Saturday 24 February 2018 / 08:44 PM

Free Agent Frenzy

Every time I sit down to dig in on this article, a new story comes in off the wire and I’ve got to hit delete and start all over again.

All right, so perhaps there is a bit of embellishment going on here on my part, but the basic concept holds true. The 2014 free agency period kicked off with a bang, and there’s been a steady flow of potentially franchise-changing signings rolling in just about every hour on the hour.

I say “potentially”, of course, because we won’t really know how these roster shake-ups truly pan out until the pads are strapped on again in September. This is simply the time of year when football games are played on paper instead of grass when fans dream and sportswriters look into their crystal balls for insights that will make them look like geniuses or morons in eight months’ time.

Free agency is most exciting for fans’ shitty teams.

There’s no better time to be a fan of a bottom-feeding NFL team than during free agency. No matter how strongly your brain tells you that a recently signed ex-superstar is past his prime, your heart holds on to that sliver of hope that perhaps this one player could make the difference and pull your team out of the gutter.

It’s never happened. Not even once. But it’s still fun to fantasize, isn’t it?

Over-paying for a player that “used to” produce for a successful team is no way to build a winning franchise. Sure, adding experienced veterans can add stability and leadership to young teams, but in a salary-cap controlled league you need to get superstar play for superstar money.

That’s right. I’m talking to you, Oakland Raiders fans. Signing away Justin Tuck from the New York Giants was a good move. He’s still got some gas left in the tank and $11million over two seasons isn’t crazy money (albeit more than any other team was willing to pay.) But if you ask Raiders fans what they think of the transaction they behave as if they just won the Super Bowl. Tuck will be average, perhaps even good, but a 30-year-old defensive end will not be your team’s savior. And sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the same theory holds for LaMarr Woodley. The Steelers released him for more reasons than just salary-cap implications.

But I get it.

In a division that saw Denver, Kansas City, and San Diego all go to the post-season, it’s best that Oakland fans get cheering out of their systems in March and April … come December they won’t be needing any.

The Raiders got better by adding Tuck and Woodley, but not enough better to think that an extra sack or two will turn this disaster of a franchise around. I don’t believe in ghosts, but Al Davis’s corpse is still pulling strings somehow in the Oakland front office.

The Raiders won’t turn it around until Al Davis is gone for good. Anyone know a good exorcist?

Looking at the other end of the spectrum, both teams from last season’s AFC title game have been taking an “all-in” approach to try and win a title during the waning moments of their star quarterback’s career.

The Broncos overpaid Aqib Talib, but in conjunction with the signing of safety T.J. Ward away from the Cleveland Browns, Denver has made huge strides in improving their secondary. There’s no question that John Elway is willing to sacrifice the future a wee bit in order to give Peyton Manning better support on the other side of the ball in 2014.

And, oh yeah, let’s not forget that they picked up DeMarcus Ware from the Cowboys.

He knows that as soon as #18 retires his squad will immediately go from Super Bowl favorite to just another team searching for a franchise QB.

Same goes in New England.

Belichick is simply a genius. OK, he’s not really the team’s GM, but whatever … the Pats let Talib go in order to sign Darrelle Revis and if there’s a free agent signing this off-season that’s guaranteed 100% to make a team better, this is it.

They’ll be paying $12million and very likely only have Revis on the roster for one year, but fully healthy, he’s still the top shut down corner in the NFL not named Richard Sherman. And for the record here, I’m not saying Sherman is (or isn’t) better. He literally is the top CB not named Sherman. Read that however you wish.

To play across from Revis Island (at least for the final 12 games and the playoffs) is former Seahawk, Brandon Browner. Browner was originally suspended for a year for smoking a doobie, but the league cut his punishment back somewhat and he’ll be eligible to suit up starting in week five.

New England will have to hope Browner can resist dipping into his “little green bag”, but they’ll also be praying he returns to his 2011 Pro-Bowl form. The reason that Seattle didn’t miss a beat after losing their starting CB to suspension was that Byron Maxwell clearly outplayed Browner in 2013.

Nevertheless, a Browner-Revis tandem makes for a huge improvement in the New England pass defense.

Fifty out of the top 100 free agents have been signed, and I don’t get paid enough to write about them all.

I’ve jotted down a list of impact moves I need to cover on the back of this case of beer (just kidding, I’m too old to be drinking beer from a can), but it’s just too long. So I’m going to run with the sexiest stories here, I don’t mean sexy as in Brett Keisel’s beard, but sexy as in most interesting to the average fan.


The most shocking move so far is the big-time play New Orleans made for safety Jairus Byrd. After yanking the best TE in the league around for weeks, the Saints opened up the checkbook big time to sign Byrd away from the Buffalo Bills. Paired with Kenny Vaccaro, the Saints will now boast the second best safety combination in the league after Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.

Top safeties from around the league are now licking their chops as Byrd has set a new bar for salary negotiations.

Tons of offensive linemen, especially left-tackles, either found new homes or re-upped with their current team on a fatter salary, but as important as the O-line is, hardly anyone gets a boner over these deals unless it’s your favorite team that’s being discussed.

However, here are a few must-mentions:

  1. Eugene Monroe – staying put in Baltimore. This is a surprising move in that I thought he’d get signed away for more money elsewhere. He’s young and already productive. Why Miami overpaid for Branden Albert while Monroe was still available is beyond me.
  2. Speaking of the young and the talented, Carson Palmer will be a little bit safer in the desert behind new tackle Jared Veldheer. The Cardinals have got an uphill battle in the NFC West, but they’re more confident in their ability to compete with the Hawks and Niners.
  3. The Falcons snatched guard Jon Asamoah away from the Chiefs and instantly improved their interior line. There is still more work to be done and look for Atlanta to draft another offensive lineman early in the draft.

On the offensive side of the ball, it’s worth mentioning quickly that Eric Decker landed in New York with the Jets. I’ll keep this commentary short and sweet. He’s a good receiver, but his production will plummet as a #1 in Geno Smith’s offense versus being a #2 with Peyton Manning. But you already know this, why am I wasting my breath?

A more interesting maneuver was watching the Detroit Lions steal Golden Tate away from the Seahawks. It was well known that Seattle’s top off-season priorities were to re-sign Tate and DE Michael Bennett. The Bennett deal got done, but Tate claims that the Super Bowl champs were too stingy when it came to guaranteed money.

At any rate, forget about the business stuff, think about the leading receiver from the best team in the NFL getting 1-on-1 coverage ALL DAY as defenses key in on Calvin Johnson, the best receiver in the NFL. Matthew Stafford must be giddy with excitement. I truly hope that the Lions don’t blow this. They’ll be fielding one of the top offenses in the league, and this ought to be the year that they finally take the NFC North.

The Tate signing will have big-time draft implications as Detroit was seen as targeting a WR with the 9th pick. So now, every WR needy team will be able to up their depth chart one slot. It’s more or less a given now that Seattle will take a wide-out in the first round, and it’s rumored that they’re interested in bringing Sidney Rice back at a lower salary.

OK, before I hit the hay, let me just quickly cover the top 10 moves that didn’t make the cut for a full explanation:

  • Arizona lost LB Karlos Dansby, and now they’ll have a hole to fill. Cleveland paid too much for an aging inside linebacker.
  • Steve Smith was cut by the Panthers and signed by the Ravens. Smith was once the face of the franchise, but all good things must end.
  • Bears improved their pass rush with Lamarr Houston and Willie Young.
  • The Bucs signed DB Alterraun Verner from the Titans and DE Michael Johnson from the Bengals. Their defense just got a whole lot better. Lovie Smith also settled the QB controversy by bringing in Josh McCown from Chicago. McCown showed flashes of brilliance last season … so who knows?
  • Jaguars’ coach Gus Bradley has been picking up Seattle’s sloppy seconds. But sloppy seconds from one of the best defenses of all-time is a big-time upgrade in Jacksonville. Red Bryant and Chris Clemons will both make immediate impacts, on the field and in the locker room.
  • Julius Peppers and Champ Bailey were both sent packing … still waiting for new homes and smaller paychecks.
  • Nobody wants to sign any free agent running backs … it’s a young man’s league and it’s somewhat easy to draft a starting back. The hard part is getting a line to open up holes for him.
  • Chip Kelly will like his new toy, as the Eagles traded for Darren Sproles. Sproles is a role player, but he can do it all, and with LeSean McCoy taking the spotlight he’ll have plenty of opportunities.
  • Jonathan Martin is now with his old college coach in SF, and Richie Incognito is without work … not impacting news, but relevant for obvious reasons.
  • Hakeem Nicks signed for $3.5million with the Colts. Nicks was once seen as a top WR in the league, but after a couple disappointing seasons the Giants let him walk. Perhaps he can make a resurgence when coupled with Andrew Luck. The real question here: Why can’t I make $3.5million after sucking up my job for two years in a row?

That’s it, I’m out of here.

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Michael Airhart

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