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Original Issue

Deal or No Deal

Colossal contracts, a ground-shaking trade and some false steps marked the kickoff to the free-agent season

THE OPENING WEEKEND of free agency left heads shaking over the enormousness of some deals, starting with the one the Redskins gave defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who became the first player other than a quarterback to receive a $100 million contract—of which $41 million is guaranteed. Perhaps even more stunning was the $16.5 million in guarantees that former Falcons cornerback Domonique Foxworth received from the Ravens. This after Atlanta wasn't impressed enough by Foxworth to make a serious effort to re-sign the player it acquired in a trade with the Broncos in September.

Yet, in evaluating the first few days of the signing period, there were more interesting developments than the oversize contracts.

The trade that was made, and the one that wasn't
The Chiefs, 6--26 over the past two seasons, made themselves relevant again by acquiring quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel from the Patriots for only a second-round pick (No. 34 overall) in the 2009 draft. By retaining its first-round pick, at No. 3, Kansas City can take Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry if he's still on the board.

Other clubs were reportedly willing to pay more for Cassel, who was 10--5 as New England's starter last year after Tom Brady sustained a season-ending knee injury in the opener. However, Detroit and Tampa Bay, both in dire need of a QB, were too slow in making their interest known, allowing new Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli to strike a deal with Pats czar-coach Bill Belichick, with whom he'd teamed in New England to win three Super Bowls.

The buzz around that trade was nearly overtaken by news that the Broncos had entertained trade talks for Pro Bowl QB Jay Cutler that would have reunited Cassel with new Denver coach Josh McDaniels, the Pats' former offensive coordinator. Cutler told Denver media he was upset by such talk, though Peter King reported on on Monday that Cutler himself had previously requested a trade. Cutler is known within the league for bouts of immaturity, cockiness and stubbornness, so the incident doesn't figure to be forgotten quickly. McDaniels might be in for a bumpy ride.

Players who overestimated their value
Future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis hoped to create a bidding war among the Cowboys, Jets and Ravens, but his contract demands and age (he'll be 34 in May) soured New York, which signed Lewis's linebacker mate Bart Scott, and turned off Dallas, which picked up Atlanta's Keith Brooking. It appears Lewis's best option is to return to Baltimore, his team of 13 years.

Similarly left unsigned was nine-year veteran wideout Laveranues Coles, who surrendered $6 million in guarantees to get out of his Jets contract and look for a new team. He paid a visit to Buffalo, but nothing came of the trip. Such a move is always risky: In 2005 veteran guard Ross Verba paid the Browns $465,000 to release him, then failed to find a suitor. He was out of football in '05 and played only seven more NFL games.

Tampa Bay's inactivity despite league-high cap room
The Bucs purged their roster of high-priced, aging stars such as linebacker Derrick Brooks, running back Warrick Dunn, wideout Joey Galloway and quarterback Jeff Garcia, leaving the team a reported $61 million under the salary cap. But Tampa Bay was slow to get in on the Haynesworth negotiations, in addition to the Cassel talks, and made only one significant move in the first week: trading Cleveland undisclosed draft picks for tight end Kellen Winslow, whose knee injuries and desire for a megacontract make the deal ripe with risk. (They also re-signed wideout Michael Clayton, hardly a blockbuster.) It's not too early to start wondering if new G.M. Mark Dominik, recently promoted from director of pro personnel, is in over his head.

Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback.

Trotter's Take

One team that clearly came out ahead in the first week of free agency was the Giants. They won the Super Bowl two seasons ago and had the best record in the NFC last year largely on the strength of their defensive line, and that unit will be even better in '09 with the signing of fourth-year Cowboys end Chris Canty (above) and seventh-year Seahawks tackle Rocky Bernard. The two add depth and versatility to the Giants' line rotation—Canty can slide to tackle in passing situations, and Bernard, a solid run-stuffer, has flashed pass-rush ability from the interior. What's more, New York also gets back Osi Umenyiora, the Pro Bowl end who missed all of last season with a knee injury.



MAJOR MOVERS Cassel (16) heads to Kansas City, while Scott (inset) joins the Jets.



[See caption above]