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Free Agent Frenzy

When pro football ended its lockout, the chase for free agents began. We pick the winners and losers.
Danny Sheridan
From the Print Edition:
Havana—The Insider's Guide, November/December 2011

(continued from page 1)

The Giants’ Reese, on the other hand, found himself in the line of ire—Big Blue fans wondered why they were suddenly trapped inside of a cruel nightmare.

“It seems like people are in a little bit of a panic about where we are,” Reese told the media. “The perception is that we are not doing a lot. We had a game plan and we are sticking to our game plan.” That plan resulted in Steve Weatherford, the Jets’ punter in 2010, beating out Matt Dodge, who was never forgiven by fans for punting to DeSean Jackson at the end of the Meadowlands collapse against the Eagles in 2010, when he was instructed to boot the ball closer to Reid on the sidelines.
Meanwhile, in New England, Belichick and Robert Kraft—the best head coach–owner tandem in the NFL—had a pair of tricks up their sleeves.

They figured that since Randy Moss was able to buy into The Patriot Way and revive his career for a few seasons, it wouldn’t hurt to surrender a fifth-round draft choice to the Redskins to see if the prospect of playing for a legendary coach and classy owner driven to capture their fourth Super Bowl championship could motivate problem child DT
Albert Haynesworth. And with Moss having finally overstayed his welcome, the mutual respect between Belichick and Chad Ochocinco led the receiver (Terrell Owens’ former reality-TV cohost) to gleefully escape SinSinnati for the opportunity to catch passes from Tom Brady. And then, Belichick landed veteran defensive end Shaun Ellis from the Jets, tweaking  the Pat’s division rivals in the process, along with DE Mark Anderson (formerly with Houston) to upgrade the pass rush.

Indefatigable Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, who no longer needs to read speculative stories regarding his job status, quickly recovered from losing out on Asomugha. His first order of business was re-signing gamebreaker Santonio Holmes to a five-year, $50 million deal that kept him from the clutches of Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. He also re-signed Antonio Cromartie and replaced wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (who later signed with Pittsburgh) with 37-year-old veteran Derrick Mason.

The Houston Texans went into free agency lacking in the secondary, so they didn’t hesitate when cornerback Johnathan Joseph (from Cincinnati) and safety Danieal Manning (from Chicago) became available on the open market. Houston, we no longer have a problem.

The same cannot be said for San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Buffalo and Miami, however. The 49ers lost center Baas to the Giants, run-stuffer defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin to the Saints, cut cornerback Nate Clements (who was quickly signed by the Bungles), settled for diva wide receiver Braylon Edwards (one year, $3.5 million) to pair with diva wide receiver Michael Crabtree (who was injured in preseason but was playing when this issue went to press), and lost respected middle linebacker Takeo Spikes to the Chargers. And the quarterback who was re-signed and assigned to keep the diva twins happy before No. 2 draft choice Colin Kaepernick takes over behind center? Does the name Alex Smith ring a bell? Think the head coaching job would have been more appealing to Jim Harbaugh if he had inherited Aaron Rodgers, the 24th pick in the 2005 NFL draft, instead of Smith, the first overall pick? (Of course, if Rodgers was the 49er’s quarterback, Mike Singletary might still be dropping his drawers in the halftime locker room).

A whopping $52 million under the salary cap according to some reports, Tampa Bay entered free agency so flush they could have been called the Buckaneers. But apparently they looked at punter Michael Koenen and saw The Second Coming of Ray Guy, lavishing a $19 million contract on him. GM Mark Dominik, who has assembled what head coach Raheem Morris calls a “youngry” team on the rise, is another one who believes in building through the draft and keeping his own (offensive linemen Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood and outside linebacker Quincy Black, for example).

All well and good, and it’s a strategy that has worked for the Steelers and Packers. But after the Falcons moved heaven and earth for Alabama WR Julio Jones so they could pair him with Roddy White, from this vantage point, it would have been prudent for Dominik to make a run at one of the top free agent corners, especially since he has to keep his fingers crossed that Aqib Talib learns how to stay off the police blotter and Ronde Barber doesn’t look the way most 36-year-old cornerbacks generally look, which is nowhere near as good as Jennifer Aniston looked at 36.

Blue-collar middle linebacker Paul Posluszny shuffled out of Buffalo for a big ticket and a chance to play in Jack Del Rio’s 4-3 Jaguars defense. The Bills quickly replaced him with Nick Barnett, who had been released by the Packers, and re-signed cornerback Drayton Florence. But they struck out on their pursuit of offensive tackle Tyson Clabo (who re-signed with the Falcons), as well as offensive tackle Willie Colon (who re-signed with the Steelers then was lost for the season with a triceps injury), and inside linebacker Kevin Burnett, who went instead to the Dolphins.

Linebacker Shawne Merriman was an inexpensive roll of the dice, but giving wideout Brad Smith a four-year, $15 million deal to pry him from the Jets? By the time December rolls around in arctic upstate New York, the Wildcat that Smith is so proficient at running might have to be renamed the Polar Bear.

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