What are they thinking?! We examine free agency

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 07, 2010



The general consensus around football is that the 2010 free-agent pool is not a particularly compelling place to go swimming.
 
But it has provided plenty of interesting moves since free agency got underway Friday (and in the days before that) which will change the shape of the NFL in 2010. Here's our look at some of the more newsworthy decisions to date, and our take on the deep thoughts within management that prompted each move.
 
We'll be adding more from the other big deals to date in the hours ahead, including the evisceration of Arizona's not-particularly stout defense, from Antrel Rolle's big payday with the Giants to the impressive haul made by Karlos Dansby to play with the Dolphins.
 
Julius Peppers signed by Chicago
The thought process behind the deal: Who needs a quarterback to win in the NFL? Not us.
 
The Panthers defensive end was widely considered the biggest prize in an otherwise soft year for free agents. He landed in the last place we expected: in Chicago, and with a whopping deal worth $79 million.
 
The Bears are the organization defined by the likes of Dick Butkus, Doug Atkins, George Connor, Mike Singletary, Dan Hampton and, more recently, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Adewale Ogunleye, Alex Brown and Tommy Harris – Hall of Famers, Pro Bowlers and general studs all around.
 
Those guys all have one thing in common. Do you see it? Yup, they all played defense.
 
And that defense-first mindset in the Midway has famously yielded scant results: one NFL championship, one Super Bowl championship and two NFC titles in the 60 years since – oh, look! – Sid Luckman last took a snap.
 
The Bears certainly needed help in defense. That ranked just 21st in scoring last year (375 points allowed). But they need a lot more help on offense, as they have for more than a half century.
 
But the team must be entirely content leaving the offense in the hands of Jay Cutler, who last season tossed a league-high 26 picks while becoming the 13th quarterback to lead the team in passing in the last 17 seasons.
 
That's a long way of saying that the Bears misspent the money on Peppers. The team will do nothing until they finally solve the quarterback question once and for all.
 
Of course, if Cutler proves to be the guy many thought he would be when he was drafted No.1 by Denver in 2006, then maybe the Peppers pick up will be prove wise. But we've seen no evidence now in two towns that Cutler is a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback.
 
Jake Delhomme axed by Carolina
The thought process behind the deal: Should have done this a year ago!
The Cold, hard Football Facts have enjoyed following BrettFavre Light ever since he got up in the face of New England tough guy Rodney Harrison in Super Bowl XXXVIII. The taunt came right after Delhomme threw an 85-yard bomb to Muhsin Muhhamad, the longest TD pass in SB history.
 
But enjoying a player's performances doesn't mean we want him as our quarterback.
 
The spotty gunslinging record of highs and lows hit rock bottom at the end of last year. As we reported in our final Power Rankings before the playoffs, Delhomme was a major reason why the otherwise solid Panthers failed to gain a postseason bid: "Delhomme tossed 18 interceptions in his 11 starts (backup turned QB-of-the-future Matt Moore threw two in his five starts)."
 
Moore is no longer the QB of the future. Now he's the man. If he can display the same production and care with the ball he did last year, the future for Carolina could be bright. Here's Moore's very good numbers from 2009:
  • 85 of 138, 61.6%, 1,053 yards, 7.6 YPA, 8 TD, 2 INT, 98.5 rating
The body of evidence for Moore is small, but those are great numbers to build upon. Delhomme's body of evidence was large, but didn't provide anything solid to build upon.
 
Vince Wilfork inks big deal with New England
The thought process behind the deal: Will the last guy with a Super Bowl ring please turn out the lights?
 
Wilfork was one of just six franchised players this year. Two of them were teammates on the New England defensive line until August 2009. The other was Richard Seymour, now with Oakland. Wilfork watched as his franchise tag was turned into a shiny new $40 million, five-year deal. So the quietly disgruntled behemoth got the payday and security he wanted – or at least as much security as you get in the NFL.
 
The consensus is that Wilfork is the second most important player on New England's roster, behind only Tom Brady. (Our man Chris Price from WEEI.com listed Wilfork as the third-most important player on New England's roster, behind Brady and Wes Welker).
 
Whether a nose tackle is truly that important to New England's hopes or not, we don't know. But we do know this: after losing one core defensive player after another in recent years, whether by trade or cut or in free agency (Asante Samuel, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, etc.), Wilfork benefited by being the last man standing. He's the last defensive starter who provides any connection to the Super Bowl glory days: he was a rookie on the 2004 championship team.
 
Now it's smooth sailing for the Patriots: they just need an elite pass rusher, a shutdown corner, a playmaking linebacker, some more proven veteran leadership, and the first great defensive draft in six or seven years, and the defense will be in great shape. Is that really a lot to ask?
 
Jets acquire Antonio Cromartie from San Diego
The thought process behind the deal: Hey Foxy Brady, we're coming to get ya!
 
The Cromartie deal should be cause for alarm throughout the rest of the AFC ... if the cornerback lives up the flashes of brilliance he's shown early in his career. 
 
New York's Darrelle Revis already established himself as the league's top shutdown corner last year, as Rex Ryan built the league's No. 1 defense in his rookie head coaching campaign. Cromartie could give the Jets lockdown corners on both sides of the ball. His play has been spotty in recent years, and he's been criticized for his lack of tackling skills.
 
But let's not forget that Cromartie led the NFL in picks as recently as 2007 (10). It was a performance led by his career-defining three-pick effort against Peyton Manning and the Colts. And remember, 10 picks is nothing to sneeze it. The total matches the high set by any player since 1981.
 
The Jets dumped Lito Sheppard to make room for Cromartie and they traded only a third-round (or possible second-round) pick in the 2011 draft. All in all, it seems like a very good and cost-effective deal that has high payoff potential for a team that will be everybody's favorite to win the AFC East in 2010.
 
Ravens acquire Anquan Boldin from Arizona
The thought process behind the deal: No. 2 in Arizona is an easy No. 1 in Baltimore.
 
This is a very good acquisition for a team that historically has lacked receiving talent but now has a quarterback (Joe Flacco) that it considers good enough to carry them to the Super Bowl. Hell, Baltimore reached the AFC title game in Flacco's rookie year (2008).
 
Boldin is a premier target. In his seven NFL seasons, he's averaged 84 catches for 1,074 yards, 6 TD and 12.8 yards per catch. Actually, they're phenomenal numbers for a No. 2 receiver (behind Larry Fitzgerald) and on a team loaded with receiving talent.
 
In Baltimore, an average season for Boldin would be impressive production by the standards of the organization. Consider that 36-year-old receiver Derrick Mason has been the team's top target since acquired from Tennessee in 2005.
 
In his best years, he's caught 103 passes (2007) for 1,087 yards (2007), 14.1 yards per reception (2009) and seven touchdowns (2009).
 
Boldin put up those numbers in his sleep as a No. 2 in Arizona.
 
The other side of the equation: the Ravens sent Arizona a third- and fourth-round draft pick; they also obtained Arizona's fifth-round pick in this year's draft. So it seems like Baltimore gave up a fair amount to fill an obvious need. If we had feelings, we'd like the move.
 
Jaguars sign Aaron Kampman
The thought process behind the deal: Mayday! Mayday! We need help!
 
Jacksonville was desperate for help on the defensive front. They ranked dead last in 2009 at forcing Negative Pass Plays, succeeding at creating a sack or INT on just 5.53 percent of opponent drop backs. Something had to change.  
 
They found the seeds for that change in Kampman, the free agent who spent all eight NFL seasons with the Packers. The defensive end spent much of 2009 on injured reserve, but was one of the league's top pass-rushing forces from 2006 to 2008, a period during which he recorded 37 sacks.
 
The money from Jacksonville's perspective looks good, too, in light of the deals given by New England to Wilfork and Chicago to Peppers: it's a four-year, $26 million deal with $11 million in guaranteed money.
 
David Carr signed by San Francisco
The thought process behind the deal: pedigree is more important than performance.
 
The 49ers apparently are making up for all the good fortune they enjoyed back in the QB rich days of the 1980s and 1990s, when everyone from Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young, to journeymen like Jeff Garcia, could be counted on to carve up defenses with deadly results.
 
These days, the organization seems lost about what to do at the quarterback position. We were firmly in the Shaun Hill camp the past two years. He's cleary been more effective than former No. 1 pick Alex Smith, a fact we've chronicled many times.
 
But pedigree often trumps performance in the NFL, so Smith has the No. 1 job.
 
And now, in another example of pedigree trumping performance, the 49ers just signed another woefully underachieving quarterback, David Carr, also a former No. 1 pick. The consensus seems to be that Carr is coming in to take the No. 2 job from the guy who deserves it, Hill, and challenge for the No. 1 job.
 
We can only surmise that 49ers management is high from all the pot fumes that waft over the hills of San Francisco like a toxic cloud of hippie gas. Carr's numbers (see them here at profootballreference.com) speak for themselves, and they don't speak well of him.
 
San Francisco, it seems, is committed to letting two guys who can't play quarterback in the NFL battle for their No. 1 job at the expense of a guy who can, merely because both were once the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
 
That's bad management and bad coaching ... and that's why the 49ers will disappoint badly in the 2010 season. It's so sad when a team's season ends even before the draft.

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