Assessing NFL free agency after Week 1

One week of NFL free agency is in the books, and two of the biggest shoes still haven't yet dropped. Brandon Marshall is still a Denver Bronco, and Terrell Owens is still a free agent. But beyond that, a great deal of change has occurred, for better or worse. No, championships aren't won and lost in March, but the moves made now will have a lot to do with how things play out when the games start to count. Let's take a look at how drastically the NFL landscape has changed in seven days.

Nice knowing you

Just more than a year ago, the Cardinals were within a hair of winning Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium. Today they seem about as far away from a title as they ever have.

Before this week, quarterback Kurt Warner retired, leaving Arizona in the hands of unproven Matt Leinart.

Then the flood gates opened.

Linebacker Karlos Dansby just cashed a fat check from the Dolphins, who made him their free-agent prize. Pro Bowl safety Antrel Rolle was released and signed by the Giants. And hard-nosed receiver Anquan Boldin, below right, was traded to the Ravens.

Dansby was the heart and soul of a defense that was uneven at best, and Boldin's departure could make receiver Larry Fitzgerald less effective because he'll theoretically draw more attention from defenses.

The Cardinals' long odds of getting back to a Super Bowl just got longer. It was fun while it lasted, fellas.

Swinging for the fences

Something has prompted the Lions to pull out all the stops to get back on a winning track. Perhaps it has a little something to do with the embarrassment that accompanies winning a combined two games the past two seasons.

There are many cautionary tales about the dangers of splurging in free agency, but no one can accuse the Lions of not trying to turn around a shipwreck of a franchise.

You have to love the aggressiveness shown by coach Jim Schwartz, who was in Nashville knocking on the door of defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch just after midnight March 5, when free agency began. That's the sign of a man who was not going to take "no" for an answer. He didn't have to. The former Titan accepted a $26 million contract.

Also acquired by Detroit was Nate Burleson, the first receiver taken off the market. The Lions also executed a trade with Cleveland for defensive tackle Corey Williams, who was miscast as an end in the Browns' 3-4 system but should be a legitimate factor in the Lions' 4-3 configuration.

Having the second overall pick in the draft will give the Lions yet another building block.

Been a long time coming

Can you even remember the first time you heard of the wish of Anquan Boldin, above left, to be traded by the Cardinals? You probably can't reach that far back in your memory.

Fair or not, true or false, the perception that the receiver had long been unhappy in Arizona was hard to dispute, though he often tried to pretend all was well. His persistent push for a second new contract left the organization sour, and he was finally dealt to Baltimore last week.

In the end, things worked out pretty well for Boldin. He gets that new contract, signing a four-year, $28 million deal that includes $10 million in guarantees. He also becomes a No. 1 receiver, something he never would have been in Arizona as long as Fitzgerald has a pulse.

But this is also a pivotal move for the Ravens, whose offense has lacked the explosiveness and playmaking ability Boldin provides. This lone acquisition should make young quarterback Joe Flacco much more effective and give Baltimore more offensive balance. The Ravens had the fifth-best rushing attack in 2009 but ranked 18th in passing yardage.

Frozen assets

Maybe, just maybe, it hasn't been the Glazer family holding on to the Bucs' purse strings so tightly in recent years.

New Redskins general manager Bruce Allen, right, formerly of the Bucs, is tightening the belt in Washington in a manner unfamiliar to longtime fans. Isn't owner Daniel Snyder the guy who has never seen a contract demand he wouldn't meet? Whether it's Allen's call or Snyder's, the Redskins haven't been a major player during the past week, unless you consider defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu and offensive lineman Artis Hicks major signings. This is more notable considering there is no salary cap next season because of the status of the collective bargaining agreement, meaning there's nothing to keep deep-pocketed guys such as Snyder in check.

The Cowboys haven't made so much as a peep, either, despite having big-spending owner Jerry Jones at the controls. Then again, the man did just spend $1 billion on a stadium.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Spending spree

Last season the Bears took a huge gamble in trading valuable draft picks and quarterback Kyle Orton for quarterback Jay Cutler. All that got them was a 7-9 season.

So, naturally, rather than pull back this offseason, the Bears have doubled down. On the first day of free agency, they broke the bank for Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers, signing him to an eye-popping contract that could potentially surpass $90 million. A reported $42 million of it is guaranteed.

Let that marinate for a moment …

What this means is that this deal must absolutely work. The Bears need to win the NFC North in 2010 and win some more if they are going to be seen as getting a return on that kind of insane investment. The Bears also brought Vikings running back Chester Taylor aboard, hoping to stimulate a rushing offense that ranked 29th in the league in 2009.

The jobs of coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo are riding on both wagers paying off.

Assessing NFL free agency after Week 1 03/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 11, 2010 9:35pm]

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