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Thoughts on Tuesday's Free Agency Signings

At 4pm Eastern United States Time on Tuesday, the new NFL season began. This meant that any player not under contract through 2013 was finally free to sign with whoever put the right offer on the table. There were plenty of deals done on the first day of free agency, and we’ll have a look at some of the more interesting transactions here.

Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins 2010 Headshots

In a contract year, Jeff Ireland is spending money like a man who needs to start winning games fast

General Manager Jeff Ireland is making his last stand in Miami. Entering a make or break contract year, Ireland seems to be in desperation mode as he spent the first day of free agency throwing money around like a 12-year-old with his Dad’s credit card.

Top free agent target Mike Wallace was the first to head down to South Beach, signing a 5 year, $65M contract that makes the speedy wide receiver the 3rd highest paid at his position behind Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Ireland also spent big money bringing in linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler from Baltimore and Oakland respectively, in place of veterans Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, who were let go. Ireland should know better than most the risks of spending big on free agent linebackers. Dansby was the highest paid inside linebacker in the league not too long ago, and now the GM has put him on the street.

The thing that struck me most about the Dolphins transactions this off-season is that they find themselves in serious need of some natural leaders. Last season, head coach Joe Philbin granted the creation of a leadership committee consisting of Jake Long, Reggie Bush and Karlos Dansby. Dansby is already gone, and Bush and Long are expected to sign with new teams within the next couple of days. Maybe Philbin is hoping that young quarterback Ryan Tannehill will step in to fill the void left by their departure.

Chicago Bears

Could the Bears early moves in free agency mean that Manti Te'o will be moving to Chicago in April?

Could the Bears early moves in free agency mean that Manti Te’o will be moving to Chicago in April?

The Bears took care of two big needs on Tuesday, signing Saints offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod and Giants tight end Martellus Bennett. This should help us figure out their draft strategy. Every mock draft I’ve seen has general manager Phil Emery taking either a tackle, a tight end or an inside linebacker in the first round of the draft. While you can never be totally sure of what a team is going to do come draft day, it seems to me like one of the three first round talents at inside linebacker  (Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, Georgia’s Alec Ogletree or LSU’s Kevin Minter) will be joining the Bears in April.

Tight Ends

It wasn’t quite as cool as Michael Jordan‘s famous “I’m back” press release, but Tony Gonzalez signalled his intent yesterday to return for his 17th season in the NFL:

That is a big relief for the Atlanta Falcons, who desperately needed to keep their ageless pass catcher in the offense.

Considering that alongside the news that Martellus Bennett has been signed by the Chicago Bears, and it seems the likelihood of a tight end being drafted in the first round has been reduced considerably.

Atlanta and Chicago were the two franchises most in need of a tight end before free agency. Now, top prospects Zach Ertz and Tyler Eifert may have to wait until the second day of the draft before they hear their names called by Commissioner Roger Goodell. However, with the mileage Gonzalez has put into his 17-year career, the Falcons may still think about grabbing their tight end of the future in round one. This will be worth keeping an eye on.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Of all 32 league franchises, Tampa Bay were the only team to not make a single transaction on the first day of free agency. Kind of makes me think that is because GM Mark Dominik has been on the phone all day with Jets GM John Idzik, trying to bring a certain cornerback to the Sunshine State. Reports are starting to come in around the web that Tampa Bay is a likely landing spot for Revis.

Buccaneers beat reporter Roy Cummings, however, doesn’t seem to agree with them:

Revis will be the biggest story of the off-season when he finally gets a deal done somewhere. Right now the Bucs look like as likely a team as any to bring in the league’s best pass defender. With Dashon Goldson meeting with the team today having been flown in for a visit, the Bucs could potentially have a 2013 defensive backs group featuring Revis, Goldson, Mark Barron and Ronde Barber (if he is re-signed). That would mark a significant upgrade from the 2012 Bucs, who had the misfortune of being the worst ranked passing defence in the league.

Buffalo Bills

In one of the least surprising moves of the day, the Bills released quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was due to earn a big roster bonus that Buddy Nix did not want to pay him, and after a few underwhelming seasons at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Harvard alum passer was shown the door.

This move by Nix solidifies the theory that the Bills want to take a quarterback in the upcoming draft. Who that quarterback will be, and whether he’ll be taken with the Bills’ 1st or 2nd round selection, is still anyone’s guess.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens defence is going to look a whole lot different in 2013. Safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard look like they’ve played their last games in Baltimore. Pollard tweeted his goodbye to Ravens fans early Wednesday morning. Even worse, the retirement of Ray Lewis and the departures of Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger in free agency have left the defending superbowl champions alarmingly thin at the linebacker position, and especially at inside linebacker with both starters (Lewis and Ellerbe) moving on.

The prevailing opinion is that Ozzie Newsome is going to address this need in the draft. He has an impressive track record of replenishing talent in the Ravens roster.

Here’s the thing though; Baltimore are picking 32nd overall. There are only three inside linebackers in this year’s class who are good enough to be difference makers straight away (the previously mentioned Minter, Te’o and Ogletree). It is not only possible but likely that all three of those players will have been drafted by the time the Commissioner puts Baltimore on the clock for the first time. Buffalo, Chicago, Pittsburgh and the New York Giants all have a need at the position, and all pick ahead of the superbowl champs.

Ozzie Newsome has replaced hall of famers Rod Woodson and Jonathan Ogden. Now he faces his hardest task to date: replacing Ray Lewis

Ozzie Newsome has replaced hall of famers Rod Woodson and Jonathan Ogden. Now he faces his hardest task to date: replacing Ray Lewis

Ozzie Newsome is one of the most respected and trusted general managers in the NFL, and he’s probably got this all figured out. But it seems to me that gambling on the draft would be the wrong way to go in this situation. They might be wise to look at newly released Karlos Dansby as a possible addition to their roster. We’ll see if that pans out in the next few days. If they don’t pick anyone up now, and the three prospects in the draft don’t fall to them, the Ravens are going to have a real concern at the middle linebacker position for the first time in 17 years.

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