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Although the NFL has functioned without free agency in the past, few can imagine the game today without the evolutionary privilege of adding veteran talent.
The offseason is going to be very different facing an uncapped year. Players have six years to reach unrestricted free agency, knocking several potentially prominent players out of the open market (ex: Logan Mankins).
Even in an uncapped year you are going to see a financial line drawn; some teams will be seeing the free spending opportunity to jettison unhappy players. Other teams will be looking to offload high salary figures to willing takers with the added financial flexibility.
On the free agent market the premium for top talent will surely rise; a name like Julius Peppers will easily command $12 million annually as just a starting figure. We could easily see a guard market that might pay eventual free agent Logan Mankins a figure around $10 million if no CBA is reached by 2011. Teams will see this as an opportunity to cut players at whim and woe with a “cap penalty” that won’t have any true bearing on their ability to add desired players.
Look for the Seahawks, with the richest owner in all of professional sports in Paul Allen, to open their deeeeeeeeep pockets to get someone they really want (if they choose). The Patriots, Redskins, Raiders, Eagles, Saints, Colts, Cowboys, Giants, Jets, Buccaneers, and 49ers are all flush with cash. They figure to be the NFL version of the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, etc. in a distorted free agency and trade market.
Like every year, marquee names float the trade market and poke and prod at the intrigue of hopeful fans that say, "Get him dude. He's filthy!"
In an uncapped year, the market will see more big names traded then usual under the former CBA.
These are the cuts and trades you can expect will happen this offseason.
He got benched in a season finale. After the rifts with management in the offseason I expect that they will definitely explore a trade and that Marshall is likely on his way out.
So much for maybe having a slow start from missing practice. He still hauled in 101 catches for 1,120 yards and 10 TDs.
There is a hot rumor (one I, for the most part, started) that the Seattle Seahawks are interested in the controversial star. Although I was not told specifics, Deion Branch is a very plausible trade candidate due to the fact Broncos coach Josh McDaniels was his offensive coordinator in New England. Branch is familiar with his offense, and allows Denver to get a potential No. 2 WR in addition to draft picks, while jettisoning Marshall at the same time.
Redskins Release Either Chris Samuels or Randy Thomas
After allowing Jason Campbell to be continually pelted by allowing the third most sacks on a quarterback, the Redskins will retool the line and one of these veterans will be shown the door. Both are still decent starters but on a 4-12 team they have no future and not much to offer for a rebuilding team; they are much more suited for a contending team as established veterans past their prime.
Aaron Schobel Bids Goodbye to the Buffalo Bills
There have been many rumors that Aaron Schobel is mulling retirement after a great career in Buffalo. Although he enjoys the city and the fans, he cites the constant losing and nine consecutive years without a playoff berth factoring into his potential Buffalo exit.
A likely scenario that could play out is he requests a trade or release so he can play for a contender. His accomplishments in Buffalo certainly warrant an honest attempt by the front office to accommodate such a request out of respect for one of their most consistent defenders in franchise history.
His days as the St. Louis signal-caller are over, and all signs point to the Rams replacing him with Sam Bradford/Jimmy Clausen in the draft, or Jason Campbell, Kyle Orton, or Chad Pennington on the open market. Bulger is going to attract interest on the open market; a QB-desperate team like the Oakland Raiders or Buffalo Bills makes sense.
The Cleveland Browns also seem logical. Holmgren played against Bulger many times in his stint with the Seahawks, and in a thin QB market, provides a definite upgrade over what he has.
Anquan Boldin Flies Out of the Dessert
The Cardinals just scored 51 points without their 1,000-yard pass catcher in the lineup; they are surely not going to back down from being their usual frugal selves. Anquan's a top receiver, and will get paid like it, but not by the Arizona Cardinals. He is as good as gone now or after his contract expires in 2011.
He makes sense for the 49ers (not likely going to be traded to a rival), which possess a pair of first-round picks and could use another playmaker opposite Michael Crabtree. The Ravens need to start thinking about life after Derrick Mason, and the in-house candidates combined to average 324.3 this season. I mean, did you see their pair of playoff games? Horrid passing attack.
Flacco now has back-to-back playoff appearances; the Ravens would do well to give their franchise quarterback a prominent security blanket like Boldin.
Chicago should be mentioned with just about any good wide receiver discussed this offseason.
Chicago Bears Send Orlando Pace into Retirement
The 33-year-old saw a noticeable drop off in ability and the future Hall of Famer might decide to call it quits after a mediocre season. Regardless, with first-rounder Chris Williams waiting in the wings, Orlando Pace has played his last game as a Chicago Bear. He might (big might) draw interest on the open market, but it is doubtful.
Tennessee Titans Give Kerry Collins the Ax
He was a large part of their success in 2008, and a large part of their failure in 2009. His sudden decline leading them to a 0-6 start and the resurgence of QB Vince Young will lead to the Titans parting ways with Kerry Collins.
A deal could be made to restructure his current $7.5 million salary, but parting ways with the 37-year-old appears the more likely scenario.
He will latch onto a team as a solid backup option; not even a QB-desperate team like the Rams or Browns will take a shot with him as a starter.
Seattle Seahawks Purge RB Julius Jones, WR Deion Branch
I wish I could say trade for Julius, but I don't think anyone will be interested on any level.
If Julius is retained, his days as a starter are over; he would be a decent backup.
If Branch can be traded, it is likely in the Brandon Marshall scenario listed above, or to a receiver-starved team like the Bears, Rams, or Browns (If interested, Holmgren might want him if the price is right).
Deon Butler is NFL ready and keeping an ineffective Branch ahead of him is only hindering his progression.
Detroit Lions Boot Linebacker Ernie Sims
The former first-round pick was benched in favor of rookie fifth-round pick DeAndre Levy and they never looked back after he notched 85 tackles in 14 starts. Currently listed as fourth on the depth chart, Sims obviously has no future with the 2-14 Lions and seems poised to get a fresh chance elsewhere. The Patriots make a lot of sense and it would allow them to slide Derrick Burgess (if they retain him) into a DE rotation.
New York Jets Won't Retain One of Their Three Running Backs
Shonn Greene looks every bit the future of the New York Jets running game with his playoff performance this season, averaging 6.5 YPC while providing relief for the injured Thomas Jones. That means Leon Washington may have played his last game with the Jets. Jones is getting older, but Washington is more of an accessory while Jones is more of a complete running back, which makes for an interesting conundrum when deciding who is more valuable.
Seattle Parts Ways with Either Deon Grant or Patrick Kerney
Both are decent starters, both are aging, and both are overpaid. With a roster overhaul needed after abysmal defensive performances in 2008-2009, it is likely that at least one of these guys will be purged in Seattle’s rebuilding effort. Both will be able to find a starting job elsewhere.
Arizona Trades Pro Bowler Darnell Dockett
He has Albert Haynesworth dollar signs flashing before his eyes. Even if the Cardinals traded Boldin, they still will likely not give him the contract he desires. Better to get something for him before he walks for nothing. Dockett has expressed direct interest in going to another team in the NFC West, presumably Seattle or San Francisco, so he can wreak havoc on the Cardinals twice a year.
New York Giants Purge a Starting Offensive Lineman
This unit has gone from one of the league's best lines to a unit that the Giants need to start thinking of phasing out slowly. Infusing some young talent to mesh and learn from a guy like Chris Snee makes a lot of sense. Being a Seattle fan, I know how much it sucks to watch a great unit crumble into nothing.
Nathan Vasher Gets Fired in Chicago
The Chicago Bears have made it clear Vasher is no longer in their plans on defense. Logging in time through 15 games he only notched 15 tackles in a significant drop in his usual playing time.
He is likely to get released and would make a solid addition on a team looking for a No. 2-3 cornerback.
Bill Parcells “Drops” Ted Ginn Jr.
Watching Ted Ginn Jr. play football is seeing a potential TD getting taken away every time he breaks open and drops the ball. If Bill Parcells was willing to fire half the team upon his arrival to Miami, he is going to have no problem dropping the bust Ted Ginn Jr. on the open market.
Kansas City Chiefs Part with Brian Waters or Matt Goff
Both are still starters in this league, but neither have a place on a rebuilding team that just finished with (at least) 12 losses for the third consecutive season. Even on a rebuilding squad, veteran presence is needed. You can’t go completely green, which is why I think one will stay. Both will be able to find starting jobs elsewhere with ease.
Browns Czar Holmgren Shows DEs Kenyon Coleman and Corey Williams the Door
Both were underperformers last season and with good depth to choose from in both the draft and free agent market I expect Holmgren to purge this veteran duo and shop for a replacement right end. They both ended up averaging two tackles per game, and a mere sack every five games. Unimpressive. Holmgren won’t be shy to show them the door.
Javon Walker Gets His Much Needed Release from Oakland
Javon Walker was a quality, productive receiver before he came to Oakland. People label him as a huge bust, but can you blame the guy for accepting a paycheck of $55 million? He got hurt, and was underutilized playing for a crappy team. If he had been paid what he was actually worth at the time, people wouldn’t be so scathing about it. The best thing for these two is to part ways, and Walker could find a useful role as a third option for another team; he still has plenty to offer. Don’t count this former Pro Bowler out.
Ronde Barber Gets Out of Tampa Bay
Whether it is through a trade or release, the 34-year-old Barber will likely be the last of Tampa Bay's Super Bowl winning defense to be let go. The Buccaneers need to start thinking about the future after a 3-13 campaign and he is six years older than the next youngest cornerback (28). They weren’t afraid to let go of prominent players like future Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks before the season; this offseason won’t be any different.
Jaguars Only Keep Tackle William Thomas for One Season
With Eugene Monroe having an impressive rookie season and fellow second-year tackle Ebbon Britton waiting in the wings, keeping the 34-year-old Thomas makes no sense for the Jaguars. He can still provide a team a solid starting option for a couple more seasons.
Giants Star Osi Umenyiora Gets Traded Away
Osi has expressed his displeasure over how he is used in the Giants defense and has expressed his desire to leave if the “situation does not change.” He insists he is paid too much and is too talented to only be a third-down rusher. The guy's not being completely egotistical. He’s right, he can be one of the game's elite DEs when he’s utilized. With other options like Chris Canty and Mathias Kiwanuka already on the roster, they might put him on the trading block if they don’t plan on using him as an every-down player.
Steelers Release Veteran Cornerback DeShea Townsend
The 33-year-old averaged under a pair of tackles per game and saw a decline in his ability. After the Steelers finished 16th in pass defense (bad for the Steelers) they might want to look at addressing the secondary. If anyone is the odd man out in the secondary, the old man appears to be the likely candidate.
Tony Ugoh Done as a Colt
After struggling and getting benched, his replacement, Charlie Johnson, experienced a tremendous resurgence giving up only three sacks on Manning's "blind side." His days as a starter for the Colts are numbered but they may not opt to release him. His contract is up next season so he is bound to hit the open market soon regardless. He will latch on as a starting right tackle somewhere.
LaDainian Tomlinson Gets Cut from Chargers after Hall of Fame Stint
Tomlinson’s 12 carries for 24 yards were a contributing factor to the Chargers' less than impressive display against the New York Jets in the stunning 14-17 loss. His standing with the Chargers is once again going to be a hotly debated topic. Don’t be surprised to see them release the future Hall of Famer. Although it was a mediocre year for him, he still managed 10 TDs. Maybe it’s just a higher standard expected of the record-setting LT because 10 TDs are generally regarded as a good season for someone.
Interesting Moves to Ponder
Pete Carroll and Matt Leinart Reuniting in Seattle
This one would be a very interesting move. Matt Leinart has been sitting and learning from future HOF QB Kurt Warner. If the price was right and he agreed to a restructured contract, sitting him behind Hasselbeck gives them a QB waiting in the wings to push Hasselbeck to give all he's got.
While I don't expect this to go down, Mike Holmgren might make an offer for his hand-picked franchise quarterback. This makes complete sense looking at Cleveland’s current quarterback options. Holmgren might decide against the options on the open market, which are very bare except for Jason Campbell, Kyle Orton, and maybe Chad Pennington and I can guarantee if he wants to go down the trade avenue, Seattle or Philadelphia would be his first call.
Could the Hawks turn down a second-round pick, perhaps a third-round pick, and a starter (Corey Williams, Shaun Rogers) for the declining 35-year-old?