Free agent whispers: Vol. 2

Packer Report's Bill Huber puts a Packers slant on some hard-hitting free agent storylines.

Matt Cassel was given the franchise tag by the New England Patriots, but that doesn't mean he's off the market.

With Cassel and Tom Brady, the Patriots would have more than one-quarter of their salary cap wrapped up in two quarterbacks. Brady, who is expected to be fully covered after a season-ending knee injury in Week 1, will count $14.62 million against the cap. Cassel will count $14.65 million — which is what it costs to put the franchise tag on a quarterback.

Cassel, 26, threw for almost 3,700 yards and 21 touchdowns in 15 starts and shockingly led the Patriots to an 11-5 record. It's hard to imagine a quarterback with this much potential ever hitting the open market, so be prepared for a bidding war.

Who could be in that bidding war? How about the Minnesota Vikings, who never are shy about spending money and feel they're only a real quarterback away from being perhaps the NFC's favorite to reach the Super Bowl.

The cost of signing a franchise player is two first-round draft picks. Or, the Patriots can try to work out a trade.

The Bears and Lions also need a quarterback, but their leadership groups have no history of making the kind of franchise-shifting move that would be required to get Cassel. The Vikings have that kind of history. Last year, they sent a first-round pick and two third-rounders to Kansas City for defensive end Jared Allen.

It would be a huge gamble for the Vikings, who already lost three picks in the Allen deal. It likely would take that sort of offer to pry Cassel free from New England, and the NFL is littered with one-year wonders. In 2007, for instance, Cleveland's Derek Anderson came out of nowhere to have a Pro Bowl season. By midway through 2008, he had a permanent seat on the bench.

Other possibilities in Minnesota include Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck, who allegedly could be had in a trade, Anderson, as well as a certain quarterback for the New York Jets. Brett Favre might not be welcomed back — his $13 million amounts to how far the Jets are over the salary cap — and he might not be interested in playing for a new coaching staff, participating in offseason workouts (like owner Woody Johnson wants) or returning to a locker room that has some outspoken critics of the legend's gunslinging ways.

The Jets would owe the Packers three first-round picks if they shipped the quarterback to a division foe like the Vikings. If Favre is cut loose, though, he could sign with Minnesota, where he's quite chummy with coordinator Darrell Bevell.

Gonzalez update

Will Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez demand a trade?

The latest turn in that developing story happened on Thursday, when Kansas City hired Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley as head coach.

An offensive-minded coach like Haley would suit Gonzalez well, but he must determine how far the Chiefs are from contending and if Haley is the guy to get them there in a hurry. They went 2-14 last season, and Gonzalez has missed the playoffs in nine of his 12 seasons.

The Packers had almost landed Gonzalez at the trade deadline last season, and people close to Gonzalez at the time told Packer Report he was excited about the possibilities here. It's uncertain if those feelings have eroded after Green Bay finished 6-10.

Haynesworth wants the bank

The kingpin among this year's free agents, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, appears ready to reach free agency.

Talks with the Titans have stalled, with Haynesworth telling reporters at the Pro Bowl that he wants, "More than that," when asked about $30 million in guaranteed money. The Vikings' Allen, who had $32 million guaranteed in the deal he signed after last year's trade, is the league's top-paid defensive lineman.

Haynesworth could play nose tackle in the 3-4, but it's hard to imagine general manager Ted Thompson paying that kind of money to a player who was deemed an underachiever until he saw the free agent payday on the horizon.

Rayner to Redskins

Former Packers kicker Dave Rayner has signed with the Washington Redskins. The guy who beat out Rayner here in 2007, Mason Crosby, was statistically one of the worst kickers in the NFL last season, though the Packers remain high on him for good reason.

Earlier this week, new Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said he'd like to see another kicker brought in to challenge Crosby, though 80-man roster limits might prevent that from happening.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.


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