Point/Counterpoint: Early Free Agency Moves We Like and Dislike

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson during the first 24 hours of free agency…Grade: A+.

Andrew, I’m sure we can both agree that the Bucs made a bold and impactful move in the early hours of free agency, which is typically when the biggest names in each free agent class make their moves.  Goldson has a sterling resume and the Bucs had a real need in the secondary; it’s a very good thing that the former 49er never made another visit after starting free agency with a flight to Tampa.

There really isn’t much room for debate between us on that signing, and we’d certainly be accused of homerism anyway.  So, now that free agency is close to 48 hours old, let’s take a wider view and assess what everyone around the league has done so far.  Many of the most coveted players have already landed in new locations, such as Cliff Avril in Seattle, Mike Wallace in Miami, Wes Welker in Denver, Paul Kruger in Cleveland and your man-crush Reggie Bush in Detroit.

These moves were made by intelligent and well-prepared general managers, with their respective ownership’s approval to fling the cash, and by players who knew their value and where they wanted to play.  As quickly as they all came together, they were surely not rushed deals in the sense of the teams’ and players’ motivations.

But, heck, why let that stop us from critiquing them?  That’s the Point/Counterpoint I’m proposing here: How about each of us identifies one early-free agency deal we really like, and one we don’t…not including the Bucs’ Dashon Goldson deal, of course.  I’m feeling as generous as a G.M. with $40 million of cap space, so I’ll let you go first.  Use any criteria you like.

Andrew Norton: Alright. I can handle this. Two teams really stand out for me about what they have done in the last 40-some odd hours. And, no, neither of those teams are the Miami Dolphins, who are absolutely making it rain, fully embracing the spirit of spring break in South Beach.

For me the heavy hitters have been the Denver Broncos and the Detroit Lions. The latter helped solidify their secondary by holding on to CB Chris Houston and landing one of the top safeties in Glover Quin. And then there is Reggie Bush, (who apparently I’m the only person in the world that views as underrated), making a great fit in this offense and should help out Stafford immensely in a multiple-back system. But, because you called me out, and I’ve already had my talk about Bush, I’m going to say that what the Broncos have done is my favorite.

There are two big moves in Denver that stand out from the last couple days: WR Wes Welker and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. I think that Cromartie has a chance to rebound and that is something I’d like to see, but your rules say to narrow it down to one deal, so I have to go with the popular pick, Mr. Welker.

While I’m not trying to insert myself into any of the drama around the situation, you have to say that this had about everything you could ask for in a free agency deal. 1) Excellent, high-profile player. 2) Best bargain that has happened so far this season. 3) Such an incredibly and borderline-tragically poetic turn of events. I mean, for real, can you recall any move that had more drama and emotion than this one? It’s beautiful.

Aside from that drama though, Denver really did walk away with an excellent deal. If you follow the Tweeter machine, you saw many opinions flying instantly about the Broncos locking up the AFC with that single move. Of course, championships are not won in March, but you have to admit that Manning throwing to Thomas, Decker and now Welker looks nightmarish for opposing defensive play-callers.

And as far as those people that are saying that Welker is cooling off, I have to disagree with you. He is entering his 11th season, he has had injury issues, but he is a production machine. People have been calling for a slow-down period for years, and Welker always over-performs. After a terrible injury to end his 2010 season, he bounced back for 122 receptions and over 1,500 yards in 2011, much to the dismay of the experts and fantasy owners that counted him out. And when people expected him to cool off in 2012, he answered with 118 catches and 1,354 yards. He’s a machine.

Bottom line, for a two-year, $12 million deal, Welker is a steal. Will he match his Patriot numbers as a Bronco? That remains to be seen. It’s a hard proposition with the other receiving talent around him, but I do think that he has the potential to come close and instantly be a big part of the offense. One thing I can tell you for certain is that Peyton Manning just jumped up a round on my fantasy football draft board.

Scott Smith: So where is Peyton going in your draft now, the 0th round?  I mean he was pretty close to a first-rounder already, wasn’t he?  Anyway, I don’t see how Broncos fans could be anything but ecstatic about landing Welker, and it obviously spoke to the poet in your soul, which is…uh, a plus, I guess?

So, yeah, Welker.  Kind of obvious, but a nice pickup, especially at that price.  But you know what I really liked these first two days: Jared Cook to the Rams.

Now, we all know that Cook was heavily rumored in February to be getting the franchise tag in Tennessee, and that it probably didn’t happen because he could possibly justify getting the wide receiver tender instead of the more affordable tight end tender.  Assuming that’s true, I can certainly understand that the Titans demurred (and quickly responded by signing Delanie Walker), and I can definitely understand that Cook jumped at the chance to make 35 mill or so.

Is Cook a bit overpaid with his new deal?  Well, there’s a good chance that will prove to be true, but that’s kind of how free agency works.  Joe Flacco is now the league’s highest-paid quarterback (tax considerations aside), and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who says he is the league’s best quarterback.  That’s not even an insult to Flacco, who is obviously very good.  The Ravens won’t mind his contract one bit if he continues to produce the way he did in 2012, especially in the playoffs.

Likewise, the Rams may be paying Cook as much as the more proven Vernon Davis, but the deal will only look bad if Cook flops.  And I’m saying he does the exact opposite.  Everyone agrees that Cook is fabulously athletic, but he never reached 50 catches, 800 yards or five touchdowns in any of his four seasons in Tennessee.  Was that his failure, a system failure or some combination of both?  I’m going with system failure, at least for the most part, and I’m believing that Cook is going to thrive in St. Louis with Jeff Fisher (the man who originally drafted him in the third round in 2009) and quarterback Sam Bradford.  Remember him, Bradford?  The first overall pick in 2010?  Seems to me like a player teetering on the edge of stardom or disappointed.  He needs a season with a good array of weapons around him, and adding Cook is a great start for the Rams.

Mark my words when your fantasy draft rolls around in August: Jared Cook is going to be a mid-round steal because he’s going to produce like a near-top tier tight end in 2013.

Andrew Norton: Interesting. It comes time for the “least favorite” free agency move section, and Jared Cook was on my short list of guys to talk about in this blurb. The reason is one that you have already pointed out: he is all potential, no proven production.

Well, that may be unfair. He has been productive. He has way more yardage than I do. But for the last two seasons, his name has been thrown around a lot, that he is going to be the next big breakout star, but it hasn’t happened. 18th-ranked TE in receptions in 2011, 14th in yardage, 23rd in TDs. And while he has one more touchdown in 2012 (4 total, to be exact) than in 2011, his yardage and receptions went down. You can say it was a product of the system he was in, but a lot of people have also said that Lance Kendrick, the last Rams TE, also had a very high ceiling and a lot of potential, but we didn’t see anything come of that either.

It remains to be seen. And I do believe that he has a ton of potential and is crazy athletic. I just don’t think that you give that kind of a deal to someone who hasn’t had the production you want to see. Too risky for me to fully get behind.

That being said, my award for the most head-scratching free agency move would be the signing of RB Shonn Greene in Tennessee. And, as a broken record, I’m going to compare this to Reggie Bush moving to Detroit. Greene signed a three-year deal for $10 million. Bush signed four years for $16 million. The two have similar stats over the last two years (Bush has a 181 yards from scrimmage and 1 touchdown advantage), but just watching them, you see that Greene is not the same kind of player.

Beyond that, Reggie Bush will go into a far more solid offense in Detroit and start, taking presumably the lead in carries and being the weapon he is meant to be out of the backfield. Greene will be playing second fiddle to some guy named Chris Johnson, who I’ve read is pretty good. Essentially, they are paying just a fraction less to a player that is going to back up their star. Really puts a bee in my bonnet.

Scott Smith: Totally agree on the Shonn Greene thing, but I’m the guy who says you don’t pay for running backs in free agency, period (Michael Pittman notwithstanding).  Three years and $10 million indeed seem like a lot for your backup/complementary back.

Elsewhere, I’m not sure I love the Paul Kruger deal in Cleveland, because I wonder if Kruger is a bit one-dimensional for that big of a deal.  And the whole Danny Amendola thing in New England is pretty tough for Amendola, right?  I mean, the big contract isn’t exactly tough, but what percentage of Wes Welker’s production is he going to have to replace in order to be considered a successful signing…especially by those very forgiving Pats fans?

However, I’ve got a buddy who pretty much always has a serious case of Chicago blinders on, and it’s just too tempting to pick at one of Da Bears’ early moves.

Chicago clearly needed help on the offensive line, much like the Bucs clearly needed help in the secondary.  The Bucs signed a two-time Pro Bowl DB; the Bears signed a two-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle.  It’s hypocritical to like one and not the other, right?  Maybe, but my question is: Just how much of an upgrade is Jermon Bushrod over what the Bears had?

The folks over at Pro Football Focus have Bushrod rated pretty similarly to the man he’s replacing in Chicago, J’Marcus Webb, at least in terms of their respective 2012 performances.  The linked article is actually pretty even-handed despite those grades, conceding that coach Aaron Kromer, formerly of the Saints and now of the Bears, may have good inside knowledge on Bushrod’s upward-trending potential.  That’s some pretty heavy speculation, though.  I assume the Bears know what they’re doing in committing to Jay Cutler’s new blindside protector for the next five years, but if they’re wrong the painful O-Line shuffle in Chicago will continue.

Bushrod is a Pro Bowler.  I can’t take that away from him, or from my Bears-fan buddy.  But how much of that is attributable to Drew Brees and his ridiculous ability to get rid of the football before trouble arrives?  I guess we’re going to find out.  Bushrod has to be at least a good player; I’d sound like a fool claiming otherwise.  But is he the left-tackle savior for which the Bears have been pining.  Color me skeptical.

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