Zero Guarantees in Free Agent Hunt

Last year, only seven five-star free agents changed teams. Those signings called for big headlines, but can any of them be called a difference maker? The Chicago Bears need to proceed with caution.

Coming off a 2008 in which he registered 51 tackles, 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 14 games for the Titans, Albert Haynesworth was in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year.

His reward as the premier free agent on the market was a seven-year, $100 million contract from the Redskins that could max out at $115 million, with $41 million of it guaranteed, making him the richest defensive player in the history of the NFL. An immovable object along the interior at 6-6 and 350 pounds, Haynesworth features incredible athleticism and play-making ability for a man of his size. Not only was his presence alone going to make the Washington run defense a force to be reckoned with, but the pass rush would inevitably improve since the former Tennessee Volunteer commands double teams on most every snap.

However, the Redskins actually fell from No. 8 in the league defending the run in 2008 without Haynesworth to No. 16 in 2009 with him, and their opponent's yards-per-carry average curiously increased from 3.8 to 4.0. It did seem that having him in the middle had a positive effect on pass rushers Andre Carter and rookie Brian Orakpo, who recorded 11.0 sacks each, although Haynesworth himself wasn't nearly as productive. His numbers were down across the board and snapped his streak of two straight Pro Bowls: 37 tackles, 4.0 sacks and zero forced fumbles in 12 games.

Most importantly, Washington fell from 8-8 last season to 4-12 this season, and while a sputtering offense deserves the lion's share of the blame, the defense was no better than it was the year before – it even dropped, from No. 4 overall to No. 10.

The lesson here for the Bears, and for every other team with money to burn come Mar. 5, is that there are no guarantees in free agency.

According to Scout.com's rankings, here are the six five-star free agents that changed uniforms last offseason, not including the aforementioned Haynesworth:

QB Matt Cassel

2008 Team: Patriots
2009 Team: Chiefs
Contract: six years, $63 million

Technically, Cassel was slapped with the franchise tag before being traded from New England to Kansas City for a second-round draft pick, but he was still considered the prize of the free-agent class under center since Kurt Warner wasn't going anywhere. Not only did Cassel's TD-to-INT ratio drop from 21-to-11 with the Patriots to 16-to-16 with the Chiefs, but his team's record dropped from 11-5 to 4-12.

WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh

2008 Team: Bengals
2009 Team: Seahawks
Contract: five years, $40 million

Finally ready to be No. 1 after playing his entire career in Chad Ochocinco's shadow, Houshmandzadeh caught 79 passes for 911 yards and three touchdowns his first season in the Emerald City. While those are respectable numbers, especially with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck missing some time with injury, 15 players in the league had more receptions, 27 had more yards and 68 had more TDs.

C Matt Birk

2008 Team: Vikings
2009 Team: Ravens
Contract: three years, $12 million

Coming off six Pro Bowl selections during an 11-year run in Minnesota, Birk made the move to Baltimore. The Ravens were fifth in the league running the ball at 137.5 yards per game and allowed signal caller Joe Flacco to be sacked a middle-of-the-road 36 times after Birk's arrival, although they were fourth in rushing at 148.5 yards per game and saw Flacco hit the deck just 33 times before Birk came to town.

C Jason Brown

2008 Team: Ravens
2009 Team: Rams
Contract: five years, $37.5 million

St. Louis has been a terrible football team in recent years, although they did jump from 25th to 20th in rushing offense from 2008 to 2009. Much of the credit must go to running back Steven Jackson, who enjoyed a terrific season even though he was the only threat the Rams had all season long, but perhaps Brown did a commendable job coordinating the blocking in the trenches.

LB Bart Scott

2008 Team: Ravens
2009 Team: Jets
Contract: five years, $40 million

Following former Ravens defensive coordinator and new Jets coach Rex Ryan from Baltimore to New York, Scott's numbers in green and white were nearly identical to what they were in purple and black. The Jets unexpectedly made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game, and although Scott wasn't as much of a playmaker on defense as cornerback Darrelle Revis, he was a quality addition.

S Brian Dawkins

2008 Team: Eagles
2009 Team: Broncos
Contract: five years, $17 million

The heart and soul of what was seemingly always a dominant Philadelphia defense during his 13 years there, Dawkins was given a lot of credit for Denver flying out of the shoot 6-0 to start the 2009 campaign. But while Dawkins finished with a career-high 116 tackles and picked off two passes, the Broncos crumbled down the stretch and lost eight of their final 10 games to miss the playoffs yet again.

Conclusion: Contracts given to these seven players totaled $309.5 million during last year's free-agency period, but there were more misses than hits.

Birk and Scott were the only two that suited up in the playoffs this year. Haynesworth and Cassel went from winning teams to losing teams. Cassel, Houshmandzadeh, Brown and Dawkins would have been in the postseason had they just stayed where they were. The Rams were awful before signing Brown, and they remained awful after signing Brown. Birk and Scott are the only ones that enjoyed about the same amount of both individual and team success.

Maybe Bears general manager Jerry Angelo should consult this list before he talks himself into offering defensive end Julius Peppers a Haynesworth-like deal.


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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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