Find Out Which Teams Signed the Most Critical Free Agents on March 11
|Date & Time||Wednesday March 12, 2014, 12:00 PM (EDT)|
|TV Channel||Stream live sports and ESPN originals on ESPN+ for only $4.99 a month. Start your 7-day free trial today!|
After one of the busiest opening days of NFL free agency in recent memory, I figured a round-up of the most important moves could help everybody’s head stop spinning. If you’re anything like me, you were glued to ESPN on your phone, tablet, and television from 4:01 PM (okay, let’s be honest…more like 8 AM) until midnight. Grab your coffee, and maybe a pen to create a helpful flowchart, and let’s break down the top ten signings.
1. Jairus Byrd (S-Saints) - The Saints, who were one of the league’s most cash strapped teams going into free agency, somehow managed to tweak the numbers enough to land Byrd late yesterday evening. “How?” seems to be the operative question here. The 6-year contract that was drawn-up will keep Byrd with the club for the foreseeable future. Byrd, the most sought after free agent this year, will line-up with current Saints S Kenny Vaccaro. The duo have the potential to become the most dangerous safety pairing in the league.
2. Branden Albert (LT-Dolphins) - This isn’t a surprising move, but it’s still a major one (especially if your name is Ryan Tannehill). Miami has wanted to snag Albert for at least a year and finally made it happen yesterday. Though he’s not as young as he once was, Albert’s skills should translate well to protecting the club’s young QB’s blindside and ought to help their dismal O-line give-up fewer than 58 sacks in 2014.
3. T.J. Ward (S-Broncos) - Elway and Co. are clearly looking to remedy the defensive issues that plagued them for 60 minutes in Super Bowl XLVIII (and, quite frankly, throughout the season). They’re rumored to have their sights set on DE Demarcus Ware, they locked up CB Aqib Talib late last night, and they snagged Ward earlier in the afternoon. I think the Ward signing is their best value thus far. Ward’s one of the top S options in the league and he’ll add a sense of toughness to a subpar D that was largely masked by Peyton Manning’s offense.
4. Alterraun Verner (CB-Buccaneers) - With Darrelle Revis as good as gone, the Bucs needed to address the CB position and they did so with aplomb, landing one of the standout options on the free agency market. Verner, a 25-year-old player who was one of only a handful of bright spots for the Tennessee Titans last year, will almost undoubtedly turn into the foundation of Tampa Bay’s secondary.
5. Lamarr Houston (DE-Bears) - This was an excellent move by the Bears organization. It’s no secret that the club was in desperate need of a pass rusher and missed out on Michael Bennett when he re-signed with the Seahawks. Houston brings quality pass rushing skills and has the potential to become one of the league’s leading sackers. Fans are sure to be hoping that the addition of Houston can breathe some life back into a Bears D that looked to be asphyxiating for 17 weeks.
6. Arthur Jones (DE-Colts) - Even though this signing didn’t create the kind of frenzy that some others (read: Byrd) did, it was a smart move for Indy. Jones worked well in Baltimore’s 3-4 scheme when Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was the defensive coordinator there. Jones should be able to bring the same prowess to Pagano’s Colts now, even if he flies under the radar. The only concern is that the Colts offered Jones a hefty contract, so he needs to work out as expected.
7. Linval Joseph (DT-Vikings) - Minnesota is sure to be hoping that the addition of Joseph will make it more challenging for opposing teams to score an average of 30 PPG. Jospeh isn’t even 26 yet and has already started 46 NFL games. This experience, combined with his relative youth, makes him a great choice to bolster a faltering Vikings’ D.
8. Jared Veldheer (OT-Cardinals) - We discussed the possibility of this move yesterday and it came to fruition only a few minutes after the free agency period officially opened. Veldheer is a good fit at Arizona, where he should be able to fill a gap in their line that has existed for quite some time. Furthermore, that powers-that-be at Arizona were able to get an excellent value on Veldheer.
9. Donte Whitner (S-Browns) - With Ward out of the picture, it was critical for the Browns to address their needs at S. Whitner, an Ohio native, should be a good fit in Cleveland’s 3-4 system; he became accustomed to a similar scheme in San Francisco. Even though Whitner is older than Ward, his experience and success with the 49ers should help him lead younger players both on and off the field, which is a positive. The downside is that Pettine and Co. gave Whitner a surprisingly large contract, so we’ll have to wait and see if his 2014 results warrant it.
10. Michael Johnson (DE-Buccaneers) - Johnson, who had been tied to several other teams, including the Minnesota Vikings, ultimately landed at Lovie Smith’s Bucs. Johnson is a solid player who sometimes struggles with consistency; he had 11.5 sacks in 2012 compared to just 3.5 in 2013, for example. Smith, who was responsible for signing DE Julius Peppers in Chicago in 2010, should be able to help Johnson hone and refine his skills.