This time last year NFL pundits were talking about lawyers and injunctions and collective bargaining impasses. Fortunately the labor woes for the NFL are in the rear view mirror and we are about to have ourselves an interesting free agent session. There seems to be a lot of guys out there this year, maybe the effects of the lockout and the uncapped year are coming into play (a lot of cuts have flooded the free agent market). Here’s a look at some of the big names available in free agency come 4:00 PM today:
Texans DE Mario Williams
Mario Williams, DE/OLB, Houston Texans – It is looking more and more like Mario Williams might be flying the coup in Houston. The Texans did surprisingly cut their best offensive lineman, Eric Winston, yesterday but it doesn’t look like it was to make room for a new deal for Williams. Let’s be honest. Houston is a young team and should be taking steps to make sure they can keep the core together. Williams missed much of the last season and Houston still ended up with the #2 defense in the NFL. The Texans currently have J.J. Watt, Connor Barwin, Demeco Ryans, Brooks Reed, and Brian Cushing, among others, in their front 7 so breaking the bank for Williams doesn’t seem to make sense. I never thought Williams would be a great fit for Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense and he may be better off going to a team that runs a 4-3. I think that is what will wind up happening in the end. You could probably use the Julius Peppers’ contract that the Bears signed a few years ago as a template for what the final figures on Williams’ new contract will be. Peppers signed a 6-year, 91.5 million contract with Chicago two off seasons ago and Williams should be expected to match or exceed that. I could see the Patriots and the Bills jumping in but I’m not sure it would be in either front office’s style to blow the competition away with a huge contract offer. Supposedly the Bears have interest but that would be tying up a lot of cap space in one position. The Buccaneers have a ton of cap space and are desperate for help on the defensive line. I expect Williams to here from a whole bunch of different teams come 4:00 PM.
Chargers WR Vincent Jackson
Vincent Jackson, WR, San Diego Chargers – Jackson seems to be the last man standing in the wide receiver market. The Bills’ Stevie Johnson was signed to a new contract and the Patriots’ Wes Welker, the Chiefs’ Dwayne Bowe, and the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson were all hit with the franchise tag. The Steelers’ Mike Wallace could be had but he is a restricted free agent with a 1st round tender so signing him would be at a steep price. That leaves Jackson and the Saints’ Marques Colston as the marquee guys on the free agent market. The advantage Jackson has over Colston is that people see Colston as more of a system guy and think that Jackson could succeed anywhere. Still the grass isn’t always greener and Jackson has a good rapport with Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers. I could see Jackson going back with San Diego if he doesn’t like what he sees on the market. I expect the market for Jackson to be robust however. Tampa Bay, Chicago, Washington, Buffalo, New England, Denver could all be involved along with the Chargers, who still hope to retain Jackson’s services. Jackson is a rare specimen, he is 6’5 tall and can stretch the field. He hasn’t had a season over 70 catches however so he might be a great fit on a team that has another top receiver already. Like Williams there should be a ton of teams lining up early for Jackson.
Saints G Carl Nicks
Carl Nicks, G, New Orleans Saints – Nicks is the guy that should have been slapped with the franchise tag by the Saints but New Orleans couldn’t get a deal done with Drew Brees so now Nicks hits the open market. Nicks is an interesting case because his (former?) teammate and fellow guard Jahri Evans signed a 7-year, 51.5 million contract two off-seasons ago and Nicks apparently feels that he is worth more than his line mate. So there’s the market for Nicks. Again there should be a lot of money being spread out in the NFL the off-season so Nicks is hitting the market at the right time. He is an exceptional run-blocker and can automatically upgrade any team’s offensive line. You can count any team with a large amount of cap room that needs help along the offensive line as a suitor for Nicks. That would include teams like the Bengals, the Broncos, the Bears, the Buccaneers, and the Jaguars among others. Expect Nicks to see a rather healthy pay day when it’s all said and done.
Former Colts QB Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts – Yeah, this guy is a free agent too. Manning has already met with the Broncos, the Cardinals, and the Dolphins. He plans to talk with the Titans over the next few days and there are rumblings that the Texans may get involved as well. There was a lot of momentum for Miami being Peyton’s landing spot early in the process but that seems to have subsided. From the outside it does look like Miami is in a tough position. Some of the riff-raff like the Redskins and the Jets have been weeded out and now it looks like the Dolphins may actually be on the bottom of the list of remaining teams. Manning is a god in Tennessee where he went to college. The Texans may not just be a Super Bowl contender if they land Manning, they may become the favorites. Arizona has the best wide receiver in the game in Larry Fitzgerald and they play indoors. Denver has Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway running the show and 50 million in cap space. I still see Denver as the favorite but Tennessee is an intriguing option and the Texans may become the preferred destination for Manning, we just need to find out how serious they are. Peyton said that he had hoped to make up his mind on a new team by the start of free agency but that doesn’t even look close to being a reality. Manning will probably want to sign soon so his new team can add around him on offense.
Matt Flynn, QB, Green Bay Packers – This guy figured to reap the benefits of a team missing out on Peyton Manning but how much of a red flag would it be if the Dolphins, in desperate need at QB and former Packers OC Joe Philbin now at the helm, take a pass on Flynn?
Browns HB Peyton Hillis
Peyton Hillis, HB, Cleveland Browns – The reigning Madden cover boy is an afterthought in free agency. He’ll probably never match his 2010 production but he could help a team if he’s paired with a speed back.
Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans Saints – Colston has been uber productive with Drew Brees and the Saints offense but their will be concern with whether or not he is a system guy. The same goes for his teammate Robert Meachem. Former Colts Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon are out there as well but one wonders if one or both wait on Peyton before they make a decision.
Mario Manningham, WR, New York Giants – Manningham is in an enviable position. His Super Bowl saving catch will be fresh in the minds of GMs and that should help him come contract time even though he has been an inconsistent player in his time in the league.
Eric Winston, T, Houston Texans – This was a surprise cut yesterday. He is a top 5 right tackle and will be a huge upgrade for some team out there.
Raiders DE Kamerion Wimbley
Kamerion Wimbley, DE/OLB, Oakland Raiders – This guy is being cut by the Raiders today. With Mario Williams out there he is a huge under the radar guy. He’s had 16 sacks over the past two seasons. He can play in the 3-4 or 4-3…could be a huge upgrade for a team.
London Fletcher, LB, Washington Redskins – One of the best defensive players in football over the past decade has never signed a contract extension. He’s never been cut either. He’s played out every contract and never been re-signed. It looks like he’ll be on the 4th team of his career next year.
Brandon Carr, CB, Kansas City Chiefs – Carr is the best FA cornerback on the market. He’s only 26 and would be a top corner on many teams.
There should be some interesting moves coming up in the next 72 hours.
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