The main waves for the 2014 NFL free agency period are in the rearview mirror. So who are the latest dynamos and deadbeats?
John Elway showed the type of urgency a GM should when his team reached the Super Bowl but failed to get over the top. Instead of just trying to improve in a couple areas, he went out aggressively to overhaul his entire defense. He nabbed two Pro Bowl pieces for the secondary in Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward and a veteran pass rusher to assist Von Miller in DeMarcus Ware. Throw in the highway robbery of Emmanuel Sanders and this team might actually be a lot better than last year and the draft hasn’t even happened yet.
New England Patriots
It didn’t take long for the New England Patriots to realize that Denver was not going to rest on the laurels. Having lost quite convincingly in the AFC championship, the team knew they had to alter their typical course of careful free agent maneuvers to get better quickly. The cornerstones of their spending were two Pro Bowl corners in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner and an understated receiver for Tom Brady in Brandon LaFell. They didn’t go crazy like the Broncos did, but they are certainly much better on defense.
New Orleans Saints
They only made one significant move in 2014 NFL free agency but it was probably the biggest stunner of them all. Already boasting the 4th ranked defense from a year ago and a promising young safety in Kenny Vaccaro, the New Orleans Saints looked to go get a playmaker on the back end. Their signing of three-time Pro Bowler Jairus Byrd is a potential game changer that makes them instant favorites in the NFC South and perhaps more depending on how they do in the draft.
Phil Emery went into the 2014 off-season with one goal: fix the defense. He came out firing early and often for the Chicago Bears but didn’t overspend at the same time. Among his early additions were two younger, quality defensive ends in Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, an experienced, athletic safety in Ryan Mundy and loads of special teams ability with safeties M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray, linebacker Jordan Senn and wide receiver Domenik Hixon. That alone was a solid haul according to experts. Then it all came together when Emery fired the big shot, stunning the football world by landing five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Jared Allen. The defense hasn’t played yet in 2014, but most already believe it will be considerably better.
With a mix of subtlety and speed the Atlanta Falcons somehow accomplished several of their off-season objectives without anybody taking much notice. In the space of a day they beefed up their defensive front with defensive tackle Paul Soliai, defensive end Tyson Jackson and gave Matt Ryan some protection with quality guard Jon Asamoah. To top it all off they gave their special teams a tremendous boost with the signing of record-holding return man Devin Hester who should have some gas in the tank to give them game-breaking plays.
Kansas City Chiefs
There is no denying the team made some nice adjustments to the defense in 2014 NFL free agency but given the offense was typically their primary issue, to lose three good starters up front in Branden Albert, Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah is devastating. Never mind the fact that dynamic utility man Dexter McCluster is now a Titan. It is not the off-season Chiefs fans could hope for, especially since the team has no 2nd round pick this year.
Obviously as the defending champions the Seattle Seahawks deserve the benefit of the doubt but there’s no question they lost more than they gained in free agency this year. Among the losses include receiver Golden Tate, corners Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, right tackle Breno Giacomini, defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons and underrated defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. That is a lot of quality talent to lose for any team and will be up to Pete Carroll and John Schneider to replenish if they wish to stay on top.
One primary goal sat in front of the Carolina Panthers at the start of free agency. Improve at wide receiver. Not only did they fail in that endeavor, they lost their four best targets at the position from a year ago. Steve Smith was released and signed in Baltimore, Brandon LaFell went to New England, Ted Ginn sailed for Arizona while Domenik Hixon landed in Chicago. Thus far the only replacements they’ve been able to bring in are Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood. Safe to say they need a productive draft.
New York Jets
It’s really been a mixed bag for the New York Jets in 2014 NFL free agency. They did succeed in adding a quality weapon to their offense in Eric Decker as well as some competition for Geno Smith in Michael Vick but it’s not enough. Their secondary took a big hit with the departure of Antonio Cromartie and the failure to get any replacements despite multiple shots at names like Darrelle Revis and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie pretty much says they haven’t gotten significantly better from a year ago.
Losing Jairus Byrd was the real gut punch for the Buffalo Bills even though it was expected by many. What really hurts for this team is that they had plenty of cap space to spend but thanks to tough weather and lack of interest from free agents they weren’t able to greatly improve their roster. There were some underrated signings like corner and special teams ace Corey Graham and linebacker Brandon Spikes but they still have unanswered questions across the roster.