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Ten moves teams should address before free agency


With all appearing to go as expected in the final steps to landing labor peace in the NFL, we could have actual football business starting Tuesday.

That means teams might be able to open talks with their own players on potential deals before free agency actually begins.

That means decisions have to be made in a couple of days. Big decisions. Money decisions.

Reggie Bush getting $11.8 million for this season? The Saints need an adjustment. (Getty Images)  
Reggie Bush getting $11.8 million for this season? The Saints need an adjustment. (Getty Images)  
Who goes? Who takes a pay cut? Who gets extended?

It would be wise to have a lot of that work done before the open of free agency to have an idea where your team sits. It might also mean keeping a key player off the market.

"Right now, we're all trying to figure out the rules and then go from there," one general manager told me Saturday. "Until then, we have no idea. But you better be prepared to dive right in when they give us the go-ahead. That means understanding what your own guys are going to do."

Here are 10 moves that should be made in the coming days:

1. The New Orleans Saints need to make running back Reggie Bush take a pay cut

Bush has been a big part of the Saints offense, even if he hasn't lived up to the hype, but he is scheduled to make $11.8 million this season. That's way too much, especially considering the Saints drafted Mark Ingram in the first round. But make no mistake about it. Bush is an important part of the New Orleans offense. They are a pass-first team. He is a pass-first back. It works. But at what price? Bush needs to know that the Saints fit him as well.

2. The New York Jets need to re-sign wide receiver Santonio Holmes

I know the Jets have two free-agent receivers in Holmes and Braylon Edwards, but I think Holmes is the better option. Holmes is one misstep away in the league's drug program from being suspended for a year, but he has more ability than Edwards. He's simply a better player. The Jets didn't have many problems with him last season -- aside from him not wanting to return a punt in a game -- so it makes sense to bring him back. Mark Sanchez needs a top-flight receiver, and Holmes is a better option than Edwards.

3.The Carolina Panthers should sign free-agent defensive end Charles Johnson before he hits the market

You don't let 24-year-old pass rushers coming into their prime walk. They have to do everything in their power to re-sign the guy. He had 11½2 sacks last season, and might be capable of five or so more per season. That's too much value in a passing league. I'm not saying Johnson should get Julius Peppers-type money, but he shouldn't be that far off. The Panthers can't let another top-notch end leave like they did Peppers last year.

4. The Arizona Cardinals have to figure out which quarterback to chase

It looks like Kevin Kolb is priority No. 1 -- if Carson Palmer isn't available. Now the Cardinals have to find out what the right price is for Kolb. They are probably willing to part with corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. And what else? That won't get it done. The Eagles are known around the league for always asking for too much in deals. We'll see how this plays out. If not Kolb, the other options are Kyle Orton, Marc Bulger and Matt Hasselbeck. One of those players will be the quarterback in Arizona next season. Count on it.

5. The Carolina Panthers should trade Steve Smith

Let's be honest about it, the Panthers are a work in progress. They are a young team that will be led by a young quarterback. Is having Smith and his sometimes me-first ways around a good thing? I think the Panthers can get a second-round pick and something else for the veteran wideout. They have some young receivers who flashed last season in David Gettis and Brandon LaFell. And they like Armani Edwards. They are all in their second seasons, so they can grow with the young quarterback, whether it's Cam Newton or Jimmy Clausen. Smith can go. And league sources say it's a possibility -- for the right price.

6. The Pittsburgh Steelers should agree to extend both safety Troy Polamalu and inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons

Both of those players can become free agents after the 2011 season. It makes sense to lock them up before the season. Timmons is a rising star and Polamalu is a top safety, even if he is a bit overrated and can't stay on the field because of injuries. The Steelers would be wise to spend to lock those two up as soon as they can.

7. The San Diego Chargers should re-sign safety Eric Weddle

I was convinced Weddle was a good player, but a closer study of his game recently backed up my conviction. He is one of those safeties who will play the pass well, but he is also good in the run game. In two games I watched of him late last season, Weddle made some nice tackles in the run game. That isn't considered his strong point. The Chargers signed Bob Sanders, but they can't allow this kid to get away. He is from California, but that doesn't mean he will give them a home-team discount. He wants to be paid.

8. The Cincinnati Bengals need to keep corner Johnathan Joseph from hitting the free-agent market

In Joseph and Leon Hall, the Bengals have one of the best pair of corners in football. If they lose Joseph, it would be a big hit to the defense. The Bengals have a ton of cap room to make the deal work. They should also extend Hall, who can become a free agent after the 2011 season.

9. The Miami Dolphins need to give nose tackle Paul Soliai a long-term deal

Soliai was given the franchise designation by the Dolphins before the lockout. That means they are on the hook for $12.2 million if he were to play under that designation. That's way too much of the team's $120-million cap. It's especially too much for a nose tackle who had his best season at the right time. I like him as a player, but this will be a tough negotiation. The question is whether he is as good as he was a year ago, coming into his own, or a year when he exceeded expectations.

10. The Atlanta Falcons need to re-sign one of their three free-agent offensive linemen

The Falcons could lose right tackle Tyson Clabo and guards Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl. They would love to get two back, but might have to settle for one. Blalock is the youngest of the three and is coming off a good season, so he would likely be the top priority. Clabo is coming off his best season, while Dahl's play tailed off some last season. The Falcons can't lose all three. So one of them has to be re-signed.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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