FREE-AGENT WINNERS | LOSERS
Only five hours into the free-agent signing period, the big winner among all available players was already determined.
Free-agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth signed a seven-year, $100 million contract with the Washington Redskins. The suddenly wealthy Haynesworth played his first six seasons for the Tennessee Titans.
Haynesworth had two solid seasons, including a breakout 2008 campaign, when he was among the NFL's most dominant defenders. He parlayed that into the richest contract ever paid a defensive player.
Wisely, when he signed the Tennessee franchise tag in 2008, his agent, Chad Speck, stipulated a clause that precluded the Titans from using the franchise tag for the second year in a row if his client made the Pro Bowl. That clause, and the contract that resulted from it, made Haynesworth a free man and the most sought-after player in the free-agent pool.
So Haynesworth becomes the first defensive player in NFL history to earn a contract worth $100 million. The deal will pay him $48 million over its first four years, at which time the Redskins will either renegotiate, sign him to a new contract or tear up the deal completely. Still, $12 million per year is a steep price for a defensive player.
No matter the contract's final value, Haynesworth is a big winner. Here are some other winners from the first weekend of free agency:
Washington Redskins: Despite not qualifying for the playoffs, the Redskins still ranked fourth in the NFL in overall defense in 2008. Adding Haynesworth and keeping cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who started the last seven games after replacing Carlos Rogers, will make this an even better unit. End Jason Taylor and tackle Cornelius Griffin are quality defenders who almost certainly will be more effective with Haynesworth aboard. Bringing back guard Derrick Dockery for a second tenure, after his release by Buffalo, will bolster the interior offensive line. Maybe this is the year that owner Dan Snyder is known for winning more than just the free-agency sweepstakes in the spring.
Cornerbacks: Already one of free agency's thinnest positions, the corner spot was further diluted when Oakland re-signed Nnamdi Asomugha to a monster contract before the start of free agency. Indianapolis retained Kelvin Hayden in the same way, Houston slapped the franchise tag on Dunta Robinson and Washington re-signed Hall just minutes into free agency. As a result of those moves, the profile for cornerbacks was heightened. The value of everyone at the position was elevated around the league. So a guy like Domonique Foxworth (Atlanta) received a four-year, $27 million deal from the Baltimore Ravens. That's nearly $7 million a year for a player with 28 starts in four seasons and only four career interceptions. And Andre' Goodman (Miami) went to Denver for five years, $25 million.
Look for players such as Bryant McFadden (Pittsburgh, and a starter in Super Bowl XLIII), Ron Bartell (St. Louis), Phillip Buchanon (Tampa Bay) and Jabari Greer (Buffalo) to benefit. Likewise for players who were released, such as Dre' Bly (Denver), Patrick Surtain (Kansas City) and Chris McAlister (Baltimore). Even middle-level cornerbacks such as Chris Carr (Tennessee), Eric Green (Arizona) and Drayton Florence (Jacksonville) should be able to garner solid free-agent contracts.
Denver Broncos: The new regime of coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Brian Xanders concentrated on quantity at the outset of free agency, but added several quality role players to the roster. The Broncos added eight players in all, but the contract of tailback J.J. Arrington was nullified by league officials, cutting the number to eight newcomers. Still, the Broncos rebuilt their interior secondary by signing safeties Brian Dawkins (Philadelphia) and Renaldo Hill (Miami) and also landed Goodman, a solid cover guy, as a new partner for corner Champ Bailey. Plus, Denver got a 3-4 inside run-stuffer in linebacker Andra Davis (Cleveland) and even addressed its special-teams needs, adding deep-snapper Lonie Paxton (New England) and cover man Darrell Reid (Indianapolis). McDaniels is familiar with effective wide receiver Jabar Gaffney (New England), and tailback Correll Buckhalter (Philadelphia) is pretty productive when he is healthy.
QB Matt Cassel: The Saturday trade that sent Cassel to Kansas City made him a starter and also made him a ton of money. Even with the franchise marker, worth a guaranteed $14.65 million for a quarterback, Cassel, who played brilliantly at times in 2008, would have been behind the recovering Tom Brady with the Patriots. New England officials must be confident that Brady, who missed 15 games in 2008 after knee surgery, will be whole again this year. In Kansas City, Cassel has to beat out only youngsters Tyler Thigpen and Brodie Croyle to be the starter. That shouldn't be too difficult for him.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.