Once upon a time, a few teams went into the bloated marketplace for repairs, spent way too much for things they could get in the draft, then had press conferences to talk about it ...
... and that's how we got the name "Free Agency Frenzy."
Thus, it's time to reorder the NFL power structure, now that we've gone through the first wave of large-scale team reconstruction in 2017. But before we get to that, here's to DeMarcus Ware.
What a brilliant run No. 94 enjoyed -- nine Pro Bowls, four first-team All-Pro nods and a Super Bowl ring. Then there's those 138.5 career sacks. Not to mention having the best active pass rusher credit the veteran for getting his career back on track. All of which amounts to what should be a Canton nod -- without waiting one minute more than the five-year allotment. Why? Because his attitude said Hall of Fame every bit as much as his numbers or play on the field.
Ware's two former teams are moving in opposite directions. Dallas is subtracting, Denver is adding (a former Cowboy). As for the other 30 teams? My early offseason appraisals lie below. Your appraisal? Send along: @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Let the dissension commence!
Boy, the Patriots just tick people off, don't they? Judging by my Twitter timeline, everybody acted as though the entire team just peed in their cereal. If the Brandin Cooks trade didn't make New England the favorite in 2017, it sure as heck reminded everyone who is ahead of the curve for the 17th straight year. Meanwhile, the Pats let Martellus Bennett walk, as it became clear he'd cost too much ... and then acquired Dwayne Allen in a trade that only set New England back some Day 3 draft positioning. So, of course, watch Allen notch 10 touchdown grabs this year.
Truthfully, the Falcons could rank anywhere from here to eighth in the current hierarchy. So call this is a tip of the cap to their making the Super Bowl and giving the teamthatshouldneverbetradedwith all it could handle. Also worth noting: The smart signing of Jack Crawford, who had his moments in Dallas and should fit nicely into Dan Quinn's D-line rotation. Most importantly, Atlanta didn't lose anyone of note. Well, unless you count offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who finally decided to run ... to San Francisco.
Le'Veon Bell thought the Steelers would've beaten the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game had he not gone down with a groin injury. Not too large a boast for arguably the best running back in the NFL -- when he's healthy. You see, that's just it. If "a player's best ability is availability," then Bell has some compensating to do, especially considering the compensation he's receiving via the exclusive franchise tag. Bell has missed time -- due to injuries and suspensions -- in each of his four NFL seasons. Not hard to imagine this leading to some reluctance on the franchise's part when it comes to locking him up on a long-term deal. So the Steelers put it off for another year by slapping the tag on the Pro Bowl back. Bell stayed, Lawrence Timmons left. Unfortunately, Timmons' departure to Miami went way unnoticed (if such a thing is possible). This organization's inordinate amount of Hall of Fame and Hall of Very Good linebackers might obscure a rock-solid decade from No. 94.
This healthy climb up the charts for the Raiders is based off ... well ... health. Derek Carr appears to be coming along very well in his rehab from a broken fibula. (NFL Network colleague David Carr confirmed to me that Derek is doing the Perfect Pushup and borrowed David's Shake Weight.) Thus, the Raiders are returning to full strength. This while a number of teams just below have lost key cogs this offseason. OK, the Raiders lost Menelik Watson and could lose Latavius Murray -- though it seems neither was integral to the team's 2017 plans. Carr's Week 16 injury is clearly what buried Oakland last season. And the club appears content to roll with DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard and maybe draft an RB next month. With all the cap room, could Oakland be set to make a run at Dontari Poe?
If D.J. Fluker pans out, Big Blue might be the favorite coming out of the NFC. Laugh at your own peril. (Sorry for that line. Been watching way too many '80s movies lately, movies where chintzy dialogue is king, movies like "Conan the Barbarian.") Offensive line could row this boat to the postseason. Ditto Brandon Marshall, who won't be mistaken for Captain Stubing any time soon. All eyes will be on Paulie Perkins this season following the release of Rashad Jennings. But with the second-ranked scoring defense from last season, and a passing game that's ready to burst, this is the best team in the NFC East. Right now, of course. This is subject to change. Disclaimer: Predicting the Giants to win the division can cause headaches, hemorrhoids and nausea. Been watching too many late-night commercials, too.
While Packers fans railed at Ted Thompson for initially taking his typical wait-and-see (and usually-do-nothing-but-re-sign-a-Don-Barclay) offseason, the unflappable GM didn't blink. Julius Peppers walked. Micah Hyde walked. Then Thompson pulled a surprise on the level of an Alyson Hannigan party revelation. Signing Martellus Bennett was a shocker, a splash move that doesn't mesh with Thompson's football DNA. He pulled it off big-time with Charles Woodson. Somewhat less so -- but still effectively -- with Peppers. Now Bennett. And the tight end goes from catching balls from Tom Brady to catching balls from Aaron Rodgers. Wow.
Welp. We should find out just how good Dak Prescott is this year, as the offensive line in front of him took a few hits. Ronald Leary's departure was expected. Doug Free retiring? From what I've heard on Dallas radio, Cowboys players have tried to convince him not to. The perception among many is that these 'Boys are the favorites in the NFC. If Prescott performs well under intense pressure -- something he rarely had to do in 2016 -- maybe. He also might have to put up a few more points per game, as Dallas lost multiple starters on defense to the free-agent marketplace. By my count, the Joneses must come up with contingency plans for a LG, RT, QB2, DE, DT and S. La'el Collins will fill in at LG, but O-line depth is more of an issue. Same deal at safety, where Byron Jones returns, but the 'Boys lost Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox. This breadth of defections -- large and small -- is why the Giants leapfrogged Dallas. That, and a 2-0 record against the Cowboys last year.
How much will the Chiefs miss Dontari Poe and Jamaal Charles? Fans care about the former while seeming to have written off the latter. Granted, athletic nose tackles like Poe are damn near impossible to find. So are running backs who average 5.5 yards per carry for their career. #ChiefsKingdom will tell you that, between Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West, the team will be fine in the backfield. Perhaps. But whatever fanfare there was around one of the top players in franchise history leaving sure didn't feel like the kind of fanfare you'd expect around one of the top players in franchise history leaving. Even more concerning: Who's ready to take the torch from Derrick Johnson? That guy is flat-out valuable. And after a second torn Achilles at age 34, status: unclear.
Hard to gauge where the Seahawks are right now ... Are they still a big piece in an increasingly jumbled NFC puzzle? John Schneider, Pete Carroll and Co. have had a relatively quiet free agency period in the early goings. A potential Adrian Peterson reunion with OC Darrell Bevell continues to make news. Could make sense, but considering Jamaal Charles is almost two years younger and can catch the ball, not sure why he wouldn't be a better fiscal risk. (UPDATE: The Seahawks addressed the running back position on Tuesday, signing Eddie Lacy to a one-year deal.) Seattle must make a small investment -- any investment -- in the defensive-line rotation. Draft.
The Bucs were my sneaky NFC squad last year, but if they keep executing the kind of savvy moves they've made of late, these guys won't surprise anyone by going 10-6. The headliner, of course, is the arrival of DeSean Jackson. We'll see if he can continue to be the same deep threat we've come to know him as in Year 10. It should be noted: Randy Moss went to the Patriots in his 10th year and went ape@#$#, scoring an NFL-record 23 touchdowns. Much depends on Jameis Winston. Much depends on the running game. Was bringing back Jacquizz Rodgers enough for the RB group?
Liking the Dolphins' moves in free agency. The maneuvering signals a push to win now, without all of them 50-year-olds the Cardinals just signed. Well, OK, Lawrence Timmons is getting up there. It was a need, and provides leadership from the middle level of that defense -- you think that guy hasn't played in some big games? Julius Thomas could be the big, prolific target Ryan Tannehill could've used the last few years. And trading an OfficeMax gift card for DE William Hayes was genius.
Many thought the Lions were lucky to make the playoffs. Maybe, but that O-line is starting to look reeeeeaaaaaal nice, Clark. After upgrading there ... Second step: Keep Ameer Abdullah healthy. Third step: Why not sign a big RB like LeGarrette Blount? Detroit could use that kind of player in the red zone, and to salt away games. Of course, the 2016 Lions were so busy coming back in the fourth quarter that they never really had anything to salt away.
This seems like the right spot for the Broncos. Although if Tony Romo comes to town, you can bet Denver will be doing much leapfrogging. First, Romo was going to get released. Then he was reportedly in town. (Kinda doubtful, given that he went to the Mavs game that night. Dirk surpassed 30K points, by the way.) Then Romo was not getting released, but potentially traded. Then John Elway squeezed his 10 draft picks a little harder. Who knows now? Here's what is worth knowing: Signing Ronald Leary was HUGE. The guy was simply more effective than the highly regarded youngster he replaced last year in Dallas due to injury (La'el Collins). Leary's an outstanding run-blocker, as you can see in Ezekiel Elliott's production from the time the guard entered the lineup. And if you're going to sign a "brittle" QB, where should the focus be?
The Titans are the AFC version of the Bucs, poised to push down the postseason door for the first time in years (2008 for Tennessee, when graybeard Kerry Collins led the team to a 13-3 mark). Loved the signings of Logan Ryan and Johnathan Cyprien, both of whom were ranked quite high by the analytics mavens over at ProFootballFocus.com. (Cyprien perhaps a bit too loftily, but the strength of the Jags was their secondary last season.) With Marcus Mariota reportedly doing quite well in his rehab from a broken fibula and that same sick running game in place for another season, this team is ready. Look for GM Jon Robinson to pluck a WR with one of his two first-round picks.
While the melodrama plays out between the front office, itself and Kirk Cousins, the Giants distance themselves from the pack -- with the Eagles on the come-up. Washington distanced itself from its general manager while this whole to-franchise-tag-and-trade-or-not narrative played out for a top-10 quarterback. As Cousins looked longingly at the 49ers 3,000 miles away, the organization started looking at replacements for GM Scot McCloughan. Whether the new GM ends up being Mike Mayock or somebody else, Daniel Snyder will appoint someone who knows the football environment. Which is more than we can say about the man Washington D.C. tapped to be the watchdog for the actual environment. Sorry not sorry.
GM Steve Keim seems to be making a play for right now, given the additions of Karlos Dansby, Phil Dawson and Antoine Bethea, all of whom have been in the league over a decade. This will be Dansby's third run with the Cardinals. He's been around so long I had to look at ProFootballReference.com to make sure he didn't once play with Neil Lomax and E.J. Junior. On the subject of long-tenured players with the franchise, fans had to be disappointed with the loss of Calais Campbell. And the same can be said of young Tony Jefferson. Both had been solid performers for the Cards (Campbell for nearly a decade). It was a matter of dollars and cents -- and after seeing the money both got in a bloated marketplace, perhaps dollars and sense, too.
Saw plenty of articles imploring Ravens fans not to freak out about who the team was losing, and this space tends to agree. Signing Danny Woodhead was big -- just dream of all those Joe Flacco none-yard outs that once went Kyle Juszczyk's way. Tony Jefferson was a nice add. Between Jefferson and Eric Weddle, the Ravens now might have the best pair of safeties this side of Seattle. Re-signing Brandon Williams was the priority. The real dilemma here: Blow this thing up and rebuild so that Joe Flacco isn't too old to help you win when the project is over, or keep doing patchwork fixes to maybe win 10 games and sneak into the postseason?
Why 18th? Because the Texans don't have a quarterback. Yes, Brock Osweiler was bad. But with Tom Savage and his history of injuries, Houston might actually not have a quarterback. At all. Well, Brandon Weeden is there. Moving along ... Felt that the Texans bailed too early on Brian Hoyer, while admitting I was in the minority on that deal -- but you can't tell me you haven't thought it. The defense was indeed ranked at the top of the league ( in yards, not points allowed), though the loss of A.J. Bouye is palpable. Know what else will be? This team flying up the rankings if it acquires youknowwho. HINT: He loves Bob Dylan.
The Eagles rolled the ball out there last year with Carson Wentz and the nucleus of a bad football team. Thus, Philadelphia acquired receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to provide someone outside who can scare opponents. Catching the football when it gets there would be nice, too. This would be an appropriate time to mention that Jordan Matthews is still in the mix. Between the upgraded receiver corps and tight end Zach Ertz, this Eagles offense should be far more formidable in 2017. Now, will the Ryan Mathews/ Darren Sproles combo platter be the answer on the ground, or does Philly use the draft to fill out RB?
You've probably heard of addition by subtraction before, but usually the sentiment isn't voiced so loudly when speaking of a GM departure. Judging by comments from former Colts players Reggie Wayne and Pat McAfee, Ryan Grigson was about as popular as Trent Richardson in Indy. At least he wasn't responsible for acquiring Richardson. Wait ... Enter Chris Ballard, whose immediate task is rebuilding the defense that -- especially with the losses of Robert Mathis to retirement and Mike Adams to free agency -- is in a state of disrepair. The unit, which ranked 30th overall and was Osweiler'd twice, needs help at all three levels.
Homecoming for the Panthers this week, with the returns of Julius Peppers and Captain Munnerlyn. While Peppers, a multi-time All-Pro and arguably the top player in franchise history, signed with the appropriate amount of ballyhoo, the latter's signing was the type that too often goes unnoticed. Given how frequently the Carolina secondary was throttled last season, Munnerlyn might contribute more to wins at this stage of the game than his more famous counterpart. Mid-tier acquisitions (like Mike Vrabel to the Patriots in 2001 or DeAngelo Williams to the Steelers in 2015) are as large a part of the fabric of successful free agency as the addition of All-Pro names. Munnerlyn will have to make a few apologies and buy chocolates for the fellas, though.
What's the point of being a GM if you're not intellectually stimulated, right? OK, so maybe Rick Spielman would prefer to not have this many Rubik's Cubes to rejigger. Solving them all could bring the Vikes back to the postseason, but for now, 22 is where they sit. Spielman has yet to upgrade the line fully. Riley Reiff is solid, while Mike Remmers has endured moments good, bad and Von Miller-ish. Who's running behind that line, with Adrian Peterson appearing to head elsewhere? What about the future of Teddy Bridgewater? Then there's the secondary, which already lost one of the main contributors from 2016 (Captain Munnerlyn) and could lose another (Terence Newman). Glad it's Spielman's gig and not mine.
You don't see deals like the Brandin Cooks trade in the NFL too much. A young (23) wide receiver who's posted consecutive seasons of 1,000-plus yards and eight-plus touchdowns normally wouldn't go on the market. But then, he was shipped away by New Orleans, which was all too willing to shop Jimmy Graham in 2015, one year after Darren Sproles was sent packing to Philly. Sean Payton knows the defense must be rebuilt, and he apparently figures the Saints can win with other players in the passing game. Start with sophomore receiver Michael Thomas. As Nick Underhill of The Advocate points out, don't look at it as New Orleans "only" getting the 32nd overall pick for Cooks. Bear in mind that Bill Belichick paid with a first-round pick to acquire a player he might only keep for two years.
Can't remember the last time the Bengals were this low on the Power Rankings. How much talent can this team let walk without feeling it? Last year, Cincy watched Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Andre Smith and Reggie Nelson walk out the door. Everything was fine ... nothing to see here ... until Lt. Frank Drebin was standing in front of an exploding 6-9-1 record. Now Andrew Whitworth, who has been a stud, and Kevin Zeitler are gone. And it's not like the Bengals don't have cap room. They have more than enough to bring Anthony Muñoz and Max Montoya back -- which is good, because that's what they're gonna need.
Heady days in Jacksonville, as GM David Caldwell hasn't been the least bit shy about throwing owner Shad Khan's money around. The Jags added Calais Campbell, Barry Church and A.J. Bouye in a matter of days, further fortifying a defense that was actually the strength of the team last season. If Dontari Poe joins the mix, look out. Doug Marrone's defense could morph into a top-five unit. The offense? It'll be directed by Blake Bortles again. That is, unless EVP Tom Coughlin wants to roll the expensive dice on a guy who beat his Giants 10 times. Ahem ... cough ... uhh ... err ... hmm.
The biggest news surrounding the Bills this offseason, at least from a national perspective, was the Patriots signing Stephon Gilmore for big money. There goes Bill Belichick, getting ahead of everybody again. The news among the #BillsMafia seemed to be more along the lines of, Who the hell is gonna pay Gilmore that kind of money?! Ah, the warmth of free agency. Look for this team to play cold-weather football, with the intent to run (notice all of the fullback signings in Buffalo). Interesting side note: Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News pointed out that the team paid Lorenzo Alexander decent money to return to a defense in which, with new coach Sean McDermott switching to a 4-3, Alexander doesn't have a position.
This team will kick off as the Los Angeles Chargers for the first time since 1960 ... in a soccer stadium. That much we know. How good they will be is anyone's guess. A few folks think the Bolts are on the rise. Others scratched their head at the Russell Okung signing, given the offensive lineman's injury history -- and, while we're at it, the importance of keeping Philip Rivers healthy. The franchise quarterback will no longer have the trusty (when 100 percent) Danny Woodhead to throw to, either. If there is one team in the league I'd like to see have ZERO injuries this season, LAC is it.
Loved the Andrew Whitworth signing. Robert Woods was also a sneaky-cool add, even if the price was a tad high. After that? Not much. Kenny Britt has been a punchline for the fantasy football Twitterverse for like five years now, yet he was the only dude who had any punch in the Rams' passing attack last season -- and now he's in Cleveland. The William Hayes trade? Perplexing. Perhaps it was strictly scheme fit or part salary dump. Either way, even Hayes was shocked at how little the team got for him, saying he "got traded today for a stapler and a coffee machine." Dude, but was it a little red stapler?
Alright, is it just me, or does Mike Glennon look like the NFL version of the guy who got dusted by the acid spray in "Aliens"? Watch the clip. That is so Mike Glennon. That guy did major damage in his brief time on exomoon LV-426, which is similar to the way many analysts characterized Glennon's short stint as the Bucs' starter. The numbers weren't bad, the 30:15 TD-to-INT ratio being the most impressive by far. Of course, the only number anyone is stuck on is the $14.5 million per year he's reportedly getting paid. Hey, that's the going rate for an average starting quarterback. Just hope Glennon wasn't promised that Alshon Jeffery would be in town.
With all the talk around Kirk Cousins potentially going to the 49ers, I thought it an appropriate time to discuss a different topic. So I reached out to one of my colleagues for ideas. Her contribution: "I used to have a crush on Colin Kaepernick." Funny, so did the 49ers. On another note: Everyone who asked Brian Hoyer to Sadie Hawkins in recent years didn't want to hook up, at least not in an NFL sense. Hoyer got one season as a starter in Houston, had to look over his shoulder at Ryan Mallett, then was dumped after a poor playoff performance. In Chicago, he racked up four straight 300-yard games (outplaying Jay Cutler) before getting hurt ... then watched as Mike Glennon got paid a multiples of his contract. Just a little knowledge, between you and me: Hoyer and Glennon's career stats are eerily similar (84.8 passer rating for the former, 84.6 for the latter) with one big exception: Glennon is 5-13 as a starter. Hoyer? 16-15. #justsayin'
Remember when you were a kid and your folks got you a bike for Christmas? You were so geeked for a new year with wheels. Then somewhere along the line, often after weeks in denial, you realized that your bike was not black and gold with cool mags, gears or a sticker that said Mongoose. Nope, yours was an orange-and-yellow Huffy that had one speed, thus requiring Maurice Jones-Drew's legs to pedal up a hill. Feel like that is what Todd Bowles is going through right now. Imagine, on the same day the Patriots acquired Brandin Cooks, the Jets signed a long snapper.
Here is a simple, highly convoluted explanation for what the Browns pulled off in the Brock Osweiler trade. Your neighborhood used-car dealer, Possum Kingdom Pontiac, wants to sell you a beater for 3K because they have 3K in it already. You know they can't get rid of it, because the car has an AM/FM cassette, a cracked engine block and sucks. So you get a loan from the bank to pay for it, but you tell the dealer you want $1,500 cash back that they can put on next year's accounting books for you taking the car off their hands right now. You take the beater car home, sell it to someone for what it's really worth -- about 2K -- add it to your $1,500 cash, then invest the $500 profit. Here's even more genius that nobody's talking about: Much like investors shorting a stock, betting that a company's value will plummet, perhaps Cleveland management is banking on a hypothetical in which the Texans lose out on Tony Romo, Tom Savage gets hurt (again) and Houston goes 6-10. Consequently, that 2018 second-round pick the Browns received significantly jumps in value. The Browns could use it or deal it for even more picks. Sorry for all this ... I watched "The Big Short" last night.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.