Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Looking At The NFL Off-Season So Far

So we are a week into free agency. Next to the Draft, it is the most exciting part of the off-season. Some people might say it is more exciting than the Draft. I personally enjoy the Draft better. While free agency can be exciting, I get more excited to see the young future of my team.

But this free agency period has been quite fun. Unlike last year when we had a late start to free agency as well as an uncapped year, this free agency period has brought along some exciting surprises as well as some questionable contracts and decisions by teams. When you look at some of the money being thrown around, you have to wonder if these teams know exactly what they are doing. Of course, we have also had two of the biggest free agents ever in the NFL sign with new teams, Peyton Manning and Mario Williams.

So here we will take a look at the winners, the losers, and grade some of the contracts handed out thus far in free agency. While we are only a week into it, most of the big name guys are off the market. Now, teams will be looking to sign either depth players or fill holes on their roster with what is left of the free agent pool.

Chicago Bears: The Bears are winners, and they didn't even make a splashy signing in free agency. Rather, they made a trade hours before free agency started. The Bears traded two third round picks to acquire Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall. That is a steal for Marshall. Yes, he has a run in with the law that may be the subject of a suspension by the NFL, but a one or two game suspension will be worth it in the long run. When you consider that the Dolphins had to trade two second round picks to get him, it is worth it. Marshall reunites with Jay Cutler from their Denver Bronco days. Cutler will finally be able to throw to a #1 WR, something he has never had in his time in Chicago.

The Bears did make a couple of good moves in free agency. They were rumored to be in the Mario Williams sweepstakes before the money got too high. The Bears did sign Jason Campbell to be there back-up QB. That is a very good move. Campbell could have waited and possibly signed on to be the starter in Miami. But he chose Chicago. Chicago could have used Campbell last year when Cutler went down with an injury. Campbell played well for Oakland last year before being injured himself, and is more than capable of filling in if Cutler went down with an injury. They also re-signed Cornerback Tim Jennings and signed special teamer Eric Weems. Weems and Hester returning kicks? That should scare NFL teams. The Bears definitely did enough to make sure they will not be afterthoughts this year in the NFC North, and may very well compete with the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears for the Division crown.

Buffalo Bills: The Bills best work came before free agency started when they re-signed some of their own players. They re-signed Kicker Rian Lindell who has been very reliable for them kicking in what can be very bad weather conditions in Buffalo. They also re-signed WR Stevie Johnson to a five year deal worth $36.25 million over five years. Considering the money wide receivers were getting after free agency started, this is a great deal for Buffalo. Had Johnson hit the open market, he would have received much more money. Johnson and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick have a great relationship, so bringing him back was essential.

Then when free agency started, the Bills made the biggest splash in the opening hours when they brought in former Texans DE Mario Williams for a visit. Williams never left and stayed for two days before signing a 6 year, $96 million contract with $50 million guaranteed, the most ever for a defender. Is that a lot of money? Sure. But the Bills has been a franchise that most players often avoided. The city has a bad rap. But signing the best defensive free agent on the market changes the perception about Buffalo. And the Bills struggled to get to the quarterback last season, and Williams, along with DT Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, will be a disruptive force for the Bills front four. Mario Williams makes the Bills defense better by himself, and takes pressure off of a struggling secondary.

Denver Broncos: Congratulations to the Broncos for landing the biggest free agent out there in Peyton Manning. Manning is coming off a missed season due to neck surgery, but you have to believe that Peyton's neck is healed. The Broncos signed him to a 5 year, $96 million contract. That is a good price for one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. Manning makes the Broncos the instant favorites to win the AFC West. If Manning is anything like his former self, the Broncos should have no problem taking the division. Manning has a decent running back in Willis McGahee as well as a good young WR in DeMarryius Thomas. You would have to think Dallas Clark would follow Peyton to Denver as well. The Broncos are taking a risk, but you have to think the team doctors did a thorough check and know Peyton is all systems go. While Tim Tebow was a nice story in Denver, he will never be the caliber QB Peyton Manning is.

Miami Dolphins: First the Dolphins were players for the Rams #2 pick to get Robert Griffin, but that failed. Then they had Peyton Manning in for a visit, but Peyton told them "Thanks but no thanks." So the next logical choice was Matt Flynn. His former offensive coordinator, Joe Philbin, was the teams' new coach. But the team reportedly low balled Flynn because of it and he went to Seattle. They had Alex Smith in, but he appears ready to go back to San Francisco. Finally, the Dolphins signed option 5: David Garrard. Garrard is coming off back surgery and missed the entire 2011 season.

Oh, and then Steelers Safety Ryan Clark said no one wants to play for this team. Apparently, GM Jeff Ireland isn't thought highly of by players. I mean, when you ask someone how they feel about their mom being a ho, would do you expect? Then there is Owner Stephen Ross, who is all about the glitz and glamour and gets too involved in the decision making process. The Dolphins are a team spiraling downhill and fast. They traded Brandon Marshall and got back less then traded away for him. At least they re-signed NT Paul Soliai on defense, otherwise they could have been a mess on that side of the ball too. The Dolphins are staring at an empty stadium, last place in the AFC East, and potentially the 1st overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Maybe this year they will finish the job and "Blow for Barkley."

Washington Redskins: I know some people liked what Washington did, but I'm not one of them. Trading three 1st round picks for one quarterback? That is way too much for my liking. If Griffin doesn't get this team a Super Bowl then it isn't worth it. Mortgaging your future on one guy puts a lot of pressure on him right off the bat.

Then the Redskins were hit with a salary cap penalty for front loading contracts during last season's uncapped year. They were penalized $15 million in cap space this year and the same amount next. So what do the Redskins do? Give WR Pierre Garcon a 5 year, $42.5 million contract with $21 million guaranteed. Garcon had a good year last year, but it was also in a contract year. And Garcon has never been the go to guy for the Colts. He always had Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, oh and Peyton Manning was his QB. That is a lot for Garcon. Then they re-sign DE Adam Carriker for $5 million a year when he can barely get to the QB, and they sign WR Josh Morgan when they already have a lot of Josh Morgan's on the team: under-achieving WRs who have yet to break out. I don't like how Washington spent their money this off-season.

Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings watched the Bears improve pretty well, and the Lions and Packers are still both really good teams. What did the Vikings do? They signed John Carlson, a tight end from Seattle who didn't play all of last year, to a 5 year $25 million dollar contract. Tight End is the one position they didn't need to fill considering they already have Kyle Rudolph. The Vikings will probably take Matt Kalil at #3 to fill their need at left tackle, but their defense is a major liability, especially in the secondary. The secondary was shredded last year and it isn't going to get any better. Jared Allen can't do everything on defense. Vikings fans are in for a very long season. At the end of it, they may wish the team would just move to Los Angeles.

The Jury Is Still Out
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Signings: WR Vincent Jackson: 5 years, $55 million, $26 million guaranteed; G Carl Nicks: 5 years, $47.5 million; CB Eric Wright: 5 years, $37.5 million

Okay, first lets talk about the Eric Wright signing. What Da Hell??? Wright was constantly burned in coverage all year and he is given that much money? I know the Bucs had a lot of money to throw around, but they could have used it much better than that. Wright is not worth $7.5 million a year. Never.

Now onto the other two. To some people, those signings scream: "All about the money and not about winning." Some people think that Nicks and Jackson are just cashing in and will loaf it. While history suggests that is possible, I don't know if it will be true. At least not for Nicks. Carl Nicks has a lot to prove to New Orleans. He was upset the Saints never made him an offer and basically made him an afterthought after Drew Brees and Marques Colston. Nicks is possibly the best guard in the NFL, and he will be out to show the Saints that they missed out big time on not re-signing him.

Vincent Jackson, however, may be a different story. Jackson just comes off as different to me. I don't know why, but I would expect Jackson's numbers to decline each year he is with Tampa Bay, especially after they start losing. Even with these signings, I still think Tampa Bay is the 4th best team in the NFC South. They need some major upgrades on defense and there are three high powered offensive attacks in that division. If Jackson was about winning rather than money, he would have signed on with a contender, wanting to show San Diego what they were missing. But I think Jackson cashed in, and his stats will show that.

San Diego Chargers: Signed OLB Jarrett Johnson: 4 years, $19 million; Signed WR Robert Meachem: 4 years, $25.9 million; Signed WR Eddie Royal: 3 years, $13.5 million; Re-Signed C Nick Hardwick and T Jarred Gathier

The Chargers acted quickly to replace Vincent Jackson, but I'm pretty sure they over paid for Robert Meachem. Meachem has the skills but never stepped up into the #1 WR role in New Orleans. The Chargers paid a lot for a guy that they don't even know can be their #1 WR. San Diego was sucked into paying a high price for Meachem because the market was set high for WRs early with the signing of Pierre Garcon. The Chargers also signed Eddie Royal, but his skills will be used primarily in the punt return game where the Chargers have struggled mightily the last few years.

Jarrett Johnson will be a steal if he can improve on his numbers from the Ravens. Johnson isn't the best at getting to the quarterback. He struggled to do it even with Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis in Baltimore. So having Shaun Philips across from him in San Diego won't make much of a difference. But Johnson is good in coverage and effective at stopping the run, so if he can keep doing that in San Diego then it will be a big upgrade for them. The Chargers also got Johnson at a bargain.

So What's Next?
-Where Does Tim Tebow Go?
Now that Peyton Manning is finally on a new team, the focus will turn to where Tim Tebow goes next. Where Tebow lands and what the price will be all depends on what other teams see him as. I don't think the Broncos will get anything more than a 3rd round pick. There are very few teams that see Tebow as a starting QB. The 49ers already took themselves out of the running. Miami reportedly isn't interested either. The obvious team would be the Jacksonville Jaguars. If the new owner is all about keeping the team in Jacksonville and selling tickets, bringing in Tebow would help that. Tebow alone would sell out that stadium every week. They could take the tarps off the upper deck. Do you really think Tebow is any worse than Blaine Gabbert? Gabbert showed nothing in his first year. Sure he was only a rookie, but most rookies show at least some promise. Gabbert didn't. The Jags are apparently committed to him, but I don't know why. The Packers might be interested according to Adam Schefter as Aaron Rodgers back-up. That'd be an interesting stop for him. But I think when it is all set and done, Tebow finds his way back home to Jacksonville, and the Jags don't have to worry about blackouts ever again.

Looking Towards The Draft
Free Agency talk will die down in the next week or so. Once Tim Tebow gets traded, all of the focus will shift towards the Draft. The first two picks are set in stone, and the Vikings are likely to select OT Matt Kalil with the 3rd pick. After that it is anybody's guess. There will be some trade talk heading into the Draft outside of Tebow. The Panthers have 3 quality running backs now that they signed Mike Tolbert. They are kind of stuck with DeAngelo Williams and his massive contract, so Jonathan Stewart is likely the odd man out. There will be other veteran players available as well. I don't like that the Draft is now spread over 3 days, but the NFL is a business, and they are all about making the money.

There you have it. I didn't talk about some stuff like the Randy Moss signing, which I like because Jim Harbaugh will keep him under control. Other signings as well. But I think I touched on most stuff.

Until Next Time,
Justin C
Follow Me On Twitter @JCWonka

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