We’re a week into free agency, typically a time when the signings come fast and furious and the numbers thrown around stagger the imagination. It was thought with no salary cap, a Wild West situation could emerge, as teams with the financial wherewithal would spend millions in search of title. Instead, things have been quiet. A little too quiet.
One thing that has become abundantly clear is that the players with four or five years of service made a huge difference in the crop that has emerged into free agency. Nobody has signed an offer sheet with another team, much less one with a poison pill included. Maybe as draft boards start getting set around the league, the value of a second- or third-round pick will start a flurry of activity, but, to date, the biggest news has been former stars cut or traded.
You think the Vikings have it bad? Sure, they’ve only signed a kicker from the outside and have lost Artis Hicks and Chester Taylor, but a lot of teams have been inactive in the first week of free agency. Consider the following:
Arizona — The last two years, the Cardinals have lost to the team that won the Super Bowl. They’ve been very good. But since the end of their season, Kurt Warner retired, Anquan Boldin was traded, Karlos Dansby signed away and Antrel Rolle was released. The only new player thusfar is safety Kerry Rhodes, who the Cards had to give up a fourth- and seventh-round draft pick to acquire. Few teams have it worse than that.
Buffalo — For a team converting to a 3-4 defense, the only thing they’ve done to date is re-sign a backup safety and sign journeyman offensive tackle Cornell Green (who has played for Atlanta, the Jets, Miami, Tampa Bay twice, Denver and Oakland – the true definition of a journeyman). He is supposed to help replace Brad Butler, who retired, and Jon Scott, who signed on with Pittsburgh. With Terrell Owens and Josh Reed both gone, changes needed on defense and questions at QB, who would want to be a Bills fan right now?
Carolina — Where’s my gun? In the last three weeks, the Panthers have cut Jake Delhomme, Maake Kemoeatu, Damione Lewis, Na’il Diggs and Brad Hoover and lost the prize of the free agent Class of 2010 – Julius Peppers – to the Bears. The Panthers have signed one player – wide receiver/special teamer Wallace Wright. Carolina fans better be buying into this youth movement thing, because Matt Moore as the face of the franchise is best used in dim lighting.
Dallas — Wasn’t Jerry Jones supposed to be the guy everyone feared would be the drunken spender of free agency? With a billion-dollar stadium and a team exposed by the Vikings as still being a sniff away from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender, the Cowboys have done nothing in the first week. They’ve signed nobody. Nobody has signed any of their significant free agents. What’s the holdup? It’s MUCH too quiet in Dallas. The eyes of everyone outside of Texas are upon you. If any collusion questions are raised, Jerry better start tossing around some cash.
Green Bay — This one may be up to debate as to whether it has been good or bad. The Packers successfully re-signed aging, injured OT Chad Clifton, franchised Ryan Pickett to make sure he didn’t get away and slapped safety Nick Collins with a tender that he was willing to sign – only because he wants to get a longer-term deal done or split. Those have been the only signings – one by force, one by authority and one to delay paying out another big contract. The team lost Aaron Kampman. A dominating defensive end at times, he struggled as a 3-4 outside linebacker and took away much of what he did best as a down lineman. But go back a year ago before the failed experiment. Kampman may have been their only untouchable player other than Aaron Rodgers and he’s gone south to Jacksonville.
Houston — The Texans have made just one low-rent signing in guard Wade Smith and re-upped Kevin Walter. But the loss of CB Dunta Robinson to Atlanta is a punch to gut of Texans fans, who have finally seen their team break .500 for the first time in franchise history, only to lose their only shutdown corner without having a replacement ready to go.
Indianapolis — The Colts pay more money to fewer players than any team in the league. If someone gets a contract, someone else has to go (ask Edgerrin James or Marvin Harrison). The team re-signed Gary Brackett to continue their trend of only paying big money to their home-grown talent. But the team has parted ways with DE Raheem Brock, OL Ryan Lilja, CBs Marlin Jackson and Tim Jennings and QB Jim Sorgi. It’s the bad part of being as consistently good as the Colts have been. No team has more first- and second-year players on its roster annually than the Colts. I’m no Sorgi fan, but what exactly did Curtis Painter show that makes anyone think he could do a better job than Sorgi when healthy?
Miami — Things are shaking up in So-Flo. The Dolphins made one of the biggest splashes in free agency by signing Karlos Dansby, but also shed salary on previous big-name signings like Joey Porter and Gibril Wilson. Dansby might be a step up from Porter, who turned into too much of a distraction, but linebacker remains a weakness with the release of ILB Akin Ayodele. One of their re-signings was the most interesting. The team brought back nose tackle Jason Ferguson, despite knowing he will miss the first eight games of 2010 with a suspension.
New Orleans — The Saints have signed nobody, have cut Charles Grant to avoid a roster bonus, lost fan favorite Scott Fujita to free agency (leaving lesser-known and much lesser loved Scott Shanle as the top OLB dog) and have offended Darren Sharper with their lack of interest. Fortunately, their fans are too hung over to be concerned yet.
New York Jets —The Jets went a long way in 2009, thanks in no small part to the play of the secondary. Darrelle Revis has emerged as the game’s top cornerback, Lito Sheppard at the other corner and Kerry Rhodes in the safety spot. Two of those three are gone. Sheppard was going to be due an absurd $10 million roster bonus and was forcibly removed from New Jersey. He was replaced by Antonio Cromartie, whom the Jets gave up a 2011 draft pick to obtain – a third-rounder if he tanks or gets injured, a second-rounder if he’s a full-time starter. On offense, Thomas Jones was released for roster bonus reasons as well. The Jets rolled the dice on the troubled Cromartie, but have already lost quite a bit in the process.
Oakland — What’s a bad news story without the Raiders. Think things can’t worse? Their major signings to date are their kicker, punter and long snapper. They’ve cut Javon Walker, Justin Fargas and Greg Ellis, had to franchise Richard Seymour to keep him from getting away and lost part-time starting offensive tackle (and Superjourneyman) Cornell Green in free agency. To date, they’ve signed nobody from outside the organization. What? Tom Cable isn’t a recruiting magnet?
Philadelphia — There was an uproar last year when the Eagles cut loose Brian Dawkins, but the hits just keep on coming to name veterans in Philly. Brian Westbrook was shown the door, as was linebacker Will Witherspoon. Veteran wide receiver Reggie Brown was traded and their only signing has been Colts injury-riddled cornerback Marlin Jackson. The good news is that nobody takes bad news with their sports teams with more class and quiet dignity than fans in Philly. Just ask Chilly.
San Diego — The Chargers have been one of the best teams in the league over the last few years, but have taken more than their share of hits. LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Bennett were cut, leaving their running back cupboard behind Darren Sproles pretty bare. They traded Cromartie out of their defensive backfield for a draft pick they won’t get until 2011 and lost nose tackle Jamal Williams and wide receiver Kassim Osgood in the first week of free agency. On the plus side, they did re-sign plodding defensive end Alphonso Boone, which should help make up for some of those critical losses. Surf’s up, dude. Nothing going on at the Chargers complex.
San Francisco — One would think with the Cardinals showing weakness off a handful of big losses since the end of the season, the 49ers would jump. To date, they’ve made one signing – an absurdly overpriced deal to QB David Carr, who got a $6.5 million deal over two years with the knowledge he will be the backup. Not bad change if you can get it, but word out of Frisco was that two season tickets sold within hours of the signing – Carr’s family no doubt.
Seattle — The Seahawks are in the same boat as the Niners, being given a chance to make a move and be aggressive in free agency. To date, they have signed nobody, seen left tackle and future Hall of Famer Walter Jones retire and lost Nate Burleson in free agency.
Tampa Bay — The Bucs have almost completely dismantled every veteran from the time Raheem Morris showed up until now and they have very little to show for it. So much so that other veterans might be hesitant to buy in. The Bucs made a low-level trade to acquire Reggie Brown from the Eagles, but lost Antonio Bryant in the process. They also let safety Will Allen go. That’s it. How are they expected to show dramatic improvement when there’s more talent going out the door than coming in?
Do the math? As bad as things have been for Vikings fans since free agency opened a week ago, you can make the argument that half the league has fans as frustrated or more so than those in Minnesota.
The courtship of LaDainian Tomlinson officially began Wednesday night at Manny’s Steakhouse, one of the premier restaurants in downtown Minneapolis. It was a pretty heavy table, with Tomlinson, Brad Childress, Rick Spielman, Pat Williams (who didn’t order a chef salad) and a host of other Vikings luminaries in attendance.
Before Williams sat down for dinner with Tomlinson, he spent the afternoon in court in Day Three of the StarCaps trial. He testified that he first took StarCaps while suffering with gout while playing in Buffalo. He said he has been drug tested more than 100 times and has never tested positive for a trace of steroids or steroid-masking drugs. He said he only used StarCaps, which contains the banned substance bumetanide, to shed water. Williams said he was never told that StarCaps contained the banned substance, which wasn’t listed among its ingredients.
Both of Kevin Williams and Pat Williams completed their testimony Wednesday. The agents for both players will take the stand Thursday, most likely to be asked if they leaked the information about the positive tests by NFL attorneys. Childress is scheduled to testify Friday morning.
From “Oh, Poor Baby” Department comes this: The Packers are going to face some interesting decisions down the line as their high-ticket players start coming home to roost. Despite not having a salary cap, the Packers are a publicly-held organization and the cost of keeping their stars is going up significantly and could cause the Pack to play hardball with some of their top names. Donald Driver is set to make $7 million this year, Aaron Rodgers will clock in at $6.5 million and, thanks to escalator clauses in their contracts, cornerback Charles Woodson will make $7.5 million and running back Ryan Grant will make $6 million. Grant could turn into a financial headache if he has a big year in 2010. If he rushes for 1,000 yards this season, his salary would increase $500,000, going to $1.5 million if he rushes for 1,250 yards and $2.5 million if he rushes for 1,500 yards. To top that, he has a clause in his contract that said if he ran for 3,600 yards in the first three years of the deal (2008-2010), he would get a $2 million bonus. Through two years, he has 2,456 yards, leaving him 1,144 more to gain to reach that incentive. If he rushes for the 1,253 yards he gained last year, his base salary will go up to $5 million and he will collect $4 million in achieved bonuses – giving him a would-be cap number of $9 million in 2011, which would make him the most expensive running back in the league at this point.
You have to love the Raiders. Earlier this week, they cut Javon Walker, who, even at the time, many said was a ridiculous free-agent signing in 2008. Coming off a serious knee injury while with the Broncos, Oakland signed him to a $55 million contract with an $11 million signing bonus. During the preseason of his first year with Oakland, he said he wanted to quit and would give back his signing bonus. They should have taken him up on that offer. In two years, he caught 15 passes for 196 yards and one TD. To make matters worse (or better if you like laughing at Al Davis), the Raiders still have to pay him $2.6 million this year just to get him to go away. Commitment to Excellence indeed.
With all the players who are being released so teams can get out from under roster bonuses, one of them isn’t Clinton Portis. Although there are questions about his NFL future, the Redskins running back has a $7.2 million base salary. But, thanks to a re-structured contract from the spring of 2008, $6.4 million of this year’s salary is guaranteed – a huge guaranteed number for the third year of a veteran contract for a running back. If they released him, there would be no salary cap problems, but they would only save $800,000 if they do.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.