Free agency so far has achieved what it set out to accomplish. It made the best teams in the NFL a little bit worse and forced the bad teams to spend extra money.
As many teams learned last year, however, spending money in free agency rarely is a sound investment. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers already released defensive end Michael Johnson, offensive tackle Anthony Collins and quarterback Josh McCown. Many listed the Buccaneers as a free-agency “winner” last offseason. They won very little.
The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos had to let go of some of their best players this offseason, but those stars might not have the same level of success on their new teams. Spending in free agency always is a risk, and the best teams try to hang onto their own players and build through the draft.
With that in mind, let’s look at the winners and losers from the first week of free agency:
The Bengals might have “won” free agency with one simple move. They let defensive end Michael Johnson sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last offseason, which gave Cincinnati a third-round compensatory pick in this year’s NFL draft. The Bucs cut Johnson, the Bengals scooped him up, and now they have the player and the pick.
That’s smart business. Or lucky.
The Bengals also wisely locked up starting left guard Clint Boling and didn’t give out any exorbitant contracts to players they don’t know first-hand.
Green Bay Packers
Boring is good when it comes to free agency. The Packers locked up wide receiver Randall Cobb (for less money than the Kansas City Chiefs gave Jeremy Maclin) and signed starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga with just $8 million in guaranteed money.
They smartly didn’t get into a bidding war for cornerback Davon House and still could bring back Tramon Williams now that his value has dropped on the open market.
The Cardinals went all-in this offseason, scooping up a number of big names. They spent the highest amount on starting left guard Mike Iupati — a three-time Pro Bowl selection and All-Pro. Spending $22.5 million guaranteed on a guard seems like a lot, but the Cardinals needed help on their offensive line, and Iupati has been as dependable as it gets at the position.
The Cardinals let nose tackle Dan Williams walk to the Oakland Raiders on a four-year, $25 million deal, but Arizona also brought in defensive tackle Corey Peters — a very solid run-stopper in his own right — for just $9.15 million over three years.
They also signed defensive end Cory Redding (two years, $6 million) and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (one year, $3.85 million) to smart, low-risk deals.
Iupati is a bit of a risk, but he was the best offensive lineman on the open market, and he didn’t even receive the biggest contract.
The Jaguars were forced to spend money, entering free agency far below the salary cap, but how they chose to spend it leaves a lot to be desired. The most egregiously bad signing was bringing in offensive tackle Jermey Parnell on a five-year, $32 million contract with $13 million guaranteed. He has seven career starts in five NFL seasons.
Handing out big contracts to career backups was a trend for the Jaguars this offseason. They gave House, who has 14 starts in four seasons, a four-year, $24.5 million contract and linebacker Dan Skuta, who has 22 starts in six years, $20.5 million over five years.
Signing Julius Thomas and Jared Odrick could help them rise from the bottom of the division, but $46 million guaranteed is a lot to give two free agents that aren’t guaranteed to fit the system.
The Raiders, like the Jaguars, had to spend money. They didn’t, however, need to give Rodney Hudson, a center, a five-year, $44.5 million contract with $20 million guaranteed. The Raiders missed on a top wide receiver and overspent on Dan Williams, safety Nate Allen, linebacker Curtis Lofton and blocking specialist tight end Lee Smith, who received a $9.1 million contract over three years.
Locking up running back Roy Helu for $4 million over two years could wind up looking like a steal, but the rest of the Raiders’ signings are questionable at best.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints didn’t so much lose free agency as they lost the offseason. They traded tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Kenny Stills for 60 cents on the dollar and failed to tender emerging nose tackle Tyrunn Walker.
The Saints’ intentions are slightly unclear, since they still re-signed Mark Ingram and brought in veteran cornerback Brandon Browner and running back C.J. Spiller.
The Saints appear to want to win now, while shipping out two of their most promising young players.
Thumbnail photo via Bob Mack/Associated Press
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