Free Agent Tracker (cont.)
Lose now, win later
It's too early to determine the winners in free agency, but one team that bears watching is the Atlanta Falcons -- even though they have no plans to sign a prominent player.
The Falcons recently released cornerback Domonique Foxworth and linebackers Michael Boley and Keith Brooking because none figured prominently in their plans; and thanks to other teams' interest in the players, Atlanta stands to garner three third-round compensatory draft choices in 2010.
Compensatory picks are awarded if it is deemed that a team lost more and/or better players than they acquired during the previous year's free-agent period. With Foxworth getting $16.5 million in guarantees from the Ravens, Boley securing at least $10 million in guarantees from the Giants and Brooking receiving an undisclosed amount from the Cowboys, the Falcons could be the ultimate winner by doing nothing, or very little, in free agency.
In fact, Atlanta could secure a fourth compensatory pick if former starting safety Lawyer Milloy signs and produces with a new team. Talk about working the system.
Eagles getting serious makeover
Speaking of the Eagles, would the last player leaving Philly please remember to hit the lights? And what's left of that Eagles secondary about now? Dawkins takes off for Denver. Lito Sheppard was just traded to the Jets. Sean Considine bolts for Jacksonville. Correll Buckhalter is now a Bronco, and L.J. Smith has already made a trip to Atlanta on his way out of town. Throw in the fact that the signing of offensive tackle Stacey Andrews signals the end of Jon Runyan's Eagles career, and no team's roster lost as many familiar names as Philadelphia's this weekend.
Continuity has been a real factor in the Eagles success this decade. Same head coach and quarterback since 1999. Same defensive coordinator in Jim Johnson. Same veteran stalwarts like Dawkins, Runyan, Tra Thomas, and Buckhalter scattered throughout the roster. But the times, they are a changin' in Philly. At least a bit around the edges.
What has Jay Cutler really done in Denver that would give him the right to get all huffy about the Broncos even entertaining trade offers for him? The bottom line is they didn't deal you, J.C., and other teams approached them with the trade scenarios. Relax.
Uh oh. The 49ers just assured themselves of not making the playoffs in 2009. They re-signed veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes, who has played for four teams over the span of 11 NFL seasons, without ever once making the playoffs. He's the league's kiss of death.
Houston made a nice move by signing Cardinals defensive end Antonio Smith to play opposite Mario Williams. That opens the way for the Texans to use their No. 15 pick in the first round on a position than the defensive line. Receiver makes a lot of sense, because the Texans need to draw some coverage away from the sensational Andre Johnson. Missouri's Jeremy Maclin, Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey or Florida's Percy Harvin might all be there to choose from.
I'm not saying it was bigger than losing Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel, but Patriots longsnapper Lonnie Paxton has been successfully doing his thing in New England for the entire length of the team's playoff run this decade. Paxton got a five-year, $5.5 million deal from Denver on Friday, including $1 million to sign.
More than $1 million to snap the football. Is this a great country, or what?
Watching Kurt Warner and the Cardinals do this dance is boring me to tears. Just re-sign for more money than you dreamed you'd ever be in line for again, Kurt, and be done with it. You need the Cardinals almost as much as the Cardinals need you.
Ditto for you, too, Ray Lewis. The Ravens and their defense are perfect for you, and you're smart enough to recognize it. You need Baltimore as much as Baltimore needs you. And I imagine the fact that your phone isn't ringing off the hook this weekend is starting to drive home the point.
Jon Kitna in Dallas, huh? I guess I can see that. I mean, he's the only guy who has ever really been able to get the ball to Roy Williams whatsoever. Maybe he can teach Tony Romo a thing or two about it.
Dawkins off to Denver
Brian Dawkins is a Bronco. Fred Taylor is a Patriot. Mike Vrabel is a Chief. I suppose it happens this way every year during free agency, but it's going to take me a little while to readjust my mental NFL landscape of all the new faces in new places.
Dawkins is most surprising veteran transplant. He seemed intent on being an Eagles lifer, that rare NFL athlete who gets to spend his entire career wearing the same uniform. But never underestimate an athlete's pride factor, and when Philly's contract offer was in the $3 million per year range, it hit Dawkins as a low-ball attempt designed to take advantage of his desire to stay put. So, off he went to visit Denver. And once a player gets wined and dined for the first time on the free-agent circuit, 13 years of history with one team can go out the window in a hurry.
So now the Eagles' all-time leader in games played, and a guy who just won the NFL defensive player of the month award in December, is a Bronco at the ripe old age of 35. It seems like Denver is doing the John Lynch signing all over again with this on, but it bears remembering that the Broncos did get some pretty good years out of Lynch before all was said and done.
Philadelphia fans are stunned no doubt, because before Friday there was no real fear that Dawkins wouldn't be re-signed. He had expressed confidence in getting something done with the Eagles as recently as Super Bowl week, and he was the kind of fixture you just don't worry about until he's already gone.
The Eagles front office is going to get killed by the team's fans over this one, and it's a bit understandable. On the flip side, Dawkins, strong finish in 2008 or not, isn't long for this league. He might have only played one more year in Philly anyway, and for all we know, that might be all Denver gets out of him, too.
Still, it won't seem right the first time we see Dawkins in Broncos blue and orange. Oh, and this just in: Circle your calendars, even though the date is TBA. We get lucky in that the Broncos play at Philadelphia this season. I'm betting Dawkins can't wait.
Patriots clearly believe in Brady
One more thought on the Matt Cassel trade: It affirms my belief that the Patriots have been confident about the state of Tom Brady's knee rehabilitation for some time now. There has been steady the-sky-is-falling tone to the coverage and debate surrounding Brady's healing left knee, but I never sensed that the Patriots were nervous -- at least after that early post-operative infection issue was cleared up.
There's already speculation that the Patriots will now be in the market for a veteran backup quarterback behind Brady, and maybe they'll take that step, at least to have a fourth arm in camp. But New England is high on second-year man Kevin O'Connell, and I don't think the Pats are terrified of the idea of him being their No. 2. After all, their untested backup plan worked out okay in 2008.
Brad Childress does ... comedy?
Who said Vikings head coach Brad Childress isn't a laugh riot? Tucked into the press release announcing that Minnesota had re-signed 11th year tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser on Saturday was this comic nugget from Childress:
"We're excited to have Jim back. We wanted him back and we're glad he took time out from ice fishing to come in and sign his contract. Jim's an important part of our offense and the kind of guy you want in your locker room.''
I half expected Childress to make mention of where his stand-up act will be playing next, and remind everyone to try the veal.
Patriots deal Cassel, Vrabel to Chiefs
The New England Patriots have traded quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel to Kansas City for the Chiefs' second-round pick in the 2009 draft. The Patriots originally dealt Cassel to the Chiefs -- now run by former New England vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli -- on Friday for an undisclosed draft draft. Now it has been learned that the Chiefs will get both Vrabel and Cassel in exchange for the 34th overall pick.
The move leaves the Patriots with three second-round picks in the 2009 draft and, as usual, puts New England in position to be a power-broker on draft day. No team has more than New England's four first-day draft choices; the Pats also have their own pick in the first round.
And the move also leave the Chiefs' top of the draft intact. They hold the third pick overall.
Lewis likely to stay with Ravens
There's a long ways to go before we know anything definitively, but the Ravens ended Friday feeling pretty confident they'll wind up retaining the services of free-agent middle linebacker Ray Lewis, after all.
A source told me that the Ravens heard from Lewis's agent, David Dunn, a couple times Friday afternoon, and Dunn wanted to make sure that Baltimore's three-year, $24 million offer, which includes $17 million guaranteed, remains on the table. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome assured him that it does. Lewis is said to be planning to return to his home in Florida this weekend to decompress and mull over the decision on where he'll play in 2009. And if that doesn't sound like the makings of a free-agent visit tour to you, you're on the right track.
If I read the situation correctly, Lewis doesn't have any other suitors other than Baltimore right now. Dallas didn't come after him as many had speculated, and Rex Ryan and his Jets didn't, either, opting to sign his fellow Ravens free-agent linebacker Bart Scott to a six-year, $48 million deal that reportedly includes about $22 million in guarantees.
I'm sure Lewis's pride has been stung a bit by Friday's turn of events, and for a while Friday we were hearing that he considered his bridges burned in Baltimore. But I predict he'll get over it in a couple days and return to the fold with the Ravens. He'll probably even try to save a little face by telling the world he never had any intention of leaving Baltimore all along. After tasting free agency for the first time in his 13-year NFL career, I'm sure it was difficult for Lewis to find out he wasn't in quite as much demand as he had imagined.
That's NFL free agency for you. Some dreams come true, and some dreams die under the weight of harsh reality.
Taylor, Patriots form a more perfect union
There are not many marriages of free agent and team that sound perfect from the moment you hear of them, but Fred Taylor to the Patriots is perhaps a prime exception to the rule. Taylor, if you'll excuse the pun, is tailor-made for New England. He's a consummate team player, and a tough, resilient runner who wants only to end his superb NFL career with a Super Bowl ring in his possession.
My colleague, Peter King, reports that Taylor signed a two-year, $8 million deal with New England, receiving a $1.45 million signing bonus. That just proves that it's not about the money at this point in Taylor's career, because I'm sure he could have topped those figures in Buffalo and maybe a few other NFL locales.
Taylor gives the Patriots a proven backfield presence the way Corey Dillon did when he left Cincinnati for New England, and won a career-capping Super Bowl ring in Foxboro. That's exactly the blueprint Taylor hopes to follow.
Haynesworth deal sends Canty scrambling
The Redskins landing the big fish that is Albert Haynesworth wasn't a great development for Chris Canty, because the Cowboys defensive end was heavily into negotiations with Washington throughout the unfolding of the Haynesworth deal and was scheduled to visit D.C. on Friday before the trip was called off. But Canty's market was never just the Redskins, even if the former Virginia Cavalier was partial to the idea of playing so close to home.
Canty will make a free-agent trip to the Giants Saturday night and Sunday, then fly to Seattle Sunday night for a Monday interview. If he hasn't signed with anyone at that point, other teams that would like him to visit but have yet to schedule trips include Green Bay and San Francisco. In addition, Denver and Tennessee are staying in contact with Canty's agent, Brad Blank, and could emerge as potential suitors next week.
Canty is considered the best 3-4 scheme defensive end on the market, but it's interesting that the Giants -- a 4-3 team with good depth at defensive line -- is among the teams most actively seeking Canty. Seattle is also a 4-3 formation team. Green Bay is switching to a 3-4, as is Denver.
In addition to Canty, the Giants have scheduled visits with Seattle defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, and Arizona defensive end Antonio Smith.
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