Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Name Game: Free Agency

While the talk of the NFL-town these days is all about the draft, especially that oh-so-exciting numero uno picko…this off-season has seen its share of highlights. Whether you acknowledge it now or later, these seemingly unknown moves often have a tremendous impact on the NFL draft-standing of potential prospects and teams alike.

If you ask most people about this off-season, one word comes to mind: RBs. Okay, it’s not technically a word, but you know what I mean.

Willis McGahee is now a Raven. Thomas Jones is a Jet. Ruben Droughns is a Giant. Dominic Rhodes actually wanted to go to Oakland. Ahman Green is a Houston Texan. Travis Henry is the new starting back in Denver. Tatum Bell is now in Detroit. Jamal Lewis switched AFC North allegiances from Baltimore to Cleveland. Even TJ Duckett is now in the crowded Lion-backfield.

However, there were several other moves this off-season that may have rather significant moves on the draft standing and targets of several NFL teams.

Here are ten moves that may be under the radar for some fans; that is until they see their team’s selections unfold this weekend.

1) Atlanta Falcons signed former Saints wideout Joe Horn
Falcon effects: Despite spending first-round picks on Michael Jenkins and Roddy White, there are rampant rumors the Falcons are eyeing a wideout named Calvin Johnson (potentially with Detroit’s #2 selection) as the perfect heir-apparent to new Falcon Horn. Already sliding up from the 10-spot to the 8-spot (via the Schaub deal), don’t be surprised if new head coach Bobby Petrino wants to give QB Mike Vick as many weapons as possible.
Saint effects: Marcus Colston may not be a true #1 yet. While this team has serious wideout depth, are these guys capable of being consistent playmakers? Despite Reggie and Deuce catching the ball quite well, New Orleans may very well spend a first-day pick on added depth at tight end or on a possession wideout.

2) Kansas City Chiefs signed former Chargers linebacker Donnie Edwards
Chief effect: Kansas City signs a former draft-pick of their own and adds needed-depth to their linebacking corp. While a new starting wide receiver and interior line help is needed on both sides of the ball, Kansas City could select another ball-hawking linebacker well before Day One is over.
Charger effect
: Desperate for some outside speed at wideout, the Chargers will also still need added depth at LB. I have a hard time believing San Diego won’t target a linebacker – potentially a big name who slips in Round 2 – to fill out their impressive corps.

3) Denver Broncos traded for former Lions cornerback Dre Bly
Bronco effect: Giving up tackle George Foster and running back Tatum Bell, you know the Broncos (who fish in the later rounds for o-lineman and backs as well as anyone) will be searching for replacements. Yet, between the Calvin Johnson-rumors and their constant need to replace lost talent on the defensive-line, the Broncos may be better served goin’ fishing again.
Lion effect: With three running backs all dying for touches, the Lions now shift in the second and third round (their first round selection is already a mess), to finding defensive help for the pass rush (where a lot of $ is already invested) and in the secondary. Of course, whether they go offense or defense in the 1st round (or gain more picks, perhaps as early as high 2nd) is the real key to their draft weekend.

4) Minnesota Vikings acquired former Colts safety Mike Doss
Viking effect: A virtual unknown as of yet with their specific intentions, don’t expect the Vikes to let LaRon Landry slip if Quinn/Peterson are gone at 7. This team knows Darren Sharper isn’t far away from retirement and may need to aid the oft-injured Doss immediately with a playmaker in the secondary.
Colt effect
: Doss seemed a forgotten man, mainly due to injuries, late last season. Yet, with Bob Sanders always being shaky at best to be off of the injury report, the Colts clearly need first-day help at the safety position. Perhaps even with a name like Brandon Meriweather late in the 1st-round.

5) St. Louis Rams acquired former Dolphins tight end Randy McMichael, former Kansas City kick-returning specialist Dante Hall, and former Titan wideout Drew Bennett.
Ram effect: Seemingly stuck on d-line or secondary help with their 1st-round pick, the Rams picked up some offensive and special teams-based pieces recently in the off-season crap shoot.

6) Seattle Seahawks acquired former Falcon defensive end Patrick Kearney and former Jaguar safety Deion Grant.
Seahawk effect: Without a 1st-round pick, due to the Deion Branch-deal, the Seahawks did their best to acquire talent in free agency. With serious d-tackle issues, they can grab a space-eater in the 2nd and/or 3rd round if need-be.

7) Dallas Cowboys signed former Seahawk safety Ken Hamlin and former Cardinal tackle Leonard Davis.
Cowboy effect: Overpaying Davis just means the team can grab o-line help in later rounds. Despite Jerry throwing out dozens of odd smoke screens, all signs do point to a future-replacement for Terry Glenn at wideout.

8) Philadelphia Eagles traded for former Bill linebacker Takeo Spikes.
Eagle effect: Of course, the Eagles always think about the defensive line first. Yet, the departure of Stallworth leaves a playmaking hole in the wideout corps (which Kevin Curtis won’t fill) and the linebacking corps, even with Spikes, is far from youthful. Nevertheless, never bet against the defensive line choice from Philly.

9) Washington Redskins acquired former Viking cornerback Fred Smoot and Bills linebacker London Fletcher-Baker.
Redskin effect: Despite not winning the free-agency championship this off-season, Washington acquired a once-beloved former CB and an undersized, but talented ILB. With only one pick, the 6th, on the 1st day…moving down seems apparent. Yet, with the pick of Okoye, Landry, Branch, or even a surprise pick (Branch, Anderson, ???)…the Skins are tough to read until they actually go on the clock.

10) New England Patriots acquired former Dolphins wideout/return-man Wes Welker, Baltimore Raven standout linebacker Adalius Thomas, and former Eagles wideout Donte Stallworth.
Patriot effect: Re-loading in free-agency, the Patriots also have two first-rounders this year. Linebacker and safety help is needed badly, even with Thomas joining the team. Ditto for interior line depth on both sides of the ball (then again, who doesn’t need solid backups there?). A #2-RB wouldn’t hurt. Neither would a potential replacement for Assante Samuel at CB. Something tells me both picks go to the D in the 1st round, but the Patriots seem to be playing with house-$ after these three solid free agency moves.

So there we have it. Unless you are NFL-crazy or check the waiver-wire every few hours…a few of these moves may have surprised you. May have even shifted your once-perfect mock draft around a bit.

The real question is: how will moves, such as these ten, end up surprising potential draftees this weekend?

Until next time…

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