Free Agency News & Notes - 3.4.06

Is Arizona shying away from a marquee running back in favor of other positions? How many teams might bid on Steve Hutchinson? Could the Rams' personnel shakeup affect some long-time, well-known names? And who are the Eagles interested in? During this tumultuous time, Scout.com keeps you updated on all the moves and rumors.

Arizona Cardinals – While Scout.com noted earlier this year that the team has USC RB Lendale White at the top of their list to select in April’s draft, they also are very interested in Ohio St. LB A.J. Hawk. According to a team source, the Cardinals are looking for an impact defensive player on the first day of the draft and also a few second tier defensive linemen in free agency.

Houston Texans – The team has their eye on former Denver Broncos TE Jeb Putzier and a deal could get done as soon as over the next few days. The athletic Putzier a very good fit for head coach Gary Kubiak’s West Coast offense and is the pass catching threat at the position that the team has been looking for. Should the team and Putzier not be able to come to a contract agreement, look for him to turn his attention to the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers.

Indianapolis Colts – Don’t expect the team to make a very hard run at re-signing SLB David Thornton. The strong side linebacker isn’t an important position in the defensive scheme that the team runs. If Thornton signs elsewhere, it could be to play the weakside where he’s better suited to play.

Minnesota Vikings – The smart speculation is that the team has their eye on Carolina Panthers WLB Will Witherspoon who is set to become an unrestricted free agent. The weakside linebacker is very important in the scheme defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin will run (see Derrick Brooks and Cato June). With lots of available salary cap space, they could make it very hard for the Panthers or any other team to sign Witherspoon.

New England Patriots Don’t be surprised if the team winds up trading veteran TE Daniel Graham by April’s draft. The former first-round pick has been underutilized in the passing offense in recent seasons and is on the final year of his contract at only $545,000. The team is very high on third-year TE Ben Watson and likely will increase his role going forward.

New York Giants Barring something unforeseen, look for CB Will Allen to be playing elsewhere next season. The Giants don’t have the salary cap space to sign him to a lucrative deal. Look for them to move in second-year CB Corey Webster in to Allen’s starting spot next season.

Philadelphia Eagles – The team usually likes to make a quick strike on the first day of free agency. If free agency isn’t pushed back again and it starts on Monday, look for the Eagles to sign one to two impact free agents.

As Scout.com first reported earlier this week, the team has interest in New York Jets C Kevin Mawae who has been told he’ll be released. Mawae, interestingly enough, the team was very interested in signing during free agency of 1998. Instead, they signed C Steve Everett who was the No.1 rated offensive lineman in free agency that year.

The team has been compiling a list of available free agent centers and also has their eye on ones that will be released so it’s a virtual lock that one is signed.

Speculation is that they’ll sign New Orleans Saints C LeCharles Bentley who Scout.com reported back at the Super Bowl wouldn’t be re-signing with the Saints.

According to a team source, the team may also make a run at New England Patriots WR David Givens. It may come down to how much money he wants. Most teams view him as a complimentary receiver not a true No.1. The Eagles view second-year pro Reggie Brown as a No.1 receiver so if Givens wants to be paid like a No. 1, he’ll likely be signing elsewhere.

The team is also looking for a veteran backup quarterback and has is said to have their eyes on Jay Fiedler who was recently released by the Jets and Jeff Garcia (Detroit Lions).

Seattle Seahawks - RB Shaun Alexander's market seems to be disappearing before his eyes. Depednding on what happens with the CBA discussions over the weekend, that could continue and accelerate. If no extension is forthcoming, and teams are stuck with the current $94.5 million salary cap, that market might be dead.

While all it takes is one team to step up with huge money, so far teams seem to be removing themselves from the running. The NFC West-rival Cardinals have lots of cap space, but they apparently don't plan to pursue an expensive veteran runner in free agency.

"If you ask me if we're going to go after one of the incredible backs that might be available in a blockbuster deal, that probably will not happen," Cardinals coach Dennis Green said.

The Seahawks and Alexander's representatives have been holding discussions this week, and those discussions have intensified in recent days. Stay tuned to Seahawks.NET for more information as it becomes available.

-- While the market for Alexander seems to be drying up, guard Steve Hutchinson could be one of the most popular names when free agency begins. Adam Schefter of the NFL Network reports that up to twelve teams will be bidding for the services of the three-time All-Pro guard. Seattle designated Hutchinson with the one-year transition tag on February 23. While franchise-tagged players earn the aggregate of the top five-paid at their position, transition-tagged players earn the aggregate of the top ten - in Hutchinson's case, the aggregate is taken from the offensive line, bringing higher-paid tackles into the equation - and this saved the Seahawks about $600,000.

Hutchinson will earn $6.391 million if no team makes an offer the Seahawks do not see fit to match. The important difference, however, is that if such a scenario takes place, Seattle will receive no compensation upon Hutchinson’s departure. Had Hutchinson been franchised, any team wanting to outdo Seattle would have to give up two first-round draft picks after signing him.

Schefter seems to believe that another team will set the market for Hutchinson by extending a long-term offer sheet which Seattle will match, unless the numbers are completely unreasonable.


PLAYER NOTES

-- Tennessee Titans QB Steve McNair will return to the team in 2005. Beyond that is anyone's guess. As expected, the team will not pay a $50 million option that would have extended McNair's contract through 2009. Instead, the Titans will pay a $1 million fee to keep him with the team in next season and allow him to become a free agent next offseason. General manager Floyd Reese said the team will continue to work with McNair on a restructured contract to help clear more salary cap space.

-- St. Louis Rams RB Marshall Faulk is apparently leaning toward playing at least one more season. When the 2005 home season ended, the Rams had a video tribute to Faulk in the Edward Jones Dome. He talked afterward with uncertainty about continuing to play, mainly because of the uncertainty surrounding the coaching situation.

Mike Martz was fired the day after the season ended, and Scott Linehan was hired a little more than two weeks later. It was notable that when quarterback Marc Bulger had his first meeting with Linehan and offensive coordinator Greg Olson and started going over the offense, Faulk was also present.

"It was a great meeting," Linehan said. "Nothing definitive, but it was very positive. Greg and I met with Marshall and Marc both and kind of went through the terminology of the playbook that they were accustomed to and wanted to know if there was carry over or correlation to things we want to do." Most notably, Linehan said he wants Faulk to have a larger role in the offense than he did in 2005 in his first season as backup behind Steven Jackson

-- Miami Dolphins RB Ricky Williams plans to return early from India to appeal a one-year suspension stemming from his recent violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy, according to the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Williams traveled oversees to study yoga and holistic medicine - two practices he studied while sitting out the entire 2004 season.

The fact that Williams' violation and appeal became public knowledge through the media didn't sit well with Dolphins coach Nick Saban. Williams has three previous violations for positive drug tests for marijuana. "I think the unfortunate thing is that we all have a professional responsibility as members of the NFL to live by the confidentiality rules we have to protect the players," Saban said. "So I'm sure that whatever organization, however this information got out, the league and those people will take responsibility and we'll be able to make changes that are necessary so that is not a problem for any player in the future. I will be proactive of making any changes that are protective of the players so this doesn't happen again.

"Ricky Williams did a fantastic job for us this year. If I was going to say who were the five guys you enjoyed coaching the most, college or pro, about the guy being a good person, a hard worker, a team player, a competitor, in my coaching career, he would be one of the top guys I have been associated with. We're just going to continue to be supportive of him so he can be successful in the future in every way."

-- New York Jets QB Chad Pennington and the Jets are apparently making progress toward a restructured deal, and the extra days afforded by the NFL's labor crisis have provided more time. It was believed that a key deadline for reaching an agreement with Pennington would be Friday, March 3, when the quarterback was scheduled to receive a $3 million roster bonus. But with players and owners pushing back the deadline for an extension to the collective bargaining agreement until Sunday, teams don't have to conform to the cap until then, meaning the Jets and Pennington's agent, Tom Condon, have until Sunday to work this out.

Pennington certainly seemed optimistic in a conference call on Feb. 27. The quarterback has been rehabbing in Florida and expects to begin throwing again soon.
"I'm very grateful for the last six years," he said from his off-season home in Sarasota, Fla. "Whatever happens from here on out, I'll always remember those six years, and I hope the next six years are in New York. That's my goal, that's what I'm trying to negotiate. If it wasn't my goal, I'd have cut the negotiations off cold turkey."

Reports have indicated that the Jets wanted to cut Pennington's salary to $1 million, with some incentives, as opposed to the $9 million he was set to earn, in order to clear cap space. Also, the team obviously is concerned about Pennington's health after he underwent two surgeries on his throwing shoulder in 2005, making the team wary of counting on him as a long-term answer.

-- New York Jets DE John Abraham appears highly unlikely to play for the Jets in 2006. Tony Agnone, one of Abraham's agents, said, "We feel at this point probably that John will not be back in New York." Abraham and his agents, Agnone and Rich Rosa, were upset when the Jets once again slapped the franchise-player tag on the standout defensive end, despite the fact that he avoided injury and played every game in 2005, managing that feat for the first time since 2002.
They are shopping Abraham around and hope to work out a long-term deal with another team, and then have that team make a trade with the Jets.

-- Kansas City Chiefs G Will Shields is being asked to take a major cut in order to play for the Chiefs in '06. Shields is due to receive a $5.1 million base salary in the backend-loaded last year of his contract. His cap number is in excess of $6.6 million. The Chiefs didn't have to pull the trigger on Shields after the NFL -- still hopeful of reaching a new collective bargaining agreement with the players that would increase the salary ceiling -- delayed implementation of its cap requirements from Thursday to Sunday evening.

But Shields could still become a cap casualty if he doesn't take a pay cut -- something he justifiably says he doesn't deserve. "You always think you're worth the money you're due," Shields said. "If not, what are you negotiating for?"

Team president Carl Peterson said that retaining Shields is a priority for the Chiefs, but that the club would need help in meeting a cap that stood at $94.5 million on Thursday. If it goes up by the weekend, the club and Shields might find room to talk. If it doesn't, Peterson will have to make one of the most difficult decisions in his 17 years in Kansas City.

"If it's necessary for us to terminate the last year of his contract, it's not going to be a surprise to Will or his agent or anybody else," Peterson said. "When we did this contract six years ago, I think all of us at the time understood that very, very seldom does a guy get to play the entire contract out that he signed.

-- Green Bay Packers LB Na'il Diggs was released by the Packers. Diggs was a starter at both outside positions his first six years in the league. However, he was limited to only nine games and six starts last season because of torn medial-collateral ligaments in both knees.

-- St. Louis Rams WR Isaac Bruce is talking with the team concerning a contract extension, but the team is waiting to know whether there will be an extension of the collective bargaining agreement. Bruce, entering the final year of his contract, is due a $1.5 million roster bonus on the first day of the league year. He currently counts $10.04 million against the cap, but the Rams don't have urgency to lower that number because they are under the cap. But they do want more room, and desire to have Bruce under contract to end his career with the Rams.

When new coach Scott Linehan retained Henry Ellard as receivers coach, Ellard let Linehan know what Bruce means to the franchise. "It's very important," Ellard said. "Scott understands that and he talks about that because Ike was the last guy to make the transition from L.A. He is the face of the Rams, like Jack Snow was. You have got to (keep him). Scott knows that and I think things will work themselves out."

-- St. Louis Rams TE Brandon Manumaleuna had just 13 receptions for 129 yards last season. Said coach Scott Linehan, "Probably the one frustration I've had in the last maybe three weeks, I haven't had as much time to say, 'Yeah, I really feel good about this position vs. another.' The tight end position is one that we want to utilize a bit more. I've been really pleased with what I've seen in Brandon. There's not a lot of big blocking prototype type guys in the NFL, that are able to play at the end of the line and block defensive ends in the running game. And be able to match up in pass protection.

"I think if you make that two-headed monster a little bit more balanced as far as a blocker and a guy that catches a number of balls and is effective in the passing game, then I'll feel much better about it. But we've got to address that and make it a stronger position for us on offense."

As for being able to use a tight end in the red zone, Linehan said, "Tight ends are very effective in the red zone. And I think it will (help). I go back and I look at what the Rams have done, they've utilized their best personnel and receivers and things like that. So we'll look into that. I've always liked using that position to be effective, not only in the red zone, but third downs, things like that.

-- St. Louis Rams WR Kevin Curtis will receive a first-round tender when free agency officially begins. That required a tender of $1.552 million and would give the Rams a No. 1 pick as compensation if Curtis receives an offer they wouldn't match.

-- Baltimore Ravens RB Chester Taylor is in contract negotiations with the Ravens, agent Ken Sarnoff confirmed. Taylor, the team's second-leading rusher, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent along with starting running back Jamal Lewis. "We have had preliminary discussions with the Ravens and they have expressed interest in keeping Chester," Sarnoff said. "However, numerous other teams have expressed to us that they will have interest in making Chester their feature back. The Ravens will be afforded every opportunity to re-sign Chester and keep him off the free-agent market."

Taylor has gained 1,599 yards in four seasons with the Ravens, including a career-best 714 yards in 2004. The Ravens retained Taylor last season as a restricted free agent by matching the Cleveland Browns' $3 million offer sheet.

-- Former Oakland Raiders DT DT Ted Washington was signed on the first day of free agency of 2004, and promised by conference call to do what he could to shore up the Raiders' woeful run defense. Washington, as has been his policy, rarely if ever spoke to the media again. And while Washington played in 32 games in two years, the Raiders were poor against the run his first year and only fair last season.

Washington, 37, was one of three players the Raiders cut as the club worked its way toward salary cap compliance. The 15-year veteran had a $4.74 million cap figure and his release saved just under $1.8 million under the cap. Washington's absence means the Raiders will be shopping for another defensive tackle unless they resign Terdell Sands, a run-stuffer roughly similar to Washington in terms of style. Sands is also an unrestricted free agent.

-- Pittsburgh Steelers CB Ike Taylor will be tendered a one-year contract for $1.552 million. The Steelers can match any contract Taylor might sign as a restricted free agent or receive a first-round draft choice in return.


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