Free Agency Grades  

 

Winners and losers from free agency

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Way back on Feb. 27, we came up with a list of the top 101 free agents set to hit the market. From that original list, one player from the top 30 remains -- Greg Hardy. Only six from the top 50 are out there for the taking.

There are still plenty of big names like Michael Crabtree and B.J. Raji up for grabs. But it's safe to say the first wave of free agency ended Friday sometime around Tennessee's pass rusher shopping spree. With that in mind, let's look at some early winners and losers from the first week of free agency.

Winners


Colts: We knew GM Ryan Grigson would be aggressive, but we didn't know where the money would go. Frank Gore, Andre Johnson and Trent Cole are three of our favorite players on the other side of 30. Johnson fits perfectly opposite T.Y. Hilton. Gore is among the most complete backs in the league with the power and passing down ability the Colts need. This is not a complete Colts team yet, but they are going to be a lot of fun to watch.

Cornerbacks: My two-month-old son is already working on his backpedal. In a pass-first league, no one is getting overpaid more than mid-level cornerbacks. Buster Skrine got $6.5 million per year. Cary Williams got $7 million! Antonio Cromartie, one season removed from being unwanted, got $8 million per year. Same with Chris Culliver, who has off-field issues, durability problems and shaky experience. Solid starters like Byron Maxwell and Kareem Jackson set the market with superstar-money contracts and everyone else fell in line behind them.

Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray, Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy:

Who says running backs don't get paid anymore? Lynch got a monster raise despite not being a free agent. McCoy, despite no leverage, forced the Bills to pay a "Buffalo tax" for his services even though he's coming off a bad year. Murray had some nervous moments on the open market, but he got paid like a pass rusher.

Perhaps the numbers are just a reflection of a market flush with cap space. Chris Culliver is getting $8 million per season, and Eddie Royal is getting $10 million guaranteed. Why not give a bonafide star some love?

Adrian Peterson has to be watching this and smiling. He's the best player of the bunch, and he'll have a new contract sooner or later. Peterson is due $12.75 million in 2015, and there's every reason to believe he'll see that money. He might even see more.

Packers: This is why Ted Thompson hoards all that cap space. Two core draft picks hit free agency, and the Packers were able to keep Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga.

NFL fans: We may never again see five minutes of blockbuster trades like we did on Tuesday. But it's no coincidence that there have been seven meaningful trades in the last two weeks, which is more than we used to see for years. More salary cap room around the league makes trading big contracts a lot easier. It will never be the NBA, but we should get used to trades as a part of the NFL calendar.

AFC East optimism: This has rarely been an interesting division since Tom Brady arrived, and that should change this year. Miami, New York and Buffalo could now all lay claim to being the best defensive line in the league. Buffalo looks far more aggressive under owner Terry Pegula and coach Rex Ryan. Miami somehow dumped Dannell Ellerbe's contract, picked up Kenny Stills and found room for Ndamukong Suh. The trade of Mike Wallace isn't a plus, but new head honcho Mike Tannenbaum has nicely dumped some onerous contracts. The Jets may be spending too much to get the band back together, but they are undeniably better than they were a week ago.

A non-Patriots team hasn't made the playoffs since 2010. Any team with Brady is the heavy favorite here -- he's won 11 straight division titles when healthy -- but that playoff streak is bound to end.

Conflicted


Rex Ryan: The Bills have spent big money to lock down Jerry Hughes, McCoy, Percy Harvin and Matt Cassel. That's the good news. The bad news is that the Jets are systematically putting together the team Rex wanted in 2014, with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie locking down the secondary. The Jets also kept David Harris from fleeing to Buffalo.

Losers


Saints continuity: New Orleans isn't "blowing things up." They are still spending money, but dramatically changing their roster. It feels like a team acting out of emotion without a coherent plan. They gave Jimmy Graham big money, and then deal him eight months later. They let Darren Sproles walk, and then sign C.J. Spiller for far more money. They are putting all their resources into solving their defense one offseason after believing their defense was in great shape.

Houston: Cutting Andre Johnson was tough for Texans fans to swallow. Watching him beat them at Lucas Oil Field as he finishes off his Hall of Fame career will be tougher. I liked the Rahim Moore signing, but it's hard to get excited about a Ryan Mallett competition with Brian Hoyer.

Chicago Bears: Royal getting $10 million guaranteed was a head scratcher. And Pernell McPhee could be the latest Ravens defender to look a lot different away from Baltimore. It's also hard to get excited about a team that is so openly ambivalent about its starting quarterback.

Joe Philbin: As Dan Hanzus noted in this week's End Around, Philbin was conspicuous by his absence this week.

Anyone that wasn't on the internet last weekend: Free agency starts on Coughlin time now. Recognize.

Niners: The Rams got better with Nick Fairley, Nick Foles and more draft picks. The Seahawks got Jimmy Graham, while the Cardinals have quietly made some nice moves. The 49ers, meanwhile, watched a lot of Pro Bowlers walk out the door.

Dallas Cowboys: A lot of ex-Cowboys have made a lot of money in free agency, which should be considered an indirect compliment to Jason Garrett's program. The list of departures is large: Murray, Justin Durant, Bruce Carter, Jermey Parnell and Henry Melton. The list of arrivals is not pretty: Darren McFadden and Jed Collins.

This free agency period is far from over, but you know this is killing Jerry Jones to sit on the sideline.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast breaks down DeMarco Murray's move to the Eagles and breaks down which teams have been wise in free agency. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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