Free agency buzz: Niners could lose top 2 LBs
The Feb. 23 deadline for NFL teams to designate franchise and transition players is just more than a week away. March 3rd represents the beginning of the veteran free agency signing period. With the clock ticking, NFL clubs are positioning themselves for the flurry of activity: --- The 49ers would like to retain the services of linebacker Derek Smith, but the team is not confident it can get a deal done with the steady defensive player prior to free agency. Smith, who has led the 49ers in tackles each of the past three seasons, could command a considerable amount of interest. The Niners' other top veteran free agent, Julian Peterson, is coming off an injury-marred season and didn't appear to fit in well with Mike Nolan's new defensive scheme. Peterson could be an interesting player, if healthy and given a change of scenery, both of which appear likely in 2006. The New York Giants, Detroit Lions, and Jacksonville Jaguars could be potential destinations for the former Michigan State product, who appears more and more likely to leave San Francisco if the team does not apply the franchise tag to him like it did in 2004 and 2005. --- The precarious quarterback situation and a new head coach in Detroit does not bode well for quarterback Joey Harrington's continued employment. Around the league, the perception of Harrington is that he is ‘lacking football toughness,' which is the opposite of the mentally tough new coach. Additionally, the Detroit staff has spent a significant amount of time scouting quarterbacks this offseason, with Vanderbilt standout Jay Cutler rising near the top of the team's early wish-list. --- The Steelers enter the offseason wanting to retain safety Chris Hope, an up-and-comer. The team likes the tandem of Hope and Troy Polamalu in the middle of the defensive backfield. Facing the potential departure of Antwaan Randle El, Deshea Townsend and Brett Keisel, the Super Bowl champions are working behind the scenes to keep the core intact. Contract talks will heat up with Townsend and Keisel. While the Steelers would like nothing more than to retain Randle El, the market demand is believed to be extremely strong for the multi-faceted player. --- New York Jets' cornerback Ty Law will be owed a double-digit bonus/salary in 2006, and the team hasn't decided if it will retain his services. Law played reasonably well during 2005 despite recovering from a foot injury, and he will be a hot commodity if released. Those close to Law have noted to Scout.com that Law liked playing for the Jets, but that "something was missing," meaning that it wasn't like being in New England. --- The Seattle Seahawks have been working overtime to get both running back Shaun Alexander and offensive guard Steve Hutchinson under contract for 2006 and beyond. The likelihood of getting deals for both standout potential free agents done prior to the free agent player signing period appears remote, with the chances of securing Hutchinson the more probable. If the team does not reach a deal with Hutchinson, it will place the franchise tag on him, while letting Alexander walk. Alexander is expected to receive a significant amount of interest from the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals. --- The New Orleans Saints have lobbed out feelers regarding the value of the second-overall selection in the 2006 draft. The Saints are expected to release quarterback Aaron Brooks (if released, Atlanta appears to be an immediate destination) and are believed to be interested in a quarterback on draft day. Meanwhile, talks with standout offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley are going nowhere at this time - the team faces the decision of letting the dominating center walk, test the free agent market or slapping the franchise tag on his services. --- In Oakland, the Art Shell era Part II is starting to heat up. While Mike Lombardi remains the voice in owner Al Davis' ear (we continue to ask "why?"), we hear Shell will have a great amount of input. Davis knows Shell is really the last coach in Oakland that coached the team to play the Raiders way: intimidation, power, and relentlessness. Also, Shell wants a big-armed quarterback, but he isn't keen on Kerry Collins, and he wants receivers to make plays (Randy Moss anybody?). --- Panthers linebacker Will Witherspoon is going to garner a significant amount of interest if he indeed hits the open market in early March. The Panthers are attempting to get Witherspoon under contract prior to the free agent signing period. If able to entertain free agency, expect the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, and the Panthers themselves to come calling quickly. The 49ers may also be in the running, depending on how they resolve their linebacker situation. --- While not a free agent, Atlanta Falcons backup quarterback Matt Schaub is an intriguing prospect. The Falcons have entertained numerous calls regarding the availability of the two-year pro from Virginia, all of which ended with the Falcons claiming Schaub is not available (at this time?). One of the teams Scout.com has heard of having an interest in Schaub is the New York Jets. --- If the Buffalo Bills don't come to a contract agreement with cornerback Nate Clements prior to the free agent signing period, the organization will place the franchise tag on the standout cornerback and kick returner. Also, veteran wide receiver Eric Moulds will be asked to restructure his contract and take a pay cut, or he could be released. Moulds may attract some interest from the 49ers if he becomes available. Buffalo also has been in discussions regarding the status of offensive lineman Mike Williams. Williams, somewhat a disappointment in his time with the Bills, could wind up being released. --- Contract talks with wide receiver Reggie Wayne and the Indianapolis Colts are progressing. Wayne, a potential free agent, has been deemed a priority by the Indianapolis organization and the team would rather sign the player to a long-term deal than use the franchise tag to secure his services. If the Colts can complete a long-term deal with Wayne, the door would be open for the team to secure free agent running back Edgerrin James' services for at least one more season by dropping the dreaded franchise tag on the star.
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