As the free agency period gets set to enter into its second week, a number of big moves have already dramatically altered the makeup of the National Football League. In what could be considered the most chaotic week of free-agency to-date, teams have begun looking to improve their rosters for the 2013 season. While free agency is looked at as a tool for teams to improve their squad, other teams can also hurt their chances by not being able to retain players on their roster. Let’s take a look at some of the winners and losers after the tumultuous first week of the new league year.
Top teams in the NFC West:
Once regarded as the weakest conference in football, years of top draft picks and salary cap room have now paved the way for the NFC West to be the powerhouse of the NFL. Despite losing a Super Bowl, San Francisco went out and completely dominated the NFL off-season. The 49ers most notable move was the addition of WR Anquan Boldin, after watching him shred their secondary in Super Bowl XLVII. In the trade that shipped Alex Smith to St. Louis, the 49ers also got a pair of Draft picks that can only further bolster their roster. Factor in that San Francisco has 14 Draft picks in 2013, and Jim Harbaugh and company could became a deadly team for years to come.
The Seattle Seahawks, who fell just short of reaching the NFC Championship game, made some big moves of their own. The Seahawks also added a big receiver to their roster by trading a first-round pick for Percy Harvin, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings. Pete Carroll also went out and grabbed DE Cliff Avril from the Lions to shore up the team’s second-biggest issue. After locking up two of the best players at positions of need, Seattle could once again find themselves in the hunt for an NFL Championship.
How could Denver possibly top the free-agency period they had in 2012 when they signed future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning? Simple, give him another weapon. When Denver added former Patriots receiver Wes Welker, John Elway knew he had just pieced together the best receiving corps in all of football. Welker joins the likes of Demaryius Thomas and Erick Decker, who were both producing at elite levels. Adding Welker in the slot giving an already dangerous QB more options? To put it this way, the defensive coordinator position in the AFC West just got a lot tougher.
Furthermore, Denver helped out the issues that plagued their secondary. Fans in Denver won’t soon forget the infamous Jacoby Jones’ TD that led to a Bronco loss in OT. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be a key pickup that will add talent to a depleted secondary.
Keep in mind that the team could still re-sign Elvis Dumervil. The Broncos had announced his re-signing before a snafu with a fax machine resulted in his release.
Teams in Missouri:
While Missourians are often known for their passionate following of their hometown baseball teams, the St. Louis Cardinals or Kansas City Royals, Missouri residents also love Football Sundays. Whether a follower of the Chiefs or Rams, Missouri residents can rejoice about being able to remain competitive for 2013.
For Kansas City, Andy Reid has got the Chiefs a solid player at their biggest position of need, Quarterback. Alex Smith was brought over in a trade with the 49ers to be able to lead a once-potent Chiefs offense and to get the ball to playmaker Dwayne Bowe.
Adding Donnie Avery in the slot is another under-rated signing, as is TE Anthony Fasano from Miami.
With Jamaal Charles leading the rushing attack, KC might have found an offense that can get them back into the post-season.
Adding CB Sean Smith and CB Dunta Robinson to a defense with 4 Pro Bowlers (Eric Berry, Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, and Derrick Johnson) will help minimize the additions made by Denver.
The St. Louis Rams also went out and made some big signings to help Jeff Fisher and company out. Jared Cook brings the team a solid player on offense to help Sam Bradford out. While the team did lose a number of receivers, this draft class is deep at the position and the Rams should be able to grab a big name with one of their two picks in the first round.
They also secured OT Jake Long to shore up a struggling offensive line. Things are looking up in St. Louis and the Draft can also help bring in more talent.
Detroit quietly went out and had a very solid first week in the free-agency period. Signing a player like Reggie Bush to add depth with Mikel LeShoure was a great pickup. Even better, they didn’t overpay for the former USC standout.
They also fixed the secondary issues with the signings of S Glover Quin and CB Chris Houston. Both will provide depth and production at the Lions’ most pressing need.
Though losing DE Cliff Avril and OT Gosder Cherilus does hurt, the team has some depth at these positions. The retirement of offensive lineman Jeff Backus ultimately means that Detroit will be looking for O-line help come April. If the team is able to add some offense via the draft, or pick up a cheap option or two in free agency, Detroit can contend in the struggling NFC North.
With Jared Cook being the only major loss, Tennessee has done a nice job of improving their squad for 2013 and beyond. First and foremost, the Titans added an insurance policy behind their franchise runner Chris Johnson with the signing of Jets RB Shonn Greene. Greene is a young and serviceable backup that will help take some of the heat off of CJ2K in the backfield.
The team also added a big-time blocker in OG Andy LeVitre from Buffalo. LeVitre should be able to bring immediate help to the biggest team need and pave the way for a nice season for both of these rushers this season.
The versatile TE Delanie Walker will help to pick up some of the missed production that is left behind with the departure of Jared Cook. Walker is basically a healthier Jared Coo with more upside, and the team did well to make this swap. Overall, the Titans did not make any flashy signings, but rather, they made all of the right ones to help a team with major needs in several areas.
While Baltimore and Pittsburgh are often the top two teams in the AFC North, both have suffered major losses during the 2013 edition of free agency. The defending Super Bowl Champions have seen a mass exodus from Baltimore, probably a result of the blockbuster contract signed by QB Joe Flacco.
Key departures from the defending champs include: WR Anquan Boldin, LB Paul Kruger, LB Dannell Ellerbe, LB Ray Lewis, S Bernard Pollard, and CB Cary Williams. With future Hall-of-Famer Ed Reed also being courted by the Houston Texans, and Bryant Mckinnie being wined and dined by suitors, Baltimore is set to lose a majority of its once-dangerous defense and a bulk of its starters from the previous season.
To make matter worse, the Ravens are not bringing in any replacements that can provide any immediate impact. They have brought in depth with the signings of DE Chris Canty and DE Marcus Spears, but neither guys projects to be a playmaker. Baltimore is hemorrhaging right now and their salary cap issues do not help the urgency of the situation.
The same could be said of the Pittsburgh Steelers. After losing WR Mike Wallace, LB James Harrison, CB Keenan Lewis, RB Rashard Mendenhall, and OL Willie Colon, the Steelers have glaring needs on both sides of the ball. With no big names replacements lying in wait and no impact free agents signed, the Steelers will need to come away with a heck of a draft to compensate for their losses.
Furthermore, the team has a number of much-needed free agents on their own roster that might not receive contracts due to a salary cap disaster. While the Steelers are under the cap, they will need to save the money for their upcoming draft picks, leaving no room for free-agent signings.
While the team is eyeing players like Ahmad Bradshaw and Elvis Dumervil, these two names are not enough to help out a team with a number of issues. Fortunately for Steeler fans, GM Kevin Colbert and company tends to draft pretty well.
Teams in New York:
The New York Jets brought along their roller coaster season in 2012 into 2013. Head Coach Rex Ryan continues to make one questionable move after another. Ryan followed up the Tim Tebow failure from a year before, a deal that received heavy media scrutiny, with another dubious selection, David Garrard. The former Jacksonville QB, who has not played in two years, is supposed to be the guy to light a fire under starting signal caller Mark Sanchez. What’s worse, Ryan allowed a bulk of his starters, RB Shonn Greene, S LaRon Landry, S Yeremiah Bell, TE Dustin Keller, and DE Mike DeVito, without signing a replacement. Like the Ravens, the Jets will have many fresh faces on the field for the 2013 season.
Another New York team, the Buffalo Bills, are having an equally terrible go of things in the new league year. The most notable move is the removal of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, just two years into his big contract that the team signed him to. Fitzpatrick has already been claimed by the Titans as a possible starter, or backup to Jake Locker. The other key loss was OG Andy LeVitre, who too saw greener pastures in Tennessee. Buffalo will not look to Tarvaris Jackson to lead a mediocre offensive unit, which features lone standouts Stevie Johnson and C.J. Spiller.
Houston is another Playoff-caliber team that has some huge shoes to fill. In addition to not signing anyone thus far, the team has lost defensive playmakers Connor Barwin and Glover Quin. The offense, which is consistently ranked among the top in the NFL, may also have some work to do. While Arian Foster and Andre Johnson are nice pieces, losing the do-it-all fullback/tight end James Casey is a significant loss. The team is also lacking a little depth after Justin Forsett and Kevin Walter have left the squad. Divisional rivals Tennessee and Indianapolis have made key moves that could help them take over the division from the Houston Texans this season.
Oakland is another team in rebuilding mode this season. Perhaps no other team has lost as much raw talent as the Raiders have thus far in free agency. The laundry list of key departures includes the following names: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, S Michael Huff, DT Desmond Bryant, DE Matt Shaughnessy, OLB Philip Wheeler, RB Mike Goodson, and TE Brandon Myers.
Though they have brought in a slew of names as back-up, not one of the signings stands out as one that will amount to anything. Carson Palmer, who had a nice 2012 season under center, could also be on his way out. If the Raiders do not give Palmer a decent contract offer, Terrelle Pryor would look at receiving extended playing time at quarterback. While Pryor is a gifted athlete, the Raiders cannot rely on him to make the best decisions with the ball in his hands and would almost certainly have to look at the Draft for a replacement.
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