Quiet signings will ring loud in season
Forget Cowboys & Aliens.
X-Men: First Class? Skip it.
This NFL free-agency period is the summer hit that Hollywood desires.
Like major motion pictures, a successful free-agent haul is measured in millions of dollars, with hopes that the buzz will last long after opening weekend. It played out in the offices of team facilities and over cell phones of NFL personnel people and agents, and reported with a hint of high drama via sports television and Twitter.
But for every Nnamdi Asomugha blockbuster, there were more than a few free agent signings that flew under the radar. Think of them as pro football’s version of Oscar bait. No team can win a Super Bowl in August, not even amidst a free-agent frenzy brought on by a lockout. But some savvy general managers made their teams markedly better this week, and did so quietly.
As the teams put the finishing touches on their 90-man rosters and players around the league rejoice over the lack of two-a-day practices, here’s some moves you may have missed ... but might look back on and say “wow!”
New Orleans brings in RB Darren Sproles
It took less than a day for the Saints to replace Reggie Bush (Dolphins) with Sproles, who commanded a four-year deal. Unlike Bush, Sproles is willing to play a complementary role. A slasher who can catch passes, play on special teams and even barrel his way between the tackles, the former Chargers back will quickly become a favorite of quarterback Drew Brees. Sproles is also a terrific playoff performer, torching the Colts for 484 total yards and three touchdowns combined during postseason runs in 2007 and ’08.
Great offensive lines are usually a byproduct of chemistry and sweat equity – they have to be hardened on the field over time – and Atlanta was in danger of losing that with three of its starters eligible for free agency. While right guard Harvey Dahl went to St. Louis, the Falcons did lock up Pro Bowl right tackle Clabo and left guard Blalock to multi-year deals. Impressive, considering they also lured defensive end Ray Edwards into the fold. Quarterback Matt Ryan must be pleased.
The addition of wide receiver Sidney Rice was big news in Seattle, but the Seahawks signing Gallery was just as important. He will be a terrific run blocker at left guard, capable of driving his 6-foot-7, 325-pound frame into the pile like few others in the NFL. Gallery is also familiar with offensive line coach Tom Cable’s system, having played for Cable in Oakland. He’ll need to bring young players in that unit — including rookies James Carpenter and John Moffitt — up to speed.
Last season the Ravens wanted more pizzazz on offense, acquiring receivers Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Donte’ Stallworth. Now only Boldin, as physical a wideout as any in the league, remains. In fact Baltimore has more of a hard-nosed edge with the signing of Leach, an All-Pro fullback. Ravens opponents can expect Ray Rice to carry the ball more with Leach blocking in front of him. The former Texan helped Arian Foster become the NFL’s leading rusher last season.
Houston picks up S Danieal Manning
The Texans ranked last in pass defense last season, so the signings of Manning and corner Johnathan Joseph were of utmost importance. Joseph is the cover guy, but Manning is just as important. The versatile safety played nearly every position in the Bears defensive backfield at different points in his young career, and returned kickoffs as well. His duties in the Texans' 3-4 defense will be to help out against the run (he’s superb at this, missing just three tackles all last year) and not bite on Peyton Manning’s fakes (this will be a challenge, but he’s still an upgrade over what they had).