Two of the most coveted free agents were essentially taken off the market two weeks before free agency even begins when Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel and Chicago outside linebacker Lance Briggs were slapped with franchise tags.
Both received one-year tender offers, meaning any team that makes an offer to either player would also owe a pair of first-round draft picks as compensation if their current team declines to match.
"Asante Samuel is an outstanding player who has been a consistent contributor for us for several years," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a statement. "We hope Asante remains a Patriot for many seasons to come."
Add the franchise tag Cincinnati put on defensive end Justin Smith, the one the Colts put on Dwight Freeney and the crop of prospective big-name free agents is getting extremely thin. Baltimore outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, Detroit defensive lineman Cory Redding and Seattle kicker Josh Brown are all candidates for possible franchise tags as well.
With the free agent pool drying up before teams have a chance to even dip their toes in the shallow end, there could be a more active trade market this offseason.
The two names most likely to change addresses are Texans quarterback David Carr and Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, who will be released if he's not dealt. Ironically, Houston could well be Plummer's next destination, to reunite with coach and former Broncos offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.
The Texans aren't hiding the fact they're talking with several teams to see what the marketplace could bring for Carr, the team's inconsistent five-year veteran.
"I want to repeat what we said after the season: that David's our starting quarterback," said general manager Rick Smith. "But we're trying to improve the team, and I've fielded some calls about some of our players, including a couple of inquiries asking whether David might be available.
Another quarterback who could be on the move is Atlanta backup Matt Schaub. New Falcons coach Bobby Petrino no doubt would like to keep Schaub around for another year in case Michael Vick doesn't pick up the new offensive system, but the Falcons also don't want to lose Schaub for nothing in return as an unrestricted free agent in 2008.
Another big name expected to be available is disgruntled Raiders wide receiver Randy Moss.