Taste the New Year, the new NFL year that is.
Free agency kicks off on Tuesday, and with plenty of action expected, let's get prepared now for next week in pro football. With some new rules in place this year, it will be quite exciting to see how this impacts the potential shake of the 2013 NFL draft and regular season.
The New Rule
Below is the interesting new rule regarding free agency according to NFLCommunications.com:
Beginning at 12:00 midnight ET on Saturday, March 9 (i.e., after 11:59:59 p.m. ET, on Friday, March 8) and ending at 3:59:59 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 12, clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2012 Player Contracts at 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12.
If a player is self-represented, clubs are prohibited from discussions with the player during the negotiating period.
The three-day negotiating period applies only to potential Unrestricted Free Agents; it does not apply to players who are potential Exclusive Rights Players or Restricted Free Agents, or to players who have been designated as Franchise Players or Transition Players.
Because of this allowance, don't be surprised if more free agents sign faster when the next league year begins.
It's a good thing too, as early negotiations let players and teams get a jump-start on the upcoming season. This new rule could potentially lead to deals getting done quicker, which also means less waiting time instead of elongated discussions that may not go anywhere.
So, when 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12 hits, get ready for a free-agency stampede.
As for the signing period, NFLCommunications.com also states:
For Restricted Free Agents, from March 12 to April 19. For Unrestricted Free Agents who have received the June 1 tender from their prior club, from March 12 to July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later). For Franchise Players, from March 12 until the Tuesday following the 10th week of the regular season, November 12. If a Franchise Player does not sign by November 12, he must sit out the season. There are no Transition Player designations this year.
For a clearer perspective of everything mentioned above, here is a timeline of how things will unfold in 2013:
- March 9 at 12:00 a.m. ET through March 12 at 3:59 p.m.: The new F/A negotiating period
- March 12 at 4:00 p.m. ET: The new league year begins
- April 19: Signing period for restricted free agents ends begins.
- March 12 through June 1 [prior club tender], July 22: First training camp to sign UFAs
- March 12 through November 12: Period in which to sign franchise players
Predictions For Key Free Agents
Wes Welker, WR
Easily one of the NFL's best receivers and most reliable in any situation, Wes Welker was reportedly expected to hit the market per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:
The overwhelming sentiment, from sources on both sides of the Welker situation, is he will be back with the Patriots. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
Obviously it's anyone's guess at this juncture and there are a few teams where Welker could fit nicely. The Denver Broncos need a consistent slot target, and the Seattle Seahawks could also use an upgrade at the position.
The Green Bay Packers may have the depth at receiver, but nabbing Welker would help maintain the spread set, widening defenses even further. Also, the Atlanta Falcons would also suffice, because Matt Ryan needs a dominant target for underneath the coverage.
Each of these teams is in better salary cap situations compared to others, per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. The Pats remain the best for Welker; however, as New England's offensive efficiency would take a big hit without him.
Prediction: New England Patriots
Ed Reed, Safety
Ed Reed is definitely among the NFL's best potential free agents. And the Baltimore Ravens have yet to make contact, according to Reed in an interview with NFL AM via Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com:
"I haven't spoken to anyone. Hopefully that call comes soon," Reed said.
Asked about Bill Belichick's long-simmering appreciation of Reed made his intentions in free agency clear.
"I'm a Raven. I plan on being a Raven. I couldn't see me anywhere else right now," Reed said. "If it happens, I'm a football player. I can adapt to any situation."
It's hard to imagine that Reed winds up elsewhere. He has been with Baltimore his entire career, and courtesy of Joe Flacco's contract, the Ravens are positioned better regarding salary cap, per Dan Hanzus of NFL.com.
Prediction: Baltimore Ravens
Reggie Bush, Running Back
Expect Reggie Bush to earn numerous looks this free-agency period. For one, Aaron Beasley of the Miami Herald says Bush hitting the market is a "near-certainty." Secondly, ESPN.com's John Clayton writes that Bush will be "valued" by the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions.
And finally, NFL.com's Marc Sessler mentions Arizona and Detroit as "potential landing spots."
Either team would be a solid fit for Bush, because the Cardinals must find a way to upgrade their rushing attack. Bush would help bolster their lacking run game and could help out as a receiving target. Factor in the lack of pass protection and Arizona needs Bush more than Detroit.
But that doesn't mean Bush ends up there. The Lions have to improve their ground game just as much. However, Detroit also offers better postseason odds with an already explosive offense.
The Lions' interest in Reggie Bush is real.
Who knows what happens with Bush at the end of the day, but plenty of NFL people at the combine believe the Lions will make Bush a primary target in free agency.
Prediction: Detroit Lions
Charles Woodson, Safety
The latest on Charles Woodson comes from ESPN.com's Josina Anderson:
Along the similar lines as Ed Reed, Woodson is an instinctive veteran who brings plenty of proven experience and talent to any secondary.
As for the teams mentioned by Anderson, each has a dire need to upgrade their coverage and generate more turnovers. Given that Woodson is turning 37 years old next fall, time is of the essence. In other words, the aforementioned teams should be dwindled down to those who are immediate Super Bowl contenders.
In short, Seattle is the most appealing landing spot for Woodson.
This team nearly reached the NFC title game with a rookie quarterback, and the defense is filled with talent and swagger. Sitting in a Cover 1 or 3 zone, Woodson wouldn't need not roam much back deep and could play closer to the line of scrimmage where he is most dangerous.
The Seahawks are capable of locking anyone down man-to-man with Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. And with a front seven that plays with excellent assignment discipline, Seattle's potential is among the highest in pro football.
Woodson's knack for finding the rock could put Pete Carroll's team over the top.
Prediction: Seattle Seahawks
Cliff Avril, Defensive End
Although Cliff Avril is a sound 4-3 defensive end, he's young enough to quickly adapt to the 3-4 front.
That said, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports that some 3-4 defenses are interested in Avril:
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, multiple 3-4 teams will pursue Avril, with the idea of making him an outside linebacker. The Cleveland connection is obvious, given that former Lions defensive line coach Joe Cullen now works for the Browns.
One thing to always keep in mind about the 3-4 is that you can't have enough linebackers.
A guy such as Avril presents the size and pass-rushing capability to line up at outside 'backer or defensive end. This is a competitive advantage for any defense, because it allows a team to adjust faster to an opponent's personnel.
By the same token, Avril's versatility lets a defensive coordinator adapt to varying game situations. In strict passing situations for example, Avril can play defensive end and a quicker pass-rusher can get a snap at outside linebacker. This adjustment provides a quicker rush in a league where quarterback pressure is imperative for success.
Avril suits Cleveland well. The Browns need a stronger pass rush to assist their vulnerable coverage.
Prediction: Cleveland Browns