NFL Free Agency officially opens today at 4 pm eastern time, though it got underway early when the Colts released Peyton Manning last week. While constant updates about where Manning is eating and sleeping have been dominating the stories, there will be several others that develop over the next few days as the bidding officially begins. We’ll look as some players sign right away and others wait.
1. Mario Williams: If Peyton Manning were not on the market, a 27-year old defensive end who was a former #1 overall pick and has 53 career sacks would be kind of a huge deal. Here’s a list of the 10 defensive ends with the most sacks through age 26. Impressive company. Now, Mario played as a rookie before his 22nd birthday, so he had more seasons than some of those guys. I don’t think he’s Bruce Smith or Reggie White. If he can be Simeon Rice, though, another top pick who left his original team at age 27 and put up over 13 sacks a year for the next five with Tampa Bay, it will be a monster signing. I expect lots of interest and a huge payday.
2. Wide Receivers: It’s a buyer’s market if you need a starting receiver in 2012, but don’t expect the pass catchers to come cheap with teams having more veteran money to spend. Vincent Jackson should be the top target given his age, size and productivity. After that, teams will look toward Marques Colston, and also have options with Brandon Lloyd and Reggie Wayne, in addition to secondary guys looking for a larger role, like Mario Manningham. Then there is Mike Wallace, who would probably slot right after Jackson, but is a restricted free agent. A late first rounder for a team isn’t out of the question, and though he will command more money, a team could get him at a discount because he would get less in year one playing under the tender.
3. Carl Nicks: The offensive guard from New Orleans is going to be a hot commodity for teams looking to upgrade their interior offensive line. Seven other guards were selected to two pro bowls and at least one all pro at ages 25 and 26, like Nicks. Of course, none of them were ever allowed to play for another team, at least until they reached 30. I anticipate several teams will express interest, and at least 3-4 will show strong interest, led by Dallas.
4. The Top Corner Will Be? We know that the passing game is king, and so the guys that defend it will be in demand as teams that missed the playoffs try to shore up their back 4. Cortland Finnegan, one of the league’s firebrands, is hitting the market after Tennessee franchised Michael Griffin. Brandon Carr may not be a household name, but he is a four year starter at 26, two years younger than Finnegan and taller. It may depend on the scheme as to who is favored by particular teams, and who draws the most interest.
5. Matt Flynn: How hot will the market be for Flynn? [Ed. As hot as his girlfriend a few years ago? I'm here all week.] It will be interesting to see if he chooses to sign with a team (like, say, Cleveland) who is out of the Manning mix, or if he waits for that decision to fall into place. If Miami doesn’t get Manning, Flynn is still out there, and his old offensive coordinator Joe Philbin doesn’t pursue him, it would cause some concerns around the league.
[photo via US Presswire]