With free agency well underway, it’s time to look at the winners and losers of the period so far. Which teams have made the right moves? Which teams have made the wrong moves? Which teams haven’t made enough moves? Have a look:
The Browns were able to make moves that could easily push them into the playoffs come next season. Retaining quarterback Derek Anderson was the first step in the right direction. Anderson had a breakout season and has developed a strong connection with his current receivers. The team also re-signed running back Jamal Lewis. Center Rex Hadnot was signed for depth on the offensive line, but the most significant acquisitions include the signing of wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth, and the additions of defensive tackles Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers via trades. Stallworth comes off of a season in which he had 725 receiving yards and five touchdowns, and he’ll give Anderson another weapon in a dynamic offense. Defensively, Williams split time in Green Bay, but still managed seven sacks and three forced fumbles, while Rogers also had seven sacks even with his work ethic being questioned at times. There’s no doubt that Cleveland has improved on both sides of the ball.
Tennessee may have done the most improving of their roster during free agency thus far. The team’s defense finished the season weakly, but much of that had to do with defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth’s absence at times due to injury. He has been franchised, while defensive end Jevon Kearse has been added in an attempt to batter opposing offensive lines. If both players can stay healthy for most of the season, it could spell success in a big way. While signing Kearse may be risky, adding guard Jake Scott on the offensive line is a solid move. Scott has a Super Bowl ring with the Indianapolis Colts and has will now be charged with the task of protecting the league’s most mobile quarterback in Vince Young. The Titans re-signed Justin Gage to give Young a familiar target at receiver and also added Justin McCareins. Tight end Alge Crumpler was also signed, giving Young a better option in the passing game. One of the biggest knocks on the Titans was their lack of help for Young at receiver, so the team addressed a very specific need already.
Any time you can snag an elite team’s top defensive player, it’s a winning situation, and that’s precisely what the Eagles were able to pull off early in free agency. While re-signing tight end L.J. Smith was important, adding cornerback Asante Samuel is easily the most newsworthy addition to an Eagles team that is hoping to right the ship once again. Samuel is coming off of a season in which he had six interceptions, and he has had as many as ten in a season. While the team has more needs that will have to be addressed, signing Samuel goes a long way to start that process. An under-the-radar signing is that of defensive end Chris Clemons, who quietly had eight sacks last season. A relatively unheralded signing could pay big dividends.
The Panthers ability to re-sign offensive lineman Travelle Wharton and to franchise offensive tackle Jordan Gross were important to ensure the team didn’t take a step backwards. The team has also been able to sign guard Keydrick Vincent for depth, and add receivers Muhsin Muhammad and D.J. Hackett. Quarterback Jake Delhomme will now have options downfield besides Steve Smith. The additions on defense solidify the team’s position on this list. By signing defensive end Tyler Brayton, linebacker Landon Johnson, and cornerback Ricardo Colclough, the Panthers have added young depth to the roster. While none of those players is a game-breaking talent, each will definitely have the opportunity to contribute in some capacity. The fact that the team was in the middle of the pack defensively, and was mediocre against the run, makes it clear that changes were necessary.
The Jaguars looked away from the draft for wide receiver help, and instead chose free agency as the place to make something happen. In signing Jerry Porter, they are hoping he can return to his early career form which included two 900-plus yard seasons and two nine touchdown seasons. Trading for Troy Williamson adds speed to the position, so the new receiving options give Jacksonville different skill sets. Defensively, the team was able to sign Drayton Florence, arguably the second most desired free agent cornerback. The team isn’t finished if they want to be clearly better, but they’ve made a positive move.
Trading for nose tackle Jason Ferguson was a solid move for Miami. They didn’t stop there, though. They signed defensive tackle Randy Starks, linebacker Reggie Torbor, and safety Keith Davis, among others on the defensive side of the ball. The team is making a concerted effort to get younger, evidenced by the veterans they have released and the younger players they have targeted. Adding Ernest Wilford at wide receiver was another good acquisition for Bill Parcells and company.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints’ high-powered offense struggled to find consistency this past season, but the team decided to focus their resources on adding defensive help. Defensive end Bobby McCray could make for the best signing, especially if he plays motivated in New Orleans. He is athletic and talented, but hasn’t put it all together just yet; experience and maturity may be his only major hurdle. At linebacker, Dan Morgan isn’t the same player he once was, but once the Panthers released him, the Saints went out and got him, hoping he can bring leadership and attitude to the position. The secondary was also addressed, as the team added Randall Gay to improve the talent pool at the cornerback position. The Saints still have holes to fill, but they are showing a desire to make it happen.
While the Falcons were able to add former San Diego Chargers running back Michael Turner, it still doesn’t come anywhere close to solving their major problems. Turner and Jerious Norwood give Atlanta a strong backfield, but the quarterback position is remains a major question mark. Erik Coleman isn’t an obvious upgrade at safety, and there are still too many holes to consider the Falcons any better than when the free agency period started. The team will use the draft to try and improve, but they have a lot of work ahead of them.
The Bears lost Muhsin Muhammad—not entirely unexpected—but also saw Bernard Berrian leave town as well. Receiver Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd were signed to try and fill the void left by departures, but it’s still what most would consider a downgrade situation. Then, Chicago proceeded to miss out on rumored targets like running back Michael Turner. Returning linebacker Lance Briggs was something to be excited about, but returning quarterback Rex Grossman will once again continue to raise questions and doubt.
Kansas City Chiefs
The main acquisition in Kansas City has been linebacker Demorrio Williams. However, other than that and minor moves, the team has decided to get younger. The Chiefs have released several veteran players but have yet to do anything in the way of replacing them. Come draft day, the Chiefs will likely have as much work to do as any other team. It could work out in their favor long term, but as of now the team could be taking a step back.
The Raiders may eventually be winners from this off-season, but at this point there are major issues. Franchising Nnamdi Asomugha was critical, but their other two noteworthy moves may not be for the best. While bringing in safety Gibril Wilson may pay off on the field, it cost a lot of money—almost $40 million—for Oakland to sign him. The team lost receiver Jerry Porter to Jacksonville, but they followed that up by signing Javon Walker. The problem is, Walker has a serious history of injuries, and some are convinced his current injury is still a considerable problem. If—that’s a colossal ‘if’—Walker can stay healthy and Wilson can fit in nicely, it may work out, but the odds aren’t in Oakland’s favor.
The Steelers have simply missed on most of their targets in free agency and have done almost nothing to improve. They also lost Alan Faneca as expected, and Max Starks’ status is up in the air. Pittsburgh may be waiting until draft day to make their mark, but they were expected to do more by this time. Editors note: The Steelers added center Justin Hartwig after this article was written.
New York Giants
The Giants won a Super Bowl, but even winners have to suffer losses from time to time, and free agency is where it has happened for New York. Aside from retirement concerns, the Giants saw key linebacker Kawika Mitchell leave town to head to Buffalo. Linebacker Reggie Torbor also signed elsewhere, leaving the linebacker position quite thin for the time being. The solid play of safety Gibril Wilson will also be missed, as he signed with Oakland early in free agency. It will be difficult for the Giants to continue their success considering the hit they have taken.
New England Patriots
The Patriots crack the list for the same reason as the Giants: lost players. Cornerback Asante Samuel is the most significant loss, but considering that the team lost another cornerback in Randall Gay, it only worsens the situation. Safety Eugene Wilson also appears gone, and offensively wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth signed with Cleveland. The Patriots always seem to regroup and come back strong again, but this will be one of their toughest off-season challenges yet.