Patriots, 49ers among early winners
Maybe it's too early to pick winners and losers in the first week of free agency, but we might as well try.
The pace, as expected, has been crazy. The market should start slowing down, and the patient teams -- those waiting for lower-priced players -- should start making their moves.
It's impossible to project how the moves of the past few days will change a team's fortune in 2007, but it is possible to pick some winners and losers.
San Francisco1. San Francisco 49ers: They are on the right path. After signing cornerback Nate Clements, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, linebacker Tully Banta-Cain and safety Michael Lewis, the 49ers are looking more like a 3-4 defense. Franklin will help at nose tackle. Clements matches up against the top receivers on an opposing team. Lewis is a physical safety, and Banta-Cain should improve the team's speed at linebacker. Ashley Lelie will help because he's different from the other San Francisco receivers. He has speed and should be able to help in the red zone. The 49ers aren't done. They still have plenty of money and plenty of draft choices to improve their team.
New England2. New England Patriots: Too bad they didn't do this last year. Had they been this aggressive in free agency then, they might have added that one receiver or one defensive back who could have led them back to the Super Bowl. Linebacker Adalius Thomas is one of the best signings of the offseason. Although he probably won't have as many sacks or tackles as he had in Baltimore, Thomas will be a great weapon for brilliant Bill Belichick. Halfback Sammy Morris and tight end Kyle Brady are good role players for the offense. The most interesting move was trading two draft picks (their second- and seventh-round picks) to Miami for 5-foot-8 Wes Welker. The Patriots like smaller receivers who are quick out of breaks. Although they might have overpaid in draft choice compensation, they acquired a receiver they liked as opposed to just taking guys off the street the way they did last year.
Miami3. Miami Dolphins: Talk about attitude. The Dolphins have a 3-4 defense with Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas and Joey Porter. This looks like an AFC Pro Bowl team. Porter was a great signing. Taylor can get the sacks and force fumbles. Porter and Thomas can be the leaders. The other great part of Miami's offseason is that it has acquired three additional draft choices -- in the second, sixth and seventh rounds -- in trades. This franchise traded away too many draft choices over the years and needs to start getting younger. With nine draft choices in hand and good positioning in the draft, the Dolphins are off to a good start.
Tampa Bay4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: So much for getting younger. They've added Jeff Garcia at quarterback and Kevin Carter at defensive end, along with signing some role players. The Garcia move could be a great one. The Bucs needed a feisty leader. Although there is no guarantee he will start, Garcia gives Jon Gruden a type of quarterback he hasn't had since Brian Griese was with the Bucs. Gruden runs a complicated system. Garcia should pick it up with no problem. Tampa Bay also added veteran left tackle Luke Petitgout and will look to sign another veteran for the line.
Denver5. Denver Broncos: You have to love the Travis Henry move. He's a 1,200-yard back who should flourish in Mike Shanahan's zone blocking scheme. Plus, it didn't cost the team a draft choice. The Broncos also added the top tight end on the free-agent market, Daniel Graham. Although cornerback Dre' Bly isn't happy about his trade to Denver, the Broncos still picked up a commodity who can either help their defense as a starter or net them draft picks in a trade. Denver might have to let some defenders go to free some cap room, and those losses have to be monitored.
Baltimore1. Baltimore Ravens: They were losers at the beginning of free agency last year but ended up winners, and they could still do the same this year. Ozzie Newsome is one of the best general managers in the game, so he will be active in the weeks ahead. But the Ravens are starting in a hole. They've lost Thomas, Franklin, fullback Ovie Mughelli and right tackle Tony Pashos. They also cut halfback Jamal Lewis, but they probably will get him re-signed.
Green Bay2. Green Bay Packers: The Packers fell in a hole early by creating a void at halfback with the departure of Ahman Green. Even though they wanted to re-sign him, they didn't want to go over $5 million a year to keep him. They also lost tight end David Martin. Although the Martin loss to Miami might not be a big one, Green Bay is becoming thin at tight end. Bubba Franks didn't have a great year. The Packers need a good offseason to fix their defense, but holes are starting to open in the offense that have to be addressed as well.
New York3. New York Giants: They have a gaping hole at left tackle after they released Petitgout and Bob Whitfield retired. Left tackle is a tough position to replace, and New York is getting a feel for that. Leonard Davis could have received $24 million in guarantees had he signed on as a left tackle for the Giants, but he opted to sign with the Cowboys. The team also has holes at linebacker after releasing Carlos Emmons and LaVar Arrington. The Giants could be losing kicker Jay Feeley as well.
Oakland4. Oakland Raiders: The Raiders don't have a starting quarterback. Although some might say that has been the case since Rich Gannon retired, Oakland has to figure out what to do at its most critical position. As the draft gets closer, Al Davis will be torn. He's going to fall in love with Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Who wouldn't? He's 239 pounds, runs a 4.35 in the 40 and jumps more than 45 inches vertically. JaMarcus Russell is the logical choice at quarterback, but we'll see whether the Raiders are logical. They also have a hole at right tackle after losing Langston Walker to Buffalo for $5 million a year. It wasn't as though Oakland had the league's best offensive line, so it can afford to lose players.
Houston5. Houston Texans: They suffered a blow when Jake Plummer was traded to Tampa Bay, then retired. They want an upgrade at quarterback so they can move David Carr in a trade. For now, they have to hold on to him and say he is the starter. The offensive line still has problems, and who knows how long it's going to take to fix that area? Green was an interesting signing, but the team needs a receiver on the other side of Andre Johnson after releasing Eric Moulds. So far, the Texans haven't made enough offensive moves to move forward in the increasingly tough AFC South.