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Posted on: March 8, 2012 10:19 am
Edited on: March 8, 2012 3:29 pm
 

Up to 12 teams contacted Peyton Manning Wednesday

So ... many ... choices ... (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

On Wednesday, the Colts released Peyton Manning, a sentence that still seems weird to write.

Also on Wednesday, the Manning-to-Team-X rumor mill got chugging along nicely. It's believed that as many as a dozen NFL teams (12!) have been in contact with Manning's camp, or Manning's agent Tom Condon. However, CBSSports.com's NFL Insider Mike Freeman reported Thursday morning that some folks believe Manning's already narrowed his list. Freeman points to the Dolphins, Redskins and ... Broncos as the short list.

Peyton's Free Agency

But for the sake of really figuring out who's in play, let's break down the teams that could've/should've/might've contacted Manning on Wednesday. Follow the parenthesis for the full count.

49ers (X) general manager Trent Baalke told everyone that the 49ers are not interested in Manning. That doesn't technically preclude any contact on their part, but it does point to a low interest level.

Despite the presence of Tebowmania, the Broncos (1) are absolutely interested in Manning. See: Freeman's report, as well as a report from Mike Klis of The Denver Post Wednesday, in which Klis says the Broncos will check in with Manning but believes they will likely stick with Tebow. That's probably more as a result of striking out on Manning, but as Freeman notes, maybe they're in play after all.  

The Dolphins (2) are quite obviously interested. Our buddy Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post believes the Dolphins are in the pole position to land Manning. And there's good reason to think Volin is right, the least of which is that he's in South Beach right now. (Well, we assume he's still there.) Adding to the pressure of Miami, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat Twitter account are all recruiting/harassing Peyton.

Speaking of the AFC East, the Jets (3) are another divisional team purportedly in hot pursuit of Manning. Or purportedly "split" about whether or not they want to chase Manning. They do. They know it. The problem? They just don't think they can actually get him, so they're trying to play it cool.

The most obvious suitor? The Washington Redskins (4), who essentially feel like they're already drunk-dialing Condon to talk about Manning. What? That counts as an "aggressive" pursuit of a free agent.

Or maybe the Seahawks (5) are the most aggressive team ... only they're going about it quietly. Albert Breer of the NFL Network reported they'd be the first team on the phone with Peyton Wednesday, and Peter King and Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated both believe John Schneider and Pete Carroll would be in hot pursuit of Manning. It's interesting, as Doug Farrar of Shutdown Corner notes, because Schneider said at the combine that he wasn't interested in "passing camp" quarterbacks.

Thursday, Adam Schefter of ESPN named a couple additional teams as well. Most notably, he cited the Chiefs (6) as a suitor for Manning. They make a lot of sense. Schefter also listed the Titans (7) as a team that contacted Manning, but that goes contrary to what they said they'd do. Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean also reports that the Titans have not (6) had contact with Manning.

That's six teams, which is a lot. And yes, I'm ignoring the Titans. I'm also ignoring the Texans, who were already ruled out by King. So who are the other six teams?

The Cardinals (7) are a team that we haven't mentioned yet, but they're still my favorite to land Manning. They have a limited window to land Manning because of the Kevin Kolb roster bonus due on March 17, and they can't be too public about their pursuit of Manning (well, Darnell Dockett can). But maybe they don't have to be public about anything: Manning has reportedly put out his own "feelers" to talk with the Cards. It probably has nothing to do with Larry Fitzgerald.

Then there's a slew of cruddy teams that we should add off the bat: the Browns (8), the Bills (9) and the Jaguars (10) are all teams with quarterbacks. But they're also teams with quarterbacks who are not Peyton Manning. And if the respective GMs of those clubs didn't at least call and say "Hey, would he be interested in playing in our city for our team?" then they should be jailed for negligence.

So we need a pair of sleepers now. Let's rule out the rest of the AFC; for one reason or another, everyone has a quarterback. Let's also rule out the NFC East. We've already included the NFC West, sans the Rams. Only one team from the NFC South and the NFC North needs a quarterback.

So only two teams remain: the Vikings (11) and the Buccaneers (12). OK, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman are both recent first-round picks, but this is Peyton Manning we're talking about. They'd be nuts not to at least inquire through backchannels if there was any possible interest.

If you think I missed someone, leave em in the comments. Or argue why your team deserves Manning.

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Posted on: March 6, 2012 9:28 am
Edited on: March 6, 2012 12:40 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Offensive line rankings

Is Nicks, our top free-agent offensive lineman, done hoisting Brees? (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling lists of the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the offensive linemen.

It's not the sexiest position in the NFL -- just ask Andre "C-Cup" Smith -- and there's a feeling in the NFL these days, whether it's right or wrong, that offensive line is becoming a fungible position. It's OK to laugh at that idea, because a few years ago, wide receiver was the same way. It'll shift back and forth in the next few years. Right now, you'll pay a nice price to land a wideout and offensive linemen are relatively cheap.

Some of the guys on the list below won't be cheap however. There's a pretty nice group of offensive linemen hitting the market this year, and teams might be wise to avoid trying to race in the free-agent market and focus their efforts on improving protection.

1. Carl Nicks

Breakdown: Nicks is probably the best guard in the league, and it doesn't help that his teammate, Jahri Evans, signed a $56.7 million deal for the next seven years. Especially since Nicks wants more money. With Drew Brees franchised, the Saints are essentially forced to let Nicks and top wideout Marques Colston both hit the market and good luck bringing Nicks back. He's the only guy who can hurt the guard-related stock for Stanford's David DeCastro.
Potential Landing Spots: Saints, Cowboys, Chargers, 49ers

2. Chris Myers

Breakdown: Honestly if Meyers left it would be a) a huge mistake for the Texans and b) a big surprise. Everyone talks about Mario Williams as the guy they need to re-sign, but Meyers is substantially more valuable to what they do (especially with the defensive personnel vs. the offensive personnel). Houston's offensive line is by far and away the most underrated in the NFL and while Eric Winston is the anchor, Meyers is the leader. I'd like to think that Houston won't let him walk, simply because the AFC South window is too big not to keep making a run at another division title.
Potential Landing Spots: Texans, Packers, Ravens

3. Jared Gaither

Breakdown: Gaither was a supplemental draft pick with the Ravens in 2007, washed out, went to the Chiefs and then looked finished in the NFL at an early age. But he was a big factor in revitalizing the Chargers run late in the season; after Marcus McNeil went down, Philip Rivers was offered no protection until Gaither came into town. The Chargers want to keep him, but this is a very shallow class for free-agent tackles, and Gaither could pull in good money on the market. He's got gobs of talent and is still young, but keeping him motivated is a concern.
Potential Landing Spots: Lions, Chargers, Cardinals, Vikings, Rams

4. Ben Grubbs

Breakdown: Grubbs, the Ravens 2007 first-round pick, made the first Pro Bowl of his career in 2011. He's a free agent only because Baltimore's had to use their franchise tag on Ray Rice and couldn't commit to the guard. The Ravens still want to re-sign Grubbs, and that could happen between now and March 13 when free agency begins. Working in the Ravens favor is the deep nature of this crop of free-agent guards.
Potential Landing Spots: Ravens, Bengals, Giants, Bears, 49ers

4. Scott Wells

Breakdown: Wells and the Packers are in the middle of a headed non-discussion about a new contract. Wells believes he deserves big money, and the Packers believe he deserves the type of money that a shorter, 31-year-old center would get on an open market. But Wells isn't just any center; he's proven his worth in working with different quarterbacks in Green Bay and helping to develop Aaron Rodgers. Wells made his first Pro Bowl in 2011 and has missed just one game since 2006. He won't want to leave Green Bay but he also won't take less than he's worth. It wouldn't be surprising to see him move closer to Tennessee (he's from there and played for the Vols in college) either.
Potential Landing Spots: Packers, Texans, Broncos

5. Demetrius Bell

Breakdown: Bell's been playing football for less than 10 years, but he's clearly quite good at it. Or at least good enough to keep being named the Bills left tackle. The seventh-round pick out of Northwestern State could come back to Buffalo, but if there are teams in need of offensive line help, there's a good chance he'll bail. The offensive line market is odd this year, in that it appears to be guard and center heavy. The tackles aren't exactly stacked and that could result in a nice deal for a guy like Bell.
Potential Landing Spots: Lions, Bills, Chargers, Cardinals, Vikings, Rams

6. Evan Mathis

Breakdown: Mathis hasn't started 16 games since coming into the NFL. But he's coming off easily the best season of his career and has said he'll take a discount to remain with the Eagles under the tutelage of Howard Mudd. Mathis said he'd work for "$20 and a pizza," but the reality is he got paid the league minimum last year, and at 30, he'd be insane not to maximize his money-making ability.
Potential Landing Spots: Eagles, Saints, Seahawks, 49ers

8. Geoff Schwartz

Breakdown: Schwartz played all over the line for Carolina in 2010 before missing all of 2011 with injury. It'll be interesting to see Ron Rivera's coaching staff handles the offensive line: Schwartz and Jeff Otah are holdovers from a previous regime and might not necessarily stick. But Schwartz, at 25, would be a nice, versatile and discounted signing for someone who needs help and depth across the line.
Potential Landing Spots: Giants, Bills, Panthers, Seahawks

9. Dan Koppen

Breakdown: You know what's weird? Everyone's willing to toss out the "system" word as it relates to anything with the Patriots quarterback but don't bother discussing how their offensive line, which features a pretty cohesive unit, helps Tom Brady's success. Whatever, it's fine. That's the "Patriot Way." But Koppen isn't going to get the franchise tag like fellow lineman Logan Mankins and he stands to make more money for a team that needs a center.
Potential Landing Spots: Packers, Ravens

10. Jake Scott

Breakdown: The good news is this: Scott played for an offensive-line monster in Mike Munchak. Munchak consistently creates cohesive offensive units that over-produce relative to their value. But the bad news is that Scott's 30 (not too old) and if you bring him into another organization, he's not going to have that same Titans cohesiveness. Is that overplayed? Yeah, maybe. But Scott will have bigger questions when it comes to Chris Johnson's production in 2011, whether that's fair or not.
Potential Landing Spots: Titans, Saints, Eagles, Seahawks

HONORABLE MENTION

Jeff Backus, Nick Hardwick, Vernon Carey, Anthony Collins

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 11:41 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency Preview: AFC East

New England has to be the early favorite, but could Buffalo or Miami supplant New York for No. 2 in the East? (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Buffalo Bills

The season got off to such a promising start in Buffalo -- five wins in the first seven games … and then the Bills suffered seven consecutive losses to finish tied for last in the division with the Dolphins. A lot went right over the first six weeks of the season, but a ton went wrong over the final two and a half months. Some of that can be blamed on injuries, but every team can say that. Bigger issues ill-timed mistakes (like, say, Stevie Johnson drops), poor decisions (Ryan Fitzpatrick interceptions come to mind), and a porous defense all conspired to sink the season. But for the first time in a long time, the Bills have hope. And we don't mean the "Hey, maybe we'll win eight games!" type hope, either. We mean a team that could have the offensive firepower to keep up with anybody. More generally, Buffalo's fate will come down to two things: offensive consistency and a much-improved defense.

Free agents of note
Wide receiver Stevie Johnson signed a five-year deal Friday, but the team is expected to let WR Roscoe Parrish and running back Tashard Chocie hit free agency. The same holds for tight end Scott Chandler. Meanwhile, left tackle Demetrius Bell and linebacker Kirk Morrison have been negotiating with the team for a possible return in 2012.

Needs
Buffalo was 5-2 to start the season and then the wheels fell off. The offense dried up about the time that quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick signed that huge extension (we later found out that he was suffering from a rib injury for the second half of the season), and the defense -- the run defense in particular -- was abysmal. Now Fitzpatrick's healthy, the Bills re-signed Johnson, and Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller give the team two explosive backs.

Dave Wannstedt is the new defensive coordinator and he'll reinstitute the 4-3 after the 3-4 experiment didn't work. This will allow defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus to be on the field at the same time, which should immediately upgrade the run D. Buffalo lacks depth at most positions but especially at linebacker. Kelvin Sheppard will likely play in the middle and Nick Barnett will move to the weak side (the team doesn't expect defensive end Shawne Merriman to be anything more than a situational pass rusher), but expect this need to be addressed in free agency and the draft.

Targets
Former Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton is headed for the open market and he makes sense. As CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco points out, Lofton is better against the run than the pass, and that was one of the Bills' biggest weaknesses a year ago. There's also a report that Buffalo could be interested in Vincent Jackson -- even after signing Johnson to a long-term contract.

Miami Dolphins

When Tony Sparano arrived in Miami in 2008, the Dolphins surprised everyone by going 11-5 and winning the conference. Unfortunately, once the shine was off the Wildcat offense, Miami faded too. They went 7-9 in back-to-back seasons before an 0-7 start doomed Sparano in 2011. The Dolphins finished strong -- a 6-3 record with backup QB Matt Moore -- but the team will look completely different heading into training camp, starting with new head coach Joe Philbin.

Free agents of note
Chad Henne is gone. He was open to returning but the Dolphins had seen enough. In the right system, Henne could be successful, just not in Miami… Paul Soliai was our top-rated free-agent defensive tackle and the organization is content to let him test the waters… Tackle Vernon Carey struggled as a pass blocker and isn't likely to be re-signed, and the same holds for defensive lineman Kendall Langford… Running back Steve Slaton, the former Texans' third-round pick, also isn't expected back, and neither is right tackle Marc Colombo.

Needs
Quarterback is the glaring need. We've mentioned it before but we might as well reiterate it here for effect -- the starters since Dan Marino retired following the 1999 season: Jay Fiedler, Damon Huard, A.J. Feeley, Gus Frerotte, Sage Rosenfels, Brian Griese, Joey Harrington, Daunte Culpepper, Cleo Lemon, Trent Green, John Beck, Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, Tyler Thigpen and Matt Moore.

Which is why owner Stephen Ross was reportedly "infatuated" with Peyton Manning and why Philbin might end up with Matt Flynn, who he coached in Green Bay. Whatever happens, as long as the Dolphins don't have a legit quarterback, they'll always be playing for draft position. Miami also needs to upgrade the offensive line, specifically right tackle. Colombo was among the worst tackles in the league according to ProFootballFocus.com's numbers, and Football Outsiders ranked the entire unit 30th in their sacks-allowed metric.

Targets
Manning seems like a long shot because of lingering health issues, potential cap-busting contract demands and the possibility that Manning will want to run the offense. Flynn makes much more sense because he's familiar with Philbin and Philbin's offense, and in the right system he can be effective. The QB free-agency drop-off after Flynn is precipitous. Jason Campbell and Kyle Orton would be fine as one-year stopgaps until the next franchise quarterback arrives in South Beach, but using that logic it makes just as much sense to keep Henne around.

The free-agent market for tackles is even thinner. Jared Gaither might be the best mix of athleticism, upside and affordability, but the Chargers are reportedly interested in keeping him.

New England Patriots

The Patriots returned to the Super Bowl in February for the first time since 2007 (which is also the last time they won a postseason game). But their loss to the Giants in Indianapolis means that New England's last Lombardi Trophy came following the 2005 season. There are worse fates, of course, and as long as Tom Brady is under center the Pats are a playoff team and likely favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Still, Brady needs help. Given New England's cache of draft picks, we expect they'll address each of them in the coming weeks and months.

Free agents of note
Wide receiver Wes Welker was franchised Monday but the hope is that the two sides can come to an agreement on a long-term deal… Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis carried much of the workload last season but the Pats used two high draft picks on RBs. If Green-Ellis leaves via free agency second-year player Stevan Ridley could be next in line… Left tackle Matt Light is rumored to be contemplating retirement and even if he comes back for another season New England might move on without him (they drafted tackle Nate Solder in the first round last April). The Patriots may also let free agent center Dan Koppen walk… Veterans WR Deion Branch and DE Andre Carter could be back in New England if they're willing to sign for cheap, while longtime Patriot Kevin Faulk has retired but hinted that he'd love to return to the sidelines as an assistant coach…

Needs
Defense and wide receiver top the offseason to-do list. As for the former, the Patriots desperately need depth in the secondary; the team cut former first-round pick safety Brandon Meriweather in preseason and then played much of 2011 with other teams' castoffs at cornerback. CB Devin McCourty regressed in Year 2 after a fantastic rookie campaign, but he could rebound with the right players around him. Second-rounder Ras-I Dowling missed his rookie season with injuries but will be available to begin 2012.

Concerning the latter: Chad Ochocinco was an unmitigated disaster. He had 15 catches in the regular season and a lone touchdown. He was supposed to provide Brady with a deep threat. Didn't happen. In fact, Ochocinco routinely found himself on the sidelines when the Pats went to the no-huddle offense because he was still learning the playbook. There's a chance he returns in 2012 but it will be at a reduced rate. With Welker back for at least another year and Branch also likely to return, New England has to find a legitimate down-the-field target to stretch defenses and open things up for tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Which brings us to...

Targets
The Patriots have the 31st pick in April's draft. The Steelers chose not to franchise Mike Wallace Monday. New England should be working up a contract offer for Wallace right now because if they're able to prying him away from Pittsburgh it'll be worth much more than a low first-round selection. New England could also look to free agency to fill their needs in the secondary and along the defensive line.

New York Jets

The Jets' offseason began with a Rex Ryan press conference explaining why team captain Santonio Holmes quit on his teammates during an embarrassing Week 17 loss to the Dolphins with the playoffs on the line. Ryan promised to fix his locker room, proclaimed that Mark Sanchez was his quarterback, and indicated that despite the whole quitting thing, Holmes was staying put. On the other side of the ball, New York struggled to generate a pass rush and wasn't nearly as effective against the run. And that, almost as much as Sanchez' inconsistency, was responsible for the 8-8 season.

Free agents of note
We listed Sione Pouha as one of the best free-agent defensive tackles and while the Jets didn't franchise him, they'll reportedly sign him to a long-term deal before he hits the open market… Plaxico Burress' one-year stint with Gang Green is over; he along with Holmes didn't always see eye to eye with Sanchez and he said recently he'd love to play for the Eagles… Safety Jim Leonhard came to the Jets from Baltimore but he along with Brodney Pool could be allowed to test free agency… Another former Raven, linebacker Bart Scott, has been given permission to seek a trade… Running back LaDainian Tomlinson is expected to retire… The Jets saved former Bills first-rounder Aaron Maybin from the scrap heap and the team will reportedly tender him at the highest level.

Needs
Sanchez took a beating -- both mentally and physically -- last year. With Holmes set to return, the former probably won't change no matter what Ryan says. But the team can certainly do a better job of protecting their franchise quarterback, particularly if that quarterback ends up being Peyton Manning. (We think that's a longshot at this point but still not entirely outside the realm of possibility. Either way, the fact remains: if New York doesn't protect any of their quarterbacks, they can expect another long season in 2012.) Unfortunately, the Jets have committed to Wayne Hunter as their right tackle, the very same Wayne Hunter who was summarily beaten time after time in 2011. According to ESPNNewYork.com, Hunter was charged with 8.5 sacks and 11 penalties last season.

New York also needs to bolster the secondary, especially if neither Leonhard or Pool is expected to re-sign. It also didn't help that Eric Smith struggled is passing situations (not to mention losing contain on the Thursday Night get-together against the Broncos that led to Tebow's game-winning touchdown run.)

Targets
Ryan, like most coaches, favors his own guys. It explains why he brought Leonhard and Scott with him from Baltimore where he was previously the defensive coordinator. It also explains why he may pursue Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson, who's headed for free agency. Also expect the Jets to address the position -- or safety -- early in April's draft.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 9:34 pm
 

Bears, Bills interested in Vincent Jackson?

Despite their history, Vincent Jackson apparently would like to return to the Chargers. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

The Chargers may have stated repeatedly that they want wide receiver Vincent Jackson back in San Diego next season, but he's set to hit the open market. And when he does, there will almost certainly be a team (or three) willing to pay him more than what Chargers GM A.J. Smith deems fair.  Unsurprisingly, Smith understands this: "We would like to have him continue on with us, but other teams now will enter the picture."

The Chicago Tribune's Vaughn McClure writes that the Bears could be one of the teams interested in Jackson's services.

vxmcclure23
At least Bears can pursue Vincent Jackson, who didn't get tagged. Jackson and Cliff Avril appeared to be the top two free agent targets.
3/5/12 4:11 PM

Obviously, McClure sent the tweet before the Lions tagged Cliff Avril. Either way, Jackson's still available and ESPN's John Clayton echoes McClure, tweeting that he thinks "the Bears will make a big run at Vincent Jackson."

It's a perfectly reasonable assumption; running back Matt Forte was the team's leading receiver last season (52 catches, 490 yards, 1 TD), followed by Johnny Knox (37, 727, 2) and Roy Williams (37, 507, 2). But the NFL is a passing league and that means that the supply of franchise quarterbacks and big-play wideouts will always outstrip demand. So Chicago should expect competition for Jackson.

According to the Union-Tribune, the Bills could be one such team even though, you know, they just signed Stevie Johnson to a long-term deal. Details via Kevin Acee:

"It is believed the Buffalo Bills remain interested in Jackson despite signing Stevie Johnson to a five-year, $36.25 million deal on Monday. And, at least theoretically, Jackson was helped when Dwayne Bowe received the franchise tag from the Kansas City Chiefs.

Acee adds that despite Jackson's turbulent relationship with the Chargers' front office, Jackson's heart is in San Diego. "According to those familiar with his thinking, he has compartmentalized his feelings about the team and wants to remain a part of the offense led by Philip Rivers and devised by Norv Turner. He would, according to sources, take less from the Chargers than another team, though not a whole lot less."

Acee suspects that San Diego has a number in mind for Jackson, something less than $11 million a year. But if the two sides can't come to an agreement before March 13 at 4 p.m. ET, there's a good chance Jackson will have played his last game for the Chargers.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 5:33 pm
 

2012 NFL Franchise Tags: Winners and losers

Jackson's a big winner Monday, as he escaped the franchise tag like it was a defensive back. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

A record 21 players received a franchise tag in advance of Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, including six kicker-types. You can see everyone that got tagged at our 2012 NFL Franchise Tag Tracker. Let's break down the winners and losers below.

Winners

Vincent Jackson: Jackson held out most of 2010 because he wanted to get paid. He then signed his franchise-tag tender in 2011 because he wanted to get guaranteed money. Now that the Bolts declined to tag him, he's going to get filthy rich as one of the top two wide receivers to hit the free-agent market on March 13. Jackson and Marques Colston are the two top talents on a market that features several teams -- the Redskins, Rams, Jaguars, Vikings, and Seahawks, to name a few -- in need of a wideout.

Carl Nicks: Nicks reportedly hasn't heard anything on a new deal from the Saints and with New Orleans not reaching a deal with quarterback Drew Brees before the 4 p.m. ET deadline, Nicks is going to hit the open market on March 13. He's 26, a two-time Pro Bowler and made the All-Pro team in

Matt Flynn: Flynn wasn't expected to receive a tag from the Packers, but it's official now, and that means he'll hit the free-agent market. This is critical for Flynn given the number of quarterback-needy teams out there. It's also critical because the Packers won't control his next destination; if they tagged Flynn for the price of $14.4 million guaranteed (which he would sprint to sign), then they'd almost certainly end up trading him. Now Flynn gets to land a bigger contract on the open market.

Brandon Carr: The Chiefs decided to use their franchise tag on wideout Dwayne Bowe. That's a smart move, considering they signed cornerback Stanford Routt recently. But it also means that Carr, a 25-year-old defensive back coming off his best season in 2011, will have the chance to hit the open market. Young free-agent cornerbacks are a coveted commodity, and Carr should expect to get paid handsomely.

Stevie Johnson: The leverage of the guaranteed money involved with using the franchise tag on a wide receiver ($9.4 million) coupled with the deadline on Monday really escalated the talks with the Bills and Johnson, and he ended up netting a deal worth $7.25 million per year. That's not exactly on par with the highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL, but

Losers

Wes Welker: The Pats could very well end up getting Wes Welker signed to a long-term deal, but he can't be happy about being put in a situation that could have him not reaching full free agency until he turns 32 (he'll turn 31 in May of this offseason) if the Patriots simply want him to play another year on the franchise-tag value. Welker would've hit a market that paid him handsomely and it might be difficult for the Patriots to pay him the money he wants over longer period of time. We could see a holdout here.

New Orleans Saints: As if things weren't bad enough for the Saints -- see here, here, here, here, here and, whew, here -- they're likely going to lose their top wide receiver (Marques Colston) and one of their top offensive linemen (Nicks) to free agency. Their quarterback (Drew Brees) is not happy with his contract situation, and losing two weapons like that won't do much to improve his mood. So once they get done with BountyGate, there should be plenty of more fun to deal with.

Cliff Avril
: Detroit should be thrilled that they bring Avril back, but that doesn't mean the defensive end has to be happy. He's not, because he knows he'd kill on the open market this season. He'll get more than $10 million guaranteed next year and that's why it seemed possible that the Lions could let him walk -- they've got more than half their salary cap tied up in Avril, Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson next year. So there's some good news: the Lions very much would like to lock up Avril to a long deal.

Houston Texans
: The Texans locked up Arian Foster to a five-year deal that takes him through his 30-year-old season, which is perfect timing for a running back. But it's also giving a lot of money to a running back. (Foster is a tremendously talented guy, a perfect fit for what the Texans do, a great pass-blocker, a great pass-catcher and many other things. But he is still a running back.) On that same day, they were unable to secure Mario Williams, who was their No. 1 pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Super Mario will become a free agent, and unless he's willing to take a serious discount to stay with the Texans, it's hard to fathom how they keep him.

Pittsburgh Steelers: It seemed like the Steelers decision to go on a cutting spree and get below the salary-cap line would result in them using the franchise tag on Mike Wallace, who's a restricted free agent. They didn't and because of a confluence of events, they could be in trouble. One, Stevie got $7.2 million a year just now. Two, Jackson and Colston will get big money in free agency. And three, various tags on other high-profile wide receivers will draw more interest for teams that could consider giving Wallace an offer sheet. He may very well end up staying with the Steelers, but there's at least reason to be concerned.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 2:34 pm
 

Stevie Johnson: Bounties are 'stupid, ridiculous'

Johnson's not a fan of NFL bounties. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Stevie Johnson, who got a brand-new, five-year contract from Buffalo on Monday, dropped by The Jim Rome Show on Monday to talk about his new deal.

While he was there, Rome also asked Johnson about the hottest story of the day, the Saints bounties. And Johnson called them "stupid" and "ridiculous," and think it goes against what NFL players work for in the first place.

"I think it's stupid," Johnson told Rome. "I don't understand why other players do that or even participate in something like that. We got in this league through blood, sweat and tears. We grinded our way to get in the position we're in and then you put out a bounty or a hit on somebody to injure them? I don't like it at all and I kind of get frustrated by it."

("ROME with Jim Rome" debuts on CBS Sports Network April 3rd. Follow Rome on Twitter @JimRome.)

Frankly, I couldn't agree more with Johnson. The NFL's a tough enough business without people purposely trying to injure players. When a defensive player blitzes a quarterback (or simply lines up to rush a quarterback), he's inherently already trying to do damage to that quarterback.

The idea that financial motivation is required for violent behavior is pretty sickening. Thankfully some players, like Johnson, aren't taking the "this happens everywhere" attitude towards bounties.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 9:38 am
Edited on: March 5, 2012 1:04 pm
 

Bills, Stevie Johnson reach five-year deal

Johnson signs his new contract with Buffalo. (@RussBrandon, Twitter.com)
By Will Brinson

On Sunday night, the Bills and Stevie Johnson were "close" to wrapping up a five-year deal that would keep Johnson in Buffalo. On Monday morning, they closed whatever gap was missing, and the two sides agreed to a contract, the team announced.

Johnson's deal is reportedly worth $36.25 million with $19.5 million guaranteed. That's $7.25 million per year for Johnson, which is about right based on market value, and his projected performance.

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"It’s a good day for us. Our football team got better," Bills GM Buddy Nix said at the team's press conference. "One of our philosophies coming in was that we wanted to try to keep our good players here, draft good, develop them and then try to keep them and we were able to do that with Stevie Johnson. It goes without saying what he’s done in the past two years and I think it’s just going to get better. Again, playing against guys that have been here and have gotten out, one of our main goals was to keep guys like him. It took a long time and probably was going to get done because Stevie said he always wanted to be here and we always said we wanted him."

Johnson was a seventh-round pick in 2008 out of Kentucky and didn't contribute much (12 catches) in his first two years. But he exploded on the scene in 2010, catching 82 passes for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. In 2011, he was able to repeat his success, catching 76 passes for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns. Johnson is clearly the most important weapon in the Bills passing game, even if he's a bit of a prankster sometimes.

"I want to thank Mr. Wilson for taking that chance on me four years ago coming out of Kentucky and using the 224th pick on me," Johnson said at his press conference. "I want to thank him a lot, and my teammates, the whole Buffalo Bills organization for standing behind me through everything. It’s a great feeling. It’s a blessing to be in this organization. This is where I want to be. Everybody knows that.

"I want to thank my teammates who have looked out for me, basically walking me through things, even the younger guys for looking up to me. That’s pretty amazing right there."

Johnson said he's "done" with end-zone celebrations (the Bills must believe him?), but don't expect his personality to change. Witness the one hitch in his contract negotiations, which apparently involved Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's hairstyle.

"If you get a Mohawk mullet with a beard and a design on the left side I'll sign TODAY! If you don't think everyone in the billsmafia you'll be letting down ... The ball is in your court!" Johnson claims to have texted to Fitzpatrick. "Don't be selfish!"

Fortunately, Fitz found a barbershop, so Stevie was willing to get paid:

Fitzy's got a new haircut to celebrate Stevie's return. (Twitter.com)

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Posted on: March 4, 2012 11:17 pm
 

Report: Johnson, Bills close to a five-year deal

Johnson will be happy to hear that he's on the verge of singing a five-year deal. (Getty Images)
By Josh Katzowitz

In the past few weeks, the Bills haven’t seemed totally interested in keeping No. 1 receiver Stevie Johnson in Buffalo. They said they wouldn’t franchise tag Johnson, probably because the organization doesn’t feel he’s worthy of a $9.4 million, one-year deal, and at times, it seemed as if the team might let him walk without getting anything back in return.

But apparently that’s not the case as ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported late Sunday night that Johnson and the Bills are on the verge of finalizing a five-year contract that should be completed “in the next 24 hours.”

In our free agent wide receiver rankings, Johnson was in the No. 8 slot, and though he's topped 75 catches, 1,000 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in the past two seasons, he’s, at times, inconsistent and a celebration penalty-drawing nuisance.

So, you can understand why Buffalo might have been hesitant about signing him to a long-term deal.

For the record, however, Johnson plans on being more mature after catching touchdown passes from now on, saying he’s finished with scoring celebrations.

"But no matter what: I'm done with it,” Johnson said recently. “When I was doing my first couple seasons, I was just trying to be a relevant guy, you know? I think people are beginning to know who [No.] 13 is."

And now that Johnson is on the verge of signing his deal, it really is a Happy New Year for him after all.

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