Teams look to free agency for immediate improvementPosted: Thursday February 27, 2003 4:34 PM
The NFL's free agent period is under way. What might the 32 teams do?
With about $11 million to spend under the $74.8 million salary cap, the Jets would like to find a speedy linebacker (Rosevelt Colvin, Mike Peterson) and a big receiver, but might wait for the draft. They could lose their steadiest offensive lineman, guard Randy Thomas, and kicker John Hall.
With strong safety Tebucky Jones designated the franchise player, they have no one of consequence who might leave. The Patriots tend to go for cheaper free agents, and might seek a linebacker, although they prefer to go the cheaper route and Colvin might be too expensive. They also want a receiver and have about $7 million available.
With no first-round pick thanks to the Ricky Williams deal last year, Miami could seek to cure its offensive line needs now. Houston tackle Ryan Young might be interesting, but Miami doesn't have much money to spend. Fullback Rob Konrad is the Dolphins' notable free agent.
Buffalo might have overpaid to keep WR Peerless Price by using the franchise tag. Defensive changes are coming, especially at linebacker. Colvin and Takeo Spikes have been targeted, and Buffalo appears unconcerned about losing Keith Newman. Also without a No. 1 pick -- traded for Drew Bledsoe -- signing Price could eliminate adding other free agents.
With little money to spend, the Titans will try to get better at receiver and in the secondary through the draft. They restructured a number of contracts to get down to the cap figure, but several veterans probably will go, including WR Kevin Dyson.
LB Peterson and center Jeff Saturday were the key guys to re-sign, and Saturday's contract was redone Thursday. They'd like to hold onto DE Brad Scioli, who head coach Tony Dungy likes. Dungy wants to upgrade the secondary, and a cheaper safety (Victor Green, Damien Robinson) or even Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson are possibilities.
By making safety Donovin Darius the franchise player, the Jaguars eased their biggest worry -- for now. They have some money to spend, despite some $33 million tied up in QB Mark Brunell ($8.75 million), DE Tony Brackens ($8 million), WR Jimmy Smith ($6.5 million) and TE Kyle Brady ($5.2 million). The team needs speed at receiver and a good pass rusher. DE Vonnie Holliday could be of interest.
The Texans have 18 unrestricted free agents, with Young and linebacker Jeff Posey the key ones to re-sign. Young was a starter with the Jets, came to Houston in the expansion draft, then got hurt. He could be a huge piece to protecting David Carr. Houston has nearly $15 million to spend and needs a receiver and runner, but could get them in the draft.
Releasing QB Kordell Stewart frees up $6.3 million. That and letting two starters, safety Lee Flowers and tackle Wayne Gandy, leave as free agents will help financially. They want to re-sign QB Charlie Batch to back up Tommy Maddox, then see if there is some inexpensive help at cornerback and tight end.
A team with significant cap problems, the Browns saved by passing on a $14 million roster bonus for LB Jamir Miller, who comes off a ruptured Achilles' tendon and was released. Several other veterans, including LBs Dwayne Rudd and Earl Holmes, were not kept to clear more space. Still, with those moves and some contract restructuring, the Browns still may need to find the safety they seek in the draft.
From salary cap purgatory last year, the Ravens are in great shape, with as much to spend as anyone. They figure to use some of it to try to keep LB Cornell Brown, and then will seek a bigtime receiver (David Boston, if his health checks out) and perhaps a defensive tackle (Brandon Noble or a return of Sam Adams, who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens).
Spikes says he wants out, and there will be some bidders, even though Cincinnati can match any offer. By not using the franchise tag on Spikes, the Bengals might lose him. They must improve both lines and in the secondary. But it's hard to entice the likes of DE Hugh Douglas or DT Noble to this place.
The AFC champs must get creative to have any spending money for free agents. Guard Mo Collins is the only starter on the block and his loss would not be a big hit. Still, while they saved money by cutting three starters -- DT Sam Adams, CB Tory James and S Anthony Dorsett -- they can plot how to deal the final two selections in the first round of the draft to move up.
Also in poor cap shape, especially after giving kicker Jason Elam a five-year, $9 million deal, Denver will be frugal in free agency. The one splash could be for QB Jake Plummer, after the Broncos reworked WR Ed McCaffrey's contract. They also cut starters CB Denard Walker, DT Chester McGlockton and DE Kavika Pittman to save cap space and want to trade QB Brian Griese.
Restructuring QB Doug Flutie's deal got them under the cap, but the Chargers need to find more money. Releasing longtime safety Rodney Harrison helps, and this team must find players for both lines. A run-stuffer at DT and a couple of blockers for star RB LaDainian Tomlinson would be nice, but the cash isn't there.
After successfully restructuring QB Trent Green's salary, KC was able to re-sign highly regarded linebacker Mike Maslowski, one of the few defensive players worth keeping. The Chiefs also must think about a new deal for Offensive Player of the Year Priest Holmes and find a pass rush specialist.
Losing Douglas, 32, and Shawn Barber could have a huge negative impact on the Eagles' staunch defense. Philadelphia is enough under the cap that it has room to sign both, but the Eagles' policy is not to offer long-term deals to players over 30. That also means kick return star Brian Mitchell might leave. Philly could use a linebacker, especially if Barber leaves, and a wideout.
The Giants are looking to keep a developing offensive line intact, but they have three starters who are unrestricted: tackles Luke Petitgout and Mike Rosenthal, guard Jason Whittle. Petitgout is the main target. New York also would like to keep backup TE Dan Campbell, a good blocker, and needs help on the defensive line. New York has money and will get more when it works out a new deal or cuts CB Jason Sehorn in March.
For all their free spending for veterans, the Redskins somehow remained very close to the cap. They've opted to let RB Stephen Davis go and haven't been able to make up their minds about DT Daryl Gardener, who comes off a strong season but has had back woes. A bigtime receiver (Boston?) is atop their wish list, along with a guard.
With some money to spend and Bill Parcells coaching the team, Dallas suddenly has become a desirable locale for free agents. Parcells wants some big bodies and is looking at the Jets' Thomas and Houston's Young, both former Parcells draft picks. Dallas prefers to hold onto Noble, but he has value on the market. The release of Emmitt Smith frees up more money, which could help find a veteran quarterback to tutor Chad Hutchinson.
The Bucs will pay for winning the Super Bowl. They could lose three starters from their awesome defense: safety Jackson and LBs Shelton Quarles and Alshermond Singleton. Quarles is the main guy to keep of that trio. But Tampa must find more cap room, which means losing somebody, possibly Jackson, Singleton or offensive tackle Roman Oben. Several contracts must be restructured, too, and center Jeff Christy was cut.
If the Falcons can hold onto safety Keion Carpenter, they will minimize any damage. He's a restricted free agent. Redoing Pro Bowl linebacker Keith Brooking's contract was the main order of business and that was done last week. Now they would like to add a receiver -- they really want Price -- and some DBs.
Most of the Saints' free agents aren't real desirable on the open market. There is some interest in QB Jake Delhomme and restricted fullback Terrell Smith. New Orleans would like to hold onto center Jerry Fontenot, but probably will let safety Sammy Knight and LB Charlie Clemons walk. A linebacker (Chris Claiborne?) is a top priority.
They made a punter, albeit a very good one in Todd Sauerbrun, the franchise player. That's how much they value his leg. But this team needs a running back, a young QB, some receivers, blockers and a linebacker. The money is there to fill some holes, perhaps starting with Washington RB Davis or Arizona WR Boston.
Scrambling to get under the salary cap, the Packers made DL Cletidus Hunt a transition player. They probably will lose DE Holliday, who is coveted by several teams for his pass rush. Green Bay also might look at linebackers (Seattle's Anthony Simmons, Colvin) and defensive backs, although the DBs could come in the draft.
TE/FB Jim Kleinsasser was given the franchise tag and is the only free agent the Vikings really need to keep. RB Mo Williams and TE Hunter Goodwin probably won't find a lot of interest in free agency and might return. As for spending money, the Vikes have loads of it, more than $26 million. But with owner Red McCombs thinking about selling the team, how much will they spend for the DBs or DLs they need?
Colvin is one of the most desirable free agents, a sacks threat who also can cover and stop the run. But the Bears have so much money tied up in LBs, they probably won't re-sign him. Chicago also have two restricted players they want to keep: kicker Paul Edinger and strong safety Mike Green. The Bears need a quarterback and could draft one. But desiring a veteran starter, they could go for Pittsburgh's Stewart or Arizona's Plummer.
Without much money to spend, the Lions let veterans such as Germane Crowell and Desmond Howard leave to free up more. They also could lose one of their few solid contributors, LB Claiborne, but they didn't restructure the contract of top DE Robert Porcher. Detroit desperately needs DBs, with Walker and Jackson possibilities.
If they can find some more cap room, they probably will re-sign WR Tai Streets. More importantly, they will redo All-Pro wideout Terrell Owens' deal and get some help on the defensive line. New coach Dennis Erickson has been away from the NFL a while, so it could take time before the Niners make any free agent splash. They cut starters Dana Stubblefield and Dave Fiore to save money.
In paying QB Kurt Warner his $6 million roster bonus, the Rams are making a serious commitment to him. They didn't do the same with veteran CB Aeneas Williams, who comes off ankle and leg injuries. OT Orlando Pace was made the franchise player. St. Louis could use another linebacker with speed (Simmons, Colvin) and help on the offensive line. A solid right tackle (Young) would be a real boost.
In using the franchise tag on OT Walter Jones, the Seahawks might have said goodbye to LB Simmons. Regardless, they need to bulk up down the middle, at DT, MLB and safety. Much of their available money should go there, although some cheaper defensive linemen are available.
No team has more questions in free agency. It did not use the franchise or transition tag on Boston or Plummer, and several other starters (WR MarTay Jenkins, safety Kwamie Lassiter, LB Rob Fredrickson) could leave. The Cardinals figure to look for another quarterback and will need more receivers.