There is nothing like the NFL marketing machine in sports. Everything the league does in the offseason is genius and keeping the NFL on the minds of its fan-base seems to be a hardcore priority every day of the calendar year. Fans can’t get enough football and after this free agent period, anticipation for next season will be incredible. Look for Seattle’s "Legion of Boom" steez to be mimicked by most defensive backfields in a league focused to stop a myriad of gifted offenses. Top free agents Jimmy Graham and Brian Orakpo were both placed with the franchise tag.
Teams have an extra 10 million under the salary cap and many are wasting no time spending. New Orleans' signing of safety Jarius Byrd (6-years, $54 million) was the most surprising signing so far. Woody Johnson now has to deal with Darrelle Revis. The 5-time Pro Bowler and former cornerback for the Jets reportedly has signed with the New England Patriots for 12 million (one year) after his release from the Bucs.
Darren Sproles found out on twitter the Saints plans to trade him (his wife went off on the Saints front office) and has since stated he wants to be released. He now is a Philadelphia Eagle. Power move by Philly to pair him with LeSean McCoy. Denver got blown off the field by Seattle in this past Super Bowl, but it looks like the Broncos are going for the jugular. Some might say they’ve overpaid for Aqib Talib (a reported 6-years, 57 mil), but having an elite cover DB will be hell on offenses. With Talib’s signing, Denver’s offer to resign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been pulled, so look for DRC to suit up elsewhere next season. John Elway also had social media buzzing and shook the NFL by signing DeMarcus Ware to a 3-year, $30 million deal pending a physical. Ware is the only player to have two seasons of at least 19 sacks and pairing him with Von Miller just doesn’t seem fair. Talib might not have to break a sweat because Denver’s front seven will be relentless on any quarterback whether he’s mobile or not. Denver also signed safety T. J. Ward from the Browns, so look for Denver’s defense to be much more sleek, speedy, powerful and very Miami Heat like. Detroit signed Golden Tate away from the Champs. Deal is for 5-years, 31 million with 13.25 guaranteed. Finally Calvin Johnson has a change of pace weapon defenses must account for on every play. Euguene Monroe re-signed with the Ravens for 37.5 million over 5 years. Miami signed Kansas City left tackle Branden Albert for 47 million over five years with 25 million guaranteed. DE Lamarr Houston signing with the Bears for 5 years and 35 million pushed Julius Peppers out the door, but you best believe some team will get lucky and land a rejuvenated pass rusher. After an emotional release from the Broncos, Champ Bailey and his career 52 picks finds himself a first-time free agent. Washington signed Jason Hatcher away from rival Dallas for 4-years, 27.5 million.
Let’s check out some other teams…
San Francisco 49’ers:
Denver’s signing of Ward impacts the Niners stellar defense because Donte Whitner was brought in by the Browns as Ward’s replacement. Whitner is from Cleveland and $28 million for 4 years is a great homecoming present. Carlos Rodgers’ release (probably will end up in DC) says the Niners are not done making moves. Strong Safety Antoine Bethea was signed from the Colts for 4-years, $21 million. San Fran traded a ’14 sixth-round pick and a conditional ’15 pick for underwhelming former Jags QB Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert has won just 5 of 22 games as a starter. Offensive lineman Jonathan Martin is now a 49’er as well. San Francisco sent a conditional 7th round pick to Miami and now Martin’s one and a half year dramatic tenure with the Dolphins is over.
Defensive linemen Jared Allen and Jason Hatcher will visit. Either will offset the loss of Clinton McDonald to the Bucs. TE Jermichael Finley and WR Taylor Price will also visit. Chris Clemons was released and Michael Bennett resigned. Tony McDaniel and the Seahawks are negotiating a new deal. Every year teams make a run on players from Super Bowl champs, so little used O’Brien Schofield leaving for the Giants might not seem like a loss, but it will be interesting to see if a defensive chemistry shift becomes apparent for a team looking like a juggernaut.
New York Jets:
I wrote about where I thought Vick would land and New York seems like the right spot for MV7 to come in and help speed along Geno Smith. Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes were released to save 18 million on the cap, but their departures are nothing crazy because neither player performed up to snuff while on the Jets. Denver Broncos WR Eric Decker – considered the top wideout on the market (I say Emmanuel Sanders is better because he can play all over the field) — signed with the Jets. Deal is 36.25 million for five years and 15 million guaranteed. Still think the Jets blew it by not making another run at Darrelle Revis, but they must deal with him at least twice a year now that he signed with New England.
Hakeem Nicks is from the area and mentioned he would play for the Panthers and the Colts are interested as well. With the release of Steve Smith, Cam Newton is without any of his top four targets after the free agency period concludes. None are under contract. On D, Carolina lost 26-year-old safety Mike Mitchell to the Steelers.
The aforementioned Vick will most likely be gone in the next couple of days and Howie Roseman will catch a lot of heat for failing to sign Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward to the defensive backfield. Instead, former Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins was signed to a 3-year, $16.25 million dollar deal with $8.5 mill up front. Yeah he’s better than Patrick Chung, but is Jenkins a true starter or a glorified special teamer? Trading for Darren Sproles will send shock waves through Philly's fan base, but defensively, holes need to be filled.
Reggie McKenzie is blowing through 60 million quick fast. Rodger Saffold was shockingly signed to a 5-year, $42.5 million (21 million guaranteed) deal basically to patch up an offensive line that's been mediocre for at least a decade. Problem is Saffold failed his physical and instead signed a 5-year deal to remain in St. Louis. Austin Howard was signed away from the Jets for $30 million over five with $15 million guaranteed. Good luck with that Reggie. No GM envies you. Jared Veldheer bounced to Arizona and many are questioning why McKenzie allowed that to happen. Justin Tuck (11 million) and Lamarr Woodley (12 million) both signed 2 year deals.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Signing Alterraun Verner to a 4-year, $26 million dollar deal with $14 million guaranteed might be a serious steal. With Revis’ release, the Bucs sign a player very much respected as one of the best defenders at cornerback. The 3rd- year former member of the Tennessee Titans is a player many fans across the league will begin to mention a lot more next season. Former Bengals DE Michael Johnson signed to a 5-year, $43-million dollar deal, so the league better take notice that new head coach Lovie Smith is not sitting pat on a defense sacking opposing quarterbacks just 35 times last season. Tampa has also agreed to terms with QB Josh McCown and OT Anthony Collins (5 years, 30 million with 15 million guaranteed).
Top free agents left and where they can land
Steve Smith -- WR Carolina Panthers (released)
Saints, Colts, Chargers, Cowboys, Bucs, Patriots
Henry Melton -- DE Chicago Bears
Bears, Vikings, Bucs, Dolphins, Cowboys
Ben Tate -- RB Houston Texans
Brandon Spikes -- LB New England Patriots
Julius Peppers -- DE Chicago Bears (released)
Packers, Steelers, Eagles
Alex Mack (transition tag so Browns can match any offer) -- center Cleveland Browns
Browns, Bucs, Colts and Raiders
B. J. Raji -- DT Green Bay Packers
Packers, Texans and Patriots
Vince Wilfork -- DT New England Patriots (asked for release)
Texans and many other teams I'm sure
Emmanuel Sanders -- WR Pittsburgh Steelers.
Browns, Ravens, Pats, Steelers, Chiefs
James Jones -- WR Green Bay Packers
Jared Allen -- DE Minnesota Vikings
Bears, Bucs, Broncos, Seahawks
Dominique Rogers-Cromartie -- CB Denver Broncos
Lions, Pats, Jets
Champ Bailey -- CB Denver Broncos
Charles Tillman -- CB Chicago Bears