We recapped the free agency period in the AFC last week, choosing some winners and losers along the way. Upset fans nominated me to be included in the "loser" category, but the show will go on. Let's break down the NFC:
Cornerback Bradley Fletcher, safety Patrick Chung, tight end James Casey, defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, safety Kenny Phillips and defensive end Connor Barwin all are young players who have shown they can produce at the NFL level. But they were cheap for a variety of reasons. (Even Barwin's "$36 million" contract has just $8 million guaranteed in the first two years.)
Then again, a lot of these players have to produce; the secondary essentially is all new. But you have a better chance of hitting some home runs if you take a lot of smart swings.
Detroit Lions: All of their free-agent signings made perfect sense. Safety Glover Quin fits Detroit as a much-needed safety who can cover. Running back Reggie Bush replaces Jahvid Best in offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's offense beautifully. The Lions will play to Bush's strengths. Jason Jones, who played under Jim Schwartz when he was with the Tennessee Titans, can be a disruptive pass rusher.
The Lions held firm on prices with their own players. Offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus got paid too much elsewhere, but Detroit brought back cornerback Chris Houston and safety Louis Delmas at fair numbers. The Lions didn't try to rehabilitate Titus Young. I love this Lions offseason and like them to bounce back in 2013.
Atlanta Falcons: They wanted to keep their own quality starters. They did it, while throwing in Steven Jackson and probably Osi Umenyiora at cheap prices. I didn't expect offensive tackle Sam Baker, safety William Moore and future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez all to be back in Atlanta. There's still a chance the Falcons hold on to cornerback Brent Grimes, too. Umenyiora would be a younger upgrade from John Abraham.
NFC West arms race update
On the plus side: The 49ers pilfered valuable draft picks for Smith, while picking up wide receiver Anquan Boldin and defensive end Glenn Dorsey. Boldin is tough as nails, but he doesn't bring outside speed this offense lacks. This still is a loaded roster. I have great faith in the front office to draft well and coach Jim Harbaugh to develop, but it's hard to argue that the depth chart took a small hit this offseason.
St. Louis Rams:Martellus Bennett for $5.2 million guaranteed or even Dustin Keller for $3.25 million were much better deals than the Rams giving Jared Cook $19 million guaranteed. Offensive tackle Jake Long is the ultimate boom-or-bust signing. It could be fantastic or a waste of money. Don't overlook that some talent left an already shaky offense (Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson).
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New Orleans Saints: The Saints weren't playing with a full deck this offseason, but their moves still were uninspiring. They continue to hold on to Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith despite changing defenses. Even at reduced prices, the Saints were better off swallowing their salary-cap-hit medicine and moving on. The team is lacking a left tackle with Jermon Bushrod going to the Chicago Bears, and it's still hard to find where their pass rush is coming from. The one big positive: Cornerback Keenan Lewis was a nice signing.
Arizona Cardinals: A lot of movement, signifying little. The Cardinals swapped cornerback Greg Toler for Antoine Cason. They swapped Beanie Wells for Rashard Mendenhall at running back. (Worth a shot.) They switched Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes for Yeremiah Bell at safety. Drew Stanton is the projected Week 1 starting quarterback. He's cheaper than Kevin Kolb, but is he an upgrade? Matt Shaughnessy was a worthwhile one-year gamble. There are other similar moves, but you get the idea. It's hard to see this team competing in a loaded NFC West.
Minnesota Vikings: Going from Percy Harvin to Greg Jennings was a downgrade in all respects on the field, especially when Jennings didn't exactly come at the expected discount rate. Still, the Vikings did well to get valuable picks for Harvin, and they re-signed many of their key players: offensive tackle Phil Loadholt, linebacker Erin Henderson and fullback Jerome Felton.
Chicago Bears: The Bears were smart to replace Brian Urlacher with D.J. Williams. It was time to move on. They get a "mixed" grade here because only one of their two big moves made sense. Tight end Martellus Bennett can block and catch. He cost less than $6 million guaranteed, a great bargain. Jermon Bushrod upgrades the left tackle position, but the Bears are paying an average starter a huge signing bonus because they were desperate. That's how you make big mistakes in free agency.
In the penalty box
Washington Redskins: This wasn't a normal offseason for owner Dan Snyder or his division rival in Dallas. The Redskins and Cowboys still were burning off time paying salary-cap penalties for infractions committed during the uncapped season. Cutting DeAngelo Hall made sense, and the Redskins didn't lose anyone particularly valuable. Tight end Fred Davis would be nice to bring back.
Dallas Cowboys: Only two teams haven't signed a free agent from another roster so far. The Green Bay Packers make sense. The Cowboys, well, this is new. Jerry Jones continues to spend money in odd places. Overpaying to keep Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff and Doug Free shows once again that Jones struggles to self-scout. The Cowboys are so cap-strapped that they are hosting free agents they can't sign.
On a positive note, the best player the Cowboys lost was outside linebacker Victor Butler. There are enough pieces in place to contend.
The Hurney box
Carolina Panthers: New GM Dave Gettleman is handcuffed by former GM Marty Hurney's mistakes, but at least there weren't mass firings like many expected. DeAngelo Williams and Jon Beason remain on the Panthers' roster. There's just not a lot else to say about a team on which the most significant pickup was, um, Ted Ginn Jr. (I can hear the Mike Mitchell fans out there grumbling.)
Doing what they do
New York Giants: The Giants are rarely big free-agent spenders. They let Martellus Bennett, Kenny Phillips and Osi Umenyiora walk away. GM Jerry Reese rarely is wrong when it comes to self-scouting. The Giants picked up Brandon Myers, who probably will produce just like Kevin Boss, Bennett and Jake Ballard did. New York doesn't have a hard time getting tight end production for cheap.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Losing Michael Bennett hurts, but the Bucs signed one of my favorite fliers in former New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas. Safety Dashon Goldson got huge money, but he upgrades a position of need for Tampa Bay. The Bucs get an incomplete because a potential trade for Darrelle Revis hangs over everything. My gut feeling: A huge contract and multiple high draft picks is too much to give up for a cornerback who's coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, even if it's Revis.