NFL Nation: 2011 NFL free agency

In light of the past 24 hours, it doesn't appear like St. Louis Rams fans are going to get their primary wish when it comes to free agency.

On Friday afternoon, I posed a question to you readers asking what one move you'd like to see the Rams make in free agency? With nearly 2,000 votes cast, the results were overwhelming. As of Monday morning, 47 percent of you said you wanted the Rams to re-sign offensive lineman Rodger Saffold.

By now, of course, it's been reported in multiple places that Saffold isn't going to be coming back to the Rams which means the team will allocate funds elsewhere. It remains to be seen whether the Rams will extend themselves on a big contract for any player in a market that figures to have its fair share of mid-level players available at mid-level prices.

For what it's worth, here's how the voting looked Monday morning:

Re-sign Saffold -- 47 percent

Sign a safety -- 24 percent

Sign a veteran receiver -- 11 percent

Sign a cornerback -- 10 percent

Sign a different offensive lineman -- 8 percent

So based on those results, a majority of fans voting prefer to see the Rams add help on the offensive line whether it's Saffold or someone else. It's also interesting to see cornerback come in behind not only safety but receiver amongst voters.

There's no doubt the Rams could use a safety, especially a veteran one, but I thought cornerback might get a bit more attention in light of some of the names the Rams have been connected to at that position.

With Saffold likely off the table as an option, perhaps signing multiple mid-level types at spots like safety, guard and cornerback might be the route the Rams take. As always, free agency is a fluid situation that can change at any moment. The good news is that we'll finally get to stop speculating and start seeing results in a little more than 24 hours.

Eagles' 'Dream Team' being dismantled

February, 25, 2013

The Philadelphia Eagles announced Monday that they have released defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who was one of the significant free agents they signed in their famous 2011 offseason spending spree. Jenkins was set to cost $5.5 million against the salary cap this year and leaves just $1.5 million in "dead money," so he clears some room for the Eagles under the cap. But the Eagles were already projected to be under the cap, so the move is likely about not wanting to pay a 32-year-old defensive lineman that much money at a time when a new coach and defensive coordinator are coming in and changing the plan drastically on defense.

It is also not likely the last such move the Eagles will make. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who was thought to be the prize of that year's free-agent class, is carrying a huge cap number for 2013 after two mostly disappointing seasons in Philadelphia. If he doesn't agree to a pay cut, Asomugha is likely to be released as well. Whether the Eagles need cap room or not, the Jenkins move shows they're willing to make veteran cuts for other reasons.

Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who was acquired via trade that same offseason, is an unrestricted free agent, and it remains to be seen whether the Eagles will try to bring him back. It's unlikely they'll get themselves into a bidding war to keep him if he hits the open market.

Perhaps the least heralded of the 2011 acquisitions has been the best. Guard Evan Mathis, who signed a new free-agent contract with the Eagles last offseason after an superb first season in Philadelphia, was an afterthought amid the big signings and trades in August of '11, but it's entirely possible that when the dust settles on this offseason's moves he'll be the only one left standing. Defensive end Jason Babin was released during the 2012 season.

Jenkins likely could have made the switch from 4-3 defensive tackle to 3-4 defensive end in the scheme the Eagles appear to be installing. He had experience playing in a 3-4 in Green Bay prior to his time in Philadelphia. But the Eagles have other options for those spots, including Mike Patterson and 2012 first-round pick Fletcher Cox, and likely decided Jenkins was a luxury.

Because I know people will ask, yes, I think Jenkins is still a good player who can help someone. And I think he'd be a fine fit for the New York Giants or the Dallas Cowboys, who run 4-3 defenses and could use someone of Jenkins' versatility and pass-rush ability. Whether those teams will agree with me remains to be seen, but, yes, I think he could help either of them.

UPDATE (4:32 pm ET): The Eagles announced later Monday that they also have released Patterson, which saves another $3 million in cap room and obviously eliminates him as a replacement option for Jenkins. The Eagles' starting defensive line at this point projects to be Cox, Cedric Thornton and Antonio Dixon, though they're likely to look for upgrades in free agency and in the draft.
I see both sides of Mario Williams.

I see why Buffalo put together a ridiculous package to lure him to Western New York, with $50 million guaranteed. The Bills think he will be a productive player and that a big-time pass-rusher can transform a defense. As a bonus, luring the top defensive free agent sends a message to other players in the league about the Bills as a team and Buffalo as a destination.

[+] EnlargeMario Williams
Kevin Hoffman/US PresswireThe Bills are banking on Mario Williams being the pass-rusher to push their defense to an elite level.
I see why the Texans were content to watch him walk away. They have cap issues and while I am sure they made him a nice offer, they couldn’t get in the ballpark, financially, with the Bills. Williams has been a force at times, but too often he was fighting through nagging injuries that made him not himself. When he was lost for the season after five games, the defense thrived anyway.

You can make the case that Jerome Solomon did in the Houston Chronicle: "Mario Williams has always looked better than he played. He’s long and lean, yet muscularly defined, and at 6-6, 290 pounds is faster than men his size are supposed to be.”

Solomon also wrote:
Many are upset that Williams recently said becoming the highest paid defensive player in NFL history wasn’t important to him.

Then he went out and became the highest paid defensive player in NFL history.

His departure is a shot in the gut to the Texans, who feel they are primed to be a Super Bowl contender. Why wouldn’t Williams want to be part of that? I’d estimate he has around 100 million reasons.

The Texans did want to keep Williams – losing one of your more talented players isn’t how you improve as a team. Texans general manager Rick Smith tried to talk him into staying, but money talks. While the Bills’ bills were shouting, the Texans’ dollars, thanks to their salary cap situation, could do little more than whisper.

Odds are the Texans defense isn’t as good next season as it was this past one, when so much went right.

But even if the defense takes a step back, it’s unlikely to be because Williams is missing.

On Carlos Rogers' rebirth with 49ers

October, 13, 2011
The San Francisco 49ers haven't been big spenders in free agency recently.

None of the unrestricted free agents they added from other teams during the 2011 offseason received a deal exceeding three years in length or $4.25 million in average compensation.

One player in particular has stood out as a bargain.

Rogers' aggressive play at cornerback has given the 49ers a needed edge in their secondary. It's tough to say any other corner in the NFC West has made as positive an impact through Week 5. Rogers' 31-yard interception return for a touchdown against Tampa Bay was the latest in a string of impact plays from him for San Francisco.

Sometimes a change of address frees a veteran player to reach more of his potential. That seems to be the case with Rogers, a seventh-year veteran known during his six-year run with Washington for letting would-be interceptions slip through his hands. Rogers' three picks through five games exceed by one his single-season career high. He now has 11 for his career.

I was among several reporters gathered around Rogers in the 49ers' locker room Monday. A few highlights:
  • On matching up with Detroit's Calvin Johnson: "He present a lot. A big, strong guy that can run. Then you got a quarterback who gets him the ball no matter if he is covered or not. We’re going to have to have something special for him, roll some coverages to him. They’ve been rolling, he’s been outjumping everybody, scoring touchdowns, catching balls in many different places. You see him all over ESPN and what they are doing."
  • On his time with the Redskins: "I had coach (Joe) Gibbs, he basically ran our team. I had coach Gregg Williams as a defensive coordinator that everyone would die to play for. After that, it was coach (Jim) Zorn, and he didn’t really run our team. Guys were able to run over him and get things they wanted by just going to the ownership. After that, coach (Mike) Shanahan is a good coach, but my mindset by the time he came in, I was just ready to leave."
  • On what bothered him about the Redskins: "We only re-signed Chris Samuels and Chris Cooley, which they deserve it, but everybody else was new guys they had brought in. It wasn’t guys who were drafted that we re-signed. I’m thinking once it comes to my turn, I’m not going to be here anyway. My whole mindset was like, 'Just get out of Washington, get a fresh start.' I’m always compared to what Shawn Springs do, what Fred Smoot do, what DeAngelo Hall do. I just couldn’t be Carlos. ... As a player, you get tired of that. You want something fresh. With this team, they just let me be me. They just let me play. I think right now I’m just playing at a level I know I can play at. I think back and it’s just like college. I’m back to my Auburn days, having fun."
  • On the 49ers' 4-1 start: "We got a long way to go. I was with coach Zorn and we went 6-2 into our bye. The next eight games, we was 2-6. It’s a long season. We have a long way to go. Right now, (Jim Harbaugh) is just leading us in the right direction, keeping our mind strong on what we’ve got to do, and the right mindset of thinking throughout this whole process. It’s better than people thought. I tell people, we was supposed to be sorry. We’re surprising everybody. But we don’t want all the credit now. We want it at the end of the season when we get to our ultimate goal."

The chart shows basic contract information for Rogers and the other unrestricted free agents added during the offseason. Manny Lawson, Takeo Spikes, Aubrayo Franklin, Jeff Reed, Travis LaBoy and David Baas were the UFAs leaving the 49ers for other teams.
When Joe Thomas was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2007, he said his primary goal was to make it to the Hall of Fame.

Thomas won't have to go very far to Canton, Ohio, once his playing days are over. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports Thomas agreed to a seven-year, $84 million extension that could make Thomas a career Brown. He is also the NFL's highest-paid offensive lineman.

[+] EnlargeJoe Thomas
AP Photo/Mark DuncanJoe Thomas has reportedly agreed to an extension for seven years worth $84 million.
In just four years, Thomas developed into one of Cleveland's few elite players. The 26-year-old was recently voted the NFL's best left tackle by Thomas has been to four Pro Bowls in as many seasons and never missed a start.

More importantly, the Browns have their stud left tackle for the foreseeable future. Thomas plays one of the NFL's most difficult positions. Cleveland's had trouble finding a franchise quarterback. Maybe Colt McCoy is the answer. But whoever sits in that seat has a better chance to succeed with Thomas protecting the blind side.

Thomas was rewarded for remaining steady in an unsteady environment. I often joke with Thomas that he's had three head coaches in five seasons. An eternal optimist, Thomas just smiles and hopes the newest regime gets it right.

The Mike Holmgren-Tom Heckert-Pat Shurmur regime got this one right by extending Thomas. Cleveland could not afford to let him hit the open market in 2012. There would have been dozens of teams bidding for his services and anything could have happened.

Cleveland needs to retain its own core players. The Browns are trying to gradually build through the draft and didn't make a splash in free agency. But spending $84 million on one in-house transaction clearly displays Cleveland's approach.

Thomas has played at a very high level his entire career. His hope is that the team around him eventually does the same.

Giants re-sign safety Deon Grant

August, 16, 2011
Yeah, forgot about this because it had been a while, but we write posts reacting to free-agent signings, and the New York Giants on Tuesday re-signed safety Deon Grant, who started eight games and played all 16 for them last year.

This is a good signing for the Giants, who were starting to look a little too thin in the secondary with injuries to cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Bruce Johnson. Grant is a versatile player who was used in a number of three-safety sets with the Giants last year and could be again since they're not going to be able to deploy Amukamara as they'd hoped over the first half of the season.

Grant is also very popular in the locker room and was one of the leaders on last year's Giants team. Fellow safety Kenny Phillips, when I spoke with him last week at Giants camp, told me learning the position from Grant was one of the great benefits of a 2010 season in which Phillips was still getting up to full speed physically following his 2009 knee injury.

"He's just a savvy veteran player," Phillips said. "I actually still watch film of him now, just watching his technique and how he was able to play different positions on the field, just taking his value up. He's a guy who'll play any spot, any time, however he can help the team."

Browns should pursue Aaron Maybin

August, 16, 2011
Since I'm big on giving free advice lately, here is another tip for the division: The Cleveland Browns should pursue free-agent linebacker Aaron Maybin.

The Buffalo Bills released the 2009 first-round pick on Monday. Maybin is one of the biggest draft busts in recent memory. He recorded just 24 tackles and zero sacks in two seasons.

But that doesn't mean the Browns shouldn't take a flier on the 23-year-old. Cleveland desperately needs depth at outside linebacker behind starters Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong. Maybin also had the ability to rush the passer in college, which is another element the Browns could use.

Cleveland defensive coordinator Dick Jauron was the head coach in Buffalo when the Bills drafted Maybin No. 11 overall two years ago. Jauron has familiarity with Maybin. Perhaps the veteran coach can get something (anything?) out of the draft bust.

The Browns are building through the draft but this would be another low-risk move for a young player. Cleveland doesn't have anything to lose. I think it's worth a shot.
Had they not wound up in position to move up to draft Blaine Gabbert, the Jaguars likely would have addressed defensive end in the first round. I believe they would have gone for Ryan Kerrigan.

But after making the move up for the quarterback of the future, defensive end went unaddressed. Until yesterday.

Matt Roth, a 3-4 outside linebacker in Cleveland, agreed on a one-year deal and will shift to defensive end in the Jaguars’ 3-4. As Tania Ganguli points out, he’s the third free-agent defender to join Jacksonville in the last two seasons in order to make the switch from 3-4 to 4-3. Aaron Kampman and Paul Posluszny did the same.

Scouts Inc. only had six free-agent defensive ends graded more highly than Roth.

Here’s’ their report on him:
“Roth is a big, strong outside linebacker with above-average athleticism. He seems to fit in well as a stand-up player who attacks the line of scrimmage off the edge. He is a better run stopper than pass-rusher as he doesn't have great initial quickness off the edge. He has good strength to hold the point and set the edge with proper hand use and body positioning. He is an instinctive player who reacts well to blocking schemes and maintains. Roth has improved his overall pass-rush package with counter moves off his initial power rush. Roth is a good player who may be a bit of an overachiever. He brings great toughness and energy to the Browns' defense.”

Via free agency the 2011 Jaguars' defense now has four proven new starters.

Roth not only added to that, but he will push Austen Lane and Jeremy Mincey down the depth chart and into the rotation, making Jacksonville deeper.

A solid move, I think.

A Jaguars’ aside: Bill Barnwell doesn’t like the Marcedes Lewis contract.

Source: Bills open to Lee Evans trade

August, 11, 2011
The Buffalo Bills are now open to trading wide receiver Lee Evans, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Evans still is considered a vertical threat that will be an asset for the team that lands him. Trade rumors involving Evans have swirled during the offseason.

"The trade talks, that's just part of the game. It's not a whole lot I can focus on because I have no control," Evans said, Thursday. "My main goal is to do everything in my power to help this team win. That's what my focus is more so than anything."

For the full story, click here.
The Pittsburgh Steelers added insurance at wide receiver Thursday. The reigning AFC champions agreed to a one-year contract with free agent Jerricho Cotchery, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports.

The No. 3 receiver is very important in Pittsburgh's offense. Second-year player Emmanuel Sanders held that role at the end of last season. But multiple foot surgeries have forced Sanders to miss most of training camp.

Cotchery adds depth behind starters Hines Ward and Mike Wallace. Cotchery will compete for the No. 3 receiver role in training camp with Antonio Brown. Cotchery's numbers have declined in recent years. He had 71 receptions in 2008 but only 41 receptions last season.

Pittsburgh's signing of Cotchery -- in addition to its recent pursuit of Plaxico Burress -- might be a sign that the team isn't sure Sanders will be ready for the regular season. The Steelers will begin their 2011 campaign against the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 11.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tom Coughlin is clearly angry. He's angry that Steve Smith spurned the New York Giants and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles on Wednesday. He's angry because, as he said in his news conference this morning, he thinks the Giants were done wrong by Smith's agent. And he's angry because he's out there having to answer questions about a contract negotiation when he's not the guy who does the contract negotiations.

"It’s like lining up for the race and you’re in the locker room and nobody tells you that the race is going to be run," Coughlin said in answer to a question about whether the Giants were given a fair chance to match the Eagles' offer. "That’s the disappointing thing here. I don’t believe that we were given the opportunity to do what we could do."

Not surprisingly, Smith's agent, Ben Dogra, disputes that assessment, telling Mike Garafolo that he did in fact tell the Giants he had a one-year offer on the table from another team and that he never told the Giants they'd be kept in the loop before Smith signed.

"Ask them the question: Do they think their offer was too low?" Dogra said. "If they thought it was too high and he left, then it worked out for everybody because they wouldn't have paid more. If their offer was too low and they know it was low, then shame on them."

Now, there's no point in bringing this back to Coughlin because, as he said, he's not the one who does the contracts here. GM Jerry Reese is. And in spite of repeated requests, Reese has yet to show his face and submit to interviews on this or any other topic since the first day of training camp. There is, as you might expect, a growing interest here in the media room in speaking to Reese, but no sense yet of whether that will happen today. I'm going to stick around a while to see what happens.

Anyway, from my perspective, that's almost enough of this specific, Steve Smith-related dispute. Smith is a really good player. The Eagles will benefit from the signing and the Giants will suffer for his absence. But it's not as if the Eagles signed Justin Tuck or Eli Manning away from them. Smith has generated more than enough copy over the past 24 hours, especially since we're not even sure when he's going to be able to play.

The bigger question here in East Rutherford is whether the Giants' front office knows what it's doing. And we have plenty of time and plenty of as-yet-unseen results with which to answer that.

Evening AFC West notes

August, 10, 2011
The Chiefs made two minor additions. They signed veteran receiver Keary Colbert. He has 49 career starts since 2004, but he hasn’t played since 2008. Colbert played at USC with Chiefs’ quarterback Matt Cassel. They also added kicker Todd Carter. He was claimed off waivers from Carolina. He played in one game with Carolina last year. He has virtually no chance of beating out Ryan Succop.
  • Denver tight end Richard Quinn has a knee injury that could potentially keep him out for some time. The Broncos are crowded at tight end, so the role of Quinn, a former second-round pick, may not be major, anyway.
  • Oakland coach Hue Jackson isn’t giving the media much information on how he plans to approach Thursday night’s preseason opener against Arizona. Don’t expect to see too many starters, which is common for the first preseason games.

How soon will Steve Smith play?

August, 10, 2011
So the Eagles made another big-splash signing, swiping receiver Steve Smith away from the division-rival Giants. But of course the reason Smith lasted this long into free agency is the serious knee injury and resulting surgery he had late last year. So the question becomes how soon Smith can actually suit up and play for his new team, and the answer to that question is a bit foggy.

[+] EnlargeSteve Smith
Brett Davis/US PRESSWIREDuring his best season with the Giants in 2009, Steve Smith made 107 catches for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns.
"The player in me, the athlete in me wants to get back out there and show you guys what I can do," Smith said on a conference call Wednesday night. "But I've got to be realistic."

Asked if it were realistic to think he could play in the season's first four weeks, Smith said, "Could be Week 1, you never know."

Which was weird, because the Giants were giving off a much different vibe earlier in the day and week when they still believed they had a chance to re-sign Smith. In Wednesday morning's news conference at the Meadowlands, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said, "It's going to be a long haul for him," and, "He's got a ways to go," in reference to Smith's recovery from the surgery.

"Maybe Coughlin had a plan up his sleeve when he said that," Smith said. "But I got checked out by both teams' doctors and got positive reports."

It's possible, sure, that Coughlin was trying to maintain the Giants' bargaining leverage by putting it out there that Smith wasn't fully healthy. But reports out of Philadelphia indicate that the Eagles hope Smith can contribute in the first month of the season. If he does, he'll compete for catches and playing time with quite a number of other highly talented Eagles offensive players, including DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Jason Avant, Brent Celek, Ronnie Brown and, if he's back healthy, Jeremy Maclin. And as Smith himself pointed out, quarterback Michael Vick likes to keep the ball for himself sometimes too.

"Great players all want the ball, all want the stats," Smith said. "But when you have the opportunity to win the Super Bowl, that means more. Guys are going to have to put their egos to the side, and if we do that, we'll go far."
The Philadelphia Eagles announced Wednesday night that they have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with former New York Giants wide receiver Steve Smith. It's the latest in the string of high-profile free-agent signings the Eagles have made since free agency began and the latest free-agency setback for the Giants, who'd hoped to re-sign Smith in spite of the fact that he's recovering from knee surgery and isn't likely to be ready in time to start the season.

Smith had 107 catches for 1,220 yards in his 2009 breakout season with the Giants and remained one of Eli Manning's most reliable targets in 2010 until he suffered a knee injury that cost him the second half of the season and required microfracture surgery to repair. I spoke with Manning Wednesday afternoon about what Smith's absence would mean to him and how the Giants planned to replace him in the passing game.

For the Eagles, once Smith is healthy enough to play, he'll give them additional depth at receiver, which could be important depending on the status of DeSean Jackson (who's in a contract dispute with the team) and Jeremy Maclin (who has yet to practice this training camp due to an undisclosed illness). It's unclear when the Eagles expect to have Smith on the field, but if he does come back healthy he'll help them deal better with those situations. The Eagles also have Jason Avant, who has performed well for them in recent seasons in a slot receiver role similar to the one Smith filled in New York when he was healthy.

Earlier in free agency, the salary cap-strapped Giants tried and failed to sign Plaxico Burress, who went to the Jets instead. Now they've lost Smith, and it's hard to say whether or not they'll still go after receiving help. Former Jet Jerricho Cotchery remains on the market, and the Giants could have interest in him now that they've lost out on Smith. In the meantime, they're hoping someone like Domenik Hixon or Victor Cruz steps up into the No. 3 receiver spot behind Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham.

For Rams, why Mikell and not Atogwe?

August, 10, 2011
Matt from Nashville, Ill., wonders why the St. Louis Rams were willing to shell out millions for one safety (Quintin Mikell) and not for another (Oshiomogho Atogwe), particularly with Atogwe having played for them already.

Mike Sando: This is one of the rare cases where the Rams got slightly older and considerably more expensive at a position by replacing someone once considered a core player. Your question is a logical one.

The Rams see Mikell as a better fit for their defense. Atogwe was best as a ball-hawker under the previous coaching staff. His interceptions were down from 13 over the 2007 and 2008 seasons to five in two seasons under Steve Spagnuolo. The Rams' current staff is looking for stronger play against the run. I also suspect the Rams see Mikell as an ascending player despite his age. Mikell is 30, but he is entering only his fifth season as a starter. He has missed only five games in eight NFL seasons.

I noticed our Scouts Inc. evaluation on Mikell bumped up his player grade from 71 to 86 Insider in free-agent reports available to Insider subscribers. A player grading in the 80s "has abilities to create mismatches versus most opponents in the NFL" and is a "feature player who has an impact on the outcome of the game" and "cannot be shut down by a single player" while playing consistently from week to week.

Grades in the 70s reflect "good starters" while grades in the 80s are for "outstanding" ones. Atogwe's grade for last season was 76. Insider

The Rams liked and appreciated Atogwe. They named him their franchise player and paid more than $6 million to him under that designation. They were willing to pay that price on a one-year basis when they did not see superior options in the market, but they were not willing to pay that over the course of a long-term deal.

Atogwe is nine months younger than Mikell. Mikell has played two additional seasons, but Atogwe has been a starter longer and did not appear to be ascending within the Rams' scheme.

The Rams' most recent contract with Atogwe called for an $8 million bonus. The team released him to avoid paying that bonus. Mikell's deal includes a guaranteed $8 million bonus. The team is making a statement that Mikell is an impact player, not just a good one, and a better one than Atogwe for their system.