INDIANAPOLIS -- With the combine winding down and free agency around the corner, several teams are still plotting their immediate futures. And they're uncertain about the most important position of all -- quarterback.
In Oakland, the Raiders have yet to get down to business with Carson Palmer, sources say, but surely that time is coming with free agency just a few weeks away. The Raiders haven't informed him if he will be back at his normal salary ($13 million), but sources maintain the team is still likely to seek a restructured deal with him, and it's not out of the question the Raiders end up parting with Palmer all together.
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Palmer and his representative must determine whether there could be better options elsewhere and what fair salary value is for Palmer at this stage of his career and given how the past few seasons have gone for him.
Kevin Kolb is in the same situation with Arizona. The Cardinals do not intend to pay their QB $11.5 million this season, but does it make more sense for Kolb to resist a heavy pay cut to stay and see what teams like Cleveland, Jacksonville, Buffalo, and the Jets might think of him on the open market?
Do some of the teams in quarterback limbo -- and I include Oakland, Arizona, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Minnesota and the Jets in this category (I am assuming at this point Kansas City trades for Alex Smith) -- begin to fall more in love with what is seen as a middling QB draft class, and thus pull out of the hunt for a veteran QB?
There is going to be a lot of high-stakes chicken being played at this position.
And the reality is, had teams like the Browns, Jaguars, Jets and Vikings not recently over-drafted QBs, they may not be in this position in the first place. The Jags want someone to push Blaine Gabbert, and possibly unseat him. The Browns would love to upgrade over Brandon Weeden. The Vikings are committed to Christian Ponder, sure, but with that offensive line and running game, why wouldn't you want a more stable, veteran presence to help you win games if need be?
Of the quarterbacks we know are free agents, there will be some demand for guys like Jason Campbell and Drew Stanton as backups, but if more of these higher-profile guys end up hitting the market, it could complicate their situations. And Matt Cassel would get looks as a backup. And if Matt Hasselbeck and the Titans don't agree to a restructured deal, might he hit the market too? (I'd be surprised at this, and expect him to stay in Tennessee at a reduced rate.)
Considering it's almost March, that's still a lot of balls in the air. And with some of these "backups," in reality equating more to being a possible starter based on how things play out, these are critical decisions still to be made. I don't remember too many years where things seemed so nebulous at this position, especially when you factor in the relative strength, or weakness, of the QB draft class.
A year ago we knew Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were going to be the top two picks in the draft. Before that, there wasn't much doubt the Panthers were going to take Cam Newton, or that Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford would go quickly, too. Not so much this year, which will make the coming weeks all the more interesting.
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Speaking of uncertainty, there are still a lot of teams yet to commit to which players, if any, they will tag. Some have suggested the 49ers might tag safety Dashon Goldson for a second straight year, but league sources said San Francisco does not intend to use it, and likewise the Saints are not tagging tackle Jermon Bushrod.
The Chiefs are still negotiating with several players and could place it on Branden Albert or Dwayne Bowe, based on who they can get secured long-term, sources said. The Packers are still waffling on tagging tight end Jermichael Finley, with receiver Greg Jennings' possible departure complicating their decision making there.
No one has applied the tag yet, and there seems to be more genuine uncertainty about what many teams will do with it than in years past. In general, I anticipated the number of players being tagged to be down from a year ago, and after spending several days here in Indy I remain committed to that. Teams are reluctant to tag the same guy two years in a row in many cases, and even with the tag numbers staying low, the cap hasn't grown much either.
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As for the cap, while projections have been that it will be at $121 million, some well-placed sources said the final number could end up close to $123 million, which, while it might not sound like much, is pretty significant.
The exact cap isn't set yet, but I've heard figures like $122.5-$123 million from people in the know.
For teams fighting to get under the cap, like Carolina, it's massive. And that extra few million could be the difference in bringing in one more starting-caliber free agent. It could be that extra cushion that lets the Ravens pay Jacoby Jones $3 million this coming season.
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In general, I am going to be very interested to see what kind of money the A-list free agents end up getting. I heard repeatedly from execs and agents that the money just might not be there, and a lot of solid starters are going to end up on one-year prove-it deals, and many of the top-of-the-market guys aren't going to get the kind of money they thought might be possible a few months ago.
Even if this cap bump comes, the reality is the cap hasn't growing drastically since 2009, while prices have soared. Once you account for pending free agents who end up getting re-signed or franchised, the quality of this group is further diminished.
Outlandish free-agent spending has burned so many teams over the years, and there is a sense of buyer beware. Will receivers like Mike Wallace, who wanted $11 million a year from the Steelers, get that on the open market? Man, I don't see it, but who knows. And I don't see Jennings getting near that, either. Of course, I've heard this rhetoric at the combine in the past, and then ended up with my jaw on the floor when I saw some of the deals that were done a few weeks later, but I get the sense that restraint might carry the day in free agency.