I swear that I didn’t mean for the NFL Free Agent Winners & Losers to be somewhat alphabetic in nature. Teams from nearly every region in the country had outstanding free agency hauls, while a few teams from the south took the biggest hits on the opening market led by the BountyGate Saints.
Free Agency Winners
Denver Broncos- Swapping Tim Tebow for Peyton Manning immediately makes Denver the biggest winners bar none. In a weak AFC West, Manning’s presence and ability to throw the football (the last QB seemed to lack that somewhat important trait) turns the Broncos into an instant Super Bowl contender with that strong defense. If that wasn’t enough, they signed CB Tracy Porter to pair with Champ Bailey and added Manning’s old teammate in Jacob Tamme along with former Bengals receiver Andre Caldwell.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Tampa had the most cap room to spend and…they spent it, mainly wisely in fact. Rookie coach Greg Schiano must have felt like a kid on Christmas when he landed top wide receiver Vincent Jackson from San Diego and guard Carl Nicks from New Orleans on the first day of free agency. Add CB Eric Wright to that haul to help out Ronde Barber and you’ve got yourself at least a trio of winning moves.
Buffalo Bills- Their offense is a work in progress with Ryan Fitzpatrick and company, but that defense is going to be a monster. If having Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams weren’t enough, GM Buddy Nix brought over the explosive Mario Williams from Houston and Mark Anderson, who led New England in sacks last season, over for a super front seven.
Honorable Mention- Seattle- The Seahawks took a good gamble in Matt Flynn and picked up a nice DT in Jason Jones while holding on to DL Red Bryant.
Free Agency Losers
New Orleans Saints- So the Saints lost their head coach, general manager and linebackers coach with player suspensions to come because of BountyGate? Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Carolina will all be competitive in the NFC South in 2012 and New Orleans will miss its top administrators. They also lost G Carl Nicks (replaced well by Ben Grubbs), WR Robert Meachem and CB Tracy Porter to free agency on the field.
Houston Texans- Like the Saints, the Texans will probably be very good in 2012 but they sustained a few key losses so far this offseason. They saw Williams leave to Buffalo, Eric Winston depart to Kansas City and they traded defensive linchpin DeMeco Ryans over to Philadelphia for a mid-round draft pick.
Tennessee Titans- Like the Jets with Nnamdi Asomugha last season, the Titans went for the home run in Peyton Manning and ended up striking out swinging. Top shelf CB Cortland Finnegan followed Jeff Fisher west to St. Louis and DT Jason Jones left for the Seahawks. Kamerion Wimbley will help the pass rush and Steve Hutchinson the offensive line, but I’d consider this offseason a net loss for Tennessee.
Dishonorable Mention- Me- As a writer living in New York, I now have to deal with Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin constantly. So what if you don’t feel bad for me because I write sports for a living? I can sympathize with myself.
Boredom Bringing Down Conference Contenders?
It’s certainly not a new or novel concept but it lacked, perhaps, a name. Where the best teams in the league are about two-thirds or three-quarters through the season and will easily make the playoffs. You get into the dog days of February and March, you’re obviously getting into the playoffs and you dog it a little bit. Let’s call it The Boredom Slump (let’s give it an acronym…wait, what? TBS is taken?).
Case in point? Miami and Chicago, the titans of the Eastern Conference. The Heat had its second double-digit setbacks in as many nights, dropping a 105-90 decision in Indiana, its fourth loss in eight games. In the past two nights, Miami has doubled its total of double digit setbacks for the season. In Miami’s last 10 games against teams with winning records, they’re 4-6. Cause for concern? Doubtful, but it’s The Boredom Slump.
The Bulls had its four-game win streak snapped by Denver on Monday, but it had to escape with a one-point OT win at home over Toronto on Saturday night. It’s very possible The Boredom Slump soon afflicts the bullish ballers from the Windy City.
The Race We Wish Wouldn’t Exist
It looks like a putrid and pathetic battle of attrition for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee and New York have a good deal of talent, but injuries, poor cohesion and a lack of efficient execution is making this race less than exciting than watching paint dry at an abandoned construction site.
Both the Bucks and Knicks shot under 37 percent for the game on Monday and New York, without Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin, hit 18 more free throws and had 13 more rebounds than Milwaukee in an 89-80 win. The two clubs combined for 43 turnovers, just four fewer than their combined win total. Carmelo Anthony resumed his familiar role of volume shooter in the absence of the team’s other stars and scored 28 points in the win, and even ‘Melo is dealing with some injury problems of his own. The victory gave Mike Woodson’s Knicks a 2 1/2 game cushion over the Bucks for the final spot. Let the worst of the best win!
The Nets, win. They lose. The Nets lose, they lose. Utah, the team that traded Deron Williams so they wouldn’t be in the situation New Jersey is currently in, came into Newark and walloped the Nets by a 105-84 margin. The Jazz are doing just fine, by the way.
With the risk of losing Williams this summer, New Jersey acquired Gerald Wallace from Portland a little more than 10 days ago (doesn’t it seem like 10 weeks ago?) and desperately gave the Blazers a first-round pick that’s only top three protected. The Nets tried damage control by saying they only liked three players in one of the most loaded drafts of the decade (Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is being compared to Wallace himself), but everyone can smell that B.S. from Barcelona to Brooklyn.
New Jersey is now stuck with a putrid team, a first round draft pick close to 20 (assuming Houston makes the playoffs. If they don’t, they get no first-round pick) and wins would only make it more likely they won’t get a pick to try to convince Williams to stay. So it’s a catch-22, or as I like to say a catch-22 that’s so bad it’s a catch-44. The Nets are doomed. Plain and simple.