Following the money in free agency
Bottom line is many teams were still willing to spend
There is nothing free about NFL free agency. It is a very costly endeavor.
The spending this offseason is in contrast to the owners' repeated cries of poverty stemming from the current collective bargaining agreement, which will expire after the 2010 season because owners executed their opt-out clause last May, claiming among other things that player costs were too high.
A few teams have taken a penurious approach to free agency, but most have jumped in checkbook-first with the salary cap up to $127 million. With the first two weeks of free agency over, here is a look at each of the 32 teams, going from A to Crazy, as in the seven-year, $100 million deal the Redskins gave defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.
Arizona Cardinals - Their Super Bowl appearance gave them the cachet to be restrained in spending. The biggest move was re-signing quarterback Kurt Warner to a two-year, $23 million deal. They also continued their importation of Pittsburgh players, signing cornerback Bryant McFadden to a two-year, $10 million deal.
Atlanta Falcons - General manager Thomas Dimitroff is from the Patriots' school, so after shelling out big bucks last year for running back Michael Turner, Atlanta has gone thrifty, picking up veteran linebacker Mike Peterson (two years, $6.5 million) and center Brett Romberg. The biggest move was re-signing defensive end Chauncey Davis (four years, $14 million).
Baltimore Ravens - They were bound to lose either Bart Scott or Ray Lewis. The Ravens were able to retain Lewis. They picked up cornerback Domonique Foxworth via a four-year, $28 million deal and signed six-time Pro Bowl center and Harvard grad Matt Birk.
Buffalo Bills - Two letters say it all: T.O. In what is either an opportunistic pickup or a desperate attempt for relevance, the Bills signed discarded Dallas wide receiver Terrell Owens to a one-year, $6.5 million deal. Buffalo also inked Jacksonville free agent bust corner Drayton Florence and former Harvard QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Carolina Panthers - Franchised defensive end Julius Peppers has made it clear he wants out. Peppers's fate and $16.7 million franchise tag salary have left Carolina in limbo. Before free agency, the Panthers agreed to a six-year deal with offensive tackle Jordan Gross.
Chicago Bears - The biggest move so far is re-signing running back Kevin Jones. Part of the NFL's old guard, Chicago appears to be toeing the financial line.
Cincinnati Bengals - They replaced T.J. Houshmandzadeh with another difficult-to-spell receiver - Laveranues Coles, who signed a four-year, $28 million deal. The Bengals were very happy to retain running back Cedric Benson, who finished last season with back-to-back 100-yard efforts.
Cleveland Browns - Eric Mangini has brought in a lot of former Jets, signing linebackers Eric Barton and David Bowens, defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, and cornerback Hank Poteat. "Mangenius" traded problem-child tight end Kellen Winslow to Tampa Bay and replaced him with Robert Royal. The Browns also brought back safety Mike Adams, who drew interest from Green Bay and the Patriots.
Dallas Cowboys - The Cowboys cut the cord with T.O., which many consider addition by subtraction, but they also made some actual additions. Dallas signed former Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking to a three-year, $6 million deal and defensive end/nose tackle Igor Olshansky for four years, $18 million.
Denver Broncos - Josh McDaniels has been very busy. The Broncos have signed 12 free agents, including three ex-Patriots - snapper Lonie Paxton, wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, and LaMont Jordan, one of three running backs McDaniels signed. The former Patriots offensive coordinator obviously didn't think much of the Denver defensive backfield since he has signed safeties Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill and cornerback Andre' Goodman.
Detroit Lions - It's not easy drawing free agents to a team that went 0-16, but the Lions have brought in defensive tackle Grady Jackson, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, wide receiver Bryant Johnson, and running back Maurice Morris.
Green Bay Packers - Their only signing thus far is safety Anthony Smith, he of the dubious "guaranteed" victory over the Patriots by Pittsburgh in 2007.
Houston Texans - Everything is bigger in Texas, including contracts for marginal players. Desperate to find a defensive end to line up opposite Mario Williams, Houston gave Antonio Smith, who has 14 1/2 career sacks, five years and $35 million. Houston also brought in former UConn QB Dan Orlovsky to be a backup and re-signed one-time Patriots safety Eugene Wilson to a three-year, $11.3 million deal.
Indianapolis Colts - The Colts have been quiet. They re-signed cornerback Kelvin Hayden to a five-year, $43 million deal Feb. 18 and locked up venerable center Jeff Saturday to a three-year, $13.3 million deal just hours before free agency began Feb. 27. They also said so long to Marvin Harrison.
Jacksonville Jaguars - After getting burned last year with free agent busts Florence and Jerry Porter, both of whom were cut after one season, the Jaguars have been cautious with their cash. They signed a pair of Eagles, safety Sean Considine and three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tra Thomas.
Kansas City Chiefs - Scott Pioli's biggest move was pulling off the trade with the Patriots for Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel. Via free agency, Pioli has imported some fringe footballers with Patriots ties to spice up the roster: wideout C.J. Jones and linebackers Darrell Robertson and Corey Mays.
Miami Dolphins - The defending AFC East champions have shelled out a lot of money. They re-signed offensive tackle Vernon Carey (six years, $42 million), safety Yeremiah Bell (four years, $20 million), and linebacker Channing Crowder (three-year deal) prior to free agency. They signed ex-Raiders safety Gibril Wilson to a five-year, $27.5 million deal and got the rugged center they needed in Jake Grove, who got $30 million over five years.
Minnesota Vikings - The Vikings lost out to Seattle in the Houshmandzadeh sweepstakes. However, they did trade for QB Sage Rosenfels and retain special teams ace/linebacker Heath Farwell, who drew interest from the Patriots.
New England Patriots - They have gone their typical low-cost, high-reward route, picking up running back Fred Taylor (two years, $5 million) and tight end Chris Baker (two years, $5.3 million, with an option bonus due in 2011 that could make it a five-year, $14.4 million deal) and shoring up the secondary with the additions of cornerbacks Shawn Springs (three years, $10.5 million, with incentives that could push it to $13 million) and Leigh Bodden, who at one year and $2.25 million is a potential Pro Bowl bargain. They also retained safety James Sanders with a modest three-year, $9 million deal.
New Orleans Saints - They have to be considered one of the early winners in free agency. Not only did they keep linebacker Jonathan Vilma and wide receiver Devery Henderson, they addressed one of their biggest needs by signing cornerback Jabari Greer, who got a four-year, $23 million deal. The Saints also added one of the NFL's best locker room presences in former Patriots fullback Heath Evans.
New York Giants - The Giants got defensive after they locked up running back Brandon Jacobs, spending their cash on a cadre of defenders: linebacker Michael Boley (five years, $25 million), defensive tackle Rocky Bernard (four years, $16 million), and defensive end/tackle Chris Canty, who got a six-year, $42 million payout.
New York Jets - Coach Rex Ryan wasted no time spending money on his former charges. The ex-Ravens defensive coordinator signed linebacker Bart Scott to a six-year, $48 million deal and landed safety Jim Leonhard. The Jets also stripped the Patriots of special teams ace Larry Izzo.
Oakland Raiders - It's a wonder the Raiders have any money left after they gave all-world cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha a three-year, $45.3 million deal before free agency and then made Shane Lechler the highest-paid punter in NFL history. The Raiders were close to reeling in left tackle Khalif Barnes, but in typical Raider fashion, the deal fell apart.
Philadelphia Eagles - They lost out to the Patriots for Springs but signed solid young safety Sean Jones to a one-year, $3 million contract to help deal with the departure of Dawkins.
Pittsburgh Steelers - The Super Bowl champions seem content to polish their Lombardi Trophy while everybody else tries to catch them. Pittsburgh re-signed offensive tackle Willie Colon to a one-year deal and retained tackle Max Starks, who signed his $8.45 million franchise tender.
St. Louis Rams - They made center Jason Brown an offer he couldn't refuse (five years, $37.5 million) and re-signed cornerback Ron Bartell to a four-year deal worth $25 million-$28 million. New coach Steve Spagnuolo also gave a gift to one of his former Giants players, presenting safety James Butler with a four-year deal that could be worth as much as $17 million.
San Diego Chargers - The biggest move was avoiding an ugly release of running back LaDainian Tomlinson, restructuring L.T.'s contract to keep him in SoCal. Kevin Burnett (two years, $5.5 million) is a nice addition at inside linebacker.
San Francisco 49ers - The good news is that coach Mike Singletary has kept his pants on during free agency. The bad news is the 49ers haven't signed anybody who makes them considerably better.
Seattle Seahawks - Seattle pulled out all the stops to get former Boston College QB Matt Hasselbeck help at receiver. The result was that Houshmandzadeh signed for five years and $40 million. That will buy a lot of lattes.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Bucs spent some bucks on running back Derrick Ward, handing him a four-year, $17 million deal. Still, this offseason will be judged by what Winslow, who cost a second-round pick this year and a fifth-rounder in 2010, does for the Pewter Pirates.
Tennessee Titans - Owners of the NFL's best record in 2008 (13-3), the Titans suffered a major loss with Haynesworth. However, they were able to re-sign quarterback Kerry Collins to a two-year deal and upgrade their receiving corps with the addition of Steelers free agent Nate Washington, who received a six-year, $27 million contract.
Washington Redskins - Talk about economic stimulus packages coming from Washington: Owner Daniel Snyder made free agency's biggest splash by giving Haynesworth a landmark $100 million deal, which, as has been pointed out by Peter King, is in actuality a four-year, $48 million deal because of its structure. The Redskins also re-upped corner DeAngelo Hall at the cost of six years, $54 million, with $22.5 million in guarantees. Then the Skins backed up the Brinks truck to bring guard Derrick Dockery, who had been released by Buffalo, back to Washington with a five-year, $26.5 million deal.
Election day for NFLPAThe NFL Players Association is holding its annual meeting in Hawaii this weekend, and the most important item on the docket is electing an executive director to take the place of Gene Upshaw, who died last August from pancreatic cancer.
There are four finalists - former players Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong, former NFL lawyer David Cornwell, and Washington attorney DeMaurice Smith - with a vote expected to be taken today by the 32-member board of player representatives.
The process started in September, when the union enlisted the help of executive search firm Reilly Partners of Chicago to select 25 candidates. After Reilly narrowed the field to 14, the union's six-member search committee selected three finalists.
Cornwell earned his way back on the ballot after three player representatives endorsed him.
The process has been contentious and rife with politics and accusations, with four members of Congress asking the Department of Labor to monitor the search and allegations that Vincent, a former NFLPA president who fell out of favor with Upshaw, improperly used confidential NFLPA information on player agents to help a business partner.
Vincent denies the charge.
Whoever is elected will have the tough task of bringing together a fractured union and preparing for a possible lockout in 2011.
Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and team and league sources was used in this report.