- Associated Press - Thursday, March 10, 2016

There’s a hole in the champions’ backfield, and in the Browns’ offensive line.

A gulf has been filled on the Giants’ defense and the Texans’ offense.

And we’re barely into NFL free agency.

Unlike next month’s draft, which is all about the future, this spending spree that is football’s version of March Madness is very much geared toward the current makeup of rosters.

So teams dive in headfirst, as Houston did in grabbing a pretty much untested quarterback, Brock Osweiler, for $18 million a year over four years. Then the Texans replaced the hobbled Arian Foster at running back with Lamar Miller.

Both are gambles, but even after winning the AFC South last season, the Texans were well aware of their deficiencies at those two positions.

The Giants’ defense offered a Grand Canyon for opponents to romp through, and they did in 2015. So general manager Jerry Reese went wild in the marketplace by re-signing end Jason Pierre-Paul, adding end Olivier Vernon, tackle Damon Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

Chasm closed, it seems.

“Last year wasn’t what was expected to be,” Vernon said. “That’s not the Giants’ standard. That’s not the Giants’ way. From what I remember, they’ve always been stout.”

Here’s a look at some teams that filled holes and others who saw them created in the early hours of free agency.


No teams addressed their biggest problems quicker (or more expensively) than the Texans and Giants. Still, the following moves could turn into wise ones.

TITANS and BUCCANEERS - Both have top-level quarterbacks entering their second seasons. They need a reliable guy to hand off to and help their development.

So Tennessee brought in DeMarco Murray, who away from the circus that was the Eagles under Chip Kelly should be closer to his form in Dallas - minus that superb Cowboys offensive line in front of him, naturally. Marcus Mariota should be smiling.

Ditto for Jameis Winston now that All-Pro running back Doug Martin reupped with the Bucs.

RAIDERS - They believe they are close to ending that unfathomable playoff drought dating back to 2003, the year after they won the AFC. Bringing in cornerback Sean Smith, linebacker Bruce Irvin and guard-tackle Kelechi Osemele should bring them closer to contention.

FALCONS - Rebooting the offensive line and bringing in a complementary receiver to team with Julio Jones after Roddy White was cut were musts. Alex Mack not only will close a hole at center for Atlanta, but he’ll open a bunch of them as by far the best player at the position on the market.

Wideout Mohamed Sanu goes from being A.J. Green’s sidekick in Cincinnati to the same role for Jones in Atlanta. Matt Ryan will like throwing to this guy.

SAINTS - Drew Brees loves throwing to his tight end. He helped Jimmy Graham become an All-Pro, and Benjamin Watson had a superb season in New Orleans in 2015. Bringing in Coby Fleener after Watson left for Baltimore was wise.

Oh yeah, getting Watson for Joe Flacco to throw to can’t hurt the Ravens, either.


BENGALS - Green is terrific, but letting his two partners at wideout, Sanu and Marvin Jones (to the Lions) depart significantly diminishes Cincinnati’s air game.

JETS - Ryan Fitzpatrick set some team passing marks with his best pro season. Yes, he hasn’t been to the playoffs in an 11-year career and he’s 33. But letting him linger in free agency is a dangerous game, especially with New York having only Geno Smith as a true option for 2016. He’s a strong locker room guy, too.

BROWNS - Sure, Cleveland still has Joe Thomas, the most reliable offensive lineman of the past decade and potentially a Hall of Fame tackle. He could feel quite lonely without Mack in the middle and emerging Mitchell Schwartz now in Kansas City.

The Browns are talking up selecting a quarterback with the No. 2 overall draft spot. Would be nice to have held onto some protectors.

BRONCOS - OK, we know how Super Bowl teams often get raided. We also know the Broncos franchised Von Miller so the Super Bowl MVP wouldn’t escape.

Unless John Elway is planning to suit up at quarterback, and unless some of the role players on last season’s powerhouse defense are ready for much bigger roles, Denver has an abyss or two to fill.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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