Monday, March 03, 2008

Free Agency Roundup

With the reported signing of Ben Roethlisberger to a contract extension, it seems that now is an appropriate time to review what was a hectic weekend in NFL free agency. More specifically, we will take a look at the Steelers and their AFC North cohorts in an effort to figure out just what it all means.

Let's begin with the good news. Ben Roethlisberger's eight year contract extension, signed one day after his twenty-sixth birthday, ensures that he will remain with the Steelers through his most productive seasons. The $21,000,000 signing bonus (part of the $36,000,000 guaranteed) provides the team with some much needed cap relief (which became even more important last week -- according to an SI.com report the Steelers lost nearly $2,000,000 in cap space as the result of an NFL cap adjustment). The exact amount of cap space to be saved is still a matter of some number crunching, but the $2,950,000 roster bonus that Mr. Roethlisberger was due is now part of a signing bonus and can be amortized over the life of the contract.

The bad news, of course, is the departure of Alan Faneca to the New York Jets. There is no doubt that the loss of the Pro Bowl guard will hurt the Steelers however (and stay with me on this) the positive impact he will have with the Jets (taking his spot between Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson) exceeds the loss that the Steelers are likely to feel. Even with Mr. Faneca the Steelers' offensive line showed a decline last season, and it is unlikely that that trend would have been reversed had he stayed. And while we try not to engage in sour grapes criticism of departing Steelers, a quote from Mr. Faneca's agent to the effect that his client wanted to go to the Jets because of his high regard for Jets assistant head coach Bill Callahan . . . well, let's just say that sounds pretty ridiculous.

Finally there's that team just across the Ohio border. After trading for Shaun Rodgers and Corey Williams at least one of our favorite publications has pronounced the Browns as the team to beat in the AFC North. In addition they also added Donte Stallworth during their shopping spree this past weekend. There's no doubt that, on paper, these acquisitions make the Browns a better team, but let's remember that this is the same team that has signed more than 20 free agents over the last three years (including Ken Dorsey, Ted Washington, and LeCharles Bentley). They've addressed wide receiver repeatedly -- is there something wrong with Joe Jurevicius? -- and Mr. Stallworth has as many detractors as advocates (as do Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Williams). To top it all off the Browns now have no picks in the first three rounds of upcoming NFL draft. It seems that the Browns are taking a "win now" approach, and one has to question the advisability of a 10 win team, with a young (albeit talented) quarterback, employing such a strategy. If the Browns perform well then Phil Savage may be the Executive of the Year but if not . . . he may have mortgaged the short-term future of the franchise.

The first weekend of free agency was busy and noteworthy, with the Steelers doing what they do (i.e. wishing veterans well as they move to new environs) while their rivals in the division continue to scramble in an effort to catch our favorite team.

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