And your NFL Spring champions are..

With the dust starting to settle from the annual free-for-all of free agency, now would appear a good time to evaluate the movers and shakers from around the NFL as each franchise strives to add important pieces to the puzzle, without of course losing their own prized possessions. With a mixture of stars recieving the franchise tag, unrestricted free agents being approached by teams the league over and highly coveted players leaving for pastures new this years personnel merry go-round did not disappoint. So, who won? Keep reading to find out.

Miami Dolphins

Yes, it’s never usually a good thing to sign multiple players within a week of free agency opening. And yes, the free agency ‘champions’ usually disappoint when meaningful games start (ahem, Dan Snyder). But while the Dolphins could be criticized for having made a big splash in terms of both the quality and quantity of players they signed, their new recruits don’t lack for one thing talent. Their acquisitions are all the more impressive considering that the ‘phins were mediocre at best last year (7-9 record). Ryan Tannehill had a steady, if not spectacular rookie year and the sophomore will be delighted that Mike Wallace will be bringing his talents to south beach for the upcoming season. Wallace (previously with Pittsburgh) is one of the elite deep threats in the NFL and gives Tannehill the kind of weapon a developing QB needs. Miami also made a good move by not re-signing one of their own, cornerback Sean Smith. Smith is a solid player, no more, and his size (6’3″, 218 pounds) limits his ability to cover, especially in space. Smith wound up in Kansas City where he may well be a decent acquisition thanks to his tackling acumen, but in a fairly deep corner market he represented poor value. Other players brought in by head coach Joe Philbin were former Jets tight end Dustin Keller, a good recieving threat, and ex-Ravens linebacker Darnell Ellerbe, who should provide a run stuffing force in the middle. There’s a long way to go until September, but don’t sleep on Miami.

Peyton Manning

Manning isn’t necessarily a team himself, although at various points throughout his career he might as well have been. However he’ll be thrilled to be joined in Denver by Wes Welker, the premier slot receiver in the NFL over the past five seasons. Welker will go from catching passes from Tom Brady to being on the right end of Peyton’s tosses, and the transition should be seamless as the diminutive WR adapts to catching balls from someone other than the three time Superbowl champ. Manning loves his slot receivers (just ask Brandon Stokley) and giving him Welker as a weapon is almost unfair on the rest of the AFC west. With Demetrius Thomas on the outside Manning now has two elite play-makers to rely on, and with his health proven following his impressive comeback last season you’d be a fool to bet against the Broncos putting up some serious offensive numbers, and perhaps even giving Welker a first and Manning a second Superbowl ring.

Brandon Albert

The Chiefs incumbent left tackle signed his franchise tender just this week, guaranteeing him a shade under $10 million for the 2013 season. Before he was franchised by new Kansas City coach Andy Reid Albert’s future was unclear, especially with the Chiefs holding the first overall pick next month in a tackle heavy draft. Most mocks had Reid drafting a lineman, mostly Luke Joeckel, to man the left tackle spot but if he’s to fulfill that position then Albert would have to be traded thanks to his now extremely high cap number. Of course no player wants to be traded, or more poignantly to be uncertain of their future, but when you’re compensated with that much money then that cushions the blow. Albert will be starting somewhere in the NFL next season and he’ll be earning a lot of money for the privilege, more money than he’s probably worth. That’s what makes a winner in free agency.

Seattle Seahawks

Percy Harvin. Cliff Avril. Michael Bennett. One of last seasons major surprises, the Seahawks added those three names to an already talented roster to help them challenge the 49ers for NFC west supremacy next season. Pete Carroll seems to be able to find a way to get the best out of his players, so it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he can help Harvin recapture his form from the first half of last year when he was one of the elite play-makers in the NFL. While QB Russell Wilson had Sidney Rice to throw passes to last season Harvin gives the team a new dimension and a legit deep threat that should help Wilson mature as well as enabling Marshawn Lynch to continue his ascendancy to being one of the best running backs in the game. Cliff Avril, poached from the Lions, will aid a pass rush that was lacking in the play-offs once Chris Clemons was injured, and Michael Bennett is another defensive end who’ll improve the depth on the trenches for the Seahawks. San Francisco may have been the Superbowl team from the division last month, but don’t count on them to repeat that feat next season. And even if they do, they’ll have a hell of a fight on their hands with this up-and-coming Seattle outfit.

Philadelphia Eagles
 
Last season the birds were 4-12 and fired Andy Reid after 14 largely successful seasons with the team. Chip Kelly, formerly of Oregon in the college ranks, was hired to replace him and has got straight to work on re-shaping the roster. One significant change Kelly is expected to implement is a shift from the 4-3 to the 3-4 on defense, which meant a lot of players already on the roster had to go due to their being a poor fit. So out were lineman Mike Patterson, a 2005 first round pick, and Cullen Jenkins, signed from Green Bay in 2011. The secondary also saw many familiar names sent packing. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was allowed to leave via free agency, where he signed for Denver, and Nnamdi Asomugha was released outright. Asomugha was particularly disappointing during his tenure with Philly, and was owed $15 million this season as part of the bumper deal he signed with the team in 2011. With those four names out replacements were needed, and replacements were found. In came Connor Barwin, an accomplished outside linebacker from Houston, to fit the 3-4 alignment. Isaac Sopoaga was also added to play nose tackle in the formation, a role Patterson and Jenkins were unfit for. At corner Carey Williams joined from Baltimore, for whom he started in the Superbowl, and Bradley Fletcher from St. Louis. The safety position was also bolstered following poor play in 2012 with Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips signing from New England and the New York Giants, respectively. While none of these names are household, they are all solid NFL veterans with good work ethics and pedigree in the system Kelly wants to run. They may not all work out, but if even two or three turn into solid contributors they will have done their job as the Eagles seek to rebuild following two years of disappointment and underachieving.

There you have it. Five teams, or players, who’ve benefited either professionally or financially over the past two weeks. As ever the usual caveat about it being months until the first game of the season is played applies, but it always helps if you can get off to a fast start in the unforgiving world of the NFL. With the draft just around the corner it’s crucial to fill as many holes as possible before selecting from the college ranks; enabling those in power to choose the best player available, as opposed to the best player available at a position of need.

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