The NFL free-agency season that seemed like it would never start is 10 days old, and with teams enjoying an almost $17 million increase in the salary cap, there has been plenty of money and plenty of movement on all fronts.
Here's our near-instant analysis of the teams that have bettered themselves the most in this past week and a half -- either through free-agent signings or some high-profile trades -- and those who have lost the most ground as we head for April and the NFL Draft:
1. Minnesota: I seem to recall the Vikings had a well-received free-agency season last year as well, but it didn't translate into a big payoff in 2005. But with their huge cushion under the salary cap, they went right back to work this year, scoring with the signings of Green Bay kicker Ryan Longwell (who's an upgrade over Paul Edinger), Baltimore running back Chester Taylor and their own free-agent receiver, Koren Robinson.
The Vikings' haul jumped a notch once Seattle was unwilling to match Minnesota's creative offer to Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson, who cements an offensive line in need of another blue-chipper. Say what you will about getting "only'' a second-round pick in trade from Miami for Daunte Culpepper, but the Vikings were fortunate to manage even that after their onetime franchise quarterback self-destructed before our eyes over the past six months.
Minnesota had an addition by subtraction in losing inconsistent running back Michael Bennett to New Orleans, and it also won't be hurt too much by the defections of safety Corey Chavous to St. Louis and cornerback Brian Williams to Jacksonville. Linebacker Ben Leber and guard Jason Whittle were decent second-tier signings, and the Vikings also retained safety WillieOfford.
2. Tennessee: After two uncharacteristically lean years in Tennessee, the Titans are beginning to emerge from their down cycle. Limited by their cap constraints in recent offseasons, the Titans were aggressive early in free agency this year, with headline additions on both sides of the ball. On offense, Tennessee addressed a weak spot by giving Patriots wideout DavidGivens No. 1 WR money (five years, $24 million) despite his not yet producing at first-receiver levels. Did they overpay? Probably, but they had to win this particular auction.
Veteran center Kevin Mawae, the ex-Jet, also could be an upgrade if he returns to health after an injury-marred 2005. Mawae has 12 years of wear and tear on him, but he'll be worth the investment if the Titans can get two or three more solid seasons from him.
On defense, the Titans secured a pair of young players with growth potential under the coaching of coordinator Jim Schwartz. Steelers safety Chris Hope and Colts linebacker David Thornton are the kind of free agents teams prioritize: Four-year veterans who are experienced enough to make an impact right away but are just entering their prime.