The Super Bowl is over, and after a sleepless night for winners and losers both, the cold business of football returns. Some of these players made buckets of money for themselves playing on the game's biggest stage, while others might have cost themselves dearly in their next negotiations.
Thanks to Bryan McIntyre of Mac's Football Blog, we have a team-by-team list of NFL Free Agents to pore over, which gives us two names right away that headline our list: Mario Manningham and Wes Welker. The two receivers whose exploits dramatically changed the game are now free to negotiate with whomever they want. And as of March 13th, they could be wearing new uniforms.
Here's a rundown of the game's biggest winners and losers among each team's free agents.
Winner: WR Mario Manningham
Clearly, no player did more to boost his stock than the rangy and inconsistent downfield threat. Manningham did not have a great game overall, but did make the game's most transcendant play. In baseball terms, he had a 1-3 day with a couple of bad strikeouts (being chastised by Cris Collinsworth in the broadcast for running his route wrong was a bad one). But his one hit was a big one, the equivalent of a ninth-inning, two-out triple.
Moreover, in a free agent wide receiver class headlined by Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston, Manningham presented himself as a viable "me-too" candidate for teams looking to shop the B-tier. Already, Cleveland Browns writers have begun openly pining for him.
However, teams that aren't willing to pay top dollar often find themselves dramatically overpaying for second-tier talent. GMs would be wise to scrutinize Manningham's play - and remember the examples of former Super Bowl heroes like Alvin Harper - before signing on the dotted line.
Loser (relatively): WR Wes Welker
Okay, so one game won't define his career, and it won't look so bad compared to his regular season exploits as the NFL's leading receiver. And it's doubtful that he would mean as much to any other team as he does to the Patriots anyway, making his free agency negotiation a relative formality. But when it comes time for his agent to make his case to the Belichick brain-trust, this game-changing drop will have to be addressed.
However, his drop was not an isolated incident. Welker's drop rate has risen starkly from 2009 (6 drops in 152 targets) to 2011 (13 in 169). His catch percentage of 73.1% is nothing to sneeze at, but to correct Cris Collinsworth, he no longer makes those catches "100 times out of 100." More like 91 times, as it turns out.
Winner: P Steve Weatherford
Okay, so punters are not exactly ranked among the sexy free agents. But Weatherford more than did his part, nailing the Patriots inside their own ten yard line with three coffin kicks and directly contributing to the game's first points, the safety called on Brady. And every now and then, a punter come onto the market and finds a team desperate enough to break a little bank for him.
Teams that might be interested are those that struggled most in terms of starting field position last year. According to drive stats from FootballOutsiders.com, that means the Colts, Chiefs and Cardinals. Indianapolis has more problems than Jay-Z, but the 8-8 Chiefs and Cardinals both might see the benefit of an upgrade in the "little things" department and make a play.
Loser: RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis
This isn't deserved, because the Law Firm did well when his number was called. But based on the Patriots' usage in the big game, that just wasn't often enough for his agent to present him as a legitimate every-down runner. No team wants to pay top dollar for a rotational back, even in a thin free agent year where the best available back (i.e. not likely to resign with his team) might be Michael Bush.
Winner: LB Chase Blackburn
Defensive players who come away with turnovers in the big game often find themselves significantly richer the next season. Just ask former Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson, who went from a Tampa Two nobody to a very wealthy member of the Arizona Cardinals. Blackburn made a nice play on a deep ball that wasn't quite deep enough, but had an overall unspectacular game. Still, "unspectacular" in the Super Bowl is pretty amazing for a guy who was substitute teaching in Week 12, then starting in the NFL in Week 13.
Losers: DT Jimmy Kennedy and RB Kevin Faulk
For two veteran players, the hourglass may just have run out. Neither was a heavy contributor this year, and both were inactive on the sidelines as their teams battled. In a game that came down to inches on multiple occasions, two guys who stood yards away will have to face the music.
Winner: DE Gerard Warren
By contrast, this 33-year-old defensive lineman had a strong individual game, rattling Eli Manning's cage more often than any other Patriots pass rusher. He accumulated 5 pressures and a QB hit, though that wasn't enough to slow Manning down. The quarterback was an unreal 12-14 with pressure in his face in the game, according to Pro Football Focus, but that shouldn't be held against Warren. Teams looking for a savvy rotational vet could do worse than this guy, who appears to have something left in the tank.
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