Atlanta, Denver and Miami are among the teams that have fared best in free agency
When it comes to winners in free agency, hopeful Super Bowl contenders Atlanta, Denver, Houston and Seattle each made big moves to improve their respective rosters. The new coaching staffs in Chicago, Kansas City and Philadelphia also didn’t waste any time putting their stamps on their teams, while Miami, Minnesota and Tennessee made aggressive moves to address areas of need.
Related: 2013 NFL Free Agency Losers
2013 NFL Free Agency Winners (in alphabetical order)
The NFC South champions finally got that much-needed playoff win and held a halftime lead at home against San Francisco in the NFC Championship game. Not content to rest on these laurels, the team took drastic measures to create some cap space to work with, resulting in the release of running back Michael Turner, defensive end John Abraham and cornerback Dunta Robinson.
While none of those three will be back in a Falcons uniform, the team filled these voids by signing running back Steven Jackson and defensive end Osi Umenyiora and agreeing to a new contract with free agent safety William Moore, as well as starting left tackle Sam Baker. The most important free agent acquisition, however, was when tight end Tony Gonzalez decided to come back for a 17th season. With Gonzalez, Moore and Baker back in the fold along with the “new” guys, the Falcons could very well find themselves in the NFC title game again this season.
While it’s unfortunate that long-time Bear and future Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher most likely won’t be back, it’s not like the front office completely ignored the position either. Free agents D.J. Williams and James Anderson should fill their roles nicely and it’s possible the Bears’ linebacking corps will be better as an overall unit this season compared to last.
Outside of linebacker, the Bears also signed offensive linemen Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson, as well as tight end Martellus Bennett to address two glaring areas of need. Now new head coach Marc Trestman can turn his focus to the draft as he continues to mold the roster and this team to his liking.
Denver made arguably the loudest noise of any team in free agency when the Broncos signed wide receiver Wes Welker away from New England. Peyton Manning now has Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker to throw to, making the Broncos’ offense even more dangerous than it was last season. The Broncos also added to its offensive line with the addition of former San Diego Charger guard Louis Vasquez.
As curious and puzzling the whole Elvis Dumervil saga was, Denver didn’t let it get in the way of improving its defense. Terrance Knighton should provide immediate dividends on the defensive line, while Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will help shore up a secondary that got exposed in the AFC Divisional loss to Baltimore. The Broncos also may not be done just yet as they have been linked to Dwight Freeney as a possible Dumervil replacement.
The AFC South champions haven’t made a bunch of moves, but the ones they have speak volumes. Future Hall of Famer Ed Reed is a huge get for this team as he will not only improve the secondary on the field, but he can serve as a mentor to his position mates and a veteran leader in the locker room. All-Pro punter Shane Lechler should only make the Texans’ special teams better, while fullback Greg Jones leading the way for Arian Foster could make Houston’s running game even more lethal, if that’s possible.
Kansas City Chiefs
New head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey have wasted little time putting their stamp on the Chiefs. Before free agency even started, the team traded for San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith, applied the franchise tag to left tackle Branden Albert and re-signed wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and punter Dustin Colquitt.
Through free agency the team has since added cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith, tight end Anthony Fasano, wide receiver Donnie Avery, offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, defensive lineman Mike DeVito and quarterback Chase Daniel. They have done all of this while only losing three key contributors from last season’s roster – defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey, offensive lineman Eric Winston and quarterback Matt Cassel, who was out of a job already once the Chiefs acquired Smith.
If anything, you have to give Miami credit for not standing idly by with all of the cap space it had accumulated. The Dolphins knew they needed to make a splash, pardon the pun, and they did just that by landing wide receiver Mike Wallace. The team didn’t stop there, however, as it signed linebacker Dannell Ellerbe away from the Super Bowl champion Ravens and also added tight end Dustin Keller and wide receiver Brandon Gibson to the offense. This past weekend, Miami added to its offseason haul by agreeing to a one-year deal with former Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes. A Pro Bowler in 2010, Grimes has been limited to just 13 games over the last two seasons because of a knee injury in 2011 and a torn Achilles tendon in Week 1 last season. If healthy, Grimes should be able to fill the void left by the departed Sean Smith.
Along with Smith, Miami did say good-bye to left tackle Jake Long, running back Reggie Bush, linebackers Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby and tight end Anthony Fasano, but the fan base can’t say this team didn’t just sit and do nothing. The front office got Ryan Tannehill some much-needed weapons, now it’s up to the second-year signal caller to do something with them.
Yes, Minnesota traded wide receiver Percy Harvin to Seattle and the offense won’t be the same without him, but did the Vikings have any other choice? Harvin made it clear he didn’t want to be there and the Vikings got the Seahawks’ first- and seventh-round picks this year and a third-round selection in ’14 in return for someone who had become nothing more than a headache.
That said, the trade of Harvin left a glaring hole in the offense, one that was filled with the signing of former Green Bay wide receiver Greg Jennings. Jennings is nowhere near the same player as Harvin, but when healthy, the wideout has been a productive and reliable target, just what quarterback Christian Ponder and the passing attack needs. The team also made sure several other key offensive pieces stayed put, namely tackle Phil Loadholt and fullback Jerome Felton, and brought in veteran Matt Cassel to back up Ponder.
First-year NFL head coach Chip Kelly is doing everything he can to shape this roster the way he wants. Gone are high-priced, All-Pro defensive backs Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, as the Eagles have completely overhauled their secondary. Taking their places will be Patrick Chung, Bradley Fletcher, Kenny Phillips and Cary Williams, along with additional new defensive pieces Connor Barwin and Isaac Sopoaga.
It remains to be seen if the quantity over quality approach will pay off on the field, but if anything, the Eagles’ defense will look a lot different this season and figures to be a lot deeper. Signing fullback/tight end hybrid James Casey away from Houston was another nice addition, as Kelly likes versatile weapons on offense.
Even if you don’t factor in the Percy Harvin acquisition, the Seahawks have to be viewed a winner in free agency. Already one of the best defenses in the NFL last season, and one that should only get better with so many young core players, Seattle added Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, two of the top defensive players on the market.
Besides making the Seahawks defense even younger than it was last season, these team-friendly contracts (Avril’s is two years, Bennett’s only one) made it easier for the team to sign Harvin to a new deal and still should leave the Seahakws with enough cap flexibility to build for the future. The battle in the NFC West between defending champion San Francisco and Seattle should be extremely entertaining to watch this season.
The Titans made their first big move before free agency even started, signing veteran safety George Wilson after he was cut by Buffalo. Once the market officially opened, the team aggressively pursued its top two targets, efforts that paid off when Tennessee signed guard Andy LeVitre and tight end Delanie Walker.
The Titans didn’t stop there, however, adding running back Shonn Greene, defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill, linebacker Moise Fokou and offensive lineman Robert Turner, while also re-signing reliable veteran kicker Rob Bironas. Even when the team parted ways with valuable backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, the Titans had a plan in place, agreeing to terms with Ryan Fitzpatrick shortly after the Bills released him. Tennessee also has since added veteran defensive back Bernard Pollard to the fold, the latest in a series of wise moves made to address areas of need and improve the overall depth of the Titans’ roster.