by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (3-29-13)
[Part One - The Fallout from NFL Free Agency begins]
TODD:The interesting thing about how this free agency period has played out is what is happening to veterans who are still usable players. In years past, these guys would never have been released, let alone be wallowing in purgatory with no one wanting to offer more than a one year deal. But since the cap did not increase very much and all those old contracts which were agreed upon during different times (huge cap increases and huge rookie deals to boot) are getting expensive, teams are running out of room. Jake Long's second contract was for less money than his first. Has that ever happened for a perennial pro bowler before? Players who would normally return for public relations' sake (Ed Reed, James Harrison, Dwight Freeney, Brian Urlacher) are being let go because loyalty is not affordable anymore.
The longer this plays out, the cheaper players will become. In a few weeks time, we may look back at that Mike Wallace contract and scratch our heads at why Miami gave him $30 million guaranteed or why teams jumped on the Paul Krugers and Dashon Goldsons when they could have had someone who was 80% the player for 20% the price.
DAN:Miami knew it had to overpay for Mike Wallace. They bought youth, and as you said, no one is paying for old age (veteran leadership) this off season. I don't think its fair to lump all of those veterans together though. And since when did Public Relations (PR) have any bearing on winning? Its all fine and dandy to have great PR, but no one will care or watch your team if they suck. Winning sells in life and the NFL. Winning comes with its own great PR and in the case of Ed Reed, the Ravens capitalized on the optimal time to cut ties with a diminishing return. They're the champs and have all the PR they need. On the flip side, James Harrison is a beast and the Steelers will regret letting him go. Same for Brian Urlacher, the Bears will regret that decision. He has a TON to prove and will do so admirably. I can't say the same for Dwight Freeney. He'll do well, but cutting him isn't the end of the world for the Colts.
What has shocked me is how quickly teams are snatching up the skill position players who were let go. Who needs Brian Urlacher anyways, lets go get ourselves a backup running back. The Titans signed Shonn Greene. Thanks for taking him off our hands! The Steelers signed Plaxico Burress. That won't end in good PR. What's appealing about these guys? And why is everyone ripping the teams who are letting them go? This brings me to the Jets. I am going to be the first, and possibly only, person to applaud their off season so far.
The New York Jets sucked last year. They sucked the year before too, but had the nice PR buzz of back to back AFC title games to cover up the smell. So what do you do with a crappy team? You tear it down and wave goodbye, piece by piece. I applaud their efforts to this end so far. Shonn Greene was an above average running back, but uninspired on the Jets. This team needs speed in the backfield and he was not the man for that job. They let countless other 'veterans' walk out the door and brought in a key veteran at quarterback, their black eye of a position. David Garrard has a lot to prove, so who better to spark Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow into proving their own value. One of them is bound to recapture their past potential. I understand your skepticism, but with the ninth pick in the draft the Jets are positioning themselves for future success.
Now back to the league at large. There is always turnover year to year, but until the draft happens in April, I'm not ready to crown anyone the next great team to go from worst to first. Teams like the Cowboys, usually loud this time of year, have been surprisingly quiet. What are you planning Jerry? This thing is just getting started.
TODD:Free agency is indeed just getting started. There are still dozens of players available who can make a difference for a team on the threshold of the playoffs. But haven't we learned anything about this league? Teams make 'The Leap' for no reason whatsoever. The off-season winners rarely translate, like Philadelphia of recent fame. People's favorite sleepers do not materialize; hello Carolina. And big leaps in wins are generated almost arbitrarily based on who stays healthiest and gets the best play from their quarterback.
Even more so than free agency, the draft does a good job of filling us in on who will make strides towards greatness. The problem is that we do not find out who wins a draft until years later. The only thing made immediately evident is when teams mess up, like Cleveland last season. Kansas City this year has a chance to make a pretty nice leap towards playoff contention. We won't find out if the draft helped them until much later, but we might know right away whether they screwed it up and set themselves back a season or two.
DAN:You're ability to abstain from having any real opinion here is impressive. I agree that Free Agency is mostly hype and while you choose to ignore it, I see it in reverse. The GREAT free agent signings are truly the ones you mentioned, the ones that don't make headlines, because offensive and defensive lines win championships. The signings that make the headlines should be viewed in reverse. Name me one big free agent signing that pushed a team to a level they weren't already at. Do it. I dare you!
There is always the exception, but the rule here is that off season spending, unlike in basketball and baseball where one or two guys can swing a division, is just for fun. If I was a betting man, I'd bet against the big spenders. Hence my view of the Dolphins and Titans. Neither team was good last year, both average at best. Yet now they've made a leap? Did they get a new coach that I'm unaware of? How about a new quarterback? No. Then no leap for you.
Final fallout for me from this free agency frenzy, the NFC East has been unbelievably quiet. I know I said it earlier, but all the teams were good last season and a key play-maker would help any one of them. The Giants resigned a few guys and are struggling to resign a few more, the Cowboys resigned a few guys too, but keeping your existing talent is hardly a headline. What gives? This division is glam and slam, at least it use to be. Come on Jerry, don't let Dez Bryant have all the headlines!
One big free agent signing pushed a team over the top just last season. The Seattle Seahawks signed quarterback Matt Flynn to a huge, new contract, after seeing him have just one impressive start at the end of the prior year. This certainty at the QB position allowed Seattle to then draft a building-block signal-caller in the middle rounds of the NFL draft, someone they knew would not need to start right out of the gate. This man, Russell Wilson, then went to start right out of the gate of course and brought Seattle to the playoffs. Without the Matt Flynn signing, Seattle would have felt the need to draft a quarterback earlier, one they thought could start week one. Instead, they waited to get the man they wanted for the future and he...started week one...okay yeah this is a lackluster example. Big name free agent signings NEVER work out! That's why I said it is pointless to make team predictions off of March movement.
I disagree about the NFC East though. Sure this division is not the cream of the crop it has been in years past. The Eagles struggled mightily; the Cowboys and Giants both took steps back. But just because this division is not making headlines doesn't mean they aren't making moves.
The Redskins have been very quiet this month, but their team rests on the health of their young quarterback. And they cut DeAngelo Hall, which is probably a bigger addition by subtraction than any signing could have been.
The Cowboys made some under-the-radar moves, which is a good thing for them. Being on the ESPN.com front page doesn't directly translate to wins, as Jerry Jones is finding out. Bringing in players like Ernie Sims, Justin Durant and Will Allen on short-term, low-risk contracts is a net positive for Jerry's World.
Philadelphia made a boatload of changes this off-season. They let a number of talented players who underachieved for them go: Cullen Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Nnamdi Asomugha. Meanwhile, they added more pieces than they lost with the additions of versatile back James Casey, Patrick Chung, Kenny Phillips and Cary Williams in the defensive backfield, and Connor Barwin in the linebacking corp. The Eagles have already had a very active off-season before the draft has even taken place.
And the New York Giants have made many smart moves, as GM Jerry Reese has become known for. They had to release a bevvy of useful players because of cap reasoning. It would have been nice to bring back Chris Canty, Osi Umenyiora, Michael Boley, Martellus Bennett and others. However, they simply could not afford to. The Giants ended up having over 20 players become free agents. To overcome the losses, the front office did their homework to acquire cheaper options who should contribute. With the likes of Dan Connor and Brandon Myers being added to fill gaping holes as well as the Giants bringing back key players on the offensive line, the team is in great shape as long as Victor Cruz does not get scooped up by another team as a restricted free agent.
Sure these weren't the most newsworthy moves. But as we've said, the moves that were making news were stupid. There is no football league where a Shonn Greene signing should be worth mentioning. Nothing against him, but he kind of sucks at being an NFL-caliber starting tailback.