Between the time the Jets traded for Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie and the Giants signed former Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle, virtually all the big-name players in unrestricted free agency were gone.
Here’s a look at the 10 most important transactions, and the one team that didn't make free agent news for a change:
1. Julius Peppers (pictured) to the Bears. The normally budget-conscious Bears opened the vault for Peppers (6 years, $91 million, including $42 mil guaranteed). Sure, he was the best pass rusher on the open market. But he is also known to underachieve. When he’s on, he’s great. He’ll have to be to make this deal worthwhile. Otherwise, it’ll be perceived as a panic move. Adding Chester Taylor was a solid move, any way you look at it. Bears need help with the running game, and Taylor will provide it.
2. And the Redskins sign … no one! At least no free agent of consequence. This might have been the biggest stunner of all. Team owner Daniel Snyder has stopped at nothing to get the biggest names on the open market – see: Albert Haynesworth’s $100 million deal last year. But with new coach Mike Shanahan and new GM Bruce Allen, the Redskins made more news in dumping 10 players than signing a big name free agent. They would have gone after Peppers, but there was no way he was getting out of Chicago without a new deal. Also noticeably quiet on the free agent front: Jerry Jones of the Cowboys.
3. Karlos Dansby to the Dolphins. Out goes Joey Porter, and in comes Dansby, a classic 3-4 inside linebacker. Porter, once a great pass rushing outside backer, had outlived his usefulness. Dansby now adds to a defense that figures to be much improved.
4. Anquan Boldin to the Ravens. The former Cardinals receiver has demanded a raise or a trade for two years, and finally got it. A perfect landing spot in Baltimore, where the Ravens desperately need an upgrade at receiver. He will love catching passes from Joe Flacco. Next big receiver news: what happens to Broncos restricted free agent Brandon Marshall, who has drawn interest from the Seahawks.
5. Antonio Cromartie to the Jets. A classic risk-reward deal here. Cromartie is in the final year of his contract and has been hit by five paternity suits over the last two years, a situation he said is now under control. The talent is there; he had 10 interceptions in 2007, but just five over the last two seasons. All in all, it was worth a shot to pair him opposite All Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis. Key point: Cromartie said his 10-INT season in 2007 was a function of playing more man-to-man coverage, something the Jets emphasize.
6. Antrel Rolle to the Giants. With uncertainty surrounding Kenny Phillips’ injured knee, the Giants made a wise, if expensive ($37 million over five years) deal. Rolle can be a difference maker for a defense that vastly underperformed last year, especially in the secondary.
8. Gary Brackett stays in Indianapolis. Too often we look at which players leave and not the ones who stay. Case in point: Brackett, who was re-signed by the Colts and remains at the heart of a very good defense. The middle linebacker would have gotten plenty of action on the open market, including a potential look-see from the Giants.
9. Jake Delhomme released by the Panthers. He still has $12 million in guaranteed money, but the Panthers opted to part ways with the interception-plagued quarterback. Keeping him would have been throwing good money after bad. Unheralded Matt Moore is now the heir apparent.
10. Chad Clifton stays in Green Bay. The Redskins were interested in signing the left tackle after Chris Samuels’ retirement. But Green Bay wisely re-signed him to a three-year, $20 million deal.