Columns, Sports

Shaw ’13: Fear the bird, free agency musings

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Sports Columnist

Are you kidding me Wes Welker?! Okay, now that everyone’s gotten that out of their systems, it’s really not such a shocker. To any Patriots fans blaming Welker for leaving the Empire to join the Rebel cause in Denver, you’re an idiot. New England essentially gave Wes the big ol’ bird, and as much as it sucks to lose a folk-hero, you can never doubt what’s going on in Bill Belichick’s head. Tom Brady can’t be happy that his BFFL is going to be catching balls from a Manning, but Timmy’s not going to be turning into Vince Young anytime soon.

The fact of the matter is that Welker was already being phased out last season until injuries forced him back into the spotlight — remember how many “Edelman is starting over Welker!” stories there were in September? Swiss Army knife incarnate Aaron Hernandez and new acquisition Danny “Welker-Lite” Amendola should fill the slot nicely even if Amendola’s injury woes resurface with the Patriots. With only a reported $10 million guaranteed, the team can easily trim the fat. I’m becoming more concerned about the other side of the ball and how New England intends to revamp its weak secondary. Aqib Talib might walk, and while we were all grateful Alfonzo Dennard dropped to the seventh round after hitting a cop, now he has to face the legal consequences of, you know, hitting a cop. Many of the other bigger-name cornerbacks and safeties are being taken off the market, but it’s an important reminder that buying into brands has never been the Patriot way. That said, I’m still worried.

What’s way more fun for anyone outside Maryland (aside from not actually living through the inevitable decay of America’s inner-cities) is watching the rest of the NFL devour the reigning champion Baltimore Ravens like Prometheus chained to a rock. The Ravens are up against the cap and they can’t exactly force Ray “Stab-bot 5000” Lewis or Matt Birk to un-retire, so getting a sixth round pick for the rights to Anquan Boldin should be considered a win. With their war chest of eight draft picks as well as compensatory picks, they’ll probably find a gem or two in the draft, but let’s all be honest — they’re just as likely to find a bloody white suit. This team is going to crash and burn, and we will all be smiling above the wreckage. Maybe Bill Murray will make a cameo appearance and throw to a triple-covered Torrey Smith and Omar “The Bird” Little for 40 snaps a game before moving to Indianapolis.

The flipside to the Raven’s offseason woes are the aggressive moves by Miami and Kansas City. Both teams have been furiously plugging key holes in the past few days, with Miami bringing in Mike Wallace and Danell Ellerbe through free agency, and KC adding Alex Smith, Donnie Avery and Sean Smith to play with the recently extended Dwayne Bowe. These are the kinds of moves that get battered fanbases excited as they give them a glimmer of hope — that next year is “the” year. But you just have to ask the 2011 Eagles (helmed at the time by new Kansas City Head Coach Andy Reid) or any seasoned Settler of Catan to learn that past performance is not indicative of future returns. The key pieces of Philadelphia’s big 2011 haul are all gone, so it will definitely be worth keeping an eye on how these players mesh with their new teams.

Not to be forgotten, Seattle deserves its own section. Cliff Avril is a huge steal and will make a dominant defense even more fearsome, but that’s not the signing that has everyone’s attention. Russell “Napoleon Complex” Wilson now has one of the most dangerous receivers* to throw to next year in Percy Harvin (*when healthy). Seattle gave up a glut of draft picks to acquire him, an especially dangerous move with teams trying to maximize value within the cap but absolutely made the right decision. When a star goes on the market, you do whatever it takes to get him, especially if he’s only 24 and still entering his prime.

Harvin detractors will point to the fact that opposing defenses stacked eight in the box to compensate for Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, but Marshawn Lynch isn’t exactly a pushover either. Harvin’s versatility will further pressure defenses as he is capable of working inside, outside, in the backfield and on special teams. Assuming no one is cut, this also creates space for Golden Tate and fellow ex-Viking Sidney Rice. Add Russell Wilson’s athleticism to the melting pot, and Pete Carroll can now afford to be very creative in the ways he plans to attack opposing defenses next year. Assembling all of this talent is going to be very risky and may turn out to be a poison pill for the future, but at least through 2014, we should all fear the Seahawks.

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