Although the free-agent market is limited, the action involving player movement has still been fast-paced and intense. Part of that is because the free agents who were available -- Chester Taylor, Leigh Bodden, Kyle Vanden Bosch, for instance -- are the types of players who would have drawn attention, regardless of circumstances, because they are complements to what's already in place. That is what most team managers will tell you free agency is about.
Dunn gets both sides
They might have come at a cheaper ticket had guys such as Owen Daniels, Ray Edwards, Shawne Merriman, Vincent Jackson and others been available, but the sticky labor situation and uncapped 2010 season caused those players to be restricted free agents, giving their current teams the right to match any outside offer.
Even a big-name signing such as Julius Peppers can't be viewed as Chicago's franchise-salvaging acquisition. Peppers is a great, recognizable player. But as a defensive end he can't routinely impact the game in the same manner as a quarterback or even a running back. The Bears have a lot of other parts that need to be better -- especially on offense -- and if that happens, the Peppers addition will look even better than it does now.
Let's examine some of the potential landscape-altering/shaping player moves (including trades and player releases) that have happened since March 5, as well as look at some other things that could be happening.
Chicago Bears: Desperate times call for desperate measures. General manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith are on the hot seat, and signing Peppers and Taylor were solid moves. The Bears have to get after the quarterbacks in their division, and Peppers can do it from either side. He is going to be motivated to prove himself in the move from Carolina, where he didn't want to be.
Despite those signings, the Bears will go as quarterback Jay Cutler goes. Taylor will give him an additional option along with Matt Forte, but the offensive line and receiving corps better improve or everything Chicago invested to get Cutler (two first-round picks -- one this season) and Peppers ($40 million guaranteed) will cause heads to roll.
Carolina Panthers: The Panthers expected to lose Peppers, so guess what position they're targeting in the draft? I spoke with someone in the organization at the NFL Scouting Combine, and they're not sure what they have in his replacement, Everett Brown, who was serviceable in spot duty as a pass-rushing rookie. The surprise of the initial days of free agency was the release of QB Jake Delhomme. Delhomme was done as the starter -- he had to be -- but to burn $12.5 million when they could have at least kept him as a backup was surprising.
If history is a teacher, the Panthers won't sign anyone to really challenge new starter Matt Moore, just like they never really brought anyone in to challenge Delhomme. This is a team to watch. Very few people, especially coaches, are on the hook beyond this season. The Panthers could be on the verge of being totally reconstructed for 2011.
Atlanta Falcons: Here's a little nugget about the free-agent signing of Dunta Robinson to a six-year, $57 million deal($22.5 guaranteed). The Falcons seriously considered drafting him in 2004 when they had the eighth overall pick. Instead, they took DeAngelo Hall, who has since played for Oakland and now Washington. They are hoping to recoup on passing on Robinson, who was selected 10th overall by Houston six years ago. I spoke to some scouts who say Robinson doesn't run nearly as well as he did before wrecking his knee in 2007. Even so, he is better than anything Atlanta has on its roster.
Minnesota Vikings: Losing Taylor could prove a lot more painful than it seems right now. Taylor was popular in the locker room and was a huge part of the Vikings' third-down success. Minnesota could give young backups Albert Young and Ian Johnson, who they like, a chance. I've been told they are looking hard at running backs with their first-round pick. Think Cal's Jahvid Best wouldn't be a nice addition to "All Day" Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin as weapons?
Jacksonville Jaguars: The signing of defensive end Aaron Kampman so soon into free agency was surprising since he tore his ACL just a few months ago. Kampman is a very good player who had the misfortune of being miscast as an outside linebacker in Green Bay's revamped 3-4 defense last season. He should be better in Jacksonville's 4-3 front, but the question is, how soon? The team is saying he'll be ready for training camp, but when will he return to his true form? The answer might not come until later into the season -- and that's if he doesn't get nicked or have a setback. Kampman got $11 million guaranteed, but I have been told he has to hit certain triggers for some of those guarantees to kick in and that the team has protected itself financially in case Kampman gets hurt or is limited.
Seattle Seahawks: I like the flirtation with restricted free-agent wide receiver Brandon Marshall. It could cost the Seahawks the No. 6 overall pick if they sign Marshall to an offer sheet and the Broncos don't match, but they have another first-round pick at No. 14. Sure, Marshall could be a problem, but he also could add a ton to an offense you know coach Pete Carroll is eventually going to make explosive and diverse. It's an expensive gamble, but NFC West kingpins Arizona are vulnerable and adding Marshall could elevate Seattle.
Denver Broncos: If the Broncos lose Marshall, they'll have gained compensation. Whatever that is, it better work. The potential of losing Cutler and Marshall in back-to-back offseasons has some players wondering what the outcome will be. Nobody is second-guessing anything right now, I've been told, but losing that type of talent and not parlaying it into wins could lead to some major head-scratching.
Miami Dolphins:Karlos Dansby isn't a great player, but he's the type of player the Dolphins need at inside linebacker. He's a fast, three-down linebacker and can cover a lot of ground. That's a perfect combination in a division where two of the three opposing quarterbacks are young (Trent Edwards and Mark Sanchez) and like to check down passes to tight ends and running backs.
Baltimore Ravens: The trade for receiver Anquan Boldin is the best move this offseason. Though he's not a game breaker on the outside, he is a reliable yards-after-catch receiver who will elevate other players' games. He is now Baltimore's offensive version of Ray Lewis with his style of play, and he will be motivated to be even better playing outside of Larry Fitzgerald's shadow. Boldin won't be the next Alvin Harper.
Arizona Cardinals: Losing Boldin, Dansby and safety Antrel Rolle (to the Giants) is tough on top of the retirement of Kurt Warner. That's a whole lot of leadership and experience out the door. It will be determined if safety Kerry Rhodes, acquired from the Jets, adds to the secondary. The defense can't be much worse than it was in the postseason. The Cards are undergoing a pretty serious personality change, and drafting well is going to be hugely important.
L.T., T.O., Brian Westbrook, Darren Sharper: Either Sharper or Terrell Owens will be the first of this seasoned group to sign. I can definitely foresee Owens in Cincinnati, and I think he would be productive there. Yes, he and Chad Ochocinco will be outrageous, but these are guys who haven't gotten in trouble and, with a solid running game, can make life much more difficult for other teams to defend.