Under The Bleachers: NFL Free Agency

Above: The Broncos let wide receiver Eric Decker bolt to the Jets

I know March Madness just started and that’s all people around the office are talking about, but lets put the brackets aside for a few minutes—yours is probably already busted, so you can forget about that billion-dollar payday.

Instead lets take a look at the NFL: free agency opened last week and some big names have found new homes, while others are still looking for someone, anyone, to take them in. Aside from the games themselves, this is the best time of year to be a football fan or an amateur pundit—so many moves to debate, so many decisions to second-guess, so many opportunities to predict who will triumph and who will tank.

So if you find a lull in the college hoops chatter around the water cooler, here are a few conversation bombs guaranteed to get sports fans back in a football state of mind.

Broncos-Patriots Rivalry Never Sleeps

There’s no more exciting rivalry in football right now, period. It always starts with Brady vs. Manning, but both teams have loaded up this offseason in preparation for an inevitable battle (or two) this season. The Broncos let WR Eric Decker bolt to the Jets—with weapons like Wes Welker, Demaryius and Julius Thomas, and newcomer Emmanuel Sanders catching passes, they’ll hardly miss him—but strengthened their defence with DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib. Meanwhile, New England re-signed breakout offensive star Julian Edelman and made eyebrow-raising additions to their own defence, signing one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks in Darrelle Revis—to make up for losing Talib—then adding Brandon Browner from the champion Seahawks. New England will host Denver at some point this season—next month’s schedule announcement will tell us when, exactly—but the game couldn’t possibly live up to how good it looks on paper, could it?

Decker Should Have Slept On It

The New York Jets aren’t known for making good decisions, but this offseason has been particularly mystifying. They signed Eric Decker—top of this year’s wide receiver class, true—to a five-year, $36 million deal. Thing is, they don’t have a quarterback who can throw him the ball. Even if they manage to sign Michael Vick—who would surely be an upgrade on Geno Smith’s 21 interception/12 touchdown season—Decker’s only had two good years, both of them playing with the greatest quarterback of this generation. In classic Jets style, the signing—and the release of the team’s best cornerback, Antonio Cromartie—scream “we’re making this up as we go along!”

Panthers Fans Just Can’t Have Nice Things

There’s giving up, and then there’s the Carolina Panthers. After going 12-4 and leading the NFC South in 2013, the Panthers looked poised to contend for the foreseeable future. Instead, they cut top WR Steve Smith, let three more receivers go, and lost one of their top defenders in Captain Munnerlyn. Oh, and now star quarterback Cam Newton will need the next four months to recover from ankle surgery. They finally found a consolation prize in WR Jerricho Cotchery, signing him to a two-year deal Thursday, but their roster still has gaping holes that will probably sink their 2014 season. Defense wins championships, but you’re going to have to score at some point, too.

Did the Raiders Misplace Their Wallets?

Oakland had more money to spend than any other team, so how did they not only fail to re-sign some of their most productive young players, but strike out with the biggest free agents? Sure, they filled some holes with quality players James Jones, Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, but at this point they’re looking to go into the season with the same two disappointing quarterbacks, but missing their top rusher in Rashad Jennings and arguably their best player in DE Lamarr Houston. Unless they pull off some spectacular trick before September they’ll be no better than last year’s 4-12 record—hey, you get what you pay for.

Cornerbacks Get All the Money

Blame Richard Sherman, but all of a sudden cornerbacks are getting all the attention. Seattle’s top-ranked defense wins one Super Bowl and teams are tripping all over themselves to throw money at a marquee CB. Aqib Talib hit the biggest jackpot, signing up for six years and $57 million in Denver, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Brent Grimes, Sam Shields, Vontae Davis and Darrelle Revis cashed in for at least $32 million each. How long ‘til high school cheerleaders start trading in their varsity quarterback for a shutdown corner?

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