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The league
Posted at 11:24 AM ET, 07/29/2011

Lightning round free agency highlights


DeAngelo Williams returns to an over-crowded backfield in Carolina. (Chuck Burton - AP)
This Oklahoma land grab that is the 2011 NFL free agency period — four months of signings that will be compressed into about a weeks’ worth of frenzied activity — is passing at blinding speed. There have been the usual range of bold, questionable, and subtly genius signings and trades — only they are coming faster and more furiously than ever before.

A quick look at some notable moves:

The Patriots have made the boldest moves thus far, paying dirt cheap sums to land two high risk, high reward players. Nabbing Albert Haynesworth as a pass-rush specialist has upset the New England fanbase, but if Big Al can rehab his image and rediscover enthusiasm for professional football he could be a vital piece to that defense. And Chad Ochocinco may no longer be a true deep threat, but he's still a fine overall receiver otherwise and will add some needed size to the Pats' receiving corps; he just made Tom Brady a lot more lethal. Both new players can be headaches, but it's impossible to imagine either of them upsetting the tight ship run by Admiral Belichick. More bold moves: The Titans wasted no time landing a proven leader at QB by locking up Matt Hasselbeck to lead their offense for at least this year as rookie Jake Locker learns the ropes. The Cardinals’ long-anticipated trade for Kevin Kolb also instantly makes them competitive.

The most questionable move has to be DeAngelo Williams resigning with the Panthers, a move that makes little sense from either side. Jonathan Stewart is more than ready to take over a feature back role and Mike Goodson last year proved that he is one of the better reserve tailbacks in the league. So why would the Panthers spend top dollar to bring Williams back to an already crowded backfield? And why would Williams want to come back to what will be one of the worst teams in the league just to split carries in a muddled timeshare? It’s a head-scratcher for sure. Second place: The Seahawks’ signing of Tarvaris Jackson doesn’t seem like an upgrade.

For the shrewdest move of the week, I nominate the Chiefs’ signing of Steve Breaston. The diminutive speedster’s knee is a major question mark, true, but what is unquestionable is his skill as a route runner, his potential value as a kick returner and - most importantly - his familiarity with Todd Haley’s offense. The Chiefs took a big step forward in Haley’s second year at the helm in Kansas City, due in large part to Matt Cassel’s increased comfort in Kansas City’s offense. Now add a top-flight receiver who knows this offense like the back of his hand, and — as long as he stays healthy — this offense stands to get even more dangerous. Second place: The Saints' addition of Darren Sproles is genius; the diminutive pass-catching back may be an even better fit for the New Orleans offense than the departed Reggie Bush.

Locally, the Redskins have made several important moves. Most notably, they unloaded a player who embodies everything that is wrong with professional sports, Albert Haynesworth. And they shipped out the other locker room headache in Donovan McNabb — and did it the right way, by doing it quickly and not letting a respected veteran twist in the wind. Yet the Skins’ most notable move so far may is neither of those trades, and it isn’t even the shrewd resigning of Santana Moss (though that transaction signals a maturity in decision-making not seen in recent years in this town — far from a glitzy move, all they did was resign one of the best slot receivers in the NFL and ensure some locker room stability in doing so).

No, the best move they’ve made so far was to sign cornerback (and local DeMatha and UMD product) Josh Wilson. He may not be a household name, but Wilson graded out as Pro Football Focus fifth-ranked corner last year and is almost certainly an improvement over Carlos Rogers. Of course, Captain Boom/Bust DeAngelo Hall will still be not-really-holding down the fort on the other side of the field, but Wilson’s addition is still an upgrade. Now, if only there was a confidence-inspiring quarterback on the roster....

By Aaron Stern  |  11:24 AM ET, 07/29/2011

Tags:  Aaron Stern

 
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