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Last week, the NFL kicked off free agency. Every year begins with the signing of the “big names,” with teams doling out huge money to the players they believe will have an immediate impact on their new teams. Other teams try to make deals to bring in players through trades.
This year, there have been a few surprises that may have left people scratching their heads and, for at least one team, wishing they had done more.
The biggest surprise in the first week of free agency is the Broncos’ signing of Wes Welker. Quarterback Tom Brady signed an extension with the Patriots this offseason that was for less money than he would warrant on the open market, with the intent of giving New England the opportunity to bring in players that could keep the team in championship contention. The Patriots gave Welker a low offer, and he sought deals elsewhere, finding a good deal to catch passes from Peyton Manning.
Welker will be hard to replace, having caught 672 passes for 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns in his six years with New England. Welker was the favorite target of Brady, averaging 112 catches a year and over 1,200 yards, while also handling kick returns. The Patriots responded to this departure by signing former St. Louis Ram Danny Amendola to a five-year, $31 million deal a few hours after Welker’s departure. It is yet to be seen if New England will regret this decision.
The biggest trade of the week goes to the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle traded a first-round and a seventh-round pick in the 2013 draft, plus an additional pick next year, to bring in Percy Harvin from the Minnesota Vikings. Harvin in turn signed a six-year, $67 million deal with the Seahawks. Harvin brings versatility and a multiple-threat ability to the already-dangerous Seattle team that was one down away from going to the NFC championship game last season.
Other notable trades and acquisitions: the Kansas City Chiefs traded a second-round pick in the upcoming draft, plus an additional pick in the 2014 draft, to obtain Alex Smith. Smith was the starter for the San Francisco 49ers for six-and-a-half seasons, until he was put on the bench in favor of Colin Kaepernick late in the season. The former University of Utah quarterback will join new head coach Andy Reid and the revamped Chiefs and has been named the starter.
The biggest loser of this week has to be the reigning Super Bowl champion, the Baltimore Ravens. After signing quarterback Joe Flacco to a six-year deal worth $120.6 million, the Ravens haven’t had enough money to keep other valuable pieces. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded to the 49ers, while linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe signed new deals with other teams. All this with the fact that future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis is retiring, and Ed Reed, their staple at safety, is also in free agent talks. Things are not looking up for the defending champs.
With all of these deals, plus many other notable deals, the NFL landscape has changed in just the past few days. This year has seen a number of surprise deals, ones that will probably have an effect on the league for years to come.
As the most aggressive week of the NFL year comes to a close, sights are now set on the NFL draft. In 41 days, teams will be looking to find the next stars of the game and fill roster holes that haven’t been filled in free agency.
With all of these moves, and more on the way, this year should be a great one in the NFL, as always.