After a lockout-induced freeze on player movement and/or anything exciting happening, things have heated up quick in NFL free agency the past few weeks. It's not just that there's been more movement than ever, but it's all happened in a week. As a result, it's been pretty much impossible to keep track of who's gone where, what it means, who won, who lost, etc.
One thing everyone knows, though, is that the biggest name on the market—Nnamdi Asomugha—went to Philly. So we may as well start with the guy with the biggest, and awesomest, name out there.
Just say it out loud—"Nahm-dee Ah-some-waaa." It's great. Nahm-dee sounds like an African version of "Yahtzee!", particularly if you add an exclamation point. But his last name's even better, provided you add a question mark at the end... "Awesome-whaaa?"
For me, in the midst-fledged free agent anarchy where everything changes by the day, just pronouncing Nnamdi Asomugha's name has been one of the simple pleasures. Nnamdi!
(I'm easily amused.)
Anyway, in the interest of making sense of all this, we might as well run with it. What follows is part one of a two-part rundown of NFL Free Agency in the past week. Without further ado...
For the good moves: Awesome.
For the head-scratchers: Whaa?
To the Philadelphia Eagles... Awesome. The Eagles got the best player available and immediately put themselves on the short list of Super Bowl favorites for 2011. By any measure, that's a win. Nnamdi will pair with Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to give Philly the best secondary in the NFL, not to mention giving their front seven all kinds of freedom to get after the quarterback.
Beyond Nnamdi, though, they also deserve some major credit for making the most of Kevin Kolb. It may take a few years before we can say for sure whether the Kolb-to-Arizona trade made sense, but in the meantime, it's important to remember: Philly's had Kolb waiting in the wings since 2007, and if he was Aaron Rodgers, they'd have known by now. Particularly under Andy Reid, the Eagles have been great at making the most of the talent they have. So if Kolb was a star-in-the-making, especially given Michael Vick's injury history, don't you think Philly would've kept him at all costs?
Since he was available, it tells me that Kevin Kolb isn't nearly the player the rest of the league assumes he is. And in that case, Philly deserves credit for selling high here, landing a great second cornerback (Rodgers-Cromartie) and a second round pick.
Add low-risk investments like Cullen Jenkins and Ronnie Brown to the equation, and it's fair to say Philadelphia's had the best offseason of any franchise in the NFL. They bet big on Nnamdi, they made smart plays elsewhere, and they sold high on Kolb. All good. Just one problem...
To the Philadelphia Eagles... Whaa? Maybe it was hearing the "Dream Team" label applied to a football team in August, or maybe it was seeing Nnamdi Asomugha on the cover of Sports Illustrated, but it just feels like all of this is too good to be true.
They haven't done anything wrong, but let's keep things in perspective. "The Eagles signed the best player on the market and immediately upgraded their defense." Awesome. But, "The Eagles just became the favorites to win the Super Bowl." Whaaa?
The last blockbuster contract for a corner that turned into a home run was Champ Bailey going to the Broncos in 2004. He was 26 years old, and coming from the NFC East. On the other hand, Nnamdi's 30 years old and coming from the AFC West. Isn't there a chance that Nnamdi's already played his best football, and that his best football came against one of the weakest divisions in football?
He's been a great player, but the track record for big time free agent corners isn't great. For every Champ Bailey or Charles Woodson, who signed with Green Bay at 29 years old, there's a Nate Clements to DeAngelo Hall to Darrelle Revis a year ago, there have been plenty of can't-miss corners who sign record deals and then come crashing back to earth. And the last cornerback to sign with a good team and turn them into Super Bowl champs was Deion Sanders—the best cornerback of all time.
None of which is to say the Nnamdi deal will be a disaster, but it probably won't be the home run that most people are expecting. The biggest reason to be skeptical: How often does a team break the bank in NFL free agency and then win a Super Bowl? Is Nnamdi Asomugha Drew Brees?
Speaking of which...
To the New Orleans Saints... Awesome. Smart teams do things one way, dumb teams do things another. A dumb team might's have paid big money to re-sign one of their most recognizable superstars (Reggie Bush). The Saints let him walk, though, and replaced him with Darren Sproles, a guy who comes cheaper than Bush, does everything Reggie did, and arguably does it better.
(Also, this has nothing to do with free agency, but Mark Ingram seems destined to be one of those random running backs who racks up 1,500 yards for the next five years, so they deserve some credit for the draft, too.)
They also added the 49ers' franchise player in 2010, Aubrayo Franklin, on a low-risk one-year deal that lands them the best free agent defensive lineman on the market. Nothing New Orleans did was all that sexy, but it's little moves—like choosing Sproles over Bush and going after overlooked guys like Franklin—that separates the good teams from bad in the NFL.
To the Carolina Panthers... Whaa? If you were looking for the polar opposite of what the Saints did, you won't do much better than the Carolina Panthers. The competition is stiff in this category, but they might just be the dumbest team in the NFL. Because any time you can bring back the key contributors from a 2-14 team, you should pay them all twice what they're worth.
Bill Barnwell breaks this down well at Grantland:
Panthers GM Marty Hurney wants to keep his job after a disastrous 2010 that saw him pay Jake Delhomme millions of dollars to go play for the Browns. To do so, he's gone on an absurd spending spree that's seen the team drop in excess of $100 million in contracts paid to lock up the core of a team that went 2-14 last year.
... the Panthers went out of their way to re-sign veteran halfback DeAngelo Williams, giving another 28-year-old a ridiculous five-year deal. Williams got $43 million in his extension, with an incredible $21 million in guaranteed money. It's an unconscionably dumb decision. As a starter, Williams has made it through a 16-game season without getting hurt exactly once.
Yikes. Couldn't happen to a more obnoxious, horrible, bullying owner.
To the San Francisco 49ers... Whaa? It doesn't matter what else they did in free agency. Bringing back Alex Smith basically amounts to throwing the season. He's 27 years old, he's had six seasons to prove himself, and if anything, he's gotten worse. On the bright side, it might be the most brazen attempt at tanking in league history, and there's a good chance Jim Harbaugh will get to coach Andrew Luck again a year from now.
To Matt Leinart... Awesome. Speaking of terrible quarterbacks, Matt Leinart deserves a lot of credit for going out there and
earning a starting job finding somebody willing to pay him millions of dollars to hold a clipboard. Sure if you look at this way, it's kind of sad:
It says a lot about how far Leinart has fallen that for the second straight year, he has signed in Houston even though he knows he can’t start in Houston, just because he can’t start anywhere else, either. But Texans coach Gary Kubiak wanted Leinart back, and now he’ll have him.
But just remember, Leinart's been truly awful every time he's gotten a chance play meaningful football in the NFL, and he's still pulling in $4 million-a-year to do this:
To Braylon Edwards... Whaa? Anytime you're hitting the free agent market with an outrageous price tag and a spotty reputation, you probably want to avoid getting into a massive bar fight, and then tweeting about it just to make sure it gets as much negative attention as possible.
On the other hand, it gives us an excuse to relive this passage from Sports Illustrated:
Turning his car into the mall parking lot, he slides in a CD of his favorite pregame track, Jay-Z's Real Niggaz, and starts rapping along: On the road to riches and diamond rings, real niggaz do real things.
"Then you have to show that love," [his mother] told him. "Don't talk about it, just do it. If you just keep balling, you're gonna have fun. If you have fun, nobody can stop you."
Edwards shuts down the engine. "Real niggaz do real things," he says. "What I do matters, not what I say. I began coming to every meeting early, every workout early, every practice. Nobody practiced harder. Real things."
And really, what's realer than a bar fight? SO REAL.
To the New York Jets... Awesome. They chose the right receiver to re-sign. Santonio Holmes is more explosive, and had he played an entire season in 2010, he would have had some of the best numbers in the league. Braylon may have been the bigger name, but Santonio won multiple games (Denver, Cleveland, Houston) with his playmaking last season, and he's a year younger. They also convinced him to take less money, which is always an added bonus.
The Jets missed out on Asomugha, yes, but as mentioned above, that could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Asomugha would've been huge, but he would have limited the Jets' flexibility for the next few years. Instead, they bring back Antonio Cromartie, who's still one of the best second corners in the NFL, and comes at half the price of Nnamdi. Not a home run, but not a strikeout, either.
The key for the Jets is that they're bringing back the most important players on a roster that was one game away from the Super Bowl in 2010. If Mark Sanchez can improve, there's no reason to think they can't go a step further this season.
To the New England Patriots... Awesome.
Say what you want about him, but Bill Belichick is really good at this stuff. Rather than get caught overpaying for flashy names, he went out and got the flashiest names on the market that nobody wanted—Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco—and will almost certainly turn one or both into highly productive weapons in New England. Ochocinco will provide depth to the Pats' receiver corps, but Haynesworth's the guy who could really be special this year.
His reputation was destroyed in D.C. last season, but people cracking jokes back then conveniently forgot that during his first year in Washington, he was actually pretty great. Now, with all the motivation that comes from playing on an un-guaranteed contract and going from one of the worst teams into the league to one of the best, Haynesworth should be great. The lesson: Bill Belichick always wins.
To the Miami Dolphins... Whaa? You might say that Matt Moore is the Tony Sparano of starting quarterbacks, but that's really not fair to Sparano. On the other hand, Reggie Bush is definitely the Miami Dolphins of running backs—constantly going back and forth between over-and-underrated, always on the brink of turning the corner, and destined to disappoint. Fan up, Miami!
And that's Day One... We'll be back tomorrow with more on the Panthers, Seahawks, Bears, Cowboys, and Titans, along with notes on Donovan McNabb, Tim Tebow, and Kyle Orton, and a look at everyone's favorite free agency players, Dan Snyder and the Washington Redskins!