The Armchair Quarterback’s Guide To The NFL: Free Agency Winners And Losers

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Nov 17, 2013; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills free safety Jairus Byrd (31) celebrates his first half interception against the New York Jets at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Armchair Quarterback’s Take Of The Week

Free Agency’s Early Winners And Losers

As I write this, the free agency signing period is less than 48 hours old. In that short amount of time there have been a ton of players signed and even more dollars spent. While no one will know if these moves were wise or foolish until these players take the field for their respective teams, it’s no fun to save judgement for six months. This is an instant feedback generation and I’m here to please. So this week I’ll take a look at some of free agency’s biggest winners and losers after the first two days of action.

Side note: I was originally going to run the second part of my draft pick analysis on what positions drafted resulted in the most wins this week, but to ignore the free agency hysteria that has griped NFL fans everywhere just felt wrong. So I apologize if anyone is disappointed, but I promise to bring part two next week.

This week it’s all about free agency and just like most years, some teams are doing it right and some teams are getting it all wrong. Let’s start with the winners. These are the five teams that I think have done the best in free agency so far.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos have sent a clear statement to the rest of the league that they are all in on getting a Super Bowl before Peyton Manning retires. They have added some serious firepower to their defense with the additions of TJ Ward, Aqib Talib, and DeMarcus Ware. Plus, the contract that they did with Ward was well below the price of the other top safeties on the market, Jairus Byrd and Donte Whitner.

New England Patriots

After a quiet first day the Pats brought the thunder on day two when they signed Derrell Revis to a one year deal. If the Pats can give Tom Brady a few more weapons to work with and get some of their players back to 100% health, they can absolutely give Denver a run for their money.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals desperately needed a new starting left tackle. While there were reports that Arizona wanted Branden Albert, the birds wisely let Miami pay Albert more money and signed Jared Veldheer to a more manageable average of 7 million per year for five years. The move looks even better when you see that the Raiders tried to pay his replacement even more than he is making (more on that in a minute).

New York Giants

The Giants were beat up a lot last year and really struggled to run the ball. They added arguably the best guard on the market in Geoff Schwartz to help up front. I watched Schwartz in KC last season and he’s a great run blocker and an even better guy. I also like the addition of running back Rashad Jennings. Jennings is a physical runner who gets yards after contact. The addition of these two guys plus JD Walton as even more OL depth, should help take some pressure off of Eli Manning.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints paid out huge money to safety Jairus Byrd, but much like the Broncos and Patriots they are in “win now” mode while Drew Brees is still an elite passer. The Saints appeared to be running one step behind the Seahawks and the 49ers in the NFC and needed to add a difference maker in order to keep stride with them. Pairing Byrd with Kenny Vaccaro gives them a dynamic duo in the back of their secondary.

While those teams all made good moves thus far in free agency and gave their teams a great chance to compete next season there were also some teams that have missed the mark. Here are free agency’s five biggest losers so far.

Oakland Raiders

Do I even need to rehash it? They gave an injury prone, average tackle/above average guard elite left tackle money. Then he failed his physical. Then they gave an average RT too much money too, but at least he hasn’t flunked his physical. They also re-signed Darren McFadden and when McFadden isn’t your free agent signing with the most injury issues, you’re doing it wrong.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers have traditionally been a very smart team when it came to free agency, but I just can’t justify giving an average safety like Mike Mitchell a five year contract worth 25 million dollars. The Steelers don’t have tons of cap space and have an aging roster that needs turned over. So if they were going to fork over big money to one player he needed to be a difference maker and I don’t think you can call Mitchell that. That money could have been better served elsewhere in my opinion.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys defense last season was absolutely abysmal. Their solution, don’t re-sign the extremely talented Jason Hatcher and cut one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, DeMarcus Ware. The sad part is that they won’t really be able to replace them for the same reason they had to let them go, they have no cap space. It’s hard to see the Cowboys taking any kind of step forward next season given the state of their roster.

The Denver Broncos’ Future

I know what you’re thinking, “ummm…..didn’t you have Denver on the FA winners list?” Why yes, yes I did. They made the winners list for what they did to make a run this year and for getting TJ Ward at a discounted rate. However, the big deals that they’ve given to Talib and Ware will seriously handicap this team financially down the road. If they win a Super Bowl and Manning retires I think you could see a Florida Marlins-esque roster purge to get rid of some of these high priced players. Either that or they’ll have to let some of their talented younger players walk when their current deals are up. Either way, not good. Now looks great, the future is going to get ugly.

The Fans Of The Packers And The Chiefs

Every die hard NFL fan has been living life attached to their Twitter feed, favorite blogs, and latest ESPN/NFL Network updates in hopes of hearing about an exciting new addition to their team. However, a few teams have done very little (if anything) during the initial spending spree. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. A lot of players are being over paid in the first couple of days and it’s probably wise to let other teams run up prices on certain players and then snatching up the most valuable players left. The problem is that this patient approach doesn’t indulge the news hungry fan bases. To make matters worse for KC fans, they’ve seen multiple starters leave in free agency so far. It’s not easy, but don’t give up hope yet, smart GMs go for value over sizzle. Value just doesn’t blow up your Twitter feed or get your favorite team talked about on ESPN.

So that’s my list of free agency’s biggest winners and losers thus far. What do you think? Am I off base on any of these? Am I overlooking anyone on either end of the spectrum? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. In the meantime, check out the Armchair QB Odds and Ends of the Week…………..

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  • Bobby Postma

    Chris Clemons is now a jaguar. .

  • anon76returns

    Not sure the Broncos signings are as bad for the future as you’re implying. Ware’s cap hit for year 2 is “only” $7M, and I believe his 3rd year has no guarantee, so it doesn’t effect their future beyond the 2015 season. Similarly, Talib’s deal only has guaranteed money the first three years, meaning he can be cut for free in 2017. As you mentioned, Ward’s contract was highway robbery considering his skill set and the market value of safeties right now, but that’s fine by me- dude wants a ring! Taking into account the expected ~$10M growth in salary cap for the next two years, and the Broncos are actually doing themselves a favor by paying a little more now and having flexibility before the 2016 & 2017 seasons. I don’t see this as a huge mortgage, and whenever Peyton does retire (hopefully we get at least 2 more years out of him), that’s another $20M off the books with no dead money.

    • Matthew Heuser

      Not to mention elway is very savy he structures contracts in ways that after two years then can be cut with no dead cap space. Oh and to that raider fan broncos are adding to a defense that was already good before. Injury bug hit very hard last year. These guys will be back. Oh and last time I checked buying championships belongs to Yankees heat and lakers in leagues with no hard cap like the nfl.

  • 757Raiderfan

    I love how you can judge how a team has done before a game has even taken place. Denver just thinks they can buy a championship by beefing up their d. I seem to remember their record setting offense only putting up 8 points in the super bowl

    • anon76returns

      You can’t buy a ring in the NFL- the Broncos are constrained to spend the exact same amount on personnel as everyone else in the league. I can see where you’d be put off as a Raider fan- while the Broncos have been paying millions to guys like Manning, Welker, DRC, Vazquez, Ramirez, and Shaun Phillips, the Raiders have spent the last several years spending millions on players no longer on the roster. Here’s hoping that McKenzie shows enough competence this offseason to give you a different perspective on the process.

  • Old Frog

    Their defense in the Super Bowl was horrendous but their offensive line wasn’t much better. I’m glad Ware found a good home but I wouldn’t expect the Broncos to beat either San Francisco or Seattle, assuming they get that far.

    • anon76returns

      The Broncos played terrible in all three phases of the game, though to their credit the defense (missing 5 starters due to injury) only gave up 13 points in the first half before packing it in, with 7 of those points coming off a short field following a turnover.
      The O-line does indeed need to improve- some of that will be coming from the return of the best left tackle in the league from IR. San Francisco and Seattle will both begin losing talent this year, and the Broncos have gotten better

  • anthony

    Yeah as a Chiefs fan I’m glad we didn’t over pay for anyone, the one I wanted was Abdualla and we got him back

  • Shawn Casey

    Lyle I think you missed the mark where Denver is concerned here is where you are wrong:
    1. They let DRC and Bailey walk thus reduced the payroll…with the Talib signing they answered a need and basically broke even.
    2. They lost Phillips and replaced him with an upgrade in Ware. Is Ware a bit over priced? Yes but with the salary cap increase and yet another need answered then it is a good deal.
    3. Ward is a great signing so I agree with you.
    4. The new signees only figure about 18 to 20 million against this years cap and with the projected cap increase in 2015 and 2016 then they are not in that bad of shape in the next few years.
    5. Talib is a better CB than DRC and Bailey was hurt all last year.
    So in conclusion John “The Quarterback GOD” Elway did a great job. It reminds me of his last two seasons when the Broncos brought FA’s Neal Smith, Romo, Alfred Williams, Darrien Gordon, and Keith Traylor and won back to back SB’s. John saw on the field how key FA’s can help a team get over the hump. It’s not like they are redoing the whole roster…instead they are filling holes due to losing their own FA’s.

  • Shawn Casey

    To those who see the Broncos as the Yankees…trying to buy a championship…I say thank you. See NY Yankees circa 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009 and those are the ones they won. 5 championships??? I’ll take that…also don’t forget the 49ers and Cowboys did the same thing in their successful 90′s era with Deion, Norton, and Haley as FA’s and White (the minister of Defense) was a FA and was a huge reason the Packers were in back to back SB’s. Elway and his FA signings last year got Denver to the SB and not a word was mentioned.

  • 65yt

    I think the Bucs should have made a mention. Talk about revamping a team. New QB, TE, DL, OL, CB, did i miss any? And as for Denver. It was no surprise as to the Superbowl flop. Their Schedule was one of the easiest. I dont see another Awsome season ahead like last. Seattle exposed their weekness for ALL teams to see. Keep Manning uncomfortable and they loose.

  • Jason

    Dude, with regard to the Mike Mitchell signing, look at the numbers before making your judgement. Only $5.25mil of his contract is guaranteed and Mitchell only counts for $2.2mil against the cap this year. You said the Steelers need to get younger. Clark is in his 30s, Mitchell is 26.

    C’mon, do your research.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Lyle, the Steelers are typically personified as ‘losers’ in FA – nothing new there and it really doesn’t bother us as a whole. For those of us that follow them (rabidly), we know not to expect much. We focus on the draft and use FA for depth and the occasional starter; the last time we got a FA starter (2006) was also a FS, Ryan Clarke. That worked pretty well for like 7 seasons!
    That’s where it’s interesting to see your perception of the Mitchell signing. Initially (and perhaps you are not familiar with Mitchell) my reaction was the same, although a little less negative. But then I looked at it more closely. His deal is EXTREMELY cap-friendly (he has a large signing bonus but his cap # this year is vet minimum of $750K), he is a hardworking talented young FS and a hard hitter with excellent speed and coverage skills. 26 yrs old, so lotsa upside. Some wrinkles to work out but nothing that our D staff cannot coach him up on……
    Rest assured we are waiting for all the ‘splashy’ signings to be done, the idiot teams (Browns, Redskins, Raiders) to shoot their wad, then step in and pick up good, quality depth players and who knows, perhaps another starter, for less than market price. Unless I missed it, FA is not over yet is it?
    As to our FA losses, Sanders will never be better than a above average slot receiver. We have a young kid (Marcus Wheaton from Oregon St) that we drafted last year that’s going to be dynamite. He holds numerous OSU receiving records and is faster than Sanders, with better hands (Sanders had two drops that killed us last year at critical moments in big games). Ziggy Hood never really did much – he was OK, but one wants more than that from a former #1 pick. No loss there. Lamarr Woodley personified the athletic diva – way overpaid and once he got his big contract (which admittedly was the Steelers fault), he coasted. Plus he was lazy and locker room poison. Al Woods, the young NT/DE that went elsewhere is our biggest loss – a good, talented, young hardworking kid who would have had a lot of playing time this year. Ouch but that’s the NFL.
    Us ‘burghers are doing just fine so far, thank you! All the Steelers sites are indicating positive feelings about our moves to date, excepting the Woods loss. We are not done, and now that we have our starting FS, we can focus on getting one of the 2 stud CBs in the draft with our 15th pick in rd1!!