Free Agency: Analysis
Update Wednesday, 12:27 AM EDT
Broncos deliver first shocker by signing cornerback Aqib Talib
Greg A. Bedard writes: The contract given to Jairus Byrd by the Saints raised more than a few eyebrows, but the Broncos swooping in and signing Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib for six years and $57 million (including a cornerback-record $26 million guaranteed) is the first shocker of free agency this year.
The signing, first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, gives the Broncos a top-notch cover cornerback and deals a blow to their chief rival in the AFC. There is no question that Talib is talented. He became much more consistent in 2013, his first full season with the Patriots after being traded midseason in ’12 by the Buccaneers. He has elite length and athleticism for the position. While his focus wanes at times, he can matchup with anybody when he’s dialed in. He’s very competitive and has matured well beyond the days when he was getting into fights with Bucs teammates on a seemingly regular basis.
However, he hasn’t played a full 16 games in any of his seven seasons, nor has he played in even 15 games since 2009, his second season. He has constantly dealt with lower body injuries in his hips and hamstrings. And he exited the Patriots’ last two AFC Championship Games (both losses) with injuries. The Broncos are banking that, at 28, he’ll suddenly be healthy. That’s a big leap of faith.
And Talib has a long history of off-field issues, dating back to college, which basically triggered his exit from Tampa. He’s been suspended under both the personal conduct and substance abuse policies during his NFL career. Talib apparently hasn’t been a problem in New England, but will that hold true away from the shroud of silence that engulfs One Patriot Place? That’s a legitimate question.
The Talib departure is sure to rock the Patriots’ plan, but the team always has contingency plans. Could they land the big fish, Darrelle Revis? To do that, they’d probably have to pay Revis more than what Talib got from the Broncos. That would seem out of character for them. Saving that, the Jets’ Antonio Cromartie is a physical fit for the Patriots, and they could take a look at Broncos free-agent cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey.
Update 11:28 PM EDT
Saints, Bucs wage late-night secondary war
Greg A. Bedard writes: We’ve already outlined how busy the Falcons were on Day 1 of free agency (scroll down to read earlier post below), but they weren’t the only NFC South teams to make major moves. The Bucs capped a frenzied day by signing Titans CB Alterraun Vernon while the Saints added the best available free safety, Jairus Byrd. The Panthers, who will be parting with franchise receiver Steve Smith, have been wallflowers so far as the defending division champs.
As I wrote about at the beginning of the day, top-notch free safeties are becoming much more important because of the amount of man coverage being played. You could make the argument that Cover 1 (one deep safety) is becoming the de facto coverage for the best teams in passing situations. To be a top-notch defense and play that coverage, you have to have a free safety who has rare range and instincts. And there aren’t many of them in the league. Ed Reed was arguably the best ever during his Ravens tenure. Seattle’s Earl Thomas is currently the best, and new Saint Jairus Byrd is second. He’s been a terrific ballhawking safety for the Bills, and he’ll fit perfectly in Rob Ryan’s scheme. Pairing Byrd with second-year strong safety Kenny Vaccaro gives the Saints a safety duo that is nearly on par with Seattle’s Legion of Boom, with Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
I don’t have a problem with the Saints paying Byrd $54 million ($28 million guaranteed) over six years because top-notch free safeties are worth that much now. But I have no clue how New Orleans will work that out and not wreck their cap.
The Bucs, who will soon be parting ways with Darrelle Revis, got the perfect corner for Love Smith’s scheme. When they signed Verner from the Titans, we found out that Smith wasn’t exactly being truthful when he said the Bucs would live and die by man coverage. Verner’s reported four-year, $26.5 million ($14 million guaranteed) deal is not representative of a cover corner. While I think he showed an ability to play more man coverage, evidently the pros in NFL personnel departments feel differently. That’s what you pay for a top zone corner, and Verner is that. He has very good instincts and athletic ability, and he makes plays.
Earlier in the day, the Bucs landed Bengals DE Michael Johnson (we discussed his weaknesses earlier), good interior rusher Clinton McDonald (Seahawks), and solid tight end Brandon Myers (Giants).
Update, 10:33 PM EDT
49ers trade for Jonathan Martin
Greg A. Bedard writes: This isn’t free-agent news, but it’s big news. Jonathan Martin, who became a national story when he left the Dolphins after allegedly being bullied by his teammates, has been traded to the 49ers for a conditional draft pick, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported.
San Francisco was long thought to be a logical landing place for Martin, who played at Stanford for Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman, now the 49ers’ head coach and offensive coordinator.
Martin, a second-round pick by the Dolphins in 2012, started out as a right tackle as a rookie. He then played left tackle—a position he wasn’t really cut out for—last season before leaving the team in October.
The 49ers have both left tackle Joe Staley and right tackle Anthony Davis locked up with long-term contracts, although Staley’s is a pay-as-you go deal. San Francisco does not have a locked-in backup at either spot, so Martin could be in a good position to regain his confidence.
Martin has good size and tools for the position. If he really feels passionate about the game, he could be a viable starting right tackle in the NFL. He was headed there as a rookie.
Update, 8:40 PM EDT
NT Paul Soliai (TheMMQB.com free-agent rank: 28)
OG Jon Asamoah (TheMMQB.com free-agent rank: 69)
DE Tyson Jackson (TheMMQB.com free-agent rank: NR)
Falcons re-sign DT Jonathan Babineaux (TheMMQB.com free-agent rank: 90)
Falcons release TE Tony Gonalez.
Greg A. Bedard writes: Last week we outlined how this was a crucial offseason and how much work there was to do for the Falcons and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, and they quickly got to work with a plethora of moves on the opening days of free agency.
We’ll get to the signings in a second, but one move that shouldn’t be overlooked is the Falcons’ decision to release Gonzalez. Why is this important? Normally, a retiring player files his retirement paperwork, his contract his wiped from the books and he sits on the reserve/retired list. The team retains that player’s rights. That way if the player decides he wants to play again, the team can either have the player back or trade him to another team. Think of Brett Favre and the Packers. Both sides went through that mess because the Packers didn’t outright release Favre, with the eye on controlling where he landed if he came out of retirement.
With Gonzalez, the Falcons were forced to release him—and take a $1.75 million cap hit—because Gonzalez hadn’t yet filed his retirement paperwork, and he was due a $3 million bonus on the fifth day of the league year. The Falcons had a choice. Either release Gonzalez, take the hit and get on with rebuilding the team, or hold the $3 million in cap space with a possibility of trading Gonzalez for a draft pick should he decide to unretire.
The Falcons chose to get busy living. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that this situation is an indication of some level of acrimony between Gonzalez and the Falcons as a result of the team’s decision not to trade him to a contender down the stretch last season. Gonzalez might think, They didn’t do me any favors last year, why should I do one for them now? And now he completely controls where and when he lands if he decides to return. He could even end up within the NFC South (how about the Saints or Panthers?). That’s exactly the scenario the Packers didn’t want with Favre, who spent a year with the Jets before joining Minnesota.
It’s largely a no harm/no foul move right now should Gonzalez ride off into the retirement sunset, but this should be filed away for next season, if and when Gonzalez starts to field calls from contenders in October.
As to the work done on players who will be on the team in 2014, the Falcons were aiming to get better and tougher on both of the lines, and they have done that. Soliai is a very good nosetackle who is extremely tough at the point of attack thanks to his immense strength. He doesn’t offer much in the pass rush, but that’s to be expected. He’s rugged and durable, so the Falcons should be fine with signing a 30-year-old to a five-year deal.
Jackson, who will be 28 this season, has never lived up to his status as third overall pick by the Chiefs in 2009, and he never will, because he can’t rush the passer. What he does and will do, is rough up offensive linemen and stuff the run. Jackson plays with a lot of strength in his lower and upper body and is tough to move.
Getting the severely underrated Jonathan Babineaux back in the fold means that the Falcons now have Soliai, Jackson, Babineaux and the previously re-signed Corey Peters as a very formidable inside group. Atlanta got pushed around in the run game the past couple of years. That should stop now.
Last season Asamoah, 26, lost his right guard spot in Kansas City to Geoff Schwartz (who is headed to the Giants), and the choice of which player you like better comes down to scheme. Asamoah is a good fit for the Falcons. He excels at pass blocking (Matt Ryan says thank you), but he’s no slouch at run blocking either. He’s not a road grader, but he can be very powerful. New offensive line coach Mike Tice should help Asamoah become more consistent.
The thing I like most about these signings is that the Falcons had very good intel on all of them. Assistant GM Scott Pioli drafted both Jackson and Asamoah with the Chiefs. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan coached Soliai in the same capacity with the Dolphins. Often the biggest mistakes in free agency have to do with teams not having the full background on the players they sign. The Falcons have that background by the boatload.
Update, 6:30 PM EDT
LB Karlos Dansby and S Donte Whitner sign with Cleveland
Peter King writes: If you need an example of the beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder element of free agency, look at the Browns. In the first hour of free agency, they replaced two of their biggest defensive leaders—linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and safety T.J. Ward—with linebacker Karlos Dansby, who had a better season than Jackson last year, and safety Donte Whitner.
Ward was one of the league's best safeties in 2013, a punishing hitter and an underrated ballhawk who certainly has a better future than Cleveland native Whitner.
Now, rarely does a team that is at least two or three years from serious contention get older in a couple of key moves. But the Browns did in both cases. Dansby, 32, is 23 months older than Jackson. And Whitner, 28, is 17 months older than Ward.
Cleveland GM Ray Farmer and owner Jimmy Haslam are keeping low profiles these days. They believe it makes no sense for them to talk a big game until they win a few, and they're probably right. But their fans are going to ask, and rightfully so, “Why are we signing players who might be gone by the time we get good?”
I believe it has to do with making sure you have players in your locker room who—for love of the team, or for money, or both—want to be there and profess their desire to turn the team around. Jackson was that kind of player, but Cleveland obviously felt he wasn't worth investing millions in for the future. But the decisions to not franchise Ward and center Alex Mack, who has been transition-tagged and could be stolen by another team with no compensation coming back to the Browns, mean, to me, that the Browns aren't going to beg any player to stay.
They had three fruitless rounds of negotiations with Mack. If he signs elsewhere, I get the feeling that the Browns will match only if it's not a painful match. The last thing the Browns want to do is take a player back—maybe for one year only—who clearly doesn't want to be there.
The Browns have a rocky road ahead, and the first pothole will be selling their fans that they got better on day one of free agency.
Update, 6:15 PM EDT
T Jared Veldheer signs with Arizona
OL Rodger Saffold signs with Oakland
Robert Klemko writes: Does anybody want to be an Oakland Raider?
Jared Veldheer didn’t. Not for a reported five years, $30 million, with $10 million guaranteed. General manager Reggie McKenzie’s offer constituted a relatively small slice of Oakland’s league-leading $60 million in approximate cap space, but the offensive tackle ended up signing signed with Arizona for $35 million, $17 million of which is guaranteed. This left the Raiders with an unknown commodity to bolster the offensive line: Former Rams tackle Rodger Saffold joined for five years and $42.5 million, with the $21 million guaranteed.
Will he replace Veldheer at tackle? Local media contingents are split, with ESPN Radio in St. Louis reporting that Oakland plans to use Saffold, who has missed 17 games in four years, at guard. Meanwhile, running back Rashad Jennings reportedly turned down Oakland’s $3 million a year for more money from the Giants, and defensive end Lamarr Houston—Oakland’s top run stopper—bolted for Chicago.
In short, the Raiders got worse on the offensive line and still have upwards of $52 million in cap room while free agents are flying off the board across the league. You might say, “Good for Reggie. He didn’t overpay for known commodities. Maybe he’s holding out for that Darrelle Revis trade everyone’s talking about.” Only that’s not happening. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk says the Raiders have pulled out of negotiations with the Buccaneers for the All-Pro corner, which makes sense, given the value McKenzie must place on keeping draft picks in order to rebuild. Yet as each well-regarded free agent flies off the board, the Raiders are looking less like a competent football team.
The top priorities at this stage are free safety, defensive end, defensive tackle and tackle (if Saffold is really playing inside)—yet the top players available at each position were either gone in the first two hours of free agency or are eyeing other destinations. Some of the highlights: The run on offensive tackles saw the top three players agree to terms in the first hour. As for defensive tackles, former Giant Linval Joseph is now a Viking and former Bengal Michael Johnson is now a Buccaneer. Bills safety Jairus Byrd is reportedly deciding between the Eagles and Redskins.
If the Raiders don’t start shelling out cash for the best remaining free agents, they’ll be forced to overpay for lesser players in order to be in compliance with the new CBA, which requires teams to spend 89% of the cap over four-year periods of 2013-16 and 2017-20. Thus, for every hour that passes without the Raiders making a big splash, prospective signees are earning another bargaining chip.
Update, 6:00 PM EDT
DT Arthur Jones (TheMMQB.com free-agent rank: 25) signs with Colts
Greg A. Bedard writes: One of my favorite players to watch on film the past couple seasons has been Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones, because he always seems to be getting better. Believe it or not, that’s fairly rare for a player his age—he'll be 28 this coming season. And Colts coach Chuck Pagano, the former Ravens defensive coordinator, knows better than most the type of player he’s getting in Jones. Considering the competitive intangibles exhibited by brothers Chandler Jones (Patriots) and Jon “Bones” Jones (MMA champion), Arthur seems to have it inside him as well.
Now, that’s not to say that Jones is a great player. He’s not, and he probably never will be. For one, he’ll have to prove he can be an every-down player, which he wasn’t in Baltimore (529 snaps last season). That’s where you might have an issue with the Colts’ paying Jones a reported $6 million per season—the projection that Jones can be a competitive every-down player. Then again, Colts GM Ryan Grigson hasn’t been afraid of this type of leap of faith (see outside linebacker Erik Walden last year).
What Indianapolis is getting in Jones is a player who is violent at the point of attack off the ball, can hold up well to double teams, has a little giddyup to get to the passer when given a crease, and who never stops playing hard. Those are the tools for being a very good player. Can he do that playing 60 snaps a game instead of 40? That’s the question.
Update, 5:45 PM EDT
49ers release CB Carlos Rogers, sign S Antoine Bethea
Peter King writes: There's one thing about the San Francisco 49ers of Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh that we have learned: They're not very sentimental. Let's look at what the Niners have done in secondary in the span of 13 months, since they lost Super Bowl 47 to Baltimore:
• Starters in February 2013: Cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown; safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner.
• Starters in March 2014: Cornerbacks Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver; safeties Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea.
There's an asterisk on today's news: Brown is a free-agent and still could re-sign with San Francisco, though I'm told that's unlikely. Culliver is a placeholder until draft day; San Francisco has five picks in the first three rounds (one in the first, two in the second and two in the third), and it's very likely Baalke will reach into a deep but not top-heavy cornerback crop to pick a potential starter.
As we've seen, San Francisco is never shy about playing young guys. We saw that with Reid and the green Brock, from tiny Belhaven (Miss.) University, and I believe we'll see it again with at least one high pick in May to further fortify the secondary.
You have to admire the way the 49ers run their operation. They don't care what the outside world thinks of their moves, and they continually build for tomorrow while playing great today.
Update, 5:30 PM EDT
Bears reportedly agree to terms with DE Lamarr Houston (TheMMQB.com free-agent rank: 16)
Greg A. Bedard writes: With Chicago reportedly set to part ways with 34-year-old end Julius Peppers, and all the top pass rushers (Greg Hardy, Michael Bennett, Michael Johnson, Brian Orakpo, Jason Worilds) off the board, the Bears were in desperation mode for an effective end and took the best one left in Houston. But if Chicago signed the former Raider to be an impact pass rusher, it’s likely the team will be disappointed.
Houston’s best assets are his strength and versatility. At 6-3 and 300 pounds, he is the kind of extremely rare athlete who can play anywhere from standup outside linebacker to defensive tackle. If you’re running a scheme that can accentuate that versatility, Houston will be a good player for you. If you’re just going to stick him in one spot at right end and say, “Your job is to go get the passer,” chances are you’ll be disappointed. Houston doesn’t have the speed to consistently beat the best left tackles in the league (ranked 33rd among edge rushers in TheMMQB.com Pressure Points), and as a pure tackle he wouldn't really possess the sheer strength (he has good hand strength) or quickness needed to handle guards inside. In that regard, Houston is kind of a player without a position—you have to create one for him because he’s such a unique talent. It’s going to be incumbent upon Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker to play to Houston’s strengths instead of fitting him into his system. Or else it’s going to be a waste of money, even though five years and $35 million ($15 million) isn’t obscene.
Update, 4:55 PM EDT
Cowboys release DE DeMarcus Ware
Greg A. Bedard writes: Aside from the Buccaneers’ decision to part with Darrelle Revis, the game’s top cornerback, who is still in his prime, Dallas’ decision to release DeMarcus Ware is the most surprising move of the day. It’s not surprising that the Cowboys rid themselves of a contract that was set to count $16 million against the cap (they’ll save $7.4 million). And it’s not surprising that Ware decided against taking a sizable pay cut to stay with the team. It’s surprising that a player of Ware’s stature, who can still very much play at 32 (in July), hits the market.
Ware is not worth $16 million against anyone’s cap, and he has battled injuries the past two seasons (shoulder and elbow surgery the past two offseasons), but he remains an elite edge player. Ware is still very strong at the point of attack against the run and explosive off the edge against the pass. He ranked 22nd in TheMMQB.com’s Pressure Points, despite having a career-low six sacks while playing hurt and at a new position in a 4-3 for the Cowboys.
It appeared that some of Ware’s issues had to do with the conversion from 3-4 outside linebacker to a 4-3 end. The transition is not as easy as one would think, especially for a player who had spent eight seasons training his body to be a standup linebacker. Ware should find himself a landing spot that allows him to get back to standing up full-time on the outside. Among the teams that could give him that opportunity: the Falcons, Jets, Browns, Texans, Saints and Chargers. Ware, at his age, is a starter who needs some relief but is still better than being just a role player, at least for a couple more years.
Update, 4:15 PM EDT
LT Branden Albert (TheMMQB.com free-agent rank: 7) signs with Miami
DE Michael Johnson (TheMMQB.com free-agent rank: 4) signs with Tampa Bay
Greg A. Bedard writes: With zero game-ready tackles on the roster, the Dolphins were going to land one in free agency, and they got the best one available at the most important spot, in my opinion.
Albert’s got the ideal size (6-5, 315 pounds) and swift feet to man the left tackle spot. The former Chief moves extremely well on film (you can mistake him at times for a tight end at times) in the pass game. Albert is a bit top-heavy, which shows up in the run game as he can get muscled from time to time. But his quick feet should translate well if the Dolphins run a zone-blocking scheme similar to the one offensive line coach John Benton ran with the Texans.
Albert’s biggest weakness is an inconsistent punch at the point of attack, which can be cleaned up some. The only real question mark about this signing is that Albert will be 30 this season, and he has missed time the past two seasons with injuries. That could be problematic with a multiyear deal worth $10-11 million per season. But the Dolphins probably have some level of confidence since assistant line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. was with the Chiefs in 2012.
As for Johnson, if you were to draw up the prototype for a pass-rushing end, he would be it. He stands nearly 6-7 at 266 pounds with arms that go on for days. Basically, he’s Jadeveon Clowney without the speed and explosion. But the Bucs are making a little bit of a leap of faith with the former Bengal.
He has many pluses, including the fact that he’s overcome the inconsistency knock that caused him to drop to the third round in the 2009 draft. Johnson has increased his strength and is extremely strong at the point of attack against the run. That’s where he stands out. He played both gaps very well in the Bengals/Mike Zimmer scheme. That’s part of why Tampa made him the first signing of the Lovie Smith era. Both are 4-3 schemes, but they’re very different. Zimmer likes his linemen to free up the linebackers to make plays and blitz. Smith doesn’t do much blitzing and frees up his ends to pin their ears back and rush the passer. This is where the projection is being made by the Bucs, and that’s often when teams get into trouble in free agency.
Johnson is not an elite pass rusher at this point. He’s OK thanks to his decent speed and athleticism, but he doesn’t have many pass-rush moves and isn’t hugely explosive. For that reason, he finished 54th among all edge pass rushers in TheMMQB.com’s Pressure Points ranking. However, the Bucs must feel that Johnson, in a different scheme, can be the type of difference-maker who commands the reported five-year, $43-million contract ($24 million guaranteed). That’s a lot of money for a player, if he doesn’t improve his play, who is best against the run. He could be a misfit for the Bucs scheme. Teams that expect more two-way play from their ends—New England, or Cincy, the club he's leaving—might have proved better spots for Johnson’s strengths.
Tuesday, Noon EDT
Greg A. Bedard writes: Welcome to the kickoff of Free Agency 2014. The new NFL league year commences at 4 p.m. Tuesday, which means teams can begin to sign free agents whose contracts have expired (released players with at least four years of service can sign at any time).
Over the next few of days, The MMQB will cover the initial rush of activity—we’ll be providing analysis of the signings, explaining how new players fit into news scheme. we’ll also be targeting those signings that have the most bust potential, and those that could pay off big for new teams.
Year after year we see examples of how, outside of rare events like Peyton Manning’s coming on the market, big spending in free agency does not correlate to added wins. Last year 10 teams signed players on the first day of free agency. Three of those teams made the playoffs, with two (Broncos and Colts) making a repeat trip after signing mid-level free agents. The third, the Eagles, made the playoffs after missing them the previous year, but the player they signed, NT Isaac Sopoaga, was traded during the season to New England, where he finished the year on the bench.
Despite the storyline the league likes to push, free agency is often fool’s gold. Team-building does not happen in free agency. That occurs in the draft. This is not baseball or basketball, where one player can make an instant impact. Football is the ultimate team sport. New players often take time to acclimate to their new surroundings, teammates and schemes. If free agency does pay off, it’s usually down the line, after players have been in the system and earned the trust of their teammates.
Free agency is most effective when targeted signings, focused on value, add to the established core. The Seahawks were definitely helped on the way to winning the Super Bowl by free agent ends Cliff Avril (arguably the game’s true MVP) and Michael Bennett. Those signings came on the second and fourth day of free agency, respectively, with a combined cost of $17.8 million over three years.
With that in mind, here are five things to watch as free agency begins:
1. Where will Darrelle Revis land? First of all, I don’t understand why the new regime of coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht is dead set on parting ways with the cornerback. Yes, he makes $16 million per season. But if the market is $9.75 million for a player like Sam Shields, who has been good to this point and the Packers are banking on him being great in that deal, Revis is worth at least $13 million—and that $16 million will look better as the cap increases toward the final year in 2018. I could understand not wanting to pay another player that much if you had a star quarterback commandeering most of the cap, but the Bucs don’t have that. If they happen to find that guy in the draft, they’re still years away from having to pay a franchise QB contract. And despite appearances, Revis is a scheme fit. Smith has said that the team will rise and fall by how they play man to man. And Revis is still, by far, the best man-coverage cornerback in the NFL. Why not give it at least one year to see if he’s worth the money?
But we digress. Revis is available, and if he is not traded he will be looking (again) for top dollar. That’s what he has always wanted. So you have to look first at the teams that are a scheme fit with the most cap space: the Raiders, Browns (new coach Mike Pettine was Revis’s coordinator with the Jets), Vikings, Jets, Colts, Broncos and Eagles.
The Patriots could make a run, but you’d think they’d have to go the trade route because they’re not going to get into a bidding war over Revis. That’s not their style. They would prefer to get him in the fold, convert the $13 million base salary into a bonus for the first season, and believe they can convince him to rip up the deal after tasting success in New England. Also, considering Licht owes Bill Belichick for hiring him after being fired in Philadelphia, you’d suspect Licht would have given Belichick the first chance at Revis, and an opportunity to acquire the cornerback before this all became public. That’s more Belichick’s method of operating in situations like this. And that time has passed.
2. How the contenders add to the core.
• The Seahawks are going to need to get better on the interior of both lines, at guard and defensive tackle. There are plenty of good, mid-level options available out there. If general manager John Schneider hits like he did on Avril and Bennett last year, look out. The Broncos need a lot more help at outside linebacker/end, and the reported interest in Jared Allen would be a nice addition. If left guard Zane Beadles leaves, Denver would need help there as well. Free safety could use some improving as well.
• The Patriots have to stop screwing around with marginal replacements and get a real third defensive end to help with the pass rush. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich play far too many snaps, and the Patriots barely breathed on Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship Game. New England also needs more quality depth at tight end. And, of course, some work at cornerback if Aqib Talib isn’t re-signed. The team has been looking for a legitimate, physical strong safety for some time. Those are tough to find in the draft, and Adrian Wilson is not it.
• The 49ers need more targets for Colin Kaepnerick, and likely a cornerback.
• The Colts (safety, cornerback, receiver, center), Eagles (safety, both linebacker spots) and Chiefs (receiver, free safety) also have some work to do.
3. The free safety market. With more and more NFL teams realizing the benefits of man coverage, more stress is being put on the free safety in each system. Only three good ones are available in this class: Jairus Byrd (Bills), Chris Clemons (Dolphins) and Malcom Jenkins (Saints). I’m surprised the market has not reportedly been robust for those last two players. The majority of NFL teams are traditionally behind the curve when it comes to trends in the game. Everybody looks at the success of the Seahawks and praises the cornerbacks. Yes, they’re great, but the rare abilities of safety Earl Thomas keyed that scheme. Similar situation in New England. Everybody points to cornerback Aqib Talib being the difference-maker for that unit. It really has been Devin McCourty. Other teams should catch up.
4. The cornerback dance. Which players stay with their team before the deadline? Which teams put their plans on hold pending the Revis situation? It will be fun to watch how it plays out with Revis, Alterraun Verner (Titans), Aqib Talib (Patriots), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Broncos), Vontae Davis (Colts), Tarell Browns (49ers) and the released Antonio Cromartie (Jets).
5. Who overpays for which player? There is always silly money thrown around at somebody who doesn’t deserve it. (See the Dolphins with receiver Mike Wallace and the Browns with outside linebacker Paul Kruger last year.) Who are the best candidates this year? 1) Bengals end Michael Johnson, who is not enough of a natural pass rusher to command top dollar; 2) Talib, who hasn’t played a full season since 2009; and 3) Broncos receiver Eric Decker, who really isn’t a No. 1 receiver but will be paid like one.
2013 free agency
A look back at how free agency went down last season, with key signings in chronological order. Playoff teams are in bold.
Dolphins signed WR Mike Wallace
Titans signed OG Andy Levitre
Browns signed OLB Paul Kruger
Broncos signed OG Louis Vazquez (four years, $23 million)
Colts signed OT Gosder Cherilus
Bears signed TE Martellus Bennett
Colts signed OLB Erik Walden
Dolphins signed LB Dannell Ellerbe
Bears signed OT Jermon Bushrod
Rams signed TE Jared Cook
Dolphins signed LB Philip Wheeler
Eagles signed NT Isaac Sopoaga
Browns signed DL Desmond Bryant
Bucs signed S Dashon Goldson
Lions signed RB Reggie Bush
Broncos signed WR Wes Welker (two years, $12 million)
Seahawks signed DE Cliff Avril (two years, $13 million)
Patriots signed WR Danny Amendola
Broncos signed CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (one year, $5 million)
Chargers signed CB Derek Cox
Chiefs signed CB Sean Smith
Saints signed CB Keenan Lewis
Colts signed DT Ricky-Jean Francois
Falcons signed RB Steven Jackson
Chargers signed RB Danny Woodhead
Vikings signed WR Greg Jennings
Seahawks signed DE Michael Bennett (one year, $4.8 million)