- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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The three-day negotiating period that gave agents a chance to shop their clients to teams before the start of free agency accomplished one obvious thing.
Agreements in free agency were faster than ever. In the first three days of free agency alone, roughly 70 deals were reached for unrestricted free agents moving to new teams. In those three days, more than $927 million was spent and more than $500 million of cap room remained.
But there was one problem: the negotiating window needs the help of doctors. Getting a deal can be easy, but the league and the NFLPA must find a way for bidding teams to get some medical reports during the negotiating window. The Oakland Raiders found that out when they had to void Rodger Saffold's five-year, $42.5 million contract because of shoulder problems. The New York Giants agreed to a two-year, $8 million deal for O'Brien Schofield, but apparently he has injury concerns.
Quickening the pace of free agency can be a good thing, but the pace can be too fast for the teams and the players if the medical reports aren't allowed.
Saffold lost money when his contract was voided, taking his $8.5 million-a-year deal off the books. He was fortunate to have the St. Louis Rams ready to take him back, but he lost millions.
The Raiders, in the meantime, were embarrassed. They allowed tackle Jared Veldheer to move to Arizona for $1.5 million less than what Saffold accepted. By the time Saffold had his physical, the other top tackles were gone. They had to wait for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to cut Donald Penn later in the week to get a new left tackle option.
Maybe that's asking too much, though. Teams don't want to lose top free agents. They will know their competition if they receive calls from the teams interested in those players. Plus, the player has to approve those medicals being seen.
Because these pending free agents are all part of a union, maybe a pool of medical information can be available for teams as they approach free agency. What you want to fix is that sick feeling after a top free agent agrees to a big deal and then has it shot down by a doctor.
Here are the winners and losers from the start of free agency.
1. Denver Broncos: How can you not like how John Elway runs the Broncos? First, he picks up Peyton Manning and makes the Broncos an instant Super Bowl contender. Each year he carves out enough cap room to make big plays in free agency. Last year's additions of guard Louis Vasquez, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and defensive tackle Terrence Knighton helped move the Broncos from the playoffs to the Super Bowl. This year he outdid himself. He put up $110 million in contracts and $60 million in guarantees for defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward. The Broncos learned something in the Super Bowl from the Seattle Seahawks.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: In most years, the most active teams in free agency ultimately find that their moves don't translate into wins. So giving the winning tag to the Bucs comes with a caution. Usually teams that spend more than $100 million in unrestricted free-agent contracts improve by only one win or drop back a game or two in the standings. The Bucs are the big spenders in free agency this year. They invested $125.5 million in contracts for six players -- quarterback Josh McCown, defensive end Michael Johnson, left tackle Anthony Collins, cornerback Alterraun Verner, tight end Brandon Myers and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. They let high-priced players such as Davin Joseph, Penn and Darrelle Revis go.
3. Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons realized they had to get bigger and stronger on the offensive and defensive lines. For years, they have tried to stay light and athletic. The league is getting bigger and more physical. The Falcons added Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson to the defensive line and Jon Asamoah at guard. Figuring they have a great chance to get a good tackle in the draft, the Falcons are toughening up to get back in the NFC playoff race.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Playoff teams with good starting quarterbacks on their first contracts can be strategic players in free agency and in personnel. That's what the Eagles are. Nick Foles is in the third year of his rookie contract, and the Eagles had plenty of cap room available. Like Seattle last year, they are grabbing at available opportunities. The New Orleans Saints shopped Darren Sproles and the Eagles had no problem putting his $3.5 million salary in their backfield with LeSean McCoy. They locked up key offensive linemen with contracts through 2016. Last year, they were in a rush to revamp their secondary. This year, they had the luxury to strategically make it better with the additions of safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback Nolan Carroll, who might be a good third corner.
5. Miami Dolphins: Last year they were the big spenders, but this year they made a good start in fixing their offensive line with the signing of Branden Albert at left tackle. Over the course of this offseason, they will be looking to replace four starters along the line. They still have Mike Pouncey at center. They will probably sign a veteran right tackle and maybe a guard. They have the draft for other options. Re-signing Randy Starks was huge at defensive tackle and they saved a little money signing Earl Mitchell for the other tackle spot after the departure of Soliai.
1. Oakland Raiders: The Saffold disaster was one of the worst situations in recent Raiders history. The Raiders opened free agency with more than $60 million in cap room. What you wonder is whether the Raiders can fix their problems with all that cap room. They let the top two homegrown players on their roster -- Veldheer and Lamarr Houston -- leave. The Saffold move forced the Raiders to scramble. They did land Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, but you start to wonder if the starting lineup is going to end up older instead of being younger. Tough start to free agency.
2. Dallas Cowboys: They had to cut Ware, they haven't been able to re-sign Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher signed with the rival Washington Redskins. All of a sudden, the defensive line has gone from known quantities to George Selvie, Frank Kearse, Nick Hayden and Jeremy Mincey. The Cowboys switched to a 4-3 defense last year and now they are scrambling to find four quality defensive linemen.
3. Carolina Panthers: Two areas of weakness got weaker during the first couple of days of free agency. Steve Smith was cut, Ted Ginn Jr. signed with Arizona, Domenik Hixon left for Chicago and Brandon LaFell is a free agent. If LaFell leaves, the Panthers will have to rebuild the entire wide receiving corps. The secondary is another area of concern. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Mitchell left for different teams. There are also holes along the offensive line with the retirement of left tackle Jordan Gross, and guards Geoff Hangartner and Travelle Wharton being unsigned.
4. Kansas City Chiefs: This is where success hurts. Andy Reid did a great job of coaching the Chiefs to an 11-win playoff season. Now, other teams want his players. The Chiefs took major hits along the offensive line, losing Albert to Miami, Jon Asamoah to Atlanta and Geoff Schwartz to the Giants. Good thing the draft is deep for offensive linemen. The Chiefs also lost defensive end Jackson and wide receiver Dexter McCluster.
5. Running backs and wide receivers: Golden Tate (Detroit) and Eric Decker (New York Jets) were able to get more than $6 million-a-year deals, but the rest of the deep free-agent crop of receivers might struggle to get that type of money. Julian Edelman is nowhere in talks with the Patriots. Hakeem Nicks took a one-year deal with the Colts. The running back class might not have a single player get more than $5 million a year. Ben Tate has the best chance. Darren McFadden had to settle for $1.75 million on a one-year deal to go back to Oakland. The other backs have been getting around $3.5 million.
The aggressive Broncos emerged as early winners in free agency. The Raiders, among others, came up short, writes John Clayton.