National Football League

Observations from First Week of NFL Free Agency

+ The Raiders remain a living, breathing punch line. It appears that owner Mark Davis started to have buyer’s remorse after his GM Reggie McKenzie was ripped for handing Rodger Saffold $21 million in guaranteed money on the first day of free agency. The Raiders may have been concerned about Saffold’s shoulder (which is why he failed his physical with Oakland), but his price tag was ultimately the reason why he won’t suit up for the silver and black next season. Either way, the situation proved that Oakland’s front office is dysfunctional and, while I haven’t agreed with any of McKenzie’s moves this offseason (more on that in a second), I feel for him. He’s trying to rebuild a roster that is devoid of talent, but his owner just cut his legs out from under him. The Raiders may have avoided a disastrous situation with Saffold’s contract, but it’s not like cap space was a problem. Now McKenzie has to a fill a hole that a) he thought he had already filled by signing Saffold and b) after the market has dried up at offensive tackle. What’s worse is that he and Davis clearly aren’t on the same page, or else McKenzie wouldn’t have felt the need to apologize profusely to Saffold’s agents.

+ That said, I’m not sure what McKenzie’s game plan is anyway. He let productive Lamarr Houston sign with the Bears and replaced the 26-year-old with two aging veterans in LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck. And regardless of whether or not Davis undermined him when it came to signing Saffold, McKenzie still thought it was wise to overpay Saffold (who every Rams fan knows has durability issues) instead of re-signing Jared Veldheer, who could turn out to be a bargain for the Cardinals. Some have stated that once he could emerge from the rubble that was left behind by Hue Jackson, McKenzie would re-build the Raiders. But in surveying his decisions this offseason, it’s apparent that McKenzie learned nothing from his days in Green Bay under Ted Thompson (one of the most shrewd general managers in football).

+ Compared to what the Raiders were ready to give him, the Rams re-signed Saffold at somewhat of a bargain. But they still overpaid, especially considering they want to use him long-term at guard. If Evan Mathis is only making about $5 to $6 million per season with the Eagles, then Saffold shouldn’t be making over $6 mil to play guard for the Rams. I don’t need to remind Rams fans that Saffold has yet to play a full 16-game season. Then again, the Rams are also paying for his versatility, which might become beneficial if Jake Long isn’t ready for Week 1 of next season.

+ The other huge benefit for the Rams in bringing back Saffold is that flexibility just walked back through the door when it comes to their draft plans. Their backs were seemingly against the wall when they thought Saffold was headed for Oakland because Joe Barksdale was their only projected starter along the O-line who wasn’t coming off injury. With Jake Long, Scott Wells and the recently released Harvey Dahl rehabbing from offseason surgery, the offensive line was a massive concern. And while it’s still a concern, re-signing Saffold gives them added flexibility when it comes to that No. 2 pick. Maybe the plan has always been to take Greg Robinson. Or maybe now that Saffold is back, the Rams can focus on giving Sam Bradford another weapon in Sammy Watkins. Having options is a benefit, and the Rams have more options today than they had on Tuesday when free agency began.

+ They need to draft a developmental quarterback in the middle rounds (I like Zach Mettenberger if he falls to the third or fourth), but the Rams would have been wise to hang onto Kellen Clemens for another year. Especially with Bradford coming off ACL surgery. Nevertheless, Ryan Fitzpatrick would be a great backup option.

+ Some have criticized the Jets for giving Eric Decker a $36.25 million contract, but people need to realize that not every player and team is created equal when it comes to free agency. The Jets’ receiver corps is atrocious, and Decker represents an upgrade. Is he a No. 1? No. Is he a solid No. 2 and, thus, the Jets will need to continue to add at the position so he doesn’t become exposed? Absolutely. But you’re not going to attract many free agents to East Rutherford unless your team dons blue and red. Plus, free agency is essentially a blind bid. If you wind up attracting a coveted free agent, then you better wow him with an offer so that he doesn’t head to the next city where that team is willing to pony up for his services. Teams do overpay, but not everyone is fortunate to be the Seahawks, where guys like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are willing to sign for one- or two-year deals like they did in 2013. Besides, teams have to overpay in free agency because they screwed up when it comes to the draft. Do you think the Jets would have been as willing to sign Decker for that much money had they not blown a second-round pick on Stephen Hill two years ago? Do you think the Rams would be considering Watkins at No. 2 had Brian Quick panned out? Hit on your draft picks, and then you don’t have to overpay in free agency.

+ I’ll keep this short and sweet when it comes to the Broncos’ moves: No one in the league is more justified to pony up in free agency than John Elway, who knows Peyton Manning won’t play forever. Aqib Talib has the ability to shadow the biggest and best receivers in the league because of his talent and size, while DeMarcus Ware is aging but still has plenty left in the tank with a potential Super Bowl ring in site. Ware often had to do it alone in Dallas. Now he’ll have Von Miller opposite him in pass-rushing situations. Also adding T.J. Ward should hopefully provide more stability at the safety position as well. We can sit here and discuss whether or not Elway was fiscally responsible, but it would be pointless. The man has to win now.

+ Lovie Smith is taking a massive risk when it comes to handing the starting job over to Josh McCown. Smith has always preferred veterans over rookies when it comes to his starting lineup, but how does he or the Bucs know if McCown wasn’t a product of Marc Trestman? McCown was fantastic when filling in for Jay Cutler a year ago, but he may have just been the perfect fit for Trestman’s offense. Jeff Tedford is known for being a bit of a QB guru himself, but he has never called plays in the NFL before. I loved the Smith hiring, and the Bucs did well to add Alterraun Verner, Michael Johnson, Anthony Collins and Evan Dietrich-Smith in free agency. But they’re putting a lot of eggs into the Josh McCown basket.

+ Speaking of the Bucs, how they landed Verner for only $25.5 million is beyond me. After Brent Grimes signed for $32 million and Sam Shields received $39 million from the Packers, I just assumed Verner would sign in the $10-million-per-year range. What a deal for Tampa.

+ Bill Belichick never ceases to amaze me. Less than 24 hours after the Patriots lose Talib to Denver, Belichick lands Darrelle Revis for one year at $12 million. The deal also includes an option for a second year, so knowing Belichick, he’ll probably trade Revis for two first-round picks, Jamaal Charles and a private aircraft. Talib had a great season in New England, but he’s also dealt with injuries and off-field issues throughout his career. Revis still provides the Patriots with an upgrade and a shorter commitment. Along with the addition of Brandon Browner, Belichick revamped his cornerback position in the matter of two days.

+ The Jairus Byrd signing is a win-win for both him and the Saints. He landed the deal that he always wanted, and the Saints massively upgraded their third-down defense. He and Kenny Vaccaro now form one of the best safety tandems in the NFL.

+ That said, the Saints completely mishandled the Darren Sproles situation. Mickey Loomis should have never told Sproles that they were going to release him, only to turn around and say that they were going to hold onto him in efforts to trade him. Granted, the Saints can do whatever they want with his contract. But they’re starting to gain a reputation of treating their players unfairly, and let’s not forget that the Jimmy Graham fiasco has only just begun.

+ I liked the Falcons’ signings of Jon Asamoah, Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson. They needed to get tougher in the trenches, and they did so with these three moves. That said, $57 million for Soliai and Jackson? That’s a lot of money for two guys who only play on first and second down. The Falcons have also been one of the worst third-down defenses in the league under Mike Smith, and neither the signing of Jackson nor Soliai helps them with that issue. They better land a pass-rusher in the draft.

+ Speaking of the Falcons, I wonder if we can cross them off as being a potential trade partner for the Rams. The Les Snead-Thomas Dimitroff connection has led a lot of people to assume the Rams can trade back to No. 6 and the Falcons can move up to No. 2 for Jadeveon Clowney, but their signings this week indicate that they’re serious about switching to a 3-4 front. Why move up for Clowney when Khalil Mack might fall to them at No. 6?

+ Some of my favorite signings over the past week (in no particular order): Verner (four years, $25.5 million); Revis (one year, $12 million from New England with option in second year); Veldheer (five years, $35 million from Arizona); Houston (five years, $35 million from Chicago); Linval Joseph (five years, $31.5 million from Minnesota); Louis Delmas (one year, $3.5 million from Miami); Golden Tate (five years, $31 million from Detroit); Geoff Schwartz (four years, $16.8 million from New York). Verner fits Smith’s defense perfectly and received much less than I thought he would…Revis is still the best corner in the league (sorry, Richard Sherman)…Houston is a building block for a solid pass rush and works his ass off…Veldheer is a massive upgrade at tackle for Arizona…Minnesota spent less on Joseph than Atlanta did on Soliai, and yet the Vikings actually got a DT who could rush the passer…Delmas is a perfect candidate for a one year “prove it” deal based on his talent and injury history…Schwartz was a bargain at that price…and while Tate’s previous production wasn’t worth what the Lions paid him, his numbers were also surprising in Seattle’s run-first offense. He should flourish opposite Calvin Johnson.

+ The best remaining (in no particular order):

Michael Vick (solid bridge quarterback for a team looking to draft a young signal-caller); Josh Freeman (still plenty of time and upside to turn around his career); Jermichael Finley (the injury history is scary, but if he stays healthy, he could be a steal); Willie Colon (why are the Rams looking at Davin Joseph when Colon would be just as inexpensive and more productive?); Henry Melton (he’s the best DT on the market, and the longer teams wait, the cheaper he gets); Charles Woodson (the guy can still play, and there’s no long-term commitment).