Who walked away with free agency's biggest prizes?
By Alex MarvezFoxSports
NFL fans clearly weren’t the only ones waiting for the lockout to end.
Club executives wasted no time making personnel moves once the league and NFL Players Association completed a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Here are the highlights of a week in which teams tried to compress four-and-a-half months worth of roster moves prohibited during the work stoppage, resulting in the busiest seven-day stretch of player movement in NFL history:
Biggest winner — team
Philadelphia: Swiping elite cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha away from serious suitors like Dallas and the New York Jets is reason alone to celebrate. But the Eagles made a slew of other impressive acquisitions like cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive ends Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins. Babin summed up his feelings about Philadelphia’s Super Bowl chances on Twitter: “I feel like we’re the Miami Heat of the NFL … except we win the final game.” That championship victory is something the Eagles have never accomplished in the Super Bowl era.
Biggest loser — team
Miami: Does Chad Henne inspire Super Bowl dreams? Yeah, I didn’t think so. While team brass will never outright say it, the ill-fated attempt to acquire Kyle Orton from Denver shows Dolphins management feels the same way. Newcomer Reggie Bush was a nice multifaceted addition but he can’t throw the football to himself.
Biggest winner — player
Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning. The fact Manning signed a long-term contract extension wasn’t surprising but the amount of money he will earn is still breathtaking. Manning is slated to collect $69 million in the first three seasons of a five-year, $90 million deal. Both sides now must hope the other lives up to their end of the bargain. The 35-year-old Manning has to rebound from offseason neck surgery and continue to play at a high level for at least the next few seasons to make this a wise long-term investment. Manning also took $2 million less a season in hopes of giving the Colts more flexibility under the salary cap to make personnel moves that would help him win another Lombardi Trophy.
Biggest loser — player
Wide receiver Braylon Edwards. First, the Jets decided to re-sign fellow wideout Santonio Holmes to a mega-contract (five years, $50 million). New York then replaced Edwards through the signing of Plaxico Burress to a one-year, $3 million deal. Suffice to say, Edwards probably won’t land the caliber of contract he was seeking. Arizona is a potential landing spot.
Biggest sticker shock
Carolina giving defensive end Charles Johnson a guaranteed $30 million as part of a six-year, $72-million contract. Eyebrows wouldn’t be raised had the Panthers given this type of contract last year to a more proven commodity in defensive end Julius Peppers. Instead, Peppers signed a six-year, $91.5-million deal with Chicago while Panthers owner Jerry Richardson kept his wallet shut. The 25-year-old Johnson did have 11.5 sacks in 2010 and is six years younger than Peppers. Johnson, though, must emerge as a truly elite player to justify this type of deal.
New England trading for Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Who’s joining the Patriots next — Terrell Owens? Ok, Bill Belichick may not be that bold but he did stun the NFL by acquiring two players whose off-field exploits lately have overshadowed on-field production. To his credit, Belichick has successfully weaved controversial players like wide receiver Randy Moss and running back Corey Dillon into his team fabric before. Ochocinco and Haynesworth also know they won’t be around long if they don’t buy into Belichick’s team-first philosophy. The bigger question now is whether Haynesworth and Ochocinco are still talented enough to help New England win its first Super Bowl title in seven seasons.
Most surprising veteran release
Ex-Kansas City guard Brian Waters. Even though he reached his fifth career Pro Bowl last season and was slated to earn a modest $3.5 million in 2011, the Chiefs must have felt the 34-year-old Waters was on the decline. Waters told the Kansas City Star he hopes to play in 2011 but he hasn’t signed anywhere yet.
Most curious signing
Tampa Bay gives ex-Atlanta punter Michael Koenen a six-year, $19-million deal with $6.5 million guaranteed. Yes, a punter. The Bucs did have almost $50 million of salary cap space to kill. But giving this much cash to a punter/kickoff specialist — especially one who has played the majority of his six-year NFL career inside domed stadiums — is a head-scratcher.
Most name tags needed
The Cardinals have signed almost an entire regular-season roster — 51 players — since last Wednesday. Arizona did upgrade at quarterback with Kevin Kolb but all signs point to a slow start as players become acclimated to a new system.
Kansas City signing nose tackle Kelly Gregg to a one-year contract in the $2 million range. After 10 NFL seasons, the undersized Gregg is a likely short-term fix as Kansas City’s nose tackle. But his outstanding work ethic and leadership should help rub off on young Chiefs defenders in the same fashion as it did with now retired outside linebacker Mike Vrabel.
Player on the hottest seat
Donovan McNabb. Minnesota was seeking a short-term quarterback solution while 2011 first-round draft pick Christian Ponder is developed. The 34-year-old McNabb must now prove he is still a frontline starter after a disastrous 2010 campaign in Washington.
Biggest locker-room gamble
Chicago opting not to re-sign center Olin Kreutz. The Bears are banking on free-agent signing Chris Spencer (Seattle) to play as well or better than Kreutz. He had better. Bears players are fuming about the decision not to re-sign Kreutz, a highly respected 13-year veteran whose tenacious style set the tempo for his fellow offensive linemen.
Happiest offensive coordinator
Seattle’s Darrell Bevell. The Seahawks added a quarterback (Tarvaris Jackson) and wide receiver (Sidney Rice) who played under Bevell in Minnesota. Even though Jackson isn’t exactly an inspiring choice as Seattle’s new starter, the presence of both ex-Vikings should greatly help the transition of Seahawks players learning a new offensive system.
Happiest defensive coordinator
Houston’s Wade Phillip. Texans general manager Rick Smith has given Phillips some nice new pieces to work with as Houston attempts to improve the NFL’s 30th-ranked unit from 2010. Johnathan Joseph (Cincinnati) was the second-best cornerback on the free-agent market besides Asomugha. Danieal Manning (Chicago) is an athletic strong safety who can cover slot receivers – a must in Phillips’ scheme – and is a special-teams standout. The Texans also drafted Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt in the first round and are getting back standout middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who missed the final 10 games last season (Achilles’ tendon).
Miami re-signing outside linebacker Jason Taylor. Let’s be honest – Taylor never looked right in a Jets jersey. This will be Taylor’s third go-around with the Dolphins after he agreed to terms Monday. The classy Taylor will now get the chance to end his prolific NFL career with the team that drafted him in 1996.