Free Agency 2011 – Five Days. Five Winners. Five Losers.

| August 1, 2011

You can’t really judge a free agency class until … well, until they’ve played. So much of it isn’t about talent level, but rather the situation players find themselves in. Look at a player like Paul Posluszny, who had some issues when Buffalo switched his position after excelling as a MLB in a 4-3.
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So take this with a pinch of salt, but with the major moves having gone down in free agency (or at least the majority of them) I’m going to present to you the five winners and five losers from the first five days.
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When all is said and done, we’ll have detailed analysis on every team, but for now let’s go with the great and the gruesome.

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Winners
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Philadelphia Eagles

Well this is obvious. If you weren’t around on Friday, you probably don’t realize how close the internet came to exploding when Jay Glazer reported that Nnamdi Asomugha was going to the Eagles. It was a monumental move for one of the league’s two best cornerbacks. Not only that, the Eagles managed to get one of the most productive defensive ends in the league (Jason Babin), one of the bargain buys of free agency (Evan Mathis), and the strongest interior pass rusher from the past three years (Cullen Jenkins). Oh, and they traded the overrated Kevin Kolb, for a CB with elite tools and a draft pick. They’ve jumped from a team that others might worry about, to one that flat out frightens.
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Houston Texans

The Texans only really made two moves of note, but then that was all they needed to do. You see, they have an excellent offensive line, and a great combination of skill players on offense. They have playmakers on defense. What destroyed this team last year was their secondary. With that in mind, they went out and picked up the second best cornerback on the market, and a safety with tremendous range who doesn’t make mistakes. You don’t need to make a host of moves to turn your team into a darkhorse contender.
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Carolina Panthers

It was the attitude the Panthers took that was so refreshing. After years of watching them do nothing in free agency they were about as aggressive as it gets. It may seem like they overpaid for Charles Johnson, but, considering his age and production, there’s a case to be made that he was the top free agent available. They followed that by locking down James Anderson and Thomas Davis before trading for a talented receiving tight end in Greg Olsen. They even picked up valuable players like Olindo Mare and Ben Hartsock who can play important roles for a successful team. They overpaid for DeAngelo Williams, but the Panthers could have been in bad shape with so many possible free agents. Instead, they may not be all that far from contending again.
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St Louis Rams

They picked up one of the best safeties in the league for $7m a year, nabbed a nasty offensive lineman in Harvey Dahl, will work Justin Bannan into their defensive rotation, and gave Mike Sims-Walker an opportunity to earn a big time contract next year. The Rams added enough pieces that, with some development, in the game of Sam Bradford they should be the team to beat in the NFC West.
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Washington Redskins

The Redskins didn’t make that one flashy signing you expect from them, but made several key additions. It could be a year before they really settle down (especially with changing the defense around) but they stepped up. Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen will get pressure from their defensive line, Josh Wilson is a hugely underrated cornerback and players like Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney will improve the play of their quarterbacks.  Even a move like Chris Chester makes them better. They just need a physical inside linebacker and they’ve narrowed the gap.
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Losers
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs had plenty of cap room to build on their 10-6 record. Instead, they overspent with pretty much every move they made. It’s borderline ridiculous that they gave our lowest ranked guard of the last three years $53m over seven years. It wasn’t much better paying a good player like Quincy Black $29m over five years. He’s never even held an every down role, and yet they gave him $7m more than an impact player like James Anderson who has? It gets even worse: their big out-of-town signing was a punter who they made the richest in the game. The Bucs blew an opportunity to really challenge the Falcons and Saints. Their pursuit of Doug Free reflected the need to improve on the offensive line and they failed in that regard as well.
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Tennessee Titans

If you’re sitting still, you’re moving backwards. In the AFC South, Jacksonville and Houston made moves to push them forward. The Titans lost their starting MLB and their best defensive end. Who have they replaced them with? Our second lowest ranked MLB from last year in Barrett Ruud and … well no one. Bringing back Leroy Harris won’t help the team out, and while Shaun Smith will improve the run defense, it’s too little, too late. Let’s not even get into what they’re expecting from Matt Hasselbeck. One playoff game shouldn’t eliminate memories of a pretty poor season.
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Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs walked into free agency with plenty of cap room and a need to push on from last year. After all, they were pummeled by the Ravens in the playoffs. What happened is they turned away from a guy they needed (Aubrayo Franklin) for an elderly defensive tackle with a history of injuries. They haven’t addressed finding a complement for Tamba Hali, and they haven’t even locked down their franchise player (or any of their RFA). Bringing in Steve Breaston doesn’t make them a better team the way addressing those two problem areas on defense would have.
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Indianapolis Colts

Same old Colts. They’re going to ride Peyton Manning and Dwight Freeney to the playoffs … only it won’t be so easy this year. The Texans and Jags have closed the gap, and you could argue Houston is a stronger team now as well. Indy needed to address their defense and especially the defensive tackle position. Frankly it’s boring talking about how little production they get from the spot. They failed to and, just like in the playoffs last year, powerful teams like the Jets will run right through them.
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Denver Broncos

They failed to trade Kyle Orton (though that may not have been their fault), haven’t addressed the defensive tackle position, brought in a receiver you could argue they don’t need and are walking out of free agency as they walked in. A perplexing mess. It’s not clear what defense they are running given the personnel they are targeting, and right now they look like the worst team in an AFC West that isn’t the strongest division in the world. The stink of the Josh McDaniels regime still lingers large over Denver.

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  • thadjw

    Free agency made the Patriots trades possible. If those are good contracts they did nothing but add greatly to last year’s squad. Still possible to get a Roth who you have shown get pressure (if not sacks)?

    Do you think it’d be worthwhile for them to add a Bradshaw as well. I think back pass pro could be huge.

    • Neil Hornsby

      I’m not sure there’s more than a handful of teams who wouldn’t benefit from having Bradshaw on board and New England certainly isn’t one of them.

  • jtellis

    I hardly think the Buccaneers care that they are a “free agency loser”. Mark Dominik has made it ABUNDANTLY clear that this team is going to build through the draft and focus on resigning its own players for continuity. Who did the Bucs sign in free agency last year? Pretty much no one. How did that work out? 10-6 with the players they drafted that year being the catalyst. It will be the same this year when Clayborn, Bowers, and Mason Foster become the missing pieces the defense needed. The Bucs made the biggest move they needed to make in free agency which was letting Barrett “spaghetti arms” Ruud walk. Addition by subtraction as you guys like to say. Its hilarious that you make the Redskins one your “winners” when every year they do this in free agency and every year it blows up in their face. You guys just don’t get it.

  • jtellis

    Davin Joseph was one of the best run blocking guards in the league under Bill Muir. Pete Mangurian and his zone blocking scheme really messed Davin’s career up. New o-line coach Pat Morris will fix that with a return to a primarily man-blocking scheme. Regardless there are NFL GM’s out there that clearly don’t agree with your opinions on Joseph. If Tampa hadn’t given him the payday someone else would have.

  • matthewwayne

    Calling the ‘skins “winners” is laughable at best.

    I understand what you do here, and grading out each individual is extremely impressive. However, the rankings do not reflect inner workings of each team or scheme respectively.

    For instance: just because Davin Joseph earned a “negative” rating DOES NOT mean that he sucks or that it was a “terrible” signing for Tampa. The man played fairly well, and looking at the big picture it was an excellent (re)signing. Would you rather they overspent on Dahl?