With the NFL Scouting Combine over and yours truly having seen enough guys in ugly Under Armour gear for three days, the focus shifts to the next phase of the off-season… Free agency. Well, that and guessing which players will end arrested for false accusations of rape, bringing a gun to a club, driving drunk or any other act that proves some players can’t handle the freedom that 6 months off the job provides.
As usual when every coach, GM, and personnel people gather in Indianapolis for the Combine, there’s plenty of news, notes and rumors that have football junkies like the guy you’re reading right now salivating. So, here are some stories that peaked my interest as the rumor mill kicks into full gear before the start of the league year on March 12th…
The Bears will not lose defensive tackle Henry Melton. If the team can’t get a deal done with their young, ascending but often inconsistent D lineman, they’ll use the franchise tag to ensure he plays for them in ’13. The tag for Melton would be over $8 million, and that means the Bears would have over $40 million committed to their D line next season. If the Bears want more cap room, they could restructure Julius Peppers’ contract and lower his quarterback-like cap number from $16 million to a more team friendly figure so they could potentially target a free agent offensive lineman like Jake Long or Branden Albert.
Speaking of restructuring deals, the Patriots and Tom Brady agreed to a new 3-year $27 million extension that nearly broke Twitter. The deal still guarantees Brady $57 million that virtually guarantees he’ll retire a Patriot. The move by the best QB in the game to take less than market value has to have guys like Eli Manning, Jay Cutler and Tony Romo (all guys looking for new paper) furious. If a guy with 3 rings signs a cap friendly deal, how can these guys (Cutler & Romo especially) look to break the bank? By the way, do you remember when Mark Sanchez signed a 3-year $4o million extension? That’s working out fabulously for the tabloid Jets.
The Brady deal also gives the Pats much needed flexibility and cap space to either re-sign Sebastian Vollmer (another potential Bears target should he hit the market) and/or Wes Welker. There’s talk a new 3-year deal could be worked out between Wessy and the Pats before free agency starts. Should Welker hit the market, a team like the Niners could make a run at the player that’s seen his insane numbers be overshadowed by massive drops the past two seasons.
With $20 more million to spend in free agency, the Pats could finally dip into the free agent pool to give Brady a deep threat like Mike Wallace. Wallace to the Dolphins is still the likely scenario, but I’m not sure I’d pass up a chance to catch passes from Brady if I were Wallace. The former Steeler will get a deal that should eclipse the numbers that Vincent Jackson got from Tampa last off-season… $55 million over 5 years with $26 million guaranteed. And yes, Jackson is a better all around player than Wallace. That’s the price of dipping into free agency.
Even though Wallace has garnered the praise of Bill Belichick in the past, don’t forget Dwayne Bowe. It’s not a certainty he’ll stay in Kansas City, and he’d be another nice addition for TB12 and CO.
In regards to Wallace and Bowe, the Bears should make a run at one of these guys. If Phil Emery can redo Peppers’ deal, why not chase a legit #2 threat to Brandon Marshall while also narrowing your draft needs? The Bears only have 5 draft picks, so it should be a consideration.
The Chiefs aren’t the only team chasing 49ers QB Alex Smith. There was a report that the Niners have a deal in place with a team for a QB that was leading the league in completion percentage at the time of his concussions, but that’s been refuted. The Chiefs (who love ex Niners QB’s– Montana, Steve Bono and Elvis Grbac) are still the likely destination for Smith, but the Cardinals would like to deal for him as well.
If I’m the Niners, I’d trade Smith to Arizona if it was the best deal. I don’t care if it’s within the division– if brings you the best player or draft pick, you have to make the deal. The Pats sent Drew Bledsoe to Buffalo because they knew they were the top team in the division. With an expected 14 draft picks and cap space to chase a corner in free agency once a trade happens, the Niners remain the best team in the NFC West.
The cornerback market is likely to see players get paid #1 corner money for nothing more than a #2 guy, but Sean Smith is an intriguing talent. Pro Football Focus ranks Smith as their #7 free agent corner, but his size (6’3) and age (25) make him the likeliest to get a deal with over $20 million guaranteed.
Brett Grimes, referee puncher Cary Williams, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Aqib Talib, Adam Jones, Chris Houston and perhaps Nnamdi Asomugha will be there for the taking in a league where you can never have enough depth at the position. That’s not exactly a murders row of talent, which is why Smith will be targeted by the Eagles, Niners and countless other clubs.
With the salary cap expected to only increase from $120.6 million to $122 million this year, there are plenty of teams scrambling to restructure certain player’s deals by March 12th. Contract restructuring isn’t a pay cut. What teams will do is convert a portion of a player’s base salary into a roster bonus or signing bonus so it can be spread out over the life of a contract. It’s a win-win for the team and the player because the team gets cap relief, while the player gets some short term security.
Peyton Manning ($20 million), Brandon Carr ($16.3 million), Julius Peppers (who we mentioned earlier), Andre Johnson ($14.8 million), Ben Roethlisberger ($19.5 million), Ndamukong Suh ($18.1 million) and Santonio Holmes ($12.5 million) could all give their teams much needed cap relief to chase free agents and tie up younger players to team friendly deals like the 49ers have done in recent seasons.
Let’s not forget Darrelle Revis. The Jets are actively shopping the best corner in the game, but won’t likely get fair value because of Revis’ contract demands, and the fact he’s coming off the ACL tear. If you can’t laugh at the Jets cap mismanagement over the past few years, you obviously don’t enjoy good comedy. Who will step up to give the Jets a 1st round pick or multiple mid round picks? It remains to be seen, but the J-E-T-S Mess Mess Mess sure has come a long way from look at us fest that was HBO’s Hard Knocks, haven’t they?