One man's garbage is another man's gold. You've heard that saying and others like it many times before, we're sure. But it has never been truer in the NFL than right now. Despite the league's free money party during the first week of free agency, teams are now being more prudent with all that extra money under the salary cap and finding new ways to fill the roster without breaking the bank.
This could be an indication of the limited number of impact players available in this year's free agent pool and a testament to what we are hearing is not a very deep draft class at many positions.
Still, the roster has to be filled for camp and beyond, so several teams have gone the trade route to acquire players. This allows the team that is buying to work out a cap-friendly deal before adding an impact player to the roster. Still others are essentially picking through the NFL flea market, looking for something that might interest them.
Here's what we mean. To date, 218 veterans have signed deals during the signing period. Twenty-six of them were signed after being terminated (cut) since the end of the season. A few of them were re-signed to a more cap-friendly deal with their former team, players such as Buccaneers DE Kevin Carter, QB Joey Harrington of the Falcons and Bengals LB Roy Manning. But the other 23 changed teams, several for the veteran minimum.
Former Panthers Pro Bowl LB Dan Morgan signed a one year deal with the Saints, and fellow LB Zach Thomas did the anti-Parcells and signed a two-year deal to go from Miami to Dallas. Former No. 1 pick David Carr joined his third team this off-season, signing a one-year, "prove yourself" contract as Eli Manning's backup with the Giants.
The Jets signed TE Bubba Franks to a one-year deal, reportedly worth just over $1.6 million. That's not vet minimum but still a good buy for a player who can still catch the ball and make plays. Jeb Putzier is another TE who has one year to prove himself, this time in Seattle.
There is some risk to each of these signings. After all, sometimes you get what you pay for. But for the team that can get one more play, one more game, one more productive season out of a proven veteran like this, the rewards can be great, both on the field and financially.
Speaking of finances, a few teams have kept a tight grip on the purse strings this winter, and the rash of released players has given these teams a chance to fill roster spots with veterans who at the very least can serve as temporary Band-Aids. Some of these players are making second visit to teams.
Tennessee has been in an uproar over the Titans' lack of activity during free agency, but they have recently signed former players Justin McCareins and Jevon Kearse. Neither has thrived since leaving Music City, so maybe a return will be enough to spark their careers. The Titans are hoping so. Their signing of Falcons TE Alge Crumpler is another move that is loaded with question marks.
Likewise, the Bears weren't willing to pay WR Bernard Berrian and released an aging Muhsin Muhammad. Both were snatched up immediately, by Minnesota and Carolina respectively. The Bears went to the flea market and picked up former Bear and Dolphin Marty Booker, who couldn't make an impact in Miami, to a two-year deal, and added Brandon Lloyd, who hasn't lived up to his vast potential during stops in San Francisco and Washington.
Again, these deals carry the risk of being miserable failures. But with no other top starting options on those rosters at this point, the players should conceivably get a chance to play, and if they shine, the teams benefit, as do the players, who likely have several performance incentives written into their deals.
Then there are the teams that really did see gold lying in the street. The Raiders, who have been challenged only by the Jets in the spending department, signed WR Javon Walker to a reported six-year, $55 million deal, $16 million of it guaranteed, despite Walker being hampered by injuries in Denver all last season. If healthy, Walker can be an impact player and a viable weapon for the young JaMarcus Russell. If not, the Raiders could be in some cap trouble down the line.
The Seahawks feel they have finally found a quality starting guard in Carolina castoff Mike Wahle as well.
There are plenty of former NFL starters getting second chances, such as new San Diego LB Derek Smith, formerly of San Francisco; safeties Marlon McCree, who moved from San Diego to division rival Denver, and Dwight Smith, a former Viking now playing in Detroit, and WR Isaac Bruce, who will bring some credibility to the 49ers' passing attack. Others bring needed depth to positions of need, such as CB Lewis Sanders in New England, RBs Warrick Dunn in Tampa and DeShaun Foster in San Francisco, and TE Jerame Tuman in Arizona.
And there are plenty more out there. With the ever-present need for QB help, it's hard to believe that Byron Leftwich, Kelly Holcomb and Trent Dilfer will be out of work for long. Running backs Mike Anderson, Anthony Thomas and Kevin Jones (likely on his way to Philadelphia) could surely help save the legs of some top RBs, and every football coach in America wants players who can block like FB Lorenzo Neal and TE Kyle Brady.
A look at the linemen shows that there is a host of former starters still out there. Wayne Gandy, Chris Naeole, John Welbourn, Shane Olivea and Justin Hartwig will provide upgrades to some offensive lines, and Kalimba Edwards, James Hall, Rod Coleman and Larry Tripplett have shown they can still be impact players when healthy.
Linebackers Ian Gold and Brian Simmons each would be an ideal fit in 4-3 defense, while Takeo Spikes and Rosevelt Colvin have experience playing in both 40 fronts and 3-4 alignments.
The message: Expect more action at the flea market. Teams have cooled considerably on the free agent talent remaining on the market and will look to the players we mentioned above, especially when they have better grips on their remaining needs after the draft. Also, more of these players will come available in June when many roster bonuses are scheduled to kick in.
One man's trash is another man's treasure.