The first two weeks of the NFL free-agent signing period featured multiple trades, high-profile cuts, a notorious failed physical examination in Oakland and battles over players between heated rivals. Rosters changed quickly as 405 unrestricted free agents hit the market. More than 100 of these UFAs have already changed teams. Nearly as many have re-signed with their 2013 teams. Teams aren't finished, but enough time has passed to make some initial assessments.
So, which teams fared the best? Which fared the worst? Which ones treaded water? Although the signing period remains open, the big money has been spent. It's time to sort through the transactions to hand out grades for all 32 teams.
ESPN Insiders Bill Polian, Louis Riddick, Matt Williamson and Field Yates joined me in sizing up what every team accomplished. Sources around the league also provided input. There were conflicting views and gray areas, plus some bold declarations. In every case, we tried to consider not only what teams accomplished but also the broader context. Moves that made sense for one team would have made little sense for another. Player valuation was also part of the equation, one reason the Atlanta Falcons fared worse than the Kansas City Chiefs.
Releasing Revis opened the Buccaneers to criticism because he was arguably their most talented player on defense, at least when healthy. And, when the team named 34-year-old McCown its starting quarterback, it was fair to wonder whether the move undermined Mike Glennon in the long run. That was my initial thought, anyway. Polian couldn’t have been a bigger fan of Tampa Bay's moves, however.
"This may be the best job ever done in free agency, maybe since Green Bay signed Reggie White," Polian said. "They got rid of a lot of guys who either didn't fit, cost too much or were bad guys, and they added good guys and who fit perfectly at good prices. Dietrich-Smith is a really good player. Verner is a perfect Cover 2 corner. Michael Johnson is a little overpaid, but he will be very productive in that system. McCown will be the quarterback and a great mentor for [Glennon]."
A former personnel director familiar with the Buccaneers' thinking applauded Tampa Bay for aggressively targeting players to fit the new coaching staff. He pointed to the traditional color-coded scouting grades -- blue, red, purple, orange, etc. -- and said the Buccaneers emerged from the early stages of free agency with possibly only one "orange" (translation: below-average, backup level) starter on defense, putting head coach Lovie Smith in great position on that side of the ball.
"Their secondary is really good for what Lovie is going to do," he said. "The Mike linebacker and Will linebacker are perfect. They have three defensive ends and three inside guys. There is no 'orange' in that mix except at Sam linebacker, which is one position in that defense where it's OK."
The downside? "Lovie just wants old quarterbacks who don't make plays and don't hurt anyone, and that is what he got," Williamson said of McCown. "If I were a team needing a QB, I would be calling about Glennon. On defense, Verner is a better fit than Revis, but you are not better at that position."
Riddick put Tampa Bay and Arizona at the top of his list when ranking which teams had the best signing period thus far. "Tampa Bay, even though it's a lot of transactions and a lot of players to implement into a new scheme for everybody, they all fit the profile you associate with Lovie Smith and [defensive coordinator] Leslie Frazier in particular," Riddick said. "Verner is one of the great values in terms of what they paid for him, where he slots in with other veteran UFA deals and how they are going to use him. That is one of the best signings in all of free agency. McCown, whether he is the starter or not, you know it is solid and will work out. Michael Johnson is the only one that scares me. He can be hell on wheels, unblockable, a massive man, or he can play like he's 6 feet tall and 240 pounds."