Here are some thoughts on this week’s free-agent moves. (You can read about the opening weekend moves relative to each other here.) Once the market slows down and the draft approaches, we’ll put everything together in a massive offseason moves relativity post that compares the entire movement of the market team-by-team. (And if this post is 2000-plus words, then that post really will be massive.)
The following moves are compared relative to each other, with 10 as the most significant and 1 as mere drops in the bucket. Only the moves listed below are considered in this particular ranking.
10 – Cardinals (kept QB Kurt Warner and P Ben Graham; added FS Keith Lewis) – After some tense and contentious moments, the Cardinals were able to come to terms on a two-year deal with Warner (with $19 million of the $23 million guaranteed). The Cardinals simply had to get this deal done to have any shot of maintaining their momentum from their Super Bowl appearance, especially considering all of the coaching-staff changes they’ve had. Warner is a tone-setter in the locker room and still a very good player to boot. Now he has the chance to conclude his career in an ideal situation for his talents.
9 – Ravens (kept LB Ray Lewis; added C Matt Birk) – After losing Bart Scott, the Ravens needed to keep Lewis to maintain continuity on their defense. The fact that Lewis gets to retire as the greatest Raven ever is icing on the cake. Lewis had a great season last year after struggling for a couple of campaigns. He doesn’t have to be at the all-time-great level anymore, but the Ravens still need him to play at a high level to help the other defensive stars (Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed, and Haloti Ngata) do what they do best. Birk replaces Jason Brown. Brown is younger and more physical, but Birk is a solid pro who will do his job effectively.
8 – Seahawks (added WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh and TE John Owens) – Houshmandzadeh, who got $40 million total and $15 million guaranteed in a five-year contract, was the best wide receiver to become a free agent. He’s been productive despite being across from the more highly touted Chad Johnson/Ocho Cinco. Even with below-mediocre quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick playing most of last year, Houshmandzadeh still posted decent numbers. Now he moves to Seattle, where he and Deion Branch will try to reinvigorate an offense that sputtered last year. Neither is a great deep threat, but the West Coast scheme that the Seahawks continue to run doesn’t really require that. We’ll discover if Houshmandzadeh is a true No. 1 as this move plays out; I tend to believe that he’s not quite at that dominant level but will still be very good. Owens is a block-first tight end who will help in short-yardage situations.
7 – Eagles (added S Sean Jones) – After losing Brian Dawkins (as well as Sean Considine), the Eagles needed some safety help, and they got an impact player in Jones. Jones has 14 interceptions since 2006 and is thought of in some circles as a borderline Pro Bowl player. The deal is only for one year, so it’s a make good for Jones, which should encourage strong performance even more. If Jones reaches his potential and gels in the Philly defense, he’ll be a standout, and this deal will go down as one of the underrated steals of this year’s free agent market.
6 – Titans (added WR Nate Washington and DT Jovan Haye; kept P Craig Hentrich) – These two moves are designed to replace losses (WR Brandon Jones and DT Albert Haynesworth). Washington may be better than Jones. He can get deep consistently, but the question is whether he is consistent enough to be a top receiver. The Titans need him to be at least a 60-catch guy, and that might be asking too much. But of all the receivers on the open market, Washington (6 years, $27M) is the best bet to take a step up. Haye (4 years, $16M) isn’t anywhere close to Haynesworth, but he will fit comfortably into the Titans’ DT rotation. Tennessee will need several players to step up to replace Haynesworth, and Haye can be part of that – but only part. It’ll be interesting to see if the Titans can retain their scary factor on defense without their best player from ’08.
6 (con’t) – Buccaneers (added RB Derrick Ward, LB Niko Koutouvides, and PK Mike Nugent; kept safeties Will Allen and Jermaine Phillips, TE Jerramy Stevens, and WR Cortez Hankton) – This offseason, the Bucs have added TE Kellen Winslow and re-signed WRs Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton. Now they add Ward, a solid running back who had his best success in a rotation with the Giants. Ward, who gets a 4-year deal worth $17 million, moves from partnering with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw to teaming with Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams. Those are 3 talented backs, so the question will be finding the right way to divide carries. It’s clear from the moves so far that the Bucs are trying to upgrade their offensive skill positions, which were never eye-popping under Jon Gruden despite Gruden’s play-calling prowess. Meanwhile, Nugent could replace Matt Bryant as the Bucs’ placekicker. Allen and Phillips should be starters at safety – Phillips was sought after elsewhere but opted to stay. Stevens is a curious retention given Winslow’s arrival, but Stevens is a talented pass catcher as well.
5 – Bengals (added WR Laveranues Coles and QB J.T. O’Sullivan; kept RB Cedric Benson and OLB Darryl Blackstock) – Coles worked his way out of New York even though the Jets owed him $6 million guaranteed, and the gambit worked. He moves to Cincinnati to replace T.J. Houshmandzadeh (and perhaps even WR Chad Johnson/Ocho Cinco) as a primary target. Coles isn’t as big as Houshmandzadeh, but he has a little more speed, and he’s still a legitimate starting receiver. This is a pretty good fallback option for the Bengals. On the retention side, Benson isn’t great, but he was better than the other options Cincinnati had last year. If he starts and produces a 1,000-yard season, which isn’t asking a ton, this deal (2 years, $7 million) is probably at a fair market price. And if Benson can like up to his talent, this deal has a chance of being a steal. (A small chance, admittedly, but still worth noting.)
4 – Dolphins (added C Jake Grove) – The Dolphins have spent big to keep their own good players, but Grove (5 years, $30 million) is one of the first big outside additions. Grove, who was in Oakland, will replace Samson Satele and try to help control the massive 3-4 nose tackles like Vince Wilfork, Kris Jenkins, and Marcus Stroud in the AFC East.
3 – Broncos (added RB Lamont Jordan, QB Chris Simms, and DT Ronald Fields; kept DE Kenny Peterson) – More moves from the Broncos as they add seemingly every other mid-level free agent on the market. Jordan is the third running back Denver has signed this offseason. He’s most likely to take on a short-yardage role, with Correll Buckhalter carrying the load regularly and J.J. Arrington serving as a third-down receiver out of the backfield as well as a returner. Fields got a minor deal (2 years, $5 million), but he should start at defensive tackle. He’s a solid part of a 4-man DT rotation. Simms is at least a quality backup, and if the Jay Cutler situation ultimately blows up, Simms is a decent fallback option as a starter. His addition means the Cutler situation still bears watching.
3 (con’t) – Saints (added CB Jabari Greer and FB Heath Evans; kept WR Devery Henderson) – The Saints are constantly looking for secondary help, and Greer should provide at least some. But Greer is not a No. 1 cornerback, and if the Saints put him in that role, he could suffer a similar collapse to what Jason David endured in the Big Easy. Despite that risk, though, this is a move the Saints had to make, and Greer was the best of what was left on the market at corner. Henderson is a speedy wide receiver who isn’t consistent enough to be a starter but is dangerous in short bursts. With Marques Colston and Lance Moore on hand, the Saints don’t need to rely on Henderson consistently. That allows them to put him in the best possible positions for his talents. he’s a highly paid No. 3 receiver now, but he fits the Saints’ roster and scheme well. Evans replaces Mike Karney as a blocking fullback and is an upgrade because he’s better with the ball in his hands.
2 – Jets (added S Jim Leonhard; kept PK Jay Feely) – Feely beat out Mike Nugent last year, and so the Jets kept him and let the former second-round pick leave as a free agent. Feely has bounced around a bit, but he’s a quality kicker.) – After taking LB Bart Scott from the Ravens, the Jets raided Baltimore again to get Leonhard. While Leonhard isn’t the most physically gifted player, he’s always fought his way into the lineup and been productive. When Dawan Landry went down last year, Leonhard played really well. He’s a heady player who will help new head coach Rex Ryan install his defense. With Kerry Rhodes in place, Leonhard doesn’t have to be the play-making safety, but Leonhard’s dependability will allow Rhodes more freedom to do what he does best. This is a solid addition for the Jets. Meanwhile, Feely beat out Mike Nugent last year, and so the Jets kept him and let the former second-round pick leave as a free agent. Feely has bounced around a bit, but he’s a quality kicker.
2 (con’t) – Bills (added CB Drayton Florence; kept OT Kirk Chambers) – Florence busted out after signing a big contract in Jacksonville last season, but his new deal with Buffalo (2 years, $6.6 million) befits his talents much better. With Jabari Greer likely leaving, the Bills had to add cornerback help, but they have ’08 first-rounder Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee in primary roles there. Florence is paid like a nickelback, and he can probably fill that role sufficiently.
2 (con’t) – Lions (added DT Grady Jackson and CB Philip Buchanon; kept OG Damion Cook) – Jackson is a run-stuffer personified at 375 pounds (or more, depending on the year). He’s a two-down player at most, but when he’s in the game the middle is completely clogged up. It’s hard to say whether he’ll play all three years on his new $8 million contract, but if he stays in somewhat reasonable shape, he’s an asset to any roster. Buchanon busted out as a first-round pick in Oakland but resuscitated his career in Tampa. He’s not a shut-down corner, but as a starter he’s a little above average.
2 (con’t) – Patriots (added CB Shawn Springs; kept OL Russ Hochstein, P Chris Hanson, and LB Eric Alexander) – Springs was cut in Washington after an injury-plagued year, but he’s still a useful guy. He might end up at safety instead of cornerback, but the Patriots more than most teams seem willing to use a veteran who may have lost a step on the outside. This, like the addition of RB Fred Taylor, just feels like a natural Patriots type of move.
2 (con’t) – Browns (added TE Robert Royal; kept S Mike Adams) – After trading Kellen Winslow, the Browns needed tight end help. Royal (who got a 4-year, $10 million contract) is starting caliber, so he’s a good worst-case scenario for the Browns. They also have Steve Heiden, like Royal a solid NFL starter at the position. But my guess is that Cleveland wants second-year TE Martin Rucker to emerge as the pass-catching threat at the position. If he develops, Rucker could end up replacing a lot of what Winslow contributed in the passing game. Adams chose to stay in Cleveland instead of moving to Green Bay. With fellow safety Sean Jones still sans contract, it was important for the Browns to keep Adams for continuity’s sake.
2 (con’t) – Vikings (kept LB Heath Farwell) – Several teams wanted Farwell, a solid linebacker and special-teams contributor, but the Vikings were able to fight them off and keep him.
1 – Falcons (kept DE Chauncey Davis) – Davis isn’t a starter, but he’s an important player because Atlanta knows that sackmeister John Abraham is better in shorter bursts. Davis can rotate with Abraham and plays well when he’s in there. So while a 4-year, $14 million deal with $8 million guaranteed looks too rich, it makes some sense.
1 (con’t) – Raiders (kept OL Cooper Carlisle and TE Tony Stewart) – Carlisle is important to Oakland because of his versatility. He can start effectively but can also move inside if necessary.
1 (con’t) – Giants (added S C.C. Brown) – Brown is the fourth veteran the Giants have brought in to supplement their defense. He’ll help to take over for James Butler, who left via free agency. Brown isn’t special, but he’s solid, which is all the Giants need given their other playmakers defensively.
1 (con’t) – Texans (kept WR David Anderson) – Anderson had signed a contract tender with Denver, but the Texans chose to match it and keep the former seventh-round pick. Anderson emerged as a No. 3 receiver last year behind Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter, and he’s the perfect size to make plays out of the slot position.
1 (con’t) – 49ers (added DE Demetric Evans and QB Damon Huard) – Evans got a decent deal (2 years, $8.5 million) to come from Washington and serve as a starter. Huard is a professional backup who can help to mentor Shaun Hill and Alex Smith as they compete for the starting quarterback job.
1 (con’t) Chiefs – (kept S Jon McGraw; added LB Darrell Robertson) – McGraw is a backup safety and special-teams player who is used to the Patriot way because he played for the Jets and former Pats aide Eric Mangini. Robertson was cut by New England Thursday and immediately snapped up by the Chiefs, who are fast becoming New England Midwest.