Free agent frenzy
Nearly 30 players decided to hit the post office and file change|
of address forms during the opening two hours of free agency.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
NFL fans who stopped at the grocery store on Tuesday afternoon or swung by school to pick up the kids after their extracurricular activities missed quite a bit.
Heck if you blinked after the 4 p.m. ET kickoff of free agency, you probably missed more than one transaction as nearly 30 players decided to hit the post office and file change of address forms during the opening two hours of the process.
The so-called "legal tampering period" from Saturday afternoon through Tuesday's start time was a little more impactful than most surmised as dozens of NFL teams had all their ducks in a row and came out of the starting blocks firing on all cylinders.
Here's some of the highlights from Day 1:
SHUFFLING THE BACK END
Six different high-profile safeties played musical chairs on opening day with Cleveland native Donte Whitner setting the market by fleeing San Francisco to return home.
Whitner, a two-time former Pro Bowl selection, agreed to a four-year deal worth $28 million with the Browns and set off a domino effect. The hard- hitting Ohio State product, who started all but one game for the 49ers over the past three seasons, will be replacing T.J. Ward, who left Cleveland to sign with the Denver Broncos.
The 49ers, meanwhile, were forced to look for Whitner's replacement and went with ex-Indianapolis Colts starter Antoine Bethea.
Rumors had Philadelphia targeting a high-end safety and the Eagles did strike, albeit in a lesser fashion than expected by signing former Saint Malcolm Jenkins, the 14th overall pick of the 2009 draft who fell out of favor in New Orleans before being released in an effort to free up salary cap space to accommodate tight end Jimmy Graham.
Or so it seemed. The Saints themselves ended up making the biggest splash on the safety market late in the day by agreeing to terms on a monster six-year, $54 million contract with safety Jairus Byrd.
Byrd, a three-time Pro Bowl selection in Buffalo regarded as one of the best cover safeties in football, was one of the most highly sought-after players in the 2014 free agent class and will now join emerging second-year star Kenny Vaccaro in New Orleans' now-imposing back end. The Oregon product is revered for his ball skills, amassing 22 interceptions since he was drafted in 2009, second to Asante Samuel (25) over that stretch.
"We had hoped for the opportunity to pursue Jairus Byrd," said Saints general manager Mickey Loomis. "We think that his playmaking abilities will be an excellent fit with what we are trying to accomplish with our defense and in our secondary."
BROWNS SENDING A BAD MESSAGE?
The Browns began remaking their damaged brand under new general manager Ray Farmer by crafting high-profile deals with Whitner and veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby.
The thought process of most NFL front offices, however, is to reward your own, especially if they have developed into significant contributors.
Farmer chose two older players over well-liked homegrown contributors when he signed Whitner over Ward at safety, and the 32-year-old Dansby over the popular D'Qwell Jackson, who was released earlier and has since signed with Indianapolis.
On paper, some think Farmer upgraded his team's talent level, but even that may be specious thinking.
Plenty of scouts will tell you Ward is a better player than Whitner at this stage, and while Dansby certainly played better than the descending Jackson in 2013, the ex-Cardinal was also toiling next to some significant talent in the desert. The Karlos Dansby in Miami during the 2012 season looked an awful lot like Jackson did in Cleveland last year, still a solid contributor but on the downside.
Farmer may satiated his fans' need for big names but he also sent a dangerous message to his own locker room.
IN LOVIE WE TRUST
New Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith made news over the weekend by telling the Tampa Tribune that the roster he inherited didn't necessarily mesh with his system.
The franchise began rectifying that on the first day of free agency by signing two high-profile defensive linemen, former Bengals star defensive end Michael Johnson and ex-Seahawks defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, as well as cornerback Alterraun Verner.
Johnson, one of the crown jewels on this year's market, signed a five-year deal worth $43 million, with $23 million of that guaranteed.
A former 2009 third-round selection out of Georgia Tech, Johnson helped anchor one of the NFL's best defensive fronts in Cincinnati, but struggled reaching the passer in 2013, amassing just 3 1/2 sacks compared to 11 1/2 the year prior. He is, however, regarded as one of the most complete defensive ends in football.
"Thankful and blessed with the opportunity to do what I love! I'm super excited to embark on this new journey," Johnson remarked on Twitter.
Verner was also a big get after starting all 16 games for the Titans in 2013 and racking up 57 tackles, five interceptions and a league-high 22 passes defensed to earn his first career Pro Bowl selection. At 25, he is considered to be one of the more gifted and physical young corners in the league, but he lacks size and fell far short of what other high-profile corners like Sam Shields and Vontae Davis were able to get in deals.
McDonald, meanwhile, agreed to a four-year, $12 million deal to leave the reigning Super Bowl champions after accumulating 5 1/2 sacks last season as a part-time player.
Perhaps the biggest news surrounding the Bucs, however, remained the status of former All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, who is on the trading block. The Bucs are expected to release Revis, who is scheduled to make $16 million in 2014, on Wednesday if they can not work out a deal.
The biggest problem with Revis is obviously the cap number, but he is still regarded as the best pure cover corner in football and many believe his talents would be wasted in Smith's cover-2 defensive philosophy.
For now at least, Lovie has been given plenty of rope and new Tampa general manager Jason Licht is doing everything he can to make sure Smith is comfortable with the team's talent.
FALCONS ADD PLENTY OF BEEF
With quarterback Matt Ryan in the prime of his career, the Atlanta Falcons believe they can pull off a worst-to-first-type scenario in 2014 as long as they fix the problems on both of their lines.
First and foremost, general manager Thomas Dimitroff was intent on getting bigger and more physical, and he took some significant strides in that direction on Tuesday, bringing in run-stuffer Paul Soliai from Miami and big, five-technique defensive end Tyson Jackson on the defensive side. Jackson's teammate from Kansas City, guard Jon Asamoah, was snared to help the offensive line.
It's not about skill set with that trio, it's about three strong guys punching the opposition in the mouth.
SAME OLD RAIDERS
Perhaps we have all become predisposed to believing the Raiders always make the wrong decision.
Oakland football chief Reggie McKenzie certainly can't be held responsible for all of Al Davis' wacky decisions during his waning years, but McKenzie also hasn't reminded many of his former boss in Green Bay (Ted Thompson) during his stint in the Bay Area.
The Raiders haven't stopped making bad personnel decisions since Reggie Mac arrived, but to his credit, he has managed the salary cap well and Oakland began free agency with a war chest of well over $60 million to spend, more than any other team in the NFL.
Of course, McKenzie then allowed three of his young stalwarts to leave (left tackle Jared Veldheer, defensive end Lamarr Houston and running back Rashad Jennings), and promptly gave a guard left tackle money.
The biggest head-scratcher was the decision that Rodger Saffold was a better avenue to take than Veldheer. The Arizona Cardinals gladly gave Veldheer, a proven left tackle, $7 million a year after McKenzie effectively cut ties with him by signing Saffold for more than $8 million annually.
McKenzie evidently believes Veldheer is better suited to play on the right side and Oakland apologists say Menelik Watson, a second-round pick out of Florida State last year, could be a franchise left tackle. But, even if you stipulate that, that still means McKenzie gave a guard or right tackle (Saffold) left tackle money, and that's a bad business decision any way you slice it.
DO IT YOURSELF
There is no truth to the rumor that Jim Harbaugh will be getting his own reality show on the DIY (Do It Yourself) Network, but the 49ers coach sure isn't shy about taking on reclamation projects.
Harbaugh undertook two big ones on Tuesday by pulling off a pair of trades for Jacksonville bust Blaine Gabbert and troubled offensive tackle Jonathan Martin.
The Jaguars, of course, selected Gabbert with the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft out of Missouri. He opened the past two seasons as the starting quarterback in Jacksonville but struggled with both performance and injury, playing in just three games in 2013 after suffering a thumb problem.
Over 28 career games -- 27 starts -- Gabbert has completed just 414-of-777 passes for 4,357 yards with 22 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. The high expectations will be gone in San Francisco, however, and Gabbert will be given every opportunity to settle in as the backup to rising star Colin Kaepernick.
Harbaugh has already proven to be somewhat of a quarterback guru since arriving in San Francisco from Stanford, succeeding at a high level with both Alex Smith and Kaepernick at the game's most important decision.
The Martin trade also makes some sense because Harbaugh coached the sensitive young man in Palo Alto, where he developed into a talented prospect who ended up being a second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins.
Martin, however, walked away from the Dolphins in October, touching off a bullying scandal that rocked the franchise and led to the suspension of offensive lineman Richie Incognito.
The independent report released to the NFL last month concluded that Incognito and two other offensive linemen, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, "engaged in a pattern of harassment" against Martin, another young offensive lineman and an assistant trainer.
In the report's wake, Incognito recently sought psychiatric care at a facility in Arizona, while the Dolphins fired offensive line coach Jim Turner and head athletic trainer Kevin O'Neill.
Few organizations are strong enough or willing to take on a possible distraction like Martin, but Harbaugh has fostered an organization that values talent above all else.
"Opportunities are few in the NFL," Martin tweeted Tuesday night. "Can't wait to get to work."