Every year we have different phases of the off-season and everyone of those phases leads in to the next. These phases all have different impacts on one and other. First phase of the off-season usually kicks off with the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. Pro Scouts and Pro Coaches watch closely as the college players showcase their skills in these games. Usually, initial evaluations are formed before this by the scouts but it's the first time that the Pro Coaches get the chance to really zero in. Pro teams then start building their boards and watch lists. The next step is the NFL Scouting Combine which took place about two weeks ago. We are now in phase three (free agency) and a lot has already happened. These free agency signings will dictate how certain teams draft and will also undoubtedly shake things up a bit. After the dust settles and a majority of the big moves in free agency have been made, we move forward to the Draft which takes place in April this year.
Some years have more movement than others but we are in an unusual year with all of the Collective Bargaining Agreement stuff going on... or not going on. Either way, usually there is more movement because of the Restricted Free Agent requirements being different.
Today, I wanted to takes some time out to look at some of the bigger signings in free agency and what they mean to the respective teams that have signed them as well as how it affects the draft. After the jump, I will go in to a bit more depth of how the process is unfolding.
I would like to begin with the Bears since they have made the biggest splash in the primary free agency market. The Bears do not have a first round pick this year nor do they have a second round pick, so it was crucial for them to dip their toes in to the deep end and then jump right in to the free agency pool. Last year the Bears struggled in a lot of different areas. Jay Cutler was brought in to be the savior of the franchise but did not have a lot of weapons surrounding him which led to a less than stellar season. Recently, the Bears hired Coach Mike Martz (who we're all familiar with) to be their Offensive Coordinator to come in and see what he can do to spice up that bland offense that struggled last year. But that has not been what all the buzz has been about in recent days in the Chicago area. The signing of Defensive End Julius Peppers, Running Back Chester Taylor, and Tight End Brandon Manumaleuna has by and far been the most talked about transactions in free agency. Without the draft picks their hand was really forced to do something. The way I see it, Peppers basically is a sub for the first round money they would have had to spend, Taylor for the money that could have been spent on a second round pick give or take, and Manumaleuna as just a regular ol' free agent signing. With the return of Urlacher next season, and the picks that they do have Rounds 3-7, the Bears have put themselves back in to a place where they could be contenders. But they will still have to beat out the Packers and the Vikings for that NFC North Division.
The Lions (another NFC North Team) have also been relatively active in free agency impacting how they may have drafted in rounds 2-7 pre-free agency. It's very possible that the team was looking to add players both in the defensive end category and cornerback catergory early on in their draft but recently have done so though free agency. The Lions didn't waste anytime and signed Nate Burleson as the very first free agent in the beginning minutes of free agency. Head Coach Jim Schwartz's second stop was literally at Kyle Vanden Bosch's front door step; they came to terms and signed Vanden Bosch to a $26 Million Dollar Deal. After this signing, the Lions released Corner Phillip Buchanon and went out and signed themselves a couple of veteran defensive backs. They have made other moves that may or may not impact the way they draft but I can tell you that they will not be drafting a defensive end or wide receiver in the first and possibly second round.
The Chargers, Jets and Cardinals have been shuffling big name players around such as Ladanian Tomlinson, Antonio Cromartie, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle, Kerry Rhodes, and Thomas Jones; all of which are or will be wearing new jersey's on Sunday's which will shift the balance in the way teams will or could draft.
Our very own beloved 49ers haven't kicked up that much dust in the free agent market but did go out and sign David Carr. While it won't have much, if any, impact on how we draft, it has sparked some debate on who will stay and who will go out of Nate Davis and Shaun Hill. We have lost Arnaz Battle who was with us since the '03 Season and Tony Pashos who proved in the short amount of time he played to be a factor at the Right Tackle position; an area of current concern. The move on not resigning Pashos leads me to believe that the Niners will be drafting multiple lineman in this years draft. Free agency is not over, so there is always a chance that they bring in a guy similar to what they did last year with Pashos to replace him, although it could end up being much like picking from a berry patch with no fruit and lots of thorns with the way the market is this year. McCloughan has stated that the 49ers would not make any major moves in free agency so that they could focus on the draft and for the most part has stuck to his word.
There have been several teams that have re-signed players (notable: Brackett with the Colts and Bodden with the Pats) and a lot of other transactions that have taken place that will make a difference in how teams will draft. The free agency storm is not over, but all of the major transactions could be behind us in such a thin free agency class. There may be one or two significant signings that will go down but I don't expect anything as big as the Peppers signing to take place from here on out. The draft class seems to be fairly deep this year and I think most teams will bank on and try and build through that.
All in all, it should be interesting to see what else happens in between now and April 22nd.