Free agency has just begun, and teams are nowhere near done. Many of the big names like Greg Jennings, Wes Welker, Cliff Avril, Aqib Talib, etc. etc. are still available. That being said to this point there have been some winners and losers. A little early to grade offseason moves, especially without even a single game to judge their merits on, so the declared winners and losers are all written in pencil. No.2 pencil’s to be exact. Check back a week later for an upgraded winners column, but for now here’s who I see coming out on top.
Kansas City Chiefs
He may not have come in free agency, but getting Alex Smith was a great start. They followed that up by signing Bowe long term and placing the franchise tag on Branden Albert. After keeping some of their best players in town, they went out and made some great depth moves. They signed Dunta Robinson last friday, and when free agency started they snagged Chase Daniels, Anthony Fasano and Mike DeVito. Nothing too flashy, but great depth moves.
The Bears made arguably their best move before free agency started by placing the franchise tag on Henry Melton. After doing what they could to keep their amazing defense in tact, they quickly moved on to their more pressing needs on offense. Getting a good tight end in Martellus Bennett and a Pro Bowl tackle in Jermon Bushrod. The signing of Bennett must have Cutler grinning from ear to ear right now. Not only does he now have a tight end capable of catching, but Bennett is also a great blocker. Next up, signing Brian Urlacher.
Their top priority to this point has been protecting their budding star quarterback Andrew Luck. They signed one of the better tackles on the market in Gosder Cherilus and added former Patriots guard Donald Thomas. On the defensive side of the ball they signed one of the more underrated cornerbacks in the game in Greg Toler. Something tells me they’re just getting started too.
The Dolphins kicked off free agency by throwing money at players like a drunken sailor. They signed arguably the best player on the market - no matter what position - with the addition of Mike Wallace, and replaced Karlos Dansby with former Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. They continued their defensive makeover by adding Philip Wheeler. The Fins also re-signed Chris Clemons. Just imagine if they were able to sign Jared Cook too, as they had hoped to. All of a sudden Ryan Tannehill’s not so short on passing options.
They aren’t the sexiest picks in free agency, but they’re the kind of underappreciated guys that go a long way in winning. The Eagles signed NT Isaac Sopoaga, FB/TE James Casey, CB Bradley Fletcher, LB Jason Phillips and S Patrick Chung. Chung is the best pick up of the group, as this team needs a serious makeover at safety. Their best move though came not with an addition, but a subtraction. The Eagles finally released Nnamdi Asomugha after he refused to take a pay cut. This move will save the Eagles roughly $11M against the cap, and could prompt further spending.
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The coaching carousel has come to a stop, at least for the 2013 offseason. All eight teams that fired their head coach following the season have found a new one. So, let’s put together a power rankings of how each squad did.
1. Kansas City – The Chiefs wasted no time in going out and getting the biggest fish in the pond, Andy Reid. It’s tough to see what the appeal was for Reid to go to Kansas City, a team coming off a two-win season that has no reliable -- or even passable -- quarterback in place, but somehow the Chiefs convinced him to come. Reid gives the Chiefs instant credibility and changes the dynamic of the AFC West.
If the Chiefs can get the quarterback position figured out, an area where Reid has had plenty of success in the past, they could show significant improvement next season, which is why the Chiefs landing Reid was the biggest coup of the offseason.
2. Philadelphia – It took a while to unfold, but the Eagles were finally able to convince Chip Kelly to leave Oregon and come to the NFL. Kelly is a tireless worker and one of the most innovative offensive minds in the sport, so he’s a perfect fit for the NFL. He’ll have to find a quarterback to run his system, and he’ll have to tweak his system a bit to adapt to the NFL, but Kelly immediately becomes one of the smartest head coaches in the league, and the Eagles should feel optimistic about their future with him as their coach.
3. Arizona – The Cardinals may have missed on the big names like Reid, but they did manage to hire Bruce Arians, who had one of the most impressive coaching performances of the 2012 season as interim coach of the Colts. Not only did Arians step into an impossible situation with Chuck Pagano forced to take a leave of absence to receive cancer treatment, but he also led the Colts to a 9-3 record while serving as the interim coach. If that wasn’t enough, Arians also has nine years of experience being an NFL offensive coordinator, making him a qualified candidate and a great pick to be Arizona’s head coach.
4. San Diego – The Chargers waited too long to fire Norv Turner and then waited out the end of Denver’s season, but they were rewarded in the end with the hiring of Mike McCoy. Not only did they steal the offensive coordinator of one of their biggest rivals, but they also hired one of the top offensive coordinators in the game and arguably the best candidate to make the transition from coordinator to head coach. McCoy should help breathe new life into San Diego’s offense, and possibly help revive the floundering career of quarterback Phillip Rivers, which is exactly what they need if they expect to compete with the Broncos in the AFC West.
5. Buffalo – Doug Marrone isn’t the big name that Bills fans were hoping for, but with a handful of teams with a head-coaching vacancy wanting to talk to the former Syracuse head coach, Marrone was a wanted commodity, and the fact that he chose the Bills does mean something. He comes with a high praise and a glowing recommendation from both New Orleans coach Sean Payton and New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis, both of whom worked with Marrone when he was the offensive coordinator of the Saints from 2006 to 2008. Marrone is young, a straight shooter, and has a keen offensive mind. He’s a better candidate than most Bills fans realize, and he should give the franchise a much-needed culture change.
6. Chicago – Marc Trestman is arguably the second most qualified coach on this list (behind Reid), but he drops down significantly because he hasn’t coached in the NFL in almost a decade, and a lot has changed since he’s been away. Trestman has spent the last five years as a head coach in the CFL, so being a head coach won’t be an issue, but readjusting to the NFL could be. That being said, Trestman has a long history of working with quarterbacks, and with the Bears having a talented, yet underachieving, quarterback in place in Jay Cutler, Trestman could end up being a good pick to help both Cutler and the Bears get to the next level.
7. Jacksonville – The Jaguars took a risk when they hired a new coach for the second consecutive season, and they’re taking another risk by hiring a coach as young and inexperienced as Gus Bradley. He is a young and highly regarded defensive coach, but he has spent just seven seasons as an assistant in the NFL. Bradley has done a great job turning Seattle’s defense around, and he may be a rising star in the coaching ranks, but whether he’s ready to be an NFL head coach is a different issue, which gives him a lot to prove.
8. Cleveland – This was the job no one really seemed to want, and in the end the Browns settled for Rob Chudzinski. In the four years that Chudzinski has spent as an offensive coordinator in the NFL, he’s had good success, both with the Browns and in the past two seasons with the Panthers. He’s a young guy and a bright offensive coach, but will he be ready to take on the duties of an NFL head coach, specifically the steep challenges that he’ll face in Cleveland? Chudzinski may be destined to be an NFL head coach, but at this point in his career and at this location, he may be in over his head.