News & Views: Free agent blog
New signee Chris Canty is now the Giants' highest-paid defensive end
Ray Lewis may have overplayed his hand with the Jets and Cowboys
Lewis only has one firm offer on the table -- a three-year deal with the Ravens
Transaction season has arrived, and SI.com's NFL writers are here to analyze the free-agent signing and trades that will shape the season to come.
Lewis' gamble doesn't pay off
As much as I dislike doing the winners and losers instant analysis after just three days of free agency, it's impossible to avoid the conclusion that this weekend's biggest loser was Baltimore middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
After much big talk in recent weeks about Lewis becoming a Cowboy or a Jet -- some of it by Lewis -- nobody came calling the first time the 13-year NFL veteran reached the free-agent market. When everything is said and done, Lewis will re-sign with Baltimore, the only team that was willing to offer him as much as a three-year deal that's worth $24 million, with $17 million guaranteed.
But instead of correctly reading the tea leaves of free agency and looking like a player who knew that his best deal, and best situation, was tied to him remaining in Baltimore, Lewis now comes off as a player who tried to pump up his own market, and in the process, squandered some of the goodwill he had engendered in the only NFL home he's ever had. The Ravens and their fans aren't quite as enamored with Lewis today, now that his open flirtation with the Cowboys proved unrequited, and his assumed escape to New York turned out to be a figment of someone's imagination.
Lewis's name could have been forever golden in Baltimore, but now he just looks like another pro athlete who misjudged how much leverage he had in his contract situation. Nothing all that rare or special about that.
"Ray put himself in a corner,'' a Ravens source told me this weekend. "It's the first time in his NFL career that he's been slapped in the face, and he can't slap anyone back. We made a very fair offer, and if it doesn't work out, well, nothing lasts forever.''
Especially when one decides to gamble a bit with their reputation. -- Don Banks (7:13 p.m. ET)
Giants beat Pack to Canty punch
Now that Chris Canty has signed a six-year, $42 million deal with the Giants, a contract that includes $17.25 million guaranteed in the first two years, here's something to keep in mind: The ex-Cowboys defensive lineman is now better paid than all three of New York's top three defensive ends, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka.
Tuck signed a five-year, $30 million contact that included $16 million of guarantees in January 2008. While Kiwanuka is still working under his relatively modest rookie contract, it's Umenyiora who might have the most unfavorable reaction to Canty's new deal. Umenyiora, who missed all of last season with a left knee injury, is still under the six-year, almost $41 million deal he signed in December 2005. That contract runs through 2012, and includes $15 million of guarantees, but the marketplace has since rendered it a bit out of date. It's expected that Umenyiora will ask the Giants to renegotiate his deal if he has a big comeback season in 2009.
Canty was prepared to leave the Giants complex and fly to Green Bay for a free-agent visit Sunday night -- if New York didn't hit the $7 million per year average that he was seeking. According to a league source I talked with, the Packers weren't scared off at all by the $7 million average salary and would have likely topped New York's offer. But Green Bay, which is switching to the 3-4 defense this year, wanted Canty to come to town and meet the coaching staff before negotiations began in earnest.
The Packers viewed Canty as the best 3-4 end available in free agency, but they traditionally move slow in free agency and weren't prepared to compete with the Giants' offer in negotiations over the phone. But early Friday morning, after the start of free agency, Canty was almost certain he was going to sign with Washington, only to see the Redskins take their deal off the table when they locked up Albert Haynesworth around 5 a.m. Canty had been offered $18 million guaranteed by the Redskins, and he wasn't eager to visit Green Bay if it involved the risk of potentially losing the Giants' deal in the process.
After Haynesworth, Canty and ex-Arizona defensive end Antonio Smith, who signed a five-year, $35 million deal with Houston on Saturday, are the only two free-agent defensive linemen who reached the $7 million average in salary this weekend. -- Don Banks (6:29 p.m. ET)
You can never talk quarterbacks enough in the midst of an NFL offseason, so let's fire off a few Snap Judgments about the free-agent activity so far at the game's most critical position:
I'm somewhat surprised someone hasn't jumped on Pittsburgh's Byron Leftwich yet. I know the former Jaguars first-round pick is looking for an opportunity to compete for a starting opportunity, and those are few and far between in the league at the moment. But I thought Leftwich really played well for the Steelers when he had to last season and would have some early suitors in this market. I was looking at teams like the Jets, Bucs and maybe Lions to come after him. From what I understand, Leftwich was expecting some first-weekend interest as well.
Kerry Collins re-signing in Tennessee and Matt Cassel getting traded from New England to Kansas City are the only two moves so far that had clear-cut starting implications. Of the teams that made acquisitions that addressed either their backup jobs, or created competition for their starters, I like them in this order: Minnesota trading for steady veteran Sage Rosenfels in order to push Tarvaris Jackson; Dallas trading for Jon Kitna, who can at least keep the chains moving should Tony Romo go down; Buffalo adding Ryan Fitzpatrick, who went 4-3-1 in his final eight starts last season in Cincinnati, and then the head-scratcher of the bunch, the Texans giving Dan Orlovsky more than $3 million a year to be Matt Schaub's caddy.
My gut continues to tell me that Chris Simms will likely re-sign in Tennessee, where he believes he might be in position to backup Collins if the Titans ship the enigmatic Vince Young away. To repeat, Young is not a given to return to Tennessee in 2009, and Titans owner Bud Adams is no longer playing the role of protector for the team's 2006 first-round pick.
For a guy who always seems to play well when given the chance, Jeff Garcia's market is going to be slow-developing as well. St. Louis makes the most sense, but the Rams don't seem very interested at the moment. Seattle is another spot that bears monitoring for Garcia, as does San Francisco, depending on whether or not the 49ers work anything out with Alex Smith to stick around at a lower salary.
Who wants Rex Grossman and Kyle Boller, two 2003 first-rounders who are finally ready to move on to their second NFL homes? The next bit of buzz I hear about either of them will be the first bit of buzz I've heard about them this year. And ditto for Buffalo's J.P. Losman, a No. 1 pick of the Bills' in 2004.
It just dawned on me that eight quarterbacks were taken in the first round of the 2003 and 2004 drafts, and half the names on that list are free agents at the moment, with no one banging down any doors to get them. Leftwich, Boller and Grossman were picked in 2003, and Losman in 2004. The other four QBs have done a bit better. Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger were selected in 2004's first round, and Carson Palmer led off 2003's first round.
Orlovsky deal astounds
Maybe the most astounding contract I've seen handed out so far in free agency is not the Albert Haynesworth deal in Washington, it's the Dan Orlovsky signing in Houston. The Texans reportedly gave the ex-Lions quarterback a three-year deal worth $9.15 million, including a $2.4 million signing bonus, to take over the backup spot that was vacated by the trade of Sage Rosenfels to Minnesota.
Are you kidding me? More than $3 million per year for the guy who forgot that NFL end zones are only 10 yards deep? (Okay, that's a cheap shot, but tell me you weren't going to say it if I didn't?) Denver was reportedly interested in Orlovsky, but were the Broncos interested in him at anywhere near that price, or did the Texans in essence bid almost against themselves?
With Chris Simms still out there, with Byron Leftwich, Jeff Garcia, Rex Grossman, and J.P. Losman all still available, the Texans made Orlovsky their priority after getting a free-agent visit from Patrick Ramsey on Friday? I just don't get it. The guy went 0-7 as the Lions starter, and probably cost them the game they had the best shot of winning all season, that 12-10 loss at Minnesota when he ran out of bounds for a safety.
Canty to Giants?
It appears Chris Canty will be either a Giant or a Packer at some point in the near future. The Cowboys free-agent defensive end remains at the Giants team complex today, continuing a visit that began Saturday night. But Green Bay has gotten involved in the chase for the best available 3-4 defensive end in the market, and the Packers are staying in touch with Canty's agent, Brad Blank, with an eye toward making their first move of free agency.
The Packers would like Canty to schedule a visit to Green Bay Sunday night, but the Packers gave their coaches the weekend off and Canty wouldn't be able to meet with them until Tuesday. That timetable may not work with the Giants talking contract with Canty on Sunday afternoon. The Packers certainly have the money to make Canty their priority. They started free agency with an estimated $34 million under the salary cap, and they haven't spent a dime of it. When it comes to free agency, Packers general manager Ted Thompson is absolutely tortoise-like in terms of his movements and decision-making. Green Bay rushes for no one, believing that's how mistakes are made in personnel matters.
Canty was scheduled to visit Seattle, but that trip, which he planned to leave for Sunday evening, isn't going to happen. The Seahawks signed ex-Packers defensive tackle Colin Cole to a five-year deal Saturday, and Canty, a native of the Bronx, would like to stay on the eastern side of the country if at all possible. If the Giants and Packers wind up offering Canty similar deals -- and he's probably in line to receive a package averaging between $6 million and $8 million per year -- I expect Canty to be wearing Giants blue before long.
It was a bit surprising that New York pursued Canty, given that it plays a 4-3 defensive front, and has good depth at defensive line. But the Giants are following their dictum that you can never have enough quality defensive linemen playing in rotation, and they're probably looking at Canty as a defensive tackle in their scheme. New York on Saturday signed ex-Seattle defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, and still has Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield as starters. But there's no way New York would be willing to pay Canty in the range of $7 million per year to be a backup tackle, so expect him to start ahead of either Robbins or Cofield.
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