Most of the headliners, led by Mario Williams, were quickly signed to contracts. So, other than for Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn, who are expected to reel in two of the biggest contracts of free agency, what’s left of this year’s free agent class? Let’s start with Manning and Flynn.
Which domino will fall first? Is Flynn waiting for Manning or is Manning waiting for Flynn? When one falls, the other is likely to quickly do the same. So, if you’re looking for a franchise quarterback, you better give one of those two guys a call because they’re not likely to remain available much longer.
The Packers, of course, are not looking for a franchise quarterback. It appears they’re not even looking for a backup quarterback. Those teams that have interest in a backup, I would direct their attention to David Garrard.
Garrard is coming off a season of inactivity, after being cut by the Jaguars to make room for top pick Blaine Gabbert, and then having back surgery. He says he’s recovered from the surgery and prepared to embrace a backup role. When he was good, he was very good. He just wasn’t good often enough, and that’s the standard definition of a backup quarterback. Garrard always had talent. He has always been a strong-armed, athletic and durable quarterback that played well in spurts.
If there’s strength in what’s left of this free agent class, it’s at running back. Mike Tolbert leads a group that includes hard-running Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Michael Bush and Jerious Norwood. Tolbert is true quality and is probably seeking to be paid as such, but as the clock ticks, the price tag will fall. Runners of Green-Ellis’ talent can be had in the draft, but he’s a proven veteran who knows how to play, has a thousand-yard season behind him and doesn’t fumble. Bush is a big back for a team that wants to pound, and there aren’t a lot of those teams left; he might have trouble finding one. Norwood was once thought to be a hidden talent behind Michael Turner.
How about a fullback to block for one of those guys? Lousaka Polite blows people up and is a lights-out short-yardage runner.
The first week of free agency resulted in a run at the wide receiver position. Ironically, the player that made the big play of the Super Bowl is still available. Mario Manningham, anybody? You could certainly say he’s a winner.
One of the most intriguing free agents is Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace, considered to be one of the fastest receivers in the league. He’s a big-play guy, but he’s also an RFA with a first-round tender. What team might use their first-round pick on Wallace? New England?
Veterans Lee Evans and Deion Branch have aged into possession receivers, which means a couple of good route-runners that have a book on the league’s defensive backs and know how to sit down in a soft spot, can be signed for little damage to the salary cap. Jerricho Cotchery is also tempting.
Offensive linemen? Centers Scott Wells and Chris Myers head the list. Want someone steady and reliable? Tackle Kareem McKenzie’s the guy. Want a space-eater? Guard Chris Kemoeatu’s the guy.
The big guys on both sides of the ball, of course, always go quickly. What’s left now is a grab bag of prospects that require vision as to the role they might fill and how they might fit into a particular scheme. Defensive end Matt Roth is a try-hard guy but with a concussion history that clouds his future. Igor Olshansky is a mauler and they never go out of style. Dave Tollefson is coming off the best year of his career and appears to be a guy on the rise.
Linebacker? Joe Mays is the man if you want an undersized guy who’ll hit everything that moves, and do it on special teams, too. He’s still out there. James Farrior is long of tooth but he was still playing at a high level last season.
Aaron Ross and Tracy Porter are two of the top cornerbacks and it’s thought they’ll sign soon. Want a down-the-road guy? William Gay doesn’t have shut-down speed or skill, but he played a lot of good ball for the Steelers.
As the headliners continue to fall, free agency turns into its most important phase, which is to say the affordable phase. That’s when the teams strike it rich.