NFL free agency began this week, and within the first 24 hours, over a billion dollars in contracts were handed out; with $350 million of that being guaranteed money.
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Today we're going to focus on the teams who had the most cap space in each division entering the free agency period, how they have spent their money so far, and what they could still do as the process continues.
NFC East: Washington Redskins ($29.5 million)
The Redskins have been to cap hell and back over the last few years due to penalties from the last lockout. With that now behind them, they finally have a bit of money to play with. However, considering owner Dan Snyder's notorious spending habits, having this kind of cash could actually be a hindrance. One of the first priorities is whether to re-sign Brian Orakpo to a long-term deal after he was franchise tagged a couple of weeks ago. The Redskins went out and got another weapon for QB Robert Griffin III, signing Andre Roberts from Arizona, an underrated wide receiver.
NFC North: Green Bay Packers ($35.1 million) and Minnesota Vikings ($35.3 million)
These two NFC North rivals virtually have the exact same cap numbers going into free agency, so we'll just put them together. The Packers have their franchise quarterback and several parts to go with that, so the focus for Green Bay will most likely be on the offensive line and the defensive side of the ball. Re-signing Sam Shields helps, but the Packers still need to make a few more moves to retool the D. The Vikings will probably go after a QB in this year's draft, so the free agency focus has been on the defensive line. So far, they've re-signed Everson Griffen and picked up DT Linval Joseph from the Giants.
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons ($26.2 million)
To this point Atlanta has focused on both the defensive and offensive lines, which were major problem areas in 2013. The Falcons signed defensive end Tyson Jackson and defensive tackle Paul Soliai, along with offensive guard Jon Asamoah. Atlanta still has quite a bit of talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball, and with a few shrewd moves, there is no reason why they can't get back to being competitive this year.
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals ($17.9 million) and Seattle Seahawks ($17.8 million)
The Cardinals and the Seahawks will both be in pretty good positions entering the 2014 season, but they have complicated situations going forward. Arizona was able to win 10 games in a very competitive division last year with a solid defense that finished as the best run unit in the league. The offense is where there are issues, with the offensive line grading below average last season and Carson Palmer looking shaky at critical moments. The Cardinals have addressed both issues by signing TE John Carlson and OT Jared Veldheer. The Seahawks have started by taking care of things in-house, re-signing Michael Bennett and Tony McDaniel, but they probably won't be making a bunch of outside moves. Seattle will have pressing issues in future seasons in dealing with extensions for Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman, among others, so this may be a year that the champs hold pat in anticipation of moves they'll have to make in 2015 and 2016.
AFC East: Miami Dolphins ($39.1 million)
The Miami Dolphins made all kinds of noise in free agency a year ago, with a lot of those contracts being very heavily back-loaded, which will come into play in future years. For now though, Miami has one of the best cap situations in the NFL. One of the first things the Dolphins addressed was their offensive line, which fell apart last season in part because of the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin mess, but also with poor play, especially over the final month of the season. Branden Albert joins the Dolphins after signing a 5-year, $46 million deal. Overall I think Miami should focus more on the offensive side of the ball, after a season where they averaged just 19.8 points per game.
AFC North: Cleveland Browns ($61.2 million)
New GM Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine have plenty of money to play with in trying to fix the mistakes of the past several regimes in Cleveland. The Browns immediately made a splash on defense by signing veterans Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner. Next up for Cleveland could be some o-line help and cheap alternatives at running back, but ultimately the Browns offseason will be determined by what signal caller they decide to take in the draft.
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts ($40.9 million)
When you get your franchise QB on his rookie contract and you continually make shrewd moves in the bottom half of the draft, you end up an annual playoff team with money to spend in the offseason. Still, Indy only has four picks in this year's draft, so free agency has been much more of a focus. In the first couple of days the Colts snagged linebacker D'Qwell Jackson from Cleveland and defensive end Arthur Jones from Baltimore. The team then shifted their attention in-house, re-signing the likes of Adam Vinatieri, Ahmad Bradshaw, Pat McAfee and Vontae Davis.
AFC West: Oakland Raiders ($66.3 million)
After a decade of lousy draft selections, ghastly free agent contracts, and general incompetence, the Silver and Black finally have money to make a meaningful impact in free agency. In fact, it's the most in the history of the modern day salary cap. You're not going to totally fix this team in one year with tons of splashy signings, so the focus has to be on overall team depth. The first decision was a curious one, signing T Rodger Saffold to a $42 million deal, in part because they weren't able to keep the younger option, Jared Veldheer. Of course, in typical Raider fashion, Saffold bombed his physical, sending him right back to St. Louis. Basically the entire defensive side of the ball is up for replacement after giving up 28.3 points per game a season ago, and the quarterback of the future will surely be drafted in May.
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