With the majority of the NFL off-season free agent signings nearly done, for the time being at least, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contracts have been signed and it seems like there has been more activity this year than any time in recent history. Some teams have gone out and signed big name players to hopefully have a chance at making the playoffs, some have shored up their teams to continue to go deep into the playoffs, and some have lost big players and have failed to find replacements. However, none of this means much until the players put on their pads and mesh together as a team. As we saw with the Miami Dolphins last year who spent $248.06 million in new contracts last season, and only saw a one-win improvement.
With hundreds of players finding new homes this off-season, many former Florida Gator players were on the move, or were able to re-sign with their teams, and some made big, big money this off-season.
The big winner this off-season was wide receiver Riley Cooper re-signing with the Philadelphia Eagles. After spending his first four seasons in the NFL on his rookie contract (four years, $1.962 million), Cooper struck gold with a new five year, $25 million contract, with $8 million guaranteed. Cooper, who was used as blocking wide receiver for the first three years of his career, really stepped up in 2013, with 47 receptions (more than his entire career previously combined), for 835 yards (more than all of his career receiving yards previously combined), for eight touchdowns (more than all of his career touchdowns previously combined), and became a real target for the Eagles. With the release of wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant, Cooper likely becomes the top target for the Eagles, along with tight end Brent Celek and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who is returning from injury. CBS Sports ranked Riley Cooper as the 86th best receiver in the NFL last season – the Eagles just put a lot of faith in a player that has never been a main target, let’s see how Cooper steps up.
Andre Caldwell also re-upped with the Denver Broncos, where he spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Caldwell, the team’s number four wide receiver signed a two-year deal worth $3.45 million. Caldwell, who CBS Sports ranked as the 101st best wide receiver in the NFL, had 16 receptions for 200 yards and three touchdowns, with 11 of those receptions, 113 yards and two touchdowns coming in the last three regular season games.
Wide receiver Louis Murphy found a new home with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, signing a one-year del worth $795,000. Murphy spent last season with the New York Giants, and had his worst year statistically, collecting only six receptions for 37 yards and one touchdown. Murphy has been a bit of a vagabond recently, spending the last two seasons with the Giants and Carolina Panthers, while serving his first three years with Oakland. With his third team in as many years, Murphy returns home (originally from St. Petersburg) and will likely be the team’s number three receiver. Murphy ranked as the 135th best receiver in the NFL last season by CBS Sports, and will need to have a big summer off-season to prove his worth on the team.
Joining Louis Murphy on the Buccaneers, is safety Major Wright. Wright’s return to the state of Florida was likely triggered by the opportunity to have a reunion with the coach that drafted him – new Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith. Wright had 78 solo tackles and 22 assisted tackles, with three passes defended, two interceptions, and one touchdown while starting 15 games for the Chicago Bears last season. Over the past four seasons with the Bears, Wright started 54 games, had nine interceptions and three touchdowns. However, he became a bit of a liability in the backfield with poor tackling. CBS Sports ranked Wright has the 34th best defensive back in the NFL last season. Wright will be competing with starting safeties Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson for his spot on the field. Wright signed a one-year deal and will again be able to test the free agent market next season, trying to earn a starting spot.
Finally, linebacker Brandon Spikes is headed to the Buffalo Bills, leaving the New England Patriots after four seasons. Spikes started 11 games, playing in all 16, for the Patriots last year and had 48 tackles with one fumble recovery. Spikes signing with the Bills for one-year and $3.25 million is an opportunity for Spikes to leave New England for a fresh start after being ranked as the 122nd best linebacker in the NFL last season by CBS Sports.
However, free agency is not always good for everyone, and this year it was quarterback Rex Grossman who was not resigned by the Washington Redskins after four seasons. The 11-year NFL veteran could still be signed this year, and likely will be, he has yet to be picked up and he does not look close to signing anywhere currently.