FREE-AGENT LOSERS | WINNERS
A look at the losers in NFL free agency through the first weekend:
Washington Redskins: Wait a minute, the Redskins are listed above as the big winner in free agency. How can they also be a loser? Easy. If Dan Snyder's pricey additions are no more successful than the high-profile players he has signed in the past, the Redskins' owner will have wasted a lot of money. And in this economy, with the crowds at the amusement parks he owns shrinking noticeably, squandering money is not a good thing. In Albert Haynesworth, DeAngelo Hall and Derrick Dockery, the Redskins have signed three players to $180 million in contracts, $73 million of that guaranteed. Washington has a savvy salary-cap manager in Eric Schaffer, but the club's big-ticket additions must work out. Agent Leigh Steinberg long ago noted, "You can make numbers do anything you want." But even the smooth Schaffer might not be able to balance the budget sheet if the Redskins' free agents are busts. Haynesworth is a dominating player, but he is only three seasons removed from a five-game suspension for stomping on the unhelmeted head of Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode, and the star tackle has suffered through off-field problems as well. Even some former Tennessee Titans teammates have suggested that Haynesworth won't play as well in 2009 as he did the past two seasons, now that he's pocketed big money. Meanwhile, for all his skills and purported coverage abilities, Hall has been cast off by two other franchises (traded by Atlanta and released by Oakland) in the past year. Even in a seller's market at cornerback, Hall might not be worth the $9 million a year that Snyder will pay him. If Haynesworth and Hall play to their capabilities, the Redskins will be in the playoff chase most of the season. But if they play like most of Snyder's past free-agent signings, the only title Washington will win once again will be the league's springtime championship.
30-something linebackers: Ray Lewis (Baltimore Ravens) discovered over the weekend that he wasn't the top defender, or No. 1 priority, in the market. The New York Jets instead chose to pursue another Raven, Bart Scott. Lewis might be best served by re-signing with the Baltimore. No matter where he signs, Lewis certainly will be a team leader. But his profile will never be higher than it is right now in Baltimore. Longtime veterans such as Derrick Brooks (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Keith Brooking (Atlanta Falcons), Marcus Washington (Washington), Donnie Edwards (Kansas City Chiefs) and Morlon Greenwood (Houston Texans) were released by their respective teams. Brooking signed with the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday, but that meant leaving Georgia, where he has played his entire football career. Solid players such as Cato June (Tampa Bay) and Jamie Winborn (Denver), both of whom are a year shy of 30, also were released. Not that long ago, the linebacker spot was the glamour position on defense, but it has been supplanted by defensive linemen and cornerbacks. The lone linebacker to get big play and big money so far has been Scott, 28, who signed an $8 million a year deal with the Jets.
Arizona Cardinals: The team, to this point, hasn't reached an agreement with starting quarterback Kurt Warner, who led the team to Super Bowl XLIII last season. Even at 37, Warner wants a deal that pays him as a top-five quarterback, and there is obvious disagreement about his value. It doesn't help the Cardinals that San Francisco -- some 49ers officials are guardedly confident they can sign Warner -- are now chasing the Arizona quarterback. Although Warner has said he will play for Arizona or retire in 2009, San Francisco is an interesting alternative, and the 49ers' interest only drives up Warner's price tag for the Cardinals.
Leadership: As a direct and indirect (salary-cap implications) result of free agency, several teams lost longtime veteran players who were regarded as big-time leaders. The list includes wide receiver Marvin Harrison (Indianapolis Colts), tailback Fred Taylor (Jacksonville Jaguars), linebackers Brooking, Brooks and Mike Vrabel (New England Patriots), and safeties Brian Dawkins (Philadelphia Eagles) and Mike Brown (Chicago Bears). Each of these players saw his physical skills diminish over the past few seasons, but all were regarded as invaluable leaders in their respective locker rooms.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.