We began our NFL free agency preview with a massive post comparing the 14 franchise players to each other. We did a couple other takes on the market before the shopping began in earnest on Feb. 27. Later this week, we’ll talk about some of the releases that have happened and put them through the relativity ringer.
First, in this post, we’re going to talk about some of the key re-signings that happened before the new league year began on Feb. 27. Future re-signings will be noted in the free-agent moves posts to come. But for now, here are the key moves relative to each other. Again, 10 is a vital move, and 1 is a move that we barely notice.
(Note: Franchise players who resigned, including Brandon Jacobs, are omitted here because they were covered in this post.)
10- CB Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders – Simply put, Asomugha is the best cornerback in the league, and the Raiders had to keep him. They’re paying a premium to do so – 2 years at a little more than $28 million, plus a third-year option at $16 million more. But that price is cheaper (at least marginally) than franchising Asomugha for the next three years, and it allows the Raiders to build their defense around him. Personally, I’d love to see Asomugha on a great team, but Oakland couldn’t afford to let him go – no matter the cost.
9 – C Jeff Saturday, Colts – It looked as thought Saturday was out of Indy, but a last-minute bump in the salary cap gave the Colts room to keep him. It was stunning last season the difference in the Colts’ offense when Saturday was in the lineup and when he was absent. That was the first prolonged injury of Saturday’s career. He’s dependable, he’s a line leader, and he can keep the line calls up with Peyton Manning’s extensive audibiling. The Colts needed to keep him, and the last second Hail Mary that kept him a Colt will end up being the team’s key move of the offseason.
8 – OT Jordan Gross, Panthers – The Panthers made the playoffs last year by establishing an identity as a run-first team, and Gross (along with ORT Jeff Otah) are the key offensive linemen in that strategy. It’s hard to find a run-first tackle who’s also nimble enough to protect the QB’s blind side, but Gross has both skill sets. The fact that the Panthers got this 6-year, $60 million deal done in time to franchise Julius Peppers is also a plus. Carolina paid full market value (and maybe then some) for Gross, but he’s a cornerstone at a key position, so it’s worth it.
7 – S Yeremiah Bell, Dolphins – No team was as aggressive about resigning its own players before they hit the open market than the Dolphins. (You’ll see entries on Channing Crowder and Vernon Carey below.) Bell is probably the best of the litter. He got a 4-year, $20 million deal, which is strong for a safety – especially after the Dolphins signed Raiders castoff Gibril Wilson. Bell and Wilson should give Miami veteran leadership, versatility, and vigor in the back end of the defense.
6 – CB Kelvin Hayden, Colts – The Colts identified Hayden as their No. 1 priority entering free agendy, and they would have used a franchise tag on him had he not agreed to a 5-year, $43 million contract just before the deadline. Hayden has been a productive player for the Colts thus far, but the big question is whether he can maintain his level of performance as the Colts begin to inch (if not sprint) away from the Tampa 2 defensive system that former coach Tony Dungy used. If the defense changes drastically, Hayden will have to prove that he has better 1-on-1 cover skills than he has shown thus far. Can he do it? It’s impossible to tell at this point. But the fact that the Colts were willing to pay Hayden, a defensive player, means that they think he can. For now, we’ll give Bill Polian and the front office the benefit of the doubt thus far, and we’ll hope (for their sake) that Hayden’s big contract doesn’t look in 2 years like ex-Colt Jason David’s big deal with New Orleans now looks.
6 (con’t) – LB Channing Crowder, Dolphins – Crowder re-signed with Miami on the cusp of free agency. While he’s not an impact guy, he’s an effective tackler who cleans up his area well. The Dolphins didn’t use their franchise tag, but they ended up keeping the guys they most wanted to keep in Crowder and Vernon Carey.
5- OT Vernon Carey, Dolphins – The Dolphins didn’t use their franchise tag on Carey, but the day after the franchise-tag deadline passed, they inked Carey to a 6-year, $42 million deal. That seems like big money, especially since Carey projects as either a right tackle or a guard for Miami. (Remember that Jake Long is now ensconced as the Dolphins’ left tackle of the present, future, and beyond.) Because some teams might think that Carey could play left tackle, his price tag was going to be artificially inflated -whether in Miami or elsewhere. So good for Carey for cashing in, and Miami keeps some continuity on the offensive line. The fact that head coach Tony Sparano (a former OL coach) wanted Carey to stay is endorsement enough to wait and see whether this deal ends up being worth it.
5 (con’t) – CB DeAngelo Hall, Redskins – For the second straight offseason, Hall got a huge contract. In ’08, he got $24 million in guaranteed money from Oakland, but the Raiders cut him after eight games because he was such a bad fit for their system. Hall landed in Washington and ended up being a huge upgrade over aging and injured corners Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot. Hall has worlds of talent, and in the right system he is a good fit, but he’s not a No. 1 corner – no matter what his new 6-year, $54 million contract tries to tell you. But it’s not a bad gig to lock down a total of $46.5 million in guaranteed money in less than 12 months.
4 – P Shane Lechler, Raiders – The Raiders paid Shane Lechler an eye-popping 4-year deal worth $16 million. The previous high-water mark for punters when it comes to salary was $2.35 million, so Lechler – who is the top punter in the league, to be fair – got nearly double the going rate. That’s a huge contract, but let’s think through it. First of all, we can assume that Lechler wasn’t going to re-sign in Oakland for market value because of the Raiders’ paperthin playoff chances. In other words, the Raiders had to pay a premium. And Lechler, a 4-time Pro Bowl choice, averages a league-record 46.8 yards per punt for his career, and his net average of 41.2 yards last year is a sterling figure. If any punter deserves to be the highest paid in the league, it’s Lechler. And if any team needs a punter, given its offensive struggles, it’s Oakland. So this deal, while it’s overkill financially, will make an impact.
4 (con’t) – CB Joselio Hanson, Philadelphia – The Eagles are as proactive as any team in re-signing young players who haven’t played much but might in the future. Sometimes these moves work; sometimes they don’t. But Hanson, who has played quite a bit for a fourth cornerback, projects as a third corner type, and having him locked up could make it easier for the Eagles to trade unhappy Lito Sheppard. For that reason alone, this move is worth noting.
4 (con’t) FB Tony Richardson, Jets – Richardson has long been one of the best lead fullbacks in the league, and his appearance in New York last year helped Thomas Jones bounce back from a bad ’07 season to have a very productive rushing campaign in ’08. So it’s worth it for the Jets to keep Richardson on a modest 1-year deal.
3- QB Luke McCown, Buccaneers – It’s hard to believe, but the new Buccaneers regime gave McCown a 2-year, $7.5 million deal under the belief that he can compete for the starting quarterback job there. McCown would have to beat out Brian Griese and Josh Johnson to win the job, but the fact that he’s actually getting this opportunity is a little mind-boggling. McCown, a former Browns draft pick, showed a little promise in his appearances at the end of the ’07 season, but I still don’t see an answer here. As I’ve written before (check the comments on this post), McCown’s upside is probably somewhere around what J.T. O’Sullivan showed last year for the 49ers. In other words, McCown may start, but he’s not going to be a good starter.
3 (con’t) – DT Ryan Sims, Buccaneers – Another Buc re-signing is rotation defensive tackle Sims. The former No. 6 overall pick hasn’t lived up to that billing, but he’s proven to be at least a decent role player in Tampa. At 4 years, $8 million, if Sims can be the Bucs’ No. 3 DT, it’s worth it.
3 (con’t) – PK Rob Bironas, Titans – Bironas is a good kicker, but the difference between so-so kickers and the top level at this point in the NFL just isn’t that big. That said, Bironas is clutch, he can hit the 50-yard field goal, and for a defensive-first playoff team like Tennessee, that’s important. Tennessee franchised Bironas last offseason and probably would have again if they hadn’t agreed on the 4-year deal (which is worth $12M or $16M, depending on who you read). It’s a solid signing, even if it is a little pricy.
3 (con’t) – TE Justin Peelle, LB Coy Wire, DT Jason Jefferson, Falcons – We’ll do these signings as a trifecta, because they’re key to the Falcons depth. Wire could end up starting next year if Michael Boley leaves via free agency. Peelle is a solid blocking tight end who fits the Falcons’ offensive scheme well. Jefferson is a solid contributor as a rotation defensive tackle.
2 – OG Stephen Peterman and PK Jason Hanson, Lions – The Lions have two signings on this level. Peterman is a two-year starter at guard, and his modest contract (5 years, $15 million) will be worth it if he can be a decent starter. If he ends up being above average, this deal could end up being a steal. Hanson is 39 years old, and yet the Lions gave him a 4-year contract. That basically will ensure that Hanson, who has been in Detroit since 1992, will play his whole career as a Lion. Hanson won PFW’s Golden Toe award as best kicker last year after making 8 50-yard field goals and missing just once overall. This is a decent football move that means more in Detroit because Hanson has been there forever. (Speaking as someone who watches how Panthers fans love John Kasay, who has three fewer years of tenure in town, I have to imagine that Hanson is a fan fave.)
2 (con’t) – OG Kynan Forney, Chargers – The Chargers didn’t play Forney at all last season, his first in San Diego. But with starter Mike Goff facing free agency, San Diego locked up Forney for 2 years, $4.8 million as a fallback. Forney can be at least an average NFL guard (he started 89 games in 7 seasons in Atlanta), so having this option at a reasonable price is decent foresight for San Diego. He’s not the best-case scenario, but he’s not a worst-case scenario either.
2 (con’t) – FB Corey McIntyre and OT Kirk Chambers, Bills – The Bills picked McIntyre up off the street midseason last year, and he became a solid blocking fullback for him. That’s an asset for a run-first team like Buffalo, and so it’s worth keeping him on a two-year deal. Chambers is a swing lineman who can fill in at several spots along the line.
1- QB David Carr, Giants – Carr bombed out as a backup QB in Carolina two years ago, but with the Giants last year he played well in basically one extended appearance. If the Giants are comfortable with him behind Eli Manning, he’s worth the one-year, $2.1 million deal.