Free agency is in full swing. As I said here, there are countless moves taking place (well… not so much now that talks are slowing down) and, frankly, I can’t provide my insight for all of them. While I know this is a heartbreaker for you, I have been following some aspects of this year’s free agency period, which I find very interesting, surprising or confusing. Don’t we all?
You may have noticed that there aren’t many huge mega deals being thrown around this year as in years past. While there obviously are a multitude of reasons, between a “down year” as far as available talent and many of the talented players being aging veterans, the bigger factor is the salary cap. The salary cap, for years, has continually increased, but was relatively flat this season (meaning no increase). This means that teams who had players in expensive contracts, anticipating a larger salary cap, suddenly must restructure those contracts or cut those players to free up space. This was happening prior to the free agency period primarily as teams prepared their rosters to pursue top free agents, but even now players like free agent QB Kevin Kolb and recently signed QB Matt Hasselbeck (Indianapolis Colts) were cut within the past week as teams work on their roster for next season. It is something to watch as teams with the cap space are, for the most part, taking advantage of the space they have while teams like Pittsburgh, Washington, Carolina, New Orleans, Dallas and Baltimore (among others) have been simply working to be below the cap, much less looking to spend on high-priced free agents. Please note that these aren’t necessarily “winners” or “losers” of free agency… after all, free agency is still taking place, but more of an ongoing commentary of the free agency stories that I find interesting. I’ll just leave it at that and get to my rambling…
– The Seattle Seahawks – I have already discussed the Percy Harvin trade at some length, but that is just the start of it. Seattle went out and made the big trade for the explosive playmaker who is a major threat on an already talented offense, but is also a fantastic returner who makes the release of former returner Leon Washington completely insignificant. Seattle then went out and did what they could to bring a stronger pass-rushing presence to a defense that finished 4th in the league last season in total defense.
Boy did they find that presence.
The premier pass-rusher on the market (with Bengals DE Michael Johnson franchise tagged), former Lions DE Cliff Avril, was the first target. Seattle went out and got the 27-year old pass rushing specialist for two-years in a deal worth $15 million. Then Seattle proceeded to go out and sign 27-year old former Buccaneer DE Michael Bennett to a one-year deal worth $5 million. Avril and Bennett led their teams this past season with 9.5 and 9 sacks respectively. While the deals aren’t the long-term deals you would expect from young, talented pass rushers on the open market, they both get the opportunity to test the market again in a couple years. Seattle, in the meantime, gets two new pieces to add to their already frighteningly talented defense. Both these signings, coupled with the Harvin trade have many thinking Seattle is the team to beat in the NFC and, honestly… I can’t give any reason why they shouldn’t be.
– Denver Broncos and WR Wes Welker – Some of the big news of the last week or so has been surrounding Wes Welker and the New England Patriots. There is so much going on in that arena that I will revisit this at a later time, but what you really need to get from this is that Denver picked him up in a deal for two-years and $12 million. I have this move under “Looking Good” because… what is there not to like about this? Welker was sort of balked at by the media, and I imagine some teams, because the assumption was that he was a beneficiary of the Patriots system.
I know Welker has looked really, really good in that system and was simply a nobody in Miami where he played briefly before joining head coach Bill Belichick and company, but keep in mind the main factor here. In New England, Welker worked with one of the best of all-time in QB Tom Brady. In Miami, his quarterback was Gus Frerotte… and Joey Harrington/Daunte Culpepper… Sure, the system has helped, but the real story here is how Welker works with an incredibly talented, intelligent quarterback at the helm. So, is Welker going to disappear because he is away from Brady?
No way because Denver has their own Hall of Famer in QB Peyton Manning. Also, throw in the other talented options at wideout with Welker (Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker) and Manning has quite the arsenal to work with on the outside. If I haven’t already made my point clear… I like this move by Denver as it could very well be what puts them over the top in the AFC.
Rollin’ in the Dough
– Miami Dolphins – Before I begin, to save time I have provided a photo below of Miami’s activity during free agency as of March 19th, according to Yahoo! Sports
Miami was throwing the money around as they picked up hot commodities in LB Dannell Ellerbe, and WR Mike Wallace. I personally am fond of the Keller signing, but the point remains the same… this is a lot of cash for a free agency class that, as of a couple week ago, was considered a “relatively weak crop of talent” amongst the positions Miami targeted. Don’t get me wrong, I like Ellerbe as a player and thought he would become quite the player if he was staying in Baltimore, and he still could in Miami, but there is a reason Baltimore didn’t match the offer… ok, maybe two. They lacked the cash, but more importantly didn’t see Ellerbe as that valuable (five-years, $35 million).
Wallace on the other hand certainly fills a need at receiver, but he is now being paid like a top wide receiver (five-years, $60 million with $30 million guaranteed), which is too much until he proves he deserves it in my mind. There is a perception that all he does is run fast in a straight line on streaks (9 routes) and lacks, or needs to improve on, key aspects of a top receivers’ game. I like the Keller signing because I feel like he not only helps QB Ryan Tannehill, but also has been undervalued coming from the Jets offense, which has struggled, to put it nicely. I also approve of the Philip Wheeler signing. He did play well last season.
I read an interesting article about how this very well could be General Manager Jeff Ireland’s last run as GM if this spending spree doesn’t result in wins. Ireland may be spending in a last-ditch effort to save his job.
– Cleveland Browns – The Browns are also spending their fair share of cash. See below (again, courtesy of Yahoo! Sports).
This certainly isn’t what Miami put together in terms of volume of signings, but there is still a bunch of cash being thrown around. Bryant and Kruger are widely considered overpaid and I think the numbers speak for themselves. As I stated in relation to the Dolphins, I have no problem with the players being signed, but the cash being thrown at them can be a little ridiculous. Bryant and Kruger are two players who saw their value shoot up just in the second half of this past season. This could mean they are figuring it out and will continue to improve, or… it could mean they hit a nice streak, which, at best, will be the best they play. For example, Kruger, while successful in the postseason, was only really successful with the return of OLB Terrell Suggs to the Ravens lineup. Bryant played well last season, but like Kruger, there isn’t much to go on in terms of prior success. Both players are worth paying, but to these contracts? I’m not the only one to think the cash being thrown at these guys is a little too much.
The thing that really interests me is the motivation behind making these signings. Certainly it is for the talented players, but it also was because it is Cleveland. Cleveland traditionally isn’t a big free agent destination (just ask LeBron James…), and Cleveland is starting anew once again with new GM Michael Lombardi and new head coach Rod Chudzinski. Cleveland fans deserve a splash and something to invigorate the fan base. Spending this sort of cash certainly achieves the desired effect, but now we wait to see if the players actually play up to their lofty contracts (and $35 million guaranteed between Bryant and Kruger).