FROM ANDREW BRANDT:
Now the hard work starts for the four teams whose seasons ended this past weekend, beginning the long and arduous offseason in the NFL. It is the only major sports league whose offseason is longer than its season, especially for the 20 teams who ended in December and whose next meaningful snap comes in September.
Carolina took care of one of its big priorities, signing cornerback Chris Gamble to a mega-deal late in the season, with over $20M guaranteed, but now has some serious issues. Its two premier players at premier positions – tackle Jordan Gross (who has missed one start in five years) and defensive end Julius Peppers (with 14.5 sacks this year) – will no longer be under contract at the end of February unless something happens. That something can be a franchise tag for one of them, but obviously not both. Whom to tag? That depends on how negotiations progress with each player as we head towards the mid-February tag date.
Speaking of the franchise tag, Albert Haynesworth played under that tag in 2008 but earned his way out of it in 2009. The Titans were proactive this season in signing three young core players for the future in tackles David Stewart and Michael Roos and cornerback Cortland Finnegan, but those millions are in a different neighborhood than the millions they need for Haynesworth. The Titans have started contract negotiations and have to know that Haynesworth will set a new market for defensive tackles, whether with them or another team. With cornerbacks like Gamble and Corey Webster getting $8M averages and over $20M guaranteed, Haynesworth can command considerably more. How much more? Good question.
The Titans’ decisions do not stop there. Kerry Collins is a free agent coming off a wonderful season, but how much guaranteed money does the team put into Collins, and what is the plan with Vince Young? Tight end Bo Scaife, return man Chris Carr and kicker Rob Bironas are other big issues. However, if last year is an indication, they will let players walk, as they did with guard Jacob Bell and defensive ends Travis LaBoy and Antwan Odom. They seemed to do all right without them.
The Chargers, for the second year in a row, must decide how to address LaDainian Tomlinson’s back-up. Last year, the decision was fairly simple. Tomlinson had had a frustrating playoffs but had showed little overall wear and tear, and Michael Turner was a bruising back who was clearly the class of the running back group in free agency. This year, Tomlinson has become a concern, and Darren Sproles, despite his small size that will scare away some teams, has proven value in the running game as well as the return game. This is a tough decision that we will follow.
For the Giants, although wide receiver and longtime Giant Amani Toomer has to be addressed, running back (not to mention a certain receiver charged with a felony) is the key issue. The Giants locked up Corey Webster soon after the Chris Gamble deal and took care of that priority. Now comes the thorny issue of paying running backs, with Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward both having played their last game under their existing contracts. My sense is that the Giants will engage in negotiations with both and try to gauge the market. The agents for the backs, however, are David Dunn (Jacobs) and Peter Schaeffer (Ward), both experienced and astute enough to figure out what strategy the Giants are taking. This will be an interesting dance to watch over the next six weeks. Franchise tag (last year the running back number was $6.53M) is a possibility but not likely.
Tough losses for all this weekend. Tougher decisions are ahead.
MAY 24 Joel Corry
Keep an eye on what happens in Miami between the Dolphins and first round pick Dion Jordan.
MAY 13 Jeff Fedotin
Former discus star launches football career with 49ers.