The NFL has changed considerably in just one week. After 136 days of labor hell, the free agency floodgates opened last Tuesday and hundreds of talented football players became significantly richer than they already were. But most of us cheer for teams, not players. From the fan’s perspective, here’s a look at the teams that improved the most and the least over the last eight days:
1. Philadelphia Eagles
Let’s make one thing very clear: winning free agency rarely equates to winning championships. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen an elite team reload quite like this. Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins make the pass rush way better. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie make the secondary way better. Ryan Harris and top pick Danny Watkins make the offensive line way better. Ronnie Brown makes the running game better. Vince Young makes the quarterback situation better. A Super Bowl-worthy roster has improved pretty much across the board.
2. St. Louis Rams
A young, talented roster added three quality starters. The versatile Quintin Mikell will upgrade the secondary, the addition of Harvey Dahl improves a shaky interior offensive line and 26-year-old Mike Sims-Walker could immediately have a chance to become Sam Bradford’s favorite target.
3. Houston Texans
They didn’t have a lot of money to go crazy but still helped retool a poor secondary with two new starters: cornerback Johnathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning. Both are great in coverage, but both are also good enough to factor in as run defenders. They parted ways with Amobi Okoye and and lost Zac Diles, but they’re hoping that rookies J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed will make up for that.
1. San Francisco 49ers
They lost four defensive starters while refusing to spend money on veteran replacements. They also failed to bring in a veteran quarterback to beat out Alex Smith and actually give Michael Crabtree value. Gone are Aubrayo Franklin, Manny Lawson, Nate Clements and Takeo Spikes. The only upside? They have over $30 million in cap space. But that does nothing for the fans.
2. Chicago Bears
The Bears were the league’s fourth-oldest team prior to free agency, but apparently they’re shooting for the top spot. Marion Barber and Roy Williams would’ve been wonderful signings in 2007. They also let Greg Olsen and Danieal Manning get away while making no effort to improve a crappy offensive line. Pretty weak for a team that reportedly has over $20 million in cap space.
3. New York Giants
It’s been an abysmal week for the cash-strapped Giants. They were forced to cut two starting offensive linemen, they let top run-stuffer Barry Cofield walk to the rival Redskins and they refuse to pay Osi Umenyiora. To boot, Kevin Boss and Steve Smith still aren’t under contract.
And as far as overpaying and underpaying goes, here’s a look at the best and worst signings of the free agent period:
1. Falcons sign Ray Edwards (5 years, $30 million with $11 million guaranteed)
Quarterback is the most important position in football, but after that it’s all about the guys who can sack the quarterback. Since pivots are rarely if ever available in free agency, quality pass rushers are the most sought after players during this annual frenzy. Edwards might have been the best of the 2011 batch, and he came at an extremely reasonable price.
2. Eagles sign Cullen Jenkins (5 years, $25 million)
A proven veteran who can contribute anywhere on the Philly defensive line for only $5 million a year? That’s insane. It’s clear the Eagles saved some cash by luring players who figure they’ll jump on the Super Bowl bandwagon, but Jenkins probably could have returned to the defending champions for similar money. And sure, injury concerns surround Jenkins, but Philadelphia can cut bait for only $4 million following the 2011 season. Gold.
3. Giants re-sign Ahmad Bradshaw (4 years, $18 million with $9 million guaranteed)
A 25-year-old back coming off a 1,200-yard, eight-touchdown season has to be worth more than that, right? If Bradshaw can fix his fumbling problem he’ll be one of the best running backs in the league, and he’ll only cost the G-men $4.5 million a year. New York lost some key veterans during this arduous process, but re-signing Bradshaw at a bargain rate was that quick flash of sunshine on a cloudy day.
1. Panthers re-sign DeAngelo Williams (5 years, $43 million with $21 million guaranteed)
I’d be shocked if Williams is still on the Panthers’ roster when this contract expires. He’ll be 33 at that point, but he’s got the body of a 33-year-old already. I don’t know how the Panthers can’t see that his best days are probably already behind him, but Williams has clearly become a dime-a-dozen running back with injury problems. I don’t care how much money Carolina had to spend, this was one of the worst signings I’ve ever seen.
2. Panthers re-sign Charles Johnson (6 years, $76 million with $32 million guaranteed)
I think Johnson is a quality pass rusher with a bright future, but the Panthers clearly didn’t correctly estimate his value before jumping in and drastically overpaying him early in the free agency negotiation period. Johnson, who has 21.5 sacks in four seasons, is making more than Edwards and Jenkins combined, and he’s probably worth less than either individually.
3. Chargers re-sign Eric Weddle (5 years, $40 million with $19 million guaranteed)
I’m not hating on the Bolts for re-signing Weddle for such a massive price because apparently the Jaguars were pushing hard to steal the Pro Bowl-caliber safety away. The guy is just entering his prime, he’s a leader on and off the field and this team is much better with him in the lineup. All that said, $19 million is a ridiculous amount of money to guarantee to a safety. Weddle isn’t too much better than Mikell and Dawan Landry, but both of those guys received significantly less money elsewhere.