For Packers, Broncos and Jets, free agency starts with whimper

ON THE NFL

Pro Football

March 06, 2005

It's all good in March. Free agency washes over the NFL like a fresh coat of acrylic this time of year. It's not until August or September that flaws show through and reality separates winners from losers.

In early bursts, the Dallas Cowboys filled a gaping hole at cornerback (Anthony Henry), the Ravens solved a riddle at wide receiver (Derrick Mason) and the Oakland Raiders added power (running back LaMont Jordan) to their deep-strike offense (receiver Randy Moss). Good moves all.

Elsewhere, Rome burned. These three teams started free agency inauspiciously.

Green Bay: When Mike Wahle signed with the Carolina Panthers and Marco Rivera with Dallas, the Packers lost both starting guards from an offensive line that allowed 14 sacks last season, tying Indianapolis for fewest in the league. Could that nudge quarterback Brett Favre into retirement? Probably not, but it might make him reconsider.

Denver: Broncos coach Mike Shanahan is big on recycling high-profile but seriously flawed performers. He's done it again by trading for Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Gerard Warren, a notorious underachiever since being picked third in the 2001 draft. Then Shanahan brought back former Broncos linebacker Ian Gold, to whom he refused a big contract a year ago. Looks like a step back, not forward.

New York Jets: They not only lost nose tackle Jason Ferguson (Dallas) and Jordan, they swapped Santana Moss yesterday for wide receiver Laveranues Coles of the Washington Redskins. While they didn't think much of Moss, they get a player with a chronic foot injury.

Free fall

Already this offseason, Green Bay's Mike Sherman has surrendered his general manager's title, replaced seven members of his coaching staff, lost two valued linemen and enters the 2005 season as a lame-duck coach. Now he's getting ripped by former assistants.

Jeff Jagodzinski, who coached under Sherman from 2000 to 2003 and left for the Atlanta Falcons last year, said Sherman's voice is the only one that counts in Green Bay. Since the end of the season, four assistants left for other jobs, one (Bob Slowik) after being demoted.

"Why do you think those guys left?" Jagodzinski said. "It wasn't to go to a better team. It's because in Green Bay, your ideas don't get listened to."

Said former running backs coach Johnny Roland, who left this offseason: "I think what Jags said is definitely fair. And it's evidenced by the number of coaches that have exited over the last couple of years."

Out of touch?

Joe Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls in Washington when Bobby Beathard supplied the players, has bought into vice president Vinny Cerrato's philosophy of building through free agency, even though that philosophy has failed the Redskins during Dan Snyder's ownership.

Gibbs dropped jaws at the combine when he said: "My way of looking at it is, I would like to solve every problem we could - as we did last year - in free agency. I think we'll do a lot less than last year because our needs are not nearly as many as last year."

Contrast that perspective with this one from new Browns general manager Phil Savage: "I'm not sure you build much of anything through free agency. I think you augment your roster, but I think you're barking up the wrong tree if you're trying to build through free agency. I think the draft will be the lifeblood of the Browns."

Next in line

The Minnesota Vikings unloaded Moss and his considerable baggage last week, but they have not removed the scent of scandal from their receiving corps. Even as the Moss deal was going down, wide-out Kelly Campbell was arrested on weapons and drug charges in Atlanta, drawing the wrath of coach Mike Tice.

"Let him have his day in court. But if there is something to this, I may have to re-evaluate my options with Kelly Campbell. Absolutely," said Tice, who scheduled an extra 10 interviews with receiving prospects at the scouting combine after learning of the trouble.

Three and out

The Buffalo Bills dumped quarterback Drew Bledsoe after three years because they knew they couldn't win with him. His biggest shortfall was the inability to avoid the pass rush. Now that he's with Dallas and will play Philadelphia twice a year, imagine how much fun Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will have blitzing Bledsoe.

Former Eagles right guard Jermane Mayberry, who signed a four-year contract with the Saints yesterday, still left his mark in Philadelphia, however, by starting an Eye Mobile program that gives eye exams and free glasses to thousands of underprivileged children in the Philadelphia area. "Jermane's changed the lives of more than 10,000 children, and that number will grow by thousands," said Sarah Martinez-Helfman, executive director of the Eagles Youth Partnership, which runs the eye clinic.

Running back Edgerrin James' decision to hire Drew Rosenhaus as his co-agent underscores a determination to escape the Indianapolis Colts this year. Although James says he doesn't have to go to the Miami Dolphins, he left no doubt about his preference when he said, "If there's something out there that's possible, I know I've got the right man to make it happen."

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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