Share

Rick Snider: With start of free agency, power shifts quickly in AFC

|
Sports,NFL,Redskins,Rick Snider

The Denver Broncos should be the new Super Bowl favorites with the Miami Dolphins close behind. The defending champion Baltimore Ravens? Nevermore.

Power definitely shifted among the AFC's top teams. The NFC hierarchy, meanwhile, barely seemed impacted by the start of free agency Tuesday. At most, the New York Giants lost tight end Martellus Bennett to the Chicago Bears.

Yes, the AFC made the more noteworthy moves. Denver seemed destined for the Super Bowl last year under quarterback Peyton Manning before it was upset by Baltimore. On Wednesday, the Broncos signed New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker, who has five seasons of 111 receptions or more.

Welker represents a big shift of power. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady loses a big target, and Manning gets another one. Don't underscore that move. And don't forget the Broncos also signed San Diego guard Louis Vasquez, who, along with right tackle Orlando Franklin, makes Denver's running game just as good as its passing scheme.

Fear the Broncos.

But Miami must be respected even though it finished 7-9 last season. The Dolphins used their salary cap room to spend big on Pittsburgh receiver Mike Wallace and Baltimore linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Again, it's one team benefitting from other contenders' losses. With quarterback Ryan Tannehill expected to improve in his second season, the Dolphins could be a 10-win team.

Baltimore, meanwhile, lost linebackers Ray Lewis (retired), Paul Kruger (to Cleveland) and Ellerbe. That's going to hurt the champs. Then again, a team perennially known for defense actually won the title through its offense, so maybe the Ravens aren't through yet.

And keep an eye on Kansas City. Sure, that seems nuts after the Chiefs tied the Jacksonville Jaguars at an NFL-worst 2-14, but new coach Andy Reid is a franchise-maker. The former Philadelphia boss now has quarterback Alex Smith and the first pick in the coming draft. The Chiefs also weren't as bad as their record last season. They easily could rebound to 8-8 or so.

Another interesting team is Oakland. The Raiders aren't contending, but they're certainly ridding themselves of late owner Al Davis' decisions, including the release of former Maryland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, a questionable 2009 first-rounder who finally seemed to become a solid player.

As for Washington, it was another slow day on the salary cap sanction watch. Lorenzo Alexander signed with Arizona. It's a bad day when someone steals your special teams captain.

Alexander was a Pro Bowl player but not a high-end salary, so the Redskins' inability to keep him signals there's little chance of signing a marquee or even Plan B free agent at more expensive slots such as safety, cornerback or tight end. Washington's NFC East title defense won't be easy.

After all, Miami and Denver showed if you're not getting better, you're falling behind.

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.

View article comments Leave a comment