The deadline to designate franchise players has passed, and the next step in the NFL offseason process is free agency, set to begin next week.
On March 12, players can begin signing contracts with other teams. While talking with free-agent players is still prohibited, there’s still plenty of chatter regarding possible destinations for some of the league’s top free agents.
To this point, the talk has been all speculation, but free agency is now looming. That speculation is starting to merit some serious consideration.
Let’s take a look at some of the latest rumors involving teams either losing a player to the free-agent market or poised to make a splash when the signing period begins.
According to a Fox Sports report, the Dolphins are closing in on a new deal for receiver Brian Hartline.
Hartline put together a quality 2012 season (74 catches, 1,083 yards), and bringing the 26-year-old target back is likely a top priority for Miami.
Still, Hartline isn’t a No. 1 receiver, and he isn’t the kind of offensive weapon around which teams can build a strong passing attack. Miami needs to add another piece, and according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, free-agent receiver Mike Wallace could be that piece:
Wallace is one of the hottest names on the market this offseason. After failing to get a new contract from the Steelers last season, it appeared his time in Pittsburgh would be up following the 2012 campaign. He now has a chance to test the waters of the open market, and there will be a lot of suitors interested in the speedy wide out.
The Dolphins have plenty of cap room this offseason, and adding a top-tier deep threat like Wallace would instantly improve a passing offense that needs a vertical weapon to take pressure off Hartline and Davone Bess.
San Francisco 49ers
Safety Dashon Goldson was an integral part of the 49ers Super Bowl run last season, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be sticking around for another campaign in San Francisco.
According to Adam Schefter, there’s little chance of Goldson remaining with the team:
The 49ers hit the safety with their franchise tag last season, and they weren’t prepared to do the same this year. As Scott Semmler of Yahoo! Sports points out, Goldson will probably receiver a better offer on the open market than the 49ers were prepared to give him:
Goldson will now enter free agency on March 12 where he is expected to receive offers for more than the $7.45 million per year the franchise tag would have paid him. It will also give him more job security, as a long-term contract is clearly a large priority for Goldson -- something the 49ers have presumably had hesitations about.
The NFL draft is deep at the safety position this year, and while Goldson was a big part of the defense in recent years, the cost of keeping him may be too risky when much cheaper options will be available in April.
New England Patriots
Like San Francisco, the Patriots opted to not use their franchise tag. With Aqib Talib, Sebastian Vollmer and Wes Welker set to hit the free-agent market, getting some in-house deals done before March 12 should be a major priority.
New England is already working on a new contract for Welker, and the two sides seem to be coming closer to an agreement. According to Mike Giardi of CSNNE.com, “the two sides have come to the understanding that they are far better with one another than without.”
Losing Welker would be a critical blow for the Patriots. He’s been Tom Brady’s top target in recent years, and with Rob Gronkowski battling injury problems the last two seasons, having another big-play threat is a necessity.
With money tied up in Brady, Gronkowsi and Aaron Hernandez, it’s unclear how much New England would be willing to spend to retain Welker’s services. According to Giardi, the two sides are willing to compromise.
Cook has the potential to be a top-tier tight end in the right system. With a 6’5” frame and sub 4.5-second 40 speed (per Jensen), he’s a dynamic weapon, but he hasn’t had the consistent quarterback play to reach his full potential.
The Bears need a vertical threat to stretch the middle of the field. Cook can be that player, but the biggest question is how much money he will want.
According to Jensen, Cook wanted to be franchised at the wide receiver position—a position that would warrant a much larger 2013 salary if he was tagged. If he intends to make that kind of money on the open market ($10.53 million), Cook may have a hard time finding a home.