- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2008

After two weeks of the free agent signing season, it’s time to assess which teams were smart shoppers and which teams weren’t.

The only 2007 Pro Bowl player left from the original free agent list is fullback Lorenzo Neal, who is 37. Recent Pro Bowl appearances by the original free agent class of 2008 or those who were released the past two weeks are few and far between.

With so many teams significantly under the cap, an onslaught of huge contracts was expected, but the numbers haven’t been impressive. At least not after seeing unspectacular guard Derrick Dockery get a seven-year, $49 million deal last March.

The New York Jets, who crashed from 10-6 in 2006 to 4-12 last season, might have helped themselves the most. New York fortified its offensive line with standout Alan Faneca and Damien Woody and helped its defense with linebacker Calvin Pace and tackle Kris Jenkins while surrendering a lone starter, linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

After just missing out on a playoff berth last year, the resurgent Cleveland Browns added three likely starters in defensive linemen Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams and receiver Donte Stallworth while losing only one, cornerback Leigh Bodden.

With nowhere to go but up, the Miami Dolphins (1-15) didn’t lose an expected starter and added a bunch of likely regulars, including defensive linemen Jason Ferguson and Randy Starks, receiver Ernest Wilford, guard Justin Smiley and linebacker Reggie Torbor.

The New Orleans Saints, who tumbled from NFC runners-up in 2006 to sub-.500 in 2007, haven’t lost anyone while adding five useful defensive players led by Vilma and cornerback Randall Gay.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFC South champions last season, bolstered their chances for their first consecutive winning seasons under coach Jon Gruden with the additions of defensive ends Travis LaBoy and Marques Douglas, center Jeff Faine and running backs Warrick Dunn and Michael Bennett while only losing cornerback Brian Kelly.

If those five active buyers have been the biggest winners during the past two weeks, all of the biggest losers except the 2007 AFC champion New England Patriots ” who kept All-Pro receiver Randy Moss with a three-year, $27 million contract ” have parsimony in common.

The 2006 Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts lost guard Jake Scott. The 2007 NFC runner-up Green Bay Packers traded Corey Williams. Neither team has added a player.

The AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers lost perennial Pro Bowl pick Faneca and backup tight end Jerame Tuman while adding only reserve running back Mewelde Moore and afterthought linebacker Keyaron Fox. The notoriously cheap Cincinnati Bengals replaced end Justin Smith with Antwan Odom but wouldn’t pony up to retain safety Madieu Williams.

However, those five stand-pat teams combined for 17 playoff berths in the past five years. The five biggest winners combined for just four. As the Washington Redskins have long proved, spending big in March doesn’t translate into winning big in January.

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