Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The NFL's free-agent period began four
weeks ago, and nearly all of the impact players have signed contracts by now.
With the draft still a couple of weeks away, let's take a look at teams that
were the biggest winners and losers so far in free agency.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: When a team enters the free-agent period reportedly more
than $60 million under the NFL salary cap, it's easy to attract top players
with big contracts and signing bonuses. It's not such a great accomplishment
that Tampa Bay was able to outspend teams for top talent, but the Bucs were
able to zero in on a couple of needs and significantly improve their team.
Former Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson has come aboard as the Bucs' new
No. 1 receiver. While Mike Williams was disappointing as last year's No. 1
receiver, he is likely to be one of the league's better No. 2 guys this season.
Along with tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., they will give quarterback Josh
Freeman an excellent group of targets.
With the signing of ex-Saints guard Carl Nicks, Tampa Bay now boasts three Pro
Bowl players on its offensive line (Davin Joseph and Donald Penn are the
others). That should help bolster a running game that took a step back last
year. If Tampa Bay drafts Alabama running back Trent Richardson, which is
certainly a possibility, this could quickly become one of the league's most
With legal problems making cornerback Aqib Talib's future cloudy, Tampa Bay
signed ex-Lions corner Eric Wright and also re-signed Ronde Barber. If the Bucs
don't draft Richardson, their likely first-round target would be LSU cornerback
Morris Claiborne, who could benefit from a year of Barber's tutelage before
becoming the Bucs' No. 1 corner for years to come.
On Saturday, Tampa Bay made another shrewd signing, adding Amobi Okoye to their
defensive tackle rotation for one year, $2 million. He's only 24 and has
Denver Broncos: OK, this ranking is based almost exclusively on the addition of
one player. However, that player - Peyton Manning - might be enough to turn an
8-8 Broncos team into one of the AFC's top contenders.
Sure, there are injury risks in signing Manning, who has had four neck
surgeries and hasn't played since a Jan. 8, 2011 playoff loss to the New York
Jets. If he's healthy enough to play, though, the expectation is that he'd
represent an enormous upgrade over Tim Tebow. Sure, the Broncos are unlikely to
repeat their No. 1 NFL rank in rushing, but they might double their passing
output. Manning also makes the players around him better. If Demaryius Thomas
and Eric Decker looked like promising receivers with Tebow throwing to them,
just watch what they'll do with Manning throwing passes their way.
Manning loves to use his tight ends, and the Broncos also added an old friend
in ex-Colt Jacob Tamme and former Texan Joel Dreessen to fortify that position.
Tracy Porter, the former Saints cornerback, was a great value signing at one
year for $4 million.
Buffalo Bills: Talk about turning a weakness into a strength. The Bills had
extreme difficulty putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks last season,
finishing with just 29 sacks. If you don't count their one aberration - a 10-
sack game against the Redskins - the Bills had just 19 combined sacks in their
other 15 games.
New defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt has decided to switch the Bills from a
3-4 to a 4-3 defense, intensifying the search for two new defensive ends with
pass rushing skills. Enter Mario Williams, whom the Bills have rewarded with
the richest contract ever given to a defensive player. If he can stay healthy,
Williams would be a lock for double-digit sacks. Last year, no Bills player
managed more than 5.5 sacks.
A few days after the Williams signing, Buffalo also added former Patriots
defensive end Mark Anderson, who registered 10 sacks last season. Adding those
bookends - as well as re-signing top receiver Stevie Johnson - will enable the
Bills to concentrate on other areas (such as left tackle, since Demetress Bell,
who signed with the Eagles, will have to be replaced) in the draft.
Washington Redskins: Since big-spending Daniel Snyder has owned the team, the
Redskins have often won the offseason Super Bowl. Those big-ticket signings for
the most part, though, have not panned out for Washington.
This offseason should work out a lot differently than the others have for the
Redskins, however. This time, instead of paying big money for former greats
that are a little past their prime, Washington traded up for the No. 2 pick in
the draft and will build around Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert
The Redskins also signed a pair of young, rising wide receivers to grow with
Griffin in the offense. Pierre Garcon (Colts) and Josh Morgan (49ers) are
youthful and with upside, and they will bring some life to what had been a blah
wide receiver group. Washington also re-signed tight end Fred Davis, so Griffin
will have decent weapons at his disposal.
Washington also added some needed depth at cornerback by signing ex-Viking
Cedric Griffin, and took a chance on former Pro Bowl player Brandon Meriweather
to revive his career as the replacement for oft-injured LaRon Landy, who signed
with the Jets.
Baltimore Ravens: The offseason wasn't a complete loss for the Ravens, who
franchised running back Ray Rice and locked up one of the league's best young
cornerbacks, Ladarius Webb, for six years. Still, a team that finished a Lee
Evans drop and a Billy Cundiff hooked field goal attempt away from getting to
the Super Bowl, has come away weaker in some spots.
Standout guard Ben Grubbs was lost to the Saints. Underrated linebacker Jarret
Johnson signed with the Chargers. Run-stopping defensive lineman Cory Redding
went to the Colts.
Baltimore could still use a left tackle, and it could stand to get younger at
linebacker and in the secondary. This is going to be an important draft for the
Ravens if they are to remain one of the AFC's top three teams.
Houston Texans: It's possible that the Texans would have been the AFC's Super
Bowl team had Matt Schaub not been injured and forced to miss the last six
regular-season games and the playoffs. Instead of taking another step forward
this offseason, Houston appears to have taken a slight step back.
The Texans probably had to let Mario Williams go. They couldn't really afford
to compete with the Bills' lucrative offer, and he wasn't really the best fit
in Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense, anyway. But was it really necessary to send
tackling machine DeMeco Ryans to the Eagles for a mere fourth-round draft pick?
Was it really a great idea to cut dependable right tackle Eric Winston, who was
quickly scooped up by the Chiefs? Also, cornerback Jason Allen, who was solid
in 2011, signed with the Bengals.
At least the Texans locked up franchise running back Arian Foster, but they did
nothing to fill their need at wide receiver, while also creating a new need at
Miami Dolphins: The offseason began with a failed pursuit of Peyton Manning.
Early on, the Dolphins also sent their best offensive weapon, wide receiver
Brandon Marshall, to the Bears in exchange for just two third-round draft
The quest for a quarterback netted only David Garrard, who sat out the 2011
season. The team has so far done nothing to make up for the loss of Marshall.
While Miami did re-sign nose tackle Paul Soliai, he will need to make a
position change as the team transitions to a 4-3 defense. Also, talented
defensive end Kendall Langford was lost to the Rams, and now he'll need to be
At least Miami added former Cardinals cornerback/safety Richard Marshall to
bolster a secondary that was aging.
Jeff Saukaitis is a former Sports Network writer/editor who has been a
professional sports writer since 1985.
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