I was on vacation for most of last week and had actually written all of my posts the week before – hence the “Which NBA Players Would Make the Best NFL Team?” article on the opening day of the new league year. DID I MISS ANYTHING? Other than the Ravens losing half their defensive starters from the Super Bowl, Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings signing massive deals to catch passes from vastly inferior quarterbacks and Wes Welker signing a reasonable deal to catch passes from another Hall of Fame quarterback, no, I did not miss anything. It’s highly unlikely your team dramatically improved one way or another last week – three or four new free agents won’t automatically shift your team from last place to first – but because I’m feeling rash and juuuuuusssst a bit judgmental this morning, I’ll run down my list of teams that either probably got better or probably got worse…or stayed about the same because the jury’s still out. How’s that for conclusive analysis?! Let’s begin.
Teams that probably got better:
Seattle Seahawks. I’m not a huge fan of sending 1st and 3rd round picks to another team for the right to sign an oft-injured player to a six-year, $67 million contract. But there’s no doubt that Percy Harvin’s legitimately one of the most electric players in the league when he’s healthy and, given the incredible amount of young talent the Seahawks already have on the roster, not having a low first-round pick for one season won’t end up killing the talent pool. The two unequivocal wins Seattle had last week, however, were signing Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett both to modest deals and further fortifying their already excellent pass rush. Does the combination of an Avril-Bennett-Bruce Irvin-Chris Clemons (if he’s healthy) pass rush and a Richard Sherman-Brandon Browner-Earl Thomas secondary sound appetizing to throw on? I THINK NOT.
Kansas City Chiefs. The big improvement happened a few weeks ago when the Chiefs traded for Alex Smith, giving their offense a legitimate league-average starting quarterback (and, yes, league-average is a big step up over Matt Cassel). Kansas City also shored up a huge weakness from last season, however, by signing cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson; Robinson probably hurts as much as he helps in the final analysis, but Smith is an above-average corner who should fill the void Brandon Carr’s departure last offseason created and, along with Brandon Flowers, once again give the Chiefs one of the better starting cornerback duos in the league. Receiver Donnie Avery could also be a difference-maker if he stays healthy.
Detroit Lions. The Lions lost their two starting defensive ends in Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch, but those two only combined for 12.5 sacks last year and with arguably two of the best three pass rushing defensive tackles in the league lining up next to one another (Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley), Detroit shouldn’t have to look too hard to make up that production. More importantly, the Lions shored up two huge, glaring weaknesses by signing safety Glover Quin and running back Reggie Bush. Bush gives the pass-happy Lions the receiving threat out of the backfield that consistently get them into shorter down-and-distances and, unlike whoever they trotted last year, Quin is an actual starting-level safety in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. Remember: they still also have the fifth overall pick in the draft this April to look forward to as well.
Teams that probably got worse:
Baltimore Ravens. Remember that little game called the Super Bowl the Ravens just played in six weeks ago? Here’s a list of all the starters from that game who won’t be wearing a Ravens uniform next year: Ray Lewis. Matt Birk. Dannell Ellerbe. Anquan Boldin. Paul Kruger. Bernard Pollard. Cary Williams. And Ed Reed’s probably going to join that list pretty soon, too. Good luck, Joe!
Pittsburgh Steelers. Their salary cap woes led to the forced departures of Mike Wallace, James Harrison, Rashard Mendenhall, Willie Colon, and Keenan Lewis; so far, their biggest moves to counteract those defections have been to sign William Gay, Bruce Gradkowski, and Matt Spaeth. As much as I like the sound of Bruce Gradkowski taking snaps at 3-4 rush linebacker, I just don’t know if that’s an adequate replacement for James Harrison.
New England Patriots. Disclaimer: if Danny Amendola and (more importantly) Gronk and Aaron Hernandez stay healthy, then the Patriots won’t miss Wes Welker at all and they’ll keep scoring 30 points a game like it’s nothing. Actually, they’ll probably still do that anyway. But the chances of Amendola and Gronk staying healthy for a full 16 games seem pretty remote and if(/when) they go down, Welker won’t be around to keep piling up yards after the catch. I normally agree with Darth Hoodie’s mantra of phasing out older, more expensive players for younger players who essentially do the same thing at a fraction of the cost. But at this point, Tom Brady’s going to be 36 when the season starts – there aren’t going to be THAT many more Super Bowl runs with this current core. Why not go all out during these last few years of Brady’s prime and bring his favorite receiver back?
The jury’s still out:
Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins probably made the splashiest signings on the first day of free agency by signing Mike Wallace and Dannell Ellerbe, but I’m skeptical either of those moves are going to bring the Dolphins within striking distance of the Patriots in the AFC East. Ellerbe and fellow free-agent signee Phillip Wheeler probably represent upgrades over the departed Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, but not significant enough to push the Dolphins’ above-average defense to another level. And Wallace was one of the most efficient receivers in the league in 2010 and 2011, but he’s not a possession receiver at all and is likely to find that Ryan Tannehill isn’t quite as accurate on deep bombs down the field as Ben Roethlisberger was.
Chicago Bears. Seven months ago, Martellus Bennett was one of the biggest jokes in the league, a supremely talented player whose poor work ethic left him riding the pine in Dallas and committing boneheaded mistakes when he did enter the game. Now that he’s parlayed one starter-level season in New York into a huge long-term deal, let’s just say the bust potential is high for ‘ol Martellus. On the other hand, the Bears’ signing of Jermon Bushrod gives them their first starting-level left tackle in six years. In a vacuum, Bushrod isn’t worth $36 million ($22 million of it guaranteed) over five years; on the Bears, he might be worth double that.
Denver Broncos. Signing WELKAHHHHH was a near-genius move that arguably gives Peyton Manning the best group of wide receivers in the league AND damages their biggest AFC rival in the process. On the other hand, the whole fax machine snafu with Elvis Dumervil costs Denver one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league; Von Miller’s going to pick up double-digit sacks every year for the next seven or eight, but will a four-levels-beyond-washed-up Dwight Freeney or whoever winds up replacing Dumervil be able to pick up eight or nine sacks on the other side? The lesson, as always: agents are the worst.