By Pat Kirwan
NFL.com Senior Analyst
(March 9, 2007) -- I get asked every few hours who the winners and losers are in free agency so far.
The first answer that comes to mind is there is no way to tell for the next year or so. The next answer that creeps into my thought process is there are teams that haven't done a thing yet.
Of course, most often the teams making the biggest splash get recognized as the big winners. The one thing that can be looked at closely is the ways the free-agent signings are going to affect the draft.
Adrian Peterson is still a tremendous prospect, but now he has fewer suitors. The unexpected action at the running-back position is clearly changing the top of the draft boards. Now that Cleveland has secured Jamal Lewis, Houston acquired Ahman Green, Oakland added Dominic Rhodes, and the Jets, Lions and Ravens traded for running backs, the draft has been altered.
Not too many people ever considered the idea of the Raiders or Lions picking a back with the top two picks in the draft, but any consideration of them taking a runner at the top of Round 2 is now gone. That means now there is some downward pressure on the RB position, and there will be good backs sliding all the way into Round 3.
Cleveland can now skip the popular notion that Adrian Peterson was its pick at the No. 3 spot. Some teams right below them that were hoping the Browns would take Peterson and let a quality player like OT Joe Thomas or DE Gaines Adams fall to them. But now they have to seriously consider calling the Browns and offer something to move up, or they'll miss on their targeted player.
Peterson's stock hasn't dropped one bit, but the "need" for a back has changed. The Browns now will now have Jamal Lewis and probably Joe Thomas, or they could move down a few spots, pick up a terrific prospect like Brady Quinn, Alan Branch or Levi Brown, and come back with an extra second-round pick and take a cornerback like Aaron Ross.
Let's go down the Round 1 order: Tampa Bay, Arizona, Washington, Minnesota, Houston and Miami are set at running back. That means Atlanta (No. 10) could start seriously looking at Peterson, even though it has Jerious Norwood and Warrick Dunn who both can still play effectively. San Francisco (No. 11) is set with Frank Gore, but Buffalo (No. 12) now has to be getting excited because Peterson could slide to it. If the Bills sign a veteran, then the Packers (No. 16) might have the big Oklahoma running back at their doorstep. Stranger things have happened in the NFL.
I would guess Detroit and Cleveland are going to entertain a lot of calls about trading down, and both teams would be smart to listen. I remember the year the Redskins moved down twice in the first round. If Phil Savage or Matt Millen ever drop two to three spots and then drop again another two to three spots, they could really put a great draft together.
As for teams that appear to be on the right course so far this offseason, three teams jump out at me. The Jets might have gotten one of the best single deals so far when they traded with Chicago for Thomas Jones. The clubs swapped second-round picks, which equates to a third-round pick on the chart value board. The Jets have solved their biggest personnel issue and still has four picks in the top 89.
The 49ers are selling the future, which can be tough. There's no way they can tell a veteran free agent, "We will be Super Bowl contenders in 2007," which is what every good player is looking for -- besides money, of course.
The cost of living in San Francisco is not a positive, either. Trust me, I ran free agency for a team with a poor record and a super-high cost of living with the Jets, and it isn't easy. Mike Nolan and Co., have done a great job of securing talent and still have three picks in the top 76.
The Patriots witnessed Wes Welker's kicking skills during a 2004 game at New England. The final team to jump out at me is the New England Patriots. The quick and decisive move to acquire LB/ DE Adalius Thomas, who has 20 sacks in the past two seasons, seems like a bargain considering what teams are paying older pass rushers and the kind of players getting franchise tags. Thomas basically replaces Willie McGinest as the "tweener" end/linebacker. Belichick loves the "joker" types at linebacker. Are they rushing or dropping; are they in a 4-3 or a 3-4?
The move to get Wes Welker is an interesting one. Belichick takes a division opponent whom he has had to defend, and Welker has skills like Troy Brown. Look for Welker to catch 50 balls, move the chains 40 times, return punts and maybe be cross-trained as a dime back -- just in case.
Sammy Morris is a player Belichick has liked since his draft year, and Kyle Brady is a better run-blocking tight end than any TE on the roster. Laurence Maroney is going to love the off-tackle play behind the 6-foot-5, 270-pound blocker.
What makes the Patriots even more impressive is their four draft picks in the top 91, including two in Round 1. Scott Pioli could easily find a corner and safety with the first two picks, or maybe even have a top-flight wide receiver staring at him. With the roster really starting to take shape, the Pats could package the 24th and 28th picks and move up as high as No. 9 for one special player.
I guess the one-year rebuilding program the Patriots were involved in last year is now over. Time will tell!