Tuesday, March 04, 2008

2008 Free Agency: Beautiful Losers

Enough about the free agency "winners" so far. Let's get to the dirty work of discussing the losers. Everyone with an eye on the situation is hammering the Chicago Bears. Mike and Mike were going off on them this morning. John Clayton included Chicago among his losers. As did Andrew Kneeland over at bleacher report. Even draft guru Scott Wright (NFL Draft Countdown) has gotten in on the act by offering his services to the Bears on his blog. The Patriots were the other team getting universally panned, though re-signing Moss has staved off some of the criticism. So will those two teams find a place in my bottom five? The suspense is poking you in the back I'm sure.

5. Atlanta Falcons
It's not like the Falcons have been awful. Resigning Chris Redman was a smart move. Erik Coleman can be the starting free safety at a decent price. Tight end Ben Hartsock is a good blocker and the kind of low-level signing that has analysts heaping praise on Bill Parcells (and not Jeff Ireland?) in Miami. But you have to start rebuilding a team from the lines back, and Atlanta needs too much help on both the offensive and defensive lines to rely solely on the draft. Not only do they need to add starters at offensive and defensive tackle, but they could use an upgrade at guard and some depth at defensive end. But the thing that puts them on this list is giving all that money to Micheal Turner. He didn't look as good in 2007 as he did in previous seasons and I don't expect him to do much more for the Falcons than LaMont Jordan did for the Raiders. They could have gotten a cheaper option in free agency to share carries with Jerious Norwood, and they could have drafted an underrated mid-to-late-round prospect like Cory Boyd or Thomas Brown.

4. Oakland Raiders
Hey, Tommy Kelly was on my All Free Agent team, but that doesn't mean I would have re-signed him to a seven-year, $50 million contract with $18.125 million guaranteed. As I wrote in January: “. . . with the right kind of contract he'll be a great addition for a team as either a 3-technique DT in a four-man line or as an end in a 3-4 scheme” The key phrase there is “with the right kind of contract.” Maybe I wasn't specific enough, but Oakland's deal? That doesn't qualify. And, look, another one of my All Free Agent teamers, Gibril Wilson found his way to Oakland, too. Six years, $39 million, $16 million guaranteed. A bargain! Al Davis was once a great football mind, but now: sharp as a soda. No, but seriously, the one good thing Raiders fans can take away from this is that both signings are of capable players, even if the prices paid were a bit steep.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars
As I noted last night, John Clayton has the Jaguars as a winner (as does Kneeland over at bleacher report for that matter), but all the Jags have done is a whole lot of nothing. The only positive I can add to what I wrote last night is that the Marcus Stroud trade garnered them a couple of extra picks (a third and a fifth) in the upcoming draft.

2. New York Jets
I really liked the Jets drafts the past couple of years, but their other off-season moves aren't looking too good. They should have treated Pete Kendall better last year, as he was the engine that made the rest of that line work so well in 2006. Making Alan Faneca the highest paid lineman in football would have been a good move two or three years ago, but he's coming off his worst season in a long time. He's overrated right now, and linemen don't typically get better as they hit their mid thirties. Speaking of which, Damien Woody will turn 31 in November, and though he finished last season with four strong games at right tackle, he was largely a bust in Detroit after signing his last lucrative free agent contract. No way I give him $5 million per year for five years with $11 million guaranteed. Not quite as bad is the Calvin Pace signing. He's another one of my All Free Agent guys (these teams are making me hate myself!). But "value" was a big part of the considerations for those guys, and no way did I see Pace getting a $42-million, six-year deal with $22 million guaranteed. He has basically had one good season. The fact that it's the Jets signing Pace makes it impossible not to compare it to their re-signing of Bryan Thomas last year after he finally posted a good season. The result, Thomas was right back to suckitude in 2007. On the plus side, the Jets did well in acquiring Kris Jenkins who will help improve a defensive line that was the worst in the league against the run. And they also picked up decent value for Jonathan Vilma (they could get as much as a second-round pick in 2009 depending on how Vilma plays and if he extends his contract with the Saints).

1. San Francisco 49ers
To me it's a bigger free agency sin to make a lot of noise and accomplish little to nothing than to stand pat and possibly miss out on an opportunity or two. Isaac Bruce for two years and $6 million ain't so bad. With Larry Allen retiring that offense can use a little veteran leadership and, of course, he knows the Mike Martz offense. And linebacker Dontarrious Thomas is a nice mid-level signing that could fill a hole, but if it doesn't work out won't cost them much. The 49ers go south, though, with the DeShaun Foster signing. It's a small contract that isn't going to hamper the 49ers even if they cut him before the season. But my opinion of Foster's game is so low that just bringing him in like this is a waste of resources. Justin Smith has never had a double-digit sack year; he's coming off his worst season by far; and I'm not sure he's the right fit for the 49ers defensive scheme. No way do I give him $45 million over six years with $20 million guaranteed. As much as I dislike the Smith deal, I guess it's the worthless signings—like kick returner Allen Rossum and backup quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan—that put the 49ers over the top, or rather, push them to the very bottom.

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OK, so what about the Patriots? As long as the Pats have Tom Brady and they can put him on the field with guys like Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Ben Watson, and Laurence Maroney. They'll be just fine. 2006 first-round wide receiver Chad Jackson is waiting for his chance to contribute and should be able to have an impact. But if he can't cut it, the recently re-signed Kelley Washington could help out. The defense is going to take more work to keep together, but last year's first round pick Brandon Merriweather should be ready to help out the secondary, and Bill Belichick has a way of recycling linebackers. Plus, the Pats have that top-ten draft pick via the 49ers, which they should be able to turn into a defensive starter.

And about those Bears? I'll get to them in the morning.

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