Eight takeaways from the weekend's free agency


Last week's epic start to free agency thrust all 32 NFL teams into makeover mode.

The most striking series of transformations came in the backfield, where a rash of clubs were quick to remake their stable of runners.

Chris Wesseling did an outstanding job outlining those changes in New Orleans, where C.J. Spiller joins the re-signed Mark Ingram to form the core of a clock-chewing, ball-control ground attack behind center Max Unger -- an approach we haven't seen from coach Sean Payton in nearly a decade.

The Saints aren't the only team set to switch things up behind the quarterback:

>> The San Francisco 49ers waved farewell to longtime mainstay Frank Gore in favor of a backfield set to lean heavily on second-year man Carlos Hyde, while employing Reggie Bush as a pass-catching weapon in space. If he can stay healthy, Bush gives quarterback Colin Kaepernick a proven weapon in the flats, but we still project Hyde to lead the team in carries by a wide margin.

>> No squad offers a more fascinating backfield combination than Philly's DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. Both are tantalizing downfield-running types who fit Chip Kelly's scheme better than LeSean McCoy. With Darren Sproles still in the mix on passing downs, it will be fun to watch how the touches break down in 2015.

>> Gore averaged 268 carries per season under Greg Roman in San Francisco. McCoy is a solid bet to earn a similar workload in Buffalo, but Roman oversees a deep backfield that also includes Fred Jackson, Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown. Handed $26.5 million in guarantees, McCoy isn't being paid for committee work, meaning someone's on the way out of town.

>> The Patriots have seven backs on the roster, but none are named Shane Vereen or Stevan Ridley. LeGarrette Blount was a juicy pickup last season, but we still expect New England to tap a rich draft class for help. With Bush off the market, Pierre Thomas makes sense as a passing-down specialist. The Pats also have Mike Lombardi-favorite Dion Lewis on the roster as a potential wild-card for third-down work.

>> We love the fit of Gore in a Colts uniform. Play-caller Pep Hamilton showed last season that he was willing to tweak his run-happy approach to make the most of Andrew Luck's gifts, but the presence of Gore gives Indy a legitimate ground-and-pounder. Boom Herron also deserves another look for a Colts team clearly swinging for the fences in the AFC.

Here's what else we learned over the weekend:

2. Free-agent defensive backs are making serious coin on the open market, as exampled by Chris Culliver's four-year, $32 million deal with the Redskins -- an outrageous pact.

Meanwhile, fellow 49ers cover man Perrish Cox landed a three-year, $15 million deal with the Titans after netting the most pass interference penalties in the league last season, his first year as a starter.

Buster Skrine has skills, but $13 million in guarantees from the Jets is eye-popping. As was Jacksonville handing former Packers cornerback Davon House $6.25 million per year after just 14 pro starts.

As aerial attacks continue to explode, teams are in trouble if they can't lace the field with five -- even six -- cover men on any given down. This month's open-market bum-rush for secondary help is the upshot.

3. Tampa's trash is Cincy's rediscovered treasure. After the Bucs parted ways with Michael Johnson -- their heavily hyped free-agent signing from a year ago -- the Bengals swooped in on Sunday to sign their former pass rusher. Adding Johnson, in theory, helps a defense that finished dead last in the league in 2014 with a paltry 20 sacks. Johnson has a shot to start at end, but with just 7.5 takedowns over the past two seasons, he's produced his share of bad tape since leaving Cincy.

4. The Browns were silent during the first week of free agency, but NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that Cleveland is determined to sign veteran wideout Dwayne Bowe. Browns general manager Ray Farmer knows Bowe from their time together with the Chiefs, but our excitement is tempered. The ninth-year pass-catcher can move the sticks, but adding a past-his-prime Bowe to a group that includes Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins is hardly the stuff of dreams. The Browns loom as a contender to lead the AFC in carries next season.

5. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie desperately needs pass-rushing help, but he emphasized over the weekend that free-agent Greg Hardy won't be brought to Oakland. Tangible off-the-field concerns aside, someone is going to grab Hardy -- one of the league's finest quarterback-chasers -- at a bargain.

6. We're keeping an eye on the quarterback situation in Buffalo, where the Bills are serious about giving Tyrod Taylor a chance to start. "No one is really ahead of the other guy right now," Taylor said, hinting that coach Rex Ryan lured him to town with the promise of a battle under center. Why not? Matt Cassel is a middling veteran and young EJ Manuel has been a major disappointment. Even if he doesn't win the job, Taylor is sure to see meaningful sub-package snaps in Roman's offense. Take a look at Colin Kaepernick's pre-starter tape from 2012 for clues on how Taylor might be unleashed.

7. Free-agent signings and a flurry of trades have cost a handful of veterans their jobs. Case in point: Greg Jennings, who was cut by the Vikings after Minnesota swung a deal with the Dolphins for Mike Wallace. Jennings is done as a big-league playmaker, but he won't have problems finding work. Sticking with a team beyond August will be the challenge.

8. Most of the household names are off the board, but plenty of talent remains on the open market. Footballhead Chris Wesseling compiled a list of the top available players, topped by former Patriots wide-bodied wonder, Vince Wilfork. You can find the rest of Wesseling's master work here.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast analyzes early free agency news, including Ndamukong Suh to Miami, Devin McCourty's new deal and much more. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.