'New' Free Agent Rules Bolster Receiver Group

Ten of Scout.com's top 15 free agent wide receivers — including James Jones — would have been restricted under the 2010 rules. That doesn't mean Jones will be a sought-after free agent. Plus, several quick-hitting odds and ends from Len Pasquarelli.

The presumed inclusion of fourth- and fifth-year players like the Green Bay Packers' James Jones as unrestricted free agents profoundly enhances the depth of the wide receiver pool.

Under last year's "uncapped season" rules, 10 of the 15 best receivers in Scout.com's free-agent rankings would have been restricted. Of the five who would have been unrestricted, top-ranked receiver Vincent Jackson already received the franchise tag and Terrell Owens (15 years), Randy Moss (13) and Santana Moss (10) are aging veterans. That would have left only the Jets' Braylon Edwards as a player worthy of receiving a long-term contract.

Instead, with free agency expected to revert back to the pre-2010 rules, receivers like the Jets' Santonio Holmes (Scout.com's No. 2-ranked receiver), Minnesota's Sidney Rice (No. 3), the Giants' Steve Smith (No. 5), Seattle's Mike Williams (No. 8), Arizona's Steve Breaston (No. 10), Jacksonville's Mike Sims-Walker (No. 12), New Orleans' Lance Moore (No. 13) and the San Diego tandem of Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee (Nos. 14 and 15, respectively) will join Jones (No. 11) as potentially hot commodities.

What could cool interest in Jones around the league are his gray-hair-inducing set of hands. Jones dropped six passes last season, according to STATS. Only Breaston (seven drops) among the 10 receivers listed above dropped more.

What could further cool interest is that the league wants three rights-of-first-refusal on unrestricted free agents — meaning some combination of transition tags and franchise tags, rather than one of each in previous years. Last year, the franchise tag for a receiver was $9.5 million and the transition tag was $8.7 million. It's almost impossible to believe the Packers would pay that much to Jones for one year, but they could use the tag as a way to get Jones to sign a long-term extension — assuming, of course, Jones wants to stay, which isn't a given.


Speaking of four-year veteran free agents, after this space referred last week to a handful of four-year veterans who might get surprisingly good play as unrestricted free agents, a number of league general managers called to mention another: San Francisco defensive end Ray McDonald. A third-round pick in 2007, McDonald has only nine starts in four seasons, but is just 26 years old, and the onetime Florida standout is a solid 3-4 end. Coincidentally, McDonald told The Sacramento Bee this week that he wants to get to a situation where he can start. That might actually be the case in San Francisco if nose tackle Franklin Aubrayo departs and end Isaac Sopoaga slides over into the middle. ... The Atlanta Falcons' veterans have been even more impressed by first-round wide receiver Julio Jones' precise route-running and attention to detail than his explosiveness so far in unofficial workouts.

When it was mentioned to a Detroit operative that some people scoffed when it was noted in this space that the Lions considered it a priority to extend the contract of left tackle Jeff Backus, who will be 34 in September, the club official replied: "Two words. Chad Clifton." The 11-year veteran Clifton, 35, was thought to be on his way out in Green Bay before the start of the 2010 season, but played well for the Super Bowl-champion Packers. ... It's been noted in this space that there is only one Nnamdi Asomugha and that, in lieu of pursuing the former Oakland star, teams might be inclined to target Pittsburgh's Ike Taylor in what is perceived as a weak free agent cornerback market. Include Johnathan Joseph of the Bengals as a corner apt to get a lot of play as well, personnel directors say. The big problem for Joseph has always been his health, but the consensus is that someone will overpay for the former first-rounder.

Former University of Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins this week officially transferred to North Alabama, as had been previously anticipated, to finish his college career. The Sports Xchange reported two months ago that Jenkins would seek to play at a lower level, and be immediately eligible for 2011, rather than enter the supplemental draft. Various outlets then subsequently reported that Division II North Alabama would be his landing spot. Draft analysts Rob Rang and Chad Reuter of The Sports Xchange rated Jenkins as the No. 3 cornerback prospect in the 2012 draft, before first-year coach Will Muschamp dismissed him from the Gators' squad.

RIP Clarence Clemons, aka "The Big Man," the Bruce Springsteen sidekick and saxophonist who died this week after battling two recent strokes. A standout center and defensive end at Maryland State, now Maryland-Eastern Shore, Clemons was to have a tryout with Cleveland in the early 1960s when an automobile accident and knee injury ended his football career. "God had another plan for me," Clemons, a longtime NFL fan, told The Cleveland Plain Dealer a few months ago. ... Although Tennessee first-year offensive coordinator Chris Palmer emphasized this week that first-round quarterback Jake Locker will start if he is "the best guy," the Titans still plan to add a veteran to the mix, and have included former starter Kerry Collins in the mix of possibilities. ... Four-year veteran Marshal Yanda performed admirably for Baltimore at right tackle in 2010, but some coaches still believe that guard is his best position. The Ravens would like to move Michael Oher, who struggled at left tackle at times in '10, back to right tackle and bump Yanda inside to guard. The problem is, the Ravens don't have a real quality left tackle candidate right now.

The last word: "How can marriage be marriage for thousands of years and now, all of a sudden, because a minority, an influential minority, has a push or an agenda, and totally reshapes something that was not founded in our country? It's something that's holy and sacred and I think there's nothing more honorable than fighting for it. If (the New York state legislature) passes this bill ... what I know will happen if this comes forth is, this will be the beginning of our country sliding toward, it's a strong word, but anarchy. That will be the moment when our country in itself loses its grip with what's right. I do believe that there is right and wrong. I do believe there is good and evil. ... (But) marriage is one of those things that is the backbone of society. So, if you redefine it, that changes the way we educate our children, it changes the perception of what is good, what is right, what is just." — Former New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree, on same-sex marriages

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Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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