It is difficult to scramble together words that adequately describe the first two days of free agency, so let’s keep it simple, with just one word to put everything into context—insane.
The results of the period are always a fickle thing. And many “win now” teams that spend big rather than building through the draft, end up paying for it later. But not every transaction will turn out to be a bust. In fact, this year has the look of one where a variety of big moves actually have a strong payoff down the line. Let’s take a moment to reflect on some of the players with new homes that will have the biggest impact on the landscape of the league right away.
Golden Tate, WR, Detroit Lions
Expecting a big name to start things off?
Golden Tate, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks and a scrappy group of wideouts who got little fanfare while playing in a run-first offense, has landed with the Detroit Lions and will immediately become one of the league’s most recognizable names at the position.
The logic is pretty simple. Tate excels in yards after the catch and has great open-field speed. And unlike those who came before him, he can actually run crisp routes and catch the football consistently while taking advantage of the limited attention defenses throw his way in favor of focusing on Calvin Johnson.
Tate’s statistics to this point don’t matter given the confines of his former offense. What does is his ability to reel in the football at an eye-popping pace. NFL Network’s Marc Sessler, through advanced analytics from Pro Football Focus, has the details:
–> RT @PFF_Pete: Golden Tate has dropped 5 of 149 catchable passes in the last 3 seasons, lowest rate of any WR. Best hands in the NFL.
— Marc Sessler (@MarcSesslerNFL) March 12, 2014
That sort of production across from Megatron, paired with other receiving threats such as tight end Joseph Fauria and running back Reggie Bush, means Tate rounds out what is sure to be one of the league’s most potent offenses next season.
Jared Veldheer, OT, Arizona Cardinals
This particular transaction is sure to be one of the period’s most overlooked moves with flashier names going to bigger markets.
It cost the Arizona Cardinals a pretty penny to land Jared Veldheer—$35 million to be exact—but coach Bruce Arians is surely more than happy to sign that check knowing his West Coast offense does not stand a chance if the immobile Carson Palmer is routinely on his back.
Veldheer is a mammoth of a tackle at 6’8” and 320 pounds. He ranked as the No. 12 overall tackle in the NFL in 2012 (he played in just five games last season thanks to injury), according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He will start at left tackle, replacing the lowly duo of Bradley Sowell and Nate Potter (PFF ranked the former No. 76 on a list of 76, while the latter went unranked).
Palmer now has more time to get the ball to weapons such as Larry Fitzgerald, Malcolm Floyd and Rob Housler. With a mind like Arians at the helm, that’s scary.
DeMarcus Ware, DE, Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos’ front office is in “win now” mode, and they’re completely putting the future of their franchise in jeopardy. The goal is to win it all now before a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback hangs up his cleats.
Alas, the move John Elway and Co. made to bring in DeMarcus Ware will certainly be worth it in the short term despite the fact the Dallas Cowboys’ legend will be 32 years old by the time the season begins.
Once again, layman statistics go out the window here, as Ware only had six sacks last season playing on a pretty awful defensive unit. But by PFF’s metrics, Ware ranked as the No. 8 4-3 defensive end and generated 34 quarterback hurries. Now with the chance to play on the same unit as Von Miller, all of Ware’s numbers are about to shoot through the roof.
The thought of Ware and Miller on the same defense was a scary notion a few years ago. And it still is. Quarterbacks around the league won’t be getting much sleep next season.
Jairus Byrd, S, New Orleans Saints
In the most obvious departure of the offseason, Jarius Byrd got the heck out of Buffalo.
Not only did Byrd get away from the Bills, he latched on to a team similar to Denver that has no regard for its own future and was willing to dish out major money to upgrade its unit.
What an upgrade it is. Now beginning the second year of a transition away from a 4-3 scheme with defensive mastermind Rex Ryan and his amoeba scheme, the Saints needed a quality safety to pair with Kenny Vaccaro in order to move on from Malcolm Jenkins, who simply can’t help but miss tackles and blow coverages.
As Sessler points out, the Saints now have arguably the league’s best safety duo. Or at least the only one that can measure up to what the Seahawks currently have:
Kenny Vaccaro/Jairus Byrd w/@Saints = Rob Ryan mythical dreamland. Throw in Keenan Lewis and that secondary is nightmare material for QBs.
— Marc Sessler (@MarcSesslerNFL) March 12, 2014
For some perspective, Byrd ranked as the No. eight safety last season in PFF’s rankings. As a rookie, Vaccaro ranked 27th.
The two are interchangeable and can even play CB in certain packages, which makes Ryan’s defense even better. Last season, Ryan was pulling new tricks out of his hat. He employed exotic looks teams never saw on film for the duration of the year. With Byrd in the mix, that is sure to be a trend again in 2014.
Byrd alone does not make the Saints title contenders once again, but his addition sure makes the quest easier.