NFL Hot Stove Heats Up

After another captivating Super Bowl, it only would make sense that this off-season would live up to the hype with several marquee players on the market. The likes of Albert Haynesworth, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Marvin Harrison are only a couple of the big names in this year’s class. Perhaps one of the reasons we haven’t give the NFL Draft as much attention this year as previous years is because there has been a momentous shift in the NFL towards hiring players with credible experience in the league. Don’t get me wrong, the NFL draft is where teams pick up the vital pieces to help the growth of their franchise. However, teams now prefer to trade for players who have already played at a top level and can perform to a team’s expectations. For example, guys like Kurt Warner, Kerry Collins and Michael Turner all helped guide their teams to the playoffs after having played back-up roles on former teams.

The Washington Redskins were the first to smell the blood in the water and immediately pounced on former Tennessee Titan defensive tackle, Albert Haynesworth. The Redskins offered Haynesworth a mind-boggling seven-year $100 million deal with the possibility of $115 million in incentives. Sure, Haynesworth is a Pro Bowl player and the most dominant defensive tackle in the game, but he is not worth $41 million in guaranteed money. Haynesworth was suspended five games in 2006 for stomping on the face of Cowboys center Andre Gurode, and he has a reputation for taking plays off. Also, he has not completed a full season in the NFL since his rookie season in 2002! Not to mention that the closest bidder, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, were offering the 27-year-old defensive tackle somewhere in the ballpark of $30-40 million dollars guaranteed. The Redskins topped this genius move off by extending cornerback DeAngelo Hall’s contract by six years and $54 million. This is the same Hall that was waived after eight games last year by the Oakland Raiders after signing a $70 million contract because he had a reputation for off-the -field incidents and was continuously getting burnt in the Raiders man-to-man defense. The last time the Redskins did something this brilliant was when they brought in an aging Jason Taylor, who posted only 3.5 sacks. Or perhaps it was a worse move in 2004 when the Redskins signed Antwaan Randle El, who had the fewest receiving yards in his career (351) to a seven year, $31 million contract. Moral of the story: What do $141 million in unruly, undisciplined players get you? Your second consecutive year as the worst team in the NFC East.

Whereas the Redskins foolishly threw their money around, several teams have caught on to the fact that you don’t need $100 million to improve your team. The Falcons caught on last year as they traded for the San Diego Chargers back-up running back Michael Turner. Atlanta locked up Turner to a seven-year, $34.5 million contract and Turner rushed for 1,699 yards, third-highest in the NFL. In lieu of the recent ankle surgery on Michael Crabtree, the top-ranked wide receiver in the NFL Draft, the Seattle Seahawks also saw the premium of signing solid, proven talent rather than taking a gamble on Crabtree who ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.5 range prior to his injury. The Seahawks signed the best free-agent wide receiver in this year’s free agency class, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, to a five-year, $40 million deal and still retained their fourth overall pick in the draft.

If you thought that the Redskins were the only team botching this off-season, guess again. The Eagles are following suit as they rid themselves of Correll Buckhalter, whose rushing this year helped Brian Westbrook become dynamic in the Philly offense. Next, the Eagles lost cornerback Lito Sheppard and safety Brian Dawkins, putting the pressure solely on Asante Samuel to anchor the secondary. The only hope for a viable wide receiver in Philly now seems to come down to a cheap contract with Philly-native Marvin Harrison, who is only a specter of his former self.

The Denver Broncos, have been methodically scouring through the remnants of teams’ shattered hopes to fill their abysmal defense. The frenzy started when they landed safety Renaldo Hill for four years and $10 million. It then continued with ex-Colts defensive tackle Darrell Reid for a one year, $6.8 million deal. Finally, the defensive spending-spree culminated in the signings of ex-Cleveland linebacker Andra Davis for three years and $6.8 million and the trade for 7-time Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins. Not only did the Broncos build up a defense based on talented, aged players, they revamped their offense by signing wide receiver Jabbar Gaffney and running back Correll Buckhalter. Granted, I could play running back for the Broncos and still rush for over 1,000 yards, but they drastically improved both sides of the ball without having to sacrifice any of their draft picks.

In this time rife with economic struggle, teams have been curtailed their spending and placed themselves in the most risk-averse situations while signing proven players with considerable experience.