Last year I explained why free agency is a crap-shoot & you can’t predict which teams really did the best. Obviously this year I have to completely forget about that & make some predictions about which teams have done the best & worst in free agency, even though it is still going on as I type.
I still believe that it is true that no one wins the Super Bowl in March, but this year it looks like you can guarantee that you won’t even be in the hunt. Here are the teams that I think have helped or hurt themselves the most so far. I didn’t write about every team, just the ones who have made significant moves. I haven’t included Oakland because I can’t really figure them out yet.
Teams that helped themselves
The Cardinals haven’t made a lot of moves, but the moves they have made look good. They signed Antonio Cromartie to a 1 year contract. He didn’t have a great year last year, but he has been a solid cornerback. The best thing for him & for the Cardinals is that he will handle the #2 receiver for the opposing team. Pairing him with Patrick Peterson & Tyrann Mathieu creates a great defensive backfield for the Cardinals. They also signed Jared Veldheer to a 5 year contract. He might not be the left tackle of your dreams, but adding him & Ted Larsen to the line should keep Carson Palmer from having so many nightmares.
With the exception of losing Eric Decker to the Jets, everything seems to be going right for the Broncos this year. The Super Bowl showed them how much improvement their defense needed to make this year. John Elway is working on it with a vengeance. They signed DeMarcus Ware, who should be amazing paired with Von Miller. They replaced Champ Bailey with Aqib Talib, which not only upgraded their secondary, but also looked like it would hurt the Patriots. It didn’t, but it was a great move either way. On offense they replaced Eric Decker with Emmanuel Sanders, who should be able to stretch the field & open up some crossing routes for Wes Welker.
The Detroit Lions have made a few key moves. Adding Golden Tate at wide receiver looks like a smart choice. He should see single coverage every game and has the opportunity to have a great year. I think Jed Collins at fullback will be a good move as well. If Jim Caldwell can get any discipline into this team in his first year, they should be a threat to make the playoffs.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers don’t usually do much in free agency, but signing Julius Peppers was a big deal. I think that he has a couple more good years in him & that might be enough to get the Packers deeper into the playoffs. Despite having the 8th best scoring offense in the NFL last year, the Packers were still outscored overall by their opponents (by 11 points). Signing Peppers might close that gap.
Hakeem Nicks had a bad season in a contract year, but his quarterback had a terrible year. Now Nicks is on a 1 year prove it deal & will have Andrew Luck throwing to him, who should give him a chance to shine. Signing D’Qwell Jackson looks like a good move. At the moment, the Colts look likely to repeat their AFC South championship.
They haven’t made any splashy moves, but they have signed some solid players who should help. Toby Gerhart has looked very good in limited duty for the Vikings. Chris Clemons, Ziggy Hood, & especially Red Bryant should help Gus Bradley continue to improve the defense. I could see this team winning somewhere between 7-9 games next year. They only play 5 playoff teams from 2013.
The Dolphins always seem to be the champions of March & then can’t do much in the fall. I do think that they have improved this year. Their line last year was not only the worst in the league, but they also were involved in a bullying scandal that led to the firing of their line coach. Of course I thought he should be fired for performance even before the report on bullying. When you are the line coach for a team that gives up 58 sacks in one season, you probably know better than to take out a new mortgage on the house. 58 sacks are more than the Lions & Broncos allowed combined last year! This year they have signed Brandon Albert who should be much better at left tackle. Shelly Smith may not be a big name at guard, but he is solid & probably won’t go crazy & smash his own car with a baseball bat. Cortland Finegan might turn out to be a decent signing at cornerback, although Jeff Fisher giving up on him isn’t a good sign.
New England Patriots
The Patriots have had some high profile busts in recent years with veteran players like Albert Haynesworth & Chad Johnson. I don’t think that’s the case this year. Losing Aqib Talib made it look like a secondary that was improving last year was going to regress. Instead, the Patriots signed Darrelle Revis & Brandon Browner. Browner can’t play until week 5, but after that they might have the best secondary in the NFL. The key will be finding someone to stuff the run. I think that the pass rushers will automatically get better this year because opposing quarterbacks are going to hold the ball longer trying to find an open receiver. On offense I thought that Julian Edelman was a priority to re-sign so that Tom Brady wouldn’t lose his #1 receiver two off seasons in a row. It took a while, but it happened. I don’t know if Brandon Lafell will be a difference maker at wide receiver, but he has potential. He dropped too many balls last year, but he is a big fast receiver & Brady is a more accurate quarterback than Cam Newton, so maybe the balls will be easier to catch. If they can keep Legarrette Blount & find a way to make Vince Wilfork happy, this will be a great off season for the Patriots. Even if they lose Blount, I think that the team has significantly improved.
Teams that hurt themselves
They have signed Jerricho Cotchery to a 2 year contract & franchised defensive end Greg Hardy. Otherwise this seems to be a nightmare offseason for Carolina fans. For whatever reason, they really wanted to get rid of leading receiver Steve Smith. Cutting him means that he will still count $4 million this year against their salary cap. He signed with the Ravens for an average of 3.8 million a year. Basically it cost more to cut him than to keep him. Carolina’s receiving corps wasn’t spectacular last year, but it wasn’t terrible. The other starting wide receivers were Ted Ginn Jr., who signed with Arizona, & Brandon Lafell, who signed with New England. I’m sure that they will sign someone else & maybe they will trade for Desean Jackson which would really help. At the moment though, the 5 wide receivers on their roster have caught 4 passes combined in the NFL. So anyone reading this is at least tied for NFL catches with a starting wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers. Congratulations! Beginning the season with all new starting wide receivers is incredibly difficult. You just have to look at how Tom Brady struggled last year to get on the same page with his new receivers. Luckily for him, he had some experience with Julian Edelman & that helped while he got comfortable with all of the new guys. Even with those problems, he at least had the offseason to work with them. Cam Newton had surgery this week & won’t be able to work with his new receivers until the beginning of training camp at the earliest.
Right now I think Carolina is the most likely playoff team from last year to drop down to a losing season. I feel bad for Coach Ron Rivera. I think he has really been building something there & this year is going to be tough. He has a great defense, but you won’t win many games scoring under 20 points against the Saints or Falcons in the NFC South.
I doubt even Jerry Jones thinks that his team is better today than it was a month ago. I know that Jeremy Mincey was signed for depth rather than to replace Demarcus War, but any way you look at it, they aren’t as strong at that position. Signing first round bust Brandon Weeden to be the 3rd string quarterback was probably a good idea. Of course if Kyle Orton retires & Weeden is the backup quarterback, the Cowboys better hope that Tony Romo stays healthy.
The Houston Texans have basically sat out free agency. Considering that they finished with the worst record in the league last year, you might think that they would be looking for help. They did sign Jerrell Powell at nose tackle. They released Owen Daniels, which I think was a mistake. He was injured for 11 games last year, but has been relatively healthy otherwise. He is only 31 & is a 2 time Pro Bowl player. I always considered him a poor man’s Jason Witten & I mean that as a compliment.
New York Jets
I think that the Jets will be better on offense this year. That’s partially because they couldn’t get worse, but also because they signed Eric Decker & while he wouldn’t be a number one receiver on most teams, he is a huge improvement for the Jets. The problem is at cornerback. The team released Antonio Cromartie because his contract was too rich. I understand that, but they haven’t signed anyone nearly as good to replace him. If you watch Jets games, you have probably seen Coach Rex Ryan spike his headphones into the ground in anger at some point. I’ll bet that the look he has on his face when he does that is the exact look he had on his face when Darrelle Revis signed with the Patriots. In 2014, the Jets will face Tom Brady twice plus Peyton Manning Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger, & Matthew Stafford once each. That’s half of their games against quarterbacks with Pro Bowl credentials & as many as 5 games against future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. An elite cornerback would make a real difference there. I’m sure that they will draft a cornerback or two & Rex is a great defensive coach, but that is still going to be a harsh introduction to the NFL for the rookie(s).
After typing this portion I found out that they have signed Mike Vick & might sign Desean Jackson. That would help a lot. It wouldn’t fix the defensive backfield though.
By the time this is posted they may have signed Jared Allen. Even with that possibility, the Seahawks are learning just how hard it is to repeat as NFL champion. There is a reason that no one has done it since the Patriots in 2004-2005. After a Super Bowl victory, every player on the team wants to be paid like a Super Bowl champion & there is usually another team out there that will pay them that way. With the salary cap & free agency, it is difficult to keep a team together. The Seahawks have a big advantage in that they don’t have to pay Russell Wilson much. He is still on his rookie contract & won’t be making Joe Flacco money for a while yet. They have lost a lot of players though including Golden Tate, Red Bryant, Brandon Browner, Chris Clemons, & Walter Thurmond. Those are all solid contributors. I don’t think that they are going to fall out of the playoffs or anything like that. I just think that the team isn’t as good now as it was a couple of weeks ago.
The Broncos & the Patriots may not be breaking the Champagne out just yet, but I can definitely see how Rex Ryan & Ron Rivera might be ready for a few glasses of wine. Here are some wine reviews to help choose a tasty distraction.
At the recent Unified Wine & Grape Symposium Bogle Vineyards was named Winery of the Year. That is a pretty big accomplishment for a Clarksburg California winery. Over the years they have experienced rapid growth & are now the 13th largest winery in the U.S. Most of their wines are under $15 & occasionally my local grocery store has them for under $10. A few of these wines are winery only, but most of them are in mass distribution.
I visited a few weeks ago & had a great time. The tasting room is a pretty building with vineyards on the ground. It is very close to the delta & the roads were covered with fog as we drove along. If I didn’t have GPS I might not have found it.
I was with a business associate & we spent some time talking with other people tasting their wine. On some wines I have more notes than others.
Blanc de Blanc 2011 sparkling
This is a Chardonnay based sparkling wine made in the Methode Champenoise (traditional Champagne method). That means that it does its secondary fermentation in the bottle from which you are pouring.
This has very small bubbles & a light clean nose. I smelled some butter & a yeasty note. On the palate I also tasted a little green apple & some lemon or lemon curd. This is a nice example of a Californian sparkling wine.
Sauvignon Blanc 2012
This was a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. It had intense grass & grapefruit flavors. This is a solid summer wine. It might make a nice wine to sip on the porch after cutting the grass.
Half of this wine is oaked and half of it is not. The half in oak goes through sur lie aging, which means that the dead yeast cells are left in the wine as it ages. The barrels have to be turned on a regular basis or the barrels have to be opened up & the wine stirred. If you don’t stir the lees, you have reduction & some nasty tastes in your wine like rotten eggs & burnt match sticks. If you do it right though, you have a wine with more mouth feel & a nice baked bread component. I didn’t need to look on their web site to know that this was American oak. This wine almost has a mesquite flavor to it. It was actually kind of weird, but in a good way. I bought a bottle to take home. The traditional Chardonnay flavors are there as well. There is spiced vanilla, pear, and apple to compliment the baked bread.
I actually had this wine again last night & didn’t get the mesquite flavor, so that may have been an aberration. The creamy butter flavors were more at the fore front. It is still a very well made Chardonnay for the price.
Chenin Blanc 2012
Here’s another crisp white. There are minimal oak and malolactic fermentation notes, but the wine still has nice acid. The primary flavors are green apple & melon.
There is a small amount of the classic diesel nose to this wine. It is still a sweet Riesling though, which is kind of an odd mix. I usually expect Riesling with the pronounced diesel notes to be on the dry side. It has good mouth feel & is actually a fairly nice Riesling. It has a blend of apple, pear, & honey flavors.
Petite Sirah Nouveau 2010
Here’s a fun small production wine. I don’t think I had ever tried a Petite Sirah made using carbonic maceration. It has the classic bubble gum & banana nose associated with Nouveau Beaujolais. The wine is actually softer on the palate as well, which I didn’t expect from Petite Sirah. I has a light color, more pink than purple. The wine has moderate tannins. It would be nice with smoked ribs or spicy Mexican food.
Pinot Noir 2012
This wine sees a blend of French & American oak. It has a clean nose of moderate intensity. It is actually fairly big on the palate for a Pinot. The tannins are soft. I tasted plum with a little cinnamon & all spice. It’s a fruit forward Pinot Noir & a textbook example of the New World fruity style.
Reserve Barbera 2010
This is another winery exclusive that is produced in small amounts. If you remember Barbera as a thin acidic & tannic wine, that is understandable. For years that’s what came out of Italy. Over the last 20 years or so there have been many more fruit forward & food friendly Italian Barberas produced. In the Sierra Foothills of California from which these grapes are sourced, there is the ability to really focus on the fruit. The result is a fruit forward wine with blackberry, fig, & prune. I also tasted some tobacco & herb, but really this wine is all about the fruitiness.
Petite Sirah 2011
I was surprised at how pink the Nouveau version was. That isn’t the case here as this is the classic purple that you expect. It has an intense nose & medium acidity. There is plenty of dark fruit including blackberry. I also tasted menthol & sage. This is a very good Petite Sirah for the price.
Reserve Petite Sirah 2010
This wine is somewhere between purple & black. It has jammy black fruit. The overall impression is of dark rich fruit. The wine has huge tannins, but they are well integrated. This is a big, over the top wine, but in a good way.
Reserve Zinfandel 2010
This has a clean nose with red fruit. It is soft on the mid palate. It was probably harder to try this after the Reserve Petite Sirah since that was so tannic & overpowering. This is a much more reserved wine with a velvety finish. It has high tannins & high acidity. My guess is that this wine will age very well.
Petite Sirah Port 2008
On the nose I smelled alcohol, raspberry, plum, & brown sugar. On the palate I tasted raspberry, cherry, & plum. The color of the wine is dark, but a little orange around the edges. This is a well-rounded, easy to drink Port style wine.