The deadline to franchise players came and went at 4:00 pm eastern time. After the dust settled, 21 teams used the franchise tag. Five of those were used on kickers/punters, four on DE/LB, four on the secondary, six on WR, RB, or TE, and one on QB…Drew Brees. The Miami Dolphins not surprisingly chose not to use their tag allowing NT Paul Soliai to hit the open market eight days from now.
The Dolphins, who currently have 17 free agents, either restricted or unrestricted have yet to lock down any of their players to extensions. Some would say that most of their players won’t find free agency any more appealing. Still, the Dolphins, in fact the entire AFC East could be major players in free agency and it may come as no shock that the some of the best players available may end up in the East when it is all said and done.
The Dolphins plan to add a QB and while popular opinion seems to be Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn who was not tagged by Green Bay is also another rumored option. For the Dolphins however, the addition of any “named” players will pretty much die there and unfortunately a prolonged negotiation with either of them could lead to losing out on others should those talks bare no fruit. The Dolphins really don’t have anyone else on their immediate radar, at least not rumored. They could make a run at soon to be former Bengal Safety Reggie Nelson but outside of depth players, the Dolphins may not be as involved as they would like to be.
The NY Jets find themselves in a some uncharted territory for the first time in the Rex Ryan era. They have a large cap number assigned to LB Bart Scott who they will have to pay regardless of whether he is on the roster or not…unless the team trades him. In addition a lot of money is tied up along the offensive line and the team has holes they need to fill. Chad Henne is a hot rumor to come in and challenge Mark Sanchez and some believe that he will net a deal in the 4 to 5 million range per season. If the Jets agree to that kind of contract the days of Sanchez will be winding down. The Jets have very little wiggle room and could go into the 2012 league year in the red. They will have to either borrow off next years cap or make some roster moves to get below it depending on the final salary cap figure for the league.
In Buffalo, the Bills are expected to be major players. With over 15 million available in salary cap, according to some reports, the Bills are rumored to want to make a big defensive splash and the target appears to be Texans LB Mario Williams. Williams is currently the best available free agent on the market and the Bills would love to get new DC Dave Wannstedt a reliable outside pass rusher. Miami fans will not find this news fun as many would hope the Dolphins would pass on the two above named QB’s and put on a full court press for Williams. Earlier today the Bills extended the contract of WR Stevie Johnson. While the Bills have money, they are not rumored to be in the market for a QB which is a bit surprising given the fact that Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled in the second half of 2011 and the best back-up they have is Tyler Thigpen. Brad Smith is listed as the 3rd QB but his role is primarily situational. The Bills will also look to add to an offensive line that struggled often last season.
In New England, the reigning Super Bowl runner-ups are under the cap by what some estimate could be in the 20 million dollar range. If that number is correct they can do quite a bit of damage in free agency given the fact that the only un-signed player of value is Wes Welker. I question the figures simply because the team was unable to get a deal done with Welker and thus used the franchise tag. New England however is expected to make two big pushes. One could be on WR Vincent Jackson who was not tagged by the Chargers. They will have competition for him without question from the Chicago Bears but they offer Jackson something that the Bears can’t. They are a Super Bowl team and perennial winner. The Patriots could also target soon to be ex-Titan Courtland Finnegan. Finnegan will become a free agent and the New England secondary is not very good. Finnegan is hard hitting in your face corner that the Patriots have been trying to draft for years.
If the team fails to land Jackson, there is strong indication that Brandon Lloyd would be heading north to rejoin former coach Josh McDaniels who is the new OC for New England. Lloyd flourished in McD’s offense and through his agent has stated that he would love to re-unite with his former coach. Regardless, the Patriots are sitting in a nice spot with the money they have available and the options to make impressive overtures to free agents. Bill Belichick has had a far easier time building his team on free agency than on his drafts.
With three of the four AFC East teams under the cap, the East could be a hotbed for free agent visits and likely early at least when it comes to the top players on the market. What the Dolphins will accomplish remains to be seen and it will depend on whether or not the team attacks free agency on several fronts or focus on one at a time. There are those in the media who believe that Miami is close to pushing for the division but the team can’t afford to make mistakes. Free agency can provide an instant fix to your team but can also become a financial nightmare if you miss.