Commentary

Dolphins big winners, Ravens reeling

Miami filled big needs early on; Baltimore is left with big holes to fill

Originally Published: March 13, 2013
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

No other sports league does the offseason like the NFL. When teams opened their new business year Tuesday afternoon, there was palpable anticipation about which ones would be movers and shakers and which players would be coming and going.

We already suspected the likely landing spots for some of the bigger names in the mix. We learned about plenty more in the hours that followed the start of the free-agency signing period.

Granted, there are far more moves to be made in the coming weeks. Several intriguing veterans are on the open market (former Dolphins left tackle Jake Long, former Lions defensive end Cliff Avril, former Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings), and we still don't know whether stars such as Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and former Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker will remain with their teams.

What we do know is that the first day of the signing period was filled with ample activity. Here's a breakdown of the teams that enjoyed that first 24 hours and those that certainly didn't have as much fun:

Winners

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireMike Wallace adds a much-needed deep threat to Miami's offense.

Miami Dolphins: They got exactly what they needed most when wide receiver Mike Wallace signed a five-year deal. Wallace provides a valuable deep threat for second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill and eases the burden on fellow wideout Brian Hartline, one of the nice surprises of the 2012 season.

If that wasn't enough, the Dolphins also snared former Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who was a critical contributor to Baltimore's Super Bowl run last season. Throw in the team's wise decision not to overvalue free-agent running back Reggie Bush -- even though the unrestricted free agent rushed for 2,072 yards as a Dolphin -- and you get the idea.

Miami started the new business year with a flourish.

Kansas City Chiefs: Most of the Chiefs' major deals were done long before Tuesday, but that shouldn't tarnish their significance. The Chiefs so far have made every possible move to improve a team that went 2-14 in 2012.

They traded two draft picks -- including a second-rounder this year -- for former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. They signed star wide receiver Dwayne Bowe to a long-term contract, used their franchise tender on left tackle Branden Albert and restructured a deal for underachieving defensive end Tyson Jackson.

And don't forget the depth added with the free-agent signings at defensive back (Dunta Robinson), tight end (Anthony Fasano), defensive line (Mike DeVito) and quarterback (Chase Daniel).

The Chiefs didn't have a clue about building a roster under former general manager Scott Pioli. The Andy Reid era already is off to a much better start.

San Francisco 49ers: For a team that didn't have too many glaring needs, the 49ers entered Tuesday night with two key moves already in the bag. They acquired that second-round pick from the Chiefs for Smith, and they gave up only a sixth-round pick in a trade for disgruntled former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

Even at 32, Boldin has the ability to be a difference-maker for any offense. He was Joe Flacco's most reliable target during the Ravens' title march -- especially when the tough catch was needed -- and he'll be just as valuable to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

San Francisco's other smart move? Not being so desperate for cornerback help as to make a hasty trade for Jets star Darrelle Revis.

Minnesota Vikings: They made the right call trading wide receiver Percy Harvin to Seattle and received a nice reward for their wisdom. The trade gives Minnesota another first-round pick and an additional seventh-rounder in this year's draft, along with a third-rounder in 2014.

For all the talent Harvin brings as a slot receiver and return man, he had become a huge headache for the Vikings. He wasn't getting along with coach Leslie Frazier. He was complaining about wanting Calvin Johnson-type money. And he plays a position at which the Vikings should be able to find a decent replacement.

Harvin certainly will help the Seahawks, but Minnesota found a way to win without him. We call this addition by subtraction.

Atlanta Falcons: They're winners because of what they gave up and what they didn't lose. It was time for the team to part ways with aging running back Michael Turner, who had become less effective with each passing season. The Falcons also made sensible fiscal moves in dumping older veterans such as Dunta Robinson and John Abraham.

On the flip side, talented safety William Moore already has re-signed and 2010 Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes also accepted a one-year deal. But the real prize is tight end Tony Gonzalez. The team somehow managed to talk the surefire Hall of Famer into postponing retirement for another year, meaning an explosive offense should continue to be as dangerous as ever.

Losers

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Paul Kruger
AP Photo/Paul AbellPaul Kruger leaving for the Browns leaves yet another hole on the Ravens' D.

Baltimore Ravens: This one wasn't even close. The Ravens had to trade Boldin to San Francisco because he wouldn't agree to a massive pay cut. They also watched Ellerbe and outside linebacker Paul Kruger -- who signed with Cleveland -- bolt for more lucrative offers elsewhere.

Those are big losses for a defense that already is moving on without Ray Lewis and may very well lose safety Ed Reed, as well. Baltimore knew it was in for a tough start to the offseason. That's exactly what it got.

Pittsburgh Steelers: It's hard to be a winner when you have serious cap issues. Along with Wallace leaving for Miami, Pittsburgh had to release outside linebacker James Harrison for salary-cap relief. The Steelers also are expected to lose running back Rashard Mendenhall, nose tackle Casey Hampton and cornerback Keenan Lewis to free agency.

The upside here is predictability; Harrison (35 years old) and Hampton (32) are past their prime, and the team had soured on Mendenhall. The downside? The Steelers can't afford to sign any impact free agents on the open market.

New York Giants: The uncertainty surrounding wide receiver Victor Cruz is the main reason the Giants are so high on this list. They couldn't reach a long-term deal with the restricted free agent, so they ultimately gave him a first-round tender, which means any team that attempts to sign Cruz to a contract will owe the Giants a first-round pick.

It's decent protection, but certainly not enough to keep another franchise from outbidding them for a player who has been Eli Manning's favorite target over the past two seasons.

Throw in other departures -- the release of running back Ahmad Bradshaw and linebacker Michael Boley, watching defensive end Osi Umenyiora and tight end Martellus Bennett (who signed with Chicago) head into free agency -- and you get the picture. The Giants just don't have the money to make everybody happy.

Buffalo Bills: It's completely understandable that the Bills were frustrated with the inconsistency of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, particularly because he wouldn't restructure the $59 million contract they gave him in 2011. It's just that the timing of Fitzpatrick's release puts them in an even worse situation.

The Bills have only one experienced quarterback on their roster -- underwhelming Tarvaris Jackson -- and they'll have to find a signal-caller in a draft class that doesn't have a can't-miss prospect. The loss of guard Andy Levitre to the Titans also hurts.

Washington Redskins: Yet another team that entered the offseason in a cash-strapped position. The first painful move Washington had to make was releasing top cornerback DeAngelo Hall. That decision saved the team $8 million in cap space, but the Redskins still need to make other tough choices to compete for free agents on the open market. It says here that a team used to making big noise this time of year will be pretty quiet.