With free agency in full flow and escalating each day, several teams are focused and are extremely aggressive taking charge of their future by adding key free agents. There are aggressive teams like the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks, who have been signing several unrestricted free agents, and other teams have been re-signing their own players back for big money.
I followed the madness via Twitter, incoming emails, updates from agents and other sources. All 32 teams are facing the same time frame, with the exception of those teams whose training camps start today. Despite a short window to make moves, procuring players prior to training camps are the jobs of NFL personnel departments and general managers. Finding, recruiting and signing players that fit team philosophy, scheme and organization is critical to the future success of building a rock-solid championship foundation.
Let’s take a look at the NFC West and see which teams are the major players early:
San Francisco 49ers
Their first big move right out the gate was signing quarterback Alex Smith (one year, $5 million). The one-year contract tells me that coach Jim Harbaugh has one year to prove to ownership he can get Smith back to the level of play when Norv Turner was roaming the sideline as his tutor, or he will become the transition quarterback for talented rookie Nevada, Colin Kaepernick.
Re-signing Ray McDonald was huge. He is a defensive lineman with ascending skill set and consistent production. (five years, $20 million).
St. Louis Rams
With the departure of safety Oshiomogho Atogwe to the Washington Redskins, the Rams’ depth was stacked with aging veterans like James Butler, a second-year player, two rookies and an overachiever that is their best player deep in Craig Dahl.
The Rams added a safety by signing Quintin Mikell (four years, $28 million) from the Philadelphia Eagles. A nine-year veteran with good production, he is competitive, tough with very good playtime, meaning low injury history. Age is on the edge for free agents in my book.
The Rams also signed wide receiver Andrew Hawkins earlier in the offseason, a free agent from the Canadian Football League (Montreal) terms unknown. The key signing that all Rams fans are anticipating is that of wide receiver Mark Clayton.
With the Seahawks rejecting the bid from Matt Hasselbeck and his agent for a long-term deal, coach Pete Carroll said goodbye to the aged veteran, and signed Tarvaris Jackson (two years, $8 million). The two quarterbacks don’t look very promising in Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst. However, don’t get it twisted; Jackson’s ability to spin the ball short, intermediate and deep will surprise a lot of folks, not to mention his athletic ability to become a running threat down field.
There is a reason that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell (former Vikings coach) pushed for the two to reunite. Another former Viking jumped ship to join his former teammate and coach in wide receiver Sidney Rice (five years, $41 million; $18.5 million guaranteed). The deal also includes $3 million in escalators tied to Pro-Bowl berths. This receiver has length, size, wing span and the ability to track balls over the shoulder with very good awareness, soft hands and the ability to catch outside his frame after creating separation from the defender. NFC West corners can’t go to sleep on this receiver. Carroll will get a quarterback ready to play like he did vs. the Rams in the final game of the season which won the NFC West for them.
Former Raiders head coach Tom Cable is now the offensive line coach with Seattle and one of his former offensive guards, Robert Gallery, (three-year deal) followed him to the Pacific Northwest to join the Seahawks.
This college free-agent signing is worth mentioning: Wide receiver Ricardo Lockette played his ball at Fort Valley State. He possesses very good size, speed and a high ceiling with good upside. Will continue to develop with NFL tutelage.
With the highly expected marriage between the Arizona organization and Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback Kevin Kolb, all sources and fingers point to the deal getting done. Arizona’s history on trades and signing draft picks generally takes some time, with negotiations moving at a slug’s pace. The rumors have Kolb traded to the Cardinals for starting corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a draft pick.
I would love to see Kolb in the NFC West for several reasons: It adds another quality player and strengthens another team in the division. But let me throw another situation into the mix. I was the college director for the Carolina Panthers, which competed against Michael Vick in Atlanta. His style of play made his playtime spotty due to injuries, dings, pulls and some serious injuries in collarbones and a broken leg.
The question is who will fill Vick’s shoes if he goes down, and Kolb is playing in Arizona and competing for the NFC West crown? In the game today you need two good quarterbacks on your team, and this deal leaves coach Andy Reid and the Eagles’ organization in a very tight situation. With no veteran quarterback to back up Vick, do you really want to honor a player’s request to be traded or protect your club with some security when trying to win a Super Bowl?
With training camps having opened Wednesday and the rest of the week, the NFC is set to prove to the NFL that last year was a epiphany, and not only are there quality players in the division, but good football teams as well, because every year brings something new.