Saturday, July 30, 2011

NFL Free Agency: Rapid Reactions


This past week has been one of bliss for me and anyone else who enjoys all that is good about sport. Not only is the AAU season in full swing in Orlando and Vegas but NFL free agency has been booming (Is it just me or should NFL free agency always be packed into such a small window?). It may be a bad idea to write about free agency before the dust has settled, but I just can’t resist the temptation. Below are some initial reactions to the free agency period. Included in my analysis were trades, re-signings, and releases.

Winners
Patriots
Notable Acquisitions: Chad Ochocinco (trade), Albert Haynsworth (trade), Logan Mankins (Franchise Tag), Sammy Morris (Re-Signed)
Notable Losses: Tully Banta-Cain (Released), Ty Warren (Released), Alge Crumpler (Released), Nick Kaczur (released)
Still Pending:
Matt Light (UFA), Gerrard Warren (UFA), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (RFA)
Welcome to the family
Analysis: After my NFL Draft recap, RFH guest contributor Gil Haylon asked if I would ever give the Patriots a bad review. The “you are a shameless homer” refrain does carry some weight, but the Patriots did not give me much of a chance to be objective this free agency season. Bill Belichick and crew have been outstanding in terms of filling needs and getting value. Many in the media are criticizing the Ochocinco and Haynsworth deals, but in each case, the Patriots are acquiring players for a low price who could contribute a lot. Lets start with Ochocinco. Last year was his worst in almost every statistical category. Although some of this can be attributed to Carson Palmer’s precipitous decline, few would argue that he isn’t slowing down. With that said, Ochocinco still is an above average receiver who will be a significant upgrade over Brandon Tate on the outside. People like to criticize Ochocinco’s attitude (he is an easy target), but in reality, his football character is top notch.
Haynsworth is a higher risk, higher reward player than Ochocinco. There is no doubting Haynsworth’s erratic football character. I would not be surprised in the slightest if the Patriots cut him before the season even starts. The potential reward associated with Haynsworth, however, is too high to pass up. When motivated, there is no interior defensive lineman that is as disruptive or requires as much attention. The scary thing for the rest of the AFC is that Vince Wilfork is easily second in terms of disruption and attention. If (and it is a big if) Haynsworth is in shape and motivated the Patriots defense will be the best first and second down defense in the league.
Although Ochocinco and Haynsworth are the headline grabbers for the Patriots, the franchising of Logan Mankins is equally important. Getting Mankins into camp on time and happy was a must now that Matt Light’s future with the team is in doubt.

Going Forward: The Patriots still need to address their biggest weakness, the pass rush. The loss of pass rushing specialist Tully Banta-Cain only furthers this weakness. Jermaine Cunningham will be more than capable on one side, but look for the Patriots to target a Matt Roth type to help Cunningham out. I also think that Patriots might continue to look for another running back. Currently the position is stocked with young talent and veteran role players, but acquiring a dynamic threat like Ronnie Brown wouldn’t be out of the question. The loss of Crumpler and Warren are tough but sustainable. One interesting thing to note is that Warren was not surprised by his release citing that he thought the Patriots were moving away from the 3-4.

Eagles
Notable Acquisitions: Dominique Rogers-Cromartie (Trade), Jason Babin (Free Agent), Nnamdi Asomugha (Free agent), Vince Young (Free Agent)
Notable Losses: Quintin Mikell (Free Agent), Kevin Kolb (Trade), David Akers (Free Agent)
Still Pending: Stewart Bradley (UFA), Ernie Simms (UFA)

Analysis: The Eagles played their Kevin Kolb hand masterfully. They were able to keep him as an insurance policy last year while also waiting for his stock to shoot up. Sure enough, a desperate team, in this case the Cardinals, gave them a sweat heart deal. Not only did the Eagles get a 2nd round pick, but also a pro-bowl level cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Considering that Matt Cassel only garnered a 2nd round pick with a significantly more distinguished track record shows the kind of deal the Eagles got. If the value of the trade wasn’t enough, the Eagles were able to replace Kolb with one of the best backup alternatives in the league with Vince Young. Now Eagles fans can sleep a little easier knowing that every Mike Vick scrabble won’t derail a season.
If the Kolb trade wasn’t enough, the Eagles went out and got one of the most accomplished pass rushers in Jason Babin. Some people are worried about Babin because of his less than stellar career in Houston before his breakout in Tennessee. Fortunately for the Eagles, acclaimed defensive line coach Jim Washburn left the Titans this offseason and will be reunited with Babin in Philly. The fact that the Eagles now have Babin and Trent Cole coming off the edge should make every team in the NFC East very nervous.
The jewel in the Eagles free agency crown, however, was the acquisition of Nnamdi Asomugha. Although Asomugha is slightly one dimensional and overpaid he is still a top five player at his position. The downside to the Asomugha trade is that it means the Eagles will probably release Asante Samuels. Asomugha in place of Samuels seems like a marginal upgrade for how much the Eagles are spending.

Going Forward: The Eagles biggest need right now is at linebacker. Stewart Bradley is reportedly not going to be back with the team, and Ernie Simms was underwhelming last year. Currently, RFH favorite Casey Mathews is starting at the middle while last years starter, Jamar Chaney will be moved to the strong side. One free agent on the market that would be a perfect fit in the Eagles system would be Barrett Ruud. He has been a tackling machine since joining the league and would fit the mold of an undersized, instinctive, Eagles linebacker.

Chiefs
Notable Acquisitions: Steve Breaston (Free Agent), Casey Wiegmann (Re-Signed), John McGraw
Notable Losses: Ron Edwards (Free Agent), Shaun Smith (Free Agent)
Still Pending: Brandon Carr (RFA)

Analysis: Maybe my favorite pick up of this free agent period has been the Chiefs acquisition of Steve Breaston. The speedy receiver will be reunited with Todd Haley in Kansas City and will form one of the most dynamic skill position units in the league. It has been breathtaking how imposing and Athletic the chiefs have become since Scott Pioli took over two seasons ago. Next year, the Chiefs will have Breaston, Dwayne Bowe, Jonathan Baldwin, Dexter McCluster, Tony Moeaki, and Jamaal Charles all at Matt Cassel’s disposal.

Moving Forward: The status of Brandon Carr is something that the Chiefs should address. Carr, Eric Berry, Brandon Flowers, Javier Arenas, and Kendrick Lewis make up one of the youngest and most promising secondary group in the league. Outside of re-signing Carr the chiefs should look at finding a nose tackle and help on the offensive line. Matt Light would be a dream acquisition for the Chiefs while a nose tackle like Aubrayo Franklin would make a lot of sense. Overall, the Chiefs don’t need to be too active in free agency considering that they were ranked second by ESPN regarding under 25 year old talent.

Texans
Notable Acquisitions: Jonathan Joseph (Free Agent), Matt Leinart (Re-signed)
Notable Losses: N/A
Still Pending: Bernard Pollard (UFA)

Analysis: Jonathan Joseph has proven himself as an elite corner throughout his career. He is close to as good as Nnamdi Asomugha while only costing a fraction of the price. The Texans have done a lot this offseason focusing on their transition to Wade Phillips 3-4, but the elephant in the room was their inability to cover anyone. Joseph fills this massive need while potentially making the Texans the team to beat in the AFC South next year.

Moving Forward: All indications are that Amobi Okoye will not be back with Houston next season. That means that the Texans will need to focus on getting as much value for him as possible. In regards to additions, the Texans still have not found a viable second option to Andre Johnson on the outside or another pass rusher to help out Mario Williams. Both of these things should be priorities going forward.

Losers
Pathers
Notable Acquisitions: DeAngelo Williams (Re-Signed), Charles Johnson (Resigned), Greg Olson (Trade), James Anderson (Re-Signed)
Notable Losses: Matt Moore (Free Agent)
Still Pending: N/A

Analysis: One could make a reasonable argument for each of the major moves the Panthers have made this off-season. As a collection, however, the Panthers have spent big money on keeping together the core of a 2-14 team. In addition, Carolina did nothing to improve their pass defense, didn’t acquire any threats on the perimeter, and didn’t acquire the necessary veteran placeholder at quarterback.

Moving Forward: Where to begin. This team is in desperate need of talent up and down their roster. Out of all of the needs, finding some options for the quarterback to throw to have to be priority number one. If the team can’t re-sign an aging Steve Smith the targets for Cam Newton or Jimmy Clausen will be Olson, David Gettis, and Brandon Lafell. Ouch.

Bengals
Notable Acquisitions: Bruce Gradkowski (Free Agent), Thomas Howard (Free Agent)
Notable Losses: Carson Palmer (Retirement), Chad Ochocinco (Trade), Jonathan Joseph (Free Agency)
Still Pending: Cedric Benson (Free Agent)

Analysis: I know that the Bengals are building for the future, but this free agency period assures that they will be terrible in 2011-2012. Carson Palmer deteriorated last year but still has a few years left and could have given the Bengals some value on the trade market. Unfortunately for Cincinnati fans, Mike Brown decided to favor spite over the good of his team. Ochocinco still has some years left and would have been a valuable mentor to Jordan Shipley and A.J Green. Brown’s decision not to trade Ochocinco for two first round picks at the end of 2008 looks especially bad right now. If the Bengals don’t resign Cedric Benson, look for the Andy Dalton era to be replaced by the Andrew Luck era in 2012.

Moving Forward: Priority number one is re-signing Benson. If they don’t, the Bengals will be devoid of any veteran talent. Aside from that, addressing the secondary will be their other major concern.

Redskins
Notable Acquisitions: Santana Moss (Re-Signed), Josh Wilson (Free Agent), Donte Stallworth (Free Agent), Steven Bowen (Free Agent), Chris Chester (Free Agent)
Notable Losses: Albert Haynsworth (Trade), Donovan McNabb (Trade), Andre Carter (Released)
Still Pending: Carlos Rodgers (UFA), Jammal Brown (UFA)

Analysis: I get the idea of addition from subtraction. It was clear that neither Donovan Mcnabb or Albert Haynsworth were going to be valuable members for the Redskins organization. With that said, dealing these players is admitting two colossal past personnel mistakes. Whether the Redskins fans like it or not, they just traded away their two most recognizable players.

Moving Forward: The Redskins number one priority will be to try and get the proper personnel to fit a 3-4. Obviously a quarterback wouldn’t hurt either.

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