2014 NFL Free-Agent Signings: Winners and Losers from Day 3

Nick Kostos@@thekostosContributor IMarch 14, 2014

2014 NFL Free-Agent Signings: Winners and Losers from Day 3

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    MIKE MCCARN/Associated Press

    Day 3 of 2014 NFL free agency has drawn to a close, and you know what that means: It's time to declare winners and losers from the bevy of signings and transactions.

    After Day's 1 and 2 operated at a breakneck pace, Day 3 was slow by comparison. There were a few jaw-dropping moments, but for the most part, it was a relatively quiet 24 hours, at least by NFL standards.

    One of the most electric playmakers in the league was traded, and to a conference rival. The Dallas Cowboys lost yet another stud pass rusher. One of the strangest sagas in the history of free agency drew to a close. And for the second time in three days, the greatest player in the history of a particular franchise was released, and this time in questionable fashion.

    Things are capable of changing on a dime, so it's important to not extrapolate a team's success in 2014 based on being either a winner or loser on this list. There's still valuable time left in the free agent period, and the draft is just two months away. 

    Day 3's winners were chosen because teams either made a series of quality signings (welcome to the party, Oakland!) or acquired a game-changing player via trade.

    Day 3's losers were chosen because of the curious nature of an important transaction or a team losing either one or more quality players.

    Without further ado, here are the winners and losers from Day 3 of 2014 NFL free agency.

Winner: Chip Kelly

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    Last season, coach Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles were the second-ranked offense in the NFL.

    On Thursday morning, the unit got even better with the addition of former New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles.

    The Eagles acquired the dynamic playmaker for a fifth-round pick in this May's draft, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, and Kelly wasted no time gushing over his newest weapon, saying in a statement (h/t Dan Hanzus of NFL.com):

    Darren Sproles is an unbelievable offensive weapon. He can do it all, run, catch, plus he's a proven winner. And on top of that, he can bring all of those dynamic skills to the return game as well. There is no question we were all excited once we found out we were going to be able to trade for him.

    Kelly should be excited, as Sproles is fantastic in open space. He finished last season ranked as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) seventh-best running back. He'll join a backfield that includes 2013 rushing champion LeSean McCoy, who was PFF's top-rated running back.

    The acquisition of Sproles lends more credence to the school of thought that the Eagles are poised to dominate the NFC East for years to come.

    Also helping matters was the signing of cornerback Nolan Carroll (per Schefter) to help solidify the secondary. Carroll intercepted three passes last year for the Dolphins.

    All of this makes the Eagles, and Kelly, huge winners on Day 3 of free agency.

Loser: Dave Gettleman

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    The best player in the history of the Carolina Panthers is no more, as receiver Steve Smith was released by general manager Dave Gettleman, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    And it happened in extremely unceremonious fashion, which doesn't befit the vast contributions that Smith made to the franchise in his 13 years of service.

    Yes, the NFL is a business, and teams are forced to make tough decisions all the time. But the way Gettleman handled Smith's release was puzzling at best and troubling at worst.

    Smith wasn't at all involved in the process, and on Wednesday, Joseph Person of The Charlotte Observer reported that Gettleman sees Smith as a "distraction" in the locker room. 

    While Smith's play tapered off in 2013, go ahead and look at the Panthers current depth chart at wide receiver (per Ourlads.com). If the Panthers played a competitive game today, they would be starting Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt at receiver. But Smith wasn't good enough to remain on the roster?

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller is also unsure of Gettleman's plan. In his most recent Scouting Notebook, Miller had this to say  about Gettleman's approach thus far in the free agent period:

    I have no idea what the Carolina Panthers are doing, but being patient as a fan there must be tough. The team lost Jordan Gross, Geoff Hangartner and Jeff Byers to retirement and then released Steve Smith. Yes, they put the franchise tag on Greg Hardy to keep their front four together on defense, but who is going to protect Cam Newton? And whom will he throw to?

    On Day 3 of free agency, Gettleman dumped the best player in franchise history in callous fashion, and failed to replace him with a viable option.

    In fact, Hakeem Nicks, the receiver whom many have linked to Carolina, is currently embarking on a visit to Indianapolis, per ESPN's Josina Anderson.

    He finishes the day as a big loser.

Winner: Jason Hatcher and the Washington Redskins

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    On Day 3 of free agency, the Dallas Cowboys lost their leading sack artist from 2013. And no, it's not who you think.

    Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher inked a four-year, $27.5 million contract with the Washington Redskins. The 31-year old had 11 sacks last season, five more than DeMarcus Ware. He finished last season ranked as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) eighth-best defensive tackle.

    This is a major victory for Hatcher, who had been open about the fact that he was seeking one more payday.

    At last month's scouting combine, Hatcher's agent, Jordan Woy, told ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer, "(Hatcher would) like to play (in Dallas), but hey, it's free agency and it's going to come down to the contract." 

    As for the Redskins, this is a triumph on two ends: Not only did they improve their own defensive line, but they weakened division rival Dallas' in the process.

    Hatcher got his payday, and the Redskins both improved on defense and hurt the Cowboys.

    That makes both parties winners on Day 3.

Loser: Jerry Jones

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    For the second time in three days, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones appears as a loser on this list.

    On Day 1, it was because he released pass-rushing demon DeMarcus Ware, which happened as a result of his gross mismanagement of the salary cap.

    On day 3, it's because his gross mismanagement of the salary cap allowed defensive tackle Jason Hatcher to sign with division rival Washington.

    Between Ware and Hatcher, the Cowboys have lost half of their total sacks from 2013 (17 out of 34).

    Last season, the Cowboys finished dead-last in total defense, and have now lost arguably the two best players on the unit, and it's because Jones' foibles as a general manager didn't leave the team with the financial flexibility to bring them back.

Winner: St. Louis Rams

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    One of the strangest free agent sagas in NFL history drew to a close on Wednesday, as guard/tackle Rodger Saffold returned to the St. Louis Rams on a five-year, $31.7 million deal that includes $19.5 million guaranteed, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    The situation couldn't have worked out any better for the Rams, who watched as Saffold signed with the Raiders, failed his physical, and then returned to St. Louis.

    While Saffold represents an injury risk, having missed 17 games over the last three seasons, he was a key cog in the Rams' offensive line. He finished 2013 ranked as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 18th-best guard.

    While Saffold probably doesn't feel like a winner, as he won't make as much money on his deal with the Rams as he would have with the Raiders (his deal in Oakland was for five years and $42.5 million, with $21 million guaranteed), St. Louis most certainly emerges from Day 3 as victors.

Loser: New Orleans Saints

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints make the loser's list for one reason and one reason only: They traded running back Darren Sproles to the Eagles, one of their chief rivals in the NFC.

    Think about it. The Eagles are a team on the rise. With coach Chip Kelly roaming the sidelines, an explosive offense and an improving defense, they'll be a force to be reckoned with in 2014 and beyond. 

    In fact, the Saints just barely managed to squeak past the Eagles in the Wild Card playoff round this past January, 26-24. And now, they've made Philadelphia a better team with the trade of Sproles.

    There's no doubt that the Saints will find themselves back in the playoff hunt next year, and it should surprise no one if Sean Payton's team qualified for the postseason. But if they have to play the Eagles, it's possible that Sproles could come back to haunt them. One has to question the wisdom of trading such a dynamic playmaker to a major conference threat.

    That makes the Saints losers on Day 3.

Winner: Oakland Raiders

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    It's time to give credit where credit is due.

    After making Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie my biggest loser for both Day 1 and Day 2, he rebounded nicely on Day 3 with a pair of quality signings.

    First up was former Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, who was inked to a two-year, $11 million deal, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    The 30-year old Tuck experienced a career renaissance in 2013, garnering 11 sacks after only managing nine in the prior two seasons combined. He finished 2013 ranked as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) seventh-best defensive end.

    And then came a deal with former Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who joins the Raiders on a two-year deal worth a maximum of $12 million, per Schefter.

    While Woodley has struggled over the past two seasons, he's a worthy roll of the dice by McKenzie, who desperately needed to make a splash after striking out in such spectacular fashion on Days 1 and 2 that Reggie Jackson would have been jealous.

    Lastly came the news that former Buccaneers tackle Donald Penn is coming to Oakland for a visit, per Schefter. While Penn is on the decline, having finished 2013 ranked as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 31st-best tackle, he represents an upgrade over Menelik Watson, last year's second-round pick.

    Last season, the Raiders possessed the worst 53-man roster in the NFL. McKenzie needed to upgrade the talent level.

    And while the overall job has been poor, Day 3 was a successful one. He's finally made his way to the winner's column.

    At least for one day. 

Loser: Cincinnati Bengals

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    On Day 1, I included the Kansas City Chiefs on my loser's list, and it wasn't because of anything they did, but because they lost a number of quality players.

    On Day 3, the Cincinnati Bengals make the loser's list for the same exact reason.

    On Thursday, the Bengals lost tackle Anthony Collins, who signed with the Buccaneers for five years and $30 million, per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. 

    Collins finished 2013 ranked as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 24th-best tackle, and is only 28-years old. While he only started seven games last season, he proved invaluable as a backup to both left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right tackle Andre Smith. His versatility and ability will certainly be missed, and at age 28 with not a lot of starts under his belt (25 in six years), it's entirely feasible that he'll continue to get better.

    In addition, the Browns signed slot receiver Andrew Hawkins to an offer sheet worth $13.6 million over four seasons, per Rapoport.

    While the 28-year old Hawkins only caught 12 passes last year, he did grab 51 in 2012 to go along with four touchdowns. He has excellent speed and clearly caught the eye of Browns general manager Ray Farmer.

    With Albert Breer of the NFL Network reporting that the Bengals are unlikely to match the offer sheet, it appears as if Hawkins will join division rival Cleveland.

    Before you dismiss these two signings as just a swing tackle and a slot receiver, take into account the money they received and realize that these are quality football players that the Bengals just lost.

    That makes them losers on Day 3.