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Assessing the Opening Salvos of Free Agency

Posted Mar 16, 2013

This is the second of this season's articles on newyorkjets.com about the draft and free agency from the independent personnel analysts at Real Football Services.

The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on newyorkjets.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the New York Jets organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Jets officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.

Navigating the free agency landscape can be a tricky thing. Certainly, every team GM, every personnel man wants to use every resource at his disposal to improve his team. But spending the right money on the right player has become an art form, and sometimes the players that make the biggest splashes in March don’t necessarily do the same in the fall.

From a team standpoint, being the Champions of March isn’t always a good thing. You need to look no further than the “Dream Team” signings in Philadelphia in recent years, or last year’s spending spree in Buffalo. In 1993, the first year of free agency, the Jets spared no cost in bringing in players like Boomer Esiason (trade), Leonard Marshall, Ronnie Lott and several others. The Jets were a .500 team that year and Bruce Coslet lost his job.

In general, those in NFL circles have learned that you build through the draft and fill certain needs through free agency. Talent and skill are essential, but chemistry, we’ve found, is critical. But there is very much a win-now mentality among owners, fans and coaches in the NFL, which is why it makes sense that new coaches like Chip Kelly in Philly, Bruce Arians in Arizona and Andy Reid in Kansas City are leading the charge in the first four days of free agency.

So despite the lessons of the past, we still see teams approaching the free agent market in a variety of ways, and the new restrictive cap for this year has added yet another layer of intrigue to the process. Here are some teams we feel are making an impact, for better or worse, and others who may be biding their time:

Winners

Tennessee — G Andy Levitre is an absolute steal and fills a glaring need for this team. TE Delanie Walker is a key piece to what the Titans would like to do on offense with QB Jake Locker under center. Plus, in addition to being a great blocker, he will have a chance to become the pass-catching threat that he never got to be in San Francisco.

Seattle — Not only did the Seahawks pick up WR Percy Harvin (their top need in our book) but they improved an already stellar pass rush and may have compensated for the loss of DE Chris Clemons with the signing of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Some will argue Harvin misses a lot of games and Tavon Austin may be just as good coming out of the draft, but Harvin was among the league leaders in catches, yards and yards per catch when his season ended in 2012, and though Austin has speed and elusiveness, he doesn’t possess Harvin’s size and he hasn’t done it on the NFL level yet.

Kansas City — The Chiefs re-signed T Branden Albert and added two-way TE Anthony Fasano to the offense. On defense, they added two big, physical corners in Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith and Jets DE Mike DeVito, a workhorse who is a veteran of the 3-4 defense the Chiefs are trying to install.

Atlanta — There really aren’t any excuses any more, are there? The Falcons lured TE Tony Gonzalez back, they signed RB Steven Jackson, and they re-signed T Sam Baker, filling three important needs on their team. Yes, they need to find pass rushers and a corner, but there are plenty of good ones in the draft. They’ll be feeling the heat in Hotlanta if things don’t go well early.

Indianapolis — Wow! No team has done a better job filling its needs in free agency. The Colts signed their run-blocking RT in Gosder Cherilus, added free agent G Donald Thomas, who can play on the left or right side, addressed their CB need with Greg Toler’s cap-friendly deal and the re-signing of Darius Butler, who resurrected his career in Indy, and signed Ricky Jean-Francois from the NFC-champ 49ers to man the nose in their new 3-4 defense. They also picked up former Jets hard-nosed S LaRon Landry and Atlanta’s Lawrence Sidbury, who can be a stand-up pass rusher in this scheme. They’ll be looking for an LT to address their top need, then it’s best available the rest of the way. Now they just have to get all these guys to play together.

Losers

New England — The Patriots are taking an uncharacteristic beating in Boston over the loss of Wes Welker. They also lost good young talent in Donald Thomas and Danny Woodhead. The signing of Leon Washington as a third-down back and returner is a good one, and re-signing CB Kyle Arrington was a smart move, but SS Adrian Wilson is old and has limited range in coverage, WR Danny Amendola is constantly injured, and they lost out on DT Desmond Bryant.

Baltimore — This is the price you pay for rewarding your QB. Flacco certainly earned his money, but he'd better spend a lot more time being the Flacco that played in the playoffs than the one who struggled through parts of the regular season if he’s going to make Ravens fans forget about the loss of six starters, including Anquan Boldin, Dannell Ellerbe, Bernard Pollard, Cary Williams and Paul Kruger.

Houston — Not sure what the Texans' plans are right now, but the loss of LB Connor Barwin, WR Kevin Walter, TE James Casey, and SS Glover Quin has people in Houston nervous, especially when they haven’t addressed a single need in free agency. This is a team that wasn’t far off the past two years, but they still have some definite needs.

Hiding in the Weeds

Minnesota — If WR Greg Jennings can stay healthy, he’s explosive, and the Vikings re-signed WR Jerome Simpson, who is developing into a starting talent. The re-signing of T Phil Loadholt and LB Erin Henderson were shrewd moves as well.

Detroit — Reggie Bush is going to touch the ball 20-25 times a game, will line up six different ways every Sunday and be an absolute matchup nightmare for DCs around the league. He also adds much-needed balance for an offense that led the league in pass attempts. The Lions also added pass-rush help in Jason Jones and solidified the secondary with the addition of Quin and the re-signing of S Louis Delmas and CB Chris Houston. They need to find a couple of tackles with the loss of Cherilus and the retirement of Jeff Backus, but it’s been a solid four days.

Denver — The Welker pickup was a coup for Peyton Manning, as was getting the franchise tag on T Ryan Clady and adding a very good starting G in Louis Vasquez. While the Elvis Dumervil situation will dominate the headlines on the defensive side of the ball, the addition of DT Terrance Knighton and the re-signing of DT Kevin Vickerson, who is coming off the best statistical season of his career, are key. LB Stewart Bradley could be an ideal fit at MLB in the Broncos' 4-3 defense. Other than Welker, they’ve been quiet but effective.

Cincinnati — The Bengals have never been ones to grab offseason headlines for spending money. But very quietly they have worked hard to keep a talented young team together, re-signing DEs Robert Geathers and Wallace Gilberry and placing the franchise tag on DE Michael Johnson. Consistency on the coaching staff and on the roster could be a good sign for a team coming off back-to-back playoff appearances.

Green Bay — The Packers have never been big players in free agency, so their inactivity isn’t all that surprising. Losing OLB Erik Walden was curious for a team that needs to bolster its pass rush, but they may get a compensatory pick in a draft loaded with pass rushers. Fans may be upset about losing Charles Woodson, but he’s ancient, and Jennings, well, the Packers were 6-2 without him last year and still have James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Reggie Cobb.

Lost in the Trees

Cleveland — We really like the Desmond Bryant signing. He’s a top interior lineman for the new 3-4 the Browns will be playing. But Kruger and Quentin Groves have only been part-time players in recent years, and TE Gary Barnidge will make limited contributions as a blocking TE. A whole lot of hoopla about nothing in our eyes so far.

Miami — There’s no denying Mike Wallace’s talent, but he is the ultimate boom-or-bust prospect, which is risky business for a franchise that, quite frankly, can’t afford many more mistakes. Jets fans know about the decline in TE Dustin Keller’s recent production, so we’re not terribly impressed with that signing, and we don’t understand the Ellerbe and Wheeler signings (though both are very good players), when Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett were productive and actually a strength of this defense. The loss of Bush and Fasano off an offense with a young, developing QB is also curious.

Jacksonville — Will this franchise ever get back on track? The Jaguars haven’t added any players of significance in our mind, but lost Knighton plus starting CBs Derek Cox and Aaron Ross, S Dawan Landry, WR Laurent Robinson and T Guy Whimper. They lost with those guys, so they can lose without them, but that’s a lot of turnover for a team that seems in a continuous downward spiral.

St. Louis — Sam Bradford has to be getting nervous. No more Steven Jackson, no more Danny Amendola, he still doesn’t have a formidable offensive line, and aside from TE Jared Cook, whose impact is still to be determined, he hasn’t gotten any new weapons. The Rams do have two first- round picks, but this team still has significant needs.

We all knew that given the cap restrictions the Jets are under, it would be a quiet time for the Green & White. But they have made some strides toward creating depth at RB with Mike Goodson and Lex Hilliard, and with the reported signings on the O-line with Hofstra product Willie Colon and with veteran 3-4 D-lineman Antonio Garay. The rebuilding under John Idzik will have to come through the draft, where they must find an impact pass rusher, a run-blocking RT and some weapons in their new West Coast offense.

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