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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 2)

The Dolphins failed to land quarterback Kyle Orton from the Broncos and ended up with Panthers bust Matt Moore instead. Running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams were replaced by Reggie Bush, a coup that would have been more enticing if his signing meant former girlfriend Kim Kardashian was bringing her talents to South Beach. Bush, named the starter for opener against the Patriots, figured to be a safety valve out of the backfield for quarterback Chad Henne more than the between-the-tackles option he never became in New Orleans. Jason Taylor, following one uneventful year with the enemy Jets, was back Dancing With the Stars in Dan Marino’s old constellation. Burnett, last with San Diego, is an upgrade over Channing Crowder.

The Cowboys—How ‘Bout Them Joneses!—may have missed out on Asomugha, but a youth movement was in full bloom anyway, and new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has always done more with less everywhere he’s been. Jerry Jones weeded out the dead wood (Marion Barber, Roy Williams, Marc Colombo, Andre Gurode), but was able to lock up left tackle Doug Free and defensive end Marcus Spears, and add big-play safety Abe Elam and steady defender Kenyon Coleman, who played for Ryan in Cleveland.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson (the NFL’s other high-profile Jerry) handed GM Marty Hurney his wallet and was rewarded when emerging defensive end Charles Johnson (six years, $72 million, $30 million guaranteed) and 1,000-yard running back DeAngelo Williams (five years, $43 million, $21 million guaranteed) stayed in Carolina to help rookie franchise quarterback Cam Newton. A trade with the Bears for tight end Greg Olsen provided the young quarterback with a security blanket, and outside linebackers James Anderson and Thomas Davis stayed put.

Kudos to Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, who pounced on former Cowboy Gurode as quickly as he had engineered a trade with the Bills for WR Lee Evans after missing out on Malcom Floyd and having Mason leave for the Jets. Ricky Williams became Ray Rice’s new backup, replacing Willis McGahee (signed by the Broncos) and Vonta Leach replaced Le’Ron McClain (who went to Kansas City) to become the new bone-crunching fullback clearing holes for Rice. And if cholesterol-challenged left tackle Bryant McKinnie can execute pancakes on the field rather than eating them off it, we’ll be calling the GM The Wizard of Ozzie.

The Saints came marching into free agency with a purpose. In addition to Franklin, Sean Payton further upgraded his run defense by summoning mountainous Shaun Rogers to shield middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma from fire-breathing guards and centers with bad intentions. The move that sent wails of disgust reverberating through the halls of Halas Hall was the signing of nasty center Olin Kreutz, a 13-year mainstay in Ditkaville. Keeping Bush in the backfield was not a priority, so the club turned to Darren Sproles as a cost-effective alternative.

Missouri is the Show Me state, and Rams GM Billy Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnuolo showed it, all right. They imported Harvey Dahl, a rugged guard from Atlanta to make life easier on star running back Steven Jackson (who suffered a quadriceps injury in week one) and brought in experienced target Mike Sims-Walker from Jacksonville for quarterback Sam Bradford. And Cadillac Williams was driven out of the garage in Tampa to step in for Jackson when needed, and safety Quintin Mikell replaced Oshiomogho Atogwe, who went to the Redskins.

The Cardinals may have surrendered Rodgers-Cromartie and a No. 2 draft choice, but in Kevin Kolb (formerly with Philadelphia) they secured a young quarterback who will quiet the anguished cries for Kurt Warner to come out of retirement. Snatching guard Daryn Colledge from the Packers to replace retired Alan Faneca was commendable. RB Tim Hightower leaving for the Redskins was not considered a blow until No. 2 draft pick running back Ryan Wllliams ruptured his patellar tendon in the preseason, entrenching underachiever Beanie Wells as the clear cut starter. The club had its fingers crossed that deep threat WR Steve Breaston (who went to the Chiefs) could be replaced by Chansi Stuckey. Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley was a nice addition, and head coach Ken Whisenhunt will survive without DE Alan Branch, now playing for Seattle.

The Jaguars bolstered their linebacking corps with Posluszny and OLB Clint Sessions, and upgraded their secondary with safety Dawan Landry and nickelback Drew Coleman.

The Lions added linebackers Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant and cornerback Eric Wright and re-signed cornerback Chris Houston, and if 300-pound defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh tells you they were free agent winners, you don’t dare argue.
The best that could be said about the Vikings (who traded for Donovan McNabb) and Titans (who traded for Matt Hasselbeck) is they bought time so they wouldn’t have to throw their rookie franchise quarterbacks (Christian Ponder and Jake Locker, respectively) to the wolves.

The Packers and Steelers? They prefer the draft, and I seem to remember them playing in Super Bowl XLV.


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