SI'S TAKE ON BIG-NAME DEALS AND UNDER-THE-RADAR MOVES
• Albert Haynesworth, DT, and Chad Ochocinco, WR, Patriots (acquired in trades). Bill Belichick is unrivaled in his ability to revive the careers of the perpetually disgruntled (Corey Dillon) or the purportedly washed-up (Randy Moss). His next reclamation projects: Haynesworth, who cost New England only a fifth-round pick after a disastrous stint with the Redskins, and Ochocinco, who agreed to a restructuring of his deal after being dealt by the Bengals for two late choices. Larceny.
• Johnathan Joseph, CB, Texans (five years, $48.8 million). Joseph had nine interceptions over the past two seasons with Cincinnati and was the second-best cornerback available in free agency. His signing, coupled with the arrival of former Bears strong safety Danieal Manning, immediately improves a Houston secondary that was a sieve last season.
• Santonio Holmes, WR, Jets (five years, $50 million). Re-signing Holmes was priority No. 1 because the Jets didn't want to build their passing game around Braylon Edwards. The bonus addition of Plaxico Burress gives Mark Sanchez a dangerous red-zone target.
• Reggie Bush, RB, Dolphins (traded from the Saints). As good as Bush has been when healthy, he'll have a tough time flourishing, because Miami is not as talented at the skill positions as New Orleans is. Defenses will find it easier to zero in on him.
• Peyton Manning, QB, Colts (five years, $90 million). There was never any danger that he'd leave Indy, but his new contract gives the franchise, its players and its fans peace of mind.
• Harvey Dahl, RG, Rams (four years, $16 million). Atlanta had two above-average free-agent guards in Dahl and Justin Blalock. Blalock's three years younger at 27, so he stayed with the Falcons and Dahl went on the market. The Rams will make him a Day One starter, and his mean streak will serve them well.
• Cullen Jenkins, DT, Eagles (five years, $25 million). After paying big for Nnamdi Asomugha, G.M. Howie Roseman put together a creative deal—Jenkins reportedly can be cut after a year at just $4 million in first-year cap charges. When he, Jason Babin and Trent Cole are rushing, this will be a hard front to handle.
• James Jones, WR, Packers (three years, undisclosed). Maybe Green Bay G.M. Ted Thompson simply trusts Aaron Rodgers more than he did Brett Favre. Four years ago Favre begged for Randy Moss. Thompson preferred young wideouts—including a rookie, James Jones. Rodgers recently went public pleading for the Pack to keep Jones, a 6' 1" deep threat. On Sunday, Thompson got it done.
• Steve Breaston, WR, Chiefs (five years, $9 million guaranteed). Tremendous value for a workmanlike receiver who could catch 70 passes for K.C. and knows what coach Todd Haley, his former offensive coordinator in Arizona, likes to run.
• Remi Ayodele, DT, Vikings (three years, $9 million). Vastly underrated contributor on the Saints' Super Bowl team—a gap-plugger who's also surprisingly quick to the passer. Puzzling that New Orleans didn't do more to keep him, because coordinator Greg Williams loved what he did for the defense.
A LOT OF BALLS IN THE AIR
BIG-TIME PASSERS MADE BIG-TIME SWITCHES. MORE TO COME?
Well, that didn't take long. Less than 24 hours after the end of the lockout, news leaked that the Seahawks had reached an agreement with free-agent quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, formerly of the Vikings. Over the next few days the Redskins traded Donovan McNabb to Minnesota, longtime Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck agreed to terms with the Titans, the Eagles dealt Kevin Kolb to the Cardinals, the Dolphins held trade talks with the Broncos for veteran Kyle Orton, and Philadelphia took on Vince Young, who'll back up Michael Vick. And the QB carousel isn't likely to stop spinning. Although talks broke down when Miami and Orton couldn't agree on an extension that would reduce his $8.4 million cap figure for '11, negotiations could resume if Dolphins incumbent Chad Henne struggles—and if second-year Denver QB Tim Tebow proves he can run an NFL offense.
New Broncos coach John Fox says he wants to win now and will go with the best players to do so. Based on Orton's track record—41 TDs over the past two seasons, with the fifth-lowest interception percentage among NFL regulars—he should be the starter. But Tebow, the charismatic 2010 first-rounder, would rekindle interest in a franchise that has gone four straight years without a winning record. As much as football is a game, it's also a business. That's why Denver players are watching the situation closely.
"This happened my last year in San Francisco, in 2005," says Brandon Lloyd, the Broncos' leading receiver last season. "We've got Tim Rattay, who can play in this league and deliver the ball, and they get rid of him to play Alex Smith, the guy we drafted Number 1 overall that year. As a veteran you say, You're just going to s--- on our season to develop for the future? It makes you mad. Me, I want to win now. Keeping Orton as the starter means we're trying to win now. Going with Tim Tebow is a developmental move, not a 'now' move."
As for the Seahawks, they really liked Kolb (Seattle tried to trade for him before the 2010 season) but concluded that the price was too steep. Arizona, on the other hand, was willing to spend on what was clearly a now move—the Cards sent Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick in '12 to Philly, then signed Kolb to a $63 million contract that reportedly includes more than $21 million in guarantees. The Cards' passing game ranked 31st in the league last year, and with Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next off-season—and the team prohibited from using the franchise tag on him—Arizona needed to make a splash. The organization never was high on McNabb, who'll cost Minnesota just two sixth-round picks even if he returns to his Pro Bowl form; and Orton was a safe but not particularly sexy alternative. So Arizona pulled the trigger on Kolb, a fifth-year veteran who is 3--4 as a starter with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
"Our interest in Kevin didn't just start this year or anytime recently," says Cardinals G.M. Rod Graves. "It goes back to when he was eligible for the draft, and we recognized what kind of abilities he had. Historically, there have been trades made with players at that position who have not had a great deal of playing time. If you believe in the player and you feel like he's a good fit for your organization, you go after him. That's what we did."
POWER PLAY Haynesworth (in blue) gets a shot at resurrecting his career under Belichick.
GARRETT W. ELLWOOD
ORANGE YOU GLAD? The Broncos tried to ship Orton (right) to make way for Tebow (15), a prospect that doesn't sit will well with at least one vet.