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Free agency has not been kind to the Super Bowl champion Ravens among other teams
No one team has been affected more in free agency than the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens will look vastly different when they take the field this fall, especially on defense. Other teams that have seen a lot of roster turnover and have struggled to find suitable replacements through free agency include New England, the New York Jets, Oakland and Pittsburgh. Buffalo and Cleveland both have new coaching staffs and front offices running things, so change is inevitable and part of the process. However, based on what has taken place in free agency, it’s clear these two teams have a long ways to go as they seek to contend in their respective divisions.
Related: 2013 NFL Free Agency Winners
2013 NFL Free Agency Losers (in alphabetical order)
After leading Baltimore to a world championship, the Ravens had little choice but to give Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco the largest contract in NFL history. A deal that had to get done, it’s also one that didn’t come without costs, and I’m not just referring to the $120 million the team committed to him over the next six years.
Besides trading reliable wide receiver Anquan Boldin away to San Francisco, the team Baltimore beat to win the Super Bowl in February, the Ravens have already watched four defensive starters from that game sign elsewhere, and this number will likely only go up. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and defensive backs Bernard Pollard, Ed Reed and Cary Williams will not be back and neither will linebacker and emotional leader Ray Lewis, who has retired. This number doesn’t include linebacker Paul Kruger, who signed with Cleveland, or defensive linemen Arthur Jones and Ma’ake Kemoeatu, who are still free agents.
The Ravens have worked hard to replace some of these players, adding defensive end Elvis Dumervil, safety Michael Huff and defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, but that doesn’t change the fact that as of now, only three starters remain from the defense that beat Indianapolis, Denver, New England and San Francisco to win the Super Bowl. And that’s without bringing up how hard it will be to replace Boldin in the Ravens’ passing attack and his impact on the offense as a whole and in the locker room.
If there was ever any doubt about how difficult it is to try and repeat as Super Bowl champions, look no further than what the Ravens have gone through in less than two months since winning the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans.
First-year NFL head coach Doug Marrone already had a tough job ahead of him in trying to get the Bills back to being competitive in the AFC East. That task is even tougher now with the losses of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, wide receiver Donald Jones, offensive linemen Andy Levitre and Chad Rinehart and safety George Wilson. Fitzpatrick, Levitre and Wilson all signed with Tennessee, while Jones signed with the rival Patriots and Rinehart joined San Diego. Besides these players, wide receiver David Nelson probably won’t be back with the Bills nor will linebacker Nick Barnett or defensive back Terrence McGee.
While it was clear that Fitzpatrick wasn’t going to play out his contract in Buffalo, the Bills had to pay just to release him, taking on some dead money associated with the six-year, $62 million deal he signed back in October 2011. Add that to the two-year deal that could be worth up to $13 million the Bills agreed to over the weekend with former Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb and you have to wonder if the total cost is worth it. Especially considering the jury is still very much out on if Kolb can be an effective starting quarterback in the NFL (9-12 career mark as the starter, 78.9 career passer rating). In fact, it’s fair to ask are the Bills really any better off at quarterback now than they if they just kept Fitzpatrick, bloated contract and all?
At this point the Bills’ free agent haul has consisted of Kolb, former Cincinnati linebacker Manny Lawson, safety Jairus Byrd (franchised) and cornerback Leodis McKelvin (re-signed). Marrone still has plenty of holes to address, which were only added to with the defections on the offensive line, at wide receiver, and there’s still the matter of the future of the quarterback position. Unlike fellow first-year head coaches Marc Trestman in Chicago and Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, free agency really didn’t do Marrone any favors.
Cleveland appeared to be sitting pretty headed into free agency, as the Browns had an estimated $50 million in cap space to work with. What better way to allow first-year head coach Mark Chudzinksi the opportunity to bring in his guys, especially some much-needed weapons on offense.
Instead the Browns’ free agent haul has consisted of former Baltimore backup linebacker Paul Kruger, troubled Oakland defensive lineman Desmond Bryant, Cardinal linebacker Quentin Groves and a pair of former Bears in unproductive tight end Kellen Davis and backup quarterback Jason Campbell. Not exactly the kind of splash Browns fans were hoping for and the offense, particularly second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden, needed.
Now Chudzinksi and company will turn their attention to the draft, through which the Cleveland will have to address its glaring areas of need, starting with wide receiver. To make matters worse, the Browns also will be in the market for a new kicker as Phil Dawson left to join San Francisco, and potentially a punter too since Reggie Hodges is still unsigned.
New England Patriots
Tom Brady agreed to a team-friendly, three-year extension just prior to the start of free agency. At the time, part of the reason behind the new deal was to help the Patriots’ cap situation as they tried to keep last season’s roster intact. Instead, Brady has had to sit and watch, as his wide receiving corps has been completely overhauled leaving with him a group of unfamiliar targets.
The exodus started when 100-catch machine Wes Welker decided to leave New England to join Peyton Manning in Denver. Welker’s two-year, $12 million deal with the Broncos hardly broke the bank, making his exit even more curious. On top of Welker’s departure, New England had to cut several other players just to put itself in a position to do anything in free agency, including retaining its own.
Among those released were wide receiver Brandon Lloyd while fellow wideouts Deion Branch, Julian Edelman and Donte Stallworth became, and still remain, free agents. The Patriots did work quickly following Welker’s departure, signing former Ram wide receiver Danny Amendola to a five-year contract, while also adding Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins.
To New England’s credit, the team also re-signed starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib, while also bringing veteran safety Adrian Wilson and running back/kicker returner Leon Washington on board. However, the turnover at wide receiver, highlighted by Welker’s decision to sign with Denver, will be the focus moving forward and has already cast somewhat of a cloud over the Patriots’ offseason.
New York Jets
It may not be getting near as much attention as to what’s taken place in Baltimore, but the Jets have gone through a fair amount of attrition of their own this offseason. Even after last season’s disappointing 6-10 showing, the Jets were faced with some tough decisions and had to let a lot of key players and contributors go.
Running back Shonn Greene, starting guard Matt Slauson and tight end Dustin Keller have already signed with new teams, as have starting safeties Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry, defensive end Mike DeVito and linebacker Aaron Maybin. But that’s not all, as the team also cut starting linebackers Calvin Pace and Bart Scott, defensive tackle Sione Pouha and several others before free agency started, as it had to work hard to even get under the cap in the first place. None of these players are likely to return to the Jets.
The Jets have added veterans like former Pittsburgh guard Willie Colon, San Diego defensive lineman Antonio Garay, quarterback David Garrard and running back Mike Goodson, but there are still several key pieces of last year’s roster out on the market. Included in that group is starting linebacker Bryan Thomas and the starting right side of its offensive line in guard Brandon Moore and tackle Austin Howard. The Jets aren’t in a position right now to add many more pieces, so it looks like head coach Rex Ryan, who is already on the hot seat before the season even starts, will be going to battle this fall with a lot of unfamiliar faces.
Things didn’t go very well for first-year head coach Dennis Allen last season and based on what has already happened this offseason, he may be hard-pressed to even match the four wins he had in 2012. The Raiders have already lost safety Michael Huff (Baltimore), defensive end Matt Shaughnessy (Arizona), linebacker Philip Wheeler (Miami), defensive tackle Desmond Bryant (Cleveland), tight end Brandon Myers (New York Giants), running back Mike Goodson (New York Jets) and punter Shane Lechler (Houston) in free agency and haven’t exactly restocked the cupboard.
The Raiders have added linebackers Kevin Burnett (Miami) and Nick Roach (Chicago), defensive tackles Pat Sims (Cincinnati) and Vance Walker (Atlanta), along with some others to the fold, but at least on paper, the additions don’t measure up to the subtractions. That’s especially the case if you factor in that defensive tackles Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and cornerbacks Shawntae Spencer and Joselio Hanson are still out there as free agents.
And then there’s the Carson Palmer dilemma, as it appears the veteran quarterback the Raiders traded for in October 2011 is on his way out the door. Even if the Raiders are able to trade Palmer, to say Arizona, the return for him will likely be one late-round pick, which pales in comparison to what they gave Cincinnati (2012 first-round pick, second-rounder in ’13) for him less than two years ago.
With the hits Oakland has already taken in free agency and the likelihood that there are more losses to come, the Raiders need all the draft picks they can accumulate to assist with the rebuilding effort. Besides coming out on the losing end of the Palmer deal when all is said and done, the Raiders may need to use another draft pick or picks to acquire its next quarterback (Seattle’s Matt Flynn?), putting them even further in the hole, if you will, when it comes to restocking the roster. There’s no question this team needs some new blood, but at this rate Allen and company are basically starting over completely from scratch. Not exactly the best-case scenario for a team that went 4-12 last season, no?
Age and salary cap issues may finally be catching up to Pittsburgh, who more than likely will need younger players to step into bigger roles this season and also hit in April’s draft on more than one pick if the Steelers hope to return to the postseason. Injuries and an unproductive running game were two of the biggest culprits behind 2012’s disappointing 8-8 showing, but Pittsburgh has already been hit hard by losses through free agency.
Even though it was pretty clear the Steelers weren’t going to be able to retain the services of wide receiver Mike Wallace, he will not be an easy weapon to replace. The situation at wide receiver could get even worse if the team is unable to keep restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders in the fold. The Steelers also will be without running back Rashard Mendenhall and starting guard Willie Colon on offense this season. Two other offensive linemen – Doug Legursky and Max Starks – are still free agents and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will have a new backup in 2013 with the addition of Bruce Gradkowski.
On defense, reliable cornerback Keenan Lewis signed with New Orleans and the Steelers decided to cut linebacker James Harrison, who was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. Another potential big loss, both literally and figuratively, on defense could be veteran nose tackle Casey Hampton, who has yet to sign with any team.The Steelers are a veteran team and its ability to keep its core together is one of the main reasons why they have posted nine straight seasons of .500 or better. Unfortunately, age and the cost of doing business in the NFL may finally be catching up to this team. Based on what has already taken place in free agency, this is a team that could desperately use an infusion of young, impact talent in the draft, especially if the Steelers want to keep its streak of .500 or better finishes in the regular season intact in 2013.