So I was fully aware of the fact that NFL free agency began today (sorry if I was not as forthcoming with you guys), but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined how crazy this day could have been. I went to teach at 8:30, and in the span of six or so hours, about twenty players either re-signed with their teams, signed with a new team, or got traded. So, here's a little taste of everything that happened:
Washington definitely made the biggest splash today, making three huge deals. Of course the headliner was Albert Haynesworth becoming the first non-QB to net a $100 million deal. In addition to the $100 million he is set to receive over the next seven years, 41 of it is guaranteed. To put this is some perspective, Michael Vick (yes, that guy) currently holds the title of receiving the largest contract in NFL history with his 10-year, $167 million deal in which 37 (22.2%) of it was guaranteed. The amount of guaranteed money is absolutely staggering. Sure, Haynesworth was the prize of the free agent market, but was he worth this much? Of course, the 'Skins have somewhat of a reputation in being freewheeling spenders under the Daniel Snyder regime, so this can't be too, too surprising. Still, with Haynesworth's recent knee injury that kept him out of the last two regular season games this season, and the fact that he has not played a full season since '02 really makes me wonder if Washington may have overplayed their hand on this one. I was looking at Adam Schefter's columns about Haynesworth, and back just two months ago (Dec. 23 to be exact), Schefter wrote about how Haynesworth "may become the next $60 million man," and this was before the economy sunk even lower than where it was around Christmas. $40 million is quite a disparity coming from a well-respected insider that laid it down just two months ago. In no way would I say that Haynesworth is not a great player. He absolutely is, and is probably the best at his position. He's a tremendous run-stuffer, and his name was even being thrown around in the MVP discussion during the first half of this season. However, right here and right now...Washington, you got played. There is absolutely no chance in hell that Haynesworth does anything close to living up to this deal. There is nothing he can do really outside of getting 20 sacks and 50 tackles for a loss that will make him worth anywhere close to this. Also, thanks Daniel Snyder for making Vince Wilfork now completely unsignable for the Pats. Wilfork is on basically a Haynesworth-like level, albeit not completely there, he now can demand $80-90 million, which the Pats, as we all know, won't give him, thus robbing the Pats of locking up another All-Pro.
Then the 'Skins went and re-signed DeAngelo Hall to a six-year, $54 million contract, 22.5 (41.7%) of it is guaranteed. Obviously, the amount of guaranteed money will continue to grow due to the non-guaranteed contracts provided in the NFL, but offering over 40% guaranteed to Hall really makes you wonder about who is running the books in D.C. First of all, I thought it was a really good move by the 'Skins to claim Hall off waivers last year because a.) all of their DBs were hurt, and b.) Hall cost them about $300K-350K, so it was a good price to pay for a former All-Pro. However, these are severely different circumstances. First, Hall played good, but it looks as though his days of being an elite corner are behind him. Then what you have to do is look back at the last time Hall got a giant, mega-deal. You don't really have to look too far back in the past to find this because Oakland made this happen last year. In fact, the ironic thing about Hall signing a six-year deal now is that he, in theory, would have two contracts worth over $50 million that run the same length of time that would have been paid by two different teams. I don't remember this ever happening, and I assure you that I don't think the 'Skins should have made that kind of history here. Hall was a stop-gap solution that required Washington to spend little money and have no commitment. Why then do they put themselves in this kind of financial predicament? Obviously with the release of Shawn Springs, which basically coincided with the Hall re-signing, there was a hole at starting corner, and Hall is definitely an option to consider, but to pay him that kind of money up front after already faltering on a huge deal just a year ago really makes me scratch my head.
The final deal from Washington saw them bring back Derrick Dockery two years after he signed a seven-year, $49 million contract with Buffalo, a record at the time for a guard. Again, this does fill a need, but this deal is at least a somewhat savvy move. Dockery gets a five-year, $26 million deal with 8.2 (31.5%) guaranteed. A few reports coinciding with Dockery's release from Buffalo talk about how the opposing pass rushes were more effective against Buffalo's line this season than in years prior. Isn't that more of a reflection on the tackles and not the interior line? When you sign a guard, he, first and foremost, must be an effective run-blocker. In watching Buffalo last year, it was clear to me that there was nothing wrong with the inside of that line when Lynch or Jackson were driving right up the middle. So, I like this signing for the 'Skins, and I think it is a good idea to do anything possible to attempt to keep Clinton Portis healthy, which I think this may do.
The Pats were also active today. Before I get into the free-agent signings and what they potentially could be looking at, I have to comment on the Mike Vrabel trade to KC. Honestly, and this is just my opinion, but I really don't see it. Vrabel was hurt last year, but even so, the OLB depth is light. Sure, Shawn Crable should be healthy for the start of camp, and least we forget about bringing the immortal Tully Banta-Cain (who in all seriousness I love) back into the fold, but there is really no one on the roster (yet) that can do what Vrabel does for them. Also, Adalius Thomas caught the injury bug last year, and knock on wood, but what if something like that were to happen again? The pass rush was bad enough as it is, but now you take away probably the best pass rusher on the team, and suddenly, you're left with a major hole.
When I say "yet," I am referring to the fact that immediately, everyone is now proclaiming that this is all a part of some grand scheme that Belichick is planning out, and you can't really blame them can you? The only person that can outsmart Bill Belichick is Bill Belichick. So, there has to be a greater purpose to this move considering Vrabel's value and the fact that he is in the last year of his deal that is paying a respectable $4 million this year. So what is or could be going on? Well, there could be multiple things. First, and what could be perhaps the most intriguing option, is the rumored Carolina deal involving Julius Peppers and Matt Cassel. Of course, this is predicated on two things. One is that Carolina is willing to part with one of the faces of their franchise for a quarterback who has only played one year that will replace another face of the franchise (Delhomme). The second is that Peppers clearly has stated that any team that is trading for him will have to give him a long-term deal. Considering what went down with Haynesworth, my guess is that it will run someone about $80 million to sign up Peppers for six to seven years. With Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork about to become free agents next year, is that the kind of thing the Pats are willing to commit to? Of course in a fantasy world where teams would be playing year to year and they had no worries about future salary escalations, this would be a great trade for the Pats (assuming Brady is ready to go). However, financially, it may not make as much sense. The Pats are right up against the salary cap (under by $3-4 million for the time being), and with the two aforementioned Pro Bowl defensive players hitting the market next year, they may need to stockpile some kind of munitions stash for when they need to pay these guys. To me, there needs to be some logical thinking about how to replace Vrabel, and I'm just not sure Peppers is the answer. So, what else is there? Well, a couple of guys to keep an eye on are Keith Brooking, Derrick Brooks, Marcus Washington, and Cato June. Brooking and Brooks are both cap casualities from their respective NFC South employers (Tampa and Atlanta), both have at least eleven years of service (Brooking eleven and Brooks fourteen), and both have been wildly successful in their careers so far (Brooking a five-time Pro Bowler with his last appearance in '05, Brooks an eleven-time Pro Bowler who was named to the team this year), and both will get fairly short-term deals at an honest price (think of these two as Hondas for the sake of discussion). Then there is Washington and June. Washington was released by...Washington, and will be entering his tenth season. Washington is actually more of a middle linebacker than an outside guy, so his lack of flexibility in a 3-4 may hinder him. Still, if the Pats ever decided to bump Jerod Mayo to the outside, Washington is a tackling machine (recorded at least 80 tackles in four of the last six years), but has seen a decline in his production lately (I say "four of his last six" because the last two, he was under 50). Still, my guess is that Washington will be somewhere in the $2.5-$3 million figure, and assuming that Vrabel is not the last of the subtractions from the team (LaMont Jordan and Deltha O'Neal both had $2 million tags on them), then he is certainly attainable. In my mind, Cato June is a wild card. After a great campaign in Indy (recorded over 100 tackles in each of his three full seasons there), he signed on with Tampa, where he had marginal results (69 and 67 tackles respectfully in his two years there). Again, here's a guy who projects more as an inside guy (only has one sack in his entire career), but yet I feel like he has the versatility that perhaps a guy like Washington does not. June is almost built more like an outside linebacker (June is 6'0, 227 compared to Washington who is 6'3, 244), so I can see if the Pats were to try and develop June as more of an outside threat. What is clear to me is that all of a sudden, a need that the Pats really didn't have before (starter-wise, not depth-wise) has turned into a pressing one, with really no one on the team who is even close to the level that Vrabel is at, no matter how old or how many seasons Vrabel has played. In other words, it's puzzling...for now.
A move that everyone is unanimously in favor of however was the signing of Fred Taylor to a two-year deal. Again, it is pretty much a given that LaMont Jordan will be let go, leaving a vacancy in the backfield. Taylor is set to earn $5 million over the next two years. As shown in the Maurice Jones-Drew era in Jacksonville, Taylor has seen his health problems go down and his production go up (everyone today replaced the last sentence I just said with "he still has some tread left on the tires," which I think is kind of a back-handed compliment...it's like "well, you're good right now, but inevitably, the tread will wear off and your career will go careening into the guard rail of post-NFL greatness"...and that's just not a nice thing to say I think). With Taylor in the fold, it looks like the Pats will once again be back to the three-headed running attack (and yes, I know, it was started by the Giants of '07 that beat the Pats...I know). If Laurence Maroney ever decides to play a whole season, this could once again become a running attack that is productive and not just there to be a decoy. I really like Taylor's game, and when you throw in Morris and Faulk, you're looking at guys who really have done everything in their careers, so they are able to step back and say "yes, I can take on a more limited role if it gets us closer to the ultimate goal, a championship." Taylor, believe it or not, is right outside the top 15 in terms of career rushing yards (11,271 yards in eleven years). So, again, everyone is raving about this deal up here, and I can't blame them.
I know I mentioned Matt Cassel before. Here's what I think would be some interesting moves that could be looked into if the Pats:
- Detroit gets Cassel; New England gets a 2009 first-rounder (20), third-rounder (82), and a 2010 seond-rounder (this would basically be parlaying the Roy Williams trade to Dallas into Cassel)
- Kansas City gets Cassel; New England gets 2009 second-rounder (34), 2010 first-rounder and third-rounder (I get the feeling that Pioli will not be wanting to trade many of his higher picks in his first year on the job, so you tack it on to next year's tab; also, who knows exactly what pick the Chiefs are giving to the Pats with the Vrabel trade?)
- St. Louis gets Cassel; New England gets Torry Holt, a 2009 second-rounder (35), and a 2010 third-rounder (okay, how bad ass would it be to have Torry Holt and Randy Moss on the same team?...put it this way, all the worries people would have about outside linebacker would start to subside for at least a few weeks)
- Brian Dawkins to Denver: In a report that came out late on Friday, Dawkins appears to be headed to the Broncos. This was after Josh McDaniels pried away Correll Buckhalter from Philly and J.J. Arrington from 'Zona. With Dawkins in the fold, it officially puts the rest of the AFC West on notice. Champ Bailey and D.J. Williams will be back at full-strength, the offense is now even more potent...look out for Denver.
- Bart Scott to the Jets: Obviously Rex Ryan becoming the coach of the Jets did not hurt one of the big Baltimore free-agent linebackers from signing in Jersey. Still, you have to wonder about something. The choice was really between Scott and Ray Lewis...is Scott better than Lewis even in Lewis' advanced stage of his career? All things considered, I will be shocked if Scott isn't released within two to three years, as I believe that, while he is definitely has talent, he is also a product of the system, and therefore, if he is asked to be "the guy" with the Jets (considering Calvin Pace has not and will not play up to his contract, and David Harris, while being very gifted, is still very young), I'm not so sure that he will be able to take on that kind of responsibility.
- Kellen Winslow traded to Tampa: This is a very intriguing move to me on both ends. First of all, Tampa clearly upgraded its offense by obtaining a top-5 tight end for a 2009 2nd rounder and a 2010 5th rounder. Despite Winslow's injury concerns and the problems he had on and off the field in Cleveland, this is a really small price to pay considering the fact that the Bucs really have no impact players on their offense. Also, considering Tampa's QB shuffle, it stands to reason that the tight end will see a lot of looks. Then, on Cleveland's end, exactly what were they thinking here? Is this the first of some house-cleaning tactics that the new regime is taking on (the tandem of Mangini and GM George Kokins have been dubbed "ManKok"...that's one of those things you just have to say)? To me, Winslow was one of the very few players on the Browns that you knew what you were getting from when he was on the field. The guy is a playmaker, and considering Braylon Edwards decided to basically give up on himself last year, a playmaker is exactly what the team needs. Now they are going to be looking for help in a free agent market that will not yield the kind of pass-catching tight end that Winslow is. So, I think it was just too soon for Cleveland to kind of give up on Winslow like that.
- Tennessee re-signs Kerry Collins: This isn't so much about Collins. I mean good for a 36-year old QB to get a two-year deal after coming off one of his better seasons ever, but to me, this has more to do with Vince Young than anything. What are Tennessee's plans for him? He's basically done with the Titans for the time being barring a Collins' injury. Is he available? If so, you have to wonder if anyone would take a chance on having Young be their QB. The guy is only going into his fourth season. He obviously has had a tumultuous run in Nashville, but I really don't think that it is all over for Young. I really think he has the potential to be a something special in the right environment, but at the same time, he is definitely a guy who wears his emotions on his sleeve, and this signing couldn't have helped his ego in knowing that he will be the backup if the stays in Tennessee for the next two season.
- T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, Cincinnati *****
- Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona *****
- Matt Birk, G, Minnesota *****
- Jermaine Phillips, S, Tampa Bay *****
- Chris Canty, DT, Dallas ****
- Marvel Smith, OT, Pittsburgh ****
- Derrick Brooks, OLB, Tampa Bay ****
- Antonio Smith, DE, Arizona ****
- Cato June, OLB, Tampa Bay ****
- Rocky Bernard, DT, Seattle ****