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An Early Look At NFL Free Agency

Julius Peppers We are just days into NFL free agency and the frenzy continues throughout the league. Within a matter of hours the NFL’s hottest free agent was signed, while other teams look to sit pat in something of a holding mode. It may only be March but a series of moves may have changed the balance of power between some NFL pretenders and contenders coming into what could be the last season before an NFL lock out.

I wanted to take a quick look today at some of the bigger, more intriguing, and in some cases shocking developments during the first week of NFL free agency. Keep in mind while I may criticize a team in its current state, there are plenty of viable free agents currently available, including a plethora of some impressive restricted names. That said, let’s take a look at some of the bigger moves and how they are likely to shape out according to this blogger.

Chicago Bears sign Julius Peppers, DE – Peppers was arguably the hottest unrestricted free agent in NFL history. Peppers’ new deal makes him the highest paid defensive linemen with a deal worth $84 million (so much poverty huh NFL owners?). The move immediately gave the Bears the Norris division according to some writers. I on the other hand am very dubious of the signing.

The upside with Peppers is that he has stayed relatively injury-free throughout his career and yes, he is a beast. But, the addition of Peppers could prove costly in money, wins, and team chemistry. Peppers has been accused of taking plays off. Peppers is also known to get frustrated when double-teamed and some say can be mentally taken out of a game. Peppers spoke highly of coach Lovie Smith and he being a main reason for the interest in Chicago. Lovie Smith is a lame duck coach, going into the final year of his contract. What if the Bears can’t turn it around next season? What if Lovie goes elsewhere either by his choice or the organization’s choice? Now a new coach is stuck with a guy that may not want to play for him. Peppers could get caught in the middle of a transitional period between coaches and d-coordinators. I just think the move is high risk and high reward for the Bears. As big as this signing could be, it could also throw the franchise back for years being stuck with a contract the size of Peppers.

Chicago Bears sign Chester Taylor, RB – In a move that could pay dividends on a few levels, the Bears signed RB Chester Taylor. In addition to bolstering their own backfield, the move took away one of their division rival’s biggest weapons. It will be very interesting to see what kind of year Adrian Peterson has when he doesn’t have to give up carries to someone like Taylor. The move also gives the Bears a great 1-2 punch with Matt Forte and Chester Taylor.

Yet again, this is another high risk and high reward situation for the Bears. Taylor has a ton of potential, especially in a Mike Martz offense. Taylor has great hands and is likely to get heavily involved in the passing game. However, Taylor is 31-years old. The positive here is that Thomas Jones has had two solid years and he is the same age as Taylor, and had about the same wear and tear when he came to the Jets. The downside here is that in an increased role, it is unknown how Taylor’s body will hold up. Also, if Matt Forte’s stinker season last year was a result of a bad offensive line which I think it was, than adding Taylor will turn out to be a big waste of time and money.

Baltimore Ravens acquire Anquan Boldin, WR – In my opinion, Boldin is fool’s gold. Boldin at one time was pegged by some to be the next Terrell Owens in the NFL. Instead, numerous injuries have kept Boldin on the sidelines in both regular and postseason games. Boldin will now ascend to the number one spot in the depth chart and team with a quarterback who struggled in a bit of a sophomore slump.

I know a lot of fans are upset that their teams didn’t trade for Boldin. Keep in mind that the Arizona Cardinals dramatically dropped their asking price for Boldin this season. There is a reason why a lot of teams didn’t step up. With an impending lockout, it is very risky for a team like Baltimore to commit all of that money to a guy who hasn’t played a full season in years. Boldin could be the missing piece here in one of the most prolific running offenses in the NFL. Boldin will also be jumping into arguably the most physical division in the NFL. Playing Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Cincinnati twice a year is a heck of a lot different than playing the Seahawks and Rams twice a season. Derrick Mason was Mr. Durability for the Ravens, and that is exactly what you need in a number 1 WR in this division. I don’t know if Anquan Boldin can be that guy.

The Arizona Cardinals acquire Kerry Rhodes, S – Talk about a bargain here for the Arizona Cardinals. Cardinals’ fans were up in arms when the Cards let Antrel Rolle leave and sign with the New York Giants. The Cards responded by trading a couple of draft picks for disgruntled New York Jets safety Kerry Rhodes. There is not a big drop off here at all between Rhodes and Rolle. Rhodes arguably played in a tougher division, so in the end his numbers may mean a bit more than Rolle’s. The Cards will also save themselves a ton of money in the difference between the two safeties. Rhodes’ character has been questioned by some in the New York media, but a change of scenery could be exactly what he needs in Arizona.

The Miami Dolphins sign Karlos Dansby, LB – A brilliant pickup by the Miami Dolphins. If there is anything you need in the AFC East, it is a hard hitting linebacker like Dansby. The position is a huge upgrade from Joey Porter, who couldn’t back up the checks his mouth kept writing. Dansby while a great pass rusher, is even better against the run. If you don’t think this move had everything to do with the New York Jets, I think you are sadly mistaken. Having Dansby and Channing Crowder should immediately pay dividends for a Dolphins defense who struggled down the way last season. The move also opens up the opportunity for the Dolphins to address offense with their first draft pick, maybe even take a shot at Dez Bryant.

These are just a few of the moves that grabbed the headlines in the first few days of free agency. There are still a ton of restricted free agents still available in addition to unrestricted veterans like LaDainian Tomlinson, Thomas Jones, Terrell Owens, Jake Delhomme, and Brian Westbrook. The name everyone is keeping their eyes on right now is WR Brandon Marshall. Marshall can be had for a number one draft pick, yet nobody is seriously biting right now. Marshall is the kind of a player that someone may actually give up their pick for in the right scenario.

Another curious name for me is Leon Washington. The New York Jets RB is a restricted free agent, yet the Jets surprisingly only placed a second round tender on Washington. This means in order to sign Washington, a team would only have to give up a second-round draft pick for him. If Ricky Williams is really retiring, I would love to see the Miami Dolphins make a run at Washington. Putting Washington into the Wildcat with Ronnie Brown could be downright scary for opposing defenses. Additionally, grabbing Washington would hurt the Jets. Bill Parcells loved players like Washington when he was a coach, so the fit almost seems natural here. Another possible suitor could be the Washington Redskins with their tumultuous backfield situation or even the Minnesota Vikings now that Chester Taylor has left.

There is no doubt that the impending lockout has really shutdown a normally frenzied spending spree among NFL owners at this time of the year. Usual suspects like the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, and Dallas Cowboys have done virtually nothing at this point. I do suspect that as the draft grows closer, teams will start poking around some of these restricted free agents and may try and talk some of teams down off of their tends. Regardless, while a few moves won’t make a team, doing nothing certainly won’t improve your situation.

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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