Fab Five: The Top 5 Free Agent Signings in 2012
Teams cannot be built through free agency. At least that is how the cliché goes. However, while the salary cap and talent scarcity may prevent teams from literally being built through free agency, there is no denying the dramatic impact free agents can have on their new team. Reggie White, Drew Brees and Kurt Warner all immensely improved their new teams, even leading them to the Super Bowl and in White and Brees' case, winning one. Free agents certainly are not the only answer and often times they are not even the most important piece, but when the right player is added to the right team, the results can be magical. When free agency began March 13th, teams across the NFL brought in numerous free agents, hoping to find their own Reggie White or Drew Brees. Below, a ranking of the top 5 signings in 2012 and why these players could catapult their new teams to the next level.
5. Vincent Jackson : Jackson has been waiting some time to hit payday and finally the San Diego Chargers were willing to acquiesce. Jackson hit the market with many suitors looking to sign the talented wide receiver. Enter Tampa Bay, whose massive cap room paired well with Jackson's yearning wallet. 5 years and $55 million dollars later, with $26 million guaranteed, Jackson jettisoned one beach front property for another. But is Jackson worth the money? A wide receiver who has never registered more than 68 catches in a single season nor been able to break the single digit touchdown marker in his entire career, Jackson has yet to reach truly elite status. Granted a certain future hall of fame tight end had something to do with those shortcomings, but that same tight end pulled coverage to the middle of the field and allowed Jackson to run wild on the outside. Jackson has also experienced some off the field issues, missing part of the 2010 season due to both substance abuse issues and a contractual holdout. There were rumblings out of Tampa Bay at the end of the disappointing 2011 campaign that Mike Williams lacked focus and maturity. Is Vincent Jackson ready to be a mentor to Williams and can he get the talented wide-out back on track? Jackson comes with some baggage and his own question marks, but Tampa Bay is hoping he is the $55 million answer. Jackson has the talent and potential to get Tampa rolling again, but only time will tell what kind of impact he will ultimately have.
4. Randy Moss : Which Randy Moss is going to show up for Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers? Oakland Raider, Minnesota Viking (part deux) or Tennessee Titan Randy Moss; or Viking (part one) and New England Patriot Randy Moss? It was certainly not difficult to see the 9ers most glaring weakness and if (massive IF) Moss is motivated, there is no better receiver at stretching out defenses and providing a true deep threat than Randy Moss. Financially the 49ers did not invest much in the veteran wide out, but this particular signing has more to do with the potential of what Moss can bring to the team. Moss is a game breaker and when he is on his game, defenses have to game plan to stop. Where Gates opens up the field for a wide out like Vincent Jackson, Moss has the same effect for his uber talented teammate Vernon Davis. Teams will not be able to single out Davis and bracket him with Moss terrorizing safeties on the go-route. The 9ers were one win (one 3rd down conversion? One wide receiver making a play?) away from the Super Bowl. Moss can be that one guy if he has his head is on straight.
3. Brandon Lloyd : For anyone who watched the Super Bowl, it was painfully obvious what the New England Patriots were missing on offense. With the best tight end tandem in the league (and the league's best slot receiver), New England needed a field stretcher. Just as the Patriots always seem to do, the answer came crawling to them (and without the hefty price tag most free agents demand). Where San Francisco was one game from making the Super Bowl, Brady and the Pats were maybe one player away from winning the Super Bowl. To further strengthen the signing, Lloyd is reunited with the man who helped the late blooming wide out fully reach his potential. Josh McDaniels is back to run the Patriot offense and he brought an immensely important piece to the offense with him. Lloyd is more than another weapon for Brady; he is the weapon Brady needs to win another Super Bowl. Brandon Lloyd is not the face Reggie White was or Drew Brees is, but he is an immediate answer for a team so close to another championship. Lloyd will never be the face of the Patriots, but he can be the final piece for Brady and company.
1A. Mario Williams : I know, I know, Bills homerdom really rearing its head here, but just hear me out. A franchise known for its 4 consecutive Super Bowl losses, its league leading playoff drought and inability to both keep its young stars or sign big name free agents, the Bills are mocked incessantly about their shortcomings. The Mario Williams signing could change the majority of that. Touted as the top defensive free agent, the Bills were a surprise suitor for Williams and while nearly everyone in the media wanted to place Williams elsewhere, the Bills landed the prize defensive end. Perhaps this is less (at least for now) about Williams' production on the field and more about what the signing means to the city of Buffalo. One of the most loyal fan bases in the NFL, Bill fans could not help getting wrapped up in the Mario Williams hoopla as for once their Bills were the team courting the big name. Williams has the talent (number 1 overall pick) and youth (only 27 years old) to become the face of the franchise. Lacking superstars on either side of the field, Mario Williams could help transition the Bills into a contender. Ranked 28th in the league in sacks, Buffalo desperately needed a playmaker on the edge. What the Bills signed in Williams is not only a playmaker, but a superstar on the defensive side of the ball. Williams not only brings sacks, but he brings a cache too. Not long after Williams signed, the Bills were again able to sign another free agent in Mark Anderson to help bolster their line even more. Certainly Mario Williams and his choosing Buffalo helped make Anderson's decision a little easier, further emphasizing the importance of landing Williams. The signing of Mario Williams has the potential to be that pivotal moment in a franchise's history when a free agent signing dramatically alters a team's direction and propels them to the next level.
1. Peyton Manning: Duh, right? One of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL moves teams via free agency and everyone can agree no other team made such a splash. Not so fast, as Peyton Manning has yet to prove fully healthy and having had 4 neck surgeries in a year, Manning is far from the picture of health he was before 2011. However, assuming Manning is healthy enough to suit up when week 1 kicks off, there is no "1A, 1"; it is Manning and everyone else. If Tim Tebow can take this team to the playoffs, there is no limit to Manning's potential. With a solid defense, led by Champ Bailey and young star Von Miller, they will not feel the same tremendous weight to dominate week to week with Manning. The offense is not void either, as young wide outs Demarius Thomas and Eric Decker will grow immensely under Manning's tutelage. The Broncos also are stable on the offensive line, being 1 of 5 teams in the NFL to have the same starling lineup for all 16 games. Perhaps not as loaded as the other suitor in San Fran, Denver is still a playoff team, in a relatively weak division needing very little to take the next step. Assuming health, Peyton Manning is anything but 'very little' and should have fans in Denver forgetting about Tim Tebow awfully quick.