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Nfl 2002

September 05, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff

OLD FACES, NEW PLACES

One year after the New England Patriots plumbed the free-agent pool for several key second-tier gems, the rest of the NFL dived back in. A total of 131 veteran free agents switched teams during the four-month signing period, the most since 1995.

That includes a league-high 16 signings by the expansion Houston Texans, but not the two big trades that sent running back Ricky Williams to the Miami Dolphins and quarterback Drew Bledsoe to the Buffalo Bills.

It was an off-season of portentous movement, including seven teams that hired new head coaches. Among those that made bold moves were the Dolphins, Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins and Indianapolis Colts.

Here is a look at the projected top 10 moves going into the 2002 season.

Ricky Williams

Running back, Dolphins

The Dolphins see Williams as the missing piece of their postseason puzzle. Indeed, he changes the way they play the game. Now, quarterback Jay Fiedler's play-action fake must be honored. Now, the Miami defense should get a blow on the sideline and not have to squeeze out every win. Williams is a powerful runner, without breakaway speed, who is also prone to fumble. He's a good receiver out of the backfield. For Williams, traded by New Orleans, this is the year when he sets himself apart -- or becomes just another guy.

Drew Bledsoe

Quarterback, Bills

This is how little the New England Patriots thought their franchise quarterback had left -- they traded him to a team in their division, where they must face him twice a year. The dates to remember are Nov. 3 in Buffalo and Dec. 8 in Foxboro, Mass. Bledsoe's career could be reborn with the Bills, or it could die with them. He had fallen from the ranks of the elite quarterbacks before his injury and ultimate benching last year. Now he has a chance to reclaim his place and beat the Patriots in the process.

Jon Gruden

Coach, Bucs

At the end of an awkward search for a coach, the Bucs gave up a king's ransom (two first-round draft picks, a pair of seconds and $8 million) to pry Gruden from Oakland. But he might be the perfect guy for the job. He has a history of resuscitating offenses and a personality people love to follow. He already has revamped the offensive skill positions to go with a stout defense he inherited. Gruden should succeed right away because the NFC South is a soft division he can rule.

Steve Spurrier

Coach, Redskins

Rarely has anyone created as much of a stir coming into the NFL as Spurrier. His reputation for offensive wizardry -- as well as alienating opponents -- appears to be well-earned. His college system at Florida may not have churned out Pro Bowl players, but it did produce wins. That system will win in the NFL eventually. His hands-off approach on defense and in personnel bears watching, but his fingerprints will be all over the offense.

Joe Johnson

Defensive end, Packers

Green Bay is normally conservative in free agency, but it went hard after Johnson and signed him to a six-year, $33 million deal. He should stabilize a defensive front that was vulnerable against the run (finishing 16th). The seven-year veteran from New Orleans is a major force against the run, and he's a very competent pass rusher with 21 sacks the past two years. He's not Reggie White, but he might have a similar impact on the defense.

Tony Dungy

Coach, Colts

Dungy's job in Indianapolis is easily defined. He must fix the 29th-ranked defense to make the Colts a playoff contender again. He inherited a defense that couldn't stop the run or pass and had few playmakers a year ago. Dungy addressed those deficiencies by upgrading the overall speed of the unit and installing his two-deep zone. It will be interesting to see how he treats the offense. In Tampa, he was predictable and dull. That won't fly with this offense.

Earl Holmes

Middle linebacker, Browns

Cleveland hasn't had an impact player in the middle of its defense since returning to the NFL in 1999, finishing no better than 29th in run defense the past three years. That should change with Holmes, signed as a free agent after leading the Pittsburgh Steelers in tackles. If the Browns are poised to make a playoff run, they'll need to stop the run in a division dominated by big backs.

Keenan McCardell

Wide receiver, Bucs

A valuable possession receiver in Jacksonville, where he teamed with Jimmy Smith, McCardell was sacrificed in the Jaguars' salary cap purge. He should play a crucial role in Tampa, where he will complement Keyshawn Johnson. He should catch a lot of passes and give the Bucs' new offense another dimension.

La'Roi Glover

Defensive tackle, Cowboys

Dallas had the third-best pass defense in the league last year despite a measly 24 sacks. Glover, a two-time Pro Bowl pick, gives the Cowboys an instant pass rush up the middle. He logged 25 sacks the past two years, including 17 in 2000, for the Saints.

Marvin Lewis

Defensive coordinator, Redskins

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