I personally had expected to hear that Julius Peppers’ contract was to be signed in the early hours of Friday but it was Antonio Cromartie kicking off the Free Agency period, getting traded to the Jets for a pair of mid level picks just after midnight. Now that the opening weekend has passed, we can look at the upcoming season knowing some teams might be contenders and other teams got a lot of work to do in this upcoming draft.
Chicago went in head first, Grabbing Julius Peppers
This man has to have the biggest grin in the NFL right now. Chicago was one of the teams we figured would make a lot of big moves in Free Agency due to no real high draft picks (thanks Jay!), and they seem to be the biggest winners of the weekend. Lovie Smith didn’t hesitate in making moves to bring in talent, and this is one guy who will come in swinging on game day. With the addition of Peppers, this now gives you Briggs, Urlacher and Ogunleye all within this front 7. Considering the headaches that Peppers gave Minnesota RT Bryant McKinnie towards the end of last season, he better have a couple advil put aside twice a season now.
In addition to a healthy upgrade on their defensive line, they also snagged Brandon Manumaleuna, the San Diego backup TE and Chestor Taylor from Minnesota. Brandon gives Jay Cutler a good size receiving tight end and does well in blocking situations. He seems to be a good fit in Mike Martz’s new system. With Chester Taylor coming into the scene, he will provide a lift in the run game and pass protection that the younger Chicago running core never had. With all these new additions, it will make Chicago much more competitive in a very tough NFC North division.
Antrel Rolle signs with the G-Men
Rolle went into NY looking for a contract, and came out with one of the best contracts ever by a DB, valued at 5 yr/37 mil. Rolle will join a depleted Giants secondary and definitely makes us wonder what the future of S Kenny Phillips will be. Last year, the G-Men were dealing with inconsistent coverage and constant injuries and it became a glaring weakness that most teams took constant advantage of. With Rolle added back there, they have a fast moving, intelligent DB who can hit and doesn’t bite on every double move used.
Karlos Dansby to Miami? You bet
With Jason Taylor and Joey Porter both out, the ‘Fins were gonna need someone who can give them a real threat at the LB position. Adding Dansby gives them someone who will not only match up well against TE’s, but can rush the passer with some real speed. Even though this addition will help bring some depth to the LB core, they have a lot of work ahead of them still to keep them competitive. I have faith that Parcells still has some tricks up his sleeve when it comes to the draft. As long as the Big Tuna’s got his hands involved with the team, you have to keep an eye on the ‘Fins.
Additional Noteworthy Moves
Steelers resign Ryan Clark, Randle El
Randle El’s second homecoming will be welcome, which makes you wonder how long before struggling receiver Limas Sweed will be with the team. Randle El wasn’t as successful as Washington would have hoped, but with an abysmal offensive line and Jason Campbell running for his life, it makes it hard for a receiver to succeed in those situations. Bringing Ryan Clark back will keep consistency in the Steelers’ secondary. Clark looked a little lost without All-Pro Troy Polamalu back there helping him out, so having a healthy Troy back there will give him his comfort zone he so badly missed last season.
Jags land Kampman from GB
This is the first pass rusher the Jags have had in, well forever. They should be moving him back to DE, because his experiment with Green Bay at OLB was a failure to say the least. Plus the fact that he’s 30 and coming off an ACL injury, it will be interesting to see if he can perform at the same level when he moves back to the front line.
Anquan Boldin traded to Ravens
Boldin bolting from AZ seemed like a win-win on both sides. Boldin didn’t have to worry about the constant hassling of a contract extension that was years away and AZ didn’t have to hear stories in the paper of a disgruntled wideout who felt he deserved a new contract only 2 years into his existing one. The Cards got a 3rd and 4th round pick and the Ravens got Boldin and a 5th rounder in next year’s draft. The biggest winner in the whole situation? Joe Flacco. He will have a decent wideout threat with good hands that he can build a connection with. Boldin is not a #1 receiver, I’d say he’s a very strong #2 receiver. Don’t discount the Ravens going wideout with one of their higher picks in the draft, but this at least will help solidify a shaky receiving core in desperate need of help. (Sidenote: After this was written, they brought back Derek Mason. He’ll be a help, how long will he hold up? He doesn’t have many games left in him…)
Thomas Jones gets 2 yr/ $5 mil from the Chiefs
I was, at first, a little surprised to hear the Jets making the move with Shonn Greene as their full time back. With Jones past the infamous “30” year point, it seemed like a wiser move for the future to go with the future now instead of committing another couple year contract to the veteran and get the fresh legs in field condition. He will join Jamaal Charles in the backfield for an improving Kansas City team. I am more curious to see if Jones will have the success he’s had in prior years. He’s been a very effective back, but when you have Pro Bowl linemen in Faneca, Ferguson, and Mangold all blocking for you, it makes for a much better chance to hit the 1,000 yard mark consistently.
…and for my Final Thoughts…
– With the moves this far in the few days the Free Agency Market has been open, its tough to say which teams will be clear cut better. There always seems to be a team or two that pop up with a new look that catches the rest of the league off guard. By the obvious moves in the first weekend, some would say Chicago could be an impact team next year that the rest of the league should watch for. I’d think that they could be an impact team, but their only big problem is the divisional competition they’ll face for 6 games. Facing the Flying Favres in Minnesota and Green Bay’s finest 2 times a year will not be an easy task, even with the addition of Peppers and Co.
– In addition to teams looking better and better, you have to wonder what camp is gonna be like for the Arizona Cardinals. This team has been losing more contributors than any other team in the league. You lose Warner to retirement, Dansby to Miami, Rolle to NY, and Boldin to the Ravens, that’s a lot of key positions that need immediate attention, Boldin being the least impactful thanks to Steve Breaston. It makes you wonder, what will Arizona’s answer be to the hole at the biggest position in the lineup? Is Matt Leinart the answer for the future? Will they make a bid at McNabb? I’ll be keeping an eye out in the desert to see what the Whiz has up his sleeve for this coming season.
– Big Ben, what are you thinking?!?! Now granted, the first charge was dropped, he counter-sued, and the issue fell into the depths of media caverns. By all accounts, even if there wasn’t any real fault on Ben, any other person would at least consider who they hang out with or get involved with. Now with recent accounts saying Ben admitted to sexual contact (via PFT, thanks Mike and Co.!), everyone in the media and the rest of Steeler Nation, not even mentioning the rest of the sports world will be wondering about the first incident. I don’t see this coming out totally clean for Ben, but it won’t be something that I think will stop him from stepping under center next season. But if anyone could offer him some advice, maybe he should try E-Harmony.
– I believe Mike Vick deserves a 2nd chance at starting for a team in the NFL. With the lack of true quality franchise QB’s in the NFL now, a guy who’s been to a couple Pro Bowls, plus an NFC Championship appearance would certainly benefit a team like the Browns, Rams, or 49ers. All those teams have been in constant rotation of QB’s in the past few years, wouldn’t it make sense to get a guy who has done this before, plus provide some mobility that most QB’s in the league don’t share? Vick does have his fair share of problems, but he’s proven he can lead a franchise in the right direction. Since you can never guarantee that college talent will transfer to the NFL, I’d make the necessary steps to know I’ve got a more solid answer at the QB position than the 50 million dollar dice –roll with a top 10 draft pick.