The opening days of the NFL’s free agent signing period typically has more immediate bearing on what a team will do in the draft than it does on the team's season as a whole.
This year, though, with free agency beginning (at best) only a couple weeks before the season starts, free agent signings will quickly define the landscape of the 2011 season.
The top free agent this year is, inarguably, Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Early on just about every team in the league (or at least those blogging on their behalf) found an excuse to heave their hat into the ring. Lately, though, two teams stand out: The Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys.
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King took a moment to remind us all of the Cowboys’ Deion Sanders acquisition in 1995. Dallas has more reliable CBs on their roster now than they did 15 years ago with veteran Terrence Newman and Mike Jenkins plus Alan Ball making the switch back from safety.
When Sanders was signed, the Cowboys’ secondary featured draft flop Alundis Brice plus Clayton Holmes and Larry Brown who were both entering contract seasons.
That doesn’t mean Jerry Jones would be unwilling to pay to expedite a return to the Super Bowl and part of that could very well mean paying to keep Asomugha off the Eagles who have more need at the position. And, they certainly have the cap space.
Plus, let’s not forget that at the outset of the 2010 season, before an abysmal start and Wade Phillips getting fired, the Cowboys were widely considered a favorite to see compete in the Super Bowl.
Adding a shutdown corner like Asomugha to work opposite the Cowboys young, talented offense would re-spark those predictions again for 2011.
The Carolina Panthers made a big move in the right direction by drafting Cam Newton.
Last season, Carolina skidded to 2-14 under the guide of Notre Dame rookie Jimmy Clausen. Newton is certainly an upgrade there but, veteran wide receiver Steve Smith is rumored to be on the trading block after he voiced a desire to play for a competitive team.
If the Panthers choose to trade Smith, they’ll find themselves back at square one and will have to look to free agency to come up with a veteran who can fill Smith's role.
Smith is the only notable member of the Panthers’ offense and Newton will need Smith’s presence, influence, and sure hands to be able to quickly become a relevant NFL quarterback.
Free agent Matt Hasselbeck—who has long been the face of the Seahawks—and Seattle’s front office failed to come to terms on a contract for the veteran before the lockout began. Both sides have voiced a desire for Hasselbeck to stay in Seattle making many wonder why a deal couldn’t get done.
Since then speculation on Hasselbeck’s intentions has flip-flopped endlessly.
Seattle is already rumored to have submitted a bid on the Eagles’ back up (a first and third, reportedly) and if they’re looking at Whitehurst as their unopposed primary that bid may turn into something more concerted.
Rumors of late also tie Seattle to Tavaris Jackson, Matt Leinart (again), Matt Flynn (yes, please...but, keep dreaming) and Carson Palmer.
Seattle would do well to work to re-sign their own veteran signal-caller and continue to focus on building the team around him. If the focus shifts to the quarterback position before the team is ready to benefit from a younger successor, the ever-important supporting staff would suffer.
Plus, Seattle is in no position to be giving up draft picks.
A subject of much conjecture after a few details of the potential new CBA were released (before being tabled again by the owners) was the growing free agent class.
As expected, under the new CBA free agents would qualify as unrestricted after four years of NFL play instead of the six required in 2010.
For the Chicago Bears that would mean the crippling of their special teams, which carried them last season.
Both Corey Graham, who’s looking for an opportunity to contribute as a starting cornerback, and Danieal Manning were heavy contributers to the Bears' special teams last season and would command highly competitive contracts from other teams in the open market.
Without the aid of that corps and their excellence in optimizing field position, the Bears' offense would not have the success they managed last year.
The team is already in need of a quality wide receiver to catch whichever of Cutler’s passes are not intercepted, and their awful offensive line still needs to be improved upon.
Speaking of the Bears’ O-line, if center Olin Kreutz does part ways with Chicago, no amount of Gabe Carimi-style draftees is going to make the Bears competitive this year.
Without a playoff appearance since their last Super Bowl, New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin has long been rumored to be in John Mara’s cross-hairs. Many believe this season has make-it-or-break-it qualities for Coughlin and fans are calling for defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to be promoted before he is poached by another team.
The Giants have been in the news lately particularly because of Osi Umenyiora’s sworn affidavit in the players’ case against the league. How they deal with Umenyiora’s statement will color the negotiations they’ll be having with their free agent class.
The topic is touchy, especially with Mathias Kiwanuka on the market.
Ahmad Bradshaw is a free agent this year as well and will be looking for a dynamite contract from anybody who will pay him. Some wonder if New York will be able to give him what he wants/deserves with Brandon Jacobs already commanding a large quantity of the cap space.
There is nothing that guarantees the Giants’ return to the postseason this year and it’s possible that Coughlin can’t win no matter how he tackles free agency and who he pays. If he fails to retain Bradshaw, though, and/or is unable to restructure Jacobs’ contract to maintain some cap space, it certainly won’t help his cause.