The free agency period in the NFL began on Tuesday, leading to a lot of quick and big deals. I'll get to the more famous players later (I'm still waiting for clarity on the Jake Long situation) . In the meantime, lots of smaller scale free agents have been signing that will make impacts on their respective team. ESPN won't make a big deal about these players, but they will be super important in a playoff run.
Cliff Avril, DE Seattle Seahawks (2 Years/$15 million)- I said it on the facebook page on Wednesday night, Avril might be the most important contract in this whole free agency period. The reason why the Seahawks lost to the Falcons in the Divisional Playoffs is because they lost Chris Clemons to a season-ending ACL injury the week prior against the Redskins. Clemons had been a key pass rusher and run stopper for the Seahawks and his absence forced Bruce Irvin to play too many snaps. Signing a great rush end like Avril allows Irvin to play only on passing downs and makes the already scary Seahawks defensive line even scarier. Not to mention, when Clemons comes back, he, Avril, Irvin, and Red Bryant gives the team a ridiculous rotation of defensive linemen (Irvin will play standing up at OLB as well). The only issue here is that the vaunted Detroit Lions defensive line is falling apart.
Michael Bennett, DE/DT Seattle Seahawks (1 Year/$5 million)- This is the team that initially signed Bennett out of college, and they're realizing their mistake in releasing him. Last year with the Buccaneers, Bennett recorded nine sacks last year, and is capable of playing on the interior of the line. Bennett is also an excellent run defender. A lot of people say that good teams are built up front, and it looks like the Seahawks are taking that philosophy to heart. In addition to Clemons, Avril, Irvin, and Bryant, Bennett gives the Seahawks an unfair amount of solid to great pass rushers.
Drew Stanton, QB Arizona Cardinals (3 Years/$8.2 million)- While backing up Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill in Detroit, Stanton showed that he's at least a very worthy backup QB. People might not remember this, but he showed some really good spurts. That's why I was so happy when the Jets signed him last year to play behind Mark Sanchez and even challenge him for the starting job. Of course, my stupid team had to trade for Tim Tebow, so they kicked Stanton to the curb and traded him to the Colts. He didn't get an opportunity there because of Andrew Luck. Now, he's going to get a real chance to play in Arizona. It's quite possible that Stanton will be the best quarterback on a team that has a very good defense, but is lacking at almost every offensive position.
Sean Smith, CB Kansas City Chiefs (3 Years/$18 million)- Smith has seemingly been poised for a breakout year for a while now. The Chiefs have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, and Smith gives them another pretty good corner to play opposite of Brandon Flowers. Smith was the most targeted cornerback in the league last year and came out with pretty good results. He has struggled with consistency at times but he's worth a shot.
Mike DeVito, DE/DT Kansas City Chiefs (3 Years/$12.6 million)- With the Jets, DeVito had always been a consistent run stopper and a helpful addition to any defensive line. He will never be mistaken for a serviceable pass rusher, but he's a good NFL player.
Connor Barwin, OLB/DE Philadelphia Eagles (6 Years/$36 million)- During his time in Houston, Barwin had shown a knack for getting after the quarterback. The only problem is that he seemingly regressed last year. He recorded 11.5 sacks in 2011 and only 3 in 2012. The only explanation that I can come up with is that his skills are highlighted when he is rotation on and off the field more often. With the departures of Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans and the injury to Brian Cushing, Barwin was forced into playing 94% of the team's snaps, more than any other player in the front seven. I guess whether or not he'll return to his old form, and if he does, this contract is a steal.
James Casey, FB/TE Philadelphia Eagles (3 Years/$14.5 million)- Casey is extremely versatile, playing both tight end and fullback throughout his career. He's a really good blocker and a capable pass catcher out of a backfield or at tight end. The combination of Casey and tight end Celek gives the Eagles two big pass catchers who double as blockers.
Glenn Dorsey, DE/DT San Francisco 49ers (2 Years/$6 million)- Dorsey has never lived up to the hype of a number five draft pick, but he's a pretty good run stuffing lineman who can play both the end and inside. He can't rush the passer, so the Niners probably will stick him in the tackle slot. Playing alongside Justin Smith will open some hole for him. Jim Harbaugh showed with Alex Smith that he can conjure up good play out of seemingly failed high draft picks (that's you Alex Smith).
Brandon Myers, TE New York Giants (1 Year/Unkown)- Myers is a notoriously awful run blocker, but come into his own last year as a pass catcher. His four touchdowns aren't terribly impressive, but he got 79 receptions and carried my fantasy team for quite a while. Now he's going to the Giants, a team well known for utilizing their tight ends very well. He'll replace Martellus Bennett in this offense.
Willie Colon, G/T New York Jets (1 Year/$1.2 million)- This contract was a steal for my team, because Colon was one of the best tackles in the league as recently in 2009. He missed the entire 2010 season and played one game in 2011. Last season, the Steelers made him move from right tackle to left guard, and he struggled a little bit, but still showed off his skills. Whether the Jets use him at guard or tackle, it's a low risk move. If he is able to stay healthy, it will pay off for the pathetic Jets offensive line that is about to lose starting guard Brandon Moore.
Andy Levitre, G Tennessee Titans (6 Years/$46.8 million)- It looks like the Titans overpaid for Levitre, but he's still a really good player. He's making star player money (for his position), but he's simply "very good." Levitre isn't the biggest lineman around, but his technique has been praised throughout his career. He's super consistent and has a pretty high football IQ. He's also very young, so by the end of the deal, he could be worth this kind of money.
Delanie Walker, TE Tennessee Titans (4 Years/$17.5 million)- Walker is a versatile player who has played fullback and wide receiver as well as his natural position, tight end. Much like James Casey, Walker is an excellent blocker and an asset inthe passing game. Along with Levitre, Walker helps the Titans shore up the offensive line, opening up more holes for Chris Johnson, so he can stop complaining. (I usually don't have a problem with players complaining when they have a point. The only problem is that Chris Johnson simply was not very good at the beginning of last year, and he only had himself to blame. He can't create anything unless there are wide open holes for him to run through).
Jared Cook, TE St. Louis Rams (5 Years/$35 million)- In Tennessee, Walker is replacing their former tight end, Cook. Jared Cook has always shown immense potential and the physical tools to be a star, but has been wildly inconsistent. Jeff Fisher is the coach that orginially drafted him, so apaprently he still has faith. If Cook is able to put it all together, keep his name in mind.
Dustin Keller, TE Miami Dolphins (1 Year/$4.25 million)- When healthy, Keller was always a reliable option for the Jets, often being described as Mark Sanchez's "safety blanket." Always a very good pass catcher, he caught 65 passes in 2011 before his 2012 campaign was ravaged by injuries. In fact, prior to Week 2 of last season, Keller had played in every single game during his tenure with the Jets, 65 games. I'm going to miss this guy. More importantly, I'm going to need a new tight end to throw to in Madden when he blows by whatever linebacker was assigned to him.
Glover Quin, FS/CB Detroit Lions (5 Years/$25 million)- While Quin will mostly be remembered for this accident (R.I.P. Mike Thomas's career by the way. Also, I can't believe that the Jets just signed David Garrard. Six wins will be a miracle this year), he's actually a very good run stopper and has played as a slot cornerback. He's not terribly good in pass coverage, but he'll definitely help the disgustingly bad Lions secondary.
Leon Washington, RB/KR/PR New England Patriots (1 Year/$1.5 million)- It's been an interesting offseason with the Patriots, full of clones. What do I mean by that? They replaced Wes Welker with Danny Amendola, who has the exact same skill set as Welker (differences being that he's younger and more injury prone). The Pats also lost Danny Woodhead to the Chargers, and signed Leon Washington. Washington is also a short, speedy former Jet. He's better because he's a more dangerous return man, a facet of the game that the Patriots have struggled with recently. They now have one of the best kickoff return specialists in the league, along with a quick running back as an offensive weapon. And boy does Bill Belichick love his running backs...