From the FanPosts -Joel
It's easy to declare free agency winners and losers based solely on who signed the big names and what kind of a deal they got. All these free agent signings depend on the player's scheme fit and how much "football" they have left.
What's even better is the assumption made by many that certain teams have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Free agency does excite the fan base because of the potential of what might be. However, many times free agency isn't the cure-all to carry a team over the top. There are free agents who can make an impact but most times this is due to the right fit and right surrounding cast.
With this in mind, let's take a look at what's been going on in the AFC West:
Let's start with the salary cap loaded...
Reggie McKenzie had a rough start to Free agency. Who could forget this:
Raiders announce the Saffold deal has been voided as he could not pass a physical. Man, they really can't give their money away— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 13, 2014
It seemed after the Saffold debacle that the Raiders would continue down the path that has typically been Raider Nation. However, the nice thing about having almost $60 million in cap space is that eventually you will find some takers. It is interesting that McKenzie didn't put up any resistance to letting Lamarr Houston, Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins, Jared Veldheer or Vance Walker (now a Chief) leave. In fact the Raiders have decided to rebuild their defense and who can blame them since they ranked 29th in the league for points allowed and 22nd in yards allowed. I know we've mostly paid attention only to KC and Denver but what is Oakland doing?
Currently, they run a 4-3 defense. Letting both of their starting corners leave in free agency means that McKenzie is going to give their No. 1 pick from last year, DJ Hayden, every opportunity to be the playmaker they hope he can be. To cover the other side of the field they signed Tarell Brown, cornerback from the 49ers. Brown turned down a 3-year offer from the 49ers to see if he could make some more money by playing on a 1-year contract in Oakland.
Former 49ers CB Tarell Brown reached agreement on a 1-year, $3.5M fully guaranteed contract with Raiders.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 14, 2014
Brown is an average corner and actually might be a slight upgrade over Porter or Jenkins if he can stay healthy.
This brings us to the re-built defensive line. Oakland brought in Pittsburgh OLB LaMarr Woodley and plan to convert him to DE.
LaMarr Woodley says he'll be a 4-3 end with the Raiders. No different than 3-4 OLB, he says, except his had will be in dirt.— Jerry McDonald (@Jerrymcd) March 13, 2014
One has to wonder how an oft-injured 3-4 OLB will adjust to playing with his hand on the ground as a 4-3 DE. Also, Pittsburgh linebackers always do so well when they move to another team. Pittsburgh has a way of sucking the life force out of a linebacker and then some other team convinces themselves that they can reclaim the magic (Kendrell Bell, anyone?) On the other side, they go out and sign former Giants DE Justin Tuck.. While Tuck comes from a 4-3 in New York, you have to wonder if he can stay healthy.
Rotoworld gives this indication of what Oakland is trying to do:
He'll likely play right end with Justin Tuck at his natural left end spot. With Sio Moore in the Von Miller role at strong-side linebacker and left end on pass-rushing downs -- with Tuck kicking to three technique in those scenarios -- the Raiders do have the potential to bring some pressure. They also fielded a respectable front seven in 2013, however, and finished 4-12.
And they signed former Texans DE Antonio Smith to provide the push from the interior. Smith will push inside and you have to believe that the transition from 3-4 DE to 4-3 DT won't be that difficult. The big issue with Smith will be the fact that he is 32 years old and will be 33 midway through the year. Oakland apparently believes that Smith will be an upgrade over Walker. As a Chiefs fan, it'll be fun to see if Walker can be a better 3-4 end and Smith is less of a 4-3 DT.
To date, the Raiders defensive signings do show structure as to what they feel is most important. For the most part, they have signed aging stars (all of the signings have played at least seven seasons) who they hope will be able to provide a greater sack total then their 18th rank from a year ago.
On offense, it is obvious their concern is in the trenches. They re-signed Khalif Barnes, who will be 32 in the upcoming season and is a bottom of the barrel guard. He is considered a better pass blocker than run blocker, although that's not saying much. They went out and signed another aging tackle / guard from that dumpster fire of an offensive line that was the New York Giants in Kevin Boothe. You have to think Boothe was signed to be a reserve since he can play multiple positions on the line. The interesting offensive signing is former Jets RT Austin Howard. The Jets were making a play to re-sign Howard, who seems to be an above average RT.
A Dolphins beat reporter put it this way:
Howard is only 26 years old, so he falls into the category that you really want to look for in free agency: a young, ascending player. Rotoworld said this about Howard:
Howard is a 6-foot-7, 333-pound power blocker, though he struggled in the run game last season. Either way, it's a solid pickup for GM Reggie McKenzie at the end of free agency's first day.
Howard was a decent pass blocker, giving up only two sacks last year. When you consider the Jets gave up 47 sacks on the year, Howard looks pretty good.
The most recent piece to the Raider puzzle on offense is former Packers WR James Jones. While Aaron Rodgers makes most of his receivers look good, Jones is a good receiver in his own right. Jones looks to become the No. 1 receiver in the Raiders line-up but with the No. 5 pick in the draft that could change should Sammy Watkins fall. Obviously, the Raiders big missing piece is a QB. However, it sounds like they would prefer to have a vet to start the fall.
With an offensive line that can pass block and hardly run block, I would guess they will want a QB, who can air it out. That's why a Matt Schaub along with a 2secod or third round QB (like Derek Carr or Zach Mettenberger) seem to make some sense. I suppose Michael Vick could be an option but it's been quiet on that front for a while.
Their misses get a lot of publicity. But the #Raiders have quietly signed OT Austin Howard, Justin Tuck, Woodley, & now James Jones. Solid.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 17, 2014
So McKenzie seems to have bought into the league as pass crazy. It seems he's trying to upgrade his pass rush and move to the upper third of the league in sacks. All the while looking to set an offense that will focus more on moving the ball through the air. They still have a long way to go to upgrade their talent and most of these pick-ups seem very much like a stop gap to stop the blood letting of the past couple years.
Now on to the rather quiet...
San Diego took to heart one of the fundamental best practices of free agency -- sign your good young players. Re-signing players like Donald Butler (ILB), Darrell Stuckey (DB), Reggie Walker (OLB) and Chad Rinehart (G) locked up some good ascending talent and quality depth.
Their free agency plan seems to bring in depth. They've brought in some younger players that they hope will provide depth and competition. Former Colts LB Kavell Conner was an ascending player for the Colts just two years ago and somehow fell out of grace last year. It will be interesting to see if he pushes Te'o at all or just winds up being a run-stopping, special teamer.
The "big name" signing for the Bolts was Donald Brown, a nice pick-up because Ryan Mathews put a lot of miles on his body last year and had been injury-prone prior to this past season. That would leave San Diego with Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown. You have to think that the Chargers have traded one Brown for the other. Plus it would seem Donald is more of a mix between Mathews and Woodhead. It can't hurt that Donald had a couple breakout games against KC and put up 40-plus receiving yards against the Broncos this past year.
Signing backup QB Kellen Clemens to replace Charlie Whitehurst seems to me to be an upgrade although Rivers is an iron man. Just like KC, San Diego hasn't been able to upgrade their receiving corps. Not that they haven't tried.
WR Steve Smith tells reporters Chargers offered him contract: http://t.co/5cTZYWGKa4— Michael Gehlken (@UTgehlken) March 14, 2014
You would have to think that this will be a position of interest for them in the draft. And they drafted pretty well there last year getting Keenan Allen as a steal in the mid rounds.That won't be the only position they look to upgrade.
With Richard Marshall and Brandon Ghee, Chargers have added two corners in two days. Position expected to be further addressed in draft.— Michael Gehlken (@UTgehlken) March 14, 2014
I would say San Diego has done alright in free agency. Nothing splashy but you can see what they think a playoff team (no matter how fortunate they were) should be doing -- strengthening their core.
Now to the big bad wolf....
Rewind to Super Bowl Sunday, where we were treated to the greatest Super Bowl in history (or so we were told). The unstoppable offense verses the unmovable defense. Denver got punched in the face and it scared the crap out of John Elway. You know how we can tell? This offseason. Most Super Bowl losers have a hangover and you can only imagine the hangover one faces after a 43-8 destruction that shook your very team to it's foundation.
So how do you move the bar? You try to regain your invincibility. Elway knows his defense was decimated and lacking. So what do you do? Try your best impersonation of the team that kicked the crap out of you. Kam Chancellor is the reason you sign TJ Ward. Elway thought he had an enforcer in Duke Ihenacho and while the Duke started well, he tailed off. So he got upgraded. Surprisingly, Ward didn't sign for that much. So Elway gets a relatively, young ascending and the NFL gasps.
As the infomercial states, "But wait, there's more!"
Elway attempts to re-sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who rehabbed his career in Denver. DRC either turned down Denver or just didn't react quickly enough (which seems to be the indication since his offer was pulled). Elway then decides to go for Aqib Talib. Why Talib instead of DRC? Talib is more physical. Just like the Seahawks corners who used the Denver receivers like a punching bag. Elway needs to move fast so the buzz will build and the memory of the Super Bowl will fade.
Mike Klis even refers to the old Super Bowl Hangover:
Ward definitely is an upgrade over the Duke but is Talib over DRC?
Here was Aqib Talib's 2013 season (and frankly, his entire career) in a nutshell: pic.twitter.com/ad4NLJ54KN— Pete Damilatis (@PFF_Pete) March 12, 2014
Funny thing is we are seeing some trends with Elway in this free agency and it all is rooted in the Super Bowl drubbing. He pulls offers if not accepted quickly or he changes his mind (DRC) and he swoops in to get a player his arch rivals are considering (Emmanuel Sanders / Talib).
The beauty of this madness is that in at least one situation Elway actually seems to have strengthened his opponent. Darrelle Revis in New England will be an upgrade over Talib (and who knows which receiver KC brings in instead of Sanders).
Next Elway jumps on DeMarcus Ware. Never mind that Denver plays a 4-3 and Ware had his worst season when Dallas switched to the 4-3. Again, all you need to do is get some pass rushers and you can re-create the Seattle defense. Jared Allen would seem to be a better fit, having played very well in the 4-3. Rotoworld makes this interesting statement:
Going on 32, Ware's play slipped in 2013, but not to the degree some believe. His six sacks weren't indicative of the pass-rushing heat he generated, often on one leg.
So the Broncos added a 32-year old, 258-pound DE who played hurt last year. Could he bounce back? Sure, but history tells us that his fade has started. I'm sure he will be good for 10-plus sacks this year but they got that from Shaun Phillips. Ware's addition is another pelt on the wall to keep people from looking at the pictures of the Super Bowl.
The last arrival in Denver is the most notorious. In Kansas City, at least, that's Emmanuel Sanders.
To quote from the Mel Brooks classic Spaceballs, "What's the matter Colonel Sanders, are you chicken?" It seems the answer is more like delusional based on his statements and all the smoke that is coming from around the league on this story. I'm not sure Sanders is an upgrade over Decker but he was cheaper and signing him kept him out of KC. For Elway, that's a plus. Sanders will be a nice pick-up for Denver since Peyton can never have enough people to throw to.
Overall, Denver's free agent signings have done what they needed to do in the short-term -- get people talking about Denver playing in another Super Bowl. However, if you listen to these same people Seattle is considered on the downward spiral because they lost Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond and others. It's the bluster of the free agency period and it's really easy to crown Denver the victor based on the assumption that Ware will stay healthy and fit the scheme, that Talib won't melt down or get hurt, and that Ward will be a significant upgrade. It will be interesting to watch and see if the overhaul of the Denver defense is the remedy for the Super Bowl hangover.
It's been an interesting off season in the AFC West and we're only getting started. It seems the old Green Bay proteges have a plan they are working, the Bolts are bidding their time and the Broncs are just trying desperately to get the taste of the Seahawks out of their mouth.