Free Agency Rankings – AFC

Posted: 03/19/2014 in Front Office News, What's New
Teams get down to business as they try to "right the ship" in these few crucial months. Photo by: Eric Nichay

Teams get down to business as they try to “right the ship” in these few crucial months. Photo by: Eric Nichay

Week one of the NFL free agency period has now concluded and it’s time to assess what teams are getting better from their acquisitions and what teams are setting themselves up to fail. It is easy to be fooled by the names on paper and overpay for a free agent. Sometimes the perception of a player lasts longer than his actual abilities. If a player has been known as a stud for his team and the fanbase in the new city likes him and is maybe pushing for the team to sign him, then that player has a higher chance of being overpaid on the open market. Believe it or not, this is a common occurrence in the NFL. Players get cut from teams every year because the back-end of their contract is far more expensive than they realize the player is worth.  Teams simply write clauses and loopholes into these contracts so that they can cut the player as easily as possible when they need to create more cap space.

That however, is only a problem for teams that lose on their gamble at free agency. For every loser during the month of March, there is another team on the opposite end of the spectrum that vastly improved and strengthened their roster. The best teams even sign core players. “Core player” is really just a fancy way of saying the athlete is a game-changer. Players with elite skillsets, in the most elite league in the world, tilt the scales in their team’s favor regarding the ultimate goal of every franchise entering the season – just get to the playoffs.

So, in the hunt to find which teams did the best this offseason so far, through the first week when all the “big fish” sign their deals and set the market for the players at their position to negotiate with and sign after. Towards the end of week one of free agency there was already some of the “smaller fish” signed too. When looking at the data, one thing becomes glaringly obvious. The best teams from the regular season were able to attract the best free agents. Three division leaders round out the top three of my rankings. They are all explained below, in detail and in order for you to disagree with.

Top 5 AFC Free Agency Hauls:

1. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) 1st in Division

Signings: WR Hakeem Nicks, C Phil Costa, DE Arthur Jones, MLB D’Qwell Jackson, CB Vontae Davis, S Sergio Brown.

Resigned: K Adam Vinatieri, P Pat McAfee, RB Ahmad Bradshaw.

Pursuing: C Alex Mack (Cleveland Browns)

It’s a shame the news recently broke about Colt’s owner Jim Irsay’s arrest on DUI charges because I really think he and his staff have done the finest job in the whole AFC of retooling and – more importantly – improving their squad. The scary news is they certainly aren’t done either because they have over $16.5 million in cap space left to use, according to spotrac, the 2014 NFL cap tracker. Vontae Davis signing back to Indy is hardly a surprise since this is the team who drafted him years ago. Now he’s back and better than they remember him. But my favorite signing they made is for Cleveland unsung hero D’Qwell Jackson. He is a rock solid starter who can be relied upon to man the middle of the field. My only concern is being on the Browns his whole career, he has almost no pro experience in big  games that are even close to the magnitude as Colt playoff games can get, such as the classic Manning-Brady rivalry fans enjoyed for so long. Now it’s Andrew Luck’s turn to lead this team to the promised land. So the team helped him out a bit giving him a big bodied, possibly number one receiver in the offense. Matched up with a healthy, returning Reggie Wayne and slot receiver T.Y. Hilton, Luck should have no problem finding an open man to rifle his touchdown passes to this September.

2. Denver Broncos (13-3) 1st in Division

Signings: DE Demarcus Ware, CB Aqib Talib, S T.J. Ward, WR Emmanuel Sanders

Pursuing: C Will Montgomery

I don’t know how Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway, GM Pat Bowlen and Head Coach John Fox do what they do, but they are the masters of sweet-talking, whining and dining all of the top free agents into helping them get to a Superbowl. No matter how big the move is, the trio and especially Elway, make it look easy. Every player listed above is an immediate upgrade at the position. Remember, they had already made it to the Super Bowl last year before collecting these players. They absolutely broke the bank to acquire the top free agents in part to answer the  flurry of transactions made by our number three team on the list, but also in hopes to actually win next time they get to the Super Bowl. Their window is only as wide as Peyton Manning’s career. Which may or may not be a good thing, depending on who you ask.

3. New England Patriots (12-4) 1st in Division

Signings: CB Darrelle Revis, WR Branden LaFell, CB Brandon Browner.

Resigned: WR Julian Edelman, TE Michael Hoomanawanui.

Pursuing: WR Jason Avant, WR Kenny Britt.

The Pats seem to be in a grudge match this offseason with Denver for the best looking roster on paper. As you can tell by my list, I think through one week Denver is winning but New Englang has no doubt solidified its secondary by morphing the corps from the team’s biggest weakness into the backbone of their defense. Signing Revis and Browner gives Belichick two physical shutdown corners to gameplan with to work with versatile cornerback turned safety Devin McCourty. In addition to that, they addressed their biggest offensive concern at wide receiver when they snatched LaFell from Carolina and resigned Edelman who was Brady’s security blanket last year and leading receiver. The signing also gives the Patriots arguably the fastest wide receiver group in the NFL when healthy, that in addition to Edelman and LaFell, includes TE Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Dobbins, Kembrell Thompkins and Matthew Slater.  It looks like they aren’t done either, with only about $9 million left in cap space they are continuing talks with bargain wide receivers looking for a new home in Jason Avant and Kenny Britt. Patriot decision makers want to make sure the only gaping hole on the offense is cemented shut. If Gronk’s return from injury is successful and with another year of Tom Brady at the helm, the Patriots look poised for another deep run at a championship.

4. Oakland Raiders (4-12) 4th in Division

Signings: WR James Jones, OT Austin Howard, OT Donald Penn, OG Kevin Boothe, DE Antonio Smith, DE Justin Tuck, OLB Lamarr Woodley, CB Tarrell Brown, S Usama Young.

Resigned: RB Darren McFadden, OT Khalif Barnes.

Pursuing: Every potential starting QB under the sun, (Vick, Schaub, Sanchez, Freeman, etc.), RB Michael Bush, RB Andre Brown, OG Donald Penn, DT Alex Carrington, OLB Rob Jackson, CB Terrell Thomas, S Charles Woodson.

The new Oakland regime has the most money in the league to spend. Anybody can spend money, but it takes smart people to spend it wisely. Most of the players Oakland has signed are past their prime but still capable starters. The only exceptions are James Jones and Austin Howard from the Jets. They are in their prime and give them a shot to win every sunday. Still not sold on Oakland’s front office yet and the direction they’re going. General Manager Reggie Mckenzie is hailed as one of the top executives in the league, but they seem like they don’t have a consensus plan and identity set in place yet. They are on the list because they have signed a lot of players and haven’t made a bad signing yet. Jones will continue to be a star and I really like the Tuck/Smith defensive end combination. The secondary remains a focal point with nothing special atop the depth chart right now. In all, they may have not found a gold treasure chest in free agency but they might’ve found silver..

5. Jacksonville Jaguars ( 4-12) 3rd in Division

Signings: RB Toby Gerhart , OG Zane Beadles, DT Red Bryant, DT Ziggy Hood, DE Chris Clemons.

Resigned: QB Chad Henne, DE Jason Babin, CB Will Blackmon.

Pursuing: QB Mike Vick.

Owner Shahid Khan and the Jaguars believe in the quality not quantity approach to free agency. They haven’t signed a whole new team of players but the moves they have made are brilliant ones. Toby Gerhart is a four year protege of all-star Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. Before that, Gerhart was a workhorse for his alma mater Stanford. He has had time to learn the NFL game and study the play of Peterson, so he should be ready to carry a team. I’m not saying he doesn’t still need to improve in things like catching out of the backfield and pass protection, but he will make the ugly Maurice Jones-Drew divorce easy to forget when he surpasses 1,000 yards every season. Yes, I think he is that good. Zane Beadles, Red Bryant and Chris Clemons are all scrappy players that are accustomed to winning and and success. All three can be excellent leaders on a young, rebuilding franchise and they give Head Coach Gus Bradley a few trustworthy veterans to control the calls on the field. Re-signing Babin was a must after he anchored the defensive line last season, notching 7.5 sacks. Look for the Jags to still draft a QB early in the draft, regardless of Chad Henne being resigned to the roster. Mike Vick is holding off on signing anywhere until after the draft so it is starting to look like Jacksonville will find their face of the franchise in the draft. Their free agent binge has been positive, but still remains incomplete if they want to compete for the division crown. Which currently remains perched on the Colts head, who also sit atop this list.

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