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SAM FARMER ON THE NFL

Winners and losers of the NFL off-season

Browns, Seahawks and Cowboys should be happy with the way things have gone, but the Broncos might have issues.

March 06, 2009|SAM FARMER | ON THE NFL

The thing about NFL free agency is it's anything but free.

Teams all over the league are reaching deep in their pockets to shell out for gargantuan deals, contracts seemingly unaffected by the country's economic downturn.

Picking winners and losers at this point is a dicey proposition. But here's a look at who should be feeling pretty good at this point, and who might be second-guessing their moves:

Winners

Cleveland Browns: Remember Kellen Winslow Jr.'s "I'm a soldier" tirade? Well, soldier, forward march! Talented as he could be at times, Winslow (six surgeries) was an off-the-field headache for the Browns, so nobody was dabbing their eyes when Cleveland traded him to Tampa Bay for a second-rounder this year and a fifth-rounder in 2010. That's what the New York Giants got from New Orleans in the Jeremy Shockey trade, and it's more than New England got for trading both Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel to Kansas City. The trade gives Cleveland three of this year's first 50 selections in the draft.

Matt Stafford: With campus pro days coming up, Georgia quarterback Stafford is the clubhouse favorite to be the first overall pick. The Detroit Lions, who have that selection, have yet to do something that would indicate they're heading in another direction. They traded Jon Kitna to Dallas, which leaves them with Daunte Culpepper, Drew Stanton and Drew Henson on the quarterback depth chart -- none a long-term solution. Dress warm, Matt.

Seattle Seahawks: Whereas Washington made the most eye-catching signing, the Seahawks made the best pass-catching one. Their offense needs a boost, and receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh should give them one. He's the only NFL receiver who has made 90 or more catches in each of the past three seasons, and now he has a chance to emerge from the shadow of Chad Ocho Cinco and be the undisputed No. 1 guy for a passing offense that finished 29th last season.

Tony Romo and Jason Witten: Now that the Dallas Cowboys have finally "eighty-sixed" No. 81 Terrell Owens, quarterback Romo and tight end Witten can breathe a little easier. Owens is sporadically spectacular, but his paranoid belief last season that Romo and Witten had a catalog of secret plays aimed at freezing him out did nothing for team chemistry. Romo shouldn't have to worry about forcing the ball to Owens just to keep him happy.

Losers

Denver Broncos: Nobody said stepping in for Mike Shanahan would be a breeze, but new Broncos Coach Josh McDaniels has made it tough on himself by apparently trying to trade quarterback Jay Cutler. McDaniels has denied initiating any trade talks, although that's not the point. It's that Cutler thinks the new regime doesn't want him. Cutler's not the most thick-skinned guy around, and you get the feeling this guy is equally adept at passes and impasses.

Owens: What's the market for a 35-year-old receiver who's even better at burning bridges than he is at burning cornerbacks? Evidently, not a robust one. Within hours of the Cowboys cutting ties with him, news reports from all over the country said team after team wasn't interested. Among the clubs who reportedly will take a pass, the Giants, Redskins, Eagles (of course), and even the Raiders. Time will tell if those reports are true, but so far it looks like nobody's lining up to ride the T.O. train.

Wait and see

New England Patriots: It's hard to believe the Patriots got snookered on the Cassel/Vrabel deal to the Chiefs. They desperately needed to clear salary-cap space -- they were less than $2 million under the cap when the free-agency period opened -- and the market to pick up Cassel's one-year, $14.65-million deal was lukewarm. Denver got in the game late, when the deal with the Chiefs was almost done. Losing Vrabel is tough, as he probably has a few good years left, but at least he's not adding punch to the 3-4 systems in Denver or Cleveland, teams that could be closer to turning things around. If the Patriots can squeeze another year or two out of Fred Taylor -- the way they did with seasoned vets such as Corey Dillon, Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau -- that's a find.

Kansas City Chiefs: Was Cassel really a great quarterback in the making, or a one-hit wonder along the lines of Cleveland's Derek Anderson? Was it just New England's system that made him look good, or can Cassel work the same magic with the Chiefs? It's got to be encouraging to Kansas City fans that both Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli and Denver's McDaniels wanted him, because those are two former Patriots who know him as well as anyone. As for Vrabel, he'll be just as valuable in the locker room as he will be on the field.

Washington Redskins: Once again, the Redskins are taking the fantasy-football route, trying to spend, spend, spend their way to a Super Bowl. Maybe Albert Haynesworth will be worth the $41 million in guaranteed money Washington is paying him -- he had more than his share of suitors around the league -- but Redskins owner Dan Snyder has a less-than-sterling track record of locating quick fixes. Could this deal be Dana Stubblefield, Part Deux?

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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