The Schein Nine

Under-the-radar free agency coups: Kudos to Redskins, Ravens

I don't think it is hyperbole to say we just experienced the most intriguing, eye-popping and zaniest opening seven days of a new league year in NFL history. Consider the unprecedented big-name player-for-player trades, in addition to the big-ticket free agency moves. It's been incredible.

But with all this attention-grabbing, Twitter-breaking action taking place, a number of rock-solid moves have been lost in the shuffle.

Here are my favorite under-the-radar coups, Schein Nine style:

1) Washington Redskins scoop up Terrance Knighton on the cheap.

The Washington Redskins got the steal of the offseason. This is not a joke. This is not a drill, people. The 'Skins, known for their wild-spending ways, stayed cool and calm and made the best low-budget move of all, signing Knighton to a one-year, $4 million deal.

"Pot Roast" is a legit run-stuffer. Some think he's out of shape. That's nonsense. Knighton is a big boy who wears his weight well and is an immovable object you must account for in the middle. And Knighton will be motivated to perform, considering he's due to hit free agency again next offseason.

It doesn't take long to realize that run defense is essential in this NFC East. I love Chip Kelly's signings of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews, with the former acquisition demoralizing the rival Cowboys. Even so, Dallas still boasts an imposing offensive line that will blow open running lanes for whoever carries the ball. And, as we'll discuss a bit further down this column, the Giants suddenly boast a nice collection of runners.

Long story short: Washington must stop the run in 2015.

That's why I love this pickup. Credit new general manager Scot McCloughan for bringing a shrewdness to Redskins free agency.

2) Three solid pickups by Oakland Raiders.

As one AFC general manager told me via text, "The run defense in Oakland is vastly improved."

Dan Williams is a solid defensive tackle -- this acquisition helps shore up a weakness. And I fully applaud the addition of Curtis Lofton, a steady tackling machine who was only available because of the Saints' omnipresent cap issues. Lofton was a leader in New Orleans, and the Raiders are in desperate need of veteran leadership. He will be a great influence on young linebackers Khalil Mack and Sio Moore.

Lastly, I've always felt Roy Helu is an effective all-around back, a guy who can be used on first/second down, as well as in the passing game. A two-year, $4 million deal? Sounds good to me.

Entering free agency, Raider Nation had high expectations -- and understandably so, given the team's cap room and extensive list of needs. No, Oakland did not make the massive splash many anticipated. No Ndamukong Suh. No Randall Cobb. No Julius Thomas. And that hurts. BUT, I do think the Raiders got better with the trio detailed above.

3) Arizona Cardinals pilfer Mike Iupati from San Francisco 49ers.

Arizona strengthened its offensive line while weakening that of a division rival when general manager Steve Keim plucked Iupati away from San Francisco. The offensive guard didn't come cheap, signing a five-year contract that's reportedly worth up to $40 million, but this guy's a fantastic run blocker who is extremely physical and reliable. And most importantly, he's a major upgrade for an Arizona team that's looking to establish itself as a true Super Bowl contender.

4) Tennessee Titans add Brian Orakpo, retain Derrick Morgan.

The Titans are the most anonymous team in the NFL. Can you name five Titans? Don't be ashamed that the answer is no.

Tennessee needs players.

Insert three-time Pro Bowler Brian Orakpo.

I'm all about this surprise signing by the Titans. Yes, Orakpo's been hurt, but that's the only reason he was available to Tennessee in the first place. When healthy, Orakpo is a versatile terror. He can play defensive end and outside linebacker -- in any scheme. He's a flat-out weapon, a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. This move has plenty of upside.

And while we're talking pass rushers ...

I thought it was important for Tennessee to hold on to Derrick Morgan. The former first-round pick hasn't lived up to expectations, but he's flashed ability when it comes to getting to the quarterback. New assistant Dick LeBeau will help develop the 26-year-old. I think Morgan can still hit his stride in Nashville.

5) Green Bay Packers keep Bryan Bulaga in the building.

Randall Cobb understandably got the headlines, but Aaron Rodgers needed two buddies to re-sign with Green Bay to keep this fine band together.

Bulaga is a steady presence and a leader for the Packers' offensive line. Green Bay's O-line had been much-maligned in previous years, but the unit was not a weak link at all in 2014. In a related story, Aaron Rodgers was the league MVP.

6) Orlando Franklin fills hole up front for San Diego Chargers.

I'm a big fan of this move -- and of Chargers GM Tom Telesco in general. Scoring an offensive guard won't generate a whole lot of buzz, but it will help win games.

This was an area of need, and Franklin can play. And just like the Cards did in pilfering Iupati from the Niners, Telesco took away Franklin from the rival Broncos.

7) Shane Vereen rounds out New York Giants' suddenly-stout backfield.

Vereen is a fantastic receiver out of the backfield, making him a nice new weapon for Eli Manning. Also, Vereen brings a championship pedigree from New England. And now the Giants have an RB trio of Vereen, Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams -- that's a pretty strong and versatile backfield for Tom Coughlin and Co. to work with.

8) Breakout stud Justin Forsett stays with Baltimore Ravens.

This really goes under the radar because Forsett still isn't a big name, despite finishing fifth in the NFL in rushing last season. But after Forsett's 1,266-yard breakout, bringing him back to Charm City was a necessity.

I placed a vote for Forsett as Comeback Player of the Year in 2014, and I don't expect him to be a one-hit wonder.

9) Jacksonville Jaguars get Blake Bortles a new toy: Julius Thomas.

Wait, Thomas was undoubtedly a big-name free agent, so how can he be under the radar?

Well, Thomas officially signed with the Jags on Tuesday ... shortly after the Seahawks rocked the NFL by trading for Jimmy Graham. Thus, Thomas wasn't even the most noteworthy tight end to change locations that afternoon.

When the always excitable Gus Bradley joined me last Friday on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," the Jaguars coach rightly couldn't contain his enthusiasm for Thomas -- and the domino effect he'll have on Blake Bortles. Yes, the 2015 Jaguars need to see vast improvement from their second-year quarterback. That's what makes Thomas worth every penny.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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