Winners, Losers In First Weekend of Free Agency

With apologies to my longtime colleague, Bill Conlin, when I’m king of the world, the next NFL owner who has the guts to whine about the effect of the sour economy on his profit margin will have hot wax poured on his genitals.

A league that has sent nearly 300 former employees to the unemployment line in the last few months went on a weekend spending spree that must’ve made the CEOs at AIG, Bank of America and Wachovia proud.
Recession? What recession? The first 3 days of the NFL free agency signing period were more insane than ever. I mean, how do you explain Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who laid off 25 employees recently, giving defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth a 7-year, $100 million deal that includes $41 million in guaranteed money? Or the Broncos, who laid off more than a dozen staffers, giving Brian Dawkins, a 35-year-old safety, a deal that will pay him $9.5 million over the next two years? Or the Texans giving defensive end Antonio Smith, who had 3 ½ sacks last season, a deal that will pay him $15.5 million next season? Or the Jets giving linebacker Bart Scott, who had 1 ½ sacks and zero interceptions last year, a deal that will pay him $27 million over the next 3 years?

Thank goodness commissioner Roger Goodell took that 20 percent pay cut or the NFL join the line of companies filing for Chapter 11.

Anyway, here’s a quick look at the early winners and losers after the first weekend of free agency.

Chiefs: This already was going to be a vastly improved team in ’09 thanks to the terrific drafts it’s had the last two years. The weekend acquisitions of quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel for the paltry sum of a second-round pick will only make them better. And they’ll almost certainly walk away with another immediate impact player (Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry?) with the third pick in next month’s draft.

Lito Sheppard: Good things came in twos for Lito. The ex-Eagle cornerback finally got the trade he wanted, albeit a year late, and he also got his new team, the Jets, to rework his contract. If he can stay healthy and focused, he should be able to thrive in Rex Ryan’s defense.

Giants: GM Jerry Reese made a pair of nice weekend signings that should make his team’s already very good defense even better. The Giants inked ex-Falcon linebacker Michael Boley and ex-Seahawk defensive tackle Rocky Bernard. Boley is an athletic three-down linebacker who excels in coverage and has the speed to be a very good blitzer. Bernard is a one-dimensional tackle – strictly a pass-rusher. But he’ll benefit from playing in a nickel package alongside Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka.

Rams: Not sure how, but they landed the best offensive linemen in free agency, ex-Raven center/guard Jason Brown. A great get for a team that finished 25th in rushing and 26th in passing last year.

Redskins: They way, way overpaid for Haynesworth. But he does give them a badly-needed interior difference-maker who will have to be constantly double-teamed.

Broncos: Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is one of the league’s better defensive coaches and he should be able to find a way to maximize what 35-year-old Brian Dawkins still does well and minimize what he doesn’t. The Broncos didn’t have a running back with more than 343 rushing yards last season. Neither of the backs they targeted over the weekend – Correll Buckhalter, who signed, or J.J. Arrington, whose contract hit a snag – are going to be carry-the-load guys. But they have the versatility to be effective in Josh McDaniels’ offensive scheme.

Dolphins: The Dolphins re-signed three key players right before the start of free agency – guard Vernon Carey, linebacker Channing Crowder and safety Yeremiah Bell – then added safety Gibril Wilson.

Reggie Williams:
All this genius had to do was sit on his couch and stay off the police blotter for a couple of days and some wide receiver-needy team would’ve been happy to make the 6-4, 212-pound unrestricted free agent a rich man. So, what does he do? He goes out and gets arrested for drunk driving and possession of marijuana. So much for your chances of landing a $5 million signing bonus, doofus. Oh, wait. Dan Snyder is on line one.

Ravens: John Harbaugh’s team suffered some devastating hits over the weekend. One of their 2 inside linebackers, Bart Scott, signed with the Jets. Their strong safety, Jim Leonhard, is expected to join Scott there any day now. Center Jason Brown signed with the Rams, and Ray Lewis isn’t expected back either.

Patriots: With Tom Brady expected back, assuming he survives the rigors of his honeymoon with Gisele, they really didn’t need Matt Cassel and his $14 million cap figure. But why did Bill Belichick settle for a second-round pick for the guy? There were teams out there who would’ve given him a No. 1.


To read our interview with Brian Dawkins, click here.