NFL offseason winners, losers and awards

BY Alex Marvez • June 3, 2009

It wasn't long ago when a June 1 purge of high-priced veterans — and subsequent signings with new teams — would essentially mark the end of the NFL's offseason personnel moves.

Not anymore.

With no salary cap in 2010 (unless a new labor agreement is reached), the mechanism for clubs to spread a prorated cap hit over two seasons no longer exists. Outcast players who once may have remained in limbo until today, like ex-Dallas wide receiver Terrell Owens, already have gotten released.

So the biggest offseason transactions are pretty much done. That means we can now look back at the winners and losers from a wild three months.

Biggest Winners

The Eagles have the NFL's top cornerback quartet in Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown, Joselio Hanson and newcomer Ellis Hobbs (trade, New England). The loss of free safety and locker-room leader Brian Dawkins stung early in free agency, but the Eagles will get more athletic at the position with replacement Quintin Demps. The only major negative this offseason concerns the health of esteemed defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. He was forced to take an indefinite leave of absence in May to undergo cancer treatment. If the 68-year-old Johnson can't return, secondary coach Sean McDermott will have his first turn calling the team's defensive signals.

New England: Tom Brady is back. That alone is enough to mark a successful offseason for the Patriots. Almost all of New England's other core players are returning as well. But coach Bill Belichick wasn't content with keeping the status quo after missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2002. Veterans were added at running back (Fred Taylor), wide receiver (Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis), tight end (Chris Baker and Alex Smith) and cornerback (Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs). The Patriots might not be done tinkering with their roster if a quality pass-rushing outside linebacker becomes available.

New York Jets: New head coach Rex Ryan wasted no time raiding defensive players from his former team, swiping linebacker Bart Scott, safety Jim Leonhard and defensive end Marques Douglas from Baltimore in free agency. The Jets also landed a potential franchise quarterback with a bold draft-day trade, leapfrogging 12 spots to select USC's Mark Sanchez at No. 5. Such moves have already helped erase the sting of last year's late-season collapse.

Biggest Losers

Washington: Jason Campbell should feel unloved. The Redskins tried replacing him through an unsuccessful trade attempt for Jay Cutler. Washington, though, shouldn't be blamed for trying. Campbell is clearly the fourth-best quarterback in the division and failed to make many big plays in the second half of the 2008 season as the Redskins faded after a 6-2 start. Washington should be better defensively with the addition of free-agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, but the Redskins still lack a proven pass rusher. The Redskins hope rookie Brian Orakpo can make a quick impact, but that's asking a lot from their 2009 first-round draft choice.

Denver: The offseason began in disastrous fashion with the franchise's alienation of Cutler. It hasn't gotten any better. The Cutler situation became so toxic that someone who should have been the franchise's cornerstone player was traded to Chicago (more details below). Some of Denver's free-agent signings were head-scratchers as well. The grace period already has ended for first-year head coach Josh McDaniels before he has even coached a game.

Indianapolis: A consistent double-digit winner under retired coach Tony Dungy, the Colts may find their future less rosy under replacement Jim Caldwell. "I'm not sure everybody's on the same page in this building," quarterback Peyton Manning recently said. The recent resignation of two key offensive coaches — Tom Moore (coordinator) and Howard Mudd (line) — hurts. There also were changes at defensive coordinator and special teams coach. Personnel-wise, there is no clear heir apparent for departed wide receiver Marvin Harrison. Tennessee will enter the season as the AFC South favorite — a position the Colts have held most of this decade.

Offseason Awards

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BEST FREE-AGENT SIGNING: Buffalo inking wide receiver Terrell Owens to a one-year, $6 million contract.

Sure, it's a risk to add such a controversial figure. But desperate times — nine years without a playoff appearance and a head coach (Dick Jauron) who almost got fired last season — call for desperate measures. Owens has looked outstanding in Buffalo's offseason program and appears motivated to prove Dallas made a mistake with his release. And it's just a one-year deal, which should have T.O. on his best behavior.

WORST FREE-AGENT SIGNING: St. Louis giving ex-Baltimore center Jason Brown a five-year, $37.5 million contract with $20 million guaranteed.

The Rams needed to upgrade their offensive line, but overpaid for a player whose limited athleticism makes him a better fit at guard.

BEST TRADE: Kansas City acquiring quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel from New England for a 2009 second-round draft choice.

New Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli made a brilliant move, bringing two familiar faces from the Patriots with him to Kansas City for a relative pittance. New England was desperate to trade both players at the start of free agency to create cap space. Pioli acted before Denver and Tampa Bay could up the ante. Cassel blossomed last season while replacing the injured Brady, while Vrabel will help Kansas City in the transition to a 3-4 defense.

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