I. The $38.5 million over five years that the Rams handed Jared Cook was a lot to give a player that has never caught 50 passes in a single season. (His highest reception total came in 2011 when he caught 49 passes for 759 yards.) But as long as St. Louis makes him one of the focal points of its offense, chances are he’ll be worth the price tag. But it’s hard to blame fans for being frustrated after the Seahawks landed Percy Harvin and the 49ers gave up a late-round pick for Anquan Boldin. They look at the current depth chart at receiver and wonder, “Is that it?” The key is Brian Quick. If he develops into the player the Rams envisioned when they selected him at No. 33 overall last April, then fans will take comfort in the fact that the team didn’t part with multiple picks and $25 million in guaranteed money for Harvin. Chris Givens is already entrenched as a starter on one side and with Cook testing defenses down the seam, the Rams really only need that outside-the-numbers weapon to make their passing game hum. In a perfect world that player will be Quick, and then St. Louis could supplement its depth at receiver by drafting another wideout or acquiring a veteran this spring. (Don’t rule out Nate Washington, whom the Titans could release in the upcoming weeks.) Of course, if the Rams missed on Quick, then present fears will be amplified down the road.
II. Signing Jake Long opens up a slew of possibilities for the Rams in the first round of next month’s draft. They could potentially walk away with a combination of a safety and a receiver, a safety and a guard, a safety and an Eddie Lacy, or even a safety and a Sheldon Richardson. The point is, by signing Long they filled a huge need at offensive tackle, and they could potentially upgrade two more positions on day one of the draft. Granted, Long needs to stay healthy and be more productive than he was the last two years in Miami, but then again that goes without saying. While some were growing impatient by the lack of movement from the front office at the start of free agency, keep in mind that the Rams’ offseason began last year when they signed Chris Long and James Laurinaitis to new long-term contracts. Had they waited, everyone would have been sweating bullets that two of their defensive starters could hit the open market. Keep in mind that the team also didn’t sign Jo-Lonn Dunbar until early April, proving that bargains can be found well after the start of free agency. The offseason is a marathon, not a sprint, and the Rams have only just begun.
III. In any other offseason, a team that needed to fill not one, but two holes at safety would be in full panic mode right now. Generally speaking, the draft is rarely deep at safety and good veterans are hard to find on the open market. But the Rams’ options at the position remain plentiful, both in free agency and the draft. Bernard Pollard, Michael Huff, Ed Reed, Kerry Rhodes, Gerald Sensabaugh, Charles Woodson and Tom Zbikowski all remain unsigned, as does Quintin Mikell. A combination of Pollard and either Kenny Vaccaro or Matt Elam would offer an instant upgrade over what St. Louis had at safety last year, provided that Vaccaro or Elam panned out, of course. And the Rams could do much worse than to bring back Mikell for cheap and land a safety in the draft to play centerfield. While it’s a bit unsettling to have clear needs on either side of the ball not addressed quickly in free agency, Fisher and Snead would really have to drop the ball not to land two quality safeties over the next two months.
IV. The Harvin trade was outstanding for the Seahawks. They landed a proven playmaker for a first-round pick that ultimately would have been an unknown commodity, a seventh-rounder that probably would have been a long-shot to make an already stacked roster, and a third-round selection in 2014 that may-or-may not turn into a solid role player. It’s clear that Harvin wore out his welcome in Minnesota, and the Vikings did what they had to do in order to rid themselves of the headache. But this is a dynamic, versatile playmaker that adds a much-needed element to Seattle’s offense. He did miss seven games last season due to an ankle injury, but he missed only three games in the three years prior and his migraine issues have seemingly been resolved. (After being diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2010, he hasn’t suffered a migraine in two years.) With Harvin joining Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Sidney Rice, Zach Miller and Golden Tate, I’d match the Seahawks up against any other offense in the NFC right now.
V. Speaking of the Seahawks, the signing of Michael Bennett was a shrewd move by Pete Carroll and John Schneider. Bennett wasn’t impressed with the offer he received from the Buccaneers, so instead of being patient while testing the market, he accepted what essentially was a one-year “prove it” deal at $5 million. He had nine sacks with Tampa Bay last season and is versatile enough to play end or tackle in a 4-3 alignment. He more than makes up for the loss of Jason Jones (Lions) and, after signing Cliff Avril to a reasonable two-year, $15 million contract, Seattle is prepared from a pass-rushing standpoint to get by while Chris Clemons (ACL surgery) is on the mend. Once Clemons returns, he’ll join a defensive line that features Bennett, Avril and former first-rounder Bruce Irvin, who finished with eight sacks last season as a rookie.
VI. After some initial confusion, the Patriots signed Danny Amendola before Wes Welker agreed to terms with the Broncos. He also received less money per year than Welker, which further proves that Bill Belichick and his staff coveted Amendola from the start of free agency (as opposed to countering Denver’s decision to sign Welker, like many had thought). New England was wise to tie up $2.5 million of Amendola’s contract in per-game roster bonuses, meaning the oft-injured receiver will need to stay healthy if he wants to fully cash in on his new deal. Considering he’s caught over 100 passes in five of the last six seasons, it’s almost ridiculous to think that the Pats have replaced Welker. But by signing Amendola, they acquired a player with a similar skill set that is also four years younger. As far as production goes, Welker has been in a league of his own since 2007 – but Amendola arguably owns a better pair of hands and has more than enough short-area quickness to play the slot in Josh McDaniels’ offense. What’s clear is that Amendola needs to stay healthy or his value will be greatly diminished over the course of his contract in New England.
VII. It’s laughable that some are questioning the Falcons’ decision to sign Steven Jackson when they could have just kept Michael Turner. These same folks point to both players’ production over the last four years and the fact that Turner has racked up 60 touchdowns since 2008 compared to Jackson’s 26 TDs over that same span. But Turner’s burst and acceleration have evaporated, and he no longer can create on his own. Too often last season he would run into the backs of his offensive linemen and managed a paltry 3.6 yards per carry. Jackson has lost a step over the years, but he still displays some quickness and the ability to beat defenses on the edge. Monetarily speaking, the two players aren’t comparable, either. Turner was set to make $6.9 million in his final year with the Falcons, while Jackson signed for a reasonable $12 million over three years. (Of the amount, only $4 million is guaranteed.) For those that worry about touchdown totals, keep in mind that Turner received 51 red-zone opportunities last season with Atlanta, compared to Jackson’s 27 with St. Louis. Considering Dirk Koetter used Turner as his goal-line battering ram last season, Jackson will have more than enough opportunities to reach pay dirt in 2013. More importantly, he’ll also give Matt Ryan and the dangerous Atlanta offense increased production while on its way to the end zone, which is something Turner rarely provided last season.
VIII. Considering Brian Hartline led the Dolphins in receiving last year, it’s hard to argue why Jeff Ireland spent a large portion of his cap space on Mike Wallace. He gives Miami’s offense something it desperately needed: A playmaker with the ability to take the top off a defense. But did Ireland really improve his defense, or did he make slight upgrades while also spending more money? Both Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe are solid players, but Ireland spent a combined $56 million to acquire them on the open market. In one fell swoop, he also released Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, who were productive last season for Miami’s defense. It’s not as if linebacker was a need coming into the offseason – Ireland just shifted players around and by doing so, spent more money in the process. Given the messes that reside in New York and Buffalo, the Dolphins will likely be the only threat to the Patriots in the AFC East next season. Again, it’s not as if Miami hasn’t made upgrades to its roster. But these are hardly calculated decisions by Ireland, who is seemingly spending money just because he has it.
IX. The Bears took somewhat of a gamble by signing former Saint Jermon Bushrod to a five-year contract on the opening day of free agency. Bushrod was a top-10 tackle in 2011, but his play dipped last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Bushrod allowed a whopping 46 quarterback hurries, eight QB hits and four sacks. The hurries and QB hits were more than Chicago’s 2012 left tackle J’Marcus Webb allowed (5 QB hits, 29 QB hurries), although Webb did surrender three more sacks. If Bushrod can return to his 2011 form, the Bears will have upgraded the blindside protection of Jay Cutler. But if 2012 wasn’t an anomaly for Bushrod, then Chicago will continue to struggle upfront. They’re still deciding what position 2011 first-round bust Gabe Carimi will play (Chris Williams 2.0, anyone?), and if Webb performs as poorly on the right side next year as he did on the left, Cutler’s days of being under constant duress will live on. Phil Emery still has a lot of work ahead of him when it comes to re-building the mess that Jerry Angelo left him along the offensive line. Chances are the Bears aren’t done adding to their front five.
X. Some of the contracts handed out to offensive linemen this week were staggering. I mentioned Bushrod’s five-year, $36 million deal, but there were more head-scratching decisions made by other NFL front offices. Andy Levitre is a solid player, and the Titans needed to upgrade their offensive line this offseason. But $46.8 million is an astounding figure for a guard. Meanwhile, Sam Baker has only had one productive year since the Falcons reached on him in the first round of the 2008 draft, yet they decided to hand him $41.5 million over six years. With some of the money that has been thrown around in free agency thus far, you can’t blame Jake Long for waiting until he received the offer he wanted.