- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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You've waited, speculated, hoped and fretted for months, and today it finally arrived -- the start of NFL free agency. It was a busy and hectic day, as it often is, and it's liable to continue into the wee hours of the morning. But for now, as we creep toward midnight, it seems like a good time to stop and ask each of our division's four teams our favorite free-agency question.
So, how was your day? ...
"Exciting." The Redskins were extremely busy right away, agreeing to deals with wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan and working on another for wide receiver Eddie Royal. The fact that they moved so quickly led to industry-wide cries of "Same old Redskins -- champions of March," because there's no more powerful force in the NFL than conventional wisdom. But an actual close look at what they're doing reveals the kind of smart, long-view plan that Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen began working to execute last offseason.
The old, reckless-spending Redskins would not have been outbid for 29-year-old Vincent Jackson, who got $55.5 million ($26 million guaranteed) from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The receivers the Redskins signed will be 26 and 27 years old at the start of the season. And while five years, $42.5 million ($20.5 million guaranteed) is obviously too much for Garcon, who has never been a No. 1 wide receiver, it's what it cost to get him. Shanahan has identified him as a guy who can explode, based on where he is in his career, the way he'll fit in Shanahan's offense and the potential for him to grow along with Robert Griffin III. If Shanahan's wrong, the contract could haunt him. But he's not just throwing money around. Garcon is a guy Shanahan targeted for good, specific reasons. There is a plan here, and it's likely to continue as they work to fill holes on the offensive line and in the secondary in the coming days and weeks.
The Redskins also re-signed Adam Carriker on Tuesday to maintain depth on the defensive line. What Redskins fans would like to see next is a re-signing of linebacker London Fletcher. I believe the Redskins would like that too, but the longer it goes without getting done, the greater the chance the Redskins will lose one of their most valuable defensive players. What's clear is that, in spite of being docked $36 million against the cap for violating some sort of amorphous fake spending limit during the uncapped 2010 season, the Redskins still have plenty of room to work under the cap.
"Better than Monday." A day after learning that they'd be docked $10 million against the salary cap over the next two years for the same kinds of bogus violations that nailed the Redskins, the Cowboys set about executing their own plan. They cut Terence Newman and David Buehler and restructured the contracts of Doug Free and Orlando Scandrick -- a combination of moves that bought them about $15.8 million in extra cap room this year. Then, according to Adam Schefter, they brought in free-agent cornerback Brandon Carr, who at this writing seemed likely to sign with Dallas as Newman's replacement as early as Tuesday night. With Cortland Finnegan having signed for five years and $50 million in St. Louis, and Carlos Rogers having re-signed for four years and about $30 million in San Francisco, the market seemed set for Carr, and the Cowboys seemed determined not to let him leave Dallas without a deal.
Schefter also reported that the Cowboys were looking at Kyle Orton, who'd be an excellent veteran backup option for Tony Romo at quarterback. And ESPNDallas.com writes that the Cowboys plan to bring in former Panthers linebacker Dan Connor and former Bears tight end Kellen Davis for visits as well. Connor makes sense because they'll need depth at linebacker and may need more time for Bruce Carter to develop behind a veteran. Davis makes sense as a possible replacement for Martellus Bennett, who's in New York to visit the Giants. So if they get Carr done, they'll have addressed their most glaring need on the first day and are already at work on filling some other important needs. They still need to find offensive line help, and it looks as though they could lose wide receiver Laurent Robinson to the Jaguars or Dolphins, but cornerback was the place for them to start.
"Productive." The champs began the day by re-signing cornerback Terrell Thomas, which was a priority of theirs, and buying themselves some cap room with the restructuring of the contract of center David Baas. Then they flew Bennett in for a visit, since they need a tight end to replace the two they lost to serious knee injuries in the Super Bowl. Cowboys fans are chuckling at the idea that another team would want Bennett, who earned a reputation as a pass-dropping underachiever during his time in Dallas. But the Giants see a guy who's 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, fast and still just 25 years old. They certainly trust their coaching staff and their quarterback to get the most out of any player, and if they can get him on a reasonable deal, it's certainly worth a shot that he still could transform his remarkable physical talent into reliable on-field production. And if he can't, Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum should be back healthy at the end of the season anyway. It's worth the Giants' time to check on Bennett.
The Giants target guys they like but are otherwise patient, so don't expect to hear much about them and Mario Manningham, Aaron Ross or Jonathan Goff anytime soon. They'll let those guys see what they can get on the market, and if they come back disappointed and willing to sign for the Giants' numbers, they could return. If not, the Giants feel confident they can find replacements.
Wait. That was today? Yeah, the Eagles had a quiet day. They extended Todd Herremans' contract and, as Sal Paolantonio reported, were working on an extension for Trent Cole as well. Part of the reason for the quiet is that the Eagles did a lot of work in free agency last year and expect those players to play better in 2012. Part of the reason is that the position at which they need the most help is linebacker, and the linebacker market hasn't really started humming yet. I still think Fletcher makes sense for them on a number of levels, and I wonder if he's a guy they're quietly targeting to steal away from Washington. We'll see. They won't go as nuts as they did last year, but the Eagles won't stay silent for long.