In a column earlier this week, I explained how free agency and the draft are inexorably intertwined. With the marketplace continuing to evolve, let's take another look at how the late-week signings will impact the first round in April:
Reuter: Chain reaction
How will this year's free agency impact April's draft? Chad Reuter examines the fallout of some notable developments. **More ...**
The Bills landed the top defensive free agent of the year when they signed Williams. If they stick with a 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, Williams will go back to harassing quarterbacks with his hand on the ground after playing in a 3-4 for Houston in 2011. The move frees the team to be able to meet a need at offensive tackle by selecting Riley Reiff, or possibly bring in an ultra-productive middle linebacker in Luke Kuechly.
Jacksonville signs WR Laurent Robinson
Robinson has come a long way in less than a year; he was released by San Diego and Dallas in September before re-joining the Cowboys a week later; he wound up leading the team in 2011 with 11 touchdown catches. The Jaguars recognized his value as a vertical threat, rewarding him with a five-year, $32.5 million deal. General manager Gene Smith would love for Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon to fall to him with the seventh overall pick, but trading up to get the two-time Fred Biletnikoff Award winner seems unlikely after the team gave Robinson that contract. Now the Jaguars can focus on the offensive line (by drafting Reiff), the defensive line (DE Melvin Ingram) or the secondary (CB Dre Kirkpatrick).
Kansas City signs RB Peyton Hillis
The mercurial Hillis' move from the Browns to the Chiefs affects the early first-round picks of both teams. Either could have selected Trent Richardson, the top running back in this year's class, but now Kansas City will probably not be looking to address that position with the 11th pick. Hillis wasn't expected to return to the Browns, but his official exit increases the likelihood that Richardson will get the call at No. 4. If Cleveland does pick Richardson, the Browns will have to stick with Colt McCoy at quarterback or draft a second-tier prospect like Brandon Weeden in Round 2. It might be tough for Browns president Mike Holmgren to ignore Ryan Tannehill at the top of the draft.
Gallery leaves a large hole at the left-guard spot on Seattle's offensive line. The team has been willing to use first-round picks to bolster its front five before, picking left tackle Russell Okung in 2010 and right tackle James Carpenter in 2011. This move may set up a return of prospect David DeCastro to the Seattle area; he was an All-American as a prep player at Bellevue High School.
In addition to signing Snyder, who has the versatility to play guard or right tackle, away from division rival San Francisco, the Cardinals brought back their starting left tackle Brown with a more cap-friendly deal after releasing him on Tuesday. These two signings make it difficult to see Arizona picking another lineman with its first-round pick, the 13th overall selection, though bringing in a right tackle like Cordy Glenn is not out of the question. These moves could instead push the team to add another linebacker -- even with mid-round picks O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho coming up to replace aging free agents Jerry Porter and Clark Haggans -- if Melvin Ingram, Nick Perry or Dont'a Hightower seem to be a good value at No. 13.
As I mentioned in my last article, the Cowboys needed to find a new cornerback after releasing Terence Newman due to his high cap number and diminishing skills. Carr seemed a natural fit, and Jerry Jones forked over the money (five years, $50.1 million). The team also had a need for an inside linebacker, and Connor was signed to pair up with another former second-level defender from Penn State in Sean Lee. The team could still have interest in using its 14th overall selection on young corners like Dre Kirkpatrick or Stephon Gilmore, but may instead decide to fortify their offensive line (as they did in 2011 by picking tackle Tyron Smith) by selecting DeCastro or powerful guard/tackle prospect Cordy Glenn.
Debate: Time for some action!
We're only a few days into free agency, but which teams are dropping the ball early in the process? Our analysts debate. **More ...**
The team's release of former starting left tackle Marcus McNeill made my last list, and signing his replacement in Gaither filled the hole in a way that probably precludes them from using their first-round pick (No. 18) at the position. Inking Johnson, however, unexpectedly filled another big need, as the Chargers needed a solid run-stopping outside linebacker who can get after the QB if in position to do so. Adding in new Chargers receivers Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal and fullback Le'Ron McClain makes it easy for the team to select the top player on their board at any position.
The Saints do not have a first-round pick, but this signing does have an effect on what will happen on the opening night of draft weekend. Grubbs' old team, Baltimore, is now severely lacking at interior offensive line on its depth chart even, if though it is bringing back veteran center Matt Birk. The top two guards in this draft, DeCastro and Glenn, will be long gone; will the Ravens view Iowa State's Kelechi Osemele or Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler as deserving of the 29th overall selection? Or will they pick the best available player Thursday night and hope someone falls to them in the second round? Zeitler is a better zone-blocking prospect, but Osemele could be a dominant power-blocking guard for the Ravens and his better-than-expected combine performance may allow GM Ozzie Newsome to project him as an immediate starter.
Ever since the Super Bowl, it's been popular for analysts to predict the Giants will select a tight end with the last pick of the first round. The signing of Bennett, even with his dropped passes and attitude issues, helps bolster a position on the Giants' roster in desperate need of help, with Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum sustaining torn anterior cruciate ligaments in the title game. The team might look for another Ballard or Bear Pascoe-type tight end who can block and receive in the mid-to-late rounds, but acquiring Bennett might keep them from using a high pick on a player at that position.