Day 2 of the NFL's free agent market brought some unintentional hilarity in Oakland and a brewing arms race elsewhere in the AFC. I'm not sure which event was more entertaining, but we'll start with the virtual haymakers thrown between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots.
The Broncos' aggressive acquisition of defensive players over the past two days included former Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, who accepted a stunning six-year contract that included $28 million in guarantees and bonuses. Between Talib, safety T.J. Ward and pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, the Broncos are clearly trying to build a defense to catch up with the likes of the Seattle Seahawks -- whose defense stomped them in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Patriots, of course, are trying to pull alongside the Broncos after losing to them in AFC Championship Game. What better way to match the Talib acquisition than to sign the best cornerback in the game? Darrelle Revis agreed to terms with the Patriots less than five hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released him. Early reports indicated a one-year, $12 million deal.
There is room for debate, to be sure, but I'm pretty sure I want Revis in 2014 more than I want to be locked into a long-term deal with Talib. Revis suffered a torn ACL in 2012 and played in only two games that year, but he has missed only three additional games in his seven-year career. Talib has never played a complete season. From a performance standpoint, there has never been a debate about who is best in coverage.
The Talib-Revis tit-for-tat came a year after the Broncos signed Wes Welker away from the Patriots. That move undoubtedly weakened the Patriots, but on Wednesday they made sure it didn't happen again.
Some other Day 2 thoughts:
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie can't give away his surplus cash and cap space. The decision to void an agreement with free agent offensive lineman Rodger Saffold -- the Raiders cited a failed physical -- leaves the team without a credible left tackle and with money still burning a hole in their pocket. There are no specific guidelines for team physicals, so it's not surprising that Saffold quickly re-signed with the St. Louis Rams. But in some ways, this development saved the Raiders from themselves. Personally, I'd rather deal with the embarrassment of a botched deal than to have the oft-injured Saffold locked into an outlandish contract that included $21 million in guaranteed money. The point is not just to spend money, but to dole it out in responsible increments to those who deserve it. The Raiders are probably better off seeking a left tackle in the draft, but McKenzie's performance over the past few days isn't likely to earn any trust from owner Mark Davis.
We'll get to the Buccaneers' aggressive strike in free agency in a moment. First, however, we need to close the door on Revis' departure. General manager Jason Licht and coach Lovie Smith weren't responsible for acquiring Revis, which cost the franchise first- and fourth-round draft picks as well as market-crushing $16 million salary. But they were awfully quick to jettison one of the NFL's best players. Yes, the Bucs used Revis' cash and cap space to fill multiple needs. And I realize that Smith and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier aren't known for using the man-coverage schemes that Revis excels in. But I'm not sure those factors get the Bucs completely off the hook. Revis is a once-in-a-generation player at his position. The best coaches and organizations change what they do to fit the skills of their best assets. The Bucs' decision here is defensible, but I don't think it was a no-brainer in a year of salary cap surplus around the league. There should never be a question about whether a player like Revis fits what a team does. It's OK to change to fit what he does.
The NFL can limit the movement of its top players better than any other professional American sport, which makes it wild that Revis has is on his third team in three seasons. He has done it by getting the New York Jets to agree not to use the franchise tag after the 2012 season, eventually forcing a trade to the Bucs -- where he signed a pay-as-you-go contract that gave the team an easy out if it wanted to move on. Rather than play under a monster long-term contract, Revis will instead play at least two seasons on what amount to one-year deals. He will earn $28 million between 2013-14 and could then be in position to market himself again to the highest bidder again in 2015. The Patriots could give him their franchise tag at that point, but it's worth noting they decided against doing that for Talib last week.
Their Revis decision aside, the Bucs did some nice things in the past few days. The signing of quarterback Josh McCown got Tuesday's headlines, but I love their attempt to build on what was already a pretty talented defense. This was a group that included defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David and two good safeties in Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson. You add defensive end Michael Johnson and cornerback Alterraun Verner -- and perhaps veteran Charles Tillman as well -- and you're talking about a defense that is capable of playing the stifling scheme Smith employed with the Chicago Bears. As we saw in the Super Bowl, defenses can still win championships.
The Broncos' expensive quarterback made it reasonable to assume they would be tight against the salary cap entering free agency. Some of you can't fathom how they squeezed this haul onto their roster over the past two days. It's true that Peyton Manning will count $17.5 million against the Broncos' 2014 cap, but they actually have room to spare. They entered the week with about $25 million in space, thanks to the release of cornerback Champ Bailey and the NFL's unexpected $10 million cap bump. Standard cap accounting made it relatively easy to acquire the new defensive trio. Ward will count $3.25 million against the 2014 cap and Ware's figure is $9.7 million. A breakdown of Talib's deal isn't yet available, but even a $10 million figure (which is unlikely) would have worked for the moment. Now more than ever, there is always a way to make the salary cap work if you want something badly enough. Each player's cap number will rise in future years, but early indications suggest the NFL's salary cap number will hit $150 million by 2016. If that's the case, the Broncos aren't necessarily headed toward a long-term cap disaster.
The Broncos partially answered one of our Day 1 questions: They were willing to pay premium money for a 31-year-old pass-rusher. But it's fair to wonder if there is a similar deal awaiting another player with the same profile. The league's interest level in Jared Allen is unclear at the moment. There have been reports of discussions with the Chicago Bears, but I don't see a match there. Most teams blow the big-money portion of their budgets within days of the start of free agency. So the question -- first posed earlier this week by A.J. Mansour of KFAN.com, the Minnesota Vikings' radio affiliate -- could soon become if Allen signs with a team rather than when. I think Allen wants to play in 2014 in the right scenario, but after completing a $74 million contract last season, I don't think he wants to sign with anyone under any circumstance just to play. I'm sure he took some notes from former teammate Brett Favre, who needed to be cajoled back to the game in the final few years of his career. All I can say is stay tuned.
The reported depth of receivers in the 2014 draft probably depressed the free agent market, so it was interesting to see the first deal came between Golden Tate and the Detroit Lions. I love the match. The Lions haven't had a receiver quite like Tate in the Matthew Stafford era. He is tough, strong and plays with a healthy attitude that will be a stark change for an otherwise passive group. And, importantly for this team, Tate has excellent hands. ESPN Stats and Information has credited him with only seven drops in 257 targets since he entered the NFL in 2010. (That ranks him No. 15 in the NFL over that period.) Finally, what's not to love about Tate playing the Green Bay Packers -- his "Fail Mary" victims -- twice per year?
What could possibly be in store for us on Day 3????