- The Washington Times - Friday, March 6, 2009

Albert Haynesworth fulfilled his goal of becoming the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player. The New England Patriots deemed Matt Cassel worth only a second-round draft pick. The Dallas Cowboys traded a starting cornerback for a backup quarterback and cut their best receiver. A year after flaming out in Oakland, DeAngelo Hall and Gibril Wilson hit the jackpot elsewhere.

And Dan Orlovsky secured a $9.15 million contract.

Yes, the opening week of free agency featured everything from the impressive (the Jets raiding Baltimore’s defense) to the insane (the Washington Redskins‘ financial commitment to three players). Here’s a look at the winners and losers from the free-for-all:

WINNERS

New York Jets

Freed of Brett Favre’s $13 million salary, the Jets and new coach Rex Ryan went to work. They poached the Ravens of linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard and traded for Philadelphia cornerback Lito Sheppard.

The offense remains in question with unknowns at quarterback, but at least the Jets will rank better than 29th in pass defense.

New York Giants

The Giants’ defensive line is the NFL’s best with the additions of tackles Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard. They join ends Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka and tackles Jay Alford, Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins.

Running back Derrick Ward signed with Tampa Bay, and the Giants haven’t publicly pursued any of the free agent receivers. With or without Plaxico Burress, New York is the class of the NFC East.

Interior linemen

On defense, Haynesworth got his big money ($41 million guaranteed) and the Giants gave Canty $17.25 million guaranteed to switch from a 3-4 end to a 4-3 tackle.

On offense, center Jason Brown went to St. Louis for a contract averaging $7 million per year. Center Jake Grove (Miami, $14.5 million guaranteed) and guards Derrick Dockery (Redskins, $8 million) and Brandon Moore (Jets, $10 million) also cashed in.

Kansas City Chiefs

New general manager Scott Pioli got his franchise quarterback (Cassel), and it didn’t even cost him the third overall pick. The Chiefs can build around Cassel and Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry.

More importantly, the presence of Cassel might keep running back Larry Johnson and tight end Tony Gonzalez on board to help the transition.

LOSERS

The Redskins’ offense

Dan Snyder gave huge money to Haynesworth and Hall. But what about the offense, a group that scored three touchdowns only three times?

Dockery will help the left side of the line. It’s now safe to assume the Redskins are forced to be comfortable hoping for right tackle Jon Jansen and right guard Randy Thomas to stay healthy and for second-year receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly to do more than they did last year, which was nothing.

Denver Broncos

New coach Josh McDaniels has been busy. The Broncos signed linebacker Andra Davis, defensive tackle Darrell Reid, long snapper Lonnie Paxton (who got a five-year contract), running backs J.J. Arrington and Correll Buckhalter, receivers Jabar Gaffney and Andre Goodman and safeties Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill.

But are the Broncos that much better? Probably not. The bigger issue for Denver is quarterback Jay Cutler. Clearly, the McDaniels-Cutler dynamic isn’t jibing, so things could get worse before they get better.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys have been far too quiet, and it has nothing to do with Jerry Jones’ organizationwide gag order that prevents even coach Wade Phillips from commenting on anything.

Dallas traded starting cornerback Anthony Henry (granted, an average player) to Detroit for quarterback Jon Kitna when established names Byron Leftwich, Jeff Garcia and Rex Grossman were on the free agent market, and it released Terrell Owens on Thursday. For all his faults, T.O. could still produce.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles lost Correll Buckhalter and safeties Dawkins and Sean Considine, and traded Sheppard. Left tackle Tra Thomas remains unsigned, and new right tackle Stacy Andrews is coming off a knee injury.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb can’t be happy that Andy Reid didn’t pursue receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. McNabb’s most reliable target in the NFC title game was second-year tight end Brent Celek.

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