- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2007

The first week of this year’s signing period showed again it is no accident New England’s Bill Belichick and Denver’s Mike Shanahan are the only active coaches who have led their teams to two or more Super Bowl titles since free agency hit the NFL 14 years ago. Both men have the final call on personnel and it shows.

With impressive 2006 rookie runner Laurence Maroney on hand, the Patriots cut unhappy veteran back Corey Dillon and replaced him with Sammy Morris, a solid backup. Expecting to lose Daniel Graham (who went to Denver), the Patriots signed blocking tight end Kyle Brady from Jacksonville to complement Ben Watson and 2006 rookie David Thomas.

Adding Baltimore’s Adalius Thomas, the only available player from last month’s Pro Bowl, was a major coup compared to losing fellow linebacker Tully Banta-Cain to San Francisco. Giving AFC East rival Miami two draft picks for restricted free agent receiver Wes Welker finished a superlative week for Belichick, the coach of the decade.

Shanahan hasn’t been as successful of late, but the Broncos have had just one losing season during his 12 years. This week, he not only replaced late cornerback Darrent Williams with Dre Bly in a trade with Detroit, but Shanahan signed Travis Henry, a more proven back than Tatum Bell, who had gone to the Lions in the Bly deal.

Denver also added guard Montrae Holland from New Orleans to make up for the loss of tackle George Foster to Detroit. Trading Jake Plummer to Tampa Bay — prompting his apparent retirement — smartly kept the former starting quarterback from resurfacing with AFC foe Houston, which is coached by ex-Broncos offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Picking up Graham as well as former Washington starting quarterback Patrick Ramsey to back up Cutler were also positives.

On the other end of the scale is Buffalo, which guaranteed $28 million to unspectacular offensive linemen Derrick Dockery, Jason Whittle and Langston Walker. At the same time, the Bills lost cornerback Nate Clements, arguably the best available player, along with middle linebacker London Fletcher, the NFL’s leading tackler during his five years in Buffalo. They haven’t been replaced. And Buffalo traded running back Willis McGahee to Baltimore for three draft choices because the Bills didn’t think they could re-sign him when his contract expired after the season. No wonder the Bills haven’t won a playoff game since 1995 or even made the playoffs since 1999.

Baltimore hasn’t won a playoff game since its 2000 title and looked cheap in losing Thomas to New England, tackle Tony Pashos to Jacksonville and fullback Ovie Mughelli to Atlanta. Baltimore then let its former offensive linchpin, running back Jamal Lewis, move on to AFC North rival Cleveland, and cut guard Edwin Mulitalo. However, trading for McGahee made sense, assuming he’s signed to an extension. McGahee doesn’t have the speed he did before blowing out a knee in his final college game, but he was surprisingly physical and durable in Buffalo. Now if the Ravens only had some people to block for him.

On a lesser scale, give San Francisco props for upgrading the secondary with Clements and former Philadelphia safety Michael Lewis. The young 49ers overspent, but they had the salary cap room to do so. St. Louis deserves a thumbs-up for signing ex-Tennessee receiver Drew Bennett and former Miami tight end Randy McMichael as playmates for mainstays Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Tampa Bay might have been smart to add quarterback Jeff Garcia and defensive end Kevin Carter.

However, the three teams besides New England that reached the 2006 conference championship games — Indianapolis, Chicago and New Orleans — haven’t been very active. The Saints lost Holland and cut aging receiver Joe Horn (who signed with NFC North foe Atlanta) while the Colts waived former No. 3 wideout Brandon Stokley and ex-starting defensive tackle Monte Reagor, both of whom missed most of the Super Bowl season with injuries. The NFC champion Bears have been hibernating other than trading No. 1 back Thomas Jones to the New York Jets and franchising star linebacker Lance Briggs, who wants to be traded, too.

Titans’ new main man — Henry’s departure from Tennessee for cap reasons makes LenDale White, Reggie Bush’s backfield partner at Southern Cal, the Titans’ No. 1 back. At least for now.

“I’m ready for people to count on me,” White said. “I’m excited to show everybody I can walk in the footsteps of the great backs [Eddie George and Henry] who have been here before.”

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