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2014 NFL Free Agency: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
By Matt Horkman

The Good

After spending recklessly last year, Miami has taken a more calculated approach to free agency in 2014. First, they locked up cornerback Brent Grimes to a four-year, $32 million contract. A legitimate No. 1 cornerback, Grimes (30) bounced back strongly with the Dolphins after suffering a torn ACL with Atlanta in 2012. Signing him to a one-year contract was the exception to former general manager Jeff Ireland’s rather underwhelming 2013 off-season. The Dolphins also re-signed defensive lineman Randy Starks to a two-year deal. Guaranteeing $25 million to left tackle Branden Albert is their big splash of the off-season, though. The deal is worth $46 million over five years. Albert isn’t an elite left tackle, but he belongs to whatever you want to call the next group. It’s easy to forgive the Dolphins for overpaying him, as they allowed a league-high 58 sacks in 2013.

New England lost cornerback Aqib Talib to Denver, causing many commentators to wonder whether the Patriots had an off-season plan. The Patriots always have a plan. On Wednesday night, New England agreed to a one-year deal with cornerback Darrelle Revis. The deal will pay him $12 million. Last season, Tampa Bay miscast Revis in their defense, by asking him to play zone-coverage. He’ll return to his roots in New England, as the Patriots will ask him to stalk their opponent’s best receiver in man-coverage. This is an excellent fit schematically for the Patriots, but also a wise decision by Revis, who’ll now hit free agency next off-season.

One of Wednesday’s under the radar signings was San Francisco coming to terms with safety Antoine Bethea on a four-year, $26 million contract. Bethea is both durable (96 consecutive starts) and productive. He’ll join Eric Reid on the backend of San Francisco’s secondary, giving the 49ers one of the best safety tandems in football. The 49ers also re-signed receiver Anquan Boldin prior to the start of free agency. 

The Bad

This time of the year, it’s a yearly tradition for Packers fans to watch their team avoid free agency like a plague. The Packers prefer to draft, develop, and re-sign their own talent. This puts a bigger responsibility on churning out successful draft classes on a yearly basis, which the Packers did from 2005-2009. However, other than receiver Randall Cobb, Green Bay doesn’t have a lot to show for their 2010 and 2011 draft classes. When cracks begin to form within your system, you must use other resources to fix them. The Packers haven’t done that, yet. Nobody expects them to go on a spending spree, but there’s a big gap between spending like a drunken sailor and boycotting free agency because of principal. The Packers have done the latter over the last several off-seasons. With nearly $30 million in salary cap space, this was a good year to find the middle ground.

I don’t blame Denver general manager John Elway for going all-in, while he has Peyton Manning under center. In fact, I commend him for it. I’m just not sure he signed the right players. Two of their three major signings could really backfire on themAqib Talib. There’s a bust factor with Talib and defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who’s coming off his worst statistical season. Ware is a 3-4 outside linebacker. By signing with Denver, who runs a 4-3 defense, he’ll lineup with his hand in the dirt. Simply put, he didn’t do this well last season in Dallas, so why expect him to emerge in Denver. Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen would’ve been a safer (and better) solution to their pass-rushing woes. Elway also seems to have a short memory regarding Talib. Before arriving in New England via a midseason trade, Talib was a major disappointment in Tampa Bay. There were also off-field concerns. He cleaned both off and on-field concerns up in New England. Nonetheless, I doubt Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio can have as much success with Talib as New England head coach Bill Belichick did. Coaching defensive backs is Belichick’s specialty, so the Talib you saw in New England may not be the same player the Broncos get.

The Ugly

In terms of guaranteed money, the Browns just paid $27.5 million to linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Donte Whitner. Their combined age is 60.

At 26 years of age, Minnesota defensive end Everson Griffen is still developing, so the Vikings could very well have the last laugh by re-signing him. With that said, they just gave $20 million guaranteed to a player with 13.5 sacks in two seasons. Griffen is a good complimentary pass rusher, but the Vikings paid him as if he’s one of the best rushers in football.

While I agree with Tampa Bay’s decision to sign Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner, the rest of their signings are less inspiring. Verner could very well be the best move of this off-season, but the Buccaneers cut Revis a year after trading their 2013 first-round pick for him. Granted, this isn’t the fault of the current regime, but it’s still a tough pill to swallow. In addition, Tampa made defensive end Michael Johnson the fourth highest paid player at his position. He had 3.5 sacks last season. Though he was good in filling in for Jay Cutler last year, it’s hard to get excited about Josh McCown -- who turns 35 before training camp opens -- starting under center.

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