Commentary

Cardinals surprise with big moves

Eagles are improving everywhere, while Tampa Bay's inactivity is puzzling

Originally Published: August 1, 2011
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Free agency on steroids, as some are calling it, has lived up to its billing. It was wild. It was intense. It was crazy.

More than 200 of the 433 unrestricted free agents were off the board in the first six days. The Eagles stunned the world by signing Nnamdi Asomugha AFTER acquiring Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the Kevin Kolb trade. The Dolphins traded for Reggie Bush.

The Saturday night stunner was the Chicago Bears' failure to come to an agreement with center Olin Kreutz and then signing Chris Spencer as his replacement.

Training camps are well under way, but plenty of good players remain available, and many of them at a discounted rate. Starting Saturday, experienced starters with Pro Bowl talent were taking one-year deals in the $3 million range. The remainder of free agency will be like the real estate market: Those with cash can get great buys.

Here's a quick midterm look at the winners and losers.

Winners

[+] EnlargeJason Babin
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesThe Eagles hope Jason Babin will bring pressure off the edge.

Philadelphia Eagles
They had one of the best flurries of moves we've witnessed in recent years. The Eagles' cornerback trio of Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel might be one of the best ever. They also added Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin to the defensive line, and Evan Mathis gives them depth at guard.

Arizona Cardinals
Their aggressiveness stunned everyone. Not only did the Cardinals pick up Kolb in a trade, they added guards Daryn Colledge and Floyd Womack, cornerback Richard Marshall, linebacker Stewart Bradley, tight ends Todd Heap and Jeff King and wide receiver Chansi Stuckey. And as if that wasn't enough, they are now talking to wide receiver Braylon Edwards.

Carolina Panthers
Linebackers James Anderson and Thomas Davis, defensive end Charles Johnson and running back DeAngelo Williams all decided to stay in Carolina, and the Panthers also gave linebacker Jon Beason a five-year contract extension. Somehow, they also found a way to trade for tight end Greg Olsen and sign kicker Olindo Mare, defensive tackle Ron Edwards and safety Sean Considine.

Jacksonville Jaguars
They added to a growing group of young, drafted players by getting linebackers Paul Posluszny and Clint Session, safety Dawan Landry, cornerback Drew Coleman and guard Jason Spitz.

Losers

San Francisco 49ers
The team went backward in the first six days. They needed to re-sign offensive lineman David Baas to replace Eric Heitmann at center, but they lost Baas to the Giants. Linebacker Takeo Spikes left for the Chargers. They cut cornerback Nate Clements and failed to talk him into re-signing.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs opened free agency with $52 million of room, but all they have done is re-sign offensive linemen Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood. Their only free-agent addition is punter Michael Koenen.

New York Giants
It's been a bumpy start to free agency. The Giants had to cut starting offensive linemen Rich Seubert and Shaun O'Hara to get under the cap. They locked up running back Ahmad Bradshaw on Monday, but not tight end Kevin Boss or wide receiver Steve Smith. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora wants to be traded. The Giants still have time to pull things together, but it was a tough few days.

From the inbox

Q: What is the reasoning behind the new rule that isn't allowing free-agent signings to practice with their new team until a week after training camp opens? It doesn't make any sense to me, especially if it's a new player that has to learn a new system in a shortened period of time.

Terry in Albuquerque, N.M.

A: You're right, it does seem crazy. The reason is that in the transition agreement between the players and the owners, both sides agreed to start "the league year" -- the date veteran contracts signed in 2011 go into effect -- on Aug. 4. It sounds even crazier when you consider draft choices and undrafted rookies are signing deals and they are OK to start practicing. Chalk it up to a glitch resulting from a new collective bargaining agreement being reached days before camps opened.

Q: Why didn't the Detroit Lions go after Nick Barnett or Nate Clements? Wouldn't either one be a big help to the 'D' and not take up as much cap room as other big names?

Wesley in Grand Rapids, Mich.

A: Their feeling is Cromartie is too expensive and Clements might not fit into their man-to-man scheme. They had a preference for Stephen Tulloch, so Barnett was only a consideration. They handled things well. They waited out Tulloch and got him to sign at a more acceptable price. But they do have a gaping hole at cornerback that still needs to be filled.

Q: Do you think that the Cowboys had to let go of Leonard Davis, or was there a way to restructure his deal? It's just scary going into the season coming off an injury to Tony Romo with one of your better O-linemen gone.

Sterling in Fort Worth, Texas

A:Something had to give along the offensive line. Davis is still a talent, but he wasn't playing up to his contract. The Cowboys found themselves $13 million over the salary cap and had to do something. The team has needed to get younger along the offensive line for years. Their plan was to cut Davis and right tackle Marc Colombo, with the hopes of maybe getting one of them back at a lesser number later. They knew they could lose Kyle Kosier at guard, so they had to step up and pay him, and there was no way they would lose left tackle Doug Free.

Q: Does the new CBA mean that restricted free agents will be almost non-existent now? If all drafted rookies get four-year contracts (or even five with the team option for first-round picks), and undrafted rookies get three-year contracts, it seems that all free-agents-to-be in future seasons will end up being unrestricted, unless they were undrafted, signed the requisite three-year deal, and didn't get cut for three seasons. Am I off base, or is restricted free-agency going to be just a handful of players going forward?

Adam in Rochester, Minn.

A: Restricted free agency will clearly be impacted, but not eliminated. A good portion of each rookie class doesn't make it to the fourth year of their contracts. You will have undrafted free agents and released draft choices making up the restricted free agent group. What might happen with many of those restricted free agents, though, is that they will not be tendered. There were only 60 restricted free agents this year. The number will go down each year.

Q: In terms of draft picks, what do you guess Carson Palmer's value would have been if the Bengals decided to try to trade him at the beginning of the free agency period? Will Carson have to sit out the entire term of his contract if he doesn't report, or only one season?

Keith in Cleveland

A: My read is that the best they could have done was a second-round pick. Maybe I'm underestimating his value, but here is my thinking. Kevin Kolb goes for a second-rounder and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie because he's young and healthy. Palmer's had knee and elbow problems and fell from the ranks of the elite last year. I'm hearing the Dolphins might have only been willing to give up a third-round choice for Kyle Orton, and the Broncos wanted a No. 2. At the very least, Palmer would be around a second-round value.

Q: The owners voted 31-0 in favor of the new CBA deal, with Al Davis abstaining. We are all familiar with Al's dislike of authority, along with his years of fighting with the NFL, but why would he not vote yes? What is it he sees that none of the other owners see?

Cody in Austin, Texas

A: Remember, Al Davis is a former coach, and he was a very good coach. He abstained because he thought coaches took too hard of a hit in the new CBA. There are no two-a-days allowed, and coaches have a limited number of padded practices during training camp and the season. The offseason programs have been shortened to the point players don't have a show up until May 1. Davis doesn't like seeing things dictated to coaches, so he held out.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer