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The replacements: Grading fill-ins for stars jumping to other teams


Robert Meachem replaces Vincent Jackson in San Diego, leaving the Saints with a big hole. (U-Wire)  
Robert Meachem replaces Vincent Jackson in San Diego, leaving the Saints with a big hole. (U-Wire)  

When a player leaves a team to sign somewhere else as a free agent, the organization is usually unhappy about it and the fans don't like it much, either.

I'll tell you who does like it: The player getting ready to fill the vacancy.

For all the talk about winning titles, the most important thing to any player, despite what they might say publicly, is a chance to play. They want their chance to earn the big money.

So when a veteran leaves for free-agent riches, it usually opens the door for somebody else. Sometimes, it's a player signed away from another team. Other times, it's a young player ready to step in and play.

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They are the replacements. Now that the first week of free agency is over, it's time to take a look at some of those players who will be filling in for some departed big-ticket free agents.

Texans defensive end Mario Williams to the Bills

Replacement: Brooks Reed

The Skinny: When Williams went down with a torn pectoral muscle, the Texans moved Conner Barwin to Williams' side and inserted rookie Brooks Reed into the starting lineup. Barwin had 11 1/2 sacks and Reed had 6 1/2, and added 3 1/2 more in the playoffs. Neither player has Williams' physical ability, but both play hard and can be double-digit sack guys in this defense.

Grade the Replacement: B+

Saints guard Carl Nicks to the Buccaneers

Replacement: Ben Grubbs

The Skinny: Nicks is a powerful inside player who was key to the success of the Saints offense. But Grubbs isn't far behind. He is a good, solid run blocker who needs to be better in pass protection. The middle of the Saints line has to be good because Drew Brees is so short, which is why getting a good, quality replacement was a must. The Saints did a nice job with that.

Grade the Replacement: A

Chiefs cornerback Brandon Carr to the Cowboys

Replacement: Stanford Routt

The Skinny: Routt was given a huge contract by the Raiders last year, then flopped and was released. That was an Al Davis move. The new regime decided he wasn't worth the money. The Chiefs signed him with the anticipation they might lose Carr. Routt can be a good man-cover player, but he wasn't last season. Carr was. Routt isn't the same type of player.

Grade the Replacement: C

Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson to the Bucs Replacement: Robert Meachem

The Skinny: The Chargers didn't waste much time trying to get a replacement for Jackson, landing Meachem, who is two years younger, has never caught more than 45 passes in his four seasons in the league with the Saints. But Jackson's career best is 68. Meachem has a per-catch average of 16.1, which is lower than Jackson's 17.5. But Meachem's career high for touchdowns is nine, the same as Jackson.

Grade the Replacement: B-

Meachem to the Chargers

Replacement: Who knows?

The Skinny: What's the move mean to New Orleans? It means they lose a speed threat outside. They still have Devery Henderson to go with Marques Colston and Lance Moore. But they need more from Adrian Arrington and maybe Joe Morgan, a second-year player who flashed some in the preseason before suffering a torn meniscus that put him on IR before the season opened. The Saints use a lot of spread formations, so another option needs to emerge.

Grade the Replacement: C-

Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan to the Rams

Replacement: Alterraun Verner

The Skinny: Verner played a lot last year in the team's nickel, with Finnegan moving inside. Verner isn't a speed corner, but he's smart and knows how to play the techniques. The Titans will need to find a nickel corner, who could be Ryan Mouton, with Verner moving inside in those situations like Finnegan did.

Grade the Replacement: B-

Ravens outside linebacker Jarrett Johnson to the Chargers

Replacement: Paul Kruger

The Skinny: Johnson was a good run player who didn't offer a lot in terms of pass rush. He played hard all the time and was able to hold the edge against the run. He wasn't a great sack player, but he played in 130 consecutive games. That's tough to replace. Kruger actually had more sacks last season, getting 5 1/2, than Johnson had in the past two combined (3 1/2). He is a much better pass rusher. Sergio Kindle and Alfred McClellan could also be in the mix.

Grade the Replacement: B

Colts receiver Pierre Garcon to the Redskins Replacement: Austin Collie or a draft pick

The Skinny: Collie played a lot in the old system when concussion issues didn't keep him on the sideline. He doesn't have the same speed Garcon has. The Colts need to find a speed threat in the draft to complement Collie and Reggie Wayne. Andrew Luck is going to need some help.

Grade the Replacement: D

Packers center Scott Wells to the Rams

Replacement: Evan Dietrich-Smith or sign one

The Skinny: Replacing Wells will be tough. He was a big part of what they did on offense. Dietrich-Smith started some at guard and seemed to get overpowered at times when I watched him. He might be better suited to playing center in this scheme. They could draft a player, as well.

Grade the Replacement: D (for now)

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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