It’s been over a month since the Super Bowl, the dust has settled and last week was the official start to the new NFL season which each year starts off with a free agent frenzy. Some teams tagged key players beforehand, like Jimmy Graham with the New Orleans Saints, but many players hit the market to be snapped up by teams looking to improve their teams for the upcoming season.
The most impressive and potentially surprising team in the initial rush of business is the Super Bowl runners-up, the Denver Broncos. Already equipped with an incredible offensive unit, they made key moves to create a defence to match it and take one big swing at the Lombardi Trophy this year. Bringing in TJ Ward at safety, nabbing cornerback Aqib Talib from New England and adding a real QB killer in DeMarcus Ware, the Broncos have gone all in behind what could be Peyton Manning’s final season.
Not to be outdone, the New England Patriots made a few nice moves to match up to their AFC rivals. After losing key CB Talib, they brought in an even better replacement with Darrelle Revis and added a very solid starter on the other side in Brandon Browner. Keeping Julian Edelman was a good move, a man who knows the Patriot’s offence well and with another potential wide receiver addition in the draft it could be Tom Brady and Peyton Manning duking it out again in the AFC Championship game this year.
It is unusual this year for the teams with the biggest cap rooms not to go all out, they are usually teams that need improvement but none of them made any wave-making moves to retool their squads. The Cleveland Browns put up a few iffy deals with Carlos Dansby, a good player but paying too much for a 32-year-old Interior Linebacker, and Donte Whitner who whilst talented is a downgrade from their previous safety TJ Ward. They did make a solid move with Ben Tate, on a very team-friendly deal too, but it’s the only real change the team has seen.
The Oakland Raiders were another team with plenty of money to splash and they almost pulled a real stinker paying way over the odds for guard Roger Saffold who then failed a medical to return to the St Louis Rams. They’ve pulled off some nice moves since, with James Jones and Antonio Smith coming in on very good deals, but also some questionable ones like a declining LaMarr Woodley and a real boom-or-bust in Justin Tuck.
While no team made anything dramatic in the NFC, there were some very shrewd signings made by teams looking for that extra push. The New Orleans Saints picking up the best safety on the market in Jairus Byrd was a clever decision, linking him up with promising youngster Kenny Vaccaro is something that must have Rob Ryan rubbing his hands in glee. Lamarr Houston found a new home in Chicago, Tampa Bay filled the Revis void with a great replacement in Alterraun Verner and Arizona added significantly to their offensive line bringing in Jared Veldheer.
There was a few players a little miffed by their releases, with Steve Smith praying he faces Carolina again with his new team in Baltimore, but none had as bigger middle finger as Julius Peppers joining Green Bay. He might be past his best but a year prove-it kind of deal is perfect to motivate a player who will see his former employers Chicago twice next year.
There will be a few nice little moves from now until the draft but teams have restocked where they can so they can focus on what they need to pick up next. Most would recommend not building your entire team in free agency but making small yet significant moves will help your team change it’s course dramatically for the upcoming season.