Early Look At NFL Free Agency

March 2nd is right around the corner and many high-profile players could find themselves on the unemployment line. High salaries, teams with salary cap issues, or just the tune of a player not being a ‘fit' with an organization are a few reasons why the free agent player signing period is exciting.

The off-season is known as a game within the game in the National Football League. Every season since the inception of free agency, star caliber players have become available and at most times the highest bidder walked away with the potential prize.

This period will be no different in 2005, as a few of the biggest names in the game over the past few seasons are expected to be on the open market, as well as some serviceable players looking for that opportunity to make his mark in the game.

If you are seeking a quarterback, Seattle Seahawks Matt Hasselbeck is a free agent. But a couple more cost effective alternatives will be Jeff Garcia, who was released by the Cleveland Browns and Drew Bledsoe of the Buffalo Bills. In the case of Bledsoe, indications out of Buffalo are the Bills will release the veteran.

While Garcia and Bledsoe are players on the downside of their careers, the opportunity exists for an experienced signal-called. The chances are greater for Garcia to play a significant role for a team in 2005 due to the position teams which utilize offensive systems which compare to his experience.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals, and San Francisco 49ers are exploring the options at the quarterback position. Prior to signing with Cleveland last off-season, Garcia visited the Buccaneers and was believed to prefer playing in Tampa Bay. But, Garcia never received a substantive offer from the Buccaneers.

Hasselbeck is an intriguing commodity heading into free agency. The Seahawks front office is undecided as to the clear direction of the organization at this time. Without a Team President in place, the organization is divided on placing the franchise tag on Hasselbeck or running back Shaun Alexander. In recent years, the Seattle front office has placed the franchise tag on offensive lineman Walter Jones. Again heading into free agency, Jones is an unrestricted free agent and the team has not ruled out utilizing the tag on the standout lineman, especially if the team can sign Hasselbeck and/or Alexander to long-term deals.

Bledsoe, a veteran of many NFL wars while with the New England Patriots and Bills is in a precarious position. The market for a 33-year old quarterback that isn't very mobile is slim, but Bledsoe still commands some interest. Apparently losing his job to a youth movement and J.P. Losman in Buffalo, the end is not yet in sight for this former gunslinger.

The Dallas Cowboys are looking for a short-term solution to their quarterback issues, as youngster Drew Henson is readied for life as a starting quarterback. Cowboys' Head Coach Bill Parcells was Bledsoe's coach in New England, when the former Washington State product has his greatest statistical success in the National Football League. With the team wavering on a return of the ageless Vinny Testaverde, Bledsoe's name has been mentioned as an option.

In Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers continue to negotiate with Brian Griese. Griese played reasonably well for the Bucs in the 2004 season and would like to remain with the team. Bruce Allen, the cap-guru of the Buccaneers has been negotiating for weeks with representatives for the quarterback to no avail. Due a bonus in the area of six-million dollars on March 2nd, Griese hasn't been completely receptive to a long-term, back-loaded deal on the table from the Buccaneers. In recent days, both parties have come close to a contract, but a deal is not imminent. If the team is unable to restructure Griese's contract, Garcia is an option, as is Mike McMahon of the Detroit Lions.

Mike McMahon, an unrestricted free agent is a candidate to remain in Detroit and compete with Joey Harrington for the Lions starting quarterback spot. At the present time indications are McMahon will garner interest on the open market, with the pretense he will be given a legitimate opportunity to start. If McMahon departs from Detroit, the Lions could look towards Garcia, whom played for Head Coach Steve Mariucci while a member of the San Francisco 49ers.

The Cleveland Browns expressed an interest in McMahon prior to the 2004 season. With a new regime in place, this interest appears to be in doubt, as the team is negotiating with quarterback Kelly Holcomb to retain the veteran as the starting quarterback of the Browns heading into the 2005 season.

It is close to a given that the San Francisco 49ers will look towards selecting a quarterback in the first-round of the college player draft in April. Immediately following the season, there was some doubt the 49ers would keep the first overall selection in the draft. In the weeks following the season indications are San Francisco will not only keep the pick, but select what the organization hopes will become the next great quarterback of the storied 49ers franchise. With Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, and Cody Pickett on the roster at the quarterback position, the new San Francisco coaching staff headed by Mike Nolan has its work cut out for them.

Rattay is often-injured, Dorsey lacks the physical dependability, and Pickett is extremely raw to lead the 49ers into the future. A veteran is expected to be brought in to bridge the gap until a star-potential youngster is ready. Jeff Garcia has been telling anyone within an ear-shot he would like to return to San Francisco, and he may get his wish.

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