Well, one week of free agency is over, so where do teams go from here? As one general manager said to me on Sunday, "If you wanted to be a player in the first round of free agency, you had to be aggressive and you had to be willing to spend money." No truer words were ever spoken.
The market wasn't really set by the opening deals, but rather the market was opened and closed for the real big-money seekers. Guys like Derrick Mason, Jonas Jennings, LaMont Jordan, Kareem McKenzie, Anthony Henry and Gary Baxter hit the big payday they always dreamed was waiting for them in free agency. At the end of the first week, there were 30 unrestricted free agent deals of significance, 10 important re-signings and five trades involving seven players and five draft picks.
That's a lot of action, money and changes for seven working days.
Before I get into the updated free-agency hot list, it is time to look at where teams can go from here. Some clubs, like the Packers (lost both starting guards), Jets (lost a starting nose tackle, offensive right tackle and a running back) and Ravens (lost a center and starting cornerback) have to get on the offensive and replace talent if they can. The Jets already plugged the hole left at running back by Jordan's departure by signing Derrick Blaylock, while the Ravens have an offer sheet out to Denver restricted free agent corner Kelly Herndon.
The Packers, meanwhile, sit in a tough salary-cap situation hoping that the attack on their personnel doesn't continue.
With Kurt Warner grabbing the best opportunity in free agency for a quarterback, signing with the Cardinals, the other available signal-callers will fall quickly into place. The run on linebackers (five signed in the first week) pointed to the weakness at that position in the draft and may continue for another week. The best of the rest in the free-agent market, like wide receiver Plaxico Burress, defensive end Kevin Carter, safety Kenoy Kennedy, cornerback Samari Rolle, linebacker Ed Hartwell, linebacker Kendrell Bell and cornerback Ty Law, may be discovering that deals with $10 million in guaranteed money may just not be there.
As one of the already aggressive GMs told me, "The price will still be high for some players, but it is starting to come down a bit and it will continue to fall as we run out of teams that still need a marquee player at a certain position." I also like to point out that the world champion New England Patriots have made one low-level trade (a third-round pick for corner Duane Starks ) while losing guard Joe Andruzzi and wide receiver David Patten, yet they still refuse to react to the big-money spending that is so prevalent in the league right now. Discipline, not cash, may be the key to building up the personnel for a franchise.
Last week I wrote that about 20 players from my first hot list would sign new contracts in the first week. Well, 22 of them reached for a pen and signed off on a big payday. Eight players I had ranked No. 1 at their respective position are now off the market, so it is time to upgrade the list.
Keep in mind that many teams are now factoring in the restricted free-agent players as well as the unrestricted. It is worth giving lower-round compensation for a younger talented player rather than pour money into an older guy or a player with some obvious flaws. The Jets have an offer sheet out to restricted free agent tight end Jeb Putzier, who I spoke with yesterday and said it is 50-50 that the Broncos match the offer. He added that Chad Pennington had recruited him for the Jets and that his Broncos teammates have been calling him to stay in Denver.
*Restricted free agent
By no means are these the only quality free agents still available, but they are the players most teams consider the best of the rest. In my daily discussions with front-office people, coaches and players, it wouldn't surprise me if at least 20 from this hot list sign new deals this week. There is still like quality talent available for teams looking for a backup quarterback, tight end and wide receiver, but the top tier of receivers, defensive ends and linebackers have been scooped up. The rest of the positions are starting to thin out considerably.