Winners & Losers in Free Agency

24 03 2012

As free agency continues on its downward spiral towards mediocrity in player hype and team needs, the NFL draft will start to make major headlines. April is essentially a month for NFL teams to fact-check and interview the players they are interested in. A popular motto in the NFL is “Build through the draft, supplement through free agency.” That basic ideology has created a critical importance for the success in the NFL draft. Months of viewing tape, speaking to players and coaches culminates in a three day event where careers are defined and destroyed through that draftees success or failure.

Before we dive fully into the draft coverage, here is a list of teams who I feel like addressed key needs in free agency and teams who suffered a mass exodus of key players:

Buffalo Bills:

Before the injury of star defensive tackle, Kyle Williams, the Bills had a major weakness on their front four of their defensive line. They addressed that need by pairing Williams with Marcel Dareus in the 2011 draft, but still lacked a pass-rush. Lacking a pass-rush in the AFC East where you face Tom Brady twice a year is not only a big problem, it’s an insurmountable issue if the Bills want to contend for the division title. The Bills realized this weakness and acquired two key defensive ends in Mario Williams and Mark Anderson.

Dubbed ‘Super Mario’ while playing for the Houston Texans, the former number one overall selection in the 2006 draft was a cap and scheme causality for the Texans. The Bills swooped in and paid Williams big money (5 years, 96 million) to bolster their pass rush. Still unhappy with the opposite rushing end, they added Mark Anderson to provide a solid compliment to Williams.

In two shrewd acquisitions, the Bills made their defensive line a strength instead of a weakness. The combination of Anderson, ‘Super Mario’, Dareus and Williams makes a formidable group that Brady, Mark Sanchez (Jets) and whoever Ross wants to quarterback in Miami, very nervous.

Kansas City Chiefs:

The Chiefs dealt with more injuries this past season than almost any team in the league. From Eric Berry to Tony Moeaki, the Chiefs couldn’t stay healthy and it led to a massive collapse from their 2010 playoff season. Going into the draft, the Chiefs had major needs at running back, offensive tackle, corner and depth behind Moeaki. They addressed everyone of these needs by acquiring Stanford Routt (CB), Peyton Hillis (RB), Eric Winston (RT) and Kevin Boss (TE).

Each of one these players adds a valuable asset to the team and allows the Chiefs to select the best player available in the draft, instead of reaching for a player who fills a need. The Chiefs still need interior offensive and defensive line help, but the draft is absolutely loaded with talent and depth at those positions, so the Chiefs can bid their time and find valuable assets throughout the draft. Overall, just a great free agency for the Chiefs because they addressed their major weaknesses before the draft.

Unfortunately, as is in life, if there are winners there must be losers. Here is a couple of my losers from free agency:

Houston Texans:

The Texans rose from mediocrity to ascend to their first division title and a divisional playoff berth. It was the first time the expansion franchise made a playoff berth and the Texans were a popular Superbowl pick for next year. However, this was before the start of free agency and the lose of key contributors on the offensive and defensive line. Now before I am critical of the Texans, I want to say that I admire their ability to draft and reload on a nearly consistent basis. But, and there is always a but in free agency, the team lost two key contributors in the offensive line with the cutting of Eric Winston and the departure of guard Mike Brisiel.

The Texans major strength last year, besides the emergence of a young, stout defense, was their offensive line providing running lanes for Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Brisiel is replaceable, especially since they were able to retain the best center in the league last year in Chris Meyers, but Winston is one of the top right tackles in the league and is still in his prime. Finding a replacement for him will be difficult when the team has other needs to address in the draft.

The losses of DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams are overblown because both players don’t have a natural fit in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense, but Ryans was a proven leader on the field and will create a leadership gap in the locker room.

I fully expect the Texans to win the division next year and compete for a Superbowl berth in the AFC, but the biggest strength of the team is now a question mark and that’s why I consider them one of my losers.

Arizona Cardinals:

The Cardinals made headlines across the league when they were a potential landing spot for Peyton Manning. Pairing Manning with an elite wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald had snowbirds across the state drooling on their BMW’s. But Manning chose the Denver Broncos and the once imaginative minds of the Cardinal nation was reduced to enduring through Kevin Kolb part II in 2012.

Kolb is a small sting in the arm, the real gut-buster is the Cardinals have to watch Kolb try to scramble while Adam Synder and Levi Brown block for him. Levi Brown is one of the most inconsistent tackles in the league, and placing a highly inconsistent Adam Synder next to him just seems like Cardinals front office wants Kolb to be hit so hard and so often, that he rescinds his contract and moves to one of the luxurious retirement communities in the area.

I am still adjusting my mock draft because of the recent signings, but I should have it up this week. April arrives next Sunday, so be ready for four weeks of madness and rumors galore for all 32 NFL teams.

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