It’s March! That means it’s the NFL’s shopping season before the real shopping season (NFL Draft)
Should we be excited about NFL free agency? Well, maybe. It depends on who you’re rooting for. Let’s review the early results of NFL free agency in this first week of the 2016 NFL year. Here’s the AFC situation. Read on to see how it looks for the NFC.
The Cardinals allowed recently imported linebacker Sean Weatherspoon return home to Atlanta. Starting right tackle Bobby Massie signed a three-year deal with the Chicago Bears. In the plus column, speedy safety Tyvon Branch was signed for two years to replace the outbound Rashad Johnson. Other than that, it’s both ho and hum for the Cardinals so far. Backup quarterback Drew Stanton re-signed. Last year’s free agent tight end, Jermaine Gresham is visiting teams and former Cincinnati Bengal Leon Hall came to Arizona for a visit. Moving on.
I ask you, when hasn’t scooping up ex Cleveland Browns paid Super Bowl dividends? Welcome, Alex Mack! And welcome back, Matt Schaub and Sean Weatherspoon! I wonder if Mack and Weatherspoon were named Matt they could get tryouts at quarterback? Former highly paid Falcons no longer employed in Atlanta include Paul Soliai and Roddy White. Former Cincinnati Bengal Mohamed Sanu arrived to take the place of White alongside all-world Julio Jones.
The NFC Champion Panthers get a boost at the receiver spot by doing nothing: Former No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin is expected to return to full strength after missing all of last season. Running back Mike Tolbert and defensive end Charles Johnson were also re-signed. Johnson “willingly” had his salary reduced, which means he would have been shown the door had he balked.
The Bears have a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball. They filled one by luring middle linebacker Danny Trevathan away from the Broncos. The Indianapolis Colts opted not to re-sign linebacker Jerrell Freeman, and the Bears happily scooped him up for three years. They filled another hole by nabbing Bobby Massie from the Cardinals. They appear poised to drop the oft-chafed Martellus Bennett, but have yet to do so. Role players Mitch Unrein (defensive end) and Marc Mariani (wide receiver) were re-signed.
That the Cowboys have been relatively quiet on the free agency front is a telling glimpse into their cap situation. It’s well known that Stephen Jones had to rassle the Johnny Manziel card out of Jerry Jones’ hands when Manziel was eligible to be drafted. Now that Johnny Football is on the street, how much hand-to-hand combat do you think is going on at Valley Ranch?
Problem child linebacker Rolando McClain was given another year to prove his worth in the big D. Defensive lineman Cedric Thornton was picked up in the Philadelphia Eagles’ fire sale.
The Detroit Lions — the gift that keeps on giving. Thanks, Lions, for so consistently wasting the value of the best wide receiver in franchise history. Speaking of history, Calvin Johnson now resides there. Marvin Jones, late of the Cincinnati Bengals, has arrived to not take Megatron’s place. Linebacker Tahir Whitehead, an on-again / off-again starter, was re-signed for two years. Look for them to add a veteran on the offensive line at some point.
Green Bay Packers
Stop interrupting nap time. OK, that’s not totally fair. The Packers did re-sign part-time role-player / former first-round-draft-pick / outside linebacker Nick Perry to a one-year deal. And whatever a Justin Perillo is. Backup quarterback Scott Tolzien was allowed to sign with the Indianapolis Colts.
Los Angeles Rams
Chris Long was released before free agency began, but the Rams re-signed two defensive linemen: William Hayes and Eugene Sims for modest money. Receiver Brian Quick re-signed with the Rams on a one-year deal. Perhaps they spent all their money when they moved to L.A.
Free agent cornerback Marcus Sherels was re-signed to a two-year contract. The Mike Wallace experiment is over in Minnesota. Looking to upgrade their offensive line, the Vikings signed guard Alex Boone (49ers) to a four-year deal. Right tackle Phil Loadholt took a pay cut to stay with the team and right guard Mike Harris received a one-year contract. Safety Michael Griffin and linebackers Travis Lewis and Emmanuel Lamur were also signed. The busy Vikings are not standing pat after wrestling the NFC North Division title away from the Packers.
New Orleans Saints
If the Saints aren’t laughing about how much money was thrown at (now former) Saints tight end, 35-year-old Ben Watson, then nobody in their front office has a sense of humor. The Saints parted ways with Watson (coming off a very productive year, to be fair) who happily went to the Baltimore Ravens who vastly overpaid for the journeyman. They got younger by signing Coby Fleener to a five-year deal.
New York Giants
One of the mild surprises for the early part of free agency is the Giants’ near-historic spending spree. New to big blue: cornerback Janoris Jenkins (Rams) and defensive end Olivier Vernon (Dolphins) who now gets paid more money than J.J. Watt. Vernon will certainly need an Olivier-like performance to earn that distinction.
Who needs free agency when we can just trade away our most recent mistakes? See ya, Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso, and DeMarco Murray. We hope your new destinations are immune to the Chip Kelly stench. They also paid head-scratching big bucks to barely used former Chiefs backup quarterback Chase Daniel, who is expected to tutor (kinda) Sam Bradford in the Doug Pederson offense.
Mark Sanchez’ tutoring skills will now be utilized in Denver. Free agent Cedric Thornton was allowed to sign in Dallas. Losing the three-year starter will set back Philly’s run-stopping efforts — another step in the wrong direction.
San Francisco 49ers
While their counterparts across San Francisco Bay are spending like drunken sailors, the 49ers’ approach could not be more different than the Oakland Raiders’. But, this offseason has to be better than the last one, right?
With Chip Kelly now at the helm, the 49ers don’t appear to know what to do with Colin Kaepernick. Actually, it’s not fair to pin that on Kelly. They clearly didn’t know what to do with Kaepernick ever since Jim Harbaugh was shown the door. Kicker Phil Dawson was re-signed to a one-year deal. Quarterback Thad Lewis was signed for some reason. Guard Alex Boone departed for Minnesota. In the keeping-pace column, nose tackle Ian Williams was re-signed for five years.
The 49ers are going to need to answer this question for their fans: What good is $53 million in cap space if you don’t spend it on anyone?
The inevitable roster churn that happens to teams with several top-paid stars (Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner, Jimmy Graham, K.J. Wright) goes on. Recently gone are former starters Bruce Irvin, Brandon Mebane and J.R. Sweezy. Retained are Jeremy Lane (expected), Jon Ryan (expected) and Jermaine Kearse (surprising, considering his intention to not take a hometown discount). Speaking of Kearse, it’s nice that he’s back. But don’t let him play GM anytime soon.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If you’re a stud — the NFL’s top free agent running back — why on earth would you willingly resign with one of the league’s historic doormat franchises? Doug Martin’s decision to stay in Tampa is another sign that running backs just aren’t valued like they used to be. The big free agency bucks must not have materialized for Martin.
Also new to the fold, former Seattle Seahawk and Tonight Show punchline J.R. Sweezy, who will be expected to carve holes for Martin. His very rich-for-a-guard contract has him making about as much per year as the man he’ll be primarily blocking for. His deal is longer, too. So there you have it folks: Guards are now more important than running backs. On the defensive side, the Bucs also gave big bucks to former Giant Robert Ayers and former Dolphin Brent Grimes. Can this spending spree continue?
In the least surprising move of the young NFL year, the Redskins parted ways with Robert Griffin III. Despite holding out hope, nobody was willing to trade for the obviously-about-to-be-cut Griffin. If you were afraid this report would go the distance without any punter news, your fears can now be allayed. Tress Way was resigned to a five-year contract by the Redskins. Also signed: defensive lineman Kendall Reyes, late of the San Diego Chargers. Tight end Jordan Reed is expected to sign a contract extension soon.
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