Sunday, March 02, 2008

2008 Free Agency: Instant Winners

With the flurry of activity that is the opening weekend of free agency coming to a close, here are my top three instant winners. Of course free agency is far from over, and this is just a small piece of the off-season puzzle. If I have time tomorrow night I'll post my top three free agency losers so far. I'm not positive, but I think that would include the Falcons and the 49ers—whose many signings I'm mostly not a fan of—as well as the Titans, who have plenty of cap space and a quarterback desperately in need of help, yet their only addition so far is a 30-year-old tight end coming off a knee injury.

1. Miami Dolphins
With a ton of cap room, Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland restrained themselves from making a huge splash and instead concentrated on bringing in a number of low- and mid-level free agents to help makeover the roster quickly. I love the signing of Ernest Wilford (not surprisingly since I placed him on my All Free Agent Team) to help shore up a young and shaky bunch of receivers. Josh McCown gives them a strong arm and experience behind center until a young guy (and I don't think it will be John Beck) can be developed. Tight end Sean Ryan was drafted by Parcells in Dallas; he's a solid blocker who brings his lunch pail to work everyday. Former 49ers guard Justin Smiley is coming off an injury, but should help remake this line more in the Parcells mold.
 On the defensive side of the ball, Miami has wasted no time in building their three-man front. Nose tackle Jason Ferguson (drafted by Parcells with the Jets) was acquired from Dallas for a 2009 sixth rounder (the teams will also swap sixth round picks in the upcoming draft). Ferguson had one of the better seasons of any defensive tackle in 2006 and really should have been a Pro Bowl selection. If he can regain that form after missing last season with an injury, it would go a long way toward shoring up the run defense. Randy Starks, a former Titans reserve defensive tackle, is big, young, and very athletic for his size. He'll be expected to start at defensive end in the base 3-4 and move inside to DT in nickel packages where Parcells (I know he's not the coach, but Parcells proteges are all over the staff) deploys a four-man front. Ex-Giants linebacker Reggie Torbor will get a shot at starting inside in the 3-4 and whether he wins that job or not will likely see a lot of time in sub packages.

2. Philadelphia Eagles
Unlike the Dolphins who made a ton of moves, the Eagles only made two. Signing cornerback Asante Samuel upgrades an already good secondary and allows the team to try to trade Lito Sheppard to acquire help at another position like wide receiver. Chris Clemons has durability concerns, and the terms of his contract haven't yet been released, but this looks like a solid move to replace Jevon Kearse's place in the defensive end rotation. The Eagles already had a real good pass rush, ranked sixth in adjusted sack rate; if Clemons stays healthy, it should only get better.

3. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings might have overpaid a bit for Bernard Berrian, but it fills a major need (even with the expected development of 2007 second-rounder Sidney Rice) and they had the cap space. Plus, they've snatched a key player away from a division rival who is now bereft of starting-caliber wide receivers. Fullback Thomas Tapeh knows the offense and what Brad Childress is looking for from his time in Philadelphia and is an upgrade over Tony Richardson whose All-Pro days seem to be behind him. Ex-Bengal Madieu Williams has the versatility to play either safety position and is a solid signing in a weak year for safeties whether in free agency or the draft.

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