Commentary

Early thoughts on free agency

Bucs had no choice but to start spending; Megatron worthy of mega-contract

Originally Published: March 14, 2012
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

As we wait for Peyton Manning to make The Decision …

Not to be a buzz kill, but in the first 24 hours of any free-agency period, buyer beware. There is a reason Pittsburgh, Green Bay, New England and the New York Giants typically aren't big players in free agency. The smart teams build through the draft, and re-sign their own players before they ever reach free agency.

When teams deviate from that plan, the results can be disastrous. See Washington under Daniel Snyder, or Philadelphia last season. The Eagles were the big "winners" in free agency, signing Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Ronnie Brown and Steve Smith, among others, and trading Kevin Kolb to Arizona for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. With so many new faces in crucial positions, a truncated offseason, and a new and inexperienced defensive coordinator, among other changes on the coaching staff, the Eagles stumbled out of the gate, losing four of their first five and eight of their first 12, and missed the playoffs.

So far this time around, Philadelphia has spent money extending the contracts of two well-respected veterans, offensive tackle Todd Herremans and defensive end Trent Cole. No free-agent signings. No big splash.

Nevertheless, there's been a lot of money thrown around since free agency began at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday -- some wisely, some not so much.

This isn't your daddy's NFL. If there was ever any doubt that the NFL has become a passing league, all you need to do is look at who signed during the opening hours of free agency, and who didn't. Receivers were in high demand. Running backs and linebackers were not.

Four of the biggest signings were wide receivers. Tampa Bay snagged Vincent Jackson, Washington signed Pierre Garcon (and the less-heralded Josh Morgan from San Francisco), San Diego landed Robert Meachem, Indianapolis retained Reggie Wayne, and Philadelphia gave DeSean Jackson a five-year deal reportedly worth $51 million. Just before free agency started, New Orleans was able to re-sign Marques Colston and San Francisco came to terms with Randy Moss.

Receivers are hot.

Garcon was never a No. 1 receiver in Indianapolis, but he could develop into one under Mike Shanahan.

And of course there was this …

Calvin Johnson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesYes, Calvin Johnson is worth the mega-deal the Lions handed him on Wednesday.

MegaTron is now MegaRich, and deservedly so. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Detroit signed Calvin Johnson to an eight-year extension worth up to $132 million, with $60 million guaranteed. It is the richest deal ever for a wide receiver, topping the $120 million deal Arizona gave Larry Fitzgerald last year.

It was a good move. Like Fitzgerald, Johnson is one of the hardest-working players on his team. He is accountable, conscientious and a team player. This isn't Albert Haynesworth getting sick money. This is a player who deserves it, who has worked for it, who will play hard in spite of it, and who can help Detroit continue its upward arc from laughingstock just a few years ago to perennial playoff contender.

In his postseason debut last year, Johnson went off against New Orleans, catching 12 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. He is only 26. He will continue to get better. The deal saved Detroit cap space. And like Fitzgerald, Johnson won't turn into a punk because he got paid.

Tampa Bay did what it had to do. The Buccaneers have been careful to build through the draft, but after a 4-12 season in which leadership was lacking, they picked up three huge additions in Jackson, guard Carl Nicks and cornerback Eric Wright. According to the Bucs' own Twitter feed (@TBBuccaneers), the team spent $140.5 million on the trio.

Quarterback Josh Freeman must be ecstatic. He got a vertical threat in Jackson and another Pro Bowl offensive lineman in Nicks. Not only did the Bucs get Nicks to pair with Davin Joseph as part of possibly the best offensive line in the NFL, they stole Nicks away from a division rival who wanted to keep him. And, they filled a glaring need in the secondary.

It cost a lot of money, but Tampa Bay needed some talented, veteran leaders. They got three of them.

Here's what I know about Brandon Marshall: Two teams have already given up on him. Does that mean Marshall will be a bust for Chicago, which traded two third-round picks to Miami for him? No. But the story that Marshall allegedly punched a woman in the face at a New York City nightclub on Sunday night didn't help his reputation or standing in the league.

Jay Cutler was understandably thrilled to get Marshall, with whom he played in Denver. The Bears desperately needed a playmaking wide receiver, and when he has his act together, Marshall is indeed that.

But he is a risk. If he weren't, neither the Broncos nor the Dolphins would have given up on him.

Jason Campbell was a great pickup for the Bears. Here's a player who has started 71 games for two teams over the past six years while dealing with a revolving door of offensive coordinators. Campbell was having a solid season last year before breaking his collarbone in Week 6 against Cleveland. He has game experience and poise, and at 29 surely has a lot left in the tank. The Bears certainly could have used him last season.

But it is sad, after all he has been through in Washington and then in Oakland, that Campbell couldn't get another shot at a starting job. It's not like he was supplanted last season. He suffered a season-ending injury. He was playing well, and the Raiders, lest anyone forgot, were winning games.

[+] EnlargeCortland Finnegan
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesThe Rams needed to add some nastiness on defense. Enter Cortland Finnegan.

Signing Cortland Finnegan was huge for the Rams. Jeff Fisher tried to downplay Finnegan's reputation as a dirty player on Wednesday, but dirty means different things to different people. And St. Louis could use a little more nastiness on its defense, particularly in the secondary.

Consider what Rams safety Quintin Mikell said to me in a text Wednesday: "We need corners bad!! Plus he's nasty which I like."

St. Louis got better with the Finnegan signing.

Reggie Wayne apparently wasn't as locked to Manning's hip as we thought. Wayne re-signed with Indianapolis, which given the carnage at the Colts' practice facility recently, was surprising. Sure, Wayne loves the franchise. He has never played anywhere else. Maybe he truly does want to help Andrew Luck break into the NFL.

But why stay? The Colts are in rebuilding mode. Wayne is 33 years old. This was likely his last chance at another contract. He could have gone other places, likely even with Manning. Instead, Wayne likely will play out his career for a franchise that has to tear down before it can build back up.

Twitter has redefined the free-agency experience for teams, players, fans and the media. Garcon broke the news that he was signing with Washington on his Twitter account, @PierreGarcon85, when he tweeted a link to his Facebook page that said: "I wanted you all to hear it from me 1st before u saw it on the news... I will be signing with the Washington Redskins and I'm very excited about the opportunity in front of me."

Some Buffalo players took to Twitter on Tuesday night trying to recruit Mario Williams. Running back C.J. Spiller (@CJSPILLER) tweeted: "The day will be greater if Mario Williams signs with us tonight n that will make billsnation go crazy I'm sending my prayers up."

And, of course, Twitter is revolutionizing the media. Instead of getting free-agency news in the next day's newspaper, journalists are breaking up-to-the-second news via Twitter, in real time.

Just wait until Manning signs somewhere. That move could break Twitter.