compiled by Doug Farrar
Each weekend, the FO staff sends around e-mails to each other, both during and after the games. It lets us share ideas for columns and comments, and get an idea of how teams that we can't watch are playing.
Each off-season weekend, the FO staff doesn't generally send around e-mails, but we thought it might be interesting to put together the first Audibles for free agency. We've listed some of the bigger free agent and trade acquisitions below. Be aware that the material in this roundtable might seem a bit disjointed and un-edited. It also might show up later on in other columns, or in comments for PFP 2008, or in some other place.
...And they're off!
Mike Tanier: This has been one of the most active first weekends that I have seen in years. Usually, there are one or two splashy moves, a few minor moves, and lots of guys flying from city to city getting wined and dined. This year, general managers left the gates fast and kept the pace up for a few days. There have been more trades and more big-name releases than I'm used to.
Vince Verhei: The last two years have seen the development of the Hutchinson/Clements Theory of free agency: If a player signs a contract that seems exorbitant for his position, that dollar amount will be commonplace by the next off-season. In 2006 the Seahawks refused to franchise Steve Hutchinson because they did not want to commit a big chunk of their cap space to a guard. Hutchinson ended up signing with Minnesota for about $7 million a year, which seemed outrageous -- until the 2007 offseason, when it seems like every guard with experience was getting that kind of money. In hindsight, the Seahawks would have gotten a bargain for Hutchinson at the franchise rate.
Last off-season, Nate Clements signed a gigantic $10 million per year contract with San Francisco. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth -- until this year, when Oakland wasted no time in franchising Nnamdi Asomugha, and Seattle didn't hesitate to franchise Marcus Trufant. When the Patriots couldn't franchise Asante Samuel again, the Eagles were more than happy to sign him to a big-money deal. Now next year, DeAngelo Hall will certainly be wanting a $10 million per year contract. That's made him trade bait in Atlanta, but nobody wants to make the trade. They know that if they don't give him the money he wants, someone else will, and they'll lose him after his first year.
Anytime anyone says, "You can't pay X million dollars for position Y," well, yes, you can. And in the long run, you're probably better off doing that, rather than trying to find a cheap replacement.
Ben Riley: Boy, if that doesn't sound like a statement/theory to be explored in the upcoming PFP 2008, then I don't look like the guy from "Flight of the Conchords." I think Vince is definitely on to something here -- and salary inflation may be even more acute this year, with the specter of an uncapped year looming large in the not-too-distant future.
Bill Barnwell: I just want to confirm that Ben is, in fact, a dead ringer for Jumaine.
We see the same thing in baseball, too, with regards to wild salaries becoming the norm by the time the contract's up -- Manny Ramirez and A.J. Burnett come to mind as guys whose contracts seemed absurd at the time and even at the beginning of their deals, but at the end, became seemingly worth the money they were paid relative to the rest of the field. It's the advantage of having new revenue streams come into the respective leagues and theoretically wiser general managers. The NFL cap has risen dramatically the last two years. I don't think it can continue to do so, although I'm not an economist. If its growth rate flattens out with a new CBA, you're going to have guys being paid in the tail ends of these 2007 and 2008 free agency deals who just aren't worth it, or you'll see guys who are being cut and we'll have years where teams will have 20 percent of their caps tied up in dead money.
Doug Farrar: I'm just remembering all those GMs at the Combine who went up to the podiums and talked about the increase in the salary cap, and how the draft would become more and more important very soon as free agency sort of faded away as a real difference-maker. Three days and something like $750 million in total signed or exchanged contract value since the opening bell, I think the status quo is pretty safe. People are going to spend that money, even if it involves Tommy Kelly somehow receiving the gross national product of Uzbekistan.
RB Michael Turner (Six years, $34.5 million, $15 million guaranteed)
Doug Farrar: At least two things make this strange to me: First, why would you throw that much coin on a running back when you have needs literally everywhere and you're going to be running a two-back rotation? Are they planning to trade Jerious Norwood? Second, why would you do it in a year that has a running back draft class so stacked, you've got virtual locks to produce in the NFL through the second round?
Marshall Faulk made an interesting point during the NFL Network's Combine coverage when he was talking about Felix Jones. He said that sometimes, when a good back is running behind a great one on the roster, defenses tend to soften up a bit -- when a LaDainian Tomlinson or Darren McFadden leaves the game, a Michael Turner or Felix Jones might benefit from defenses feeling like they can exhale a bit. He called it the "breather effect," and without knowing too much about Turner specifically, I wonder if that's been a factor in his career.
Sean McCormick: But your second question answers your first. It's also a tremendous draft for the lines, and while there are good backs to be had, it would represent a tremendous opportunity cost for Atlanta to pass on quality bodies in the trenches to take a back. If the Falcons want to take Glenn Dorsey at three, they could still get a franchise-caliber left tackle prospect in the second round. Alternately, they may feel that they need to add a quarterback, either Matt Ryan early or Brian Brohm or Chad Henne in the second, and that they can't afford to add both a running back and a quarterback early in the draft at the expense of the lines. Either way, I think there's a strong argument for taking Turner, who is a) somewhat of a proven commodity, and b) doesn't have a lot of tread on his tires.
It does mean that we can definitively cross Darren McFadden off as an option to Atlanta.
Vince Verhei: I just charted the Falcons game against Indianapolis. That team does, in fact, need help everywhere -- which is why signing Turner makes sense. Like Sean said, now that the running back position is taken care of, they're free to take the best lineman available, on either side of the ball. Had they taken McFadden, that investment in draft picks and cash would have been wasted; by the time they rebuilt the offensive line into something reasonable, his career would be on the downswing. Now they can take a year or two to build up a line first, then recruit skill position guys to function behind them. Unless they think Matt Ryan is a particularly great prospect, better than the top quarterback in a typical draft.
Now they can run Norwood and Turner behind a rebuilt line to sell a ticket or two this year, and they'll be a better team in 2009 and beyond.
Doug Farrar: I'm just not sold. We've talked a bit about the fact that in football, value is systemic as much as it is positional; unlike in baseball, where a center fielder is pretty much worth in Cincinnati what he is in Baltimore. He's here or there with all the five tools, but the value of the skill-set is pretty much transferable. The Braves don't swap out their third basemen in specific situations; the Falcons do with their running backs.
There don't seem to be trends in other sports in which specific positions can be filled depending on schematic concerns -- at least not as much as it seems to be with running backs in specific blocking schemes or cornerbacks in certain zone schemes. Yes, I know I'm really oversimplifying to make a point, and I know someone's going to come up with an example of how you can use players differently in a triangle offense or something, but you get my meaning.
Ted Thompson recently talked about how instructive it was that as soon as the Packers built their line back up to a certain standard with the Gibbs/Boston College system, a guy like Ryan Grant, who was acquired with the anticipation that he would be a key role-player on special teams, could thrive. We don't know that the running back position is taken care of in Atlanta. We know that the Falcons have signed a really good running back in small sample size to add to the one they already had in a larger sample size. If new line coach Paul Boudreau is able to undo what Bobby Petrino did with his line scheme, maybe the running game is solved. The ALY/10+yard numbers would seem to lead one to that conclusion, but we don't know just yet.
What really stuns me is that this is a contract for a one-back team with a bunch of needs already filled. I'm not able to make the leap that "because X is taken care of, Y is easier to solve." I tend to think the other way in that if Y isn't addressed to some degree before the fact, you can do whatever you want with X and it won't matter nearly as much. I know it's a totally dysfunctional team under extreme construction and they have to start somewhere. I just don't understand how they thought this was the place.
Mike Tanier: I am not high on the Turner deal, because I think of running backs as the final piece of a rebuilding puzzle, not a main piece. But of course, we're critiquing one move in what could be a series of moves for the Falcons. Any time a bad team acquires a real blue chip at any position is a good thing, even if it isn't a "need" position for them. I am just not sure Turner is a blue chip.
David Lewin: I like the Turner signing. Turner is a quality back who will be a nice compliment to Norwood. He's not a franchise player, but they got him for very reasonable money. People don't seem to realize that 6 years/$35 million (probably 5 years/$26 million that he'll ever see) is not a lot of money anymore. A lot of teams are going to end up with cap space. The Falcons had to spend it somewhere.
Sean McCormick: I like the Turner signing, too. I'll like it less if Atlanta takes Matt Ryan at three instead of Jake Long or Glenn Dorsey, but I would echo everything David said.
DT Marcus Stroud (Acquired from Jacksonville for third- and fifth-round draft picks)
Bill Barnwell: I love, love, love the Bills getting Marcus Stroud at the low end of his value. How much would Stroud have cost this time last year? A first? Now, they can put Stroud and McCargo on the interior of their line and actually allow guys like Chris Kelsay and Aaron Schobel to rush the passer without being engulfed by guards.
LB Lance Briggs (Six years, $36 million, $13 million guaranteed)
Sean McCormick: Well, after losing Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad, Chicago has two tight ends who can catch the ball, and if they can generate a consistent running game, they don't necessarily need to trot out a bunch of high-caliber receivers. They certainly don't need Berrian for the contract he ended up signing. They can wait until the market calms down, sign someone like D.J. Hackett or Bryant Johnson, draft a receiver (this draft has no No. 1 receivers, but it has a plethora of No. 2 guys) and take it from there. They won't be threatening Indianapolis or anything, but they could get by.
Bill Barnwell: Lance Briggs overplayed his leverage and the Bears, if they really didn't think he was that special, did the same thing. In the end, Chicago got to keep him at what looks like a bargain rate, but it just doesn't look like teams feel the need to shell out all that much for linebackers at the moment.
DT Shaun Rogers (Traded to Cleveland for CB and FO binky Leigh Bodden and a 2008 third-round draft choice)
WR Donte' Stallworth (Seven years, $35 million, $10 million guaranteed)
QB Derek Anderson (Three years, $24 million, $14.5 million guaranteed)
Mike Tanier: Hey MDS, thoughts on the Rogers deal in Detroit?
Michael David Smith: I like Rogers and am sorry to see him go, but I also like Bodden and a third-round pick, so I'm cool with the trade. If Bodden returns to his old form and the Lions get someone good with the third-rounder, we'll be able to say that Millen has made two good moves in his Detroit tenure, and both of them were trades with the Browns.
Bill Barnwell: The move that really puzzled me was Donte' Stallworth to the Browns. They've already got a downfield target in Braylon Edwards, who catches 52 percent of the passes thrown to him. They have Kellen Winslow, a downfield target who caught 55 percent of the passes thrown to him. They have an aging possession receiver in Joe Jurevicius who, at 33, seems like the more obvious candidate to be replaced.
Instead, they've brought in Stallworth, who -- ignore his catch rate in the greatest pass offense of the DVOA era -- is a downfield receiver who catches 52 to 55 percent of the passes thrown to him. Either he's moving into a possession role, which is a poor fit for his skill-set, or Edwards is moving into a possession role, which is also a poor fit for his skill-set, or the Browns just paid a receiver a whole lot to do the same things that their current guys already do.
Will Carroll: Isn't this the copycatting nature of the NFL? The Pats did it and dominated, so everyone will be trying to find their four-wide offense? I don't know much about Derek Anderson -- is he clearly a better downfield passer? Is this an Indy-type scheme where you can't double both Edwards and Stallworth AND have a defensive back on Winslow?
Bill Barnwell: That works when you have a couple other things that are more important to the equation, namely someone with the accuracy of Tom Brady (which Anderson does not) and with possession receivers the quality of Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk (which the Browns might have in Jurevicius, but because of age and performance degradation, I don't think they will). Otherwise, you have an offense that picks up 20 yards at a time but stalls out too often as opposed to the Patriots, who could go down 30 yards at a time but then also pick up eight yards with their underneath patterns.
Doug Farrar: Agreed. The Seahawks were able to save their season with a spike in their late-season pass/run ratio and spread formations (essentially giving up on their running game), and without a tight end of note, because Matt Hasselbeck can throw those slants and outs in his sleep and Bobby Engram had his best season to date. The Packers are seen as having this explosive downfield offense, but they led the league in yards after catch. And with all that talk about Randy Moss and the deep pass nobody could stop, Welker would have been the Super Bowl MVP had the Pats won.
Bill Moore: I think that Stallworth last year proved he is much more than a vertical threat. He had his best plays running short routes (slants, curls and screens) and then gaining yards after catch. Last year was Stallworth's best DVOA of the last three. Part of that was the quality of the receiving corps, but I think part of it was how he was used. Last year, he caught 74 passes (62 percent catch rate) for 697 yards, 3 touchdowns, 15.9 DPAR, and 16.2% DVOA. In Philly caught an equal number of passes (or a greater number of attempts) and yards, but was considered much less effective. He was used more predominantly in New Orleans, catching 129 passes for 945 yards and seven touchdowns -- mostly as a vertical threat. However, his DPAR was only modestly better 16.2, and his DVOA was notably worse at 3.8%. With Braylon Edwards being the main target and Jurevicius playing the Welker role and less competition for the No. 2 receiver slot (remember that Jabar Gaffney took a lot of touches away), Stallworth could be a very good fit.
Bill Barnwell: I keep getting the feeling like the Browns should have dealt Derek Anderson when he was at the peak of his value (or, I should say, should deal). We've got 650 or so attempts at the NFL that show him to be a passer who's not particularly accurate, and it's not like he's got the talent of a Donovan McNabb that make him stand out. He was freely available talent this time last year. Does anyone see Anderson being worth more next year at this time than he is this year?
Stuart Fraser: Cleveland's moves don't surprise me, and feel in hindsight like something I should have predicted (I get the feeling I'll be thinking that a lot as the years go by). Savage is an inside-out kind of guy, it's pretty clear he thinks that the offensive and defensive lines are the key to building a winning team, and only once those are sorted do you worry about elsewhere. Hence trading a cornerback (whose long-term fitness he knows an awful lot more about than we do) for a defensive tackle.
He also apparently thinks (and I agree) that this draft is pretty thin on defensive linemen -- the top guys all look great, but once you get down to where the Browns would have been picking, they clearly didn't like the look of who was projected to be left. And thus it was decided to basically skip the draft this year and load up on veteran talent instead - much like New England did last year, only taken to even greater extremes.
The Browns may as well be in "win now" mode. I had them pencilled in as predicted AFC North division champions prior to the start of free agency (because the difference in talent between their roster and Pittsburgh's is much less than the difference between playing the Bills and Broncos as opposed to Patriots and Chargers). I think recent years have shown that anybody who gets into the playoffs has a chance at striking form and winning the Super Bowl, so the gamble is probably worth it.
Like Bill, I think that the Browns might have been better off long-term trading Anderson at what is probably going to be the peak of his value (I don't think he's that good, though some of what's been said about the second half of the season is overstated, because it overlooks things like the blizzard he was playing in in Buffalo), but I doubt this would ever have happened. NFL general managers are pretty conservative, and Savage knows (and has even said) that Anderson's emergence saved his and Romeo Crennel's jobs last year. He also knows that he's not going to be fired for sticking with Anderson, but that if he jettisons Anderson and Quinn stinks, he's back on the hot seat.
CB Jacques Reeves (Five years, $20 million, $8 million guaranteed)
Bill Barnwell: Here's a weird one. Jacques Reeves: Five years, $20 million from the Texans, who expect him to start and replace an injured Dunta Robinson. I mean, Reeves was slightly better this year, sure. But in all the Cowboys games I saw this year, I saw a replacement-level cornerback. No better, no worse.
Aaron Schatz: Jacques Reeves isn't that bad. He's not a replacement-level cornerback, he's an average-level cornerback. That's higher than replacement level. He was The Human Target because teams felt confident that he was not as good as Terrance Newman, but his charting numbers are pretty middle-of-the-pack.
Bill Barnwell: Middle of the pack with an awesome pass rush.
Aaron Schatz: In fact, I think Reeves is exactly the kind of player the Texans need, although I'm not sure I would pay the going price for experienced average cornerbacks. They have four burgeoning defensive superstars: Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans, Amobi Okoye, and Dunta Robinson once he gets healthy. Like I wrote in the Houston chapter last year, this could definitely be one of those defenses that suddenly takes a colossal leap forward as soon as the young guns get some experience and the Texans upgrade the other defenders from poor to average. Reeves is the kind of player who helps do that.
Ben Riley: I'm with those who think Jacques Reeves was a good signing for Houston. And I think at some point we all need to sit down and discuss what constitutes a "shutdown" corner in the NFL. Apart from Champ Bailey a couple of years ago, who would people put on the list? Asante Samuel, Rashead Mathis, Marcus Trufant, DeAngelo Hall -- seems like we (myself included) are always describing these guys as "gamblers," so either there's a list of true "shutdown corners" that I'm not privy to, or else we need to rethink our expectations for the position.
Bill Barnwell: Whoa, whoa, whoa, Hiphopopotamus. There's a big difference between Jacques Reeves and a guy who is good, but not a shutdown corner. I see Jacques Reeves being a guy teams will specifically gear their offenses to go after this year, all year. There's a difference between having a solid starter and being that guy. The only true shutdown corner I can think of in the league at the moment is Nnamdi Asomugha.
Aaron Schatz: ...and Champ Bailey, when Denver quits playing so much zone.
WR Bernard Berrian (Six years, $42 million, $16 million guaranteed)
Mike Tanier: The Berrian deal seems like a bad move. He's a sidelines-to-hashmarks deep threat, and the Vikings had guys (like Sidney Rice) who could develop into the same type of player. He doesn't fit as a No. 1 receiver in their system. I guess the logic is that they are going to run the ball 30 times per game and want receivers who can block (Berrian is an OK blocker) and get deep twice per game.
By far the biggest move so far has been the Thomas Tapeh signing in Minnesota. It really changed the balance of power in the NFC North.
Aaron Schatz: The thing about the Berrian deal is what MDS pointed out at Fanhouse -- who is left to catch passes in Chicago? You really have to wonder about the management of that team at this point. Yes, the defense is good, and the defense improved significantly over the course of the season; I believe they were second in WEI DVOA by the end. So that defense is going to go out with an offense that features Rex Grossman or Kyle Orton handing off to Cedric Benson and throwing to Devin Hester and fill in the blank? And I thought Jim Schwartz and the Titans defense had it bad.
Come to think of it, the Titans and Bears play this season. Has there ever been a game in NFL history where both offenses had negative net yardage?
Ben Riley: I don't think Bernard Berrian is worth what he's been paid, but I disagree that the Vikings should wait for Sydney Rice or any other receiver to "develop." The poor fans in Minnesota have been waiting for a receiver to emerge from the shadow of Moss for most of the 21st century, and I think Berrian will be a good fit in the offense. Remember, Berrian is the reason that Rex Grossman could look like an effective NFL starter at times. Somewhere, Tarvaris Jackson is rubbing his hands together and murmuring, "Oh, goody."
New Orleans Saints
DB Randall Gay (Four years, $17.6 million, $6.4 million guaranteed)
Bill Barnwell: I am amused by the Saints. Can't get Asante Samuel? How about Randall Gay? He's just as good, right?
Bill Moore: I wouldn't say Gay is "just as good," but he is a quality second cornerback.
Bill Barnwell: I was being facetious. Then again, Gay > Hole in Zone > Jason David, so there are worse decisions they could've made. Personally, I'd be concerned about Gay's ability to stay healthy, since he didn't in New England.
New York Giants
DB Sammy Knight (Three years, $5.15 million, $1.25 million guaranteed, signed after this discussion took place)
Bill Barnwell: Of the Giants' losses, I would best describe Kawika Mitchell as "eminently replaceable." The guy looked like he was about to cry in Week 2 against Green Bay, and although he looked pretty stout against the run come playoff time, the fact that no linemen were getting to the second level to take him on is a huge part of that equation. That's Gerris Wilkinson's spot to lose next year, although I really would've liked to have seen the Giants make a run for Briggs, who's exactly what they need on defense -- a linebacker who can form some semblance of coverage.
Losing Gibril Wilson hurts more, especially in a draft that's pretty thin on safeties. It always seemed like he was hurt or not 100 percent, so the Giants will probably find at least a healthier player to replace him, but I think talent-wise, they're dropping off some.
Sean McCormick: I'd love to know what the Giants plan to do at safety, as their depth chart looks like a wasteland at the moment. Maybe they think they can slide R.W. McQuarters over? Barring that, I don't see a way they have a competent safety, much less two, by the time the season rolls around. They'll probably be in position to draft Kenny Phillips if they want him, but Phillips won't be the best player on their board by a long shot. I would be inclined to dial the Raiders up and see if they're still interested in moving Michael Huff.
New York Jets
G Alan Faneca (Five years, $40 million, $21 million guaranteed)
G Damien Woody (Five years, $25 million, $11 million guaranteed)
LB Calvin Pace (Six years, $42 million, $22 million guaranteed)
DT Kris Jenkins (Acquired from Caroline for third- and fifth-round draft picks)
Sean McCormick: The Jets have basically gone out and done exactly what their fan base wanted them to do, and I'm still trying to decide if that's a good thing or not. Look, there is no question that the Jets needed to upgrade their left guard spot, as it was the single biggest factor in their offensive collapse this year. But there is upgrade and then there is signing the best -- and most expensive -- left guard on the market in order to fix your problem. It's very difficult to find statistics to quantify the impact an offensive lineman is having, but with that caveat, Pittsburgh only averaged 3.73 ALY on their runs between the guards, which was significantly worse than the Jets' 4.12 mark. I know Faneca pulls effectively, but the Steelers were only marginally better at running to the right side than New York was, and they were one of only two offensive lines with a higher adjusted sack rate than the Jets. So whatever Faneca's presence was doing to improve the Steeler line isn't coming through in the statistics. There was also some concern that he mailed it in last season in response to Russ Grimm not being given a shot at the head coaching job.
But let's assume for the moment that he will play at a high level for, at a bare minimum, two or three years. Is he worth the money? Probably. The key is the impact that he's going to have on D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. Both players have shown flashes of elite talent in their first two years in the league, but they've also struggled to compensate for subpar play around them. So paying Faneca could result in the team getting their money's worth out of the left tackle and center spots as well. At the end of the day, this strikes me as the kind of luxury signing you can make when you de-emphasize the financial importance of the quarterback position. By passing on Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler two years ago in favor of Kellen Clemens, it meant that the team would be committing second-round dollars to the quarterback spot, which opens up a lot of money to make upgrades elsewhere.
More generally, I'd note that there seems to be a real talent influx headed into the AFC East -- or rather, everywhere save New England. The Dolphins and Jets have been the two headliners, and I don't think either team is done adding players yet, but Marcus Stroud is a top talent, and adding him to a Bills defense that will have a lot of guys returning from injury could make for a much better unit. I'm not saying the Patriots are in trouble just yet -- until someone from the Trent Edwards/John Beck/Kellen Clemens group emerges (or Chad Pennington returns to form), the Patriots have a decided advantage over the rest of the division. But it seems unlikely that the AFC East is going to continue to be a cakewalk.
Aaron Schatz: OK now, explain to me again why Pete Kendall was so anxious to get the hell out of dodge a year ago? The Jets wouldn't pay a declining veteran guard, lost him, and so now they've made up for it by ... paying a declining veteran guard even more than they would have paid the first declining veteran guard? Sean quoted the ALY numbers, and I can tell you from watching Steelers games that, subjectively, I don't think Faneca is still playing at a Pro Bowl level. Good, sure, but the Pro Bowl selections are getting a bit silly.
Sean McCormick: It looks like the Jets traded Dewayne Robertson to the Bengals for fourth- and fifth-round picks. It should open up a ton more cap room, as Robertson was due $11 million this year, but it's somewhat less than the market had established for defensive tackles. I like this move for the Bengals. Robertson is a solid citizen, he comes to camp in shape and he plays hard. He would be better off with a run stuffer along side him to free him up to penetrate, but it's a start.
Bill Barnwell: I don't really get the Jets dealing Robertson for a 4 and a 5. I mean, the book on Robertson is that he's too small to play the nose in a 3-4, but that he could probably be an effective end. Now that you have Kris Jenkins, why deal Robertson?
Sean McCormick: The Jets thinking was pretty simple: They wanted to free up $11 million in cap space and recoup the picks they lost in trading for Jenkins. As much as Robertson was out of place as a nose-tackle, at 6-feet-1 he is also less than ideal as a 3-4 end. He had no incentive to renegotiate his cap number down because he's going to make more as a 4-3 tackle than he would have as a 3-4 end, anyway.
They could have made it work, but I suspect the team will be happier allocating that money towards guys who fit the system better (think Calvin Pace) and towards extending Kerry Rhodes, who is due for a monster contract.
CB Asante Samuel (Six years, $57 million, $32 million in the first three years)
DE Chris Clemons (Six years, financial terms unavailable)
Mike Tanier: As an Eagles fan, I am thrilled about Asante. I like the idea of moving Sheldon Brown to safety better than I like the idea of flipping Lito Sheppard for a draft pick or a player. Clemons is a nice little pickup for the pass rush package. If this is a push to get back into contention in a short window (sure looks like that), then I want to see more, more, more. If not a big-name receiver, then how about some special teams professionals to make that unit a strength again?
Bill Barnwell: The Eagles bringing in Chris Clemons is a nice depth move, like Tanier said. They need to bring in an end or two and they'll spot him properly so that he gets to try and run around Flozell Adams and Chris Samuels when Trent Cole is being double-teamed on third downs next year.
Bill Moore: Mike, I've watched Samuel since his rookie year. Be prepared, because he needs safety support. He is a gambler. Frankly, his interceptions have clouded the fact that he is NOT a shutdown corner. He is a route jumper. He showed a lot of potential in his second year, but really regressed in his third season (a season that I thought he would break out). When the season was over, I tried to figure out why he struggled. I concluded that it was weak safety help. Both Rodney Harrison and Eugene Wilson (back when Wilson was actually a stud safety) were out a significant portion of the year.
Mike Tanier: The Eagles could use a good gambler, and he's a great gambler. I really liked what I saw of him the past two years.
Bill Moore: Yes, don't get me wrong, he is good â€“- just not as good as he thinks he is. Brian Dawkins can be his Rodney Harrison, but with better coverage skills.
Mike Tanier: Dawkins has one foot in retirement. If Sheldon moves to free safety, Dawkins slides into a nickel linebacker type role.
San Francisco 49ers
DE Justin Smith (Six years, $45 million, $20 million guaranteed)
Lots of other guys cheap
Ben Riley: There are some confusing moves being made by new 49ers GM Scot McCloughan. On the offensive line, Justin Smiley is gone and Larry Allen has retired (or seems to have, anyway), so who is going to block for Frank Gore and, er, DeShaun Foster? McCloughan used to work for the Seahawks and I'm starting to wonder if Steve Hutchinson's blood is on his hands rather than Seahawks GM Tim Ruskell. (Editor's note: Actually, that blunder has the name of Mike Reinfeldt, former Seahawks cap guru and current Titans GM, all over it.) Also, the Niners starting wide receivers as of this moment appear to be Isaac Bruce and Darrell Jackson. That sounds great if you're playing fantasy football circa 2001 but not so great if you are playing real football in 2008. And Lance Briggs just resigned with the Bears. Not an impressive start to the McCloughan regime.
Bill Moore: I don't know if your "er" comment was a knock against Foster or the blocking for him. DeShaun Foster in a backup/change of pace role is a shrewd move especially since he was pretty cheap. As for blocking for him, you don't need a lead blocker since nobody knows where he is exactly running. I say that with tongue in cheek, but it's partly true. You might as well employ another decoy on the field, because a lead blocker for him is a wasted body.
Bill Barnwell: I'm actually very high on the 49ers bringing in DeShaun Foster for little money as a backup. Now they just need to knock him out, tear his ACL, and get him ready for 2009, and we'll have a north-south runner who follows his blockers to team up with Frank Gore. Oh, wait, we can't do that? Take that back.
Mike Tanier: The Niners just seem like they are making bulk signings so far. NFL Network put up a graphic listing all of the signings and it just looked like a 6-for-1 sale at your local Safeway, or when you buy six records for a quarter from Columbia Warehouse. Yeah, Justin Smith can be very good and Ike Bruce has some mileage left, but Allen Rossum and J.T. O'Sullivan are spare parts. Dontarrious Thomas and Foster can play some, but do any of these guys move the Niners around the standings?
Bill Barnwell: What does J.T. O'Sullivan do that makes him so appetizing to teams as their third quarterback? The 49ers are his eighth team. What does his agent put in the J.T. O'Sullivan PowerPoint presentation he sends to teams? "Never dropped a clipboard. Cleans up after himself. Excellent hair. Will not try and have sex with the starting quarterback's wife."?!?
Mike Tanier: Regarding J.T. O'Sullivan, many teams look for a No. 3 who can prepare for Sunday without taking many practice reps, can be a kind of camp arm in the summertime, and is a good coach's guy. I would bet word of mouth spreads on guys like him, which is why you sometimes see veteran third stringers hang around for nine years and throw ten passes, like Todd Collins.
Speaking of Collins, I think re-signing him to back up Rodgers was a smart move. The Derek Anderson re-signing I am of two minds on, but he earned the right to enter 2008 as a starter, another year on the bench won't hurt Quinn, and the Browns are making a serious bid for contention. I don't think he's outstanding, but he's the right quarterback for them for this year.
TE Alge Crumpler (Twoyears, $5 million, $1 million guaranteed)
Mike Tanier: The Titans just signed Alge Crumpler. Guess they are going to a four-TE, no-WR offense.
Doug Farrar: And the Falcons signed Ben Hartsock. So, I guess the formation call is "U Crumpler" now?
Vince Verhei: I do love that Hartsock-Crumpler "trade." Falcons lose Crumpler, who is probably atop the second tier of tight ends in the league, and replace him with Hartsock, who set career highs against New England in 2006 with 2 catches for 28 yards. In 23 career games, he has yet to score a touchdown. Yeah, that's a slight downgrade.
Aaron Schatz: No, no, no four-TE offense. The Titans tight ends suck. Ben Troupe is gone and the only person who is really high on Bo Scaife is Vince Young himself, because they are Longhorn buddies. Crumpler is the starter there, and Scaife will be in for two-TE sets, and that's all.
Sean McCormick: With Tennessee adding nothing but tight ends, you think it would have behooved them to hang onto Norm Chow, who used the tight end a lot in his offense, no? Instead they sacked him for disparaging Vince Young and replaced him with Mike Heimerdinger, who's more of a four-wide type. I guess that's the kind of pressure that having a struggling young franchise quarterback will put on an organization.
Who else could help?
Bill Barnwell: Some targets left in free agency I think are going to end up being good deals for whoever nabs them:
- C John Wade: He was pretty competent in Tampa all year, and he's going to be 33, but there are way worse guys to have as your center/sixth lineman in the way that the Giants use Grey Ruegamer.
- DT Larry Tripplett: Tripplett was the starting defensive tackle or at least a heavy rotation guy for a team that was second in power runs defensively and 11th in stuffs despite having a tiny defensive line surrounding him. I bet Indy goes back after him to replace Booger McFarland and rotate in with Ed Johnson.
- S Gerald Sensabaugh: Not sure what he was tendered at (second round?), but for a team that needs a safety, he's 24, he's coming off of a labrum injury that I can't imagine is going to be chronic, and he had beat out Donovin Darius for the starting job when he got hurt. He's also a beast on special teams.
- RB Mewelde Moore: Now that Moore's finally free from the Minnesota depth chart, shouldn't one of the teams that was desperate to trade for him actually go out and sign him? I get the feeling that the difference between Moore's ability and Michael Turner's isn't anywhere near what the difference in price between the two is going to be. (Ed. Note: Moore signed a three-year deal with the Steelers.)
- QB Byron Leftwich: Sign him. Put him out there in a situation where he's healthy and knows the playbook. If you don't think he's a starter, fine, but are there really 32 better backups in the league than him? No way.
- LB Niko Koutouvides: He seems like an obvious Patriots guy to me, a special teams player who can fill in here and there as a linebacker as long as you use him properly. Seattle is a team that's actually up against the cap, so even a decent offer for him would seem to work. (Ed. Note: Signed with the Broncos, and he really is a great special-teams guy.)
- DT William Joseph: Joseph had this really weird up-and-down career with the Giants where he was a bust, then he was a stud defensive tackle, then he was a bust again, and then he was competent and had really good numbers in our system, and then he was a bust again and couldn't get on the field. At worst, he's a rotation guy for most teams. I think he could start somewhere and surprise people if anyone actually had enough faith in him.
- WR D.J. Hackett: Obvious.
- LB Rosevelt Colvin: Again, another "buy low" guy. Sure, he's coming off his second big injury in four years, but he's only 30 and broke his foot last year. That's not really a chronic injury.