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Snap Judgments

With the NFL's free agency period open for business, here's our quick takes on the early action. Check back periodically for the latest developments. ...

• The Browns really had no choice but to find a way to get things done with quarterback Derek Anderson, keeping him away from restricted free agency. After all those years of asking Cleveland fans to keep the faith, how could they let the first legitimate winning quarterback in the expansion franchise's star-crossed nine-year history get away?

They couldn't.

Brady Quinn or no Brady Quinn, the Browns opted for what they know they have in Anderson over what they might have in their 2007 first-round quarterback. But that said, they didn't sink the sun, the moon and the stars into Anderson, who is, after all, just a one-season wonder at this point in his career. If the deal winds up being three years at $24 million, with $13.5 million guaranteed, it doesn't preclude the Browns of opting for the Quinn era at some point in the near future.

The bottom line is that things at the quarterback position change rapidly in the NFL, and you've got to protect yourself at the game's most pivotal position. If you have two good quarterbacks, you keep two good quarterbacks. Especially if you have the cap room to do so. Quality quarterbacking is the hardest thing in the league to find.

And remember, no long-term deal really commits a team to much of anything past the coming season. The NFL salary cap is a one-year-at-a-time proposition these days. As veteran defensive end Kevin Carter just found out after one season in Tampa Bay, if a team doesn't want to keep you at the price tag that your contract calls for it, it can cut you and then try and re-sign you at a lower price tag. Happens all the time in the league they call N(ot) F(or) L(ong).

• Speaking of the Bucs, they've apparently made Jeff Faine the highest-paid center in the history of the NFL, signing the former Saint to a deal that tops the six-year, $36 million record contract that Cleveland gave former Saints center LeCharles Bentley in 2006.

So let me get this straight. Faine gets basically run out of Cleveland when the Browns make Bentley the game's highest-paid center, and two short years later he gets the last laugh by becoming the NFL's highest-paid center in Tampa Bay. What a wonderful world the NFL is.

• With ex-Steeler Alan Faneca reportedly agreeing to terms with the Jets on a four-year, $32 million contract, the $8 million a year plateau has been reached by a guard. That continues the recent trend that saw Seattle guard Steve Hutchinson jump to Minnesota in 2006 for $7 million a year, and Arizona guard Leonard Davis strike it rich for more than $7 million a year in Dallas in 2007.

Faneca has been a very productive player for a long time in Pittsburgh, but he's 31 and some feel his play has started to slip in the past year or two. While he was clearly one of the most proven commodities available in free agency this year, he's also a prime example of a player hitting the free agency jackpot with his third contract. Ideally, free agency works best when you reward a player who has just earned his second contract after out-performing his rookie deal.

And here's another way to look at the Jets' signing: Is Faneca really miles and miles better than Pete Kendall, the veteran guard they traded to Washington in the preseason after becoming embroiled in an nasty contract stalemate? After dumping the disgruntled Kendall, New York tried to make due with the ineffective Adrien Clarke as his replacement. Clarke started 14 games at left guard before being benched. He was released earlier this week.

• File these early free-agent deals under major head-scratchers:

-- Miami moved quickly to wrap up 49ers guard Justin Smiley, giving him a five-year, $25 million contract that includes $9 million guaranteed. We all know BillParcells likes to get his lunch-pail-type offensive linemen in place, but Smiley played on a 49ers offensive line that was pretty pathetic in 2007. He played in eight games last season before getting hurt, but some thought he was headed for the bench before the injury occurred. So why exactly was he so coveted

-- Minnesota jumps all over Cincinnati safety Madieu Williams, giving him a six-year deal worth $34 million. Last I checked, the Bengals defense was horrible, especially in pass coverage.

• The Jets traded for Carolina defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and feel like his presence at nose tackle will solidify things in the way former '03 first-round pick Dewayne Robertson never could. But has anyone bothered to ask Jenkins how he feels about playing New York's zero-technique nose tackle position? Because people I've talked to don't think he'll be all that excited about the assignment, which is a lonely job at times, drawing near constant double-team blocks.

Jenkins still has something left, but his body has broken down in recent years and he's most effective when he's not over-used. Let's see if he can stay healthy in New York.

• Say this much for the Eagles' signing of Asante Samuel: At least the ex-Patriots cornerback chose well. Samuel playing in Philadelphia's pressure defense is a good a fit as he could have hoped for. Jim Johnson's defense will put pressure on the quarterback, and that's what Samuel needs to make his style of pass coverage work best.

Samuel likes to guess a lot and take chances, which often led to big game-turning plays in New England. But that style wouldn't have fit as well if the Patriots defense didn't create pass pressure, which at times greatly aided Samuel's coverage. It'll help even more if Philly signs a pass rusher in free agency, or drafts one in the first two rounds in April.

• One name to watch as free agency unfolds: Raiders defensive end ChrisClemons, who will be a fifth-year veteran in '08. He tied for the team lead with eight sacks in Oakland, and he's the kind of young, on-the-way-up player that every club should be looking for in free agency. You always have to over-pay a pass rusher in free agency, but the ones who are still in the front half of their careers are worth it. Clemons could be the pass-rushing defensive end that the Eagles are coveting.

• One deal that seems like a grand slam to me at first glance is the Browns acquiring Packers defensive tackle Corey Williams for a '08 second-round pick. Williams is an underrated young player who has posted seven sacks in each of the past two seasons. With the free-agent defensive tackle market rather slim, and the draft not having much depth at the position, landing Williams is a good move by Cleveland.

The Browns now have no first-day draft picks, having sent their '08 first-rounder to Dallas in the Brady Quinn trade last April.

• When it's all said and done, I think the Saints will wind up picking the Jets' pocket in acquiring middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma for a 2009 conditional fourth-round pick -- even if his playing time bumps that choice to a third-rounder. I never could really understand why Eric Mangini's 3-4 defense couldn't find a spot for Vilma, and it may have been more the fault of New York's trouble at nose tackle, where Robertson couldn't keep enough blockers off Vilma.

The former NFL defensive rookie of the year may be a bit undersized, but it certainly never hurt him when he was starring at the University of Miami or in his first two years with the Jets. He's a smart, aggressive tackler and he upgrades the Saints 4-3 defense, which currently has Mark Simoneau at middle linebacker.

• I'm not predicting greatness for Troy Williamson in Jacksonville, because when was the last time you thought of the word "greatness'' in connection with a Jaguars receiver? But when you can get a player who three short years ago was judged to have first-round talent, and all you have to give up is a sixth-round pick, you have to take that gamble. Especially when his problem starts with his hands, rather than his legs. Williamson is still plenty fast enough, he just hasn't been able to make the routine catches. Maybe the proverbial change of scenery from Minnesota to northern Florida will help.

• On the other hand, forking over $5 million a year for ex-Raiders receiver Jerry Porter strikes me as a case of Jacksonville trying to throw money at its receiving problem. The Jerry Porter of 2004-2005 might, repeat, might have been worth that much. But the Porter of the past two seasons wasn't (and yes, I know he spent most of 2006 in Art Shell's doghouse).

• And while we're at it, is Cleo Lemon clearly better than Quinn Gray? The Jaguars signed Lemon away from Miami and gave him $3 million a year for three years to serve as David Garrard's backup. I could be wrong, but I didn't think Early looked like a slouch when he got the chance to play the past two seasons.

• When he wants to, Detroit defensive tackle Shaun Rogers can be a truly dominant player. But his inconsistency would scare me if I were the Bengals, who on Friday traded third and fifth-round picks for him. Getting Rogers on his good days at that price is a bargain, but why do we only see him show up in some games?

The Bengals are desperate for an upgrade at defensive tackle, and one thing this deal tells me is that they aren't too hopeful that USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis will still be on the board when their No. 9 pick in the draft rolls around. That's a good deduction on Cincy's part. I think Ellis could go in the top five.

• All this time we thought the one thing above all else that Bill Parcells demanded before he took a job in the NFL was lots of authority and input when it comes to his team's personnel decisions. But it turns out his only non-negotiable request is to acquire the rights to nose tackle Jason Ferguson.

With Ferguson's trade from Dallas to Miami on Friday, he has now been united with Parcells with the Jets, who drafted him in 1997 when The Tuna was New York's head coach, with the Cowboys, where he played for Parcells in 2005-2006, and with the Dolphins, where you-know-who is the team's new football czar.

Not even Vinny Testaverde follows Parcells around that much.

• Faithful readers of Snap Judgments have heard this before, but I've always been fairly high on quarterback Josh McCown, who signed with Dolphins on Friday. I never thought Arizona head coach Dennis Green gave McCown a fair shake with the Cardinals, especially given that McCown was almost .500 as a starter for one of the NFL's worst teams.

While we still don't know what Parcells and Co. really think about John Beck, Miami's second-round pick in 2007, or if the Dolphins are eyeing a quarterback in the second or third round again this year, they could do worse than having McCown start in 2008. Shoot, they have done worse. Did you see Trent Green, Cleo Lemon and Beck last year?

Every time I write something positive about McCown's talents, he seems to shortly thereafter be donning a new uniform. He has played for the Cardinals, Lions and Raiders in his six-year career, which is a lot of moving around. But take note that all of those teams have one thing in common: They were pretty awful. I wish I could say that the streak is over now that he's in Miami, but we all know better.

• It just dawned on me that if your last name is Porter and you're a free agent in the NFL, you've got a great shot to have stupid money shoveled your way by a team in Florida. The Dolphins did it with Joey Porter last year, and the Jaguars followed suit with Jerry Porter this year.

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