You can’t win a Super Bowl in March. Ask the 2011 Eagles, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder or Packers general manager Ted Thompson. The best teams are the ones that take the “draft and develop” approach, sustaining continuity within their scheme by keeping homegrown talent.
That said, a few shrewd moves in free agency can go a long way. Note that we modified the term “moves” there. Anyone can just take their wallet out, run to the middle of the town square and start lighting $100 bills on fire. Just because I buy up a bunch of stocks right now doesn’t mean I’ll go all Warren Buffet and show a monster profit at the end of the year.
The idea is to improve your team while keeping your financial situation in a good state. Through 10 days of the new league year, here are the teams that have done it best (trades included).
Editor’s Note: Pat Daugherty will be up Friday with his look at the five biggest losers from free agency.
Traded a 2013 first-round pick, a 2013 seventh-round pick and a 2014 third-round pick in exchange for WR Percy Harvin; Signed WR Percy Harvin to a six-year, $67M contract; Signed DE Cliff Avril to a two-year, $13M contract; Signed DE Michael Bennett to a one-year, $5M contract.
DE Jason Jones signed a three-year, $9.5M contract with the Lions; RB/KR Leon Washington signed a one-year, $1.3M contract with the Patriots.
The Seahawks came within a last-second field goal of the NFC Championship Game last season. Now they’ve landed both the best offensive and defensive player available.
In 2012, the Seahawks successfully defied the notion that an explosive offense requires an elite passing game. Although Seattle ranked dead last in pass attempts per game (25.3) and first in rush attempts per game (33.5), they still scored the ninth-most points in the league (25.8 per game). So what’s an easy way to open up your offense while still staying true to your run-first nature? Add the NFL’s best player with the ball in his hands.
Percy Harvin is a difference-maker in the downfield passing game, the screen game, the running game and the return game. While the Dolphins are paying Mike Wallace an average annual salary of $12M, Harvin’s is $11.1M. It’s a fair rate.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Seahawks more than addressed their most glaring weakness. They crushed it. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett combined for 18.5 sacks last season. Last year, the Seahawks’ entire team totaled just 36 sacks – 18th in the league. Note that 11.5 of those came from Chris Clemons, who tore an ACL in the playoffs. If/when Clemons gets healthy, a four-man pass that will also include Bruce Irvin is going to be a force. Getting Avril for just $4.5M guaranteed is criminal robbery.
The Seahawks are a true Super Bowl contender.
Traded a 2013 second-round pick and a 2014 conditional third-round pick for QB Alex Smith; Signed WR Dwayne Bowe to a five-year $56M contract; Signed LT Branden Albert to a one-year $9.828M contract; Signed P Dustin Colquitt to a five-year, $18.75M contract; Signed CB Sean Smith to a three-year, $16.5M contract; Signed CB Dunta Robinson to a three-year, $13.8M contract; Signed TE Anthony Fasano to a four-year, $16M contract; Signed DE Mike DeVito to a three-year, $12.6M contract; Signed WR Donnie Avery to a three-year, $8.55M contract; Signed OG Geoff Schwartz to a one-year contract; Signed QB Chase Daniel to a three-year, $10M contract.
DE Glenn Dorsey signed a two-year, $6M contract with the 49ers; QB Matt Cassel signed a two-year, $7.4M contract with the Vikings.
Dwayne Bowe was irreplaceable for the Chiefs, who swung and missed with Jon Baldwin in the first round of the 2011 draft. Bowe wasn’t cheap by any means, but his $11.2M average annual salary is less than the Dolphins paid for Mike Wallace. Branden Albert graded out as the NFL’s No. 25 tackle last year, which doesn’t sound great until you compare it to Jake Long, who was ranked 46th. This franchise tag will keep Albert motivated to reach his Pro Bowl potential.
Alex Smith certainly doesn’t solve the quarterback position, but he stabilizes it. New coach Andy Reid has done more with less. See Feeley, A.J. Or Kolb, Kevin. San Francisco showed it’s possible to win with Smith. By adding press corner Sean Smith, who has shown the potential to shut down bigger wideouts, and Dunta Robinson, who excels against the run, the Chiefs have a potentially dominant corner trio. We already know Brandon Flowers is a top-five player at his position.
Signed DE Paul Kruger to a five-year, $40.5M contract; Signed DT Desmond Bryant to a five-year, $34M contract; Signed LB Quentin Groves to a two-year, $2.8M contract; Signed TE Gary Barnidge to a three-year, $3.75M contract; Signed RB Chris Ogbonnaya to a two-year contract.
K Phil Dawson signed a one-year contract with the 49ers; TE Ben Watson signed a three-year contract with the Saints; LB Kaluka Maiava signed a three-year, $6M contract with the Raiders.
The Browns offense should take a leap forward this season on its own. Rob Chudzinski is among the brightest offensive minds in the game and Norv Turner is one of its best play-callers. Brandon Weeden, Josh Gordon and Trent Richardson will all be in their second seasons. Jordan Cameron is a breakout candidate. The defenses of the Ravens and Steelers are getting thinned out.
So, addressing holes on defense in free agency made sense for the Browns. Paul Kruger’s pricetag was high, but that’s the market for elite pass rushers these days. The real prize, though, was Desmond Bryant. One of the game’s most underrated defensive linemen, the ex-Raider will be a difference-maker as a defensive end for the Browns. He can rush the passer (8.5 sacks in last two years), defend the run, has a relentless motor and went to Harvard.
The Browns could put a cherry on top by signing Brent Grimes to play opposite special corner Joe Haden.
Signed WR Wes Welker to a two-year, $12M contract; Signed CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a two-year, $10M contract; Signed DT Terrance Knighton to a two-year, $4.5M contract; Signed G Louis Vasquez to a four-year, $23.5 million contract; Signed DT Kevin Vickerson to a two-year, $5M contract; Signed LB Stewart Bradley to a one-year, $1.2M contract; Signed S David Bruton to a three-year, $4.5M contract; Franchise tagged LT Ryan Clady.
DE Jason Hunter signed an undisclosed contract with the Raiders.
Denver is now a destination for free agents. That’s what having Peyton Manning and John Elway at the controls can do.
While Wes Welker’s market was predictably soft around the league, he’s still extremely valuable to two people: Manning and Tom Brady. They utilize the slot more than anyone, as evidenced by Brandon Stokley’s 45/544/5 line last year. There might not be a better trio of receivers in the league with Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
The signing of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could end up being one of free agency’s steals at two years, $10M. He was dreadful for the Eagles last year, but so was everyone as the Wide 9 scheme left the entire secondary exposes. DRC is still just 26 years old and has elite wheels at 6’2/182. Champ Bailey should be able to teach him how to play with more physicality.
Another coup was Louis Vasquez who graded out as the NFL’s 13th-best overall guard per PFF and was the clear second-best guard on the market. He excels in pass coverage, which is perfect for a Peyton-led offense. Getting Elvis Dumervil to return at a team-friendly rate would be huge.
Signed TE Tony Gonzalez to a two-year, $14M contract; Signed RB Steven Jackson to a three-year, $12M contract; Signed SS William Moore to a five-year, $25.9M contract; Signed G Garrett Reynolds to a two-year, $2.5M contract ; Signed LT Sam Baker to a six-year, $41.5M contract.
CB Dunta Robinson signed a three-year, $13.8M contract with the Chiefs; OT Will Svitek signed a one-year, $1M contract with the Patriots; DT Vance Walker signed a one-year, $2M contract with the Raiders; DE Lawrence Sidbury signed a one-year contract with the Colts; Released RB Michael Turner.
An underrated component of the free agency crazy is retaining your own talent. That was especially true for the Falcons, who went 13-3 last season and blew a 24-14 halftime lead in the NFC Championship.
In 2012, the Falcons ranked seventh in points per game despite ranking 29th in yards per carry. That’s hard to do, and that’s on Michael Turner. By adding Jackson, the field will open up and create even more big plays for Matt Ryan and the passing game. Moreover, they stole him for just $4M guaranteed. Shonn Greene somehow squeezed $4.5M guaranteed out of the Titans. For more on Jackson, bang it here for my fantasy take.
Convincing Tony Gonzalez to return for another run at it isn’t really a “signing” – it’s even better. Gonzo’s ability to make catches in traffic with defenders draped all over him is irreplaceable. Sam Baker was only the NFL’s No. 18 left tackle last year, but he fits the Falcons’ scheme. Matt Ryan was sacked just 28 times.