by Frank Scicchitano
There is a cliché saying that goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Someone may want to pass this information on to the Baltimore Ravens.
They took care of their top priority when they signed Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco to a six-year contract worth $120 million but, a few hours after the beginning of the free agency period, the defending champions lost linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe to Cleveland and Miami, respectively.
Two other key members of the Ravens’ outstanding championship defense, Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed, have been in negotiations with a number of teams.
Cornerback Cary Williams also parted ways with Baltimore and signed a three-year deal with Philadelphia.
These five players combined for 286 solo tackles last season, one-third of the team’s total, as well as 16.5 sacks, including nine by Kruger.
And of course, the retirement of emotional leader Ray Lewis will also play a major factor on how the team handles their championship defense next season.
The Ravens’ front office has done an excellent job in recent years of drafting talented players and filling needs through free agency.
Former Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty will join Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears as new members of Baltimore’s defensive front. With Terrell Suggs’ health always an issue, look for the Ravens to draft another linebacker out of this year’s talented class.
The other headline story in the first five days of free agency was Wes Welker’s unexpected change of scenery.
Instead of receiving passes from a future Hall of Famer in New England in 2013, he will be receiving them from one in Denver. Welker signed a two-year deal to join Peyton Manning and a young receiving corps on the second day of free agency. The compelling aspect of this deal is that the Patriots did not match the $12 million that Welker is getting from the Broncos just a year after offering him $18 million.
Another puzzling factor is that this occurred in the wake of Tom Brady’s contract restructuring that freed up salary cap room.
In six seasons with the Patriots, Welker totaled nearly 7,500 yards on 672 catches and added 37 touchdowns. New England also cut veteran wide out Brandon Lloyd.
It will be difficult to replace this type of production, but New England is going to attempt to do it with former St. Louis Rams receiver Danny Amendola. Like Welker, Amendola is a product of Texas Tech but he is a few years younger, a few inches taller and is just entering the prime of his career.
With a quarterback like Brady and possibly the greatest duo of tight ends in the history of the game, the Patriots should not have any trouble putting up tremendous offensive numbers in 2013.
The Seattle Seahawks, last season’s surprise team in the NFC, made a blockbuster move of their own, but it did not involve signing a free agent. They exchanged two draft picks, including a first rounder in the upcoming draft, for Minnesota Viking playmaker Percy Harvin.
Harvin, who at one point last season was in the discussion for the league MVP, will be a valuable target in Seattle and should help Russell Wilson avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump” that often befalls star rookie quarterbacks.
After a very disappointing 2012 campaign, the Philadelphia Eagles parted ways with numerous big names, including cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
This offseason, they are in dire need of defensive reinforcements, particularly in the secondary. Cary Williams and former St. Louis Ram Bradley Fletcher will take over at cornerback and will be joined by a pair of new safeties, Patrick Chung of the Patriots and Kenny Phillips of the Giants.
The Eagles’ front seven also receives a boost with the addition of ex-Houston Texan linebacker Connor Barwin and the big run-stopping defensive tackle from the 49ers, Isaac Sopoaga.
Although they have made a few logical moves trying to improve one of the worst defenses in the NFL, the Eagles are still projected to draft Dee Milliner, a cornerback from Alabama.
This would certainly add youth and talent to the secondary, but there is also a possibility that Philadelphia will use the fourth overall pick on an offensive lineman.
Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel or Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher are definite possibilities but there is a chance that both will be gone within the first three picks.
Aside from Flacco, there were not any major quarterbacks on the free agent market this year.
Kevin Kolb and Ryan Fitzpatrick were cut from Arizona and Buffalo, respectively, and are at the top of the list. With those cuts, the Cardinals and Bills, as well as the New York Jets, are in need of a new field general for the 2013 season and are the three most likely candidates to draft Geno Smith, the top-rated quarterback in this year’s draft class.
The Kansas City Chiefs, a team that sent six players to the Pro Bowl last season despite winning only two games, made a trade to acquire former number one overall pick Alex Smith from the 49ers.
They signed Donnie Avery from the Colts and resigned Dwayne Bowe to give Smith two good targets. With new head coach Andy Reid, look for the Chiefs to finally put all of their talent to use and challenge the Broncos in the AFC West.
After last season, it seems as though every team has an offensive lineman on their wish list. While the Saint Louis Rams signed Jake Long, tackles Andre Smith is still a free agent and would be a solid addition to any line. Playmaking wide receiver Josh Cribbs is still on the market and can provide spark to any team offensively and in the return game.
On defense, elite pass rushers Dwight Freeney and John Abraham would be a smart pickup for any team looking to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
There is also a healthy amount of defensive backs available, including Charles Woodson, DeAngelo Hall and Chris Gamble.
The offseason is only in its beginning stages and the landscape of the NFL is already changing. Based on early moves, new favorites are emerging while some fans and analysts are left scratching their heads. However, teams are just beginning and there are certainly going to be more big moves made in the coming weeks leading up to April’s draft.