As expected, the beginning of free agency was marked by a flurry of activity in Week One. Many teams have already jumped on the board knowing that the market for veterans is steep, but short. With the increase in the salary cap this year to $109 million, teams have more money to spend and are willing to spend it on top tier players, who almost always commit quickly. The real challenge will come later for the teams that missed out on the top talent, but still have holes to fill. They will have to resist the urge to spend too much on 2nd tier veterans, or will have to overpay if the market goes out of control. Based on some of the signings this week, there is reason to believe that teams will overpay to fill a need.
We'll talk more about phase two in the coming weeks, but right now let's look at some of the highs and lows of the first week of the signing period.
Drew Bennett, WR, St. Louis Rams: Bennett, a former volleyball player who stands 6-5, 206 pounds, is an excellent possession receiver who will remind Jets fans of a tall Wayne Chrebet. He has excellent hands, will make tough catches in traffic, and though he's not a burner off the line, has deceptive deep speed. He also does the little things, and is a hard-working downfield blocker. He gives the Rams an excellent 3-WR package and sets them up nicely for the eventual end to Isaac Bruce's career.
Adalius Thomas, LB, New England Patriots: We know Jets fans don't want to see the Patriots on this list, but this move is hard to ignore. Considered by some to be the top free agent in this year's class, and certainly one of the top defensive players available, Thomas is a good fit in New England. He brings a wide array of skills to the Pats defense, from his pass rushing skills, to his physical run-stuffing ability, to the athletic ability that made him one of the top special teams players in the AFC at the beginning of his career. Those are all attributes that Bill Belichick takes to heart when searching for the linebackers that are the lifeblood of his defensive system. Thomas is the next Willie McGinest and a player who knows the AFC.
Ovie Mughelli, FB, Atlanta Falcons:At 6-1, 255, Mughelli has great size and really packs a punch as a blocker. He shows good instincts and does a good job of seeing through the line and seeking out defenders on the second level of the defense. Though he didn't get much of an opportunity with the Ravens, he has the blocking skills to make the league's best rushing attack even better. And he is enough of a ball carrier and receiver to have some impact as a playmaker in the Falcons offense.
Leonard Davis, OT, Dallas Cowboys: One of the first moves former Jets TE Ken Whisenhunt made when he became head coach of the Cardinals this winter was to release Davis. Though he is a mountain of a man at 6-6, 366, the former 1st-rounder's athletic ability and drive have come into question during his six years in Arizona. Though the Cowboys see him as a versatile player who can play either tackle spot or slide inside to guard, the five-year, $30 million deal that includes a $16 million signing bonus doesn't match his level of play to this point in his career.
Dewayne White, DE, Detroit Lions: Let's make one thing clear, this is not The Roadgrader. DeWayne White is a backup defensive end whose five-year, $29 million deal is nothing short of starter's money. However, he has started just 13 games in his four year career, and eight of those came at the end of the 2006 season as an injury replacement, when he recorded just 31 tackles and two sacks. That's meager production for that kind of dough. Lions head coach Rod Marinelli, who knows White from his days with the Bucs, is counting on White's familiarity with the Tampa Two defense and his young legs to add some pop to the Motor City pass rush. We're not buying.
Ahman Green, RB, Houston Texans: Ahman Green put up a solid season in 2006, running behind the Packers zone blocking scheme that is very similar to what Texans head coach Gary Kubiak has run in Houston and Denver. But Green is 30-years-old, has been racked with injuries in recent seasons, and hasn't played a full 16-game schedule since 2003. This one seems like a reach.
Some Jets Thoughts
The Jets stayed out of the fray in free agency's opening stanza, preferring instead to take care of some internal housekeeping, but look for them to be shrewd buyers as things begin to settle down. There are rumors flying around the Jets this afternoon about a potential trade but short of confirmation from the team, there are a few big backs on the street right now who would be a very good fit for the Green & White and a perfect compliment to Leon Washington.
Corey Dillon and Jamal Lewis come to mind immediately. Both are physical runners who can move the pile and make their own yards between the tackles, particularly in short yardage situations. If either player is still available a few weeks from now, they could be had for the right money and will have an immediate impact on the Jets offense.
The Jets will also have an opportunity to fill some pressing needs in the draft with three picks in the first 60 selections. But some of the players we thought might be available to the team at the 25th pick have been moving up the draft boards, which may change the Jets options. Cornerback Chris Houston has moved as high as 3rd at his position and could be gone by the 20th pick, leaving New York to consider Fresno State's Marcus McCauley or Aaron Ross of Texas. McCauley had an outstanding junior season but struggled mightily as a senior, and Ross has always been measured more by his physical tools and potential than his actual production.
Nebraska DE Adam Carriker's stellar showing at the combine has him pushing his way towards the top ten on some boards. Florida's Jarvis Moss should also be gone by the time the Jets are on the clock, and Purdue's Anthony Spencer and Georgia's Charles Johnson are looking like early second round prospects at this point.
So the Jets could give the tight end position a long look in the first round. Miami's Greg Olsen showed great athleticism at the combine, and has good size and reliable hands. He has surpassed Arizona State's Zach Miller as the top TE in this draft at the moment, and has the tools to provide Chad Pennington with a big target in the middle of the field. He has the ability to be the Jets version of Shockey.