So free agency has passed its big flurry in the NFL. Anybody learn anything? Perhaps we relearned what we knew already. Some of it was hard to fathom at first glance, though. And the real story seemed to be measured in losses, not gains.
The Ravens, they of the Super Bowl rings, had an impossible list of their own free agents to sustain, and they didn't sustain them. They appeared to look at it as a choice --- would they sign Flacco, or would they sign the rest of the team? They chose Flacco, and in a market that hasn't been what one would call 'hot', they signed him for top dollar, letting such luminaries as Anquan Boldin (whose jump-ball acrobatics got Flacco some of his most crucial completions) get away. Add to that Kruger, Ellerbe, Reed, Williams and Pollard from the defense. Don't forget that Birk and Lewis, two eternal mainstays, have retired. Flacco's bonanza was said to have been prestructured to permit the team to sustain itself, but most of their acquisitions, Dumervil the most visible, were flotsam jettisoned from their respective squads. Sort of looks like the Black Hawks a few years back. Maybe it's all they could do. Hey, it's worked out for the Black Hawks.
The two most successful franchises of the new millenium, New England and Pittsburgh, as usual have raised more eyebrows than beer glasses. The Patriots lost Wes Welker. The Steelers cut James Harrison, but he's not the only conspicuous absentee. They have cleaned house. Obviously the past season has been viewed as unacceptable, and the team is going on a character hunt. New England, meanwhile, has simply been quiet, gauging the market almost perfectly with regard to the low demand, but failing to sign any real home-run hitters. That's par for the course. Why should they change what they do? Actually, why should either franchise? Fans wonder who'll accompany Brady and Roethlisberger to the playoffs besides their respective coaches. Chances are, as ever, that someone will. The Bengals are feverishly resigning their myriad FAs. The Steelers are letting most of theirs go. Now, whom do you trust?
The Denver Broncos are a shade different, and predictably so. Despite their loss of Elvis, it must be noted that they weren't all that keen on keeping him anyway. They are loading up a bit, possibly back-burnering the future while recognizing that the present is named Peyton, and that present may be fleeting. Their actions tell you that they perceive the window to be closing fairly quickly. But even then they've been fairly conservative. Welker came at bargain-basement cost for a perennial 100-catch man.
San Francisco, a team with a powerful core, have lost some of that core with names like Goldson, Walker, Sopoaga and Ginn already gone. Oh yeah, Alex Smith. They've made some acquisitions, Anquan Boldin among them. They have no reason to think that success will pass them by, except for....
Seattle has a long list of UFAs to think about, probably too many. They've gone out of their way to bolster the DE position on a fearsome defense though, and ought to contend again, even with SF to deal with. Still, it's unusual to see a young team with this many UFAs all at once.
Philly, surprisingly, has been stocking up on defense. Rather a shocker for a team with a new sidelines regime headed up by a college coach, but it seems the word is 'get better fast'. It won't matter. They will almost certainly curse themselves with Mike Vick again. This season we find out whether the problem was really Andy Reid or not.
Houston has a list of free agents a mile long. Their one big acquisition has been Ed Reed. That's a wait-and-see, owing perhaps only to the question of whether Indy's 11-5 season was a partial fluke or not. And Indy, meanwhile, has been fairly active. They don't seem to be thinking fluke.
The big news out of regular season kingpin Atlanta is the tearful unretirement of Tony Gonzalez and the tearful (in New York) arrival of Osi Umenyiora. That's about it, outside of John Abraham, Michael Turner and Dunta Robinson being cut outright.
The rest of the league is behaving as it usually does. Snyder's Skins, who usually spend the offseason driving up prices like yuppies who food-shop at places with 'whole' or 'natural' in the logo, are saddled this season with a list of their own FAs a mile long. Maybe that's what's holding the market down to a dull roar.
In summary, the bottom feeders are looking for a magic floatation device and most of the sustained winners are doing things the way they always do them, with a few exceptions. Most of the big news has been in losses, not gains. It looks like this season's splash news will be centered on the draft despite a supposedly middling pool of talent compared to recent years, at least at the glamor positions. Every dumb fan, driven by every screaming sports commentator, wants the whole enchilada right now. The real minds seem to see things differently. Likely the smart teams are biding their time with the remainders, figuring that the cost will inexorably drop further and they might get two puzzle pieces for the price of one.