Insider | Notes
We all know the feeling. The meal is almost over and yet you're still hungry, but there is nothing left on the turkey or chicken since it's been picked over like road kill by a vulture.
There are a lot of NFL teams having that same feeling today.
They may be still hungry, still hoping to fill those bellies, but there is little meat left on the free-agency bone.
Dan Snyder and some of his buddies have picked the damn carcass clean. One week into free agency, and we're left with scraps.
Or are we?
"There are some good bargains left out there," said one AFC coach. "Those who get the best bargains after the initial burst are usually the teams that come away the happiest come the following January."
So who's left?
|Warren Sapp helped Tampa win the trophy, but he's not getting much love in free agency.(AP)|
This week, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said since the Bucs have made no attempt to re-sign Sapp, he has no choice but to look at other teams. Uh, guess what? The free-agency period opened last week, and the day it did was the day Sapp officially became an unrestricted free agent, meaning any team in the league could sign him. None did.
Did Sapp and Rosenhaus use Terrell Owens' calendar to figure out when the free-agency period opened? The message being sent to Sapp from the league's teams is a simple one, but one coming through loud and clear: You aren't what you used to be a few years ago.
So Rosenhaus went on the offensive. But even Rosenhaus, who spins things better than a kid with a top, can't work his magic here. Sapp is no longer a player who commands top dollar, and must wait until teams start poaching the mid-level player. There is talk that four or five teams are interested -- and Colts coach Tony Dungy, who was coach of the Bucs when Sapp rose to prominence, is said to be one of them -- but the price must come down to a reasonable level for that to become a reality because at 31, Sapp's skills have eroded.
Tampa Bay knows this. Rosenhaus knows this. The rest of the league knows it and Sapp has to as well. Old No. 99 might still have a big mouth, but he doesn't have the big game anymore, which is why he has made free agency a spectator sport until now.
When his price gets down to the $1.5 million to $2 million per year range, then you'll see teams get involved.
Until then, he'll have to do his usual grumbling about the injustices of the NFL, only this time it appears it's costing Sapp in his wallet.
Sapp is still one of the better players left on the picked-over free-agency board, but the price has to be right. As for some of the other quality players left, here are five we would go after.
Troy Vincent, CB, Eagles: This has to be the right team making the move. At 32, he is on his last legs. But for a team looking to get a good corner for two years, Vincent makes sense, provided he isn't looking to break the bank.
Dez White, WR, Bears: If you can get him for about $1 million, he would be a good signing. He brings speed, which is a hard-to-find commodity. He has underachieved, but there is still come good football left for the right dollar amount.
Jason Dunn, TE, Chiefs: He is one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. They seem to matter little until it's time to get a third-and-1 or score from inside the 5. He will improve any team's running game.
Ian Gold, LB, Broncos: He is coming off an ACL injury, but he has made good strides and should be ready for the open of camp. If his price is decent -- in the $2.5 million range -- he is a player who should get a hard look. He was a terror on special teams before he became a quality starter.
Tony Brackens, DE, Jaguars: After a slow start last season, coming off major knee surgery, Brackens came on as the season moved along. He played the run and the pass last season, which is why the Jaguars would like him back. They just didn't want him at the deal he was scheduled to play for this season. If Brackens can be had for about $2 million per season, he could help a team that needs pass-rush help.
Around the league
- Earlier this week, Falcons coach Jim Mora was asked by one of his assistants if he had seen the report that stated he was having problems with quarterback Michael Vick over the possibility that the team might look to sign Jeff Garcia as a backup. Mora said he was shocked to hear that kind of talk, saying none of it was true. "Michael and I had dinner the other night," Mora said. "He never said a word to me about anything like that. We have a great relationship. When I was told about that stuff being written, I couldn't believe it." Vick has been helpful to Mora in the recruitment of free agents, which says something about the early stages of their relationship. Mora also said that Vick has bonded quickly with offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, who came over from San Francisco with Mora. Knapp, you may recall, was the recipient of the sideline tirade (one of them anyway) by Terrell Owens last year. "Michael and Greg have spent a lot of time together," said Mora. "It's something I've been happy to see."
- We have made no secret in this space that Terrell Owens is a player we like. He plays hard, he works hard and he keeps his body in tip-top shape. The stories of him in the 49ers weight room at midnight are countless. There are also no off-field problems, no run-ins with the law. Yes, he has a big mouth. And, yes, he sometimes can go overboard when it comes to running his mouth. But he is still a quality player. That said, he's wrong about his current situation. His agent blew it when he missed the deadline to void out the final three years of his contract to make him a free agent. Now he's being a baby squawking about the 49ers trading him to Baltimore. Owens' case to be a free agent will be heard by an arbitrator Monday, with a decision possibly by Tuesday. There are few around the league who think he has a chance of winning. So it looks as if Owens will be heading to Baltimore, which traded a second-round pick to the 49ers to get him. Owens wanted to be traded to the Eagles, which had been talking with his agent about a long-term deal before he was traded to the Ravens. Baltimore coach Brian Billick said the organization is open to giving Owens a new deal, but so far Owens has said he will not play for the Ravens. Want to bet if he isn't ruled a free agent he'll be in Baltimore? He can talk all he wants about sitting out, but not at salaries of $5.3 million, $5.9 million and $6.5 million. He isn't about to walk away from $5.3 million.
- The Packers did a simple restructuring of quarterback Brett Favre's contract to help lesson his cap figure for this year. Favre was due a roster bonus of $3 million on March 6, but instead will take $1.2 million of that as a signing bonus, which means the amortization will be spread over six years at $200,000 per pop. That lessened his cap hit by $1 million from $10.53 million to $9.53 million this season. Favre is due the same $3 million roster bonus in each of the next two years. This could be proof that Favre is going to play at least the next couple of seasons, because signing bonus money has to be returned if a player retires, while roster bonus money does not. Favre has hinted at retirement the past couple of years, but he has indicated he will play at least this season, but probably more.
- The Saints set out during free agency to bring in a hard-working veteran defensive tackle to help motivate the younger linemen on their roster. The player they wanted was the player they got. They signed Rams veteran tackle Brian Young to a four-year deal that averages $2.5 million per season and includes a $3.6 million signing bonus and a $350,000 roster bonus this year. Young was a starter for most of the past couple of seasons for the Rams, keeping first-round picks Damion Lewis, Ryan Pickett and Jimmy Kennedy on the bench for periods of time. Young is an effort player who should help jump-start second-year player Jonathan Sullivan and third-year end Charles Grant. There was some concern inside the Saints building that Sullivan got some poor practice habits from playing next to Grady Jackson before the team released Jackson last season. Sullivan has big-time ability, and the hope is that Young will help get it out. Look for the Saints to look for corner help in the draft.
- It's absolutely mind-boggling the amount of money that two teams paid for guards in the first week of free agency. The Lions gave Damien Woody a six-year deal that averages $5.166 million with a $9 million signing bonus, the largest ever given to an interior lineman. Woody also gets a $500,000 roster bonus this year with a base salary of $2 million for a total of $11.5 million he will earn in 2004. Not bad for a player who has problems with his weight, has been to one Pro Bowl and ended the 2003 playoffs injured. The other team to overpay for a guard was the Dolphins with former Panthers guard Jeno James. The Dolphins gave James a six-year deal that averages $3.522 million per year with a $4.25 million signing bonus. James is also due a $750,000 roster bonus next spring, a bonus he will certainly get unless he suffers a serious injury. The Bills got the best bargain guard, Chris Villarrial, the former Bear who might be the best of the three. He got a four-year deal that averages $2.82 million, which is relatively mild compared to the other two deals. But even $2.8 million is a lot to pay for a guard. They should be developed, not acquired in free agency. And if you do want a veteran, sign that player to a two or three-year deal with a minimal signing bonus and an average of about $1 to $1.5 million. They're guards after all.
- The Dolphins opened a lot of eyes with another of their signings, Carolina cornerback Reggie Howard. They gave him a six-year deal that average $3.59 million with a $4.5 million signing bonus to essentially be their nickel back. With Sam Madison restructuring his contract, Madison and Surtain will be the starters. "We had an interest in Reggie," said one AFC coach. "But not at those numbers. He isn't worth those numbers." The Panthers will now go into 2004 with two different starting corners then they had to open last season. In addition to losing Howard, the Panthers released Terry Cousin, who lost his job late last season to Ricky Manning. They signed former Bengals corner Artrell Hawkins to take his place.
- The Cowboys badly wanted an upgrade over Ebenezer Ekuban at right end and they feel they have it in Marcellus Wiley, who was let go by San Diego. The Cowboys gave Wiley a four-year, $16 million deal that includes a $4.5 million signing bonus. Dallas thinks Wiley can still display some speed off the corner -- anything is an upgrade over Ekuban, who was a major disappointment -- and is strong enough to handle the point in the run game. But a couple of coaches who watched him on tape last year said Wiley looked as if he was out of shape and didn't play as well as he had in previous seasons. They said he looked "fat." If Wiley can get motivated again, the Cowboys might have a free-agent steal.
- The Panthers' release of left tackle Todd Steussie on Thursday didn't come as a surprise since he sometimes looked like a spinning top last year in pass protection. The Panthers signed Adam Meadows last week to play guard, but he will now play right tackle with second-year player Jordan Gross moving to left tackle. Gross was very good at right tackle, but the Panthers feel he will be an even better left tackle.
- Smart move by the Bucs to release safety John Lynch. Holding on to a veteran too long is a curse in the NFL. Lynch has had a nice career for the Bucs, but he did not play well last season. He played with a neck problem all year -- he did have surgery -- and it affected his tackling. "He didn't put his head in there like he did," said one NFC scout. Lynch said Thursday that his neck is fine and he plans to play again, and the Bucs danced around a question about his neck. Letting a player as classy as Lynch go is always tough for an organization. But it was time. The Bucs plan to start Jermaine Phillips at Lynch's spot, and Phillips brings more range although he doesn't tackle as well. With the way teams spread out defenses now, a safety without range is a liability. Said new Bucs GM Bruce Allen: "I understand where John Lynch is. I understand that John Unitas did not finish with the Baltimore Colts. I understand that. It's a tough time, but that's the sport we live in. I respect so much what that man has done off the field, even more than on the field. He's probably a 10-time Pro Bowler off the field. But understand this: We feel very confident about some of our young players on this team, and they need an opportunity. They need to be given an opportunity to become their own stars, and if you don't do that, you're going to stunt the growth of your team. We're looking forward to watching Jermaine Phillips play the position." That, folks, is how you stay ahead of the curve in the NFL.
- We have been preaching it here for a while, but now it appears to be a theory that is actually gaining momentum. North Carolina State quarterback Philip Rivers might be moving ahead of Ben Roethlisberger on some team's draft boards. Don't be shocked to see Rivers go before Roethlisberger in April.
- Our condolences to the family of former NFL executive Val Pinchbeck, who was tragically killed last week when hit by a taxi in New York. Pinchbeck was one of the league's nice guys, always quick with a smile and a handshake. He was a true throwback to the Pete Rozelle days, when league executives actually gave a darn about the media who covered the league. Val will be missed, as will his wild and crazy sport jackets that looked like they came off somebody's picnic table.