The NFL’s free agency market kicked off with a level of excitement and vigor that put Day 1 of last year to shame. Many Top 100 Players lists were whittled down within hours, and all in all, 64 players were moved to new teams.
Below are five major takeaways since the official signing and trading period opened just 12 hours ago.
Bucs are quickly moving on from the Greg Schiano regime
A flurry of news reports have made it clear that Darrelle Revis and his $16 million annual cap hit aren’t welcome in Tampa any longer, and this was reinforced by the far-more-palatable $26 million over four years they gave to ex-Titans corner Alterraun Verner on Tuesday. The speedy, athletic Verner has made a reputation as one of the best young corners on the market, and he’ll fit perfectly in the team’s Tampa-2 scheme. However, as Cian Fahey illustrates, there are understandable concerns about the quality of competition he faced playing across from Jason McCourty and covering mediocre AFC South receivers.
Still, the Bucs seem quite desperate to move on from Revis and the underperforming defensive ends from Mark Dominik drafts, reeling another big fish in ex-Bengal Michael Johnson on Tuesday. Johnson will instantly improve the team’s pass rush, which was nonexistent last season.
Broncos made an effort to spend big
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks receivers exposed Denver’s secondary in third-and-long situations during the Super Bowl, so John Elway attempted to improve the secondary right off the bat. The Broncos hit two of the biggest secondary names on the market Tuesday by signing ex-Browns strong safety TJ Ward and ex-Patriots corner Aqib Talib. Ward is arguably the league’s best in-the-box safety while Talib can shut down the likes of Jimmy Graham and top receivers if—and that’s a big “if”—healthy.
Ward is certainly an upgrade and complements a unit that already has great run instincts. However, signing and overpaying Talib just feels like a poor attempt to replace Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who the team will probably part ways with at this point. Though, Talib probably enters Week 1 as an elite shutdown CB until the nagging ailments eventually take their toll.
Minnesota Vikings return to their roots by bolstering defensive line
It’s hard to remember the last time the Vikings fielded a poor defensive line. Despite squinting my eyes and pressing my temples, all I can recall is the Williams duo clogging the interior and Jared Allen harassing opposing passers off the edge. Well now the next era of purple DLine terrors are assembling in Minny.
The re-signing of Everson Griffen this past weekend and extension to Brian Robison will set the edge nicely for Allen’s departure. And the signing of Linval Joseph on Tuesday helps fortify the interior, along with 2013 first-rounder Sharrif Floyd. Joseph had played consistently well on a very underrated interior defensive line for the New York Giants.
This defensive front will make opposing offenses work for every yard.
The New Orleans Saints secondary just got a lot faster and can cover more ground quickly
Between 23-year-old Kenny Vaccaro and the highest-paid safety ever, Jairus Byrd, the Saints now field one of the best safety tandems in the NFL. The two have a knack for making plays quickly and covering a lot ground with their excellent range. Long gone are the days of Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins getting torched, as super-aggressive defensive coordinator Rob Ryan now has his perfect last line of defense to work with.
There’s no place for veterans with large contracts attached to them
As TSD’s Vincent Frank touched on, how quickly things can change.
Champ Bailey, DeMarcus Ware, Julius Peppers, Jared Allen and Darrelle Revis all available. Imagine this tweet two years ago. — Vincent Frank (@VincentFrankNFL) March 11, 2014
Revis might be the only exception from this group, given that he’s still 28 years old, and continues to play at a high level. Even though he played in a Cover-2 based system in Tampa that didn’t play into his strengths, he still shut down opposing receivers.But instead of retaining (arguably) the top cornerback of all-time, the Bucs were fine with letting him walk.
But double-digit millions are hard to shell out for players on the wrong side of 30. And the same goes for those that are weighed down with extensive injury histories.
Meanwhile, Dallas took the $2 million-plus dead money to scratch future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware’s $16 million cap hit. And the Bears decided $8 million-plus of dead money was still worth ditching the $18 million Julius Peppers was due in 2014.
Teams seem eager to wriggle out of long-term deals with aging players whose best years are behind them, regardless of how great they’d been on the field for their respective organizations in recent seasons.