By Chris Burke
March 14, 2012

Vincent Jackson, the best receiver in a market full of them, was signed by the Bucs on an eventful first day of free agency. (Getty Images)

NFL free agency hit the ground running on Tuesday afternoon, with a flurry that saw more than a handful of big names pick their teams for 2012 and beyond.

Who got the jump on the league during free agency's first 24 hours? With the full knowledge that many of these could be proven wrong once the season starts, here's a breakdown of the early winners and losers:

Winners: Wide receivers

A lot of the chatter leading up to free agency involved the loaded group of wide receivers ready to hit the market. Well, guess what? A mere 24 hours after the ball got rolling, there's not much left.

Vincent Jackson picked up a bulky $55 million deal from the Bucs, Pierre Garcon got $42.5 million to head to Washington, and Marques Colston re-upped in New Orleans for $40 million. And as if that weren't enough, Josh Morgan (Washington), Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis), Robert Meachem (San Diego) and Harry Douglas (Atlanta) either stayed at home or found new teams.

Now the attention turns to Mario Manningham, Brandon Lloyd, Laurent Robinson, Eddie Royal (reports he had signed with Washington turned out to be inaccurate) and, possibly, Mike Wallace. The last name of that group, Wallace, holds a first-round restricted free-agent tender from Pittsburgh -- a low enough price tag to tantalize a team in need of a receiver that missed out early.

Losers: Jacksonville Jaguars

This spits into the wind of the "Slow and steady wins the race" argument coming later, but as much as any team out there -- possibly even more so given last year's commitment to Blaine Gabbert -- the Jaguars needed to get in on a big-time wide receiver. And now, there just aren't that many left.

Not only did the Jags miss out on the top-flight guys, they didn't even seem to be in the mix. That has to be frustrating for a team that is majorly lacking in talent.

Winners (maybe): Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs got busy in the first 24 hours of free agency, adding wide receiver Vincent Jackson, guard Carl Nicks and cornerback Eric Wright. All three are big upgrades for Tampa Bay, and Jackson and Nicks represent elite players at their positions.

The only cause for concern here is that Tampa Bay spent upwards of $130 million for the total contracts of those three guys. That's a lot of change that needs to be rewarded with a playoff push.

That said, the Bucs needed to make a big splash in free agency. The team has been fighting an uphill battle in the standings and at the gate, where attendance has plummeted the past two seasons. This ought to get folks excited.

Losers: New Orleans Saints

Bringing back Drew Brees and, more surprisingly, Colston will ease the pain and keep the Saints in the mix, both in the division and in the NFC. Still, losing Nicks and Meachem (and likely Tracy Porter) in free agency could at least briefly stagger New Orleans. Had the Saints been able to get Brees under contract, they could have used the franchise tag to bring back Nicks.

To Be Determined: Washington Redskins

Yeah, this is a bit of a cop out, but it's really too hard to pin down the Redskins' opening 24 hours. Shrugging off a punishment from the NFL that will cost them $36 million in cap space over the next two seasons, Washington went all-in on offense to add Garcon, Morgan and possibly Royal as pieces for soon-to-be No. 2 draft pick Robert Griffin III.

It was an odd mix of contracts. Garcon's five-year, $42.5 million deal with $21 million guaranteed felt like an overstep for a guy who may be better off as a No. 2 receiver. Josh Morgan's $12 million deal, however, might be one of the steals of free agency. The final verdict will depend on what comes next -- namely, can Washington re-sign linebacker London Fletcher and make necessary upgrades in the defensive backfield and on the offensive line?

Winner: Cortland Finnegan

As arguably the top available player at a coveted position, Finnegan scored huge on Tuesday with a five-year, $50 million deal to join the Rams that includes a hefty $26.5 million in guaranteed money. Count St. Louis as winners here too: Finnegan is a legit No. 1 cornerback and should have a few years left in him at age 28.

Losers: Miami Dolphins

Technically, this doesn't fall under the "free agency" realm, but Miami's trade of Brandon Marshall to Chicago for two third-round draft picks came just moments before the market opened and served as one of the biggest early head-scratchers.

Miami doesn't have a lot of excess stars and, as mentioned above, the number of available wide receivers is shrinking fast. And yet, the Dolphins essentially gave away Marshall -- granted, a guy that's difficult in the locker room (and is now dealing with allegations that he punched a woman at a New York club over the weekend), but one who still topped 1,000 yards receiving last year and made the Pro Bowl.

If the plan was to make a push to replace Marshall with Wayne as a way to entice Peyton Manning, Miami missed out. If there's something else at work here, the Dolphins best get a move on.

Loser: Breaking news on Twitter

Allow me to duck off on a tangent for a moment. Twitter has become a terrific tool for journalists, serving as a new and rapid-fire way to get information out to the masses. It can be problematic on days like Tuesday, though, when the amount of inaccurate information can be overwhelming.

To wit: It was reported multiple times that Royal had reached a deal with the Redskins, only for the day to end with several teams still in the mix for his services. Meachem also reportedly had a deal with Buffalo, only for him to land with the Chargers hours later.

The amount of information out there can be overwhelming, and it's becoming a major challenge to sort the truth from fiction.

Winners: Seattle Seahawks

No, Seattle hasn't solved its quarterback problems, and yes, the Seahawks still have plenty of work to do to be a contender in the NFC. But getting defensive lineman Red Bryant re-signed (five years, $35 million) after free agency opened was huge. He's not a help in the pass rush, but Bryant was a force for Seattle against the run. Losing him would have been a blow to the defense.

Loser: Jason Campbell

For the Bears, adding Campbell was a smart move -- he's an experienced QB who could step in should Jay Cutler suffer an injury, and he certainly represents an upgrade over Caleb Hanie or Josh McCown. You have to wonder if this was really the best Campbell could do, though: A backup QB job behind Cutler, who is in no danger of losing his No. 1 spot.

There are still a bunch of teams looking for quarterbacks to come in and compete with their incumbent starters. So why did Campbell rush to take a second-string gig on Day 1? Maybe the $3.5 million he got gives us our answer.

Winner: Chad Henne

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Henne, who has generated a surprising amount of interest from teams around the league. As my colleague Don Banks pointed out on Twitter (it can be used for good!), that doesn't speak too highly to the coaching Henne received in Miami -- clearly, other franchises see some value in him.

The Jets appear to be the team out front in the race for Henne, and he would be a solid backup for Mark Sanchez. Biding his time could let Henne find a great situation as he tries to revitalize his career.

Winners: Patient teams

This seems to be an annual trend. Some teams race out and throw big stacks of money at anyone who could be considered a useful player. Then a little time passes -- a week, a month, maybe more -- and another wave of signings come at much more reasonable prices. It's no coincidence that you tend to see successful franchises like the Steelers, Packers and Patriots ease their way into the mix.


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