Here’s the fifth installment of our free-agency relativity comparison. This one covers the period from April 11 to the beginning of the NFL draft. Again, these comparison levels are based only on the listed moves, not on previous offseason wheelings and dealings. For looks at the rest of the offseason, check out the previous post and follow the links back from there.
10 – Buccaneers (add QB Byron Leftwich) – Leftwich, once a top-10 overall pick, saw his career die on the vine when he was cut by the Jaguars just before the ‘07 season and then failed as a starter in Atlanta later that season. It seemed like Leftwich’s flaws – most notably his slow release and even slower feet – had overcome his career. But then Leftwich went to Pittsburgh as a backup last year, and in addition to pocketing a Super Bowl ring, he played very well in a couple of relief appearances. That raised his perception, at least in the public’s eyes. Still, Leftwich struggled to get many shots at competing for a starting job. He visited Washington and got an offer to return to Pittsburgh, but he held out until he finally got the chance he wanted in Tampa on a two-year deal potentially worth $7.5 million and almost certainly worth a minimum of $4 million. He immediately becomes the favorite to leap career journeyman Brian Griese, journeyman-in-training Luke McCown, and developmental project Josh Johnson on the depth chart and thus start for the Bucs. Leftwich has an infectious personality, and he still has enough talent to be a top-20 quarterback. He’s not a world-beater, but he’s still markedly better than anyone else Tampa had to choose from. That makes this addition a move that matters for 2009.
9 – Jaguars (add WR Torry Holt) – The Jaguars are flipping their receiving corps this offseason. They’ve released Jerry Porter and Matt Jones and let Reggie Williams leave via free agency. Now they make their first move to replace some of these losses by signing long-time Ram Torry Holt to a three-year deal potentially worth $20 million. If Holt delivers, it’s a big price. Holt was ridiculously productive in St. Louis and actually has his career on a Hall of Fame type of track after 10 seasons. But a knee injury has limited Holt’s explosiveness and effectiveness the last couple of years, which is why the Rams turned the page and let him go. The Jags are obviously banking on Holt to be their No. 1 receiver, but it’s still uncertain whether he’s able to perform at that level. Still, having Holt will help David Garrard, and it’s hard to see Holt as an unacceptable starter. The Jaguars needed help, and they got it, so you have to view the move favorably at least in that light.
8 – none
7 – none
6 – Chiefs (add LB Zach Thomas and TEs Tony Curtis and Sean Ryan) – Thomas didn’t do much in Dallas last year, but his long, productive tenure in Miami makes him a name worth noticing. His veteran wile, along with that of Mike Vrabel, will be helpful in installing a new 3-4 defensive system in Kansas City. Again, the Chiefs’ new grand poobah Scott Pioli takes a page from the Patriots’ playbook – this time it’s the “pick up lots of veteran linebackers” listing. It worked in N.E., so it’s worth trying in K.C. Meanwhile, after trading Tony Gonzalez, the Chiefs inked Curtis. Not only does he meet their quota of tight ends named Tony, he also brings someone with at least a little starting experience. He’s more of a blocker than a pass catcher, but he should find a role in K.C. Likewise, Ryan is a block-first tight end who is in position to fight for a job now.
5- Bills (add RB Dominic Rhodes) – With Marshawn Lynch staring down a three-game suspsension to open the year and backup Fred Jackson threatening a holdout, the Bills needed a solid RB option. Rhodes might be that. Here’s the rub, though: Rhodes had a renaissance last year in his return to Indy, but his one venture outside of the Colts’ system was a bust. That was Oakland, not Buffalo, but it is reason for cause. But given that the Bills really need three games out of him, it’s definitely worth a shot.
4 – none
3 – Lions (add WR Ronald Curry and FB Terrelle Smith) – Curry had a huge year in ’06 but otherwise wasn’t able to deliver on his athletic ability as a Raider. Still, he’s worth a shot as a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver, which is where he fits in with the Lions. Smith, who was a Cardinal last year, is a classic blocking fullback who fills that role adequately.
3 (con’t) – Redskins (add P Hunter Smith) – The Redskins had the worst punting game in the league last year and have brought in 4 punters since the beginning of last season. So it makes sense for them to get a solid vet in Smith, who had a good tenure in Indy. The tight salary cap situation with the Colts made Smith a luxury there, but he’s a solid addition in D.C.
2- Saints (add LB Anthony Waters) – Waters was a third-round pick in San Diego a couple of years ago, but he suffered a knee injury as a college senior that made his transition to the pros problematic. As a result, he never became a contributor with the Chargers. But the potential is still there, which makes him definitely worth a shot for the Saints.
2 (con’t) – Steelers (keep QB Charlie Batch; add CB Keiwan Ratliff) – Batch is a minimum-salary backup who’s worth a lot more in the locker room. He’s a coach in waiting and a great support for Ben Roethlisberger. The question is whether he can play if called upon. As clunkily as Big Ben moves, that’s something that must be considered. The Steelers need to start thinking about a higher-level backup for Roethlisberger – maybe a reclamation project like Byron Leftwich was last year, such as Rex Grossman or J.P. Losman, or hope that last year’s draft pick, Dennis Dixon, develops much faster than he has thus far. Ratliff is a solid backup corner who moves over from Indy to provide depth.
1 – Broncos (add OT Brandon Gorin) – Gorin’s another ex-Patriot who should know Josh McDaniels’ offense. He fits in as a backup tackle at best.
1 (con’t) – Colts (keep S Matt Giordano) – Giordano provides depth at safety, and his 13 special teams tackles last year show his value on those units.