Few blockbuster deals expected, but plenty of players are available as the market opens Tuesday.
Get ready for the feeding frenzy. NFL free agency is coming.
On Tuesday, with all 32 teams under the $123-million salary cap, the checkbooks open up. Some clubs, most notably Green Bay and Pittsburgh, barely will participate, while likely letting top receivers Greg Jennings and Mike Wallace leave for huge paydays elsewhere.
That’s just their style, and building from within has paid off: each team has won a Super Bowl in the last five seasons.
Others will eagerly be at players’ and agents’ doorsteps ready to hand out millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses.
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It’s not a process former team executive Bill Polian particularly likes.
“I’ve often said you can’t be right in free agency,” Polian says. “No general manager can be right in free agency. This system is designed to have you make mistakes (because) the union wants players to get paid, and people are going to make mistakes.”
Saturday marked the beginning of a new three-day negotiating period before the free-agent market officially opens. Teams could contact representatives of free agents from other teams beginning at midnight, but the players can’t visit any facilities or even talk to those clubs. The league has warned the teams against entering into any agreements with those players before free agency official kicks off on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.
Already, the biggest potential prize has gone off the marketplace. Baltimore held on to quarterback Joe Flacco with the richest per-season deal in NFL history: $120.6 million over six years, with $52 million guaranteed.
While Flacco-type contracts won’t be flung around, 20 or so players could wring impressive salaries out of the bidding wars. Pass rushers Paul Kruger of the Ravens, Cliff Avril of the Lions, Israel Idonije of the Bears and Osi Umenyiora of the Giants figure to be high on general managers’ lists.
Defensive back, particularly safety, has some intriguing possibilities: 2009 Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson, cut last month by the Packers; 2004 award winner Ed Reed of the Ravens; and Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber.
The guys they have to cover are well represented in the free agency pool, too: New England’s Wes Welker, Tampa Bay tight end Dallas Clark, Jennings and Wallace.
Several perennial Pro Bowl players are about to be free: Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, Dolphins left tackle Jake Long, Raiders punter Shane Lechler and Browns kick returner Joshua Cribbs.
Among those attractive free agents who won’t max out a team’s cap could be Vikings fullback Jerome Felton, Jets tight end Dustin Keller, Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis, 49ers DT Isaac Sopoaga, Chargers LB Shaun Phillips and Titans LB Will Witherspoon.
Carolina released starting cornerback Chris Gamble in a move that will save the team $7.9 million and get under this year’s salary cap.
• Arizona released five-time Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson, the longest-tenured player on the team.
• Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton accepted the Chicago Bears’ $8.45 million tender after being hit with the franchise player tag.
• The Redskins are “highly likely” to release veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall, a person close to the situation told The Washington Post.
• Former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell admitted to his role in a tax-fraud scheme. He faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a maximum fine of $250,000