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AFC free agency winners and losers

Offseason noise doesn't result in victories. The connection between spending in March and winning in September is tenuous at best, so we're going to try avoid simply calling all the most active teams in free agency "winners" in this column. Because this is definitely one of those "winners and losers" columns.

After 10 days of action, let's break down what we liked in free agency, what we didn't like and everything in between. AFC is up first.


Denver Broncos: I'm looking forward to the next not-so-subtle degradation of Wes Welker's skill set: "He only produces because he plays with Hall of Fame quarterbacks."

Brandon Stokley, even at age 36, produced with Manning. Welker is a massive upgrade, and the Broncos passing game will be very difficult to deal with. Broncos head honcho John Elway got veterans that can contribute right away without paying long money to any of them. Guard Louis Vasquez will be a solid starter. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was a fine gamble for the money. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio knows exactly what he's getting in defensive tackle Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton.

The only bugaboo here: The Elvis Dumervil fax fiasco. No matter whose fault it is, the mess has cost the Broncos.

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Tennessee Titans: The Titans might not be great this season, but their free agency plan looked like a plan. They got tougher. Guard Andy Levitre helps shore up their interior offensive line. Delanie Walker might be the best blocking tight end in football and could put up comparable numbers as a receiver to the departed Jared Cook. (Walker also will put up drops.) Defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill and safety George Wilson were smart, cheap pickups on defense.

Kansas City Chiefs: Will all of us media suckers fall for the Chiefs again? The defense looks absolutely loaded after signing cornerbacks Dunta Robinson, Sean Smith and defensive tackle Mike Devito to go with the underrated defensive talent returning. (Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry to start.)

Coach Andy Reid is trying to remake the offense in one year, but he didn't have a choice. You know what you are getting with tight end Anthony Fasano. You have no idea what you're getting with wide receiver Donnie Avery. The Chiefs successfully kept receiver Dwayne Bowe and tackle Branden Albert off the market. (They might get value back for Albert.) Considering the talent available, Reid wasn't going to do better at quarterback than Alex Smith and Chase Daniel.

This should be a team that expects to be competitive and around .500 right away.

Winning with patience

Oakland Raiders: The word "rebuilding" is thrown around a lot, but most teams truly are never far from 8-8. The job general manager Reggie McKenzie inherited last season was a true rebuilding situation. Judge the man when he has some picks to spend and doesn't have mountains of dead money from terrible contracts of the last regime. The cheap linebacker signings (Kaluka Maiava, Nick Roach) could work. Last year's cheap linebacker signing (Philip Wheeler) got rich this offseason.

Jacksonville Jaguars: The Raiders may have more talent overall than the Jaguars, a roster that is close to expansion level. New general manager David Caldwell is smart not to chase short-term solutions like so many Jaguars GMs of the past.

Cincinnati Bengals: It's a good sign the Bengals have so many quality players to re-sign. It's a bad sign that BenJarvus Green-Ellis still is their primary running back and they didn't go after a quality third-down back.

Falling off the radar

San Diego Chargers: Maybe it's head coach Mike McCoy's press conferences, but the Chargers have become one of the most vanilla franchises in the league. There's not much to chew on here. Cornerback Derek Cox was a worthwhile upgrade for Antoine Cason, who left for the Arizona Cardinals. Danny Woodhead was a curious choice for depth in the backfield. New general manager Tom Telesco got rid of a lot of unnecessary veterans, which is a positive.

The losers

Buffalo Bills: Cutting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick made sense, but there's just no hiding the fact that Tarvaris Jackson sits atop the depth chart. That's depressing. A draft pick is absolutely necessary. Absolutely needing a quarterback in the draft is how you end up with J.P. Losman.

The Bills lost talented guard Andy Levitre, while GM Buddy Nix continued his curious practice of giving big money to marginal players like cornerback Leodis McKelvin and linebacker Manny Lawson. McKelvin's contract looks terrible compared to the cornerback bargains that were out there.

Miami Dolphins: You "win" free agency by signing guys like linebacker Philip Wheeler to cheap one-year contracts, like the Raiders did last season. You don't get value by signing non-pass rushing linebackers to huge long-term contracts. Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace was a perfect pickup for Ryan Tannehill's big arm, but otherwise GM Jeff Ireland spent like a guy trying to save his job. (Which he is.) It's also easy to ignore that plenty of talent left the building: cornerback Sean Smith, tackle Jake Long and running back Reggie Bush.

New York Jets: I expected Mark Sanchez's Jets career to end during that disastrous Monday night loss against the Tennessee Titans, guaranteed money be damned. Instead, the Sanchize is the presumptive starter once again. The meaningful competition the Jets promised is supposed to come from a guy (David Garrard) that hasn't taken a snap since 2010. Many of the Jets' best players (Dustin Keller, Mike Devito, Brandon Moore) have left or will leave soon. A Darrelle Revis trade seems inevitable.

In the right division

New England Patriots: The Patriots are "winners" this month because they get to play the three teams above twice a year. Losing Wes Welker hurts, but Danny Amendola can do many of the same things. (And play on the outside.) The team kept cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington for cheap. Safety Adrian Wilson is a perfect Patriot if he has anything left. Bringing back right tackle Sebastian Vollmer would make the month look a lot better.

Faith in leadership

Baltimore Ravens: Elvis Dumervil's addition to the roster won't numb the sting of losing eight starters, but the Ravens should be fine. Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Bernard Pollard all were at or near the end of the line. Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe were part-time players. Cary Williams was an average starting cornerback at best. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin might be the toughest piece to replace of the group. If nothing else, the Ravens remaining will have a rallying cry that few defending champions do: No one believes in them!

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers lost four key contributors in Keenan Lewis, James Harrison, Willie Colon and Rashard Mendenhall. (Perhaps Harrison could come back.) But only one of those players (Lewis) was consistently available last season. The Steelers might have misjudged the cornerback market by signing William Gay before Lewis' price went down, but GM Kevin Colbert deserves the benefit of the doubt. Colbert needs a big draft and for his '12 draft class to come along.

Houston Texans: This was never going to be an active offseason for the Texans. Ed Reed might not even be an upgrade from Glover Quin at safety. The Texans can handle losing Connor Barwin, and they cut Kevin Walter. Not much to see here. Growth will have to come from within.

Boom or bust

Cleveland Browns: The Browns guaranteed $35 million for two players that have 23 career starts combined: Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant. That usually doesn't work out well. I hope I'm wrong. (For Marc Sessler's sake.)

Team confusion

Colts GM Ryan Grigson absolutely nailed last year's draft class, and it makes sense he took some chances in free agency this offseason, because his team had a lot of roster holes and a lot of salary-cap space. Grigson didn't tie up his salary cap with too much long-term money, but he still gave big coin to a lot of players that have ranged from promising to average to sub-mediocre as pros: Tackle Gosder Cherilus, linebacker Erik Walden, cornerback Greg Toler, defensive end Ricky Jean Francois and safety LaRon Landry.

Grigson made moves in bulk, a little like the 2001 Patriots. Consider it a success if half of the moves stick. Toler and Jean Francois were my two favorite moves of the group.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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