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Rules Of Thumb, Free Agency Edition
Authored by Jeff Risdon - 17th March, 2008 - 6:06 pm

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Thumbs Up

Seattle Seahawks: The NFC West champs went a long way towards ensuring they repeat in that capacity and have better odds at advancing deeper in the playoffs with the moves they?ve made. It flew way under the radar, but Mike Holmgren & Co. scored a key upgrade at G by bringing in Mike Wahle, unexpectedly cut from the Panthers. He?s had health issues, but even at 80% of his peak he represents a major upgrade in run blocking and attitude, the two biggest weaknesses on the offense. Newly signed RB's Julius Jones and TJ Duckett certainly appreciate the move, as well as the extension given to the other G. Sean Locklear. That thunder/lightning infusion into the ground game means Seattle can part ways with Shaun Alexander, getting younger and more versatile in the process. They parted with talented but injury-plagued WR DJ Hackett and DT Chuck Darby, but the only significant loss was K Josh Brown to the division rival Rams.

Cleveland Browns: GM Phil Savage made several moves that should prevent the Browns from regressing from their surprising 10-6 record. Locking up restricted free agent QB Derek Anderson was a strong first step, and his three year deal gives both parties flexibility next summer if things aren?t working out. Bringing back RB Jamal Lewis keeps the potent ground game intact, and Lewis agreed to a cap-friendly deal despite the fact he held all the leverage on the Browns, who have next to nothing in reserve at the position. It cost them their 2nd and 3rd round draft picks, but the Browns overhauled the weakest part of the team by bringing in Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams on the defensive line. Williams is a young, active difference maker at end, a position that has been a chronic sore point for the Browns. Rogers has his issues and detractors, but I?ve seen him absolutely dominate games for the Lions with significantly less around him. If you don?t double team Rogers he?ll make a play in the backfield every snap, so long as he?s in good condition, and Romeo Crennel understands how to keep guys fresh. But perhaps the best move was somehow finding cap room (thanks Willie McGinest and Andra Davis!) to bring in WR Donte Stallworth. Like Rogers, he?s had his health and attitude issues, but when you consider the guy he?s essentially replacing (Tim Carter) pulled in just 8 catches in 2007, Stallworth is a major upgrade in overall talent and has experience playing off a great WR like Braylon Edwards on the other side.

Other moves I like:

- Rams signing G Jacob Bell and K Josh Brown

- 49ers signing WR Bryant Johnson, RB Deshaun Foster, and LB Dontarrious Thomas to affordable short-term deals

- Patriots bringing back WR Randy Moss

- Falcons signing RB Michael Turner

- Dolphins signing QB Josh McCown, G Justin Smiley, and WR Ernest Wilford--all of whom are better than most people think

- Lions signing Brian Kelly and importing Leigh Bodden. Both guys will start at CB and both are better than the guys they are replacing.

- Buffalo bringing in DTs Spencer Johnson and Marcus Stroud, though they overpaid for LB Kavika Mitchell

Thumbs Down

Oakland Raiders: Al Davis continued his long-running habit of overpaying free agents fresh off Super Bowl wins. Gibril Wilson is an adequate starter at best, but he?s now among the 5 highest paid safeties in the game thanks to Davis, who also imported former Giants DT William Joseph. Locking up DT Tommy Kelly is good for the team, but they paid at least $10M over market value to do so. Ditto with the $55M signing of Javon Walker, who has been more of an injury-plagued headache than the #1 WR the Packers and Broncos have readily parted ways with. But the most inexplicable move was paying $2M to WR Drew Carter, who failed every season to be the capable #3 WR the Panthers desperately needed him to be. Are the Raiders better now? Potentially. Are they still among the 5 worst teams in the NFL? Almost certainly. That?s not getting bang for your buck. They?re spared from the ?sucking? label by the Deangelo Hall deal, so long as they lock up Asomugha long-term as well.

Chicago Bears: I?ll give GM Jerry Angelo a pass on not upgrading the dreadful QB position in free agency, because doing so would have cost more than any potential benefit would merit. But they missed out on all the first and second tier running backs, wide receivers, and offensive linemen. When your signature signees are Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd, two guys who might combine for 35 catches the rest of their careers, and still haven?t solved any of the most critical problems, that is not the sign of a good offseason. At least they locked up Lance Briggs for less than they offered a year ago. Losing special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo hurts too.

Other moves I don?t like:

- Carolina overpaying to keep Travelle Wharton and sticking the franchise tag on Jordan Gross. Gross is the better lineman and almost certainly won?t be back after 2008.

- Tennessee suffering a large net loss of talent, primarily on defense

- Houston signing CB Jacques Reeves for 4yrs/$20M

- Philadelphia putting the franchise tag on TE LJ Smith. I?m not completely sold on the Asante Samuel signing either

Thumbs Twiddling

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The team with the most cap $$ to spend didn?t make any huge splashes, for better and worse. Stealing chronically underrated C Jeff Faine from the division rival Saints might wind up being the best move of the offseason--he?s a major upgrade and it hurts their primary competitor in the process. I like the idea of bringing back RB Warrick Dunn, though I wonder how much he has left to offer on the field. But trading for Brian Griese, who becomes the 6th QB on the roster? Or bringing in Antonio Bryant, a very talented but supremely problematic WR? They got worse at TE in replacing Anthony Becht with Ben Troupe and haven?t yet replaced CB Brian Kelly, still a very capable nickel back. They?ve also loaded up on chronically injured or underachieving disappointments like LB Teddy Lehman and DT Jimmy Wilkerson. They?re probably not worse, but I?m not sure they?re much better either, and they had a chance to really improve.

Minnesota Vikings: The major move was Bernard Berrian, who will get $42M over 6 years to fill the chasm that has been the #1 WR slot since Randy Moss left town. If he can develop chemistry with QB Tarvaris Jackson and consistently catch the ball, the Vikings got themselves the field stretching wideout they sorely needed. They also brought in RB/FB Thomas Tapeh, a former Golden Gopher who fits well with their offense and adequately replaces the departed Tony Richardson. The questions come from the elephant in the room, the QB position. By not aggressively pursuing Derek Anderson or Sage Rosenfels, the Vikings showed their belief that Jackson can lead them on a playoff run. If it works out, they?re smart for their trust and foresight. But if they fall short again thanks to Jackson?s spotty accuracy and iffy decision making, the drool of remorse will leave a nasty stain on the pillow of regret. Losing S Dwight Smith and DT Spencer Johnson will hurt, but getting even a measly 6th rounder for el busto WR Troy Williamson has to count for something positive.

Thumbs Sucking

New York Jets: A year ago many folks thought the 49ers bought themselves a playoff berth by shelling out huge $$ to plug holes with free agents. Apparently the Jets management didn?t learn the lesson that sent San Francisco back to the dregs of the league. G Alan Faneca is indeed a huge upgrade, and I believe he still has several good years in him. But much like the 49ers and Nate Clements, the biggest name overshadows some real lousy signings. Calvin Pace parlayed three years of disappointment and about 10 good games last season into $42M, and did so playing opposite a Pro Bowler who took attention away from him and often lined up behind another Pro Bowler. He won?t find similarly talented mates to help him in the New Jersey swampland. Damien Woody played his way to the bench in Detroit, consistently home of one of the worst OLs in football, yet the Jets outbid themselves to give an aging G with chronic weight issues $25M to play RT. To be fair, Woody did play pretty well at RT in the last few games of 2007. But if you open the other eye, you see why: he?s 30 years old and deservedly lost his job on a terrible team, but he?s also a bright guy who saw that making a strong showing at RT was his last chance to ever get another rich contract. Washington Wizards fans call this ?Lorenzo Williams disease?. For a team that steadfastly refused to cough up $1M to respected team leader Pete Kendall a year ago, the sudden spending spree cannot sit well in the locker room with the veterans. They bailed out the Panthers by trading two picks for Kris Jenkins, a talented but chronically disgruntled, overweight DT who was likely to be cut. Once again, coach Eric Mangini?s stubborn adherence to the 3-4 defense cost them talented but misfit players (Jon Vilma, Victor Hobson, Brad Kassell) that ravages depth and special teams.

Lance Briggs: A year ago Briggs and his agent Drew Rosenhaus whined and cried injustice when the Bears applied the franchise tag to Briggs. Rosenhaus openly talked of forcing a trade and of Briggs never playing another down for the Bears. After the threatened holdout never materialized, Briggs went out and played his way back to the Pro Bowl despite a decline in talent around him. But a funny thing happened to Briggs on the way to the bank--teams interpreted Briggs as ?difficult? and are always looking for ways to stick it to Rosenhaus, who is as liked in NFL front offices as Dick Cheney is in Basra. Briggs wound up signing for 6 years and $36M, or about $8M less than the Bears purportedly offered him prior to the franchise tag. The worst part? Briggs is still a Chicago Bear. There is enough egg on his face to feed all the panhandlers in the Loop for months. The Bears are playing with fire by bringing him back, but Briggs showed professionalism last year and is widely regarded as a decent person. He just made an incredibly poor business decision and got hoodwinked by his snake charmer agent.

Jeff.Risdon@RealGM.com