Yep, the last few weeks of the pro football news cycle need to be HGH tested. Beyond the Miami Dolphins showering money on Mike Wallace and crew, Blaine Gabbert's reputation among assistant coaches approaching his level of play and the 12th Man jumping up and down over good fortune (Cliff Avril, Percy Harvin and the Seahawks generally not sucking), we've experienced tons of fun in and around the league.
This has been an exciting time of year -- if not a confusing one -- since free agency started two decades back. Thus, it's an appropriate time to take a gander at how all the member clubs stack up, based on how they finished the 2012 season, free agency and upside. Per the usual, hit us up with your relevant thoughts: @Harrison_NFL is the dropbox.
Now, let the dissension commence ...
The Baltimore Ravens understandably didn't want to pay Anquan Boldin (read below), but that doesn't mean adding him wasn't a master stroke by the San Francisco 49ers, who already have an incredibly strong nucleus of young talent. Boldin instantly becomes the most reliable receiver on the team and could be a huge help to Michael Crabtree. (The latter is far closer to Boldin in terms of ability than Randy Moss.)
Remember in "Office Space" when Michael Bolton went "American History X" on the fax machine? Somebody was doing that Friday, methinks. Let's table that -- and the Wes Welker discussion -- for now. How about the other free agency moves? Coordinator Jack Del Rio's defense needed an interior presence, so the club re-signed the steady Kevin Vickerson and acquired one of Del Rio's former players in Terrance Knighton. (Some hack predicted those moves.) Franchising Ryan Clady made some sense. And not only does acquiring Louis Vasquez help Denver run the football, it depletes the division rival San Diego Chargers.
Losing Wes Welker is no small deal, but is it cool if we say it's no big deal? Yeah, Tom Brady was ticked. He got all fired up back in 2006 over Deion Branch, too. Granted, Welker > Branch. Not to worry: Danny Amendola can catch none-yard outs, too. Moreover, the reality is that the New England Patriots had yet to win it all with Welker, and they got younger with the addition of Amendola. All in all, this was not a bad move by New England. As a side note, the cold business approach has hurt this organization in small ways over the years. We'll reserve judgment on Welkergate until at least Week 12.
Should we just anoint the Seattle Seahawks contenders for the next three years? An already strong 11-5 team has absolutely killed it in free agency. Forget the Percy Harvin trade. First off, obtaining a solid pro like Cliff Avril provides a presence on the edge. Second, Michael Bennett can play. What was an effective front seven in 2012 is going to be a force in 2013. Expect general manager John Schneider to hit linebacker in the NFL draft (again).
Did Baltimore radio the other day, and I had no reservations telling the fandom there that I like the way GM Ozzie Newsome is handling business. Quite frankly, the Baltimore Ravens didn't need to overpay for Dannell Ellerbe or keep an aging Anquan Boldin at his $6 million price tag. Ravens fans seem to think I hate their team, but truth be told, this organization has some of the best management in the business. That said, Newsome needs to bring back safety Ed Reed. The locker room is now leadership-deficient. The defending champs lost Ray Lewis, Matt Birk and Boldin. Every successful club could use an elder statesman who, by the way, also starts.
The Atlanta Falcons swapped out one RB with allegedly bald tires for another with allegedly bald tires. Sure, the money is different, but what can Steven Jackson give this team? Soft hands. Jackson once caught 90 passes and could be an effective safety valve for Matt Ryan. Now, the pass rush still represents a glaring hole, especially with an open door at corner (i.e., Brent Grimes' situation remains fluid). The guess? Atlanta signs a veteran corner and hits pass rush in the 2013 NFL Draft. Osi Umenyiora still feels right in Atlanta, but who knows at this point?
Did you hear about the Green Bay Packer who left town via free agency? Fans are pretty worried about it. Yep, Erik Walden is going to be a huge loss.
Rumor out of Houston is that Ed Reed really wanted riding the bull at Gilley's to be part of the recruiting trip. Too bad the place closed down. Glover Quin is out, and adding Reed certainly would give defensive coordinator Wade Phillips a presence in the secondary. More glaring, however, is the lack of a playmaker at WR2. While Andre Johnson wants Chad Johnson, I'd be shocked if the Texans didn't hit this spot in next month's draft.
The Cincinnati Bengals' front office spends its money with the ease of a Tommy Lee Jones belly laugh. Alright, alright: In fairness, Cincy has some contracts that will need to be addressed in the next year, as well as a current free agent in Andre Smith who can (and likely will) be re-signed. Marvin Lewis and Co. look to build through the draft, something they've done a great job of in recent years.
As expected, the Washington Redskins didn't make much noise in free agency. The reality is that this franchise didn't have much in the way of cap room. Still, I like the signing of Jeremy Trueblood, which could end up being a minor steal. Bottom line: The 'Skins will benefit if Trueblood benefits from a change of scenery. A third-down, change-of-pace, Sproles-esque back would be cool, too.
Death by a thousand paper cuts? The New York Giants are hemorrhaging players, or so it seems. Ahmad Bradshaw ... gone. Osi Umenyiora ... gone. Kenny Phillips ... ditto. Chris Canty ... ditto ditto. Yet, can you say Big Blue is really worse? GM Jerry Reese added some small pieces, with dollars earmarked for guard Kevin Boothe and/or receiver Victor Cruz.
You have to like what the Chicago Bears have done in free agency. Left tackle? Check. Tight end? Check. Franchising the best player set to hit the market? Check. Yes, taking care of Henry Melton -- while also signing Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett -- made sense. Now the difficult part: Figuring out how fiscally responsible to be with Israel Idonije, Lance Louis and, of course, Brian Urlacher.
Let's allow some time for Indianapolis Colts fans to heal following the loss of Moise Fokou and Drew Stanton to free agency .................................................................................................... OK, that was sufficient. The Colts hit the three main spots I thought they would in free agency, but, boy, this club could use a pass rusher.
The Minnesota Vikings are climbing, with the addition of Greg Jennings and subtraction of Percy Harvin. While many fans were more than "Pro Harvin," the lingering fact here is that having a malcontent on your ballclub can do more harm than good. He played hard -- no question -- but here's another fact to ponder: The Vikings went 5-4 with Harvin in 2012 ... and 5-2 without him. Would love to hear from Vikes fans on this deal ( @Harrison_NFL). Minnesota will search for his replacement in the draft.
In deference to Power Rankings readers, the New Orleans Saints get moved down more than a smidge. The last time we did this exercise, New Orleans was the one team that most folks agreed was too high, based on a porous defense. Salary-cap issues caused the team to lose a decent left tackle in Jermon Bushrod, too. Saints drop.
Interesting offseason in Pittsburgh, where several longtime Steelers have departed. Farewell, James Harrison, Willie Colon, Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall and Casey Hampton. Much of what this club is capable of depends on retaining restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders. Another vital issue: How much juice is there to the Elvis Dumervil rumors? The Steelers should seriously consider acquiring the pass rusher, with an ancillary reason being to prohibit the rival Ravens from beating them to the punch. Dumervil's 11 sacks are hard to come by on the market. Not to mention, he compiled 29.5 knockdowns and hurries combined.
With all the high-priced free agents the Dolphins have been signing, Bravo should do a "Real Girlfriends of Miami." Just saying.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers gained a solid player in Dashon Goldson but lost another in Michael Bennett. And so goes the free agency era. As opposed to getting into a bidding war for Bennett, GM Mark Dominik must have thought it was time to see what the two kids on the edges can do. By "kids" we mean Da'Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn. In two seasons, they've combined for 12 total sacks, even while partially limited by injuries. Time to play ball.
The Carolina Panthers take a bit of a dip, but let's shoot this thing straight: This team is hamstrung by the cap. The front office did what it had to do, getting a stopgap at corner in Drayton Florence. But as it sits right now, the franchise is up against it, and presumably is eyeing the draft more than a lot of teams in different fiscal territory. Bear in mind, though, that Carolina did win five of its last six games in 2012.
It's good the Cleveland Browns didn't overspend for Dannell Ellerbe, but paying $40 million for Paul Kruger isn't exactly analogous to dipping the proverbial toe in the water. The former Ravens pass rusher got $20 million guaranteed despite having all of 15.5 career sacks to his name. In fairness, finding guys who can collapse the pocket is integral to winning these days. And when you consider that Pierre Garcon received $20.5 million guaranteed last offseason -- despite the abundance of wideouts, as compared to the current dearth of pass rushers -- perhaps this contract ultimately brings surprising value. Time will tell.
While some minor free-agent additions are on the books already, and guard
Louis Vasquez is gone, the open road in front of this
San Diego Chargers franchise is marked by two related checkpoints:
1) What can new head coach Mike McCoy get out of the woefully inconsistent offense?
2) How effective can Philip Rivers be without major talent at the skill positions?
Those skill positions might not improve greatly, either, as the Chargers likely will hit offensive line in the first round of the draft. Rivers must refrain from a common pitfall: trying to do too much.
Glad the competition committee is looking to change the "Jim Schwartz rule." That really helps a Detroit Lions team that should've beaten the Texans on Turkey Day and was incapable of stopping the bleeding, losing out after the Thanksgiving debacle. Reggie Bush's arrival could help this offense more than people might think. Consider how much the Lions are in love with the passing game and the fact that Bush caught 161 balls his first two seasons in New Orleans.
The Philadelphia Eagles applied several minor brush strokes through the free-agent marketplace, producing a complete turnover on defense. Perhaps the most important signing was the acquisition of Isaac Sopoaga, who will man the middle in the new 3-4 scheme under Chip Kelly. Put another way, there was no way Antonio Dixon was going to anchor the nose. The whole unit has been remade, with seven new starters on the defensive side of the ball.
The New York Jets have done a wee bit of damage in free agency, but one wonders what interest -- if any -- the club had in former Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck before the veteran signed with the Colts. I heard zilch, but the thought here is that the Jets should've barked up that tree two years ago. Well, that ship has sailed, but the organization must do something to solidify the quarterback position. David Garrard could be the answer -- no sarcasm intended. Mark Sanchez was absolutely brutal for the lion's share of 2012.
Drew Stanton at quarterback, Rashard Mendenhall at running back and another season of A.W. (after Warner). New head coach Bruce Arians will be working with folks he's familiar with, but these newly arrived "starters" must give Cardinals fans a bit of pause. If league analysts thought Mendenhall did too much dancing behind the line in Pittsburgh, wait until they see him dilly-dallying behind his new line in Arizona. In other news, the once-coveted Kevin Kolb was released. Now you know why former GM Rod Graves didn't want to pay Kolb $7 million in bonus money last offseason. The writing has been on the wall for a good while on that deal.
It seems some media outlets feel newly acquired QB Ryan Fitzpatrick won't push Jake Locker for the starting job in Titansville. Seriously? What is it, exactly, about Locker's play over two seasons that has inspired this kind of presumptuousness? Fitzpatrick has completed over 60 percent of his throws and tossed 48 touchdown passes over the last two seasons. He might be no great shakes, but those numbers aren't exactly slummin' it. Locker is currently sitting with a career completion percentage of 55.5.
Heard Andy Reid on the radio the other day discussing Alex Smith's intangibles, his success in terms of wins and losses, and his statistical merits as a passer (passer rating). Uhh ... what? Nothing against Reid or the Kansas City Chiefs (we'd like to see them turn this thing around), but Smith has been anything but impressive in terms of the overall body of his work. His record is 38-36-1 and his career passer rating is 79.1. Yes, he had multiple offensive coordinators over his first six NFL seasons. He's also benefitted from playing on a team that's gone 24-7-1 over the past two seasons.
Blaine Gabbert is 5-19 with a 70.2 passer rating in two years. Word is, he blames calculators. In other news, mock drafts across America have a left tackle (mostly Central Michigan's Eric Fisher) as the Jaguars' selection at second overall. What a dicey pick. Jacksonville presumably will have its choice of the best quarterback and pass rusher in the draft. Knock it out of the park, David Caldwell.
Everybody needs to calm down. The Oakland Raiders are not in that bad of shape. They just need upgrades at wideout, tight end, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, corner ... and perhaps quarterback. But Oakland makes up for it by having more than $30 million in "dead money" counting against the cap.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.