“Winning” and “losing” free agency is a nebulous concept.
Most of the best-run organizations in football are famous for turning off their TVs and heading to the beach once March rolls around. Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Baltimore are more celebrated for the moves they don’t make than any other team is for the moves they do make. (More on Pittsburgh and Baltimore in a minute.)
But the fates of franchises can very much turn in March. Often, it’s for the worst. Typically, the ruinous effects of a bad free-agent class aren’t felt for 2-3 years, when backloaded cap charges begin to kick in and make maneuvering of any sort impossible.
These rankings should be taken with a grain of salt. Soon, the first wave of free agency will be supplemented by draft picks and lower-tier steals. But it’s not too early to judge those who have gotten the least bang for their aimless buck, or shed the most talent.
Editor's Note: Check out Adam Levitan's Free Agency Winners column.
Notable Additions: OG Andy Levitre, TE Delanie Walker, RB Shonn Greene, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, LB Moise Fokou, DT Sammie Lee Hill, S Bernard Pollard and OL Rob Turner.
Notable Subtractions: TE Jared Cook and QB Matt Hasselbeck.
The Titans have been shaky on both fronts this offseason, failing to protect their own house as they lost Cook, and throwing dung at the wall when it comes to their outside additions.
The Titans correctly identified Cook as their top in-house priority. They then come nowhere close to re-signing him, watching as he emerged as one of the hottest names of Day One. The market loved what it saw in the long underutilized tight end. The Titans stood by helplessly.
They made up for Cook’s loss by handing out perhaps the single worst contract of free agency. That would be three years, $10 million and $4.5 million guaranteed for Greene, a player who’s averaged 4.2 yards per carry during his undistinguished career and will serve as a pure backup to Chris Johnson.
Tennessee got better at backup QB (Fitzpatrick) and along its interior line (Levitre). But everything else has smacked of spending for the sake of spending. Turner is a replacement-level talent, Walker has stone hands, Hill has no history of production and Pollard is a head case who’s on his fourth team in seven years, not to mention the downslope of his career.
The “vision” seems to be that owner Bud Adams is realizing his own mortality and throwing increasingly regular and hyperbolic temper tantrums. “Scattershot” is never the way to approach March, especially when the talent base isn’t already there. Tennessee has made a lot of moves this spring, but one of them won’t be “up in the standings.”
Notable Additions: LB Nick Roach, LB Kevin Burnett, OLB Kaluka Maiava, DT Pat Sims and DT Vance Walker.
Notable Subtractions: TE Brandon Myers, DT Desmond Bryant, OLB Philip Wheeler, RB Mike Goodson, DE Matt Shaughnessy, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey and DB Michael Huff.
The bloodletting continues. For the second straight offseason, the Raiders are shedding talent instead of adding it. This, of course, is by design. Al Davis was one of the most brilliant minds in football history, but had become a sad caricature of himself by the end, leaving behind a hopelessly misshapen and overmatched roster. The contracts were as outsized as the patience was undersized.
But that doesn’t change the fact than an already terrible team has taken a turn for the sad, sorry and defeated. This was a 3-13 roster before free agency began. Now, you almost have to strain to find a single win. It will be even harder if/when Carson Palmer is cut loose.
Roach was an under-the-radar signing, while DHB won’t be missed. But Bryant, Wheeler and Goodson are all on-the-rise talents, while Burnett, Huff and Myers are more than serviceable. Oakland was a bad, bad, bad team. Now, it’s a truly pathetic one.
Notable Additions: RB Mike Goodson, LB Antwan Barnes, OG Willie Colon and DE Antonio Garay.
Notable Subtractions: TE Dustin Keller, FS LaRon Landry, DE Mike DeVito, RB Shonn Greene, NT Sione Pouha and OG Brandon Moore (currently unsigned).
The Jets’ misadventures in free agency can be summed up in one anecdote. Their lone in-house priority was re-signing aging run-stopper Mike DeVito.
How’d they do with that?
He was a Chief four hours into free agency. The sun had yet to even set. The Jets’ roster has been picked over and pared back to a Raiders level of spartanness, and reinforcements are not on the way.
That’s not to mention their very best player — CB Darrelle Revis — will soon be wearing another uniform. Coach Rex Ryan takes more flak than he deserves, while GM John Idzik is a blank slate. But the few moves the rookie GM has made aren’t going to be the difference between first and second in the AFC East, or even third or fourth. We’re looking at a team that’s going to be challenging Oakland for Jadeveon Clowney this time next year.
And while Mike Tannenbaum may be out, his most baffling acquisition is still in: Tim Tebow. After years of aimless wandering, the Jets may very well find direction under Idzik. We just have no idea what it will be. For all we know, the compass could still very easily be pointing south. Idzik is tasked with rebuilding, but he hasn’t undertaken even a modest reloading.
Ravens’ Notable Additions: DT Chris Canty and DE Marcus Spears.
Ravens’ Notable Subtractions: WR Anquan Boldin, FS Ed Reed, SS Bernard Pollard, LB Paul Kruger, LB Dannell Ellerbe and CB Cary Williams.
Steelers’ Notable Additions: QB Bruce Gradkowski and TE Matt Spaeth.
Steelers’ Notable Subtractions: WR Mike Wallace, LB James Harrison, RB Rashard Mendenhall, CB Keenan Lewis, S Ryan Mundy and OG Willie Colon.
It’s already been mentioned once in this article: These two AFC North blood rivals are more famous for standing pat than standing tall in free agency.
But their sheer loss of talent this offseason is too hard to ignore. The Ravens have lost five defensive starters in 10 days. That’s hard to do, especially when they’re the same five who just won a Super Bowl ring.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has lost its top pass rusher and its top playmaker on offense. It’s true that Harrison is aging and Wallace is perhaps not all he’s cracked up to be, but that’s not how you rise up from only your first .500 season since 2006.
Both teams have odious cap situations to blame, and Pittsburgh has only compounded the problem by restructuring even more salary into their future caps. These are two teams who know what they’re doing, but never will their hard-earned reputations be more tested than they will be this offseason.
Dolphins’ Notable Additions: WR Mike Wallace, TE Dustin Keller, WR Brandon Gibson, LB Dannell Ellerbe and LB Philip Wheeler.
Dolphins’ Notable Subtractions: OT Jake Long, RB Reggie Bush, CB Sean Smith, LB Kevin Burnett and TE Anthony Fasano.
Colts’ Notable Additions: FS LaRon Landry, OLB Erik Walden, CB Cassius Vaughn, CB Greg Toler, OT Gosder Cherilus, CB Darius Butler, NT Aubrayo Franklin, DT Ricky Jean-Francois, QB Matt Hasselbeck, DE Lawrence Sidbury and G/T Donald Thomas.
Colts’ Notable Subtractions: DE/OLB Dwight Freeney, WR Donnie Avery, CB Jerraud Powers, QB Drew Stanton and LB Moise Fokou.
Indianapolis and Miami are not “losers” in the true spirit of this column. Many would argue they’ve been big “winners” this offseason. But like Tennessee, they’ve spent with reckless abandon, mortgaging future cap space for current gains that are either unclear or negligible.
They’ve combined for a few unassailable signings. Wallace was the top player on the market, and adds an entirely new dimension to the Dolphins’ offense. Landry is a hard-hitter who holds down the back line. Wheeler and Ellerbe are both entering their primes. Dustin Keller is not Michael Egnew.
But the “plan” just hasn’t seemed to be there for either team, particularly Miami. Actually, to say Miami hasn’t had a plan is unfair. GM Jeff Ireland’s plan is to save his skin. Why else would a GM make such a bold all-in gambit when he has a QB who’s made just 16 NFL starts, and only 35 since high school?
Ryan Tannehill needed more weapons, but did he need Brandon Gibson when he already has Davone Bess? Did he need Dustin Keller on a one-year deal? Did he need either if it came at the expense of losing his left tackle Jake Long? His No. 1 cornerback?
Miami has made its desired splash, it just hasn’t upgraded in the way the raw dollars would suggest. What was perhaps a 7-9 team before is perhaps a 9-7 one now. Maybe they’ll get the AFC’s sixth seed. Great, wonderful. But what happens when the future cap charges come due? Ireland’s tunnel vision has gotten him a more competent roster, but hardly a more complete one.
Indy is a different story. No GM had a better 2012 than Ryan Grigson. But perhaps pressured by impetuous owner Jim Irsay, he’s barreled into free agency like a bull in a china shop. What he’s gotten is a RT with a history of knee injuries, a free safety who managed to stay healthy once since 2009 and a host of other question marks.
There isn’t one guarantee amongst his crop of new players, which includes the most laughably overpaid player of the season in Walden. Maybe Walden just needed a new team and a new scheme. But he’s a hope and a prayer, a potential brick thrown at the hoop after Grigson found nothing but net in 2012. He’s either the league’s new mad genius, or going a bit mad because his owner won’t stop pressuring him.
Cincinnati: All that cap space, and nothing to show for it, not even in-house RT Andre Smith.
Jacksonville: Different offseason, same quarterback.
Dallas and Washington: Past mistakes and hubris leading to rough present.