, freeing up other playmakers and even Paul himself would sneak by to get players down in the backfield. Atlanta needed size on both sides of the ball and they came away with that after day one.
Miami made all the splashes last off-season with signings like Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe, Phillip Wheeler and Brent Grimes. They entered another free agency with a large amount of cap room, but spent their money selectively.
New General Manager Dennis Hickey had his work cut out for him when he took the job. The number one priority was to re-sign pro bowl cornerback Brent Grimes. Grimes was the best defensive player on the team last year and a shut down corner of that ability is something worth keeping around. Hickey was able to re-sign Grimes to a deal so next priority was to repair the offensive line.
The bullying scandal blew up Miami’s offensive line that gave up a franchise worst 58 sacks. Losing four total starters, the Dolphins had work to do to fix their main problem. Signing Branden Albert of the first day of free agency was the step in the right direction.
Paul Soliai and Randy Starks had been two defensive line starters for years and both were free agents. Miami was not expected to get any of those two back, so the Dolphins signed Earl Mitchell from the Houston Texans. Mitchell was always perceived as an underrated interior tackle and will now get his chance to shine in south beach. He comes from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 and will no longer be the only interior lineman.
Mitchell will not be alone as Miami was able to re-sign Starks for another two years. Those two along with Jared Odrick makes for a good rotation on the inside. The Dolphins still have plenty of cap space to make additional moves, but will most likely hold off for bargains at this point because several key players next off-season will be hitting the market.
The Raiders had the largest cap space of any team in the NFL and they were looking to spend big when the market opened. They paid a large amount for former Ram offensive lineman Rodger Saffold and thought they had quite the player on their roster. Saffold failed a team physical and is now back with the Rams.
Oakland lost Jared Veldheer, their best offensive linemen, to the Arizona Cardinals. They had hoped Saffold would be a good replacement, but now they are left with nothing.
On one side of the line, the Raiders lost and it happened on the opposite side of the ball. Lamarr Houston, arguably one of their best players, left to go to Chicago. So the Raiders lost their best players on both sides of the trenches and are yet to replace them. They have so much money, but have failed to spend it in any kind of way to improve their football team. It looks to be a long season for Oakland once again.
Kansas City Chiefs
First year coach Andy Reid turned the Chiefs around in one season as they made the playoffs after a two-win year. Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles were a huge part of a resurged offense that led to a wild card birth. After the first day of free agency, those two players might be left scratching their heads.
Kansas City let three of their offensive line starters leave in Albert, Asamoah and Schwartz. As if that were not enough, they lost Dexter McCluster to the Titans and defensive lineman Tyson Jackson to the Falcons.
A team that was so dependent on the run game now has to replace three starters on the offensive line. Eric Fisher is likely to move to left tackle, so they will need to find a replacement at right tackle. Not only has Kansas City lost significant players, they are yet to make a standout signing. The Cheifs could be the ultimate loser of free agency so far and are losing serious ground within the AFC West to the Denver Broncos.
Ron Rivera is coming off a 12-4 season and the Panthers were riding high. They lost to the 49ers at home in a defensive battle, but not bad after a lackluster first two seasons as head coach. Their defense was finally a consistent force throughout an entire season and Cam Newton took his game to a new level.
It will be hard for Newton to keep at that level with the lack of outside weapons he will have. The Panthers announced yesterday that long time receiver Steve Smith will not be back in Carolina next season. Smith was Newton’s go to receiver and still has plenty of game left in him. With other receivers Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn on the market, the Panthers remaining receiving cops all combine for 0 receptions in the 2013 season.
That is not a typo that is in fact zero receptions. That leaves Cam with just Greg Olson as his most reliable target heading into the 2014 season. The Panthers like to add to their defense when it comes to the draft and they could do that with the loss of Mike Mitchell and potentially Captain Munnerlyn.
The Panthers Achilles heel of the defense was the secondary last season and they could now lose potentially two starters. So with that, the Panthers could look at the 28th first round pick as filling a defensive need. This has to make Cam Newton upset.
There are still options at wide receiver for the Panthers, including Nicks, Jones and Sanders. While those are decent options, one is not enough. If Carolina does not consider selecting a top tier wide out with the 28th pick, frustration could come from the franchise quarterback.
Free Agency has not come to a close yet so it is hard to finalize whom the big winners and losers are with their play in the open market. There is still plenty of time and plenty of options out there for teams to work, but as of now this is how I see the good and bad of what teams have done thus far. There are still big names to find homes and possibly even more surprising moves to be made. Free agency has provided excitement throughout the first two days, but there is still plenty more excitement to come.