Free agency is one week old and some teams have helped themselves, while others have taken a hit. Every year, after the first wave of free agency ends, some fans tend to believe their team has gone backward. And while that might be true in the short term, many veteran players remain on the market, and the draft is just over one month away. Fans want to see transactions and a big splash -- though not necessarily the ones that took place last week involving Terrell Owens.
While the Buffalo Bills' signing of Terrell Owens is currently lighting up message boards, I'm not surprised that the Cowboys ultimately decided part ways with such a divisive and controvesial figure. The addition of Owens to the market was the highlight of a busy first week of free agency, but there also were many other events that made the beginning of the 2009 business season a revealing one in terms of what some teams are really thinking.
» One team built up a surplus of talent at a specific position group, creating some options on defense.
» Readjusting your free-agent board and preparing to go after the second wave of players is now a priority.
» Which players are now on the launching pad to be next week's free-agent signees?
» Knowing when the market makes a turn is critical. For example, the top six cornerbacks to receive a contract averaged 4.5 years, $37 million and $19 million guaranteed. Many good cornerbacks remain on the market, but I would be surprised if any of them can get a deal with that kind of average after seeing Drayton Florence recently sign with the Buffalo Bills for two years and $6.6 million.
Some teams have thus far been intentionally quiet -- they either don't have the salary cap space to play the free agency game or are disenchanted with the idea of chasing other teams' players -- and are poised to make a move in the coming week. The Jacksonville Jaguars come to mind, as they sit with enough cap space to be active, but are still stinging from last year's signing of WR Jerry Porter and Florence, both of whom have already been released.
Chicago Bears fans seem more nervous than frustrated by their team's behavior in free agency. On their list of moves they would like to have seen by now is a big-time quarterback signed or traded for, a wide receiver like T.J. Houshmandzadeh, an offensive tackle that they could rely on (not a guy like Frank Omiyale that has a limited number of starts on his resume) and a defensive tackle like Albert Haynesworth (or even a guy like Chris Canty, who could potentially play multiple positions on the defensive line). I trust that Bears GM Jerry Angelo has a plan, but that's harder for Bears fans to accept after a week of relative inactivity.
1. These teams have helped themselves
Spending money doesn't necessarily mean getting better as a football team. I have been part of teams that have attempted to buy a championship during free agency only to find out very quickly that it doesn't work. Smart spending on a few key players can finish off a project that brings great results.
Outside of CB Andre Goodman and S Brian Dawkins, the Broncos signed 10 new players for very little guaranteed money and are well on their way to changing the face of their roster. They still have a long way to go if they want to convert their defense to a 3-4, but they're off to a good start overall.
The New York Giants, already a very good team, have bolstered their defensive roster with the signings of Canty and DT Rocky Bernard.
Whether you like the deal or not (I don't), the signing of Haynesworth will help the Redskins on the field, but the release of DE Jason Taylor days later sprung a leak on the defense which now has to be repaired. The Jets found a much needed defensive leader in LB Bart Scott and an underrated safety in Jim Leonhard. Both will go a long way towards helping Rex Ryan's defense.
2. These teams have taken a hit
We often spend lots of time talking about the players signed by new teams and not enough on the teams they left. The teams that jumped out at me are Atlanta, Baltimore, Seattle, and Cincinnati.
The Falcons had a great year in 2008 and played good defense with a group that struggled in years past. But the loss of CB Domonique Foxworth to the Ravens, and linebackers Keith Brooking and Michael Boley to the Cowboys and Giants, respectively, will hurt. It means the club has work to do just to get back to where they were, let alone move forward. Falcons fans are struggling to accept their team's inactivity, but that may change in the coming weeks.
Baltimore's answer to the loss of center Jason Brown is Matt Birk, which is okay for the short term but the loss of Scott and Leonhard will be tough to recover from next season.
3. Make them uncomfortable and get their attention
Have you noticed how a number of new regimes around the NFL seem to be making their players uncomfortable? I spent an offseason with Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick when they came to the New York Jets and they were masters of getting the attention of their players by taking them out of their comfort zone.
It isn't surprising to me that their disciples -- Scott Pioli, Eric Mangini and Josh McDaniels -- are doing the very same thing. Pioli is sending a message to the veterans on his team by not wasting time letting players like Brian Waters come to his office to spell out a case to be traded or released. Mangini has been in Cleveland less than two months, and already DT Shaun Rogers is reported to be asking for his release. But before Mangini addressed that issue, he went ahead and traded TE Kellen Winslow, and mentioned that he may be luke warm about QB Brady Quinn. Players in Cleveland are uncomfortable to say the least. They can probably relate to those players in Denver, where McDaniels took some players out of their comfort zone when it got out that Jay Cutler might have been on the trade block for a short period of time.
Parcells and Belichick taught these men how to start a new project in the NFL. The first message to the players is, 'I'm not your friend. I will run this team the way I want, not the way you want.'
4. That Giants front four
The New York Giants have loaded up their defensive line with the signing of Canty and Bernard, which has led to much speculation about what they might do with so many quality players. They could very well use two different fronts based on run or pass situations, with someone like Justin Tuck playing in all situations. The run front could consist of Canty, Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield and Bernard. The personnel on passing downs could be scary for opposing teams if Osi Umenyiora, Tuck, Jay Alford and Mathias Kiwanuka jog out on the field fresh and ready to go.
The next reality is that the Giants will not be held hostage by players in need of a new contract or a contract extension. They have five solid defensive tackles and four players who can play defensive end. Robbins' and Cofield's deals expire in 2009, Kiwanuka's and Alford's in 2010.
Finally, the Giants have tradable players if they come across a deal that helps the team. Though, it is always a delicate subject when players find out they are trade bait.
5. On the launch pad
Twenty three of my top 25 unrestricted free agents signed new deals by the end of the first week. Teams had identified who they wanted and put the right kind of money on the table to get a signature on a contract. The market changes in the second week as prices will come down for most of the remaining players. For that reason, the signings slow down as players and agents take time to realize the climate has changed. The next wave of players to get a contract will likely include OT Khalif Barnes, CB Leigh Bodden, TE L.J. Smith, QB Byron Leftwich, LB Kevin Burnett, and OT Mark Tauscher.
6. Is it time to call Arizona?
Now that the Cardinals have ponied up for Kurt Warner to stay in Arizona, it may be time to call the club about trading for Matt Leinart. Of course, the team will say he's not available and that he's the future of the franchise. But with three years left on his contract and the third year close to a $15 million cap charge, it may be time to entertain some calls. Leinart's next two years on his contract call for salaries of $1.1 million and $2.48 million, respectively, before it jumps to $7.36 million and a $5.5 million roster bonus in 2011.
Finding a cheap backup for Warner won't be a problem with all the quarterbacks still floating around, though finding a trade partner for the Cardinals and Leinart is more complicated. But as one GM told me, 'If Cassel, who could not beat out Leinart in college, could drum up a top pick in the second round with a $14.6 million one-year salary, I'm sure some team would look at Leinart as a guy they might give something substantial for.'
Do you think one of the following teams should at least call and find out Leinart's availability? Buffalo, Carolina, Chicago, Detroit, the Jets, San Francisco or Tampa Bay all should think about making a call to Arizona. Leinart is hungry to play, Warner is not coming off the field, and the contract says now is the time.