Saturday, March 08, 2008

Free Agency: 5 Questions You Might Not Have Considered

There have been more than enough offseason moves since last Friday including:

-Derek Anderson inking a 3-year deal with the Browns.
-Asante Samuel bolting for the NFC and the Philadelphia Eagles for record-CB money.
-Pittsburgh’s former OG Alan Faneca signing the richest contract for an offensive lineman in history with the New York Jets.
-San Francisco making another big-money addition to their defense via DE Justin Smith.
-Randy Moss re-inking with the Patriots, apparently at a discounted price, for 3 years at $27 million.

Forget salary cap-crunching, franchise tags, restrictions on free agents and guaranteed money. As hard as that is, let’s dissect some of the not-so-obvious moves made this offseason.

And no, we don’t mean the ludicrous contract Oakland gave DE/DT Tommy Kelly (fresh off an ACL tear, no less).

Does Walker's departure give Oakland the AFC West's top wideout?

#5. The New York Jets sign FB Tony Richardson

Comment: Honestly, do even 50% of NFL teams utilize true fullbacks? Lacking any consistency in the position (and playing time for Darian Barnes at all this season), this 1-year pickup may speak to the Jets throwing the ball more. While the Jets have been ripped in the media for spending like the Skins of years past, it’s obvious the team wants to return to the 10-6 days, rather then slowly rebuild from 4-12 this past season.

Draft Implications: This signing also opens up questions as to what the Jets may do if faced with Darren McFadden being available at the 6th pick. My advice: trade the pick, select Rashard Mendenhall and use the 2nd- or 3rd-rounders on help for the secondary.

#4. The Oakland Raiders sign WR Javon Walker

Comment: Mammoth contracts for Tommy Kelly (sorry, I had to mention it again) and former Giants safety Gibril Wilson may have gotten the majority of the coverage early; however, Walker’s massive 6-year deal raises just as many questions. No longer restrained by the malcontent duo of Randy Moss/Jerry Porter, the Oakland front office landed last year’s #1 pick JaMarcus Russell and a top-flight wideout (when healthy). The good news is that before Walker’s season-long injuries began in Week 3, he appeared as if he’d be productive in his second straight season in Denver. A season removed from the tragic death of Darrent Williams – as well as a change of location – may do Walker more than good.

Draft Implications: Six months ago, even I thought California WR DeSean Jackson was too good to be true in Oakland. Now, the Raiders may have to decide on passing up on Heisman-runner up Darren McFadden or adding to their interior pass rush with the 4th overall selection. Walker’s addition to the offense may turn the front office to seek added protection for Russell…or perhaps a game-breaking RB to open up play-action passes downfield.

#3. The Jacksonville Jaguars acquire WR Troy Williamson and sign WR Jerry Porter

Comment: With WR Ernest Wilford in Miami and rumors abound surrounding a trade of Matt Jones on or near draft day, the Jags receiving corps is getting a complete makeover. Fortunately, redzone favorite Reggie Williams is around and Dennis Northcutt (costly drops in playoff games withstanding) is a savvy veteran every roster needs. After trading for former 7th overall pick, a definitive bust to this point, Troy Williamson for one free music download on iTunes (okay, it was for a 6th rounder), the Jags have almost nothing to lose on a player with blazing speed AND a bad case of the dropsies. As for Jerry Porter, he may be the biggest wild card in free agency this season. Carrying a back-loaded contract, Porter has All-Pro talent yet has lacked professionalism. While Porter isn’t likely to put up post-Raider Moss numbers, he might be talented enough to take this offense to the next level.

#2. The Washington Redskins re-sign backup QB Todd Collins

Comment: Jason Campbell should be 100% when mini-camp rolls around this June. That’s good news as new head coach Jim Zorn (never an offensive coordinator before being hired to do so in Washington for around 2 ½ weeks) has big plans for the big-armed QB. An even wiser move was locking up the 38 years young Collins as a backup for the next three seasons. Leading the Skins to four wins in their final four games, Collins proved he’s capable of making the throws necessary for this offense to move the ball downfield. What becomes most interesting is a scenario in which the Skins struggle out of the gates, does Campbell have a shorter leash than expected? Or, was Collins simply brought in to be one of the league’s best insurance policies.

#1. The New Orleans Saints sign CB Randall Gay and acquire ILB Jonathan Vilma

Comment: It’s too early to write off last year’s top acquisition CB Jason David from then-Super Bowl champion Indianapolis. If last year was any indication, David is much better suited in the nickel corner role. At inside linebacker, the Saints have tried their best to fill the position with good guy, overachiever types. Enter Vilma, who is recovering from a serious (and potentially lingering) knee injury, who will be ecstatic to prove the doubters in New York wrong as he returns to his forte 4-3 scheme. As for Gay, many feel he was simply a system-defender and many remember him being burned by a double-move from Super Bowl champion wideout Plaxico “Guarantee” Burress (I love saying that, by the way).

Draft Implications: Suddenly, the Saints are left with plenty of options with the 11th pick in this year’s draft. Some might have thought their initial targets might have been at either linebacker (e.g. Keith Rivers) or cornerback (Aqib Talib, Mike Jenkins, or even Dominique Cromartie-Rodgers). Yet, they appear to be in the position to go after the “best player available” on their board. All in all, this is not a bad luxury to have with the 11th pick overall.

Which moves are you most excited or disappointed about? Did any teams seriously drop the ball or move quietly through the first-week frenzy to your delight?

Until next time

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