As we move into the NFL offseason, there are several key free agency decisions. The decisions also move beyond free agency, as there is at least one notable quarterback who could be traded. Here are the ten biggest offseason movement questions to monitor as we move toward the start of free agency and the start of the new league calendar.
1. The Joe Flacco Contract. We know that Joe Flacco will be a Baltimore Raven next year. The question is, at what price? Baltimore can use the franchise player tag, which should help drive negotiations. Does Flacco really want to play under it next year if his demands are too exorbitant? His value is hot right now, and he is timing the market just right. Getting top five money isn’t always about being the top guy, it’s about hitting at the right time before others get theirs. The guess here? Not quite what Brees got last year, but somewhere in the 18-20 million range.
2. Branden Albert’s Negotiations with Kansas City, and What It Means for the First Overall Pick. Branden Albert is a free agent at left tackle in Kansas City. The team sits poised with the first overall pick when many are saying that Texas A&M Luke Joeckel is the top prospect. Signing Albert would not completely preclude Joeckel being the pick, but you would think Albert isn’t taking a discount to move positions, when he could sign elsewhere. If Kansas City does not pursue re-signing Albert heavily, it may be an indication of their intentions in April.
3. Chris Johnson Will Be Safe Once Saturday Comes. There were rumors, somewhat fueled by Johnson, that he could be released because $9 million of his salary next year becomes guaranteed if he is still on the roster. Ian Rapoport says he is safe. We should know by this weekend if the Titans determine that is too much to pay for Johnson at age 28, but the Tennessean now has coach Mike Munchak saying that cutting him was not an option.
4. Alex Smith Trade Talk. The biggest quarterback to change teams will be Alex Smith. There was talk off whether the 49ers would release him. Nonsense. He’s got too good a market in a perceived weak draft class. A decade ago, the Rams traded Trent Green to the Chiefs for the 12th overall pick, and Green had about a year and a half of starting experience. I think San Francisco will get the equivalent of a late first round pick for Smith, whether it is one or multiple picks moving to get there.
5. Avril Showers, Mai Flowers. Yes, that’s bad. I have to utilize taking French all those years somewhere. Cliff Avril has been wanting a long term deal with Detroit, and now hits free agency as the #1 pass rusher. I’m not sure his all-around game justifies how much someone will go. Michael Johnson and Michael Bennett are other defensive ends to look at. I doubt Paul Kruger of the Baltimore Ravens, who came on this year, is allowed to get to free agency with another team.
6. Lots of Offensive Tackles Potentially on the Market, in a Tackle Heavy Draft. Branden Albert isn’t the only offensive tackle. It’s a market where numerous starters could be available. Denver should re-sign Ryan Clady, but will Miami meet Jake Long’s price tag, particularly with his recent injuries. New England’s Sebastian Vollmer is in the next tier. Jermon Bushrod and Gosder Cherilus are also free agents.
7. How Will the Wide Receiver Hierarchy Break Out? Greg Jenning’s sister should be happy that her brother will probably get a better offer elsewhere, since the Packers are loaded at receiver. Dwayne Bowe should be a priority in Kansas City, where there are no other weapons in the passing game, but where his value has been sapped by dreadful quarterback play. Mike Wallace is ready to get paid and will probably leave Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, Wes Welker is a free agent, but the worst kept secret is that the Patriots could instead try to bring in the younger Danny Amendola to fill that role, who has been productive on the occasions he is healthy.
8. Will Steven Jackson and Reggie Bush Find a Market? Steven Jackson has a player option and could be available at age 30. We’ve seen the market for running backs dry up around this time, though all it takes is one team. Reggie Bush had some highlight runs but fell out of favor as the season progressed in Miami. Will a team get creative and carve out a role at age 28 for Bush where he plays more slot receiver and hybrid movable piece, like Atlanta did with Eric Metcalf in 1995, when he had 104 catches in the run-n-shoot offense?
9. Safeties in Numbers. Ed Reed is the big name, but is 35 years old. Several younger safeties could draw interest. Jairus Byrd has 18 interceptions in four years in Buffalo, William Moore has been a key member of Atlanta’s defense, and Louis Delmas is a free agent in Detroit. Glover Quin made the switch to safety two years ago, and has taken to it in Houston’s defense, and you would think they would try to retain him. In addition, Laron Landry and his massive arms are out there as well.
10. Big Names, But Will Teams Overpay for Them? In addition to Ed Reed, the market is full of 30+ star players on the downside, but who might still tempt teams. Wes Welker is certainly still productive. At defensive end, both Osi Umenyiora and Dwight Freeney are looking for one more contract.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]