Dollars and sense

NFL free agency kicks off

By Eric Wilkins, Sports Editor

I’m fairly certain I write a near-identical version of this article every year. Some NFL teams will make a big splash in free agency and overpay some washed-up has-been, while others will manage to make an even bigger mess of things by failing to address massive holes in the roster despite all the cap-space in the world. For the record, if I’m still around next year, I’ll probably just throw together a Mad Libs article. But for now, onwards and wallet-wards.

It’s just not a story if Oakland isn’t involved somehow, and the hapless Raiders are all too happy to oblige. With neither a strong line nor a capable pivot, the priority for the Raiders this off-season had to be re-signing the one good thing going for them on that offence: 26-year-old left tackle Jared Veldheer. Veldheer took off to the Arizona Cardinals instead for a $35-million contract over five years to form a strong young duo with Jonathan Cooper. Oops.

To plug the hole on the line, the Raiders promptly went out and signed the St. Louis Rams’ injury-prone guard/tackle Rodger Saffold to a whopping $42.5 million over five years. It was, in the kindest terms, a terrible move. However, Saffold was certainly better than nothing—which is what the Raiders ended up with. Saffold failed his physical with Oakland and then turned around and re-signed with the Rams for significantly less.

One more note on the Raiders before moving on: the team grabbed Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley. Woodley might be alright, as long as he can stay healthy. Tuck, on the other hand, is done. Sure he had 11 sacks last season, but the brunt of those came in three games. Take away his monster four-sack performance against the Redskins and a pair of two-sack games, and you have a man who had three sacks over 13 games. Is that worth $11 million over two years?

In other news, the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos both stepped up their game to make another run at AFC dominance. The Patriots snagged one of the finest lockdown corners in the game, Darrelle Revis, after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were forced to cut him. Not done there, the Pats then picked up 6’4” Brandon Browner from the Seattle Seahawks to form a fresh pairing at cornerback. The Broncos meanwhile, were no slouches themselves. After stealing Aqib Talib from the Patriots, John Elway went all-in for what could be Peyton Manning’s final season and grabbed safety T.J. Ward and aging pass-rushing specialist DeMarcus Ware. All the signings by the two clubs are injury-risks (sans Browner, who is more of a suspension-risk), but with both teams just needing a little more to get them over the top, they’re risks worth taking.

With all the names floating around, this piece could probably cover the whole section, but I’ll cut it short here with one final team making a strong move for relevance. The Buccaneers signed the best corner on the market (Revis aside) in Alterraun Verner for four years and $26 million. The signing came as a shock to many after seeing the arguably weaker Sam Shields re-sign with the Packers for $38 million over the same period. Not finished there, the Bucs added 6’7” defensive end Michael Johnson from Cincinnati and pivot Josh McCown from Chicago. McCown may not be the answer at QB, but he’s a capable signal-caller who will push second-year Mike Glennon to up his game.

Final note: Eric Decker joined the New York Jets. Decker’s about to find out the difference between playing against no. 3 corners while catching passes from one of the best in the business and taking on top-covermen while trying to get on the end of one of Geno Smith’s erratic throws. Good thing he got $15 million, guaranteed.