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NFL Free Agency 2012: Not winning

Yesterday’s article on free agency winners can be read here.  Today, it’s six teams that probably hurt themselves more than they helped, plus two bonus teams who are going to end up on a list of FA losers, but don’t really deserve to.

Houston Texans

The Texans were decimated by free agency, losing Mario Williams, Mike Brisiel, Jason Allen, and Joel Dresseen against their wills, and making the conscious decision to move Eric Winston and Demeco Ryans to avoid having to make them salary cap casualties in a year.  The Texans have enough depth to weather those losses, but now their depth at all positions has been eliminated by circumstances.  Luckily, with the draft still to go, the Texans aren’t looking to fill holes so much (they have to take a receiver early), so they can stay nice and tight to their draft board and try to replicate their cornerstone draft from 2006 (y’know, the one where they got Winston, Ryans, Williams, and Owen Daniels in the first place).

Just a year after going from one of the worst units we’ve ever seen to one of the best in the NFL, the Texans defense was the hardest hit by the losses and may reside somewhere around the middle of the pack in 2012.  The Texans could live with that.  The bigger problem from where I’m sitting is that Matt Schaub is in a contract year coming off of injury, and the Texans will be starting two different offensive linemen next year, lack depth at TE that was once a hallmark of their roster, and figure to be breaking in a rookie receiver like Kendall Wright or Stephen Hill.  The Texans were one of the NFL’s best teams last year.  Now they are a longshot to make it back to the playoffs.  It will be interesting to see if Gary Kubiak really did get off the hot seat last season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I was really hesitant to put them on this list at all, because the Bucs spent a lot of money (as the league will mandate starting in 2013), and didn’t really kill their cap positions.  But none of their major signings (Vincent Jackson, Eric Wright, and Carl Nicks) really make them all that much better.  With Jackson, if the Bucs were going to bring in anyone to mentor a young talented receiving corps, it had to be someone accomplished.  But will the Bucs throw the jump balls downfield that Vincent Jackson loves to go and get from his time in San Diego?  That’s not so clear.

Eric Wright, meanwhile, had an awful end to his one season in Detroit, following an awful end to his more promising time in Cleveland.  And Wright just got a lot of money from the Bucs for once masquerading as a shut down man-to-man corner.  Nicks is the safest investment of the group, in that unless he does something silly off the field — or gains a ton of weight — it won’t be obvious to even the trained eye whether he is dominating his competition, or just collecting a paycheck.  When you send big money interior offensive lineman to small markets, you’ll never, ever be criticized.  Except of course by the poor soul who makes fun of small market teams for having poor attendance.

The Bucs will be in good cap shape come 2014, but Josh Freeman needs to win now, and it’s not clear that the Bucs’ spending brought him much help.  Of course, Jackson will only be as good as Freeman makes him, to it’s probably fair to put the ball in #5’s court.

New York Giants

Oh, boy.  Here we go.  Since Super Bowl 46 concluded, the Patriots and Giants drew up offseason plans that could be described as diametric opposites.  The Patriots let the market set then started to amass talent.  The Giants locked up Terrell Thomas, then re-signed David Carr, then brought in Martellus Bennett.

The Giants play in a division where they (like the team that’s next on the list) have to do something.  The Cowboys didn’t go full out to make changes, they just released an ineffective corner for cap room, then gave big money to a much better corner.  The Giants had great success last year watching guys walk in free agency and feeling comfortable about the roster they had, but that’s because the ball was in the Eagles and Cowboys’ court last year to prove they could catch the Giants.  And even though the Giants are super bowl champs, they were fortunate to win the division, and likely entered free agency as the second or third best team in the NFC East.  What worked for Jerry Reese in 2011 likely cannot work for him in 2012, and now, they are clearly the third best team in their own division.

Except maybe it’s not so clear…I hear the Redskins are getting a quarterback.

Washington Redskins

The problem is that the Redskins have no clue how to build around that quarterback.  It’s not for lack of effort: Mike Shanahan’s whole plan following the Donovan McNabb debacle was to step back, keep continuity on his roster at quarterback, and build around a known weakness.  The Redskins had mixed results to start the 2011 season, but by mid-season, mixed results turned to bad results, and Mike Shanahan started to spend time watching college tape instead of his own game film.  Well, as someone who has broken down every Redskins game the past four seasons, I can assure him he didn’t miss anything: Shanahan failed to put the talent around Rex Grossman that he tried to.

Because they’ve struggled for so long, the Redskins are a better fit for a guy like Robert Griffin than the Colts are for a guy like Robert Griffin; there’s just more talent on the Redskins roster than there is on the Colts and Browns.  Unfortunately for Redskins fans, add the Rams to that list and that about concludes the “list of teams the Redskins have more talent than.”  Two of those teams are in about as clear of a rebuilding situation as you can possibly be in.  The other also has a former coach atop it’s personnel department.  So it’s fair to put that one on Mike Shanahan (and Mike Holmgren).

Now, the Redskins’ problem is that they hardly have any former first round picks on their roster.  They ran LaRon Landry out of town one year after running Carlos Rogers out of town one year after running Jason Campbell out of town.  They have Brian Orakpo, Trent Williams, and Ryan Kerrigan.  They have Fred Davis and DL Jarvis Jenkins representing the second round.  They’ll have Robert Griffin III.  And that’s it.  They won’t pick again in the first round until 2015.  And by then, Shanahan will have run Orakpo and Davis out of town.  So Griffin is pretty much doing this by himself.

Which is why the Redskins needed to bring in a lot of talent from other teams to make up for what they don’t have in draft picks.  So they spent more than $11 million in cap on Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, and resigning backup DL Adam Carriker (a former first round pick!) on the first day.  Exciting.  Well, I suppose we’ll all know how good Robert Griffin III truly is in short time.

Cleveland Browns/Arizona Cardinals

The Browns and Cardinals owe it to their quarterback situations to create the best possible situations for them to succeed in, and for the Browns, that apparently meant to skip free agency entirely, while for the Cardinals, it meant “try to build the worst offensive line that money can buy.”

The Browns at least have an excuse that they will be doing the draft hardcore now that they weren’t able to get Robert Griffin, and so they don’t want to add mediocre veterans to that mix and block potential rookies who need the playing time to develop.  But it’s hard to say exactly for sure what kind of timetable the Browns are on.  Furthermore, when you have the fourth overall pick, and you know who the top three picks are going to be, you should be able to incorporate that selection into your free agency plans.  The Browns did not, assuming they even bothered to make a free agency plan.

What the Cardinals did was worse though.  They signed Adam Snyder to play RG, resigned Levi Brown with the intent of moving him back to RT, and let Brandon Keith walk (he remains unsigned).  The Cardinals have an awful offensive line, and they signed D’Anthony Batiste, an awful backup, to be a backup.  It’s going to be Kevin Kolb’s responsibility to get the ball out quick for this group, and when that plan A inevitably fails, then it will be John Skelton’s turn.

Controversial Omissions

New Orleans Saints – The Saints are being mentioned in league circles as a loser in free agency because of one fact: the sanctions from the NFL on their franchise happened at a time where they were trying and failing to get franchise player Drew Brees under contract.  That’s some bad PR.

Thing is, while wearing the exclusive franchise tag, Brees is effectively under contract.  He doesn’t have to report to camp if he doesn’t sign his tender, sure, but he’s Drew Brees, quarterback of the Saints.  You do not have to worry about him.

The Saints have done just fine in free agency with limited cap room.  Their biggest challenge lies ahead with the loss of Sean Payton for the season and possible suspensions for their defensive players, the Saints could be very thin on that side of the ball in 2012.  However, the Saints could be a big player in free agency late, because in the NFL, suspensions without pay (or with forfeiture of pay) free up team salary.

Miami Dolphins – Allow me to defend the Dolphins here for a moment: the only reason we perceive the Dolphins’ offseason as a catastrophic failure while we look at the Chiefs offseason as a rousing success is because the Dolphins’ owner is a little bit green and happens to put his franchise is a tough spot with his words too often.  One of the two teams improved immensely at the quarterback position in free agency.  It wasn’t the Chiefs.

The addition of David Garrard was a pretty smart move by Jeff Ireland, who needs to start stringing together smart moves in order to win games and keep his job.  Ignoring the fact that one of the best FA QBs was on Ireland’s roster (Chad Henne), no team except the Broncos improved by as much at the QB position as the Dolphins did going from Matt Moore to Garrard.  Garrard is also enough of a veteran to get out of the way next year for Ryan Tannehill (or whoever) to play quarterback.

The Dolphins really do have a good team, and made the correct decision to trade Brandon Marshall while only 31 teams know he’s not good enough to justify the headache he gives his quarterback, instead of 32 (sorry, Chicago).  They aren’t a good organization, or one that seems to have any idea how to win in the long term.  But for 2012, they’ve given themselves a fighting chance.

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