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With the first three days of NFL free agency in the books, here’s our recap of the biggest stories, and which teams have been the movers and shakers thus far.
The rich get richer in Denver
The Denver Broncos, led by General Manager John Elway, have become accustomed to boldness in free agency in recent years, and they certainly kept to this philosophy over the last few days. Following on from their acquisition of Wes Welker from the New England Patriots last year, Denver took another swipe at their AFC rivals, snatching Aqib Talib from their grasps, and secured themselves a physical corner who will bolster their secondary considerably. Clearly taking tips from the Seattle Seahawks, who so emphatically beat them in the Super Bowl, Denver doubled up on their secondary, also bringing in hard-hitting safety T. J. Ward from the Cleveland Browns.
Elway then swooped to bring in the recently-cut DeMarcus Ware, and although Ware arguably isn’t the pass rusher he used to be, lining him up opposite Von Miller will give offensive tackles throughout the NFL sleepless nights. Offense will now likely be Elway’s priority going forward in free agency, especially with the likes of Zane Beadles and Eric Decker already having taken up lucrative contracts with the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets respectively. Players such as Davin Joseph and Kenny Britt could prove cost-effective solutions, and allow the Broncos to target the best players available in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Woeful Raiders redeem themselves slightly
Expectations were high for GM Reggie McKenzie to begin the Oakland Raiders’ turnaround in earnest this offseason, but even with the most cap space of any franchise, things did not get off to a good start for the Raiders. Rodger Saffold was given a big contract to become a mainstay on the Raiders’ offensive line, only to see that contract voided a day later when the player failed a physical. This left the sum of Oakland’s dealings in the first two days of free agency as a five-year deal for former New York Jet OT, Austin Howard.
Things then went from bad to worse for the Raiders, as they saw two of their best players find new homes, with Jared Veldheer heading to the Arizona Cardinals, and Lamarr Houston moving north to bolster the Chicago Bears’ defensive line. Whilst disheartening for fans, if reports are to be believed about the offers the Raiders made to both of these players, then they seemed fairly comfortable letting them walk, and the only logical explanation seems to be that McKenzie is trying to a create a new culture down in Oakland. The Raiders did redeem themselves somewhat on the third day, securing deals for two proficient, albeit ageing, pass rushers in Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, and if the pair can stay healthy this season, they should be a big boon to a poor Oakland defense last season.
Panthers forcing themselves to draft on need over talent
With the cutting of Steve Smith, retirement of Jordan Gross, and departures of Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Mitchell in free agency, the Carolina Panthers currently have significant needs at a number of positions. Their wide receiver corps has been further shorn, with Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon also moving on, and retaining Brandon LaFell must now become a considerable priority for them, as well as trying to lure Hakeem Nicks to Carolina. The moves by GM Dave Gettleman are bold, but understandable given the young ages of many of the Panthers’ stars, and his desire to turn the franchise into perennial contenders, even if it means suffering through a transitional season or two in the meantime.
Falcons & Jaguars impress, Patriots snag Revis, & Browns make questionable moves
The Atlanta Falcons took significant steps towards ensuring last season was an anomaly for them, getting tougher in the trenches with the additions of Jon Asamoah, Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai. Asamoah brings much-needed reinforcements to an ailing offensive line, whilst Jackson and Soliai could help facilitate the Falcons moving to a 3-4 defense, and they could as a result be very real suitors for a pass rushing outside linebacker like Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr when the draft rolls around in May. Jacksonville also made some underrated signings, bringing in two of Gus Bradley’s former charges in Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, whilst Ziggy Hood’s arrival from Pittsburgh should help round out a much-improved defensive line in Jacksonville.
The Patriots hit back immediately after losing Talib to the Broncos, bringing in Darrelle Revis, who had been cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Barring injury, Revis will now line up against his former team, the New York Jets, twice in the 2014 NFL season. Revis bolsters an ever-improving secondary in New England, and will line-up alongside the likes of Devin McCourty, Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan, and could yet be joined by Brandon Browner, who is currently in talks with the Patriots.
The signings of Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner are not bad signings for the Cleveland Browns, but given the age of both players, the Browns may well have overpaid for the pair. Dansby’s contract is believed to be worth close to $6 million a year, whilst Whitner’s is a four-year deal, worth $28 million. Throw into the mix that neither player offers an upgrade on the previous incumbents, D’Qwell Jackson and T. J. Ward, and the deals seem even more questionable.
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