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Old 03-12-2013, 07:46 AM   #58
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After the tease that was the "three-day negotiating window," which turned out to be, it seems, a half-hearted way to generate even more interest into an already wacko start to free agency, today, finally, we will have deals announced. And I expect no shortage of them.

In fact, there are already quite a few free-agent visits already lined up -- whoops, oh yeah, I guess that technically violates the anti-tampering memo that went out last week, oh well -- and things will be fast and furious once 4 p.m. ET arrives. Saying all of that, this just isn't a very impressive class of players overall, and the tampering window has done nothing to change that.

So, I expect even more trades to come, and more restricted free-agent activity than normal, also, to try to offset what is lacking in these free agents.
There won't be any record-setting contracts at any positions, as best I can tell after exhaustive talks with agents and execs, and things are going to get pretty dry, pretty quickly once we get into the second and third tiers of players.

In fact, expect Percy Harvin, acquired in trade by the Seahawks on Monday, to do better contractually than anyone in this free-agent class. He has already agreed to a new deal with Seattle that league sources said is worth in excess of $12 million per year. But with the negotiating window winding down and the actual start of free agency nearly here, this is a positional look at what is going down:

Quarterback
This is not a very deep group, but there will be action. Kevin Kolb, Carson Palmer and Ryan Fitzpatrick could still be added to this group pending the resolution of their contractual issues, but for now, Chase Daniel has been very hot and league sources anticipate he will sign a deal worth in excess of $3 million a year, with Kansas City being very interested. Former Chiefs starter Matt Cassel is drawing interest from the Vikings to push Christian Ponder (Palmer would be a strong candidate here as well if he gets free, sources said), and Drew Stanton will likely land in either Jacksonville, Tampa or Arizona, also suitors for Cassel. If the Cards let go of Kolb -- which is a distinct possibility; a major pay cut there would likely be rejected -- Cleveland could be interested. Jason Campbell has been given a chance to stay with the Bears, and the Jets and Browns could be options, too.

Running back
Reggie Bush is in line to do the best of this bunch, with the Cardinals, Lions and Packers all possibilities. His versatility and special-teams play could still land him close to $5 million a year. Steven Jackson to the Falcons makes a lot of sense, and Denver and Miami are among the teams expected to bid aggressively for former Steeler Rashard Mendenhall. It might take a little while for Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Turner to find a market -- Bradshaw back to the Giants could still make sense. Jackson will be a big fish, too, and several league sources believe despite all the rumblings that the Falcons will land him, there is every reason to expect the Packers to swoop in as well.

Wide receiver/tight end
Wallace will get pursued by the Vikings and Dolphins. If I had to take a guess right now, I would say he lands in South Florida. I don't get the sense that the market for Greg Jennings is shaping up as some assumed it would, and I continue to believe that it's possible he stays in Green Bay (and then the Packers ultimately part with tight end Jermichael Finley). Danny Amendola has his ticket punched out of St. Louis, with the Eagles among those eying him, and Patriot Julian Edelman would be a nice replacement for Amendola in that regard. I still have a hard time imagining Wes Welker anywhere but New England, though the sides have not exactly made a ton of progress or moved closer to a resolution, and with so few options around, a restricted free agent like Victor Cruz might end up receiving an offer sheet.
The tight end group is particularly thin. Fred Davis is likely to end up back in Washington on a team-friendly deal and Martellus Bennett could end up back with the Giants -- would not be a surprise. I don't hear much of a market for Dustin Keller, while Jared Cook is the best of the group and the Titans should have franchised him. The Rams are among his suitors, and if the Falcons are convinced Tony Gonzalez is in fact retired, this could be a perfect fit for him. Sources said Anthony Fasano is poised to do well on the open market, perhaps in the $4 million a year range.

Offensive line
Jake Long isn't the catch some thought he would be. The injuries and waning production have taken a toll. He'll still be the highest-paid offensive lineman, but we're not shattering any spending records here. The Dolphins (go figure), Saints, Falcons, Bears and Chargers are the teams in hottest pursuit of help here. In the end, the Patriots have too much at stake to let Sebastian Vollmer walk, though this does look like the end for Jermon Bushrod in New Orleans. The Falcons tend to keep their own, and they want to retain Sam Baker at the right price. Similarly, the Ravens are playing the market, but will they really be able to do better than Bryant McKinnie? Adam Levitre will be the highest-paid guard on the market, though a Jahri Evans type deal seems ambitious, and Kevin Boothe could be yet another lineman who ends up staying put.

Defensive ends/outside linebackers
Cliff Avril is the best in breed here, and the Lions desperately want to retain him, though that seems less likely by the day. The question is whether he reaches $10 million per year, which would help set the rest of the market for pass rushers. Tampa Bay is pushing hard for a pass rusher and several league sources believe they'll do what it takes to get Avril. Michael Bennett is bracing to leave the Bucs, and he is drawing nice interest as well, with the Eagles and Falcons also deep in on players at these positions.

Paul Kruger is another dynamic young pass rusher, and he could hit the $8 million per year threshold. The Browns are major suitors, and the Colts also are after him (Colts coach Chuck Pagano coached him in Baltimore). Detroit is targeting Jason Jones with Avril on his way out (and Jones has become very hot, sources said, though Miami, Dallas, the Giants and Chiefs are also looking to bolster his position. If the Bucs don't land Avril, sources said Connor Barwin is a possible target, and Barwin could end up staying with the Texans. Rams end William Hayes is in good position on the open market, sources said, with the Jets and Bucs among those interested in him.

End John Abraham visited the Seahawks and 49ers, but could take time for things to fully develop for him, given his age and the numbers of players at a similar stage of their careers, like Richard Seymour, Osi Umenyiora and Dwight Freeney. Pass rusher Victor Butler is a priority for the Jets.

Defensive tackles/inside linebackers
The Ravens strongly want to keep linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, and are trying to make that happen before the market opens. Brian Urlacher found a bit more interest than some would expect, sources said, though I am still not sure a cheap return to Chicago isn't his best option. The Redskins badly want to keep Lorenzo Alexander but he has other options and they have no cap room.

The Saints are still expected to release linebacker Jonathan Vilma, and 49ers tackle Ricky Jean Francois is in demand, with the Eagles, Titans and Colts among the teams looking to upgrade, and San Francisco hopeful of keeping him. The Titans are worried about losing Sen'Derrick Marks, while Oakland's Desmond Bryant, despite his recent arrest, is being seriously evaluated by the Raiders, Patriots, Seahawks, Eagles and Browns, sources said. Cleveland and Philadelphia seem particularly intent on bolstering their defensive line, while the Jets don't expect to keep many (actually any) free agents, though tackle Mike DeVito is a priority. It's doubtful Casey Hampton will have much on the open market, so perhaps a cheap one-year deal to return to the Steelers will make the most sense.

Defensive secondary
The market continues to be flooded with corners, which should keep the prices down. And there are likely at least still two more starters to be cut (Nnamdi Asomugha and Eric Wright).

Sean Smith should do the best of this bunch, given his age and skill, and the Chiefs, 49ers, Cardinals and Bucs are among those looking hardest at him. Brent Grimes might not find a deep market beyond what he could make going back to Atlanta, given his lack of size and his recent major injury. Steelers corner Keenan Lewis is going to do better than many expected, while there hasn't been much buzz on Cary Williams despite his strong play in the Ravens' Super Bowl run.

The Redskins are among those looking at Aqib Talib, though Greg Toler could end up being more their speed given their salary-cap limitations. And the Pats are working to keep Talib from hitting the market in the first place, otherwise they will wade into this market heavily.

As for the safeties, I continue to hear the Eagles will be the team to pay Dashon Goldson what he wants, or close to it. Glover Quin of the Texans might be the next best option, and he could stay in Houston, while LaRon Landry is going to do better than many expected, perhaps as a replacement to Goldson with the 49ers. The Giants are willing to keep Kenny Phillips after he sees what is, or isn't, out there for him on the market and the Lions would like to keep Louis Delmas as well. Ed Reed could still fetch $5 million per year on the open market -- Miami and Indianapolis are among the teams considering him, sources said -- and the overall depth of this position in the draft could work against these free agents, too.
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